Friday, January 29, 2010

Haiti's Heartbreak and mankind's compassion

1/27/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The Haitian earthquake continues to dominate the news with its mind-boggling loss of life, horrific injuries, orphaned children and destroyed infrastructure. Images from the 7.3 temblor that destroyed the Port-Au-Prince area are graphic and mind-boggling. In a country where suffering is the norm the quake heaped misery upon misery.

I was on vacation when the enormity of the quake’s devastation began to reverberate around the world. My husband and I were staying on the 31st floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort. A precarious perch when one is contemplating an earthquake’s power.

There in Las Vegas, party capital of the world, we watched the grim daily news, prayed for the homeless, injured, trapped and those who searched for them. We stood in awe of the rescue teams from around the world that mobilized without hesitation to come and help this poorest-of-poor third world country.

Truly mankind’s greatest hour is when diverse cultures can set aside their differences and work together for the common good of those who are suffering. And thanks to the mass media (whom we sometimes curse) we have witnessed people of all creeds and colors rise to the enormous task before them. Coordination of these multi-cultural groups can be difficult.

The 2004 Indonesian tsunami killed an estimated 228,000 people in 14 countries. The United Nations reports that sometimes all did not go well in getting aid to affected areas. In fact, the U.N. says, “agencies around the world tripped over each other in the rush to help.”

So, a new ‘Cluster System’ has been introduced to coordinate relief efforts. The goal of this program is to eliminate redundant efforts and confusion. As a result, this new approach helped put experts in water and sanitation on the ground in Haiti within days of the earthquake, according to Paul Sherlock of the charity group Oxfam.

Critics, however, say the program has its shortcomings. In Sri Lanka, according to one report, many of the donated tents were unsuitable for tropical environments and better suited for alpine mountaineering. After the Kashmir earthquake, Urdu translators were not provided in coordination meetings. There may be kinks in the system but there has also been progress.

Initially, pandemonium reigned at Haiti’s modest airport until they allowed the United States military to bring order to the crowded skies and speed relief to the quake-ravished nation. Brazil, Mexico, Canada, France, Colombia, Russia, Japan and Britain were just some of the countries that circled the airport and saturated the airspace as logistics were worked out.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was one of the first groups to offer search-and-rescue aid and medical help. They set up a field hospital in a football stadium staffed by doctors, nurses, police officers and many volunteers (240). The hospital includes operating rooms, a medical lab, X-ray center, ICU, a maternity and pediatric ward.

Thanks to modern technology one baby lived that might otherwise have died. Dr. Richard Besser, an ABC health and medical editor found a young first-time mother, in a park, in the final stages of a breech birth. He was initially unable to detect movement or a heartbeat; infection was evident and the situation was dire.

Using his Blackberry he was able to consult gynecologists in New York for help. He was advised that the baby and mother would die without a c-section but they had to find the hospital. He contacted an Israeli friend in New York who used Google Earth to guide the Haitian driver mile by mile (in French) to the Israeli field hospital. The woman successfully delivered her son and said she would name him “Israel.”

Although there was some talk that there was a lack of aid from the Muslim world, news from “The Majlis” begged to differ and published a list that proved their point. Contributions from Jordan, Kuwait, Iran, Turkey and other Muslims ranged from military field hospitals and medics to search-and-rescue teams, hundreds of tons of food, tents and medicine and million dollar checks.

Watching the Haiti situation unfold from my nice, clean hotel, I closed my eyes and imagined myself homeless, cut and bruised, covered with dirt and ashes, digging through rubble to find a loved one. I imagined the heartbreak of hearing children crying for their mothers. I prayed for those who were living an unending nightmare.

Everyone wants to help. But how? The newscasts gave options but I wasn’t home. Immediately I texted HAITI to 90999 and donated $10 to the American Red Cross via my cell phone. This small amount of money multiplied by millions of others, helped me to momentarily be a tiny flickering light in the darkness.

Californians are used to earthquakes. Oregonians are not. Yet, it is expected that a powerful earthquake and tsunami will strike the Oregon coast in the next 50 years. Under emergency conditions, immediate help is not always available due to destroyed infrastructure, loss of life or weather (snow). So what should we do?

