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.