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.