Capt. Jim Thiel of South Lane County Fire and Rescue’s advice was to immediately exit the building. Or as he humorously put it “Get outside and don’t stand in front of the china closet!” Once the ground stops shaking, we need to be aware of what’s going on around us and watch out for downed power lines, trees or other hazards.

“Most people in the Pacific Northwest are prepared for emergencies,” he continued. “Be prepared to take care of yourself for 24 hours. Consider it a camping trip. Have water, canned foods and propane handy. Cook on the barbecue and keep the freezer door closed. Use your generator if you have one.”

Get into survival mode. And remember what every school child knows— Drop, Cover and Hold On!

Other suggestions can be found on the web at:

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

Friday, January 22, 2010

Broken dishes and other household hints for the new year

1/20/2010 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

When I think of “Household Hints,” I always think of the original Heloise. She was the one who introduced us to the multiple uses of vinegar and commons sense house cleaning. Well, all of us have little tricks that we use in the kitchen and around the house. And the bushel basket of ideas that I’m sharing today is largely courtesy of you, the reader, who have shared your tips with me.

We’ll start first with a lesson that I learned last year. Be very careful in the kitchen when handling hot glass baking dishes such as Corning or Pyrex. Most of us think that they are indestructible unless dropped. Wrong! Twice last year I suffered explosive situations with glass baking dishes. One snapped and shattered in the oven and another as I was removing it from the oven.

To put it mildly, I was absolutely shocked to have a pan of piping hot lasagna break apart in my hands and fall to the floor. Why? I don’t know. According to Urban Legends there are lots of theories. You can check them out at

Personally, I think that my dishes were old and weakened by years of exposure to high heat both in the oven, microwave oven and dishwasher. So be careful. Remember that all brands of glassware are subject to breakage. Use common sense and avoid temperature extremes at all cost. Don’t transfer a glass dish from the freezer to the oven or vice versa. Allow the dishes to sit until they are nearly room temperature before changing their location. Not even the venerable brand names (which mine were) are indestructible.

I hope you find at least one or two treasures from the following variety of household helpers. One caveat: most of the following cooking tips I have authenticated, some of the others I haven’t.

Banana tips: Peel a banana from the bottom and you won't have to pick the little "stringy things" off the fruit. Take your bananas apart when you get home from the store. If you leave them connected at the stem, they ripen faster.

Moldy cheese? Store your opened chunks of cheese in aluminum foil. It will stay fresh much longer and not mold!

Peppers with 3 bumps on the bottom are sweeter and better for eating. Peppers with 4 bumps on the bottom are firmer and better for cooking.

Greasy meat? Add a couple of teaspoons of water when frying ground beef. It will help pull the grease away from the meat while cooking. Drain well.

To make scrambled eggs or omelets really rich add a couple of spoonfuls of sour cream, cream cheese, or heavy cream and then beat them up.

For a cool brownie treat, make brownies as directed. Melt Andes mints in double broiler and pour over warm brownies. Let set for a wonderful minty frosting.

Add garlic immediately to a recipe if you want a light taste of garlic and at the end of the recipe if your want a stronger taste of garlic.

Reheat Pizza: Heat up leftover pizza in a nonstick skillet on top of the stove, set heat to med-low and heat till warm. This keeps the crust crispy. No soggy micro pizza.

Measuring cup mess: Before you pour sticky substances into a measuring cup, fill it with hot water. Dump out the hot water, but don't dry cup. Next, add your ingredient, such as peanut butter, and watch how easily it comes right out.

Expand Frosting: When you buy a container of cake frosting from the store, whip it with you mixer for a few minutes. You can double it in size. You get to frost more cake/cupcakes with the same amount. You also eat less sugar and calories per serving.

Reheating Refrigerated Bread: To warm biscuits, pancakes or muffins that were refrigerated, place them in a microwave with a cup of water. The increased moisture will keep the food moist and help it reheat faster.

Newspaper Weeds Away: Layer newspapers around new plants, overlapping; wet the paper, cover with mulch and forget about weeds. Weeds will get through some gardening plastic but they will not get through wet newspapers. I need to try this!

Flexible Vacuum: To get something out of a heat register or under the fridge add an empty paper towel roll or empty gift wrap roll to your vacuum. It can be bent or flattened to get in narrow openings.

