Thursday, December 17, 2009

Yule Logs are for eating

12/16/09 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

We’re not going to be home for Christmas this year, so there’s no need for me to get frantic over my usual holiday baking marathon. However, it is Christmas and I do have to abide by tradition and do some baking if I want to keep my happy home.

Paging through some Christmas cake recipes, I’ve decided to make a Bûche de Noël, which is the French name for a traditional Yule Log Cake. The names sounds exotic but they’re really just simple jelly roll sponge cakes festively decorated in the shape of a Yule log.

The selling point for me is the texture of the batter. Thanks to lots of eggs and little or no flour and fat, sponge cakes are tender, light and fluffy. The batter is delicate but not fragile so even your kids or grandkids can help in the preparation Just remember that you must have a long 10X15-inch jelly roll pan for baking, parchment paper and a clean dishtowel to roll them up in while you’re preparing the filling.

Now, if you’re not familiar with the process, here are some hints: By their very nature, sponge cakes will stick to the pan unless it is well-greased and topped with parchment paper that is also greased. If you do that, turning them out of the pan onto a powdered sugar dishtowel is a piece of cake! The cakes are immediately rolled up in the towel and allowed to cool.

Once cool, they are unrolled, spread with a filling and re-rolled. You can use a variety of fillings, ranging from jam to custard to whipped cream or butter-cream frosting. Traditionally these simple cakes are dusted with powdered sugar because of the rich filling. However, if you like to decorate, check out the first chocolate recipe below.

The last recipe is also chocolate but it is flourless. Dust it with powdered sugar and add some small twigs and berries to resemble a snowy log. Enjoy!

Frosted Bûche de Noël

4 eggs at room temperature
2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cake flour, sifted before measuring

Preheat oven to 400° F.
Butter a 10X15-inch jelly roll pan. Line with parchment paper and butter that as well.

In a mixer beat the eggs until they are very thick and light colored, about 7 min. Continue beating, adding the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing each spoonful to mix in before continuing with the next. Beat in the vanilla.

Stop the mixer and remove bowl. Sift 1/2 cup cake flour on top of the batter and gently blend in with a spatula. Repeat with the final 1/2 cup flour. Stop as soon as the flour is integrated into the batter.

Pour and spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for just 10 min. Do not overbake or the cake will be too stiff to roll. Remove from oven and turn the cake out onto a clean dishtowel. While warm, roll the cake up with the dishtowel inside. Allow the cake to cool completely. While the cake is cooling prepare the frosting.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup soft unsalted butter
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup buttermilk

Whip the butter in your mixer until light and creamy. Sift together the sugar, cocoa and salt and add this to the butter. Beat until well mixed then add the vanilla and buttermilk. Beat until very smooth.

To assemble, unroll the cake and spread about 1/2 of the frosting evenly on the top. Carefully roll the cake back up and place on serving dish. Frost the outside of the log and using a fork, score lines in the frosting to give it a textured effect. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for several hours.

To decorate, sprinkle the cake with grated chocolate (mud), chocolate chips, maraschino cherries, a washed evergreen branch and tiny Christmas ornaments.

FYI: To make the tree more life-like, diagonal pieces of cake (cut from the ends) may be attached to the log with frosting for a cut branch look.

Flourless Bûche de Noël

6 eggs yolks
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 egg whites
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 375° F.
Grease or butter a 10X15-inch jellyroll pan with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper. Set aside.

In large bowl, beat 6 egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar until thick and pale. Blend in 1/3 cup cocoa, 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla and salt.

In another clean bowl, using clean beaters, whip egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar and beat until whites form stiff peaks. Immediately fold the yolk mixture into the whites. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake for 12-15 min. or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Dust a clean dishtowel with powdered sugar. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn the warm cake out onto the towel. Remove and discard parchment. Starting at the short edge of the cake, roll the cake up with the towel. Cool 30 min.

While the cake is cooling, prepare the whipped cream filling.
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl, whip cream, powdered sugar, cocoa and vanilla until thick and stiff. Refrigerate until ready to fill cake.

To finish and serve the cake:
Unroll the cake and spread the filling to within 1 inch of the edge. Roll the cake up with the filling inside. Place seam side down onto a service plate, cover and refrigerate until served. Dust with powdered sugar and slice. Serves 12

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.

Heartache doesn't take a holiday

12/9/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Heartache doesn’t take a holiday

Sadness and sorrow are not a popular subject in the month of December. The glitz and glamour of the season tend to mask the reality that many have serious health problems during this festive time of year while others are suffering the loss of loved ones. Heartache doesn’t take a holiday just because the calendar says it’s time to celebrate.

Listening to the news, I wince when the latest casualty count of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are announced. I am enraged at stories of cruelty to men, women or children. I am concerned about the homeless population. I tear up when I hear tales of animal cruelty. I worry about the future of humanity. And when the newscast is over, I go back to my nice, normal, middle-class lifestyle.

But these newscasts are about real people. And the escalation of violence in our country means that when vile, awful things happen, life is never the same for any of us. There’s a new normal. A new reality — Bad things happen to good people.

It dumbfounds me that there are so many multiple murders. Family members are killing generations of family members. Individuals are shooting up their office staff. I keep wondering ‘why?’ When did this start happening? Has it always been this way and we just never noticed? Is it possible to stop this madness?

The recent Fort Hood Massacre stunned the country. Initial reports said that Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, calmly gunned down and killed 13 soldiers, injuring dozens more. Unbelievable. An officer killing his comrades? The killer was brought down before it was a complete bloodbath. But there’s a new normal at Fort Hood.

On hearing this, my first thought was fearful: “Is this another 9/11?”

My next thought was outrage: “What kind of a monster would do this to his comrades?”

My final thought was “How are the families going to cope?”

For every person killed at the hands of another, hundreds of people are affected. Wives, husbands and children are robbed of a spouse or parent. Extended family, friends and neighbors lose a companion. For all those involved, there’s a certain loss of innocence that can never be reclaimed.

The recent senseless, execution-style shooting of four Lakewood, Wash. police officers sent shock waves across the country. Another monster on a mission walked up to a table in a coffee shop and blew away four police officers. By default, his act affected hundreds of other lives. Immediate families were devastated and entire communities are in mourning. Christmas will be tough this year.

These large-scale tragedies make headlines nationally but locally we have similar struggles on a smaller scale. Some folks are fighting for their lives due to illness; some are winning the battle but some will lose. Individuals are victims of homicide. Again, these families must cope with heartache this holiday season.

Just before Thanksgiving Retta and Jim Cunningham lost their son Tom. He was shot and killed, on a city street in Hayward, CA, as his daughter watched. They were on an outing to get ice cream. Another senseless killing.

Aislinn Blackstone, daughter of Len and Deb Blackstone, celebrated her 31st birthday at Riverbend Hospital last weekend. She has been there for nearly two months, struggling to stay alive. Her battle began with a case of the flu. H1N1 or Swine Flu. The usual symptoms of exhaustion, fever, and cough escalated to pneumonia, blood clots and plummeting oxygen levels.

Eventually, this not-so-ordinary illness became sinister, as she developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome or ARDS — a life threatening lung condition. Unable to breathe on her own, she was put on a ventilator. Her family was told to prepare for the worst. An email was sent out to pray and she survived the 72-hour crisis. Today, she is still hospitalized but winning the battle.

Christians, Jews and Muslims all know the story of Job as related in the Old Testament Bible. He’s the guy that bad things happened to in spite of his impeccable relationship with God. In the course of one day this godly, wealthy man lost everything he had due to wind and fire; raiding and murderous thugs and painful boils: His ten children, servants, animals and his health — were all gone (later to be restored).

Bad things do happen to good people. Eventually, we all hit a rough patch and have to hold on for dear life. This has been one of those years for many people all across this land. Frankly, many families would just as soon skip Christmas that year.

“When Bad Things Happen to Good People” was written by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner after the death of his son at the age of 14 from a rare, incurable genetic disease. In the book Rabbi Kushner seeks to answer the question: “Where do we find the resources to cope when tragedy strikes?”

Most people will tell you that it is faith in God that gets them through the painful days and sleepless nights. By faith, they believe that their prayers will be answered. By faith they trust that if their prayers are not answered it is because there is a better plan.

It is by faith that we endure times of grief but it is with hope that we look forward to the time when heartache takes a forever holiday and that every day is Christmas morning. Shalom, everyone.

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

"Simply Soup"

12/2/09 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

“Simply Soup”

We eat a lot of soup at our house. In fact, it’s a family joke that on two out of five nights, our dinner menu will be just soup, green salad and rolls. The reason is simple. Soup is both satisfying to prepare and eat; plus, there are always leftovers for another meal. A combination of herbs, broth, vegetables and meat (optional) simmered on the stovetop or in the crockpot, means you’ve always got dinner.

One of the great things about soup is that you can use leftovers from the refrigerator and no one will know. If you’re tired of eating the last bits of turkey, put it in a pot with broth and noodles. Delicious! Leftover roast beef goes great in a basic vegetable soup or even chili con carne. The combinations are endless.

