Tuesday, December 14, 2010

If it’s Christmas — it’s time get baking!

12/15/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Well, here we are, deep into the month of December. In fact, it is just 10 days before Christmas and I am already nearly hysterical because there’s so much to do and so little time to do it. On the plus side, the house is decorated and relatively clean; most of the gifts have been purchased and are either wrapped or in the process of being wrapped. On the minus side, there’s a whole lotta baking to be done.

I am the queen of procrastinators when it comes to holiday baking. Every year it’s the same story. I efficiently plan my cookie and party menus; shop for the ingredients; and then find dozens of reasons why I can’t spend an entire day or two in the kitchen. Something (like writing this column) always distracts me.

But soon, company will be here expecting holiday goodies. So it’s time to get serious and get baking. As usual, I’ll make a big pan of fudge that I can serve to guests and freeze the leftovers. That way I can bring out a few pieces at a time during the winter whenever a chocolate urge hits. I’ll make a batch of Mexican Sno-Balls for my husband and probably some lemon bars for me.

This year I’m also adding some different recipes from an old favorite cookbook “Gifts from the Christmas Kitchen.” These recipes are super easy and delicious. The Buttery Almond Cutouts are rich and tender; disguised and decorated in holiday shapes everyone will love them. The Thumbprint cookies are a variation on the ones rolled in nuts (or the really old recipe that we rolled them in corn flakes).

Finally, if you need a few hostess gifts, mix up a batch of the Caramel Spice Cakes and bake in small loaf pans instead of the regular large size. Just cut down on your baking time and watch them carefully. As an added bonus, the recipe’s base is a cake mix! Now how easy is that? Christmas will soon be over but the memory of home-baked goodies will linger on. Enjoy!


1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
3 teaspoons almond extract, divided
1 teaspoon flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
Food Color

Beat sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add sour cream, eggs, 2 teaspoons almond extract and vanilla; beat until smooth. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; beat just until well blended.

Divide dough into 4 pieces; flatten each piece into a disk. Wrap each disk tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.

When read to bake, preheat oven to 375° F.

Working with 1 disk of dough at a time, roll dough out onto floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut dough into desired shapes using 2-1/2 inch cookie cutters. Place about 2-inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake 7-8 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are brown. Remove from baking sheets to wire rack to cool.

To frost: Combine powdered sugar, milk, corn syrup and remaining 1 teaspoon almond extract in small bowl; stir until smooth.

Divide icing among 3 or 4 small bowls; tint with desired food color. Frost cookies. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Note: This frosting recipe is a great basic recipe to have in your baking box of tricks. Use it to frost cookies, drizzle over coffee cakes or wherever you need a touch of sweetness.


1 package yellow cake min
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/4 cup water
3 cups crisp rice cereal, crushed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Raspberry or strawberry preserves

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Combine cake mix, oil, egg and water. Beat at medium speed until well blended. Add cereal and walnuts; mix until well blended.

Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls about 2-inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Use thumb to make indentation is each cookie. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon preserves into center of each cookie.

Bake 9-11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool cookies one minute on baking sheet; remove from baking sheet to wire rack to cool completely.


1 package Spice Cake Mix (Duncan Hines preferred)
1 package vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix (4 servings)
4 eggs
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups pecan pieces, toasted, finely chopped

Caramel Glaze:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pecan halves
Maraschino cherry halves

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour two loaf pans.

To prepare cake: Combine cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water and oil in large bowl. Beat at medium speed with electric mixer 2 min. Stir in toasted pecans. Pour batter into pans. Bake at 350° F. 55-60 min. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 15 min. Loosen loaves from pans. Invert onto cooling rack; turn right side up. Cool completely.

To prepare glaze: Combine butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and whipping cream in small heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil on medium heat; boil one min. Remove from heat; cool 20 min. Add powder sugar and vanilla extract; blend with wooden spoon until smooth and thick. Spread evenly on cooled loaves. Garnish with pecan and maraschino cherry halves before glaze sets. Makes 2-4 loaves.

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.

A Christmas to remember

12/8/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Last year, with Christmas just around the corner and the recession still lingering, it seemed a good time to shake up our family’s gifting traditions. So I called a family conference. The result was we shortened our family gift list; added some needy individuals in our respective communities; didn’t spend any extra money and had a great time gifting.

First, as the family matriarch, I explained to our grandsons how Christmas gifting had changed over the years. They have never known a time when underwear was a gift; or an orange and a candy cane in a stocking were to be treasured. They have only known times of plenty not want.

So I told them that when I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s — birthdays and Christmas were a really big deal. Gifts were not given at any other time of the year. As kids we did not have any spendable cash. Our wants and wishes were limited by practicality and availability: clothing, dolls, toy soldiers, bicycles, roller skates, etc. There were no televisions, iPods or computers on our radar.

Things are different today. Even during this recession there is more spendable cash at all age levels. Gift selections are endless. If any of us (young or old) wants something, we somehow save up our money and buy it ourselves. We no longer wait for a special occasion. Buying is often frenetic and meaningless.

The result of this dialog opened the door to a new way of sharing our Christmas bounty. Family councils were held. Ideas were brainstormed. Tradition was thrown out the window.

We challenged each other to think outside of the traditional gift box and become better stewards of our money. Everyone (from the youngest to the oldest) got to choose where he or she would be a blessing and they were in charge of delivering the goods.

Christmas day was exciting. Until then, everyone had kept his or her personal donation a secret. There were big smiles everywhere. Finally, they could share how they had helped make Christmas special for someone — somewhere. The recipients of their gifts varied from close to home to thousands of miles away.

The revelations started with seven-year old Joshua. In Sunday school, he had learned about a missionary family in Cambodia. Rice is a staple of the Cambodians diet and Josh’s money was going to help teach locals to plant rice paddies. “It made me happy,” Josh said. “I wasn’t getting. I was giving.”

Robert, 12, was also concerned about helping others eat. He donated his share to Samaritan’s Purse to plant fruit trees and to stock fish in ponds. “This way, people don’t have to choose between making a living or eating healthy,” he said. “They can do both.”

J.D., 15, was practical. He contributed to a program to build sustainable villages that will put a roof over villager’s heads in Uganda through a partnership with Africa Renewal.

Matthew, also15, had read in the newspaper about a severely abused and rescued dog. The pup’s previous owner had beaten it and broken both of its front legs. The dog was in the process of being adopted but would need expensive on-going care. Later, Matt said, “As I walked into the veterinarian’s office to deliver my donation, I was surprised at their big response. They were really grateful.”

In Ventura, Project Understanding’s mission is similar to our local Community Sharing. In addition to helping with emergency housing they also serve 2900 families from their Emergency Food Pantry.
The day that Paul, 19, and his dad Tim walked in with their donation, their supplies were low and the manager told them that they were down to only $20 to tide them over until holiday giving began. Tim said, “We were God directed.”

Another article in a newspaper touched our daughter Kathy’s heart. An organization was holding a drive to collect suitcases for children in foster homes. Transient foster children often move from place to place with their things in paper bags. Kathy supplied four suitcases. “I felt like I was an answer to prayer,” she said.

Our eldest son Jeff’s contribution went to PETA because of the Dalai Lama who said to “Teach little children to love animals.”

Empty wrapped boxes tugged on our daughter-in-law Betsy’s heart. As a pastor’s wife she sees lots of needy people. But these boxes were in the home of a single mother with no resources to purchase gifts for her kids. Betsy and others filled the boxes from their abundance. “It was amazing to meet someone’s needs,” she said.

Our son John is the pastor of a church who struggles with the same question that most of us have: “So much need! What can one person do?” But he knows from experience what the Salvation Army can do and every year he’s a bell ringer for them at the local post office. “Most folks put in coins,” he said. “Two or three out of 10 people put in paper money. It all adds up so it was a joy to make my donation to an organization that I know works.”

Although Chuck and I chose to give locally, a good friend of mine contributes to a hospital in Germany where wounded soldiers are taken. Sometimes the soldiers come off the battlefield with only their torn, bloody clothing. She routinely sends sweatshirts and pants, socks, hard candy, sample size soaps, lotions, baby powder, mouthwash, books, etc. All are appreciated and acknowledged. Contact me for the address.

