Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Slow cooking, spicy soups for Christmas Eve supper

12/24/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

The day before Christmas is one of the busiest days of the year.  With Christmas day nipping at our heels, there’s still much to do. Even if the house is clean, the shopping done and the packages all wrapped and under the tree, the kitchen calls. And if you’re the chief cook and bottle-washer at your house the last 24 hours are especially crazy-making.

In the midst of pie baking and cookie frosting we often eat junk food the night before the big event. But you can put together a quick healthy meal if you use your Crock-Pot or slow cooker. Assemble your recipe in the morning and let the slow cooker do the work for you.

Getting organized is simple. Check your ingredients list and set them all out on the countertop before you begin. Now is not the time to be snobbish and think that you have to make everything from scratch. Gather up those frozen or canned items from your cupboard and freezer and put them to work by combining them into a guilt-free tasty meal.

As soon as you get the main dish cooking, assemble a crisp green salad. Top the greens with shredded carrots, sliced cucumbers, green onions and a few black olives. Cover and refrigerate until dinnertime. That night serve everything with store bought French bread and you’ve got a meal fit for a king.

Most slow cooker recipes say that you do not have to brown meat or sauté vegetables. I disagree. Ground beef should always be lightly browned and drained well. In fact, I always brown beef products when using them in soups and stews.

I also briefly sauté onions, celery and carrots before simmering them with the recipe ingredients. The resulting product from this sweating procedure is much more flavorful than if added raw. This mixture is called a “mire poi” or equal parts carrots, celery with twice as much onion. It can be used as a flavor base for a myriad of dishes.

Slow cookers do have limitations. It is generally okay to simmer meats and sauces all day but you may have to add extra spices before serving. Remember to cook chicken pieces at low heat or they become too soft if cooked too long on high heat. A whole chicken will retain its shape and flavor nicely but at the end of the cooking process, I often brown mine in the oven to intensify the flavor.

Some foods will retain their texture and color best if added in the last hour of cooking. I always precook noodles and rice, adding them about 30 minutes before serving. Otherwise they turn to mush. Broccoli, in my opinion, should never be cooked in a slow cooker. It develops a very strong taste and turns a really ugly green.

Of course, the holidays are not the only time to use your slow cooker. If you’ve kept the cookbooks that came with yours, you’ll find lots of interesting ideas. But be careful. Depending on your taste buds, some recipes are more appetizing than others.

My first Crock-Pot cookbook from the 1960s has some recipes that never saw the light of day at our house: a spinach casserole with cottage cheese never made the cut; neither did a macaroni, mushroom soup, chipped beef and hard boiled egg casserole. Ugh.

We often eat something spicy and not too heavy the night before holiday meals. The following recipes will fit the bill nicely. I’ve added the macaroni and cheese for the kids among us. Enjoy!

Taco Soup with Black Beans
“Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook”

1 lb ground beef, browned and drained
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
15 ounce can corn, undrained
15 ounce can black beans, undrained
15 ounce can red kidney beans, undrained
1 envelope dry Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix
1 envelope dry taco seasoning
1 small onion, chopped

Combine all ingredients, cover, and cook on low 4-6 hours.
Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, and tortilla or corn chips.

Spicy Chicken Soup

1 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon oil
3 cups cooked chicken or turkey, diced
1/2 package dry taco seasoning mix
2 cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can diced green chilis, drained
2 cans chicken broth
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Cook onion and garlic in oil until tender. Place in slow cooker with remainder of ingredients and cook on low. If the broth is too thin, mix cornstarch with water; add to soup and bring to boil. Just before serving, add a dash of hot sauce. Serves four.

All-Day Macaroni and Cheese

8 ounces cooked and drained elbow macaroni
12 ounces evaporated milk
1-1/2 cups milk (not skim)
2 eggs
4 cups cheddar cheese, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/2-teaspoon black pepper

Coat slow cooker with non-stick vegetable spray. Place the macaroni in the cooker. Mix the milks and eggs together; add 3 cups of the cheese and pour over the macaroni. Pour the mixture over the macaroni and mix well. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover and cook on LOW 5-6 hours. Do not remove the cover or stir until the mixture is firm and golden around the edges. Serves 4

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare. Contact her at 942-1317 or email

Friday, December 19, 2008

Merry Christmas (the craziness is traditional)

12/17/08 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser Hey, everybody, Merry Christmas! How is the shopping going? Is your house decorated? Are gifts purchased and wrapped? Will your extended family drive for hours to enjoy a festive day together? Or will you just drive each other crazy? Will you suffer through preparing grandma’s pearl onions and grandpa’s favorite dish of lutefisk because it’s “tradition”? Are you on the verge of exhaustion? Have you decided that next year you’re really, really going to simplify the holidays? Do you wonder why we work ourselves into a frenzy to do all of this stuff? Well, you have questions and I have answers — traditional ones. First, the disclaimer: I am a Christian who loves Christmas — both the spiritual and the secular. My spiritual traditions include times of worship, prayer, hymns and carols. The other side of that coin is all the crazy hoopla that goes into family celebrations — the decorating, the presents, the food, the fun, the arguments and the fatigue. When things get really crazy, I wonder… if celebrating Jesus’ birthday is the goal for Christmas where did all this other stuff come from? Why don’t we just do cake and ice cream? Over the centuries, his simple birthday party has evolved into the biggest celebration in the world. Because it’s the dead of winter, that’s why. And we’ve got to have something to cheer us up. It’s traditional. Two thousand years ago the early Christians did not celebrate Christmas. It wasn’t until the fourth century that believers could agree on the date that Jesus was born. They chose Dec. 25. A date not necessarily based on fact. But it was convenient. Other (pagan) celebrations were being held at that time of the year — why not Christmas? They added another tradition. The manner of celebration has been bathed in controversy ever since. At first it was a solemn, quiet religious day. Then, so-called pagan cultural influences inspired the Christians to tell the story of the nativity through music, art and dance. Things became a bit earthy and raucous. Finally, after the Reformation, Protestant groups banned celebrations entirely. Christmas was only re-instated after King Charles II was restored to the throne. In the American colonies, Christmas celebrations evolved slowly. The Puritans were very orthodox. It was illegal to mention St. Nicolas’ name, exchange gifts, light a candle or sing Christmas carols. There was a five shilling fine for exhibiting the Christmas spirit. Around the 19th century, the nation embraced Christmas as a family holiday. Slowly they re-incorporated candles, cards and carols into worship. German immigrants to Pennsylvania introduced the tree concept to Americans. Their candle-lit Christmas trees originated as oak trees that were worshipped in the 8th century by Germanic tribes. Martin Luther is credited with bringing a small fir tree into his house and decorating it with candles as a way of mirroring the beauty of the starry outdoors. It became a tradition. The garlands and wreathes that we hang on doors and tables date back to the 16th century. They are attributed to German Lutherans who began the custom of Advent — the period of four Sundays preceding the nativity of Jesus. The circular shape of wreathes symbolizes the love of God that is without beginning or end. Candles are one of the oldest of all Christian symbols. There is no controversy about the meaning of lighted candles in a church. In contrast to darkness, light is illuminating. It means goodness, truth, life and wisdom. The Bible says that Jesus is the light of the world and God is the father of light, so we let the candles burn! So what are we to make of gifts and gifting? Well, I think that 2,000 years ago a precedent was set. The Magi brought appropriate gifts to the infant Jesus. The three gifts were spiritually symbolic and fit for a king of that era. By doing so they demonstrated their joy, honor and respect at his incarnation. Perhaps this could be a template for our gift giving — three items — instead of the entire toy, clothing, sporting goods or jewelry store! A new tradition. The Christmas challenge is to balance the spiritual with the secular. But as we have seen, a lot of the secular has a spiritual background. Christmas is all about worship and sharing joy. We know we’ve succeeded at the later by the smiles on the faces of the ones we love. While most of us are working ourselves into a dither putting together a traditional Christmas, some people get all worked up over whether or not to tolerate the holiday. Some folks are really good at getting hostile about anything that smacks of religion. Recently there was a letter to the editor of the Register Guard exhorting readers to not extend celebratory greetings to strangers. Such phrases as “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” were distasteful to him. No sharing of well wishes or random people contact for this unhappy guy! Bah Humbug! The kindness of others, be it a smile or a warm greeting, is a blessing not a curse. If someone is celebrating, celebrate with them. It’s a cold, dark and lonely world unless joy is shared. It’s traditional. Years ago the word ‘merry’ had an entirely different connotation than it does today. It meant peaceful and blessed. “Merry Christmas” would then be translated as, “A peaceful Christmas to you” or “May Christmas bring the blessings of God to you.” Peace and blessings are great gifts. Long after all the presents under the tree have been unwrapped, the meals eaten, the guests departed and the decorations put away, the intangibles remain. The hugs, smiles, greetings and warm memories of the season are the best gifts — peaceful blessings. Enjoy your traditions (you can rest later) and Merry Christmas to all! Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