At lunchtime I often break my ‘homemade’ rule and open a can of tomato or chicken noodle soup to go with my sandwich. But dinner is different. At dinnertime, the only soup worth eating is homemade soup that I’ve made myself. Have you ever taken a close look at the ingredients in canned soup? Ugh. At least I know that the ingredients in my soups are quality.

Today’s group of recipes covers a broad spectrum of soups from ethnic to chowders. The corn chowder recipe is so simple you’ll wonder why you hadn’t thought of it before. And if you love the taste and texture of mushrooms, now is the time to indulge in a mixed-variety mushroom soup.

In honor of Hanukkah coming up on December 12, our first recipe is “Jewish Penicillin,” a Matzo Ball soup. The recipe calls for a small chicken but if I am going to cook a chicken, I cook a large chicken and make two meals out of one bird. Chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy one night; soup the next. That also gives the fat time to congeal on top of the broth and be removed. And don’t forget, if you have leftover turkey, it will be as tasty as chicken.

As for its ‘penicillin’ or healing powers, the jury is still out on that question. Its healing properties seem to come from its vapor and aroma. That leads doctors to hypothesize that the hot savory broth opens nasal passes and soothes the throat. However, clear soups of all kinds also provide nourishment and hydration while helping to stimulate the appetite. In other words, it’s all good. Enjoy!

Author unknown

1 small whole chicken, about 2 lbs.
1 bay leaf
Garlic powder, about 1 tsp.
Onion powder, about 1 tsp.
Paprika, about 1 tsp.
Soup greens, a handful
Chicken bouillon or salt and pepper to taste
2 lg. carrots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 lg. onion, chopped (reserve 1 tbsp. for Matzo balls)

Put chicken in large (6 quart) stockpot; cover with water. Bring to boil. Now, with large spoon, skim off the fatty froth as it rises to the top. Reduce heat to simmer for about an hour. Add seasonings to taste, and vegetables. Simmer about another 20 minutes. Meantime, prepare matzo balls, as follows:

Matzo Balls - makes 8:
2 tablespoons melted chicken fat (or butter)
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons soup stock
1/2 c. matzo meal
Pinch baking soda

In small (1 quart) saucepot brown the onion in fat. Mix in eggs, stock, then matzo meal and pinch soda. Set in refrigerator to chill, about 15 minutes.
Remove chicken from soup. Take the meat off the bones and return to the soup. Now raise the heat to a hard boil and add the matzo meal. Wet your hands with cold water and roll a heaping tablespoon of mix between your palms into 1-inch balls and drop into broth. In another 30-40 minutes, the soup is ready. Guaranteed to cure the common cold!

Wild Mushroom Soup
Swanson Broth recipe

2 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 pounds white mushrooms, cut into quarters
1/2 pound assorted wild mushrooms, sliced ( Portobello, shiitake, oyster or crimini)
1 large white onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup crème fraiche

Heat the butter in a 4-quart saucepot over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, onion, carrot and celery and cook 10 min. or until the vegetables are tender.

Add the broth and heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook 1 hour. Stir in the dill.

Pour one-half of the mushroom mixture into an electric blender container or food processor work bowl. Cover and blend until smooth. Repeat with the remaining mushroom mixture. Return to the pot and stir in the crème fraiche. Serves 6-8

Note: Sour cream is an acceptable substitute for crème fraiche.

Potato Bacon Corn Chowder
Idahoan Potatoes

1 cup bacon, chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1/2 cup celery, finely diced
1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
2/3 cup chicken broth
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2-3/4 cup mashed potato flakes
1 teaspoon butter

In large pot, sauté bacon on medium to high heat. Cook until almost done; drain.

Combine bacon, onion, celery and garlic in pot and sauté on medium-high heat until vegetables are translucent. Add chicken broth. Cook for an additional 3 minutes on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Add milk and cream. Redue heat to medium. Reduce soup, stirring occationally, 1-=15 minutes.

Add corn, salt and pepper. When soup is bubbling lightly, slowly add the potato flakes, stirring constantly. When flakes are incorporated, take soup off heat. Add butter and stir until dissolved. Serves 2-3

Note: Recipe may be doubled.

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, November 27, 2009

Thankful for a roof over her head

11/25/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Today’s story is a breath of fresh air after a year of bad news from the financial sector, the jobs and housing markets and multiple personal tragedies. It is a tale of Thanks-giving and it began with a phone call.

“Betty,” a woman’s voice said, “Are you still writing your column? Because if you are, I’ve got a story for you.” She was so excited that her words tumbled over each other like rocks in a creek on a rainy day. Quickly she unfolded the story of how she had been the recipient of an unexpected gift of neighborhood kindness and generosity. She had a problem beyond her ability to solve and miraculously, her neighbors came to her rescue.

My caller stressed that the selfless volunteers in this story (including herself) wished to remain anonymous. She, however, wanted to share her joy and express her appreciation. I agreed to help.

‘Sally,’ a single woman with health and financial issues is known for helping others. She struggles to keep food on the table, care for her animals and literally keep a dry roof over all of their heads. She keeps up her place as best as she can but money is in short supply and she is currently out of work.

One day in Sept. Sally was up on her rooftop when ‘Jeb,’ one of her neighbors, stopped by. Shortly before his arrival she had stepped through her rotten rooftop while trying to repair some leaks. As she climbed down from her fragile perch he asked if she was cleaning out her gutters. In frustration, she told him that the roof was 20 years old and had been leaking for five years. She was trying to get the multiplying leaks sealed before the winter rains set in.

They exchanged a few casual remarks and Jeb went on his way. It was a short conversation. But he went home and considered his neighbor’s predicament. Eventually, he called a couple of times to ask her if she was open to getting some help with her roofing needs.

Sally was completely taken off guard by the offer and her response was dollars and cents practical. The answer was ‘No.’ “Do you realize,” she said, “that there is no foreseeable way to pay you back unless I get a really good job or win the lottery?”

Jeb’s response was deeply insightful. He turned her statement around and said, “What you are saying is that there is no way in the foreseeable future that you will be able to replace this roof.”

She described what happened next as something akin to an old-fashioned Barn Raising. Jeb checked into roofing costs, made a few phone calls and gathered together a group of willing neighbors from the area to remove and replace the leaking roof. Almost everyone he called said yes. Some, who could not help with the labor, contributed financially.

Sally’s house had been built in the 1950s and she knew that there was structural damage that needed to be fixed. One of the neighbor volunteers said “I thought that maybe we’d whip it out in 2 or 3 days but it took a full week. We started out by tearing off the side that looked the worst. The insulation was completely soggy. We worked steadily tearing the old shingles off.”

One volunteer took the project lead and others worked as they were able — a day here, two days there, whatever time they had available. Inch by inch, the structural damage was repaired; flashing and vents installed; and areas shored up with sheeting where previously there had been none.

Jeb said that the beautiful thing to him was that rain was predicted during the project’s time frame but it held off. It rained the day before the project began but not during the construction. The day after the roof was finished, the rain began again. Sally says that the roof hasn’t leaked since. Her days of lining the house with five-gallon buckets are over.

“This is overly humbling,” she says of the experience. “I can never pay (the volunteers) back. I’m just thankful that there are still Good Samaritans out there in the world and that I was on the receiving end of their help. I’ve been on the giving end but never on such a grand scale as this.”

Helpful neighbors are a blessing. Twice, while my husband was recuperating from back surgery, we had tree problems. One came down across our driveway during an ice storm; another came down on the side of the house. Both times we had neighbors up the hill drive by, see the damage, and come to our rescue with chain saws.
We treasure those neighbors.

There are many ways to be a good neighbor whether in your immediate surroundings or the greater community. Some folks look after elderly neighbors by raking their leaves and bringing in their trashcans. And while most of us won’t be taking on a roofing project, we can help pay a struggling family’s electric or gas bill. Last year EPUD Helping Hands program helped 125 needy families to the tune of $30,300. All we customers had to do was simply round up our payment to the nearest dollar. Easy for us. Priceless for them.

In many ways 2009 was a lousy year. But if we look around, there’s always something to be thankful for. The saga of Sally’s new roof — — constructed and paid for by neighborhood volunteers — should kick-start our attitude of gratitude. Her story is proof that even a rotten roof (or year) has a silver lining.

Happy Thanks-giving to one and 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 newspaper.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pumpkin Desserts

11/18/09 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

The countdown to Thanksgiving dinner is on! Personally, I’m ready for turkey day as soon as the air turns chilly and autumn leaves start to fall! You can count me in with those who look forward all year long to enjoying this feast of feasts.

It’s possible to cook up a traditional turkey dinner with stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie any time of the year. But it’s best when the family gathers in spirit (whether near or far) to count their blessings and share a bountiful harvest.

If your family is like ours, the menu is pretty much set in concrete. For some folks it just isn’t Thanksgiving without the infamous green bean casserole. Others don't enjoy stuffing unless it contains chestnuts. Some eat tofu and not turkey. Many enjoy cranberry gelatin salad but some don’t. Everyone, however, seems to agree that there must be dessert at the end of the meal.