Mother Teresa said it best: “If you can’t feed a hundred people then just feed one.” Christmas is a wonderful time to shake things up and find that one special person whom we can feed or help. Why not start now? It will be a Christmas that you’ll never forget.

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

Busy cook's plan ahead for December meals

12/1/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

December is a hectic month for the chief cook and bottle washers in most households. Planning meals in the chaos of everyday life is difficult enough without factoring in holiday activities. My advice? Right now — before craziness escalates to the point of madness — is the time to plan everyday meals for the rest of the month.

Planning is mandatory. Otherwise, fast food madness takes over and soon everyone is grouchy and sluggish because they’re on carbohydrate, salt and fat overload. A flexible weekly menu will work for an entire month. Here’s a sample:

Monday: Meatloaf, roast beef, chicken or pork
Tuesday: Soup or stew
Wednesday: Pasta (macaroni and cheese)
Thursday: Simple supper (breakfast; hot dogs ‘n beans)
Friday: Stir fry; Fish (salmon patties)
Saturday: Mexican (tacos, enchiladas, casserole)
Sunday: Leftovers

I like to start out the week with a meat entrée that can be used in other meals. Leftover meatloaf makes great hot or cold sandwiches. Leftover roast beef, chicken or pork can be used in soups, stews and Mexican dishes. Always make enough soups, stews or casseroles for two meals; and be sure and use your crock pot!

Once you decide on an entrée the rest of the meal is ‘a piece of cake.’ Mash or bake potatoes for meat entrees. Be sure that vegetables and fruit somehow find their way into dinners. Add a green salad to go with soups and casseroles. Change up the taste by tossing in some mandarin oranges and nuts. No lettuce? Put together a platter of carrots and celery with some ranch dressing and a few scattered olives to entice the kids. Enjoy!

Breakfast Frittata for Dinner

4 medium potatoes, cooked and grated
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup onion, diced
3/4 cup green and red bell pepper, diced
1 cup cooked ham, diced
8 eggs, beaten with 3 tablespoons milk
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, grated and divided
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, grated and divided
Sour cream

In a large (oven-proof) skillet, heat oil and butter. Sauté potatoes until light brown. Add more oil if needed and add onion, peppers and ham. Cook until vegetables are translucent. Stir in eggs and 1/4 cup of each of the cheeses; cook until firm on the bottom about 5 min. Top frittata with remainder of cheese and place in oven until cheese is melted and eggs are set; about 10 min. Garnish as desired. Serves 4 generously.

Chicken and Broccoli Stir-Fry

8 ounces angel hair pasta, uncooked
2 cups broccoli florets
1 pound skinless chicken breasts cut into thin strips
1/2 cup toasted Asian sesame dressing
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon each ginger, garlic powder, crushed red pepper
1/3 cup chopped dry roasted peanuts

Cook pasta as directed on package, adding broccoli to the boiling water for the last 3 minutes of cooking time.

Meanwhile, spray large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; heat on medium high heat. Add chicken; cook 6-8 min. or until cooked through, stirring occasionally. Stir in dressing, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper; cook and stir 1 min.

Drain pasta mixture; place in large bowl. Add chicken mixture and mix lightly. Spoon evenly into 4 serving bowls; sprinkle with peanuts. (Makes 2-cup servings.)

Pasta Fagioli

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped small
1 carrot, chopped small
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
2 cups reserved water from cooking pasta
2 16 oz. cans cannellini beans, drained
½ pound small farfalle pasta
½ cup fresh, flat leaf Italian parsley, roughly chopped
¼ cup basil leaves, torn roughly (optional)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Pour pasta in and stir. Boil for 5 minutes and drain reserving 2 cups of the pasta water. Pasta will be very firm but will continue to cook when combined with other ingredients. Rinse and set aside.

In a heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add onion and carrot and sauté on medium heat until vegetables are soft but not brown, (about 5 minutes). Add garlic, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper and sauté 1 minute more. Add canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and cannellini beans. Stir in parsley, reserved pasta water and pasta and bring to a simmer for 3-5 minutes.

Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle generously with cheese. Top with basil leaves and serve with bread and a simple green salad with vinaigrette dressing. Serves 6-8.

Taco Bake

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 envelope (1 1/4 ounces) taco seasoning mix
1 can (16 ounces) tomato sauce
1 can (16 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
2 cups shredded Cheddar or process American cheese (8 ounces)
2 cups Original Bisquick®
1 cup milk
2 eggs
Sour cream, chopped tomato and shredded lettuce, if desired

1. Pre-heat oven to 325° F. Grease 13x9x2 inches baking pan.

2. Cook ground beef and onion in 10-inch skillet, stirring frequently, until beef is brown; drain. Stir in dry seasoning mix, tomato sauce and corn. Spoon into pan; sprinkle with cheese. In mixing bowl, combine Bisquick, milk and eggs until smooth. Pour over beef mixture.

3. Bake about 35 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before cutting.

Top with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and sour cream. To make it extra-special, add sliced ripe olives, guacamole and something spicy like chopped jalapeno chilies or chunky salsa.

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 26, 2010

Christmas sno-ball cookies

12/12/07 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Ladies and gentlemen, start your ovens! ‘Tis the season to baking! Now is the time to be sorting through your Christmas recipes and choosing the ones you will be preparing. December 25 is just around the corner.
I am always motivated to get organized early because we will soon host our annual neighborhood cookie party. Show time is coming up and I’d better be ready.
In many ways, the finding and sorting is as hard as the baking. During the holidays, my kitchen ghost seriously messes with my filing system (at least that’s my story). Otherwise, how can I explain that the cookie recipes I want are often found filed under ‘casseroles’ or even ‘fish’? It takes time to find these rascals, so do it now!
Once the recipes are found, I must narrow my choices. Realistically, too much sugar is not in our best interests. So I reluctantly limit myself to no more than a half-dozen variety of goodies to be served to company over the next few weeks.
Here’s this year’s plan:
a. Sugar cookies: cut out, iced and decorated
b. Bar cookies: Cranberry Macadamia Nut and Lemon
c. A fruitcake for Chuck
d. Something chocolate for me
e. Pecan pie on Christmas Day
f. Snowball cookies
I love this last category because they’re delicious, easy, showy and everyone’s favorite. The recipes come from different cultures but the base ingredients are all the same: butter, sugar, flour and nuts. Other ingredients are optional.
The following snowball recipes are simple enough for the kids to help you assemble but elegant enough to serve company with a dish of sherbet. Just remember to be creative with garnishes and hide them from men and teenagers until company arrives. Enjoy!

Cherry Hazelnut Snowballs

1-cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2 cups sifted flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup red maraschino cherries, drained and chopped
½ cup roasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
½ teaspoon vanilla
Additional sifted powder sugar

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add flour and salt; blend thoroughly. Stir in cherries, nuts, and vanilla extract. Chill overnight.

Shape chilled dough into small balls and place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake in a 300° oven for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from sheets and cool. When cool, dust with extra powdered sugar.

Note: substituting green maraschino cherries or other candied fruit for the red cherries can change the appearance of these cookies. Don’t mix the colors or they will look muddy!

Lemon Snow Balls

¾ cup butter, room temperature
3 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1-teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 cups flour, sifted
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
Additional sifted powdered sugar

Cream together butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add one-cup sugar and beat well. Stir in vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add flour and mix well. Stir in nuts. Roll into small balls and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 300° for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pan and roll in extra powdered sugar while still hot. Roll again when cool.

Note: substituting orange juice and zest for the lemon can easily change the flavor of these cookies.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

1-cup soft butter
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1-teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans
Sifted powdered sugar

Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add salt, vanilla, flour and nuts. Blend well. Refrigerate until easy to handle.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls or 2-inch crescents. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 350°, 12-15 minutes or until very lightly browned. While still warm, roll cookies in powdered sugar. Roll again when cool.

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.

Thanksgiving is the best eating day of the year!