Reducing Static Cling: Pin a small safety pin to the seam of your slip and you will not have a clingy skirt or dress. Same thing works with slacks that cling when wearing panty hose. Place pin in seam of slacks and — hopefully—the static is gone.

Foggy car windshields? Buy a chalkboard eraser and keep it in the glove box of your car. When the windows fog, rub with the eraser!

Goodbye Fruit Flies: To get rid of pesky fruit flies, take a small glass fill it 1/2" with Apple Cider Vinegar and 2 drops of dish washing liquid, mix well. You will find those flies drawn to the cup and gone forever!

And finally, our recipe idea for the day is this yummy dessert that uses leftover holiday Snickers that you must get rid of to start your new diet! It’s a new twist on candied apples that calls for a generous layer of apples topped with candy:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish. Coarsely chop the candy (a food processor is good for this). Peel, core and slice a few apples. Place apples in the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the chopped candy bars over the apples. Bake 15 minutes. Serve alone or with vanilla ice 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.

Another birthday? Hang on for the ride!

1/13/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

I remember when I was a kid and birthdays were a big deal. As a child, birthday parties ranked right up there with celebrating Christmas. In fact, right after Christmas I started thinking about my January birthday.

As you read this, I’m probably walking around the house humming a little birthday tune and trying to feel celebratory. I must admit that birthdays aren’t the same at 70 as they were at seven. As a child, I used to feel like a queen for a day on my birthday. Then, getting older was a good thing. Now it’s kind of scary!

Probably the best thing about current birthdays is the memories of birthdays past. Filtered by innocence, I remember my childhood birthday experiences as magical and sprinkled with fairy dust. Sure, my memories are probably grander than the actual events but that’s why selective memory is a wonderful thing!

I can still feel the excitement of waking up when I was seven years old and knowing that it was my birthday! Mother braided my hair and I carefully chose the dress that I wore to school. As the birthday girl, I wanted to look especially nice when mom brought chocolate cupcakes for the class to enjoy.

After school, my best friends went home, changed clothes and came to my house for a party. Dressed in our frilly party dresses and black patent leather Mary Jane shoes, we played ‘Pin the tail on the donkey,’ ‘Ring-Around-the–Rosy’ and ‘Telephone.’ There were no Party Bouncers or hired clowns to entertain us. We entertained each other.

As I recall, a lot of oohs and ahhs went on while I opened my gifts. Some of my favorites were paper dolls, coloring books, jump ropes, tiny baby dolls, dish sets and Jacks. After they were carefully opened, the paper was neatly folded and saved to be used again!

The party culminated with my favorite homemade buttermilk cake, layered and spread with a fluffy boiled frosting that was topped with coconut. It was presented ablaze with candles for me to close my eyes and make a secret wish. After the candles were blown out, the cake was cut and served with vanilla ice cream and punch.

Each departing guest was given a party favor and this birthday girl stored enough happy memories in her heart to last a lifetime.

At that age, I didn’t realize that those happy birthday parties took place in the dark days after the Great Depression near the end of World War II.

My family lived in Los Angeles and those were tense times up and down the west coast. I vividly remember nighttime Blackouts during bomb scares. We lived at the top of a hill, in a two-story house. At night when I went to bed, I would peek around the black curtains to see — nothing. A city of one million people was eerily dark.

Food rationing impacted folks of all ages and income levels. Highly prized commodities like meat, dairy, coffee and sugar were hard to come by. Coupon booklets and stamps were issued for different categories of rationed food to ensure that everyone had equal access to them. Lots of trading went on: “I’ll trade you one coffee for two sugars …”

Dad worked long hours in the oil fields and mother was a stay-at-home mom like most women of the day. My grandparents lived across the street from us. Grandpa raised a big Victory Garden in the vacant lot next door and grandma canned the excess produce. Home canners were eligible for additional sugar as an extra incentive to conserve fruits.

I now know that mom couldn’t just go to the grocery store and pick up the ingredients that she needed to make the homemade chocolate cupcakes that she took to school or the delicious buttermilk layer cake that I remember so fondly. One had to have both money and a coupon for rationed items. She and grandma would save up or trade their coupons and stamps to make the meals and desserts that brought so much pleasure to our birthdays and holidays.

