Friday, February 26, 2010

Cottage Grove struggles to save charming resort

2/24/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The headlines of the Sentinel on Feb. 10 were ominous: “Village Green close to being sold.” “Prospective buyer reportedly wants to convert hotel to truck stop.” Shock waves reverberated through the town. One of Cottage Grove’s finest businesses was going to be destroyed for a parking lot? How could that be?

Weeks later the Village Green Resort’s possible demise continues to dominate conversations. People sadly shake their heads as they contemplate the death knell for our town’s once 5-star crown jewel. Truck stops may be necessary but we don’t want one at the expense of a charming place to have dinner and entertain guests on birthdays, weddings and anniversaries.

Yes, I said ‘charming.’ If I had to define Cottage Grove with one word it would be charming. After 21 years I am still thrilled to live in this delightful and quirky town. It holds a magic spell over my heart. It captivates and fascinates me. And I am not alone.

My husband and I first pulled onto Main St. one August afternoon in 1987. We had just driven over from Crater Lake in our non-air-conditioned RV. It was hot and sticky. We needed new motorcycle boots. Mike Thies at Self-Selecto Shoes helped us find just the right fit and then asked where we were spending the night.

As usual, we were touring by the seat of our pants and didn’t have a clue where the campgrounds were located. Mike suggested that we head out to Pine Meadows at Cottage Grove Lake where it would be cool and pleasant. But first we needed some camping supplies and he recommended that we stop at BiMart.

At BiMart we were pleasantly surprised when we asked an employee where we could find the needed gear and he said, “Follow me.” He actually took us to the aisle where the items could be found and then asked if there was anything else he could do. Wow. An employee with manners. We were impressed.

The charm of Cottage Grove had begun to work it’s magic. Friendly, helpful people were just the first part of the equation. We were charmed by the old hospital located in historic downtown. On Main St., the quaint Hot Spot Café, the elegant Ben Franklin Bank and Elsie’s Dress Shop were well — ‘charming.’ After weeks on the road, Tilly’s Top Hat Pies (next to the old post office) became habit forming.

Too soon we had to return home but we came back the following year to check out CG in all four seasons. We enjoyed our first blooming rhododendrons; rode the Blue Goose steam train; enjoyed the small town fair atmosphere of the W.O.E; went underground and toured the dam at Cottage Grove Lake; and munched wild apples as we toured the area on our little Honda. We even adopted our first dachshund puppy from a litter that a lady brought to the campground.

You might say that we were hooked. And when it was too cold to camp, we stayed at the Village Green Resort. It was a charming, first class resort at affordable prices where it felt like home.

The rooms were comfortable but not overdone and a chocolate kiss was always on your pillow at bedtime. With a generous overhang, you didn’t have to stand in the rain to open your door. Waitresses at The Copper Rooster knew us by name and we got to know the community just by visiting with other diners. Sunday brunch featured ice carvings and a delectable buffet. We later learned that ladies were escorted to dinner by a maitre ‘d who placed a pillow under their feet!

Almost every town has a favorite landmark restaurant or hotel. One nice enough to bring visiting guests to experience. An upscale destination for when you want more than fast food. Of course, not all of them have 5-star ratings or a Cascadia Dining Room like the Village Green did. And that’s what has us worried.

The founding Woodard family who built and managed the resort sold it in the early1990s and it subsequently fell on hard times. A couple of sets of new owners didn’t have the same vision or standards as the Woodards. The antiques disappeared. Then the Cascadia and the Copper Rooster restaurants closed. The rooms became musty and bathrooms moldy. Word got out through the traveler grapevine not to stay there.

Hope surfaced in 2001 when Moonstone Hotel Properties purchased the resort and began a massive remodeling. Their primary vision seemed to be the building of a world-class garden with the hotel as an accessory. But gardens don’t pay bills. So while the plants flourished, only 24 of the guest rooms were refurbished, leaving 63 rooms un-habitable by resort standards.

Now the owner’s money is gone and the resort has one offer on the table — for a truck stop. Selling it would solve his problem but not ours. Once demolition takes place, we can’t go back. And even if the new owners put in a world-class truck stop, most of us will be disappointed.

Our dilemma is that we residents don’t have any power. We don’t own the resort or owe the money. Our influence is limited by the size of our wallets. Letters to the editor are great but they didn’t save the carousel. They certainly didn’t save the Blue Goose from moving to Yreka and they won’t save the resort.