Classic Candy recipes

12/10/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Homemade candy is one of my favorite Christmas memories. At our house, candy was a treat. It was not something that we had sitting in the cupboard to chow down on. Most of the year, our candy budget was pretty much restricted to penny candy from the neighborhood drug store. A chocolate bar was five cents and a rare treat.

But Christmas was different. At the holidays, neighbors would drop by with plates of homemade cookies and candy and mother always made her special candied nuts. Sometimes my dad’s business associates gifted us with boxes of See’s Candy. The choices were mind-boggling and we kids always argued over the molasses chips.

Today, a delicious piece of candy is still one of life’s simple pleasures. Reduced to its essence, candy is nothing more than a concentrated source of sugar and water, to which a variety of flavorings and colorants have been added. So you might say that today’s recipes are all about sugar.

First, the disclaimer. Candy in copious amounts is not good for you. Sugar provides empty calories, contributes to overweight, rots teeth and makes kids hyper. It is not the stuff that healthy diets are made from.

On the other hand, a small piece of candy isn’t going to kill you. It’s a treat. A condiment. Something to be eaten in small amounts on special occasions. And special treats should taste wonderful! So don’t waste your calories on cheap, lousy, tasteless confections. Save them for only the best melt-in-your-mouth chocolates, flavorful mints and chewy caramels.

The following recipes are family holiday favorites. The Fantasy Fudge recipe has been around forever, is delicious and freezes well. The truffles are elegant with a minimum of work. Try both of the coatings or just roll them in powdered sugar. You will need a candy thermometer for the divinity and nuts but don’t worry if you haven’t used one before it’s easy. Enjoy!

Fantasy Fudge
Microwave and traditional method

1-1/2 sticks butter or margarine
3 cups sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 12-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 7-ounce jar marshmallow crème
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla

Lightly grease 13x9-inch pan.
Melt butter 1 minute in 4 quart microwave safe, glass bowl. Add sugar and milk; mix well. Microwave 3 minutes and stir. Return to microwave for 2 minutes and stir. Repeat this step again.

Remove from microwave and gradually stir in chips until melted. Add marshmallow, walnuts and vanilla. Mix well and pour into prepared pan. Cool at room temperature. Cut into squares. Makes 3 pounds.

Stove-top method:
Combine sugar, butter and milk in large saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted. Add remaining ingredients and beat until well blended. Finish as above.

Chocolate Raspberry Truffles

2/3 cup whipping cream
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam

Choice of coatings:
One 6-ounce white baking bar OR
1 cup milk chocolate chips
2 teaspoons shortening
Additional toppings: finely chopped nuts, coconut flakes or toffee bits

Heat cream in heavy, 2-quart saucepan just to boiling (do NOT boil). Remove from heat. Add chocolate chips; stir until melted and smooth. Stir in vanilla and jam. Pour into medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate until firm.

Line baking sheet with wax paper and drop chocolate mixture by heaping teaspoons onto prepared sheet. Freeze about 45 minutes or until firm. Roll into balls and return to freezer until ready to coat.

Over hot (not boiling) water, melt baking bar or chocolate chips with shortening. Stir until smooth. Drop frozen truffles, one at a time into melted coating; stir gently and remove with fork, shaking off excess. If desired, roll again in toppings mentioned above. Place on baking sheet and chill until set. Store in refrigerator, in airtight container for 1 week (if they last that long!).

Easy Divinity
(Karo Syrup)

2-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts

Mix first 4 ingredients in 2-quart saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat; cook without stirring to 265° F. or until small amount forms hard, yet plastic ball in cold water. Just before temperature reaches 265° F. beat egg whites in electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Beating constantly on high speed slowly pour hot syrup over egg whites. Beat until small amount holds soft peaks when dropped from spoon. Mix in vanilla and nuts. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto wax paper. Makes 40+ pieces.

Mother’s Candied Walnuts

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
10 regular marshmallows
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
3 cups walnut halves

Mix sugar, water and corn syrup in heavy 2-quart saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring, constantly. Cook to 238° F. or until soft ball forms (flattens on removal from cold water). Remove from heat. Stir in marshmallows and peppermint until dissolved. Stir in nuts until well coated. Turn onto waxed paper. Separate nuts while still warm. Makes 1 pound.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What to do when a lost dog and gunshots explode