City Tavern, 1772, Philadelphia, PA

The day before Thanksgiving means that your kitchen is a busy place. The turkey is in the frig, stuffing ingredients are ready to assemble and most of the side dishes have been delegated to others. Your cousin Lenora is bringing her signature green bean casserole. Another cousin her sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows. Aunt Emma is bringing the rolls and grandmother has got the pies under control.

So, I’m not going to disturb your carefully crafted menus. Instead, I’m going to offer some classic ‘anytime’ recipes from the 1800s that my husband and I enjoyed on our recent trip to Colonial America.  Unless you want to make the rolls or whip out a chocolate pecan pie tomorrow, you can try the recipes another day.

On our trip we occasionally ate at local taverns that served lunch and dinner. Two of our favorites were the King’s Arms Tavern in Williamsburg and the City Tavern in Philadelphia where the servers were not only in costume and conversation of the period but so was the food.

We were introduced to peanut butter soup at the King’s Arms.
It was probably concocted by a clever cook to make use of the peanuts grown in the region, I found it a bit too rich but you may just love it. Some of our fellow diners did, so I’m including the recipe.

Three kinds of bread — Anadama, Sally Lunn and Jefferson’s sweet potato biscuits — were served at the City Tavern in Philly. Jefferson grew sweet potatoes on his farm. No doubt a thrifty cook figured out a novel way to use them. And finally, chocolate pecan pie, an age-old favorite of mine was also on the menu. Delicious!

Have a great day tomorrow. Wherever you go, whatever you do, may the shared spirit of Thanks-giving brighten your life and that of your loved ones. Enjoy!

Cream of Peanut Butter Soup
King’s Arms Tavern (1772) Williamsburg, VA

1 med. onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons flour
8 cups chicken stock or canned chicken broth
2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 3/4 cup light cream
Peanuts, chopped

In a large saucepan or soup pot, melt butter and sauté onion and celery until soft but not brown.

Stir in flour until well blended. Add the chicken stock, stirring constantly and bring to a boil. Pour into a sieve set over a large bowl and strain, pushing hard on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible. Return the liquid to the saucepan.

Whisk the peanut butter and cream, stirring to blend thoroughly.
Return to low heat and heat until just hot but do not boil. Serve, garnished with chopped peanuts.

Thomas Jefferson’s Sweet Potato Biscuits
City Tavern, Philadelphia, PA — Since 1772

 2-1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup margarine, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup milk (maybe more)
1 large or 3/4 cup sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 450° F.
Combine dry ingredients. Add margarine. Combine milk and sweet potatoes; add to flour mixture. Add pecans. Knead dough with your hands until it is a smooth mass. Roll out on a floured surface to 1/2" thickness and cut with a 2" biscuit cutter. Place on a greased baking sheet 2" apart. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on wire rack. Makes 10 to 12 (2-1/4") biscuits.

Sally Lunn Bread

1 pkg active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105 -115F)
1 3/4 cups scalded Milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 well beaten eggs
5 cups sifted flour (Divided)

1. Dissolve the yeast into warm water.
2. Combine milk, sugar, butter, and salt in a mixing bowl. Allow to cool.
3. Stir in yeast, eggs, and 3 cups of flour.
4. Add enough additional flour to make nice soft dough.
5. Place in a greased bowl and turn once to coat all surfaces.
6. Cover and allow to rise in a warm, dark spot. Punch down and turn onto a lightly floured board. Knead until smooth and elastic.
7. Divide dough in half and form into 2 loaves.
8. Turn into 2 greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pans.
9. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
10.  Bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Then reduce the temperature
   to 350 and bake 17 minutes more.

11. Remove from the pans and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Note: This dough is versatile and forgiving. After the first rise, it can be shaped into buns, rolls, loaves of bread or poured into an angel food cake pan and baked. It is best served warm with butter.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 cup dark corn syrup
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/2 cups pecan halves
1 unbaked 9” pie shell, in pan
Whipped cream for garnish

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Line the pie shell with pecans, adding more if needed.

Combine eggs, sugar, salt, corn syrup, butter, chocolate and vanilla in large bowl and mix well. Pour over pecans in pie shell. Rearrange pecans as they rise to the top. Place pie in oven, reduce heat to 350° F. and bake 40-50 min. The filling should be firm in center. Cool and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

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 bchatty@bettykaiser.com

Touring Historic Colonial America

Betty and Chuck Kaiser at the White House

God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
to the oceans, white with foam,
God bless America, My home sweet home.

Thanks to a recent historical tour of America, I’m singing a patriotic song this Thanksgiving. Many of you have visited the battlefields and monuments of the founding fathers, heroes and presidents that shaped our country. I had not. So come along with me for a few highlights of my historical refresher course.

In late September, my husband and I flew into Dulles airport, hired a limo (same price as a taxi!) and drove to Washington D.C. Our driver was from Bangladesh and upon hearing that we had never been to the area, he slowed down and gave us a little geography lesson that enlightened and gave us great respect for this young immigrant. 

The next morning, we met the 48 other passengers who would be joining us on a 14-night historical America tour. Our fellow tourists came from every corner of No. America — including Canada. Most had already been to D.C. We were the rookies.

Our first couple of days was spent touring D.C. It was everything that we thought it would be. The Washington Monument was overwhelming. The obelisk, built in 1849 as a tribute to George Washington’s military leadership during the American Revolution, dominates the D.C. landscape. Even at night, you can see all 555 ft. 5.5 inches of it shining like a bright beacon. It is breathtaking.

Every monument and national park was significant and touching. This Veteran’s Day was especially meaningful because of our visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Its elegant simplicity compels reverence for those who sacrificed their lives to build our country. There are 300,000 people buried there but only two presidents: William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy. The headstones that eloquently line the acreage are mostly ordinary servicemen and women.

The day we were there a busload of veterans from WWII arrived to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Despite their age and infirmities, the men and women (proudly wearing hats from their respective branch of service) clutched canes, pushed walkers and rode in wheelchairs to pay their respects. Their presence was a sobering reminder of the faithful who serve this country today.

It was crowded and hot at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Three million people visit the simple structure yearly. I stopped, picked up a picture of a young man in uniform and read a letter resting at the base of the wall. Written in pencil, on lined notebook paper, it said, “Dear great-grandpa, I’m sorry we have to meet this way. I’m sure I would have loved you and you me.”

We visited the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments at night. One in marble, the other bronze, each was larger than life but also very lifelike. Nearby, the WWII memorial with its arches, 56 pillars, and a grand fountain was very grand and ornate. It had almost an art deco feel to it. The Freedom Wall on the west side of the memorial has 4,048 stars; each one represents100 Americans who died in that war. It is the horrendous cost of freedom.

I was not prepared for the emotional impact of the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Seen at night, it eerily reproduces a squad of 19 lantern-carrying soldiers on patrol. Dimly lit in the shadows, the stainless steel statues, wearing windblown ponchos appear to be slogging through the rugged terrain. The fear and fatigue in their eyes is palpable and sent chills down my spine. How could we not honor the combat bravery of these men?

It was almost a relief to put memorials and monuments behind us as we headed out on a bright sunny day for the White House and the U.S. Capitol building. We were disappointed that President Obama’s schedule was too busy to give us a guided tour but enjoyed getting an up close view of the official residence and principal workplace of the president and legislators of the United States. It was another one of those goose-bump experiences to realize how close we were to the seat of democracy.

Leaving D.C., I enjoyed the beautiful the countryside. The days that followed went by too quickly. We visited both Mt. Vernon and Monticello. I expected to love Monticello because it was the home of Jefferson but Mt. Vernon won hands down. Sited on the Potomac, its story of renovation and family life was told by docents and punctuated by historical outbuildings. Loved it!

I found the historic triangle of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown fascinating. The grit and determination of the residents of Jamestown, first capital of the Virginia colony, is unimaginable. Its location on a swampy, isolated site with limited hunting and farming space was made even worse by the lack of potable drinking water. Poor leadership compounded problems with hostile Indians, starvation, typhoid and salt poisoning from the swamp water. It was a hard life.