Our family’s Thanksgiving dessert menu is delicious but predictably boring: We bake Pumpkin and Pecan Pies and sometimes a cheesecake for good measure. We always have ice cream for the little ones who don’t like pie and sometimes a tasty gingerbread cake.

All of our desserts are homemade. We never, ever, ever, serve store-bought desserts on Thanksgiving and you shouldn’t either. If you find it intimidating to make pie crust (or you’ve never tried) pick up a pre-made crust from the market; take it out of the box, put it in your pie pan and fill it with your own homemade filling. It will be delicious.

There’s a pumpkin dessert for everyone in the following recipes. The pumpkin chiffon pie will appeal to the ladies. The guys may prefer the more traditional recipe on a can of Libby’s pumpkin. The cream cheese pumpkin pie recipe is a lighter version of a traditional cheesecake and kids of all ages will like the gingerbread. Enjoy!

Aunt El’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie
in a Gingersnap Pie Shell
“The Pioneer Lady’s Country Kitchen”

2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
3 eggs, separated into two bowls
1-1/4 cup cooked pumpkin
1/2 up light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup sugar to beat into egg whites
1 gingersnap pie shell (recipe follows)
Whipped cream spiced with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and a sprinkling of freshly ground nutmeg

In a small bowl, soften the gelatin in the water 3-5 min. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and place in a medium size saucepan. Add the pumpkin, sugar, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt; stir to blend. Place over low heat and cook until mixture begins to thicken, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in the gelatin.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form; beat in the sugar one tablespoon at a time. Fold egg whites into the pumpkin mixture. Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell and chill until firm. Whip the cream just until soft peaks form; then spoon it evenly over the filling. Serve immediately. Makes one 9-inch pie.

Gingersnap Pie Shell

1-1/2 cups finely crushed gingersnap cookies
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown or powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients, blending well. Pat the crumbs firmly into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan.
Note: Graham Cracker crumbs may be substituted for gingersnaps.

Cream Cheese Pumpkin Pie
with streusel topping

9-inch pie shell
1 8-ounce pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, beaten
1-1/4 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg and salt

Streusel topping:
Mix together 2 teaspoons flour and 2 teaspoons brown sugar.
Add 2 teaspoons butter, softened and 1/2 cup chopped pecans.

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in 1/4 cup sugar; add vanilla and 1 egg. Beat mixture until light and smooth. Chill mixture 30 min., then pour into pie shell.

In large bowl, combine pumpkin, evaporated milk, 2 eggs, brown sugar, white sugar and spices. Mix thoroughly until all ingredients are combined. Pour the pumpkin mixture over cream cheese layer in pie shell. Cover crust edges with foil to prevent excess browning.

Bake 25 min.; remove foil from edges and bake an additional 25 min.
Remove pie from oven and sprinkle with pecan streusel. Bake another 10-15 min. until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and streusel is golden brown. Serves 8

Pumpkin Gingerbread

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mashed pumpkin
1/2 cup molasses
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 tablespoon grated orange rind

Preheat oven to 325° F.

In a large mixer bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In another bowl, stir together buttermilk, pumpkin and molasses. In yet another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Stir in orange rind.

Add one-half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Then add some of the liquid mixture, repeating until all ingredients are combined and batter is smooth. Transfer batter to a greased 9-inch square pan. Bake 45-50 min. or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Serve warm, garnished with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Whipped Cream: Beat 1 cup heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Continue beating and gradually add 1/4 cup sugar, until stiff peaks are formed. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and serve immediately.

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.

Helping wounded soldiers & families

11/11/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.”
José Narosky

I always think of my Uncle Lee on Veterans Day. He was a quiet, shy country boy when he enlisted in World War II. Born and raised in Missouri he only had a grade school education. To my knowledge, he had never been to a city or seen the ocean when he patriotically enlisted in the army and became part of the war effort.

After the war, he returned to the states a broken man. At the tender age of 18 or 19, he had physically survived the Battle of Normandy (some relatives say the Anzio Beachead) but the mental toll would be a lifelong battle. They called his condition “Shell Shock” from the ammunition barrages. He was in and out of Veterans hospitals for the rest of his life. Mentally, he was mortally wounded.

Sixty years later, men and women are returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with the same condition under a new name. This invisible wound of war is now called ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.’ One out of eight soldiers suffer from PTSD. They may be safely home but they’re still at war. They have flashbacks, nightmares or other anxieties because inside they are still battling the enemy.

If you add physical injuries to the mental anguish you have a recipe for personal disaster. In spite of fast, quality medical care on the battlefield, thousands suffer amputations, traumatic brain injuries, blindness or visual impairment. This scenario breeds depression, fear, isolation and low self-esteem. Burned or maimed veterans may be ashamed of their appearance. Their activities are restricted. They are alone and angry.

The veteran suffers. Family, friends, neighbors and the community suffer. Everyone is wounded.

There were no support groups for my Uncle Lee. His was a lonely battle. Today there are dozens of Wounded Warrior organizations seeking to enable the disabled and encourage the discouraged. Sun Valley Adaptive Sports ( is a notable example. Initially it was organized to enrich the lives of individuals (i.e. children, teens, adults) with disabilities through sports and recreation.

In 2005 SVAS began the same encouraging sports outreach to veterans organizations. After severely wounded warriors had been treated and transitioned back to their home communities they still needed help. SVAS’ goal was to renew their spirits and give them hope. The program is an unqualified success.

I recently interviewed SVAS Executive Director Tom Iselin. A warm, enthusiastic guy with lots of irons in the fire, he excitedly noted that SVAS now hosts 50 couples per year at 8 events (at no charge). Two of those wounded warriors were Oregonians and their wives: Luke and Tonya Wilson, Hermiston and Bill and Naomi Congleton, Winston. They attended a winter snowsports camp program.

“We use sports as a healing tool but it’s not just a camp,” Iselin said. “Therapists consult with the fishing guides and are briefed on the injuries of each veteran. They know what to do in case someone has a seizure. We follow up participants for three years with phone calls and questions about physical progress, hopes and aspirations. We extend monetary help where needed to accomplish goals.

“The men come to us through VA referrals and word of mouth. They’re used to being (military) leaders and now they’re all alone. The warrior events apply those leadership skills to work, school, family and community. Groups are small and focus not only on fishing but feelings and emotions. They learn ways to combat depression and isolation and harness frustration and anger.

“The wives are always included,” he stressed. We know that wives suffer as much as the men. Some of them are only 20 years old! They have no college education. They become the primary caregiver, breadwinner and (sometimes) a single parent. We provide for them a safe, comfortable environment where they can relax and be pampered. They are given an opportunity to connect with other women. We take care of everything so they know that they’re also important.”

Fly-fishing is a therapeutic sport. A video of participants in the fly fishing program shows that after some initial apprehension, the men start to relax and have fun. They forget about daily stresses and think about the fish on the line. Hats come off, revealing scars that criss-cross their heads. Amputees discover that they can wade out into the water or cast with a prosthetic arm. Laughter bubbles up with each caught (and released) fish.

Attitudes change. One wife observed that her husband sat on the couch for 7 years before coming to the camp. Because of the program he began to realize that he couldn’t do things like he did before but he could do something. And she learned that it was okay for her to leave him alone and let him do it!

“Recreation is something that you take home with you. Having a goal to learn how to fly-fish is not good if you don’t go home and do it again,” said Iselin. “Fly-fishing is a life sport. You can lose yourself in the water. It is soothing, comforting and it’s portable. You can take it anywhere in the world. ”

One of the fishing guides summed up his experience at this summer’s camp for the blind, visually impaired and traumatically brain injured this way: “The smiles that I see on the faces of some of these soldiers means more to me than anything else.”

“Magical” is the term that one of the soldiers used in describing his experience at this unique camp. “This time was magical because you realize that people care.” And we do care. We just don’t always know how to show it.

So here’s a salute to all veterans (past and present) who have left home and family and served our country around the world in hope of freedom for over 200 years. We owe you an eternal debt of gratitude.

God bless you 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

Friday, November 6, 2009

Impossibly easy dinner ideas

11/4/09 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

As autumn leaves fall, appetites change and the yearning for casserole-style meals becomes almost palpable. But cooking time is often short for busy families. What to do? Well, how about an “Impossible Pie” for dinner? The recipes are quickly put together, kids can help and everyone can enjoy.

The pies are not really pies at all but a hybrid casserole baked in a pie pan. You layer all the ingredients in one dish, put it in the oven to bake and voila! The pie makes its own soft crust and the filling rises to the top. The ingredients are inexpensive, quick to assemble and tasty to boot.

As I shared in a previous column on impossible dessert pies, there are three basic ingredients you need to have on hand: eggs, milk and Bisquick (or any baking mix). For main dish pies you will also need one pound of ground beef, some cheese and spices.

The recipes only drawback is really in the term “crust.” Do not expect the crust in these pies to taste like a regular pastry-style piecrust. The texture is soft, not crunchy. Serve these dinner entrees hot and contrast their texture with a cold, crisp side salad and warm, crusty French bread.