12/3/06 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser Life in my ordinarily tranquil neighborhood recently turned ugly. First there were gunshots: “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!” They were followed by one ominous “Yelp!” Then there was total silence. Shocked, we wondered, “Did someone shoot that stray dog?” Several days before the shooting incident, a handsome young German Shepherd came on our property. We assumed that someone in the neighborhood had a new dog. We clapped our hands and shooed him home. Later, we noticed this same Shepherd would run out of the wooded park near us, as my husband drove by in his silver Jeep. the dog would look longing at him as Chuck zipped by. Obviously, he was looking for someone special. It was a sad “Are you my daddy?” gaze. During this time, the dog had also been sighted up the hill by other neighbors as he visited their properties. He was not approachable —just nervous. One neighbor encountered him on a bridge going across his creek. The man moved out of his way, as the dog crossed the bridge and then resumed raking leaves. The shepherd was apparently lost — not mean or aggressive. Prior to the shooting, we set out to help him, loading our pockets with dog biscuits before we headed to the park. As usual, as soon as the shepherd saw the Jeep, he came running. A beautiful young dog, we noticed that he limped as he ran. But try as we might, we could not get him to come near us. He nervously ran circles around the Jeep, never making eye contact or showing any response to our pleas. His nervous circles became larger and larger and we became fearful that traffic might hit him. Reluctantly, we went home. Shortly afterward we heard the gunshots. Immediately we hopped in the Jeep to look for him. But we searched in vain. He was gone. A few days later our doxies became very agitated and determined to dive down into a nearby drainage ditch. They had discovered another little lost soul —a Persian cat. Its sad little face was dripping with mud and its formerly brilliant white fur matted with dirt. And so it goes out here in the country where thoughtless people ignore or abandon helpless pets who starve and die a miserable, violent death. It’s a sad, sick situation. These are not wild animals accustomed to living off the land. They are domesticated animals, dependent on mankind for food, shelter and kindness. City dwellers have similar pet problems. The overpopulation of cats in Cottage Grove has been well documented. One unsprayed female cat can produce as many as 32 kittens in a year! One unaltered male can father multiple litters. You do the math. No wonder there are so many feral cats fighting, spreading disease and upsetting homeowners. It should always be a financial choice whether or not to bring home a pet. Responsible pet ownership should include funds to pay for spaying or neutering as well as food and shelter. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that a neutered male dog will not roam the streets and get in fights. Dogs are pack animals and they need attention. Please don’t chain and ignore them. Chained, the dog will howl, dig, get frustrated and become dangerous. Who’s fault is that? Traditional animal control was primitive and often inhumane but we have evolved. Most of us. Sometimes I think that the 2-legged human animal needs more training that the 4-legged variety. It’s usually not the pit bull that’s mean. It’s the owner treating the pet like he or she was treated as a child. Violence is a cycle that needs to be stopped. Since 1990, the Humane Society of Cottage Grove has sought to make our area a better place for both pets and owners. Janetta Overholser and her hardworking crew of volunteers can tell you stories about cruelty to helpless animals that will rip your heart out. At the same time, they can warm your soul with stories of those who rescued the victims. They clean them up, get them veterinary care, feed, love and find them a home — either by fostering or at Greenhill. The entire community benefits from the efforts of a handful of people who dedicate themselves to protecting animals. They field questions and answer calls for help; offer coupons to help with spaying/neutering costs; and send teams to local schools to teach youngsters the proper care and handling of animals. All of this is financed through donations and a second-hand store — ‘This-and-That Corner.’ Its entire proceeds are donated to animal support programs. There are no employees. Only volunteers. No one gets paid a dime but everyone benefits. In our neighborhood many people had seen the agitated stray dog but we did nothing. What do you do? Do you catch it? And if so — then what? Just whom do you contact when an abused, neglected, hurt, sick or lost animal appears on your doorstep? Here’s a list of resources to help answer your questions: Call the Cottage Grove Police Dept. if you live in the city: 942-9145 Call Lane County Animal Services if you live in the county: 682-3645 Call the HSCG: 942-3130 Call Greenhill Humane Society: 689-1503 Call local veterinarians to see if an animal has been reported missing. Take the pet to a veterinarian to be scanned for a microchip. Call KNNDs ‘Pet Lost ‘n Found’: 942-2468 Put a (free) found ad in the Sentinel: 942-3325 Post signs or posters. Many charities vie for contributions at this time of year. May I suggest that you add the CGHS to your list? They’ll spend your money wisely and make the world a little better for man and beast. Their emergency Angel Fund selectively assists where needed. Mail contributions to P.O. Box 61, Cottage Grove, 97424.
Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner Prep and Stuffing

11/26/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day! Hopefully you have efficiently posted tomorrow’s menu on the refrigerator to whet everyone’s appetite for the big day’s dinner. And don’t forget to double check your shopping list to make sure that no ingredients were left behind on that expensive trip to the grocery store. Now, if everything else is in order, you’re ready to cook.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is a busy day for cooks. I like to prepare as many foods in advance as possible. First thing in the morning I whip up the cranberry gelatin salad and put it in the outside frig. After that, I get the dough working for yeast rolls. This year I’m trying pumpkin rolls. Then I spend a couple of hours baking pies.

While the pies are baking I decide and pull out of the cupboards my table cloths, cutlery and even serving dishes. I also gather up the condiments that I’m going to use and place them on one shelf in the refrigerator: butter, jam, olives, whipped cream, coffee etc.

Turkey is our main course and I don’t mess with it the day before. Just make sure that it’s at least partially thawed before you clean and stuff it. Technically, you can roast a frozen turkey but I’ve never done it. Fresh turkeys are usually larger and the tastiest birds but this year, for our small gathering I purchased a frozen one.

Although we are advised not to stuff turkeys (or any meat) in advance, I do prepare my stuffing ingredients the day before. It’s so much easier to get all of that chopping and dicing finished in advance. Once the ingredients are assembled, I cover and refrigerate them. That way they’re ready to go the next morning.

Technically, it is not necessary to stuff your turkey. However, dressing is my favorite part of meal! It not only tastes good but it delicately flavors the turkey and helps it retain its natural juices. Just remember to stuff the cavity lightly to allow for expansion.

My grandmother’s farm-style southern dressing recipe was simply delicious. She was not a fancy cook and never even considered adding meat, fruit or nuts to her dressing. Her recipe was a simple cornbread based dish but I have never been able to completely duplicate it. So here’s a secret — I cheat!

I use a box of Mrs. Cubbison’s cornmeal stuffing and add an equal amount of homemade cornbread plus sautéed onions, celery, poultry seasoning and a small amount of chicken broth to moisten the mixture. I don’t have an exact recipe but I’ve made an effort to reconstruct it here. I’m also including a couple of other stuffing recipes that are as delicious with chicken and pork as with turkey.

Well, it’s time to get cooking. So whether you stuff or dress your turkey, Happy Thanksgiving!

Betty’s Cornbread Dressing

1 box Mrs. Cubbison’s Cornbread Stuffin’ Mix
1 recipe cornbread (not sweet) prepared & baked in advance
3/4-1 cup butter, melted
1-1/2 cups onion, diced
1-1/2 cups celery, sliced in moons
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Cut cornbread into small cubes and combine with stuffing mix in large bowl; sprinkle with poultry seasoning. Set aside. Melt butter in skillet and sauté onion and celery until translucent. Add broth to skillet and pour liquid over dry ingredients. Stuffs one 10-pound turkey with some leftovers.

Note: This may be a little drier consistency than you’re used to having. It will be just perfect when baked but add more liquid if you like. Play with this recipe until it suits your family’s tastes. If your family likes raisins and nuts, throw them in and see what happens.

Cranberry Apple Stuffing

1/2 cup butter
2 cups chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
2 tart apples, cored and chopped
1-1/4 cups dried cranberries
1 teaspoon fresh grated orange peel
4 cups unseasoned dry bread cubes
1 cup chicken broth

Place bread cubes in a large bowl and set aside.
Melt butter in a large skillet. Sauté celery and onion until translucent. Remove from heat. Add apples, spices, cranberries and orange peel.
Pour fruit mixture over bread cubes and toss; add chicken broth and mix lightly. Use to stuff 10-12 pound turkey; truss, place in baking pan and roast, following directions on turkey wrapper.