Cookbooks and recipes were printed on how to get the most from different cuts of meat. Eggless cake recipes were all the rage. Tires, cars, gasoline and rubber footwear were rationed. Everyone was urged to drive under 35 mph to preserve their tires. The average citizen was only allotted 3-4 gallons of gasoline a week.

Anything that would help the war effort was rationed. Fabric rationing limited the choice of clothing styles that my grandmother made us. Oleo or a lard-like substance that came with a capsule of yellow food coloring replaced butter. Ordinary household grease was saved. Scrap metal drives were held and Boy Scouts collected old newspapers.

All around the world there was suffering and sacrifice. And yet, everyday life went on. Birthdays were still celebrated even as we mourned the loss of life “over there.”

Today, on my birthday, we’re at war again. “Over there,” young men and women are dying for their country. “Over here,” there are different problems. The financial picture looks grim. Jobs are scarce. Prices are high. Families are hungry. The homeless population is growing. The prophets of gloom and doom are alive and well.

Nevertheless … we need to celebrate our birthdays! To celebrate a birthday is to honor life and its constant journey of ups and downs, joys and sorrows. To celebrate a birthday is to acknowledge a vibrant organism — our past, present and future. To celebrate a birthday means that there is hope and life goes on.

So, ‘Happy Birthday, 2010,’ everyone! Enjoy your journey and if you can’t enjoy it right now, hang on for the ride! It’s worth the trip.

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Coming down off a sugar high

1/06/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Well, here we are again at the beginning of a new year and it’s time to renew our healthy eating habits. As usual, the holidays filled me up with way too many family favorites that are heavy on butter, cream and sugar. I feel like a slug! So it’s time to slim down my daily menus.

It would be wise, of course, to follow the advice of dietary gurus and throw away all of the sugar laden junk food in the house and begin anew. But I’m weak. I just don't want to do it. So, during a snack attack, the leftover rich, creamy fudge with chopped pecans and the delicious cranberry and lemon bars call my name from the frig.

Honestly, what’s a girl to do? Well, here’s my three-point plan. Phase one consists of tossing the store bought candies and cookies. I have already gathered them up into a paper bag and trashed them in the dumpster. ‘Out-of-sight, out-of-my-mouth,’ is my motto.

Phase two of my plan is rationing the coveted homemade sweet stuff. This week, I began allotting myself a dessert treat at the noon meal only — eating sweets between meals or after dinner is verboten. The operative word here is “No!” I’ll let you know how (or if!)  that works out.

Phase three is to plan a month of healthy, low calorie dinners that are tasty and satisfying with an emphasis on vegetables. My personal game plan is to fill up half of my plate with vegetables and divide the other half between the meat/protein and a starch. For dessert, I substitute fresh or home-canned fruit for the peppermint ice cream still lurking in the freezer.

I find that low calorie chicken dishes are especially tasty and satisfying when I’m coming down off a season of rich meals and a sugar high. You can prepare a family meal from boneless chicken that will make everyone happy in less time than it takes to order a fast food meal. Because protein sources like chicken and tofu are compatible with a variety of spices, fruits and vegetables you can also have Mexican one night and Chinese the next.

The following recipes are two of my favorites that I have adapted and used for years. You may need to add a little more oil for browning the meat but do so sparingly. Also, you will need to read the recipes entirely through before cooking. The ingredient lists are a bit lengthy but I have tried to simplify the preparation process.

Finally, the green salad recipe goes with almost anything and is perfect for this time of year when avocadoes and navel oranges are in season. Enjoy lighter meals and have a happy and healthy 2010!

Chicken with Southwestern Salsa

Chicken preparation
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

Heat canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Combine spices and sprinkle mixture evenly over chicken. Add chicken to pan; cook 7 minutes on each side or until done.

Salsa ingredients & preparation
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1 plum tomato, finely diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (8 3/4-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained

While chicken cooks, heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; sauté 1 minute. Add garlic to pan; sauté 30 seconds more. Turn off heat and add remaining ingredients to onion mixture, tossing well. Garnish each serving of chicken with salsa.