Also remember that fresh is best! These pies are at their peak when made and consumed shortly after baking. Like pizza pies, they will keep several days in the refrigerator but the quality will suffer. Do not freeze them. It just doesn’t work.

The following recipes are fairly flexible but a bit stingy with the cheese. So don’t be afraid to experiment by substituting ingredients (i.e. sausage for bacon) or adding extra cheese. The first recipe is quiche-like and could also be enjoyed at breakfast or lunch.

Now, about the choice of meat: Please use ground beef with no more than 12-15 percent fat in the cheeseburger, lasagna and taco pie recipes. And then, be sure to drain it well. You don’t want your dinner swimming in grease!

So, if you’re wondering, “What’s for dinner?” give one of these recipes a try. The basis for each recipe is the same but the resulting products are all slightly different. If you have on hand some ground beef, a variety of spices, a little cheese, some milk, eggs and some Bisquick, you’ve got dinner. Enjoy!

Impossible Bacon Pie

12 slices bacon, fried and crumbled
1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
1/3 cup green onion, sliced
2 cups milk
1 cup Bisquick baking mix
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Lightly grease 10-inch quiche dish or pie plate. Sprinkle bacon, cheese and onion in plate. Beat remaining ingredients until smooth: one minute with hand beater or 15 seconds on high speed of blender. Pour into plate. Bake 30-35 min. or until knife inserted halfway between center and edge comes out clean. Let stand 5 min. before serving. Serves 6.

Note: Ground and browned sausage can be substituted for the bacon.

Impossible Cheeseburger Pie

1 pound ground beef
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1-1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup Bisquick baking mix
3 eggs
2 tomatoes, sliced
1-2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Garnish with salsa and fresh onion slices cut into rings

Preheat oven to 400° F.
Grease or spray 10-inch pie plate. Brown meat and onion; drain well. Stir in salt and pepper. Spread evenly in bottom of plate. Beat milk, baking mix and eggs until smooth: one minute with hand beater or 15 seconds on high speed of blender. Pour over meat mixture. Bake 25 min. Top with tomatoes; sprinkle with cheese. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 5-8 min. Cool 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6

Impossible Lasagna Pie

1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1-2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup small curd creamed cottage cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup milk
1/3 cup Bisquick baking mix
2 eggs
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 400° F.
Grease or spray 10-inch pie plate. Cook and stir beef over medium heat until brown; drain. Stir in oregano, basil, tomato paste and 1/2-cup mozzarella cheese. Set aside.

Layer cottage cheese and Parmesan cheese on bottom of pie plate. Spoon beef mixture over top. Beat milk, baking mix, eggs, salt and pepper until smooth: one minute with hand beater or 15 seconds on high speed of blender. Pour over meat mixture. Bake until knife inserted between center and edge comes out clean, 30-35 min. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cool 5 min. before serving. Serves 6.

Impossible Taco Pie

1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 envelope (1-1/4 ounces) taco seasoning mix
1 can (4 ounces green chilies, drained
1-1/ cups milk
3/4 cup Bisquick baking mix
3 eggs
2 tomatoes, sliced
1-2 cups shredded Jack and Cheddar cheese
Garnishes: sour cream, salsa, black olives, chopped tomatoes and shredded lettuce

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Grease or spray 10-inch pie plate. Cook and stir beef and onion over medium heat until beef is brown; drain. Stir in seasoning mix. Spread in plate; sprinkle with chilies. Beat milk, baking mix and eggs until smooth: one minute with hand beater or 15 seconds on high in blender. Pour over meat mixture in plate. Bake 25 min. Top with tomatoes; sprinkle with cheese and return to oven. Bake 8-10 min. or until knife inserted between center and edge comes out clean. Allow to cool 5 min. before serving.
Serves 6.

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, October 28, 2009

Cleaning the creepy attic ignites memories

10/28/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Halloween may be the creepiest time of year but at least trick or treating reaps a sweet reward. One of my October jobs — cleaning the attic — is equally creepy and there’s no chocolate payoff.

We call it the attic but actually it’s a loft atop Chuck’s woodworking shop. He maintains that a real-man’s shop is not meant to be clean. So he shares his sawdust. It creeps upstairs adding a layer of grime to the dust and general clutter that a myriad variety of insects and critters call home: bats, spiders, mice, yellow jackets, flies and hundreds of Lady Bugs. Periodically, I have to show up and reclaim the space.

My goal list is simple: CLEAN OUT THE ATTIC is boldly printed at the top. Neatly indented under that line is 1: Separate into 4 piles — Keep; Garage Sale; Donations and Burn. 2. Sift, sort, box and organize the keepers. 3. Take donations away. 4. Set a garage sale date. 5. Light the burn pile!

Armed with vacuum, rags, cleaners, markers, razors and tape, I bravely climb the stairwell. Only bare light bulbs eerily cast shadows into the corners where unknown creatures lurk. Inevitably, I run smack into a huge spider web and hear skittering noises among the boxes. I jump and chills run down my spine.

Every year I ask myself the same question “Why are you doing this? Is this really important?” “Well, yes,” I answer. “You have to keep chipping away at the clutter. Things up there need sorting and cleaning. Besides, if you don’t do it now, when will you do it? In the dark, dreary days of rainy season? I don’t think so!”

Truth is, our attic mostly holds memories. It doesn’t hold real treasures of silver and gold. In fact, there’s very little up there that couldn’t be replaced at WalMart or even at most garage sales.

Part of the space is taken up with Christmas decorations. First, we have yard art: large decorative angels, deer, trees and signs. Then we have box after box of decorations, wrapping paper and even pinecones! Of course, these holiday items are all keepers. I call them “inventory.”

A majority of the space is taken up with summer items: umbrellas and stands, tables and chairs, fans, flower pots, etc. These seasonal items are also keepers, as are the boxes of books and Super 8 films.

Decision-making gets a little dicey when sentiment starts entering in. Do we keep our grown-up children’s long outgrown baby clothes? Well, of course, we do. My reasoning is this: We’ve already kept them 40-plus years. A little longer won’t hurt. Our grandchildren didn’t have their pictures taken in them but maybe our great-grandchildren will.

But maybe I’m wrong. Who knows? The jury is still out on this decision. So how about it kids, what do you think?

But there are more clothes decisions to make. My really nice square dancing outfits from years gone by are all boxed up. I saved them “just in case” we returned to dancing. Sadly, I don’t think that’s going to happen. This decision is a slam-dunk! Finally, something is going into the garage sale pile.

The next box of clothes I put in the ‘vintage’ category. Back in the day, people got seriously dressed up for special occasions. I’m talking chiffon and taffeta here. Way too charming to give away. So, I have kept formal dresses from dances, weddings and cruises dating from the 1950s.

Keeping them is very impractical. They’ll never be worn again. But then again, there are those future great-granddaughters. They might just love them. Hope springs eternal, you know.

Peering back into the deep recesses of the eaves I spy boxes that have been stored and ignored for 20 years. The time has come to attack them. They hold a lifetime of business paperwork and personal correspondence. Box after box has been unopened and untouched except for sticky spider webs and dying bugs. Ugh.

Shortly before moving to Oregon we sold our restaurant. Twice, while still in business, the IRS had audited us. We knew the value of keeping accurate records and receipts “just in case.” Well, we kept them way too long and now it was time to let them go.

Pound after pound of paper from those 8 boxes went out to the burn pile. The one exception was an unexpected treasure. Tucked in with payroll and tax records was a pair of alabaster bookends that we had purchased in Alaska in 1981. I wondered what happened to them. Now if I could just find the lazy susan that disappeared during the move.

The hardest boxes to open were the ones marked “correspondence” 1969-1988. Gulp. This was the pre-computer era. Friends and family actually wrote each other letters. I had saved every card, note and letter. Leafing through them brought such joy! What to do?

I quickly focused on the obvious. The commercial cards wouldn’t mean anything to anyone. They went to the burn pile. I spent hours sorting the notes and letters into categories: family, friends, church and business. I think that someday our kids will be surprised at how much written dialoging went on in our family.

On the last day Chuck ignited the burn pile that was piled high with summer’s debris. As it burned down we fed it box after box of material that documented our past but had no bearing on our present.

We wiped down the cobwebs, organized the boxes, vacuumed the floor and lost another 100 pounds to Goodwill. I shed a few tears and we both felt good about our collective efforts — until next year.

One final note: This column was inspired by a conversation with my friend who asked rhetorically, “Why do we save all of this stuff, anyway?” Here’s my theory — it’s not ‘stuff’ we’re saving. We’re saving memories. Memories that we hope will be passed down from generation to generation — forever and ever. That’s not creepy.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 
Contact her via e-mail —

Octoberfest menu and recipes

10/21/09 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Well, I’m almost a week late and a frankfurter short with this Oktoberfest column. For some reason, I think that this festival should be held in late October. However, In Munich, Germany, the birthplace of Oktoberfest, it is a 16-day long festival that begins in late September (the date varies) and runs through the first week of October. Here in the U.S. we stretch the celebration out a little longer.