Water Chestnut Turkey Stuffing
Sun Luck Foods

3/4 cup onions
3/4 cup celery
1/2 cup water chestnuts
1/2 cup bamboo shoots
1/2 cup mushrooms
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons cooking wine (may substitute water or soy sauce)
2 tablespoons cup soy sauce

Separately chop water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, onions and celery; set aside. Combine broth, wine and soy sauce; set aside. Heat oil in a wok or skillet. Cook onions and celery for one minute. Add water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and mushrooms; continue cooking for one minute. Add liquid mixture. Turn off heat and add seasoned stuffing mix. Stuff turkey and roast according to package directions.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's Thanksgiving — Think Thankfully

11/19/08 The Chatterbox Betty Kaiser I grew up in a count your blessings era. Society stressed that if you had a roof over your head and food in your belly, you were rich. If you didn’t like your dinner your parents were always quick to remind you that “children were starving in China.” This concept of starving children was my introduction into how to put life’s problems into perspective. I may have been hungry but kids in other places were starving. I passed this attitude of gratitude philosophy onto my own children. At suppertime, if bickering and complaining started, we all had to dig deep and come up with something good that had happened that day — and the participants included mom and dad. After an attitude adjustment everyone was always in a better frame of mind. Well, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and if you’ve been grumpy, it’s time to adjust your attitude. Thanksgiving is a simple holiday. There’s minimal shopping to do; no gifts to wrap, no one to impress. It’s just you, the family, a turkey and an attitude of gratitude. I am not, however, a clueless Pollyanna. It is not always possible to be grateful in the same way every year. Some years gratitude is a dance of joy. Some years it’s a song. Other years it is simply a sigh of relief. If you are newly divorced or widowed; sick or disabled; homeless or unemployed — being deeply thankful might be a stretch. Perhaps you’re lonely and afraid as you adjust to a new way of life. Just getting up in the morning and staying sane from day to day is an accomplishment to be proud of. Economically, this year has been a disaster for nearly everyone. The Dow continues down a slippery slope. World markets are drained. IRA and 401K balances are disappearing. Jobless claims are at record highs and foreclosure rates are off the charts. “Recession” is the word of the day. Occasionally someone dares to say “depression.” Financially, at least on the surface, there’s not much to be thankful for. Most families have been touched by illness in some form. Many of us have loved ones who are suffering through a medical crisis; some can’t afford medication. Others of us have lost friends of a lifetime and we miss them deeply. Perhaps you personally are worn down with the suffering inflicted by cancer and struggling to get through the chemotherapy and radiation. It’s a tough time. So let’s face it, bad things are happening to good people. That’s a given. Good times and bad are the way of the world. The highs and lows of life are a roller coaster. But even when times are darkest, life goes on and it is in life that we find perspective. During the Dow’s downward spiral, when its demise seemed to be the only news that the media deemed fit to report, life went on: babies were born, children went to school and adults went to work. Hospitals were open, busses ran their routes, airlines flew, sanitation systems worked, and we elected a new president — life went on. The election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president of the United States was the only thing to knock financial gloom and doom out of the headlines. In a break from the norm, his decisive victory seemed to bring joy to the entire world not just his supporters. As messages of congratulations poured into the president-elect, I noticed that most were very complimentary not only of the candidate but of the citizens that elected him. Suddenly we Americans weren't so bad after all. Many countries, of course, were looking forward to “improved working relationships” i.e. political favors. But my favorite congratulatory letter was from the British Virgin Islands who offered the Obama family a holiday — as guests of the government! Strangely, Obama’s election really didn’t seem to even bother his Republican opposition too much. Thanks to a gracious speech by his opponent John McCain, civility seems to have prevailed. Election civility is not the norm in all countries. In fact, election violence is to be expected and considered somewhat normal, as we have seen in the countries of Algeria, Nepal, Kashmir and Macedonia. We should be immensely heartened by the usually well-mannered contestants who compete in our free and fair elections. Perhaps if we have no other reason to be grateful this season, we can be thankful for our (largely) peaceful democratic process. Yes, we have our warts and foibles, but we’re better than most in the world’s electoral process. Thanks-giving? It’s often a matter of perspective and perseverance. Life is ever changing. Some years the cup is full. Other years it seems empty. If you are suffering this year, find something to be thankful for —anything! — And hang in there. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a lifelong process. It isn’t easy but it will keep you sane during the tough times. Besides, being thankful on Thanksgiving Day is as traditional as turkey and pumpkin pie! P.S. Here’s a few ideas to jumpstart a thankful conversation around the Thanksgiving table: a nice warm house, a loving family, loyal friends, plentiful food, change in your pocket for a candy bar, a good book, a nice teacher, laughter, a compliment, a warm, cuddly pet. It’s your choice. The sky is the limit. Good luck!
Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Festive Pumpkin Soups

11/12/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Now that cold weather has arrived, it’s time to bring out the soup pot. A nice hot, homemade bowl of soup with a crisp green salad and a yummy dinner roll is a perfect simple supper.

Today I’m breaking out of my soup comfort zone and venturing into new territory. I tend to get into a rut with my tomato-based meat and vegetable soup combinations. It’s time to think outside of my traditional box and consider other options. The following recipes can a first course at holiday meals or make a nice lunch.

Traditional pumpkin and squash soups have never been my favorites. I’m really not into spicy squash-type concoctions flavored with peppers, bacon or sausage. Sweet is more my style. So I’ve been researching my options to come up with a pumpkin soup that isn’t too peppery, thick or glutinous but has exceptional flavor.

Another thing holding me back with pumpkin soups is this whole business of pureeing the mixture. Transferring the hot product to a blender and back into the pot is messy and dangerous. I discovered a simpler way — use a handheld blender directly in the cooking pot.

Today’s first recipe is a very festive appearing pumpkin soup with fresh cranberries. It can be prepared a day in advance. Topped with sour cream, yogurt or crème frèche, it will tantalize your taste buds.

The second recipe is a traditional cream-like soup. Get creative and forego the thyme for curry or pumpkin pie spice. Warning: both of these soups may need more salt. They absorb flavors.

The final recipe for cream of wild rice soup can easily become a main dish with the addition of diced ham, turkey or sausage. Enjoy!

“Bon Appétit” (original source)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups peeled, cored and diced tart green apples
1/2 cup cranberries
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped carrot
3-4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Dash ground cinnamon
Dash ground nutmeg
2 1/2 cups water
2 cups (or more) cranberry juice

1/2 cup cranberries
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon honey
1 c light sour cream

Heat olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. next 5 ingredients and cook until onion is tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Mix in pumpkin and spices. Add water and 2 cups cranberry juice and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender, stirring occasionally, approximately 20 minutes.

Meanwhile cook cranberries, water and sugar in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until cranberries pop, about 4 minutes.

Transfer soup to blender or food processor and puree. If not completely smooth, work through fine strainer set over bowl. Add more cranberry juice if thinner consistency is desired. Stir in honey. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. Dollop with 1 tablespoon sour cream on each bowl. Top with cranberries and serve 4 generously.

Note: If prepared in advance, cool; cover soup and cranberries separately and chill. Reheat before serving.

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

4 cups pumpkin puree
6 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup whole milk or heavy cream
5 whole black peppercorns
Fresh parsley

Heat stock, pumpkin, salt, onion, thyme, garlic, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes uncovered. Remove peppercorns. Puree the soup in small batches (1 cup at a time) using a food processor or blender. Return to pan, and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for another 30 minutes, uncovered. Stir in heavy cream. Pour into soup bowls and garnish with fresh parsley. Serves 6-8

Cream of Wild Rice Soup
“Taste of Home's Holiday and Celebrations Cookbook 2005”

1 package (6.2 ounces) long grain and wild rice mix
1 cup chopped onion
4-1/2 teaspoons butter
4-1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Pinch white pepper
3 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) chicken broth
2 cups whole milk or cream
1/2 cup white wine or additional chicken broth

Prepare rice mix according to package directions, using part chicken broth for liquid. In a large saucepan, sauté onion in butter until tender.
Stir in the flour, poultry seasoning and pepper until blended. Gradually stir in the broth, cream, wine or additional broth and cooked rice. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Serves 10 (2-1/2 quarts)

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dad's Politics: a 100-year-old perspective

11/5/08 Chatterbox Update
Betty Kaiser

Presidential elections always trigger memories of my dad who would have been 100 years old this year. A lifelong Democrat — married to a Republican — he took his politics seriously and religiously voted the party line. Ronald Reagan (originally a Democrat) was the great exception to his rule.