Is there anyone who can step up and keep our charming Village Green open? As of this writing there’s lots of buyer speculation but no answers. Perhaps a coalition of businessmen? It happens all the time. The city of Cottage Grove? It bought a golf course. “The Little Engine that Could?” It built a hospital. Can any of them save a charming resort? Only time will tell.

Betty Kaiser's Chatterbox is about people, places, family and other matters of the heart.
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Monday, February 22, 2010

Meatless Main Dish Meals

2/17/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Meatless Main Dish meals

Today is the beginning of Lent or Ash Wednesday. The forty days of Lent are set aside by Christian churches to reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Originally, this concentration on a spiritually disciplined life eliminated meat and other rich foods from the diet of parishioners.

Meatless meals for those who were not vegetarians could be quite a challenge. In large families, lots of macaroni and cheese or tuna and noodle casseroles were eaten. This meatless culinary tradition changed in 1966 by decree of the pope. Today Catholics are encouraged to abstain from meat only on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent.

Simplicity is still the premise behind Lenten meals. A simple meal of rice and beans is one example. To us such a meal may seem Spartan in contrast to steak and potatoes. However, cooked rice and beans scooped into a tortilla and heated on a griddle are the staple diet in most Latin American and Caribbean countries. Beans provide protein in the diet.

“Cooking Lent,” suggests that eating rice and beans is a symbolic way for us to identify with those who eat this meal daily around the world. It also suggests that we pray for our sisters and brothers in other countries during the food preparation.

I’m going to start out this meatless meal journey with a common rice and beans recipe similar to the one mentioned above. You can cook your own beans (which I recommend) but for those in a time crunch, canned black beans work just as well. I’m including a classic minestrone soup recipe. It’s delicious and you won’t even miss meat when you eat it.

And finally, I’m including an updated version of the often maligned tuna and noodle casserole. Why? Because some people (like me) really enjoy it — once or twice a year. With the addition of fresh broccoli and mushrooms, this recipe has a fresher taste than the old one. Serve any or all of the above dishes with a crisp green salad and French bread and you’ve got dinner. Enjoy!

Easy Black Beans with Rice

2 tablespoon each butter and vegetable oil
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
2 cans (15 oz each) black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes, with juice
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Dash hot sauce (more if desired)
1 cup long grain white rice, uncooked
Garnish: fresh chopped cilantro

Cook rice according to package directions (usually 1 cup rice to 2 cups water, simmer for 25 min.).

While rice is cooking, heat oil butter and oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, celery and bell pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until tender.

Stir in beans, tomatoes, sugar, oregano, basil, garlic salt, pepper and hot sauce; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 15 min. or until thickened, stirring frequently; set aside. Taste for seasonings, add more hot sauce or serve on the side if desired.

Serve hot black bean mixture over rice in bowls, garnished with cilantro. Serves 4.

Classic Minestrone Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, sliced
1 zucchini, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh (canned or frozen) green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced into moons
1/2 head cabbage, chopped
1-1/2 quarts vegetable stock or water
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 can kidney beans
1 can (15-oz) cannellini beans, with liquid
1/4 cup small elbow macaroni
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, zucchini, green beans, celery and cabbage. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook 10-15 minutes, shaking the pan often. Stir in the stock, tomatoes, sauce and herbs. Bring to a boil, then replace the lid and reduce heat to low; simmer gently 30 min. Stir in the kidney and cannelloni beans with liquid and pasta. Simmer an additional 10 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Updated Tuna Casserole

12 oz wide egg noodles
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups broccoli, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 (6 oz) cans tuna, drained and flaked
1 (10-3/4 oz) can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
1 soup can milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 chicken bouillon cube dissolved in hot water
2-1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese (reserve 1/2 cup for top)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400’ F.
Spray a large ovenproof casserole dish with nonstick spray.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt and noodles. Cook uncovered until al dente; add the chopped broccoli to the pasta and cook 2-4 minutes longer. Drain in a colander and set aside.

While the noodles are cooking, sauté the onions and mushrooms in a small amount of butter on medium high heat in a large skillet. Add the soup and milk and heat until warm.

Put noodles and broccoli back into the large pot, add soup mixture, sour cream, tuna, bouillon and cheese. Season. Mix well and turn into casserole dish. Top with reserved cheese. Bake 20 min. or until hot and bubbly. Serves 6.