Later, Williamsburg was named the colonial Capital. Today, both places have been designated National Historic Sites. There are teepees, a blacksmith pounding nails, a musket loading demonstration, chickens hiding in the kitchen and a young woman tanning a deerskin for a dress. We toured Williamsburg in a horse drawn carriage; listened to debate re-enactments; and enjoyed a guided tour at the Abby Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

Other notable stops were beautiful Harper’s Ferry (John Brown’s raid on Armory); an unforgettable guided tour of Gettysburg (Civil War’s bloodiest battle), Philadelphia (Declaration of Independence; Liberty Bell), Boston (Paul Revere) and more. Time just flew by. Too soon it was time to say goodbye to our new friends in New York City at the Statue of Liberty. It seemed a fitting ending to a wonderful journey.

God bless America!

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

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Grandmother's (updated) Sunday Supper

11/10/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Grandmother’s (updated) Sunday Supper

Back in the day, a fried chicken supper was a special occasion usually reserved for Sundays. Most weekends, grandmother went to the neighborhood market and picked out two plump hens at the butcher counter. She had them cut it into pieces that always included three portions of breast meat — one being the coveted wishbone.

At home, the chicken was placed in the refrigerator along with some fresh string beans (from the green grocer) and bacon. After church, grandma would tie on her apron and begin to cook. First she cleaned and snipped the beans and put them in a pan of water. Then she diced some salt pork and added it to the beans; this combination cooked all afternoon. Today’s cooks say this was cooking the beans to death but we didn’t know any better. We ate ‘em anyway.

After a short nap, she and mother began preparing the birds. First they set the cleaned giblets to boiling in a pan on the stove and then they used tweezers to pull pinfeathers from the skin. Then the pieces were washed, patted dry and set aside to begin frying about an hour before supper. In the meantime, they peeled and cubed potatoes for mashing and checked the Jell-O salad to make sure it was jelled.

A large cast iron skillet was used to fry the chicken (always in Crisco) and another skillet was used to bake either corn bread or biscuits. After each piece of chicken cooked, it was set aside on a pan in the warming oven while the gravy was prepared. The gravy was made using the chicken drippings — flour and whole milk with an added dash of salt and pepper. Delicious!

I still make fried chicken suppers but in deference to healthier eating habits, I have tweaked grandma’s recipes just a little. First, I skin the chicken pieces, wash and pat them dry before cooking. I’ve done this for so long that skinless chicken is the new normal. Second, I no longer use solid shortening. I use vegetable or canola oil instead. And instead of salt pork, I dice and brown a little bacon and onion to flavor my green beans. Three or four slices are plenty.

All potatoes are not created equal. Yukon Golds are my favorites for fluffy mashed potatoes served with gravy but they are hard to find. Russets are the next best choice but they easily turn to mush so be sure to not overcook. A good rule of thumb for deciding how many to cook is to use one medium potato per person and “one for the pot.”

Now, I often hear people say, “I can’t make gravy.” I say, “Oh, yes, you can.” Just use low-fat milk in place of cream. Try these recipes and see what you think. Enjoy!

Oven Fried Chicken

2 chickens, cut in 6-8 pieces each, skin removed
2 cups buttermilk (more if needed)
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon seasoned salt (I use Lawry’s)
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
Vegetable oil (enough for 1/2” deep in frypan)

Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour the buttermilk over them. Allow to sit overnight in the refrigerator (if short of time, an hour or so or until ready to cook will be okay).

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Combine the flour and seasonings in a large bowl. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, allow excess to drip into bowl and coat each piece with the flour mixture. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large, deep frypan. Working in batches, place several pieces of chicken in hot oil and fry about 3 min. on each side until the coating is light golden brown. Remove the chicken from oil and place each piece on a sheet pan covered with foil. Before frying the next batch be sure the oil is hot, adding oil if needed. When all the chicken is fried, bake 30-45 min. or until no longer pink inside.

Green Beans with Bacon

1-2 pounds fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
2-4 slices bacon strips, diced
1/2 cup onion, diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Place beans in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook bacon and onion over medium heat until bacon is lightly browned and onion translucent. Add to beans and simmer to desired crispness. Or cook them to death like we used to do! Drain well, season and serve hot. Serves 4-8

Fluffy Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered.
1/2 cup low fat milk, warmed
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt

Place potatoes in saucepan, adding enough water to cover. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer until soft, about 20 min. Drain well and return to saucepan. Add butter and coarsely mash the potatoes, a few lumps are okay. Gradually add the warm milk to desired consistency. Stir in salt and serve hot with gravy. Serves 4-6.

Cream Gravy

See note below before proceeding
1/4 cup pan drippings
1/4 cup flour (use leftover from chicken flouring)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups milk

Add flour to hot pan drippings; blend and cook until light brown, scrapping browned bits from bottom of skillet. Using a whisk, gradually stir in milk. Stir until smooth and thickened; add seasonings. Serve immediately.

Note: This is not an exact recipe. If you don’t have enough pan drippings, add some butter. You may have to adjust the oil to flour and milk ratio. For each cup of MEDIUM gravy use 2 tablespoons fat, 2 tablespoons flour and 1 cup liquid. Good luck!

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

And they said it wouldn't last ...

11/3/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

And they said it wouldn’t last …

This week my husband and I are celebrating 52 years of marriage. An amazing feat considering that all odds were against us making it through the first year. However, we took our vows of love and commitment seriously and together with God’s help, we persevered through the good, the bad and the mundane — and somehow we made it.

We had none of the qualifications for a successful marriage. By most standards, we were just innocent babes. Chuck had joined the US Army Reserve right out of high school and I went to college. He was 20 years old and I was 19 when we tied the knot in a church wedding before 300 friends and relatives in 1958.

We knew what most of the guests were thinking, “They’re just kids. They need more education and money. What are they thinking? This won’t last!” Certainly our parents voiced their concerns. My mother was sure that we were going to starve and end up on the streets while dad just smiled and asked how he could help.

Well, in our youthful brilliance, we thought they were wrong. After all, we had each other. And when you’re young and in love, that is everything. Our church and each of my five bridesmaids gave me a bridal shower and wedding gifts were generous. Chuck had a job and owned a car. We didn’t need anything else. Or so we thought.

Our first year we played house on $65 a week and enjoyed being newlyweds. We were poor but happy. Although we had a short honeymoon to Big Sur, the real honeymoon was our carefree lifestyle together those first 12 months. Just the two of us living la dolce vida.

Life was so different than it is today. We paid cash for everything. Milk was delivered to the door. The Helms Bakery truck came by with bread and donuts. We had a tiny savings account but envelopes were our checking account. Every week a $20 bill from Chuck’s paycheck went into the rent envelope; $8 for insurance; $10 for gasoline; $15 for groceries; $4 milk and bread; $3 dry cleaning; and $5 spending money. Our budget was tight but doable.

I count the first 25 years of marriage among the best times of my life. To our great joy, daughter Kathryn arrived shortly after our one-year anniversary. Her brothers Jeff and John quickly joined her. Our family of five was complete by 1963 and forever bound together with love.

Of course, growing kids are expensive and with three of them under the age of four, someone was always sick. Fortunately, our doctors just kept a running tab and we paid monthly what we could afford. Sometimes I could only pay $10 but that was okay. No doctor ever complained or sent us to collections.

Chuck worked long hours in retail to pay the bills and I worked seasonal jobs as a school photographer to pay for things like a freezer and dishwasher that otherwise we could not have afforded.

Money was short but fun was always abundant. Our entertainment was cheap. When the kids were little we played cards on weekends with friends and neighbors. Dinner was potluck during which time the kids ran around like the proverbial wild Indians in cartoons. Later, the kids were put to bed and we moms tried to beat the dads at Canasta or Pinochle. We seldom won (because they cheated!).

A big date night for Chuck and me was dinner and the movies. For months we would save up for the event. First we treated the babysitter and the kids to burgers from the new McDonald’s. Then we went to a nearby dinner house and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Afterwards, I remember sitting in loge seats at the Imperial Theatre (50¢ ea.), holding hands as the lights went down and the screen light up. Life was good.