Dad often compared presidential candidates to Harry Truman— a fellow Missourian. They were both good old country boys who knew poverty up close and personal. Both toiled on hardscrabble farms under difficult fathers before becoming successes later in life.

As the oldest of five children, dad’s youth was like a story line out of a movie. He was forced to quit school in the 6th grade to take care of his younger siblings after his mother died of tuberculosis. His dad was what is politely called a “ne’er do well.” A wanderer, he never could get his act together after his wife died.

So Dad left school as a 12-year old to literally become the head of his family. Through necessity and sheer grit he managed to feed five kids and keep a roof over their heads. Always ambitious, he would take any job offered him and there weren’t many in rural Missouri.

He met my mother (a visiting city girl) as a young man after his siblings were grown. To the horror of his future in-laws, the couple married after a few days courtship and moved to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, dad had active tuberculosis. One of his lungs was collapsed and he was confined to a sanitarium for three years.

“Slim,” as his childhood friends called him, came out of the hospital weak but ready to go to work. Grandpa, a former Union Oil employee, had just the job for him in his “oil field junkyard.”

The Great Depression was upon the country and as oil companies shut down drilling operations, grandpa offered to remove their rusty, old, used pipe for free. He hauled it, cut, scrapped and cleaned it; then waited for the fields to start pumping again.

When they did, he was ready to sell. Dad became his roustabout. He left home before dawn, drove long distances, worked all day installing and pulling pipe and then came home to start all over again. I never heard him complain.

As the business prospered, grandpa stepped aside and dad moved up to CEO. Smart as a whip, turned out in a 3-piece suit this man with a grade school education became the go-to guy in his industry. With his twinkling eyes, good-old-boy smile and a firm handshake, his word was his bond. He took the company international and dealt with Mitsubishi Co. at a time the Japanese trusted very few Americans.

Dad lived President Truman’s presidential credo “The buck stops here.” Once you met him, you knew that you could trust Burl Varner. He was quick to share credit for successes, take responsibility for errors, admit mistakes and move on. He didn’t hold grudges but once burned, he was both aware and wary.

In 1966 he did the unthinkable and voted for Ronald Reagan as governor of Calif. As a small businessman, he thought that government was getting too big and messing unnecessarily in citizen’s lives. On that theme, he became a Reagan Democrat.

In 1980 we were having a political discussion about Ronald Reagan running for president. “Why would anyone want to be president?” I asked rhetorically. “Oh, I would,” he said matter-of-factly.

Until then, I had never realized that the American dream was dad’s dream. Anyone could become president. Even a poor boy from Missouri. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t a career politician. Presidents came from many backgrounds — why not his?

Last month Chuck and I visited the Ronald Reagan Library with two of our grandsons. In a way, it was an introduction to them of the ideals of the great-grandfather that they never knew. Reagan had achieved my dad’s American dream.

Sited on 100 acres in Simi Valley, the Reagan Library is one of the largest of the 12 presidential libraries. It houses the original Air Force One, the Marine One Helicopter and a portion of the Berlin Wall. Outside, a F-14 “Tomcat” celebrates Reagan’s “Peace through Strength” initiative.

The theatres and galleries chronicle with humor and dignity Reagan’s journey to the presidency. We were reminded that early on he was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve Calvary and during WWII the Army Air Force; of his great love for Nancy and the outdoors; the assassination attempt on his life in 1981; his hobby of model boat building (!); his unfailing good humor, and his tough talk for tough times during the Cold War that brought down the Berlin wall.

Dubbed the “Great Communicator,” he was eminently quotable. Some of his memorable lines:
“The taxpayer: that’s someone who works for the federal government but doesn’t have to take the civil service exam.”
“Here’s my strategy on the cold war: we win, they lose.”
“Mr. Gorbachov, tear down this wall!”

All in all, it was an inspiring day but Air Force One was the highlight for Paul and Matthew. Poised for takeoff, it radiated history in motion. It served seven presidents beginning with President Nixon. We boarded this “Flying White House” and tried to imagine it filled with presidents, their chief of staff, military aides, security, the press and yes, the so-called “nuclear football.”

Today we have a new president-elect — number 44. Due to early deadlines, I don’t know whether it’s John McCain or Barrack Obama. Dad liked straight talk in his friends and his presidents. One of his favorite lines was “Why lie when the truth works better?” So I’m not even sure whom dad would have voted for.

Only time will tell if our new president will pass my dad’s 100-year-old-good-old-boy litmus test of leadership through honesty.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places
family, and other matters of the heart. 


Halloween: Kid's pre-trick-or treating dinners

10/22/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Autumn always brings adjustments and lifestyle changes. Summer is over! There’s no more sleeping in or sunny lazy days at the lake. The changing seasons are always a bit of a shock as everyone is challenged to adapt to back-so-school schedules and dark, dreary mornings. These are busy times for already busy families. And then comes Halloween.

Halloween is notorious for putting kids on a sugar high and parents into frazzled mania. Talk about an adjustment! You finally get the kids into a healthy eating routine and bam! Ghosts and goblins blow your meal plans to smithereens.

Kids are usually too excited to eat before they go trick-or-treating and too tired to eat when they come home. What they need to eat they don’t want and what they want, they don’t need! What’s a parent to do?

Now I’m not about to tell you not to let the kids eat candy. Maybe your kids are different but I’ve never yet seen a kid yet that would prefer a carrot stick to a handful of “M & M’s.”

I am here to suggest a little moderation. Perhaps if you can get them to eat a tiny little dinner before they leave to glean candy you can put a dent in their appetites when they’re on the road. The question is — what will they eat?

Well, this is not the time to bring out the best china and serve them filet mignon. In most households, it’s probably paper plates and grilled cheese with maybe a little tomato soup throw in for good measure. But let’s see if we can kick things up just a notch.

I found some good grilled sandwich ideas in “Food & Family” magazine put out by Kraft. Their recipes are deliciously simple and tweaked just enough to be a little more appetizing than the average grilled sandwich.

The first thing Kraft suggests is spreading Miracle Whip on the outside of the bread. It will not only make a perfectly golden grilled sandwich but the tangy flavor will encourage “one more bite.”

Then, ust as a reminder, I’m adding a burrito recipe. In a pinch, most of us can gulp down a beef and bean burrito with a green salad and pronounce dinner “good.”

If your kids like salads, this Apple Harvest recipe will hit the spot. It has fruit, greens and protein all bound together with ranch dressing. Pair it with a soft buttered roll and the kids are ready to go.

Finally, pears are at their peak of flavor. Why not substitute them for apples and treat yourself to a pear crisp? A scoop of ice cream melting over the top is especially yummy. Enjoy!

Mix & Match Grilled Cheese

For each sandwich, spread the outside of 2 slices of bread with Miracle Whip Dressing. Then choose from the following combinations:

Bistro Ham: Layer 3 slices apple, 3 slices thinly shaved ham, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and your choice cheese. Maybe Swiss? Try this on rye bread.
Deli Roast Beef: Layer 3 slices thinly shaved roast beef topped with 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon Miracle Whip and your choice cheese. How about cheddar? This would be good on a dark rye bread.
Tomato-Chicken: Layer 2 thin slices tomato, 1 thin slice chicken, 2 teaspoons basil pesto sauce and your choice of cheese. Muenster will kick things up a notch on whole wheat bread.
Margherita: Layer 2 slices tomato; 2 teaspoon chopped fresh basil and 2 mozzarella cheese slices. Try this on sour dough bread.

Cook each sandwich in large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat 3 min. on each side or until cheese is melted and sandwich is golden brown on both sides. 

