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.