I always say that we grew up with the kids. We were pretty innocent and sheltered when we married but it didn’t take long for us to discover that keeping an even emotional keel in life is difficult. Chuck’s mother died prematurely at the age of 55. After a couple of surgeries and years of misdiagnoses, our daughter had a major 8-hour surgery at UCLA Medical Center for a rare condition that put her in medical journals and on alert for a decade.

Afterwards, a near bankruptcy on a business venture almost put us over the edge financially. And long before we knew anything about breast cancer, I lost two of my friends to the disease; another to brain cancer. The suffering and death of loved ones was the hardest to face but we hung on to our faith and each other.

The years of Campfire Girls, Boy Scouts, church activities, track teams, cheer leading, choirs and marching bands were a blur of activity. Then, just as we wondered how we were going to pay for cars and college educations, we opened a restaurant. If we thought life was busy before, our new 60-hour work weeks were a whirlwind!

Suddenly, it was over. We looked around and said, “Wow. The kids are grown and on their own, it’s time for ‘us’ again.” We sold the restaurant, traveled a bit and moved to Oregon where we began a whole new lifestyle and fulfilled many other dreams we had put on the shelf. Our family of five now numbers 12. We praise God every day.

Fifty-two years ago, as the world judged us, our marriage didn’t stand a chance. By the grace of God, the world was wrong. We have lived full and rewarding lives — together. Today, our hair is silver; our faces are creased and our steps a little slower. As senior citizens we still hold hands and share kisses in the moonlight, wondering how we got to be so old when just yesterday we were too young!

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

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Trick or treat — It's time to eat!

10/27/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Trick or treat — It’s time to eat!

Halloween is an American melting pot event. If you’re looking for a touch-feely holiday, this isn’t it. It is what you get when you combine a religious holiday (All Hallow’s Eve) with a harvest celebration and a myriad of Celtic pagan beliefs and rituals. It means one thing to you and something else to your neighbor. It’s day for kids to solicit candy and grown-ups to wish they were kids again!

Halloween activities have always been fraught with controversy. During the early 1900s, pranks and mischief often got out of hand and turned into vandalism. Even the KKK got into the act. That’s when the “trick or treat” concept came into play. Schools, communities and the Boy Scouts began organizing safe carnivals and outings for kids to have treats instead of play tricks.

The earliest known printed use of the words “trick or treat” occurred in 1934 when a Portland, Ore newspaper ran an article about how every year Halloween pranks kept local police officers busy. But the trick or treat custom was well established n the 1940s when I was a kid.

Wearing masks and costumes we giggled our way through pitch black darkness for chocolate. We didn’t care about the day’s origin or what it meant and neither do today’s kids. They just want to dress up and have some fun with their friends as they go trick or treating.

Following are some festive recipe ideas to give your little goblins a healthy meal before the candy gorging begins. The night won’t be sugar free, so start with a nice apple cider that can be served hot or cold and finish with an old-fashioned, semi-healthy caramel apple. And don’t forget that bobbing for apples is still fun!

Finger foods are always a good idea for kids in a hurry. This first recipe is a healthier way to prepare Boneless Buffalo Wings. Try dredging marinated, boneless, skinless, chicken tenders in a combination of flour and cornmeal before pan frying. They will taste just as good as deep fried and be better for you. Pair these ‘faux’ Buffalo wings with a platter of fresh vegetables and a side of blue cheese or ranch dip. Then, steal a Snickers from the kids. Enjoy!

Witches Brew

2 quarts apple cider
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
2 cinnamon sticks
A few whole cloves
1/2 lemon, sliced

Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer a few minutes to allow the flavor to develop. Turn off the heat and let steep in the pot for about 30 min. Discard the cinnamon sticks, cloves and lemon. To serve, keep warm on low heat or in a crock pot.

Note: The cider may be made a day in advance, covered and refrigerated. Double or triple recipe as needed. Reheat before serving or serve cold with ice rings decorated with candy corn.

Healthy Buffalo Wings

1/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup hot sauce, divided
1/3 cup white vinegar, divided
2 pounds chicken tenders
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or seasoned salt
1/3 cup canola oil, divided

Preheat oven to low or 175° F.

Whisk buttermilk, 3 tablespoons (each) hot sauce and vinegar in a large bowl until combined. Add chicken; stir to coat. Transfer to the refrigerator and marinate up to 1 hour; stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, mix flour and cornmeal together in a shallow dish. Whisk remaining hot sauce and vinegar in a small bowl; set aside.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and roll in the flour mixture until evenly coated. (Discard remaining marinade and flour.) Sprinkle both sides of chicken with cayenne (or seasoned salt).

Heat half of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken and cook until golden brown and cooked through, 3-4 min. per side. Transfer to a paper towel lined serving platter and keep warm in oven. Repeat with the remaining oil and chicken; reduce heat if necessary. Transfer to the platter. Drizzle the chicken with the reserved hot sauce and vinegar mixture or serve on the side.

Note: The amount of the sauce is a little stingy. You may wish to fix extra or if your kids don’t like spicy foods, substitute barbecue sauce or catsup. Preferably something they’ll eat.

Vegetables with Spicy Blue Cheese Dip

2/3 cup low fat sour cream
2/3 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Baby carrots
Celery Sticks
Other slivered veggies that kids like
Black olives

Whisk all ingredients together in small bowl. Sprinkle with season salt or paprika (adds an orangey effect). Cover and refrigerate. At serving time, place the bowl of dip in the center of a serving platter. Arrange veggies around the bowl. Make a face on top of the dip with olives!

Classic Caramel Apples

6 apples
6 wooden sticks
1 (14-ounce) package caramels (unwrap individually wrapped pieces)
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Briefly dip apples in boiling water (to remove wax) and dry. Insert wooden sticks 3/4 of the way into the stem end of each apple. Place apples on a cookie sheet covered with waxed paper.

Combine the unwrapped caramels and water in a non-stick saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring often, until caramel melts and is smooth. Stir in vanilla. Dip each apple into the caramel and gently run around the inside of saucepan to scrape off some of the caramel. Scrape excess caramel from the bottoms using the side of the saucepan. Place on the wax paper covered pan and chill until ready to 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.
Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel newspaper

Homeless by choice

10/20/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Homeless by choice

Today’s lifestyles are sometimes foreign to me. As a product of growing up in the 1940s and 50s, my childhood was spent in an Ozzie and Harriet-style, safe and secure middle-class environment. My parents, grandparents, and neighbors, however, never forgot the Great Depression of the 1930s when the entire world was insecure.

The fear that swept the nation when the stock market collapsed and 25-percent of Americans was unemployed colored an entire generation's outlook on life. Grandmother remembered feeding hobos that rode the rails. Granddad described the horror of the Dust Bowl driving people from their homes. And old newspapers showed chilling photos of homeless men standing in bread lines and soup kitchens.

Those black and white images still speak to me in vivid color. Perhaps that’s why the plight of today’s homeless population tugs at my heart. I assume, by the measuring stick of my life, that the suffering of the homeless is involuntary. And while I think that’s generally true I learned last week that my measuring stick is sometimes wrong.

I was driving in Eugene when I saw two youngsters walking along a busy highway with packs on their back. They were very young and from a distance looked to be about 16-years old. One had a large tawny-colored dog on a leash. The other was carrying a tiny orange kitten. I don’t know who I felt most sorry for — boy or beast.

I ran a few errands and then headed to Trader Joe’s. Sitting to the side of the store’s entrance were the same two grubby young men and their animals. One of them pulled out a sign: “Will work for food.” Immediately, people stopped and engaged them in conversation. One lady dropped a shopping bag with a box of cookies and some trail mix. Others were mostly interested in the dog and kitten.

Now, I know the drill about dealing with the homeless. I remember the advice that L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez gave at a convention I attended last year. He essentially said, “Don’t get involved; no money, no help, nothing. Refer them to an agency equipped to deal with their problems.” This advice was from a man who befriended Nathaniel Ayers, a gifted schizophrenic musical genius, who was also a grubby bum. A friendship developed in which Ayers got much needed help and Lopez (who wrote “The Soloist”) received insight.