Quick Skillet Pineapple Chicken

6 chicken breast halves, boned, skinned
2 tablespoons canola oil or margarine
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup onion, sliced diagonally
1 cup celery, sliced diagonally
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 cup pineapple chunks
1/2 cup chicken broth, low-fat
2 teaspoons soy sauce, low-sodium
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2-3 tablespoons cold water

Cut each of the chicken breast halves into 10-12 cross-wise strips.

Heat oil in large skillet, add salted chicken strips; cook over high heat 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add onion, celery and peppers; continue cooking, 3 minutes or so. Add pineapple to mixture and set aside.

Mix chicken broth, soy sauce and cinnamon in small bowl. Stir into skillet with meat and vegetables. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer 4 minutes.

Blend cornstarch and water until smooth in small bowl; stir into skillet with wooden spoon. Cook, stirring rapidly until thickened. Serve over white or brown rice. Garnish with sliced black olives or green onions. Serve extra soy sauce on the side. Serves 6.

Note: If sauce is too dry, add more liquid.

Romaine Salad
with avocado and oranges

6 cups torn romaine lettuce
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup diced avocado
1 navel orange, peeled and diced

Put salad greens in large bowl and layer with onion, avocado and oranges. Refrigerate and prepare dressing.

1/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon cumin (optional)

Whisk together all ingredients and set aside until serving time. Toss gently to combine with salad ingredients.

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

Grandma & Santa Claus

12/23/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Dear Readers,
Years ago I started a tradition of featuring an old-fashioned, feel-good holiday story in this space during Christmas week. This year’s story comes courtesy of an unknown author via a friend of mine. I’m passing it on as my Christmas present to you. May it warm your heart and cause you to be Santa to someone who needs you. The setting is small town America, about 1950. Our narrator is an eight-year-old youngster. He begins

I was just a kid when I had my Christmas adventure with Grandma. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her one December day. Before I left, my big sister had dropped the bomb: “There is no Santa Claus,” she jeered. “Even dummies know that!”

I immediately fled to my grandmother because I knew she would be straight with me. Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. She always told the truth and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her “world-famous” cinnamon buns. (I knew they were world-famous because she said so.)

Grandma was home and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me.

“No Santa Claus?” she snorted. “Ridiculous! Don’t you believe it! That rumor has been going around for years and it makes me mad; just plain mad!

“Now, put on your coat and let’s go.” “Go? Go where, Grandma?” I asked. I hadn’t even finished my second of her world-famous cinnamon buns.

‘Where’ turned out to be Kerby’s General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of everything. As we walked through the store’s door, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days.

“Take this money,” she said, “and buy something for someone who needs it. I’ll wait for you in the car. The she turned and walked out of Kerby’s.

I was only eight years old. I’d often gone shopping with my mother but I had never shopped for anything all by myself. The store. Seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.

For a few moments, I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, and the people who went to my church.

I was just about thought out when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock’s grade-two class.

Bobby Decker didn’t have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note telling the teacher that he had a cough. All of us kids knew that Bobby Decker didn’t have a cough; he didn’t have a good coat!

I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat! I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm. He would like that.

“Is this a Christmas present for someone?” the lady behind the counter asked kindly as I laid my ten dollars down. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied shyly. “It’s for Bobby.”

The nice lady smiled at me as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat. I didn’t get any change but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again and wished me a “Merry Christmas.”

That evening when Grandma helped me wrap the coat, a little tag fell out and she tucked it in her Bible. We wrapped the coat up real pretty with paper and ribbons and wrote, “To Bobby, from Santa Claus,” on a gift tag.

Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker’s house. She explained as we went, that I was now and forever, officially, one of Santa’s helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Bobby’s house and we got out of the car. She and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then she gave me a nudge. “All right, Santa Claus,” she whispered, “get going.”

I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open.

Finally the door opened and there stood Bobby. Fifty years haven’t dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma in Bobby Decker’s bushes.

That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were — ridiculous! Santa was alive and well. We were on his team. And to prove it, I still have Grandma’s Bible with the coat tag tucked inside: $19.95.

Well, that’s it for this year, folks. As we pray for peace on earth and good will around the world, let’s also be thankful for all of Santa’s helpers out there — whatever your age may be. Merry Christmas and 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