Quick Burritos

1 pound ground beef
1 can refried beans, warmed
6 flour tortillas (10-inch)
1/2-1 cup salsa
1-1/2 cup jack and cheddar cheese, shredded
1-1/2 cups shredded lettuce
1-1/2 cups tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup finely minced onion
Sour Cream

Brown meat in large skillet on medium heat; drain well. Add salsa until desired consistency and simmer 5 minutes. Spread beans evenly down centers of tortillas; top evenly with meat, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. Garnish with onion and sour cream if desired. Roll up burrito style. Makes 6 burritos.

Apple Harvest Salad

 1/4 cup buttermilk ranch dressing
1 cup tart apple wedges
1/2 cup red grapes
1 cup turkey breast slices, cut into strips
4 cups mixed salad greens
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, diced
1/4 cup bacon crumbles

Just before serving, mix all ingredients together. Evenly divide on 2 salad plates and garnish with a cluster of grapes. Serves 2.

Note: This recipe is easily multiplied. Just ‘eyeball’ the number of servings and multiply as needed.

Autumn Pear Crisp

4 large pears, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

4 vanilla wafer cookies, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup butter
Cool Whip Whipped Topping

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Spray 4 large custard cups with cooking spray.
Mix cream cheese, sugar and cinnamon until blended. Gently stir in pears. Spoon into prepared cups.

Mix cookie wafers, pecans and butter in small bowl. Sprinkle over cream cheese mixture. Place cups on baking sheet. Bake 25 min. or until pears are bubbling. Serve warm, topped with whipped topping.

Serves 4

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare. 

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Political humor: vote for Gracie?

10/15/08 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser Americans take their presidential elections very seriously. Everywhere I go, I hear voters debating the pros and cons of electing either Barrack Obama or John McCain as president. In grocery store aisles, sitting in a restaurant or waiting in line at the post office, voters are engaged, informed and intelligently discussing the issues. Unfortunately, our very human candidates are being judged by super human standards. Their positions on our nation’s political hot-potato issues are meticulously dissected. Then, their individual personalities, faith, style of communication, personal ticks and idiosyncrasies are brought out and laid on the table to be examined. It is impossible for any one person to measure up. Politics has ever been this way and it seldom changes. In my lifetime, probably the most notable difference in presidential elections is the duration of the campaigns before the convention. Campaigning once took a few brief months but now comprises the better part of two years. ‘Back in the day,’ candidates were actually chosen at the convention as were the vice presidential candidates. Contestants would slug it out on the convention floor right up to the final bell. The last time that happened was probably 25 years ago. Candidates are now officially ratified at the convention not chosen. In 1972 Sen. George McGovern and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey battled it out at the Democratic convention. McGovern prevailed but later blamed his loss to Nixon on the infighting in his own party saying “We were so badly scarred up by that battle the last 30 days for the nomination … and the nation saw a party in disarray.” In 1976 it was the Republicans who found themselves in-fighting. President Nixon had been forced to resign because of Watergate. His vice president, Gerald Ford, had finished out his term of office as president. Ford had the office but challenger Ronald Reagan had captured the hearts of the Republican Party. Nevertheless, Ford was the incumbent; he had the experience and the contacts and he won the nomination. But, in one of the surprises of the century, he lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter. One thing hasn’t changed and that is the lack of a sense of humor on the part of the candidates. Campaigning is serious business when it’s your name on the ballot. You don’t just shrug off insults when your reputation is at stake. Besides, your country’s future hangs in the balance and you think that you’ve got the answers to all its problems. But every so often humorous candidates surface and lighten up the whole process. Back in the early days of radio, Eddie Cantor and Will Rogers made slapstick runs at the White House. Today we have Saturday Night Live to bring a little levity to the proceedings. One of the funniest comedians to address political comedy was ditzy Gracie Allen. She and hubby George Burns were comedic stars of radio, stage, screen and television. Burns was the straight man who wrote the material but the audience loved silly Gracie and her earnest delivery of skewed answers to Burn’s serious questions. In March 1940 on the Burns and Allen radio show, Gracie announced that she was forming a new political party and declared her candidacy for president. War was simmering across Europe; times were grim and getting worse. This was the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Wendell L. Wilkie and Thomas E. Dewey. Laughter was in short supply. Gracie’s new party was called the “Surprise Party.” After all, she said, her mother was a Democrat, her father a Republican and she was born a — Surprise! To keep her candidacy alive, Gracie made unannounced appearances on other radio shows to offer her views on the issues of the day. The public loved it because they never knew where she would pop up. It was sort of like “Where’s Waldo?” One day she could be found at Fibber McGee and Molly and the next on The Jack Benny Program. When Ken Murray, host of The Texaco Star Theatre, asked her which party she was affiliated with, she answered in typical Gracie form: “I may take a drink now and then, but I never get affiliated.” Eventually she and George crossed the country, on a whistle-stop campaign tour, performing their radio show live from Hollywood to Omaha. Gracie garnered laughs and brightened lives with her one-liners: “I don’t know much about the Lend-Lease Bill but if we owe it, we should pay it!” The couple published a book “Gracie Allen for President” containing photos of the tour and the Surprise Party Convention in Omaha where she was nominated for president of the United States. When all was said and done, Gracie garnered a few hundred votes and tens of thousands of smiles — which is all she wanted. Comedian Pat Paulsen was a perennial candidate who injected humor into campaigns for nearly 30 years. He was recruited by the politically incorrect Smothers Brothers to run for president in 1968. Paulsen belonged to what he called the “Straight Talking American Government Party or STAG for short.” Every week he flooded the airways with his deadpan delivery of obvious political lies and attacks on the major candidates. He responded to any personal criticism with his catch phrase of “picky, picky, picky.” His campaign slogan was “Just a common, ordinary simple savior of America’s destiny.” His aspirations were obviously comedic and aimed at political arrogance but he ran his tongue-in-cheek campaigns until his death in 1997. Thank goodness for comedians who use gentle humor to point out our politicians humanity. By laughing together perhaps we can bond during this crazy-making time of decisions. I read somewhere that “If a person is well-informed he can run for political office. And if the voters are not well-informed, he can get elected.” Our job is to get informed and vote!
Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Her columns are published in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

When the frost is on the punkin — eat it!

10/08/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

“When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here —
Of course we miss the flowers and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’ birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock —
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.”
James Whitcomb Riley

Written nearly 100 years ago this snippet from the poem by renowned Hoosier poet Riley perfectly captures my fall feelings. Indian Summer is here and all’s right in my garden. Fall’s muted color palette puts summer’s crisp colors and days into perspective. Winter will soon be here.

Unlike Riley, most of us no longer live on farms where we need to be gathering in fodder (food) for our livestock. Many of us still plant pumpkins, however, and they do need to be gathered before the first frost if we hope to add them to our meals — or our front porches!

To the pioneer, pumpkins were more than a decorative asset. They were a food staple much like squash. In an era of root cellars with no refrigeration, they were good keepers and easy to grow — just drop a few seeds into a small shallow hole, water and watch them go!

Pumpkins pieces were sometimes dried and strung on a string. They could then be reconstituted and served as desired. One simple dish called for the dried product to be soaked in water, fried in bacon grease and served with crumbled bacon on top.

On a cold winter’s night, if all else failed, families could eat pumpkin for their main meal in soups and stews or even stuffed with rice or other leftovers. Carefully hoarded spices were used to put a little life into the otherwise bland vegetable.