Obviously there are exceptions to the ‘no-interaction with the homeless’ rules and I have broken them a few times myself. So as I shopped, I thought about these boys. After all, they really weren’t men. They were boys. Did they need help? What was their story?

I asked the check-out clerk if he had seen them before. “No,” he said. “Do you want me to call security?” “Absolutely not,” I replied. And then, as he rang up a can of tuna, some dog bones and a small gift card, we engaged in a conversation about ways to help others without encouraging their lifestyle.

Outside, the boys were still squinting in the sunlight and waiting. Their dog was obviously exhausted and sleeping behind some bushes. He lifted his head when his name was mentioned and then fell back asleep. This was their second dog, the first one not being suited for the road. Whatever that means. The kitten was wearing a brand new collar and leash and playing with the shoelaces of their boots.

I was going to just drop off my small contribution but my curiosity got the best of me. With very little prodding, I learned that the boys/men were 22 years old and had been on the road for four years. Personally, I wasn’t at all sure about their ages but they certainly would never have admitted being underage.

Further questioning revealed that they were from Arkansas. Four years ago they decided they wanted to see the USA. Now, they have been to almost every state in the union with the exception of some of the northern states and Alaska. It’s too cold up there, one of them said as he shivered.

They had only been in Eugene a week and were staying down by the river. After they got rested up, they were heading home. One of the boys said that he just had to spend Christmas with his Mama. She worried about him and he wanted to reassure her that he was fine. They would hitch rides with long haul truckers whenever possible saying it was safer and they could quickly cover more distance.

I asked about their backpacks, wondering if they held all their worldly possessions. Well, they didn’t. Someone had stolen their sleeping bags upon arrival in town. The nights are already cold and they only had one blanket each. Now stowed in a tree, the guys hoped they would still be there when they returned to camp.

As we talked, I could see that they were weary and wary. They may not have been men but they were no longer innocent young boys. They had some roofing experience and were hoping for a temporary job to start bankrolling their trip home (or so they said). They were worried about the coming rain so I told them about the Eugene Mission where they could get a meal and a warm, safe bed.

We used to call people like this “drifters” or homeless by choice. Their goals are a common dream for young men. They long to see a bigger world than the one they were raised in. Well, I hope that their dreams are fulfilled and their lives are richer for it. I especially hope that they are grateful for the resources and generosity of others that make this lifestyle possible. Past generations were not so fortunate.

Quite frankly, it broke my mother’s heart to walk away. Living the homeless lifestyle is always dangerous — even if it is the lifestyle of choice. I pray that these boys not only survive but also thrive; and that they go on to live fruitful and rewarding lives with loved ones and a roof over their heads.

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cooking up late summer produce

10/13/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

One day last week I gifted our monthly pest control man with a gigantic bag of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini. He seemed genuinely grateful for some really fresh produce and a little surprised that I was so generous. In fact, I was deeply grateful to him!

It’s October and our garden is finally overflowing with vegetables. Every September, it’s the same story. Mother Nature fools us into thinking that our harvest of vegetables isn’t going to happen. The tomatoes languish on the vines. The cucumbers put out blossoms but no fruit while the zucchini are getting sunburned

Our 2010 garden really was struggling so we picked up a flat of Roma tomatoes from Deterings to can just in case ours didn’t ripen. Finally, we decided to ignore the garden and left home for a couple of weeks. You know what happened then, don’t you? We came home to an abundance of produce to deal with — now!

At this time of year, it’s somewhat overwhelming to decide how to eat, share or preserve this late bounty. I’ve used up most of my canning jars and am saving the last few for applesauce. Frankly, if I have to “put up” anything else, I’m going to get hysterical and if my husband has to eat another zucchini casserole he’s going to leave home.

So, I dusted off some cook books and old recipes to remind me that I have choices. This first recipe is great when our tomatoes have split and I need to cut the tops off before they can be used. Bright green bell peppers are abundant right now and stuffed with a colorful combination of fresh sweet corn, tomato sauce and rice, they really brighten up a dinner plate. Drizzle a little tomato sauce over the tops for extra flavor and juiciness. Enjoy!

Baked Tomatoes with Crumb topping

4 tomatoes, washed, cut in half and salted
4 slices bread, crust removed
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasonings

Preheat the oven to broil.

Spray a baking sheet and place the tomatoes cut side up on it.
Cut the bread into small pieces and put a few pieces into a blender. Pulse and repeat until crumbs form. Add the remaining ingredients. Pile on top of the tomato halves and broil 3-4 min. or until brown. Serve immediately.

Warning: This is not a precise recipe. You may have to make more (or use less) topping according to the size of your tomatoes and how many people you are serving.

Rice, Tomato and Corn Stuffed Peppers

6 small red or green bell peppers
1 cup rice
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 cup tomato sauce
Kernels from 1 ear of corn, boiled for 1 min. and drained
3 tablespoons fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup vegetable stock or water

Preheat oven to 475° F.

In a frying pan over medium heat, combine the water, tomato sauce, rice and a dash of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook without stirring 15-20 min. until the rice is almost tender. Remove from heat and cool. Mix in the corn, basil and remaining salt and pepper. Add a dash of hot sauce if you like.

While the rice is cooking, cut off the tops of peppers. Remove and discard seeds and ribs. In a large saucepan, bring the stock to a boil. Place peppers in the stock; simmer 3 -5 min. Drain, reserving the stock.

Fill peppers with the cooled rice mixture. Stand them in a baking dish in which they fit closely together. Pour the reserved stock into the dish and cover with foil. Bake 15 min. Drizzle with a little extra tomato sauce if you like. Remove the foil and continue to bake until rice is tender.

Baked Zucchini or Summer Squash

Wash and slice 3 or 4 Summer squash.
1/2-cup onion, minced
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup butter
1-1/2 cups cheddar cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and paprika

Place sliced squash and minced onion in a buttered baking dish. Beat egg and pour over top. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese.

In the microwave, melt butter and toss with bread crumbs to mix. Sprinkle squash evenly with bread crumbs. Sprinkle lightly with garlic and onion powder, salt, pepper and paprika. Top with a layer of shredded Cheddar cheese.

Bake at 325°F for 30 minutes or until squash is tender and cheese is bubbly.

Roasted Zucchini with Onions, Feta Cheese, and Basil

4 medium green zucchini
2 medium yellow squash
8-10 green onions
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1-2 tsp. sea-salt
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup feta cheese (measure after crumbling, loosely packed)
1/4 cup chiffonade of fresh basil, optional (other herbs such as oregano or parsley could also be used)

Preheat oven to 375 F

Wash zucchini and yellow squash; trim off stem ends. Cut each squash lengthwise down the middle and then cut each piece into half-moon pieces about 1/2 inch thick.

Clean the green onions and slice into diagonal pieces about 2 inches long. Put zucchini and onions into a plastic bowl. Mix together olive oil, salt, and minced garlic and toss with onion and squash.

Choose a roasting pan that will hold the vegetables in a single layer, and spray with non-stick spray or mist with olive oil. Arrange vegetables on roasting pan and crumble feta cheese over. Roast about 25 minutes or until the vegetables are barely tender. Stir the vegetable-cheese mixture once or twice during roasting so melted feta is coating some of the squash by the time it's done. Serve hot, with basil or other fresh herbs sprinkled over as desired.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner 
is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are 
elicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

10/6/10 Perusing the "Inbox"

10/6/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Peering deep into the depths of cyberspace, I think it’s time once again for another review of Betty’s email box. This past summer there were few keepers and lots of deleters (I made that word up). Every year when elections roll around, some people get kinda wacky. They suddenly feel it’s their patriotic duty to bombard unsuspecting friends and family with tall tales and revelations (never nice!) about people brave enough to run for political office. I immediately delete them.

So, if you’re thinking of sending me something political — don’t bother. And please, no more Maxine. I know that people dearly love her. Me? Not so much. I do enjoy (in moderation) the spectacular scenery and other photos that people send. Pictures of puppies, kittens and wild animals are fun. But even then I have limits. After a half dozen cuties with captions, my eyes start to cross.

