Thursday, April 30, 2009

CoCoRaHS: Counting spring raindrops

4/22/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

My calendar says it’s springtime but it lies. The scene outside my window tells me otherwise. The birds may be singing and building nests while the tulips bloom but it is still winter when white puffy snowflakes pile up on the roof and icy pellets of hail pummel the ground.

Winter weather is a big subject of conversation at our house. I complain about it and my husband finds it fascinating. His observations start early each morning and end when he goes to bed at night. He loves the minutia of daily weather changes.

Oregon’s weather is pretty diverse and exciting in comparison to our life in balmy California. There you could pretty much predict the daily forecast before you heard it. Days would be sunny or sunny and breezy. Nights would be clear or clear and windy. Winter high temperatures would be 61 and summer highs would be 72. Ho-hum.

That is not to say that at times we didn’t have severe weather. Some years were one natural disaster after another. Our annual winter rainfall was in the range of 17” per year. And our most common problem was drought — not enough rain.

However, when it rained, it poured! The result of excessive rain would be an abundance of plant life in the springtime that would dry up in the summer sun, result in wild fires in the fall and floods the following winter. Danger lurked in every raindrop.

Transitioning to Oregon’s constantly changing weather conditions was not difficult. We enjoyed the spring showers, set up a couple of rain gauges and marveled at how quickly the numbers added up. That first Mar. we measured 11 inches of rain.

From the get-go we enjoyed the four seasons but discovered that surprises were always in store. One bright, sunny day in July, it hailed buckets of tiny white pellets. The force of the hail was so great that it killed a hummingbird sipping nectar from my roses!

This year, it seems to me that winter is hanging on a bit too long. I’m ready to thaw out my fingers and toes in some genuine sunshine. But the weather has been so erratic that this morning’s disjointed weather forecast was for “glorious but partly sunny skies with just a chance of snow.” Huh?

Our first complete winter here, the old-timers at the donut shop used to tell me that I was a wimp when I complained about the cold. I whined that out at the lake we were shoveling snow off the deck to get to the back door. The guys would then be quick to tell me about the 121 inches of snow recorded at Cottage Grove dam in Jan. 1950. That year, hundreds of motorists were stranded in the Columbia Gorge by the relentless sleet and freezing rain. They had to be rescued by trains struggling through deep snowdrifts.

For added perspective, Orville White would regale me with stories about lambing season during those snowstorms. He would go out in the middle of the night and bring the mama sheep into the barn and warm up the babies. Next thing he knew, they’d be scampering back out into the snowy fields. No wimps there!

According to NOAA, the winter of 1969 probably holds the record for the most extreme statewide snowfall. In Eugene, a depth of 34 inches was recorded — nearly 7 times normal! In Feb. 1996 we had to evacuate a family on the creek side of us as the rain relentlessly drove logs from the hills above us and dammed up the water below. This past Dec. the Portland Airport was hammered by snow and received nearly 19” for the month, breaking its all-time record.

The weather is a subject of conversation wherever you live. Some of us don’t pay much attention until we start getting severe weather warnings that affect us personally. Many hostesses on the 4th of July pray “Please, don’t rain on my barbecue!”

Chuck, however, finds weather details fascinating all year long. He not only knows where the jet stream is but where it’s going. I don’t even know (or care) what the jet stream is!

Last month his buddy Russell Hand invited him to join the CoCoRaHS. I know, it sounds like a cross between the Spanish entertainer Charo and a heavy metal rock band but it’s an acronym for ‘Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network.’ This nationwide group is sponsored by NOAA, Colorado State Univ., USDA, BLM and similar organizations.

A grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers, they measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in their local communities across the U.S. The National Weather Service, meteorologists, hydrologists, ranchers and farmers use the information they provide.

The principal membership requirement is “an enthusiasm for watching and reporting weather conditions and a desire to learn more about how weather can effect and impact our lives.”

Well, those activities are right up our resident rain man’s alley. So he applied for a position as an official “rain watcher.” He was accepted and assigned a station name and number according to the proper longitude and latitude. After studying the online training manual he graduated, ordered his gauges and is ready to go.

A sturdy high capacity, 4-inch diameter CoCoRaHS gauge has been set up in the yard — according to the prescribed distance from house, trees and fences. It has been leveled and beveled 2 ft. off the ground to capture rain, hail or snow and the moisture amount is reported promptly every morning via email.