“The Yankee Cookbook” originally published in 1939 has great stories about the eating habits of our ancestors. Evidently, stewed pumpkin was common, every day fare. In fact, one of the dishes was sarcastically called the “ancient New England standing-dish” due its prevalence: stewed pumpkin chunks dressed with a little butter, spice and vinegar.

Another common practice was to take a small, very ripe pumpkin with a hard shell and slice off the stem end to form a cover with a handle. The seeds were scooped out, milk was poured in, the cover was popped on and the pumpkin was placed into a brick oven to roast for 6-7 hours. It was then removed, filled again with milk and eaten straight from the shell.

Times have changed and so have our tastes. When it comes to pumpkin, most of us think of pie. But there’s a lot more to this orange-colored oldie than pie. Thanks to the magic of canned and pureed pumpkin, you can whip up a variety of pumpkin recipes for any meal at any time of the year. Experiment a little and enjoy!

Pumpkin Pancakes with Apple Pecan Topping

1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons oil
1 egg
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup sour cream

Combine all ingredients. Batter will be lumpy. Let rest 5-10 minutes. If too thick, add a little milk. Bake on a hot grill.

Apple Pecan Topping

2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Combine all ingredients in small saucepan. Cook over medium head until apples are tender, stirring frequently. Serve over pancakes.

Pumpkin Eggnog Pie

2 cups pumpkin
1-1/2 cups eggnog
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 425° F.
Combine all ingredients in large mixer bowl and mix well.
Pour into 9-inch unbaked pie shell and bake 15 min. Reduce heat to 350° F. Bake an additional 40-45 min. or until knife inserted near edge comes out clean. Serves 6

Pumpkin Rum Cake
(A Taste of Oregon)

2 16 ounce packages pound cake mixes
1 16 ounce can pumpkin
1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 325° F.

Prepare pound cake mixes together according to package directions, decreasing water to a total of 2/3 cup; add pumpkin and pie spice. Turn into well greased and floured 10-inch fluted tube pan. Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool in pan 10 min. Place on serving plate. Using long-tined fork or skewer, punch holes in top of cake at 1-inch intervals.

1 cup sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
1/4 cup rum

In saucepan, combine sugar, orange juice and cinnamon stick; bring to boil. Remove cinnamon and stir in rum. Spoon orange glaze very slowly over cake, a small amount at a time, allowing cake to absorb glaze. Continue until glaze is used. Spoon any glaze that runs onto plate back over cake. Chill until serving time

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The best vacations are when you're a kid

10/1/08 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser When it comes to vacations, I’d like to be a kid again. Right now, I’m an adult, sitting here at my computer nursing a cold and trying to make sense of a vacation gone bad. A box of Kleenex, a bottle of aspirin, a handful of vitamin C and a hot cup of tea with honey are nearby. I’m not a happy camper. As a kid, my summer vacations were magical and the camping happy. My idea of a great vacation was (and is) simple: a cozy cabin, sunny blue skies, a place to swim and a good book. Gooey S’mores cooked on a campfire are just icing on the cake. My family took two summer vacations. Each June, we spent a week on Santa Catalina Island where we stayed in tiny cottages, rode the glass bottom boat, admired the yachts in the harbor and longed to be all grown up. As children we could visit the massive 12-story, circular Catalina Casino but only the adults could dance in the ballroom. The month of August was spent at our mountain cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains. There, our routine was always the same. We swam in the lake, rode horses, ate beach stand hamburgers peppered with gritty sand, read books and played board games. Grandmother cooked on a wood stove and Grandpa teased the Stellar Jays with peanuts. Life was simple. Vacations were a time of nothing to do and all day to do it in. Then I grew up. Chuck and I married and started a family and he only had one week’s vacation a year. But we held to tradition and every year, the last week in August, we piled our vintage station wagon high with kids, water toys, groceries, swim suits and towels and headed for the mountains. The scenario changed dramatically in 1983. All three of our kids were in college, we were remodeling our restaurant and ready for a change of pace. One Sunday afternoon, completely on a whim, with no planning or foresight, we stopped by an RV dealership in Santa Barbara and drove out in a brand new 24-ft. Tioga! A few hours later, the enormity of what we had done, washed over me. “Buyers Remorse” does not begin to describe how I felt. The payment on this extravagant rig was $500! What were we thinking? Chuck, the eternal financial optimist, was not worried. I was beside myself with fear. I turned gray and couldn’t eat. My question for days was “what if?” What if we couldn’t make the payments? What if we broke down in the wilderness? ‘What ifs’ dogged my days. Well, I’m here to tell you the ‘what ifs?’ never happened. That little Tioga chugged along over hill and dale for 22 years with never a problem. While other folks were upgrading to bigger and better RVs, we were happy with our mini-motor home. Low maintenance, relatively gas efficient, it was small enough to fit in state and national park sites and big enough to be comfortable. Life was good. It’s hard to say what made us decide to trade up. Was it the aging motor home that needed new upholstery, carpet and a paint job? Or was it our aging bodies rebelling against not having a sofa to sit on? Who knows? But trade up we did — twice. We now own a 32-foot Suncruiser that when it runs, suits us perfectly. We purchased this ‘gently used’ RV with less than 5,000 miles on it. The interior was so spotless that it took our breath away. The bread board was still wrapped in plastic, the stove had never been cracked, and the recliners were perfect for the dogs and us. It was heavenly. You’ll notice that I said ‘was.’ On our first trip, everything worked perfectly and the rig was comfy and cozy. Since then, I could write a book about all the things that have repeatedly gone wrong. Problems the technicians cannot fix, find, or even duplicate. Without boring you to tears I will simply say that since May our difficulties have included popping fuses, smoke coming from the dash, a short in the backup lights, headlights dimming and no power during transit. Our rig has been into the shop multiple times simply because the refrigerator will not switch from 120V to LP. What’s the problem? We don’t know. And evidently neither do the invisible, isolated technicians who report via a service adviser that they “reset the codes.” Leaving town last month, we barely arrived in Eugene before the refrigerator went down (again). We spent hours in the service department leaving at 5 p.m. Upon arrival in Florence our refrigerator was once again dead. We loaded it with $40 worth of dry ice and eventually tossed most of the refrigerator’s contents. Finally, a mobile RV technician tested and pronounced the cause of our problems: the batteries were dead. Yep. All three of them were two years out of date. No one had ever checked. By that time it was the weekend and we were dry camping. The marine battery shop was closed. Mon. we drove to Coos Bay. There, the installer grimaced, shook his head and essentially said, “This is not good,” as he took out the old and installed several hundred dollars of batteries. Suddenly, everything started working. But just briefly. A few days later we heard the dreaded sound of the refrigerator dying again. We came home. Life on vacation has become complicated and frustrating. As life’s problems go (in terms of importance) this one is just a drop in the bucket. A mechanical problem should be fixable. I mean, with thousands of RVs on the road, how difficult can it be to fix a refrigerator? Evidently it’s nearly impossible. Oh, to be a kid again when life was simple, everything was possible and vacations were — vacations. Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An End of Summer Treat: Peach Pies

9/24/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Heavenly. That’s the only way I know how to describe the delicious late summer taste of a fresh, juicy peach. As I write this, fresh peaches are still abundant from nearby orchards and we are enjoying them served from noon to night on breakfast cereal, sliced fresh over ice cream and in a variety of other desserts.

SunCrest peaches are my favorite all-around peach for both eating and canning. They ripen in late Aug. through early Sept. and their firm, sweet flesh melts in your mouth. Right now, Improved Elbertas have arrived on the scene and they are a great all-around freestone peach with a firm yellow flesh that resists bruising. So now is the time to can if you want to enjoy a jar of rosy peaches in the dead of winter!