Note: This recipe is easily halved

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

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A presidential love story: Harry and Bess

2/10/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

“Three things can ruin a man — money, power and women. I never had any money. I never wanted power and the only woman in my life is up at the house right now.”
Harry S.Truman

As Valentine’s and President’s Day approach, I’ve decided to combine the two holidays and tell a presidential love story. My favorite is that of Bess and Harry Truman although the Ronald Reagans and Barrack Obamas are close behind.

In the above quote Truman alludes to mankind’s age-old temptations. Speaking as one powerful man to others, he subtly reminded his fellow politicians that if they weren’t careful, the aphrodisiacs of money, power and women would bring them to ruin. In essence he was saying, “You need to make good choices.”

Unfortunately, our presidential history is replete with those who have not made good choices. John Adams was accused of importing a British mistress. Ulysses S. Grant was accused of corruption. Grover Cleveland was charged with draft dodging and fathering an illegitimate child whom he later sent to an orphanage after having the mother committed to an insane asylum. Garfield, Wilson, Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were all accused of committing adultery and more.

The love story of Harry Truman and Bess Wallace has none of those sleazy overtones. It is classic and classy. He came from a small town, was minimally educated, relatively poor, struggled to get established, had no power base and yet became president. She was his first lady and he called her “The Boss.” At the end of their lives they were still saying, “I love you. I miss you. I need you.”

President Truman revealed that his courtship of Bess Wallace began when he was only 6 years old in Sunday school at the First Presbyterian Church. He said she was “a beautiful little girl with golden curls. I was smitten at once and still am.” This was 29 years before they married!

They came from opposite sides of the tracks. He was born into poverty on a farm in Lamar, Missouri in 1884. She was born in 1885 into a wealthy, prominent family in Independence. Although her father later took his own life, he had been mayor and her relatives always looked down on Harry. He was a poor country boy. A nerd. She was a popular athlete with many boyfriends.

Their courtship didn’t begin until in both were in their twenties. One day Harry was visiting some relatives who lived across the street from the Wallace family. His aunt asked him to return a cake plate that Bess’ mother had sent over. Bess answered Harry’s knock at the door and thus began a nine-year courtship. The couple didn’t hop in a car or go to the movies or anyplace alone. No, they visited in the sitting room or back porch and in the summer went on picnics or fishing trips with friends. And when they were apart, they wrote letters to each other.

Harry didn’t want to be a farmer, so he set out to make his way in the world of hard knocks. He was the only president of the modern era who didn’t have a college education and he worked in many fields, including as a banker and a judge. He served in France During WWI as a captain with the 129th Field Artillery. He and Bess became engaged. And they wrote letters.

He wrote more than 1300 letters to her during their 60-year courtship and marriage. It was thought that all of Bess’ letters to him had been burned. But in 1998 a new exhibition of letters from Bess to Harry opened at the Harry Truman Library and Museum. In the following letter, Bess evidently responds to a question about wedding guests.

"You may invite the entire 35th Division to our wedding if you want to. I guess it’s going to be yours as well as mine…it was splendid you got to shake hands with Pershing. Hold on to the money for the car. We’ll surely need one … but we can see about that later. Just get yourself home and we won’t worry about anything."

They were married June 28, 1919 in a little white Episcopal church at the age of 35 and 34 years old. The weather was so hot that day that the flowers wilted! Later, Harry had another business failure and Bess had several miscarriages. Margaret, their only child, completed their family.

Harry finally found his niche in politics and became known for his personal honesty. Eventually he was elected to the Senate and became vice president in 1944. He unexpectedly became president after Roosevelt’s sudden death in April 1945 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over the years, wherever they were, the couple continued to write letters to each other. There was conversation about family life and probably political stuff, too. But always, there was the kind of heart-felt sharing that binds a couple together for life. One lonely night early in their marriage, Bess wrote this to Harry who was at Army Reserve summer camp:

"My dear, Lots and lots of love and please keep on loving me as hard as ever. You know I just feel as if a large part of me has been gone for the last ten days.
P.S. There isn’t anybody else on earth I’d stop to write at this time of day."

The Truman’s love story is like a breath of fresh air in a civilization that worships money, power and the pursuit of illicit love. When they left the presidency, Harry and Bess returned to Independence, Mo where they happily lived out their lives on his military pension in the house built by her grandparents. He walked to work. She played bridge. They traveled. And they were still crazy about each other.

Happy Valentine’s everyone! Now go write your sweetheart a love letter.

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

For your valentine: Fabulous French Silk Pie

2/3/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

One of my very favorite chocolate desserts is French Silk Pie. Although the pie supposedly dates back to the 1600s in France, it was introduced to cooks in the U.S. during the 1951 Pillsbury Bake-Off contest. There, Betty Cooper, from Kensington, MD garnered raves and a first place prize of $1000 for her recipe that raises chocolate pie from ordinary to gourmet.

Distilled to its essence, French Silk Pie is a velvety chocolate mousse covered in whipped cream. This unbelievably rich concoction of whipping cream, sugar, eggs, butter, and melted chocolate is one of a very few desserts when eating just a sliver of it will satisfy my sweet tooth. Most men can eat a couple of slivers.

I was still in junior high when Cooper won her prize and it wasn’t until the late 1970s that my friend Lillian brought a French Silk Pie to one of our frequent potluck dinners. She had gotten the recipe from So. Calif. Edison Co. (In those days, utility companies had test kitchens!) It quickly became her signature dish at future potlucks!

Today there are probably as many recipes for this famous pie as there are pie makers. I have seen recipes claiming that the only true French Silk Pie is peppermint flavored and served in a graham cracker crust. Although I have never a peppermint mousse style pie, it does sound tasty.

All of the original recipes for the pies were no-bake. They were easy to put together. All you had to do was melt the chocolate; beat the butter and sugar until fluffy and beat in the remaining ingredients, including raw eggs. And therein lies a problem.

Today, the USDA suggests that we not eat raw eggs due to the possibility of salmonella (SE) contamination. That puts a number of family favorites on shaky ground, including the famous Caesar salad. Those particularly at risk of an SE infection are infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with a compromised immune system.

So, Pillsbury suggests on their website that we use pasteurized eggs or a fat-free egg product in uncooked egg dishes to eliminate food safety concerns. Pasteurized eggs would be my preference because I have not had good results using commercial egg substitutes.

There are a couple of things you can do to be sure this pie is fluffy. First, remember that chocolate can be tricky to melt. So go ahead and spring for the pre-melted. It’s much easier than melting the chocolate hunks, your product will not be grainy and the packets have a long shelf life. The extra cost is worth a substandard pie. Also, be sure and beat the ingredients for the amount of time suggested. Don’t skimp and think that beating for one minute will suffice when the recipe calls for two or three minutes until “fluffy.” Allot the extra time needed.

Today’s first Silk Chocolate Pie recipe is the original contest winner and calls for dark, unsweetened chocolate. The second recipe is a little more complex and calls for semi-sweet chocolate with an added layer of pecans and caramel. The resulting product is sinfully rich. In fact, I’m tempted to tell you to forget the caramel sauce. Or at least reduce the amount to 1/2 cup. Anyway, let your conscience be your guide but if you use it all, don’t say I didn’t tell you so. Enjoy!

French Silk Chocolate Pie
Pillsbury 1951 Bake-Off winner Betty Cooper

1 Pie Crust, baked and cooled
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, cut into pieces
1 cup butter, softened (not margarine)
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 pasteurized eggs or 1 cup egg substitute

1/2 cup sweetened whipped cream
Chocolate curls, if desired

In 1-quart saucepan, melt chocolate over low heat; cool. In small bowl with electric mixer, beat butter on medium speed until fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar until light and fluffy Beat in cooled chocolate and vanilla until well blended.

Add eggs one at a time, beating on high speed two min. after each addition; beat until mixture is smooth and fluffy. Pour into pie shell. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Garnish with whipped cream and chocolate curls. Cover and refrigerate any remaining pie.

Caramel French Silk Pie
Ladies’ Home Journal

1 (9-inch) baked pastry shell
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces (6 oz)
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons crème de cacao (or whipping cream)
1 (12-1/4 oz) caramel ice cream topping (1 cup)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans or almonds

Chocolate curls, if desired
Whipped cream

In a medium heavy saucepan, combine 1 cup whipping cream, chocolate pieces, sugar and butter. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted, about 10 min. Remove from heat. Gradually stir half of the hot mixture into beaten egg yolks. Return egg mixture to chocolate mixture in saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is slightly thickened and starts to bubble, about 5 min. Remove from heat. (Mixture may appear to separate. Stir in crème de cacao.

Place saucepan in a bowl of ice cubes and cold water. Stir occasionally until mixture stiffens and becomes hard to stir, about 20 min. Transfer chocolate mixture to a medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 min.

Spread caramel ice cream topping in bottom of pastry shell. Sprinkle with pecans. Spread chocolate mixture in pastry shell. Cover and chill 5-24 hours.

Garnish pie with chocolate curls and serve with whipped cream. Makes 8-10 servings.