Oktoberfest is essentially an annual on-going party that began in 1810 to honor the wedding of Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the wedding festivities and horse races that lasted five days! Two hundred years later, the party is still going on.

Today, fairgoers come from around the world to the same field where the villagers attended the wedding reception. Every year, six million people attend the world’s largest People’s Fair. They come for the beer, the food, the beer, the carnival-like atmosphere and — the beer. The horse races stopped sometime in the 1960s.

If you watch any OPB travel shows, you’ve seen the 14 big beer tents (aka festival halls) jammed elbow to elbow with jolly drinking buddies. Buxom waitresses serve enthusiastic crowds of up to 10,000 per tent as they sing and sway to beer drinking songs.

Most North American Oktoberfest menus will revolve around some form of Bratwurst Sausage. These big, thick sausages are made of all meat with no filler. In Germany, the meat is usually veal. Here in the USA, veal is too expensive. So, brats are usually all pork, all beef or a combination of pork and beef or veal.

Brats are not for the sensitive palate. They are highly seasoned with a variety of spices that can include caraway (my favorite), coriander, cumin, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg and paprika. The meat can be finely or coarsely ground and this will also affect the brat's texture and flavor.

The mode of cooking is your choice but all Bratwurst must be cooked before eating. Some brats are smoked while others are grilled or simmered in water. Some cooks simmer them in beer for 20-25 min. Those who prefer a milder taste can briefly parboil them until the outside turns white. This will leach out some of the fat and spices. They can then be browned in a skillet or outside on the barbecue grill.

German food is very substantial and I’ll be honest with you, the summer we were in Bavaria I thought that if I ever ate another sausage again it would be too soon! But I do love the side dishes. So today I am happy to pass along two recipes from reader Mary Gary.

Ed and Mary Gary retired to Cottage Grove from California. Their church in the golden state had an annual Oktoberfest dinner and Mary gleaned these recipes from those occasions. She and Ed have also enjoyed German food at Leavenworth and in Austria. The recipes call for using a Dutch oven (a cast iron pot) but any heavy skillet or cooking pot will do.

The last recipe is another traditional way to serve bratwurst and sauerkraut. It is also really good with the new lower-fat-content chicken Italian Sausages. Served in a bun or with a side of buttered mashed potatoes and a dollop of brown mustard on the sausage, your kids might even try it. And you can always substitute hot dogs for queasy stomachs. Enjoy!

Oktoberfest Menu suggestions

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage
Hot German Potato Salad
Kaiser Rolls
Black Forest Cake
German Chocolate Cake with
Coconut Pecan Frosting

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage
Mary Gary

1 head red cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 red apple, peeled and chopped
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup raisins

Put coarsely chopped red cabbage and apple in Dutch oven and cover with boiling salted water. Return to boil, cover and simmer 1/2 hour. Add vinegar and brown sugar and simmer 20 minutes longer. Add cinnamon and raisins.

May be made a day or two ahead and kept refrigerated.

Note: Brats can be cooked separately or added to cooked cabbage and simmered about 20 minutes or until cooked through and no longer raw. Serves 6.

Hot German Potato Salad
Mary Gary

9 medium Idaho baking potatoes
6 slices bacon, cut in ½-inch pieces
½ cup onion, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon pepper
¾ cup water
¼ cup vinegar (scant)

Peel potatoes and cook in 2-inches salted water in Dutch oven 20-25 minutes or until firm, but tender. Drain and refrigerate.

In large skillet, fry bacon until crisp, remove and drain. Cook and stir onion in bacon drippings until tender and golden brown. Stir in flour, sugar, salt, celery seed and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring until bubbly. Remove from heat, stir in water and vinegar. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute. Thinly slice potatoes and add with bacon to hot mixture. Stir carefully and heat through.
Serves 6.

Note: Above recipes are adapted from “Key Home Gourmet”

Bratwurst and Sauerkraut

2 pounds bratwurst
2 16-ounce jars sauerkraut
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Condiment: Brown or hot mustard
Preheat oven to 350° F.

Layer sauerkraut in a 12X12 glass baking dish and sprinkle evenly with the brown sugar. Score the sausages and place them on the kraut. Bake for one hour, turning after 30 minutes. Serves 6.
Note: Serve on a crusty bun or with hot, buttered mashed potatoes. Also good with Hot German Potato Salad.

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 columns in the C.G. Sentinel or email

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oregon neighbors surviving in Samoa

10/14/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The chilling news of the Samoa islands tsunami devastation swept through our neighborhood like a cold winter wind. A magnitude 8.0 earthquake had struck the Samoan capital Apia, about 7 a.m. on Sept. 29. The quake triggered a series of huge tsunamis waves, 15-20 feet high that traveled nearly a mile inland. With only 10 minutes warning, entire coastal families and villages were wiped out.

We were especially concerned because of our connection to that area. Our former neighbors Jack and Carol Bachelor were living in a village 45-minutes distance from Apia. The next day an email from Carol calmed our fears. The couple was alive. They had survived a life and death situation and lost all of their material goods but they were physically safe. We all breathed a guarded sigh of relief.

Jack and Carol Bachelor are longtime neighbors that we knew casually. They lived at the top of the hill. We live at the bottom. They were busy in their respective construction and banking jobs and raising a family. Retired, we chatted with them in the aisles of Cascade or Safeway, waved as they drove by and met at the occasional garage sale. Their move to Samoa to rebuild a resort that they had visited over the years was a surprise to most of us.

Lupe Sina Beach Resort is a beautiful place. Its setting encompasses the ocean, palm trees, tropical gardens and a spectacular waterfall. Until the tsunami the grounds included a large conference room and stage for conventions and meetings; a full-service restaurant and sports bar; 16 fales (bungalows), a gift shop and bicycle rentals. According to the resort’s webite, the fales were “just steps away from the soft white sand beach and crystal clear waters.”

In March Jack began roofing and painting the buildings at the resort. Carol joined him in June and their new lifestyle in a tropical setting was put into place. Now almost everything that they had hoped or dreamed for is gone. According to Carol’s email, “Our entire resort was destroyed. All of the beach fales were washed completely to the sea.”

But the worst part was the loss of life. Carol’s story has been told previously in the media but bears some retelling. It emphasizes the strength and compassion of the human spirit and reminds us of the power of Mother Nature.

On that fateful morning, during the earthquake, the couple stepped outside to discover that the ocean was gone! Jack immediately told Carol to run to higher ground. As she started running, he headed next door to warn his friend Kenny’s family. By that time the water was waist high and rising. He grabbed two of their babies but was forced underwater until… “The rising waters ripped one from his arms and was lost to the sea.” As the waves pushed him down, Jack tossed the remaining baby onto the rocks and fought for his life until the water receded.

Miraculously, Jack and Carol were reunited although he sustained a badly injured leg wound. Kenny was lost to the sea but his wife and one baby survived. 80-percent of Lupe Sina’s employees died.

The next day, Carol’s email from the U.S. embassy to family and friends began with these words: “Thanks be to God Almighty and his precious son Jesus, we are alive and well.”

Jack’s mother, Opal Bachelor, recalls her first short conversation with her son from the embassy. A voice (on a poor connection) said, “Call from Jack Bachelor.” Then, Jack’s voice said, “Hello, mom, hello!”

“How are you?” asked Opal. “We are alive!” Jack answered. Then he broke down. “I had the two little ones …”

They could only talk a few minutes but he called the next night and again, Opal said, “He could not get the baby out of his mind.”

Other conversations reveal the scope of damage both emotionally and physically. Opal observes that some days they are stronger than others but notes that “All they can talk about is death and destruction.”

Opal is encouraged that help is on the way. She oversaw the packing of one 20-ft. and two 40-ft. containers packed with personal items, household goods, a laptop computer, a tractor, utility trailer, tools and building materials. Other donations have come from Market of Choice and emergency supplies (baby formula, Ensure, medications) from a PeaceHealth clinic with shipping donated by UPS.

On Oct. 8, I received this email from Carol:
“Having survived something of this magnitude has strengthened both of our faiths. I am amazed everyday by the generosity and kindness of others. The people who survived the tsunami are rebuilding in the hills where the plantations are.

“There is still no water, electricity, sewer or in many places phone reception. But God is good. He provides beyond belief. Even when we give away (everything) that some one has been kind enough to drop off for us, we come back to a new supply. You can’t out-give God. He is our strength and our shield.

“They keep discovering more dead bodies daily. The Australian Army came in with German Shepherd search and rescue dogs and they are combing the area. The pictures that you see on TV do not do this justice. Entire villages, entire families have been washed away.

“God put us in Samoa for a reason and it is to help these amazing people. Any help you or your readers can provide is greatly appreciated. We will make sure it gets to those with the greatest need.”