I find it interesting that whoever puts together spam lists knows that I am of Medicare age. All summer long I have been bombarded with emails that read something like this: “Capitalize on Obama’s Health Care Reform.” All I have to do to take advantage of their offer is to click on a link that says, “View your new health insurance plan here.”

Bulk emails from banks that send balance transfer offers also raise my hackles. I think it’s strange when an institution that won’t make real estate or business loans will offer up to $30,000 if you’ll transfer your debt to them. Of course, I realize they only have my best interests at heart. Not. If I transfer a high-rate balance they say it will give me more financial flexibility. Go figure that one out!

My junk mail box (like yours) is also full of a variety of other scams. The worst, of course, are the ones that begin “Hello, stranger …” Yuck. Just when I think I’ve got them under control, new ones pop up.

Now perhaps you’re wondering what I do like. Well, I enjoy all kinds of trivia and I really like stuff that makes me giggle. Tragedies and other news of the real world can be depressing and sometimes I need cheering up. I like heart-warming truth but not fiction and I’m not big on novella-type scenarios. So if you forward me emails, make me laugh or at least sigh and say, “Ahhh …”

However, the winner of this summer’s unofficial “Favorite email” contest is from Carol, a life-long friend of 60-plus years. After decades of sharing life’s ups and downs, we still have the same wicked sense of humor — the kind of humor that also contains a kernel of truth. The following “kernels” are from her “Truths for Mature Humans.”

1. Re: computers: There is a great need for a SARCASM font.

2. I’m always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I didn’t make any changes to.

3. Was learning cursive really necessary? (Today it’s an art form.)

4. Can’t we all agree to ignore whatever comes after “Blue Ray?” I don’t want to have to restart my collection again. (I second that.)

5. I think part of a best friend’s job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die. (You betcha!)

6. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on #5. I’m pretty sure I know a better route to get out of my neighborhood.

7. You never know when it will strike but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren’t going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.

8. I hate it when I just miss a call by the last ring. (Hello? Hello? Darn!) But when I immediately call back, it rings 9 times and goes to voice mail. What did you do after I didn’t answer? Drop the phone and run?

9. I keep some people’s phone numbers in my phone list just so I know not to answer when they call. (Caller ID is wonderful.)

10. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong. (Again??)

11. How the heck are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet? (The eternal question.)

12. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty. Especially blue jeans. You can wear them forever.

13. “Dry clean only. Do not machine wash or tumble dry,” means I will not buy this garment or if I do, I will never wash this garment — ever.

14. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger. How about you?

15. There’s no worse feeling that that millisecond you’re sure you’re going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

16. I’ll sometimes watch a movie that I saw when I was younger and suddenly realize that the plot makes no more sense now than when I saw it the first time.

17. Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch three consecutive times and still now know what time it is. (It’s called brain block.)

18. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars teams up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters! (It’s especially satisfying when truckers do it.)

19. Bad decisions make good stories. (Oh, boy, do they ever!)

20. Finally, there’s this one: I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t at least kind of tired. (Well, at least in this decade.)

Keeps those emails coming, folks but please be kind. Remember, “Honey catches more flies (and makes more friends!) than vinegar.”

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

Canning season is late this year!

9/22/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Canning season is late this year!

Normally food columnists talk about canning at the beginning of summer. Most of my canning, however, doesn’t really pick up steam until late Sept. when peaches, pears, tomatoes and apples are abundant. So, if you’ve always wanted to can, it’s not too late but you’d better get going.

As I’ve said before, I have a love — hate relationship with the canning season. All year long I look forward to eating and preserving fresh produce but when the time actually gets here I find myself dragging my feet at the process. On paper it all sounds very simple. In reality, it is messy and exhausting.

Phase I of the canning process is choosing the produce. We grow some vegetable but purchase the majority of our fruit from a variety of vendors. Once the produce is gathered, I begin the process of separating the “ripe and ready to eat” from the “ripe and ready to can.” Some get set aside until I decide what to do with them.

Phase II of the canning process begins with climbing the ladder to reach into the furthest corner of the outside storage and retrieve the canner and jars out of storage. The seal has to be checked on the canner and the jars have to washed. Depending on the size of the fruit, I have to make a decision about whether to can in quarts or pints. There are, after all, only two of us in our household. We don’t need lots of quarts but sometimes it’s necessary.

After the assembly line is set up, I wash and sort the produce and then the work begins: Dipping, peeling, slicing and so on. The drill for peaches goes something like this:

1. Check jars for any nicks
2. Wash jars in hot water
3. Boil the lids
4. Ready the canner
5. Make the syrup (thin, medium or heavy)
6. Dip the peaches in hot water for one min.
7. Peel and cut the peaches (put in a mild ascorbic acid solution)
8. Slide peaches in jars
9. Add syrup
10. Remove bubbles
11. Wipe Rim
12. Apply 2-piece lid
13. Put into the canner
14. Process Jars
15. Remove after processing to cool
16. Wash the jars after 24 hours
17. Store and eat like a king all winter long!

If you’re new to canning, it would be best if you could be someone’s helper for a day to see how the whole thing comes together. If that’s not possible, check out the Internet and see it there’s a video on canning procedures. Modern canning books have lots of pictures and instructions to help. The Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, etc. is especially nice.

I’m a pretty basic canner and marinara sauce is about as wild as I get. But if you have lots of energy, you can put up soups, stews, potatoes, pie fillings and more! Just be sure that your equipment is in good working order and you have access to the OSU Extension Food Safety and Preservation Hotline at 541-682-4246.

Improved Elberta peaches are ready for eating and canning right now. The following pie recipe can be used with fresh, frozen or canned peaches. Of course, I think it’s best with fresh off the tree fruit. The final recipe, however, is for a canned Peach Pie Filling that you can freeze and have ready to use all year long. Enjoy!

“The Pioneer Lady’s Country Kitchen”

1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for peaches on top of pie
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sour cream
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup peeled, sliced peaches for pie filling
1-1/2 cups peeled, sliced peaches for garnish
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 (9-inch) baked pie shell
Whipped cream

Note: If slicing the peaches ahead, mix them with 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

In the top of a double boiler, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Stir in the sour cream and cook over boiling water until thick, stirring constantly. Remove double boiler from heat, leaving the pan sitting over the hot water.

Place the eggs in a bowl and very gradually add 1/3 cup of the hot sour cream mixture, stirring quickly to blend; add this egg mixture to the remaining hot sour cream mixture, stirring quickly until smooth and well blended.

Return to double boiler over heat. Continue cooking about 3 minutes longer to set the eggs, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool. Fold in the 1 cup peaches and the vanilla.

Spoon into the baked pie shell and chill thoroughly. Just before serving, lightly sweeten the remaining peaches with the 2 tablespoons sugar and arrange them over the top of the pie. Top with a dollop of whipped cream if you wish. Serve immediately.


6 pounds peaches
2-1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons lemon peel
1/4 cup lemon juice

Peel, pit and slice peaches. Treat to prevent darkening. Combine sugar, flour and spices. Rinse and drain peaches; stir into sugar mixture. Let stand until juices begin to flow, about 30 min. Stir in lemon peel and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to thicken. Ladle pie filling into can-or-freeze jars or plastic freezer boxes, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Cool at room temperature, not to exceed 2 hours. Seal, label and freeze. Yield: about 4 pints.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are 
delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Berry good!

9/15/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

As I write this, it should be a sunny Sept. day. Instead, it’s cold, the skies have clouded over and it is pouring rain. I’ve put on a sweatshirt and am seriously considering a fire in the wood stove. Normally I would also be singing a song of gloom and doom. However, there’s a blackberry cobbler in the oven adding cheer to the otherwise dismal day.

In case you haven’t noticed, this has been a weird year for gardening! Every gardener I talk with has a different horror story to share. A friend’s green beans were planted three times; tomatoes are undersized and rotting on the vine; and our roses have only bloomed intermittently. There is only one word to describe our 2010 garden and that is — pathetic.