CoCoRaHS’ motto is “Because every drop counts.” Having lived in the land of perennial drought, I know that every drop does count and our resident weatherman is counting them. Now if he could just predict an end to winter and the beginning of summer sunshine!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail —

Growing & Eating your own spring lettuce salads

4/15/09 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Last year at the end of a long hot summer and an even longer growing season we put down our hoes and said, “No more vegetable gardens!” With a sigh of relief we closed the garden gate on the end of an era. Sadly, homegrown lettuce and all other veggies were to be a thing of the past for us. Or so it seemed.

Deep into fall, as we headed into winter, I noticed that Chuck surreptitiously covered the beds with leaves and casually slipped statements about planting just a few tomatoes, potatoes and onion sets into our conversations. This year, during our annual spring flowerbed cleanup, he often disappeared just to pull a few weeds in the vegetable garden. Hmm.

One day he informed me that we had some lettuce volunteers from last year’s seed. But the pickings were sparse! So he decided to fill in the gaps and happily drove into town to purchase just one itty-bitty package of lettuce seed. Of course, he came home with much more than lettuce seeds but that is a subject for another day.

Lettuce is amazingly easy to grow and if you hurry, it’s not too late to get some seed in the ground. This cool weather crop loves temperatures of 55-60° F. and germinates easily. Be sure and get your soil all fluffed up with 1 pound of ammonium sulfate dug in and well watered for each 100 square feet of soil before you plant.

The average packet of seed only weighs about 0.1 ounce but contains hundreds of seeds. By conservatively sowing just a few seeds in a pot every two weeks and then transplanting them into the garden, you can stretch out your crop for months.

We have good results with loose leaf varieties (red and green) as well as Butter and Romaine. Our success rate is not as good with Iceberg types of lettuce. They take longer to germinate and can be fussy about temperature and all kinds of things. But try whatever suits your fancy. Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained. The cost is miniscule and the reward is delicious.

If you’re new to this planting business, check out the OSU Extension Service for advice. They are great folks, very knowledgeable and have information galore for gardeners. You can visit them in Eugene at 950 W. 13th Ave.; call them at 541-682-4247 or check out the website at

Nothing beats the fresh taste and convenience of homegrown lettuce. Early in the morning, pick what you need, wash it well, wrap loosely in a clean towel and refrigerate. And if you’re bored with lettuce, tomato and Italian dressing salads, try one of the following recipes. Delicious!

Simple Spring Salad Recipe
Serves 4

4 big handfuls of salad greens, washed and dried
1-2 oranges, separated into segments
1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted
1/3 cup black olives, (the wrinkly, oily ones), pitted

1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Dash of salt
1/2 small red onion, finely minced

In a medium bowl whisk together the orange and lemon juices, vegetable oil, most of the red onion and salt. Whisk together until emulsified, taste and adjust with more salt or lemon juice if needed.

When you're ready to serve, place the salad greens in a large bowl. Toss very gently with most of the dressing. Add the orange segments and walnuts. Toss again. Taste and decide if you need to add more dressing. If needed, add a bit more, tossing between additions. Evenly distribute nuts and oranges. Serve salad topped with the remaining red onion and olives.

Butter Lettuce and Radish Salad with Fresh Spring Herbs
Bon App├ętit April 2005
Serves 2

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot (chives or young green onions okay)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Whisk oil, vinegar, shallot, and mustard in medium bowl to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

2 small heads of butter lettuce, outer leaves removed
4 thinly sliced radishes
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/2 cup assorted whole fresh herb leaves (such as tarragon, chervil, parsley, and cilantro)

Cut cores from heads of lettuce, keeping heads intact; rinse and dry. Arrange 1 head of lettuce on each of 2 plates, forming rose shape. Tuck radish and avocado slices between lettuce leaves. Scatter fresh herb leaves over lettuce on each plate. Drizzle salad with dressing

Food and Wine
Serves 6

5-6 cups mixed spring lettuces
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated or shaved into curls

1 lb medium asparagus, washed and trimmed into bite-sized pieces
Olive oil
Finely grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 450°F. On a rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle asparagus with lemon zest and olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast the asparagus for about 8 minutes, until just tender and the tips begin to turn brown. Meanwhile, prepare dressing.

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice with the mustard and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the lettuces with all but 2 Tbsp. of the dressing. Arrange the salad on plates and top with the roasted asparagus and cheese curls. Drizzle the remaining dressing over the asparagus and serve.