The television show “Survivor Samoa” was filmed earlier this summer near the area of the earthquake generated tsunami. May I suggest that the true survivors are the Samoans without shelter, food, water, and blankets or loved ones. They are gritting it out day by day. Their reward is life, not a million dollars!
The Bachelors would like to help their new neighbors but need funds to do so. Donations in the their name are being accepted at all branches of Northwest Community Credit Union.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her via e-mail at

Whistler a great place for the Olympics

10/07/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Do you like to travel? Do you enjoy the Olympic Games? Well, then, come along with me on a short jaunt to visit one of our neighbors. Our destination is the resort town of Whistler, B.C., Canada, one of the sites of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Whistler has been on our list of places to go for years. But somehow, Vancouver (its metropolitan neighbor) always detoured us from making the short jaunt up Highway 99 on the Sea to Sky Highway to what is known as “The Village.”

We had been told not to expect very much of the area. Comments from seasoned visitors of 20 years ago were not encouraging. They ranged from “Well, it’s certainly a nice drive,” to “Boring,” and “It’s just a village. There’s no reason to trek up there to do nothing.”

Ah, but times have changed and the village is bustling not boring. In fact, with the Olympics just around the corner, the whole Vancouver area is as busy as beavers building dams in a creek.

Vancouver-Whistler was chosen as the site for the winter games in 2003. Since then, skilled workers have been in short supply and cost overrides constant. They are building roads, a rapid transit system, a nine block Olympic Village to house 10,000 occupants, and of course, the many venues. Some estimate the 2010 Olympics may cost Canada as much as $1.6 billion. From what I’ve seen, they’ll easily recoup their money.

Driving up the Sea to Summit highway we began to relax as we wound high above the cliffs of Howe Sound and headed into wooded areas. The newly widened and landscaped highway is a joy to drive. There were no billboards to distract from the natural beauty. Instead, tastefully lighted and carved wooden signs alert travelers to scenic bypasses, landmarks, lodging, restaurants and other businesses.

We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at Whistler’s only RV Resort. Riverside RV is a village in itself beginning with the large log cabin lodge, a café, individual rental log cabins plus tenting areas down by the creek. A van shuttle was conveniently available by reservation from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

We discovered that there are three kinds of Whistler visitors. Day visitors are nicely dressed, hustle through the village, check out the shops, have a bite to eat and head back down the hill. Athletic visitors have a plethora of activities to choose from, come dressed accordingly and spend the day. Casual, camper types such as ourselves amble around in jeans, check out the shops and then sit down and check out the people.

The Upper Village, at the foot of Blackcomb Mountain, houses some very high-end hotels and seriously well-heeled guests. We enjoyed the afternoon tea at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and felt like country bumpkins as we ogled the clientele. My, oh, my! Flowery summer dresses on the ladies and men in slacks and ties made me wish I had packed some nicer clothes.

The Lower Village at the foot of Whistler Mountain is where the winning Olympians will receive their medals at a newly constructed staging area. It is a mosh pit of ski lifts and activity.

It is also where all the shopping happens. Warning: there are no bargains. This is an expensive shopping area. I gulped more than once at a $200 price tag on a sweatshirt. Items marked with the XXI Olympic Winter Games logo, however, were selling like hot cakes.

The XXI Olympic logo Inuksuit, is a native stone sculpture in human shape. He’s an artistic but controversial pile of rocks with a green head, bulky blue body and thick legs. So what’s the problem? Well, the image by graphic artist Elena Rivera MacGregor was meant to remind the world of multiculturalism and diversity. Instead, it has been ridiculed as a Pac-Man or Frankenstein and rejected by most Native populations.

Adrenaline junkies can certainly get their fill in the Whistler area at any time of the year. Depending on your levels of courage and fitness, there’s something for everyone. One of the best seats in the village was at Black’s Pub where you could sit outdoors, have a great meal and watch the action.

There, at the bottom of the mountain, hundreds of people chose to swing like Tarzan on a zipline through the forest. They signed up, briefly trained and were transported to the forest. Others chose bungee jumping, ATVs or electric bicycle tours. Still others decided on white water river rafting. We chose none of the above. We’re too old and fragile.

We also didn’t spend $5,000 on a mountain bike, don a full-face helmet, body armor —wrist, elbow, knee and shin pads — or buy a season ticket on the gondola to the top of Whistler. There, bikers (male and female; young and old) choose their course and have the ride of their lives navigating obstacles and inclines. We saw many a broken body and bike come limping down that popular course.

We did, however, hop on our touring bikes and spend time exploring the 19 mile Valley Trail that winds through an old growth forest, skirts million dollar houses near several lakes and ends at the Jack Nicklaus golf course near the village.

Another day we braved the stomach churning, Peak to Peak gondola ride 2.7 miles UP to Whistler then across to Blackcomb mountain and back again. We chose not to ride in a glass bottom model but could clearly see bears and bikers — 1,427 ft. below! You share the gondolas and chair lifts up the first mountain with the bikers. It’s a hoot to see them maneuver into those little capsules.

Soon Whistler will be blanketed with a thick layer of snow. Come February they will host competitions in the Bobsled, Luge, Alpine Skiing, Cross Country Skiing and Biathalon categories. We’d love to be there but the “No Vacancy” signs are already out. Fortunately we reserved warm, front-row seats in front of our television. Thanks for coming along on the ride. Now, "Go, USA!"

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fried Green Tomatoes

9/30/09 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Summer’s days have dwindled down to a precious few but still the garden lingers on. Much to my husband’s dismay, there’s still a few zucchini hiding under the drooping plant leaves. I’m the only one who swoons when it’s steamed with a little onion, sprinkled with melted cheese and herbs. Zucchini and green tomatoes he can do without.

Green tomatoes are also lurking amidst the ripe, bug-eaten ones of late summer. Fried green tomatoes are a relatively new once-a-year treasure in our household. I grew up on Southern cooking but for some reason fried green tomatoes were never on the menu. My grandpa always picked only the red ones.

Since moving to Oregon, I’ve discovered that not all of the tomatoes will ripen before winter sets in. So, although we don’t eat many fried foods at our house anymore, once a year we eat fried green tomatoes. Chuck samples them but really doesn’t understand why I bother.

The reason is simple. I can’t stand to see the green ones go to waste. And truth be told, until now, my recipe has been pretty plain and boring. But now I’ve discovered the queen of fried green tomatoes recipes. The exterior is crunchy, the interior is a soft, tart contrast and the Buttermilk-Lime Dressing takes them from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Now if you’re shaking your head saying, “No way am I eating green tomatoes,” I say, “Try them!” What have you got to lose besides tomatoes that were going into the compost pile anyway? Just pretend that they’re healthy. You know, the last (fried) green salad of summer. Enjoy!

Fried Green Tomatoes
Adapted from
“The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook”

3 pounds green tomatoes (6-8 medium)
3 large eggs, beaten
¾ cup whole milk
3 cups peanut oil
3 batches Lee Bros. All-Purpose Fry Dredge (recipe follows)
Kosher salt, if needed
Lemon juice, if needed

½ cup flour
3 tablespoons stone-ground cornmeal
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper together twice. Stir and turn out onto a flat surface.

Buttermilk-Lime Dressing

¾ cup whole or lowfat buttermilk
5 tablespoons fresh lime juice (3-4 limes)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup fresh basil, finely minced
¼ cup green onion, finely minced
¼ cup fresh flat leaf parsley, finely minced
½ teaspoon salt, more if needed

In a small bowl, whisk the ingredients together until thoroughly combined. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator not more than 2 days.

To prepare:
First prepare the Buttermilk-Lime Dressing and refrigerate.
Next, prepare the dredge and set aside.

Cut the stem ends from the tomatoes and slice ¼-inch thick with a serrated knife. Set aside. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a broad, shallow bowl.

Pour the oil into a 12-inch skillet, heat over medium-high heat until the temperature on a candy thermometer reads 365° F. (If using a different size skillet or pan, fill with oil to a depth of 1/3-inch.)

Heat oven to 225 F. Set a bakers rack on a cookie sheet on the top rack.

Press 1 tomato slice into the dredge, once on each side, shaking any excess loose. Dunk in the egg mixture, then dredge the slice on both sides again. Shake off any excess and place the slice on a clean plate. Repeat with more slices until you’ve dredged enough for a batch (3-4 slices). With a spatula, transfer the first batch of slices to the oil.

As the first batch cooks, dredge the second batch of tomatoes, keeping a watchful eye on the first. Once the slices have fried to a rich golden brown on one side, flip them carefully and fry for 2 minutes more, or until golden brown. Transfer the fried tomatoes to a plate lined with a double thickness of paper towels and to drain for 1 minute.

Transfer the slices to the baker’s rack in the oven, arranging them in a single layer, so they remain warm and crisp. Repeat with the remaining slices until all the green tomatoes have been fried. Serve immediately with Buttermilk-Lime Dressing.

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. 

True or false: Internet trivia

9/23/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

My “inbox” of useless Internet trivia is officially full. In fact, it runneth over. Some days I think that the whole world has my email address and is compelled to share the latest scam, photo, or bizarre ‘facts’ with me. Naturally, I don’t just delete all of this stuff. No, I’m a keeper. Some of them I save “just in case.”