Fortunately, our berry crop is outdoing itself. In fact, our birds were so impressed that they managed to polish off the entire crop of our blueberries and cherries before we could get them picked. Our blackberries and strawberries, however, are still putting out glorious fruit every day.

The strawberries are tiny but oh, so sweet and Chuck’s thorn-less blackberries are to die for. They are plump, juicy and prodigious producers. And yes, I said ‘thorn-less,’ making them easier to pick. This is the first year we’ve had a bumper crop and I’ve been experimenting with pies and cobblers and sauces to put on ice cream. Next up is homemade ice cream. Maybe.

The following recipes are from the Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission. You can always count on them for great recipes and beautiful presentations. The first is a pretty straight-up cobbler recipe but the ginger adds a spicy twist to the topping. The cheesecake calls for frozen raspberries making them easy to find come winter but fresh berries can also be used. And if you only have fresh strawberries or blackberries, use them instead. Enjoy!


1 cup sugar
6 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
6 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

For topping
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chilled whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Prepare fruit filling:
1.Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.
3. Mix first 4 ingredients in large bowl.
4. Add berries and lemon juice; toss to blend.
5. Transfer to prepared dish. Dot with butter.
6. Bake until mixture begins to bubble, about 30 minutes.
Prepare topping:
1. Mix flour, 1/2 cup crystallized ginger, powdered ginger and grated fresh ginger, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, lemon peel and salt in medium bowl.
2. Using fingertips, rub in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal or process in the bowl of a food processor for 30 seconds.
3. Add cream; stir until dough forms.
4. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead gently until smooth, about 6 turns.
5. Roll out to 3/4-inch thickness.
6. Using 2-inch shaped cookie cutter or round biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits. Re-roll dough scraps; cut out additional biscuits.
1. Place biscuits atop hot fruit, spacing closely.

Mix 1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon in small bowl; sprinkle over biscuits. Bake cobbler until fruit is tender and biscuits are golden, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
©2009 Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission.


For the crust:
2 cups crushed vanilla wafers
3 Tablespoon chopped toasted almonds
4 Tablespoon melted margarine or butter
For the filling:
24 oz. low fat cream cheese
2/3 cup sugar
5 Tablespoon cornstarch
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup amaretto (or any liqueur of your choice)
2 tsp. almond extract (vanilla, if not using amaretto)
For the sauce:
(2) 12 oz. packages IQF raspberries, thawed
5 Tablespoon amaretto (optional)
1/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 400° F.

For the crust:
In a small bowl stir together crushed cookies and chopped almonds. Add butter and stir to combine. Press mixture into the bottom of a greased 9" springform pan.

For the filling:
In a large bowl combine cream cheese, sugar and cornstarch. Beat until smooth with an electric mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well each time. Add yolk and beat again. Stir in the whipping cream, amaretto and almond extract. Mix well.

Pour mixture into the crust. Bake for 10 minutes; lower temperature to 200 degrees F. and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the center no longer looks shiny.

Remove the cheesecake from the oven and run a knife around the inside edge of the pan. Turn the oven off; return the cake to the oven for an additional 30 minutes. Remove from oven and chill for 3 hours or more.

For the sauce:
Puree thawed berries in blender, food mill or food processor and strain through a fine sieve over a wide bowl to remove all seeds.
Heat puree with sugar till mixed. Remove from heat and add liqueur. To serve cheesecake pool 1/4 cup of sauce on each plate. Place serving of cheesecake on sauce. SERVES 10-12
©2010 Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Only cowards shoot cats and abandon dogs!

9/8/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Only cowards shoot cats and abandon dogs

There’s a reward poster circulating in our neighborhood describing a recent chilling cat shooting. Sadly, our peaceful countryside lifestyle is often punctuated with these posted cries for help on behalf of wounded or abandoned animals and their caregivers.

This time it’s our neighbors Pat and Ralph Deter who need help. They have two house cats and four outside cats (inherited when a neighbor moved away). During the day, the outside cats roam the acres of woods behind their house and come home at night to be fed and put to bed. August 28, one of their cats didn’t come home for supper. She was gone all night. Her name is Jane.

Animals that don’t come home are always a concern in our area because there are many natural predators. A large cougar has been caught on surveillance tape prowling the streets, along with the usual raccoons and other critters. But the person with a gun is the worst predator of all.

August 29, around noon, Jane came dragging her tiny body home. Upon examination, she was found to have been shot by a shotgun with at least 11 pellets embedded in her left side. She is paralyzed in her hindquarters. Blood tests will determine if the pellets are illegal lead birdshot. If so, it will slowly kill her.

It’s not unusual to hear gunshots in our area. In fact, there are two shooting ranges nearby. People not only practice target shooting but roam the area during hunting season. So no one probably paid any attention when someone blasted Jane close enough to pepper her with birdshot. If the shooter had been closer she would be dead. Neighbors would later recall hearing a single gunshot that afternoon.

Thrill seekers give warped rationale to justify using pets as target practice. It’s all very twisted logic. We can’t even give this shooter the benefit of the doubt and say that he or she was aiming at a wild animal. This little gal looks like a Siamese kitty with calico markings and blue eyes. Scary? I don’t think so!

Reactions to the shooting have ranged from anger and sorrow to indifference. Some shrug as if to say, “Oh, it’s just a cat.” Others say, “Your cat shouldn’t be roaming around anyway.” I say, that’s still no reason to shoot it. Unless an animal is threatening your life or someone else’s don’t wound, maim or kill it — report it!

Unfortunately, those of us who live in the country often see the results of what I call a “road kill” mentality. Some see a strange cat on their property and shoot it. If it’s already dead on the road, they’ll run over it again. It sounds sick and it is.

Over the years I have written many news briefs and stories of animal abuse and shootings. It’s a bizarre crime. And yes, it is a crime; a violation of Lane Code 7.120. So if you witness a person causing physical injury or death to an animal, you can report it to Lane County Animal Services at 541-682-3647.

Animal abuse and abandonment is on the rise. We always see abandoned dogs after the campgrounds close. Many of us have found homes for strays when our own rafters were full. One neighbor found an English Spaniel on her doorstep that just stayed until invited to live there. Pat Deter and my husband teamed up to get help for a dog living with a severe case of mange in a nearby park.

That poor mangy pup was not wearing any identification. It was homeless. One of life’s realities is that people get tired of their pets and illegally dump them far away from where they live. Those who live at the end of any country road can tell many stories of car doors opening, animals being dumped, and squealing tires as the cowards drive away from their trusting pets.

We are still haunted by the dog with ghost-like white eyes that ran out of the park every time Chuck’s Jeep drove by. Day after day he ran circles up and down our street and between the parks. One day we decided to tempt him into the car with some treats but he was wary and would get only so close. That afternoon, we heard a gunshot. A ‘yip!’ And the dog was never seen again.

Domesticated cats and dogs do not survive long in the wild. The survival instinct has been bred out of them. Dumped dogs are doomed to starve to death (or worse) while patiently waiting for their families to return for them. Cats and kittens quickly become part of the wild animal food chain. It’s heartbreaking.

A different kind of dog abandonment happened last week on the interstate. My husband was driving over the Main St. overpass when he saw a young boy carrying an armful of fur — on the freeway! Up ahead was a car and utility trailer. Chuck pulled over, turned on his flashers and got out to help the boy. He thought the dog had fallen out of the vehicle.

The boy’s mother got out of the car and told Chuck they had been traveling home when they saw this young, frantic dog tethered to the guardrail. They looked around and didn’t see an owner. Not wanting to abandon the dog to an uncertain fate, they impulsively decided to take it home with them. God bless them! Not all stories have such a happy ending.

Ralph Deter is a hunter and a cat lover. But he hunts for food, not to hurt and maim. He asked me to pass on this piece of advice to all neighborhood barbarians who shoot for fun: “Never shoot anything you aren’t going to eat — unless you like cat.”

Man up, cowards! And readers, don't ignore this stuff. Help stop the cycle of abuse by speaking up when necessary..

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