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, April 15, 2009

An Oregon money pit becomes home

4/8/09 Chatterbox         
Betty Kaiser

Twenty years ago when my husband and I discovered Cottage Grove, we decided to follow our dream and live by a lake. We impulsively left our hometown in California and moved to rural Oregon. We left behind grown children, a nearly paid for house, a thriving business, the relationships of a lifetime and our security blankets as we crossed the state line into the unknown.

We really didn’t think too much about our new lifestyle would play out on a day-by-day basis. We just had visions of a life in the country with green trees by a lake. We were chasing the outline of a dream and trusting God to fill in the details. Well, a detailed education lay just ahead.

If home is where the heart is, I suppose that deep down, we thought that California would always be home. After all, that’s where our kids live. We knew the lifestyle, the rhythm of the days, the best places to eat and shop. California was comfortable. It was home.

Would Oregon ever truly feel like home? We were about to find out.

We arrived March 3, 1989 and nearly left the next day after we inspected the house. This was back in the time before real estate disclosure laws. We knew that we were buying a fixer-upper but were totally unprepared for how much fixing had to be done.

Many things had been inspected but huge problems had slipped under the radar: Working hot water heater? Nope. Forced air heat working? Nope. Collapsed chimneys? Yep. Intact shower walls? Are you kidding? They were a pile of tiles in a heap on the floor. Dry rot and flies were everywhere.

In short, our potentially charming country home on six acres had turned into a buyer’s nightmare. We contemplated telling the moving van to turn around and drive back to Ventura. But we no longer had a home there. We were stuck — literally.

C.G. had 11-inches of rain that month. The moving van pulled up onto the field in front of the house and sank into the mud before it was unloaded. The next day the poor driver was absolutely humiliated when a lady tow truck driver arrived to pull him out!

Things went downhill from there as more ‘undisclosed’ facts emerged. We began to think that the house needed an exorcism. Contractors, salesmen, insurance agents, everyone had a different experience to share about ‘our’ house: tales of renters, a suicide, beer bottles lining the walls and methamphetamine.

During our initial tours we noticed rifles propped against exterior doors and split door casings. The answer? “Oh, didn’t you know? The police raided this place.”

One evening a couple up the hill invited us to dinner. We came home around midnight, turned out the lights and headed for bed when we noticed car lights coming down the driveway. A drunken driver got out, lurched up the deck and banged on the door. He was there to buy some drugs and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Finally, Honey (our Doberman), had enough. Hackles on end, she rose up in a fury and chased the guy out to his car. We never saw him again.

The neighbors rallied round to encourage us. We joined a dinner group. Still, I became known as “the lady who couldn’t stop crying.” I had left my family behind for an adventure not for a challenge to my sanity.

We quickly put up a “Caution: Money Pit ahead” sign and went to work. The term “24/7” took on new meaning for us. We were soon on a first name basis with local plumbers, electricians and customer service at Witts’ and Jerry’s.  One night building materials were stolen off the property, right under our noses.

In the midst of tearing out walls and literally gutting the house, we purchased Merchant’s Donuts in the BiMart shopping center. Of course, it needed remodeling.

What were we thinking? Well, we were thinking that we were running out of money and needed an income. We knew the restaurant business. How hard could running a donut shop be? We found out.

We were attending Riverside Church at the time when Ken Wilson was pastor. He gathered a work party together for us and we were soon open and turning out hundreds of donuts, cookies and cakes.

In retrospect, it was probably the best move that we could have made. We did not know a soul when we moved to Cottage Grove but at the end of our donut tenure we knew the whole town!

Local residents gave us former city slickers quite an education. We learned to become comfortable with the occasional guy packing a sidearm; who was related to whom and how; and that raising the price of coffee from 45 to 50 cents a cup was unacceptable. Mostly we learned what big hearts our customers had.

And then I was robbed — alone and in broad daylight — the guy cased the place, came back, shoved a weapon in my neck, demanded money and that I lie down on the floor. We put the place up for sale the next day. That was 19 years ago.

God has been good and filled in the substance of our Oregon years in ways that we never imagined. Our horizons expanded as we hosted guests in our (now closed) bed and breakfast; Chuck’s Woodworking skills became well known across the county; we have volunteered in countless places; and through this column I made new friends and fulfilled a lifelong dream.

Now our hearts reside here just as naturally as the deer in the meadow and the Osprey across the creek. Our lives have purpose and our days have a joy and rhythm that we could previously only imagine.

Is Cottage Grove home? You betcha!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail —

Friday, April 3, 2009

Schaum Torte & Strawberry cream roll for Easter

4/1/09 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Easter Sunday is just around the corner and dessert is already a subject of discussion at our house. I’m thinking of something light, tangy and lemony. My husband is already lobbying for his childhood favorite, a Schaum Torte.