Why? Heaven only knows. Maybe it’s just for a day like today. On warm Indian summer days I have no desire to stay in the house parked in front of a computer. The dogs are nipping at my heels to go for a walk and a magazine is screaming to be read. I’d really like to take a nap but deadlines loom.

So this week’s column offering is a plethora of trivia from my computer to yours. But please don’t ask me to verify all of the information. Obviously the senders didn’t. Some of it, however, I checked out. Some of it I didn’t because this column is just for fun. It’s meant to pique your curiosity and give you an excuse to say, “Oh, that’s really dumb.”

We’ll start with this so-called ‘fact’: “No piece of paper can be folded in half more than seven (7) times.” Okay, go ahead, I’ll wait while you try this one out.

This fact will be reassuring to those of you who are afraid to fly or swim in the ocean: “Donkeys kill more people annually than plane crashes or shark attacks.” Now how can that be? Are there that many mean donkeys in the world? This bears looking into — someday!

This fact could save your life: “The liquid inside young coconuts can be used (in emergencies) as a substitute for blood plasma.” I had to check this one out and according to it’s true. The water in coconut is liquid endosperm. Not to be confused with coconut milk, coconut water is sterile and has an ideal ph level. Drink up!

“Oak trees do not produce acorns until they are 50 years of age or older.” No wonder they live so long. They have a lot of reproductive time to make up!

For all of you non-morning folks out there, check this out: “Apples, not caffeine, are more efficient at waking you up in the morning.” Can’t quite agree with that one but maybe it depends on your metabolism.

On the other hand, if you like to sleep in front of the television, check this one out: “You burn more calories sleeping than you do watching television.” At least this gives us a good excuse!

I had to look at a deck of cards to see if this was true: “The King of Hearts is the only king without a moustache.” Yep. That’s correct.

Those of you who are into astronomy probably already know this one: “Venus is the only planet that rotates clockwise, contrary to its own orbit around the Sun.” There’s lots of speculation as to the reason but no one really knows why this is so.

And ladies, if your favorite jewelry is a ‘pearl,’ remember this: “Pearls melt in vinegar.” Well, technically, the vinegar dissolves them. They don’t melt. Same difference. They’re ruined.

Now, here are a couple of animal facts that are fallacies:
“A duck’s quack doesn’t echo.” Not true. They echo quite well.
“Ostrich eggs have no yolks.” Actually, they do have yolks and they are supposed to be very tasty.

This one makes sense to me: “It is possible to lead a cow upstairs … but not downstairs.” Makes sense to me. I mean cows are big and clumsy, right? I gave up looking for the answer when I came across multiple chat room conversations on the subject and a book “Can Cows Walk Down Stairs?” If you know the answer to this, please let me know.

Here’s a piece of financial trivia for you: “American Airlines saved $40,000 in 1987 by eliminating one (1) olive from each salad served in first-class.” Salads? They serve salads? You can tell I’ve never flown first-class!

Here’s a sad fact: “The first owner of the Marlboro Company died of lung cancer. So did the first ‘Marlboro Man.’” Is there any other reason to quit smoking?

This next fact can really lead one down a rabbit trail. It claims that the three most valuable brand names on earth are Marlboro, Coca Cola and Budweiser, in that order. Of course, ‘value’ is a subjective term so I checked it out.

According to the brands must be worth more than $1 billion, marketed globally and make sufficient data publically available. As for the above list, it is constantly changing. The last survey I saw was dated 2008. It listed Coca-Cola, IBM, Microsoft, GE, Nokia, Toyota, Intel, McDonalds, Disney and Google. Sorry, no Marlboro or Budweiser.

This next fact grossed me out and screamed for verification. The reported fact is this: “Most dust particles in your house are made of dead skin.”

According to, dust particles inside your house have three main components: dead skin cells, the dried feces and desiccated corpses of dust mite and tiny fibers shed by clothing. From this description my imagination conjured up dust bunnies of so- called corpses lurking under the dryer, refrigerator and furniture.

Then I checked and came up with this answer: re: dead skin dust particles: “…unless you’re a molting bird or reptile, very little of your environment is composed of dead body parts. Humans do shed dead skin but most of it is carried away by weather or when we shave or bathe.”

On that note, we’ll end this discourse with a reason to face your fears and emerge a successful entertainment mogul: “Walt Disney was afraid of MICE!”

Remember, it must be true because I learned it on the Internet.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.
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Canning tips for experts and novices

September 16, 2009
Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Yippee! Canning season is almost over and soon it will be time to rest. Pears, tomatoes and salsa are now joining the sparkling jars of apricots, peaches, green beans, jams and jellies adorning the pantry shelves. They are the jewels of all homemaker's larders.

I have a love/hate relationship with the canning process. The love part began about 40 years ago when my neighbor taught me to can tomatoes. It was love at first bite and I quickly became hooked.

That is not to say that I actually enjoy the process. I don’t exactly hate it but it certainly can be tedious and exhausting. It’s a lot of work to grow, weed, water, harvest, clean and prepare produce for canning. And it’s not cheap when you factor in soil amendments, seeds, seedlings, jars, seals, lids, sugar and more.

But let’s face it, the toil and yes, frustration is all worth it on a dreary winter day when you open your own golden jar of peaches. Absolutely nothing you buy in the market can equal the taste and texture of your own preserved fruits or vegetables.

This year’s hot, dry weather produced an abundance of produce and our garden was quickly in full swing. Once crops are ripe for picking and processing, there’s no time for procrastination. The fruit of your labors will rot what you don’t eat, process or give it away.

Home canning is an ever-changing science. It involves much more than just putting food in jars and processing them. The importance of keeping up with the times is clear in this bulletin from the OSU Extension Service. It says: “Throw Grandma’s old canning recipes away if you want to avoid food-borne illnesses …”

The OSU Extension Service is really your go-to expert for all things canning. So if you’re not up to speed on the latest recommendations, check out their website and get caught up. Their tested canning recipes can be purchased at the office, ordered or downloaded at:

They also offer a wonderful Food Safety/Preservation Hotline. It is staffed by certified volunteers and Extension staff, Mon.—Thurs., 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Each of the individuals staffing the hotline has passed a certification exam and completed a 40-hour course in food preservation and safety. Call with your questions at 682-4246.

Food columnist Jan Roberts-Dominguez recently had a great article on canning tomatoes in the Oregonian newspaper. She said that today’s tomatoes are bred to be meatier than older varieties and therefore have become less acidic.

Today it is recommended that we add bottled lemon juice or citric acid to check the growth of botulism in our tomato products. Most of us old-time canners only added salt when canning our tomato products. Read all about it in Dominguez’ step-by-step article on the web at:

Now, if you’re a canning newbie, do not let all of this information scare you off. Get a canning buddy, take a class, ask a neighbor, buy a book and jump right in like you know what you’re doing. Once you’re hooked, you’ll never want to stop.

The first rule for all canners is to read updated instructions and processing times at the beginning of the canning season. The second rule is to never take shortcuts. Other basic rules are: Use standard Ball or Kerr canning jars, lids and seals; do not use overripe produce; never use chipped jars; never re-use seals and process jars for the full time called for. If jars don’t seal, discard the seal and either re-process, refrigerate or freeze the product.

Try enlisting a helper to make the job go faster. My husband is my canning prep cook and helper. Years ago after working 12-hour days in the restaurant, we would come home, eat dinner and start canning. We have continued that tradition to this day (although we now start and end long before midnight!).

As far as recipes go, I’m pretty basic. I don’t have the patience to clean, cook and process tuna or other meats. And I’ve never been really happy with the results of my attempts at making apple pie filling or spaghetti sauce with meat. I just stick to plain Jane fruits and vegetables that I can dress up later.

This summer our Bartlett pear tree decided to bless us with a nice crop. Following is a recipe that I’m going to try in addition to my usual pear butter. Let me know how you like it. Enjoy!

Smiley’s Red Barn Blog

2 oranges
4 pounds pears (9 cups, diced)
2 cups canned crushed pineapple
Sugar (See below)
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 8-oz. bottle maraschino cherries
(thinly sliced)

Wash and remove peel from oranges. Add 1 quart of water to peel and boil 5 minutes. Drain and discard water. Add another quart water, boil 5 minutes. Drain and discard water. Grind the peel and the peeled oranges together. (You should be able to do this in a blender if you don’t have a grinder.)

Wash, pare and remove core of pears, cut into small pieces. Combine oranges, pears and pineapple. Measure. Add half as much sugar as fruit mixture. Add lemon juice and mix thoroughly.

Cook rapidly until almost thick (about 40 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add cherries and cook about 5 minutes longer. Pour into sterilized Kerr jars to within 1/2 inch of top. Put on cap, screw band firmly tight. Process in Boiling Water Bath 10 minutes. Yield: 6 eight oz. jars.

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. email

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Post 9/11/2001 Survey: How secure are we?

09/09/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

September 11, 2001.

At the end of that horrific day, President George W. Bush wrote in his journal, “The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today… we think it’s Osama bin Laden.”

On that tragic day, the Al-Qaeda terrorists, who hijacked airplanes that slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, not only killed and injured thousands of innocent people but also destroyed our way of life.