My hands down favorite peach dish is a glazed, fresh peach pie. Many new cooks are afraid to tackle a fresh fruit pie but it’s really not difficult. Just think of it as a three-step process:

First, prepare and bake the pie shell. Then, while the pie shell is cooling, make the glaze. While the glaze is cooling, slice and arrange the peaches. Pour the peach glaze over the peaches and refrigerate until serving time. Serve it all and eat it quickly because fresh fruit pies don’t stand up well after cutting.

Thanks to my family’s Southern cooking roots, I’ve never met a dessert containing peaches, coconut and pecans that I didn’t like. So today we’re going to start out with a glazed peach pie recipe and move on to a couple of scrumptious recipes for peach pies with blueberries, coconut and/or pecans. One even makes its own crust. Enjoy!

 Glazed Peach Pie

1 9-inch pie shell, baked
1 quart sliced fresh peaches, excess liquid drained
 3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
 3 tablespoons cornstarch
 1 teaspoon vanilla
  teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon
1/8 teaspoon salt
sweetened whipped cream or whipped topping

Mash 1 cup of the peaches. Add water and cook four minutes. Mix sugar and cornstarch; add to the fruit mixture. Cook until thick and clear. Add vanilla, lemon juice, butter, and salt. Let cool. Arrange remaining peach slices in the cooled pie shell. Pour cooled peach glaze mixture over the sliced fruit. Chill. To serve, top with whipped cream or whipped topping and a few small peach slices, if desired. Or, serve with vanilla ice cream.

Blueberry Peach Pie with Pecan Crumb Topping

1 (9 inch)  prepared unbaked pie shells, refrigerated


3 cups fresh blueberries, picked over for stems
3 cups peeled pitted and sliced ripe fresh peaches
1/2 cup sugar, plus
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 grated lime, zest of
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Pecan Crumb Topping

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 tablespoon milk or light cream

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Place prepared piecrust in the freezer for 15 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, combine the filling ingredients, mix well and set aside for 10 minutes.
3. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons sugar; stir into the fruit mixture.
4. Turn the filling into the chilled pie crust; place the pie on the center oven rack and bake for 30 minutes.
5. Prepare the topping—combine the flour, pecans, sugar, and salt in a food processor; pulse several times to chop the nuts coarsely.
6. Scatter the butter over the top and pulse again until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
7. Sprinkle the milk over the mixture and pulse again briefly.
8. Transfer the topping to a bowl and rub it between your fingers to make damp, gravelly crumbs; refrigerate until ready to use.
   9. Remove the pie from the oven and decrease temperature to 375°; evenly spread the crumbs over the top of the pie.
10. Slide a large foil-lined baking sheet onto the oven rack below to catch any drips. Return pie to oven
11. Continue to bake 30-40 minutes until the juices bubble thickly around the edge. If necessary, cover the pie with loosely tented foil for the last 15 minutes to keep the top from getting too brown.
  14. Transfer pie to a wire rack; let cook for at least 2 hours before serving.

Peach Pie with Coconut and Pecans

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup melted butter
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup self-rising flour
1-1/3 cups shredded coconut
2-1/2 cups chopped peaches
12 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Generously grease and lightly flour a 9-inch pie plate.

In a large bowl, beat eggs; add milk, corn syrup, butter, sugar, vanilla and flour; blend well.

Pour mixture into pie plate. Sprinkle with pecans, then generously with cinnamon. Bake 40-50 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let the pie cool before cutting. Garnish each serving with whipped cream.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare. 

Friday, September 26, 2008

Kaiser's Dachshund Duo

Sammy & Sadie
9/17/08 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser The game is on and the noise is deafening! Two little red dachshund bodies are facing off across our driveway. The gauntlet has been thrown. Crouched and nearly motionless, each one is reading the other’s eyes, deciding who will begin this game of “Catch me if you can.” The challenging seems to take forever. Yipping and yelping, they sound like a pack of Beagles, not miniature dachshunds. Who will make the first move? The players are Sadie and Sammy. At 8 years of age, Sadie has the edge in skill and experience. After all, she grew up playing this game with a German Shepherd! Sammy, however, has youth and stamina on his side. Now a one-year old, he learned the rules of the game the hard way. Sadie was a ruthless and formidable opponent. To survive, he had to learn quickly from his older playmate. Suddenly, Sadie darts toward Sammy and the chase is on. Propelled by toned muscled legs, Sadie quickly pulls ahead with Sammy on her heels. As soon as he seems ready to overtake her, she deftly dodges and turns, heading in the opposite direction. With a little leap, he agilely twists his little body like a pretzel and they are once again neck and neck. Sadie (the yelper and strategist) sees an opening to the left and takes it with Sammy hot on her heels. After a few minutes of this intense play, there’s an unspoken time out. Each dog momentarily rests on its own turf. You can almost see the wheels spinning: “If I do this, and he does that, maybe I can beat him at this game.” Minutes pass before the challenging starts again. This time Sammy makes the first move and Sadie is a little slow catching up. He looks over his shoulder as if to say, “Come on, you old slowpoke!” Eventually, the duo will tire of this game, straggle into Chuck’s woodshop, plop down on their cushions near the now cold woodstove and take a nice long nap. Best friends? You bet. But these two weren’t always so friendly. Sadie didn’t take too kindly to the idea of a new puppy when he came to live with us a year ago. She had some medical problems, became seriously ill and had put on about 5 pounds from steroids. She was also a one-person dog and all she really wanted was to crawl up on Chuck’s lap and sleep. Suddenly there was a new kid in the house. What a pain in the neck! She was used to being the center of Chuck’s world. Every morning they opened the shop together, checked the vegetable garden, mowed and did chores. After lunch there was usually time for a little siesta before the afternoon routine began. She especially looked forward to evenings and watching a little TV in the recliner with dad. Sammy changed all of that. Because of him, she not only had to share her main man but put up with this annoying bundle of energy. He not only diverted attention away from her but totally destroyed her daily routine. There was no rest for the weary when he was around. She’d lie down and he’d flop down on top of her and chew her ears. He was constantly challenging her to do something — anything! She would have none of it and began to growl and bare her teeth. I began to worry that she might never accept him. Wrong! As the months crawled by, she started to feel better. One day she noticed that Sammy was playing with HER toys. Her favorite squeaky toys were also his favorite. Obviously, that was not acceptable. So, their bonding began over a simple game of tug-of-war. They could spend an hour jockeying for position with a 12-inch long wiener dog toy that had a squeaker on each end. Not even playing catch with dad could compare to that. As Sadie began to feel better, her disposition began to improve. It quickly became apparent that this pup didn’t play wimpy people games. No, he knew how to play “doggie-style.” Maybe he was all right after all. A simple game of ‘fetch’ became much more exciting when she had to compete with Sammy for the ball. Hide and seek became a real challenge when competing with him for the prize. A wonderful benefit to all of this exercise was that Ms Sadie lost 5-pounds. The last year, she had become a 19-pound little sausage dog; was short of breath, shunned walks and was a total couch (recliner?) potato. Now, she is a svelte 14-pounder and looking good. She bounds around the property chasing birds, digging for moles, and plays daily games of tug-of-war, fetch and ‘chase,’ with her buddy Sammy. This Dachshund dream team joyously greets visitors, keeps the cats on their toes and the deer wary. Mom and dad? Well, they’re just happy watching the boundless energy of youth compete with the age and skill of experience. All in all, our days are a lot of fun. Game on! Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.