“Schaum Torte,” in the Kaiser family, is always spoken of in almost reverential terms. Their sweet holiday tradition was brought to this country by Chuck’s German immigrant grandparents and is still very popular in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wis.

For 50 years, my husband has longingly remembered the sweet confection: “It would rise high above the spring form pan and then sink in the middle, leaving a crispy top. Mom would fill it with crushed pineapple and whipped cream and slice it like a cake.” He practically salivates with each narration.

Chuck’s grandmother and mother passed away without handing down this fabulous recipe and I have spent years unsuccessfully trying to track it down.

I have a Lemon Schaum Torte recipe that I think is quite good. But Chuck said that it’s just not the same as his mother’s. So I kept searching. I had just about despaired of ever finding what he was looking for when I found a discussion about Milwaukee Schaum Tortes on the Internet. Amazing!

Here’s what I learned. My torte, baked on a baking sheet, is the well known crispy meringue method. But, baked in a spring form pan, changes the texture, creates a chewy center and nest for a filling. This is what Chuck remembers.

So, thanks to modern technology, Chuck will get an old-fashioned pineapple schaum torte for his Easter dessert. Here are two torte recipes and one for a delicious strawberry cream roll. Make all of the recipes yours by substituting your family’s favorite fruits. Enjoy!

Milwaukee Schaum Torte

Torte shell:
6 egg whites
1-2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond flavoring.

Preheat oven at 250° for one hour.
Butter a 9-inch spring form pan

In large mixing bowl, beat room temperature egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and vinegar. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating on high speed until very stiff peaks form.

Pour into pan, place in oven and bake for one hour. Turn off oven, leave door shut and let stay in the oven for another hour. Remove from oven to cool.

Betty’s Pineapple filling:
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch’
3/4 cup pineapple juice
1 cup crushed pineapple, well drained
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Mix sugar and cornstarch in saucepan. Gradually stir in pineapple juice. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Boil 1 min. Remove from heat, stir in butter and lemon juice. Cool thoroughly.

Whipped cream:
1 cup whipping cream
¼ cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla

 Beat cream until nearly stiff, gradually add sugar and vanilla, beating until stiff.

To assemble:
Remove torte from pan. Spread filling across top and finish with whipped cream. Slice and serve 10 lucky guests.

Lemon Schaum Torte
(Serves 8)

4 large egg whites (reserve yolks for filling)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 275° F. (low heat)
Line a baking sheet with parchment or plain brown paper.

Beat eggs until frothy. Gradually beat in the sugar, a little at a time, until very stiff and glossy. On baking sheet, shape meringue as desired into either a large heart or 8 individual meringue shells. Make an indentation with back of spoon to hold filling.

Bake 45 min. Turn off oven and leave inside until cool.

Lemon layer:
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
2 teaspoon grated lemon rind (zest)

Beat egg yolks in small mixer bowl until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in sugar. Blend in lemon juice and rind. Cook over hot water in a double boiler, stirring constantly until thick (5-8 min.). Cool.

To assemble: Spread meringue shells with cooled lemon torte filling. Top with about 1 cup sweetened whipping cream, stiffly whipped. Chill about 12 hours before serving.

Strawberry Cream Roll
(Serves 12)

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup whipping cream
¼ cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla
A few drops red food coloring (if desired)
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

Preheat oven to 375° F.
Grease a jelly roll pan (15-1/2x10-1/2”) and line with parchment baking paper or greased brown paper.
Sprinkle a clean tea towel with powdered sugar and set aside.

Cake: Sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. Beat eggs in mixer bowl until very thick and lemon colored. On low speed, slowly mix in remaining ingredients just until batter is smooth. Pour into prepared pan. Bake until top springs back when lightly touched. Remove from oven and loosen edges with spatula. Immediately turn upside down on the prepared towel. Carefully remove paper. Trim off any stiff edges. While cake is still hot, roll cake and towel together from narrow end. Cool on wire rack.

Filling: Chill a deep bowl and beaters.
Beat whipping cream until nearly stiff. Slowly add sugar until stiff. Fold in flavoring and food coloring; chill until ready to assemble.

One hour before serving, unroll cake and remove towel. Spread with sweetened whipped cream and sprinkle with strawberries. Re-roll. Chill. Serve in thick slices. Garnish with additional whipped cream and a whole strawberry.

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