Eight years ago those scumbags essentially killed something else that Americans cherished — peace of mind and a sense of security. In response to the attacks our government put into place new security measures and went to war to stop the perpetrators. All these years later, uncertainty still reigns and homeland security seems an oxymoron.

So I chose a widely diverse group of people (who ranged in age from 18 years old to 70-plus) and posed this email question: In the aftermath of 9/11 … do you feel/think our country is: A. More secure? B. Less secure? C. Just the same? (Note: I promised anonymity for cooperation!)

Larry reminded me that ‘feeling’ is different than ‘thinking.’ “Beware of feeling,” he said, “there’s too much of it going around. Emotional responses are scary. In light of pertinent facts, I can only surmise that security has been tightened in our seaports, borders, obviously in the air, water and (cities). That’s not to say that some idiot (still) can’t do damage.”

Louise echoed the majority of votes. “I don’t think our country is any more of less secure than it was before 9/11. There were clues that were missed and yet other plots have been foiled. I think people pay more attention to things than they used to. But where there is a determination to do damage and take lives, it will somehow find a way. I recently talked to a TSA employee and … some of the things she said made me feel less safe about flying.”

Roy had a similar take on this. “In spite of all the security measures in place, I feel it (security) is about the same. I don’t think the terrorists are stupid enough to try the same methods twice so we are concentrating on air security when they most likely would try something totally unrelated. Perhaps we are a little more alert to things that don’t look quite ‘right,’ but we still seem to be a nation of ‘don’t want to be involved’ people.

Several people directly addressed the military and political component of security in their answers.

Norman had this to say. “We never learn, do we? As long as this country uses the armed forces to reconcile our differences with other factions of the world, we are in constant danger. Until we use diplomacy to the fullest, make friends instead of enemies of divergent faiths and stop trying to tell the rest of the world how to live, we will never have ‘peace on earth.’ Just a few years ago we settled many of our differences with the old Soviet Union with diplomacy not war.”

Jason said “There seems to be a pervasive ‘us and them’ perception of the world. At least that was so in the former administration. I believe that an ‘us and them’ attitude is a dangerous and negative way to approach life. I prefer a ‘we’ approach. I think that since 9/11, focus has been more on our differences and has served to increase paranoia and fear … I refuse to live a paranoid and fearful life.”

Courtney begged to differ. “This current president is way too soft on the safety of this country. He has taken the view that there is no War on Terror although it continues. This administration wants to make interrogations of detainees a police matter giving them all the rights of USA citizens including Miranda and lawyers. This war is not a police action but war: a war against people that want to destroy us (and others). The enemy has no feeling for another’s life or suffering; just power for their religion over the rest of the world.”

Shaun had this to say: “I just don’t know. This country gives its people such mixed signals with hardly any mention of Osama: ‘Let’s get Saddam!’ ‘Let’s go to Afghanistan again!’ ‘Let’s torch the terrorists!’ Others say ‘No, we can’t.’ All I know is that too many young men and women are getting killed and for what? If we’re going to carry a big stick then let’s have (carry) a really big one and not fool around!”

Trina said, “I truly believe that our nation is less secure for a variety of reasons. It seems that everyone hates us and is envious of our way of life and freedoms. Our borders are like a sieve. Anyone can enter without really trying. Terrorists are nuts! They will do anything their dark little hearts want to do. …Our government is not fully doing its job. Fighting the Taliban will not make us safer. It is time to put America first and bring the troops home! I am truly surprised that our nation has not been the victim of another 9/11 attack. It will happen!”

Today’s trials and travails of travel are certainly not appreciated. One couple didn’t think that borders and port security had changed appreciably. They said, “We don’t feel safer, only extremely frustrated when we travel.”

Another individual said “There are hoops you jump through to be safe but I think if someone really wanted to smuggle something through they could. Who really notices a suitcase left at the airport? You always assume they’re in the bathroom.”

And finally, the youngest member to weigh in had this to say. “I think our country was most secure after the initial attack when we really ramped up security but now has lulled (quieted) down. I feel that we are more secure because everyone carries in the back of their mind the idea that the world doesn’t necessarily love America and may even be willing to attack our nation.”

So? What do you think? If you’d like to weigh in on this discussion drop me a line and we’ll keep the dialog going!

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

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dialoging with readers

8/26/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Looking back on my brief 13-year newspaper career, I find that I’ve covered a lot of ground that I never anticipated. After I left the front office of the Cottage Grove Sentinel, I moved into the newsroom. There I began writing three weekly columns —The Chatterbox, Cook’s Corner and Neighborhood News — covering news stories, writing a ‘society page,’ composting and editing a faith page and more.

Different times, different owners, different management styles, different editors and retirement dramatically changed all of the above. About the only thing in my writing career that hasn’t changed is my interaction with readers. I still enjoy dialoging with the reading public whether on the telephone, via email or chatting in the aisles of local shops!

Certain columns evoke more responses than others. A mistake in a Cook’s Corner recipe is sure to bring a few phone calls. I sometimes forget to include exact quantities in a recipe ingredient list. More than once I’ve had a phone call at 5 p.m. asking me how much evaporated milk to put in a quiche or if I really meant to put ‘that much’ chili powder in something.

This year’s Mother’s Day column mention of Bullock’s department stores garnered interest and triggered memories from men and women alike. One reader, Donna, fondly remembers taking the Red Car from Long Beach to shop at downtown Bullocks. Many readers had fond memories of the tearooms and we all nostalgically agreed, “Those were the days.”

My friend Lynn informed me that her college roommate had been a ‘gloves buyer’ for Bullocks. Of course, that was back in the day and in a climate where we wore gloves to look good rather than keep warm. We collected them in white, black, brown and cream colors; wore short and medium lengths to church and luncheons; longer ones to the theatre.

Gretchen Hill shared an employee viewpoint of the organization. She and her mother worked for Bullock’s Wilshire where the elite shopped. Her mother was a buyer in children’s wear in the late 1920s and 1930s in an era when women seldom worked outside of the home. In fact, it was simply an assumed policy that as a woman, no employee should be dependent upon her earned income!

Thanks to her mother’s connections, Gretchen was hired at the age of 16 as an office employee to work after school, weekends and summers. She began in the training office and worked her way up to becoming a relief executive secretary to Virginia Knox who was the only female manager of a large department store in the United States.

As an impressionable young girl she remembers many of the company’s genteel ways. It was suggested (but not demanded) that employees wear navy blue. Days off were called a day ‘away.’ Vacations were referred to as ‘holidays.’

Women of high society would schedule annual or seasonal shopping sprees at the store, staying overnight at the Biltmore Hotel. In the personal shoppers office, she and others would contact customers all over the nation about the event. Long before email, they would give fashion updates and introduce the latest styles such as Capezio shoes.

This summer between a woodborer infestation and the voracious deer, my 125 rose bushes began dying. So, we amped up our two strands of electric charged wire fencing; then we strung wire across the walkways; overturned tomato cages for another physical barrier and put sparkly stuff everywhere. The deer kept coming.

My frustrated “Dear deer” column garnered a variety of sympathetic responses. The suggestions were divided into two camps: One side wanted to erect a physical barrier. The other side recommended potions to make the foliage repulsive.

I received the first suggestion from my neighbor Susie who said to try “Deer Away,” a commercial product developed by Weyerhaeuser. She said that it was expensive but the only thing she had found to keep the critters from eating her flowers.

A homemade hot sauce repellant was very popular. A sweet lady outside Wal-Mart shared a recipe that went something like this: Mix together 1 egg, ½ cup milk, 1 tablespoon cooking oil, dish soap and hot sauce. Add one-gallon water and shake well. Spray or sprinkle on plants every two weeks or after heavy rain.

Other suggestions included scattering blood meal or mixing it with hair clippings in muslin bags; deodorant soaps and spikes in the ground were frequently mentioned. And almost everyone agreed that a gigantic fence was the best deterrent although not aesthetically pleasing!

Because I didn’t want my roses to smell like rotten eggs, we went with the “Deer Away” repellent idea. Chuck sprayed the product around on the ground outside of the rose beds. So far it’s working. We have now removed most of the fortress cages and the roses are almost looking healthy. Now if we could just get rid of the woodborers!

The column on Steve Lopez and helping the homeless population elicited minimal response. I think the subject is so overwhelming that there’s little we can say or do. In fact, Lopez, who became involved with Mr. Ayers, the mentally ill musical prodigy chronicled in his columns, book and movie “The Soloist,” suggests that help is best left to the professionals.

Mike, a reader of my archived blogs, lives in Guam and wrote to echo those sentiments. “We, too, would like to do something, but what?” he wondered. He went on to say that his wife approached a panhandling woman with an offer of food. The woman became extremely hostile saying she wanted money not McDonald’s! And there you have the age-old dilemma: what to do when offered help is not enough? I guess we just do our best and leave the rest up to God.

Isn’t it nice to know that we’re all in this thing called ‘life’ together? Thank you for your emails, cards, phone calls and sharing your stories. Keep them coming!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.
Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel