Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dorothy Height: Tribute to a pioneer

4/28/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Dorothy Height: Tribute to a Civil Rights pioneer

The Black Family Dinner Quilt Cookbook has been a favorite of mine for years. The nourishing warmth of food, recipes and quilts are the unifying theme of the book. But hidden inside is also the life story of a fascinating civil rights pioneer.

The book’s title comes from the early African-American tradition of placing a quilt on the table at holiday meals as a table covering. At each place setting would also be a piece of paper with the name of a relative or an important character in African-American history. Each person at the table was responsible for conveying information about that person, carrying forward the oral history of the family and culture.

In the pages of this simple cookbook, I became acquainted with the colorful quilt-like pieces of the life of Dr. Dorothy Irene Height. I marveled at vignettes from her life that were interwoven with recipes from the culture she cherished. And if Rosa Parks was the mother of the civil rights movement, she was the queen.

In yesterday’s vernacular, she was a Negro, born in 1912, in an era when the only thing expected of women was to marry and bear children. Dr. Height did neither. Instead, she was born to lead. And lead she did, as she worked to give women and families of color, equality in a racially segregated society.

If you’ve read the news reports of her death, you know that she was an activist at an early age. As a teenager, she marched in Times Square shouting, “Stop the Lynching!” She led the integration of the YWCA, organized and marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and was the president of the National Council of Negro Women for 41 years. She was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

In the book, humiliating stories of segregation are skillfully woven among the recipes and her personal life experiences. But the differences between the early 20th century and the late 20th century are staggering. Eating and sleeping while traveling in the Deep South could be particularly difficult for people of color in that earlier era. One anonymous contributor tells this story:

“Dorothy came down to Nashville from New York City to interview for a job. She arrived hungry for breakfast but … we couldn’t take her into the train station restaurant. It was against the law for them to serve colored and white in the same place.

“We had fixed a nice little meal with homemade bread, fried chicken, boiled eggs and something sweet. We wrapped it up nicely and packed it in a shoebox. That’s what a lot of Negroes did when they had to travel in the south. We talked about how hard it was to do any kind of meaningful work when you had to face the kind of bigotry. She didn’t take the job and went back up north to work.” Another piece in her quilt.

She faced a different kind of segregation in Harlem as a 25-year old college graduate with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work. While working as an assistant director for the Harlem YWCA she received word that then First-lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary McLeod Bethune (founder and leader of the National Council of Negro Women), were going to pay a visit. Her task was to escort Mrs. Roosevelt into the meeting that Bethune was conducting.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Mrs. Roosevelt came alone! There was no Secret Service with her, no advance team to check security, no press or photographers. She had just hopped into her roadster, drove herself into Harlem, parked the car and headed for the meeting.

Height, of course, was excited and looked forward to meeting the president’s wife and doing a good job. All was going well until a maintenance man told her there was a problem. In those days, there were three entrances to the building and everyone entered through the appropriate door. They were labeled: Administration, Residences and Service (for the colored people).

Well, the maintenance man said Mrs. Roosevelt was headed for the Service entrance. Dorothy could see her job going down the drain if the First Lady went in the wrong door. So she ran down the hall, intercepted her and escorted her into the meeting through the proper entrance. After the meeting, Mrs. Roosevelt drove back home to Hyde Park.

The meeting between Height and Mary McLeod Bethune, however, changed the landscape of the NCNW forever. Bethune recognized Height’s enthusiasm and potential and invited her to join the National Council. Eventually she became its fourth president in 1953. The rest, as they say, is history and her life’s quilt expanded exponentially.

She worked tirelessly her entire life to break down racial barriers and promote mutual respect. She organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” to bring together white and black women; headed up the YWCA’s Office of Racial Justice; suffered in Selma, Alabama and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. She was well into her eighties when she resigned as president, still wearing her beautiful hats.

The Black Family Dinner Quilt Cookbook pieces together the quilt of the civil rights story around the dinner table. Over a meal in homes, train stations and restaurants, stories were and are passed from generation to generation: the successes, the losses, the closed doors, the tears and laughter on the road to freedom and equality.

Dr. Height was 98 years old when she died last week. From the Jim Crow era to the United State's first black president, Barack Obama, she was a legend in civil rights history.
There’s just one thing missing in her obituaries — she was also a great cook. Her sweet potato pies always garnered raves at dinner parties, adding another square to her colorful quilt of life.

Yes, there are still a few loose ends to tie up on Height's road to equality but her quilt of life is complete.

Thank you and rest in peace, Dr. Height.

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

Home cooking recipes for one (or more)

4/21/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Home cooking for one (or more)

My son Jeffrey delights in sending me oddball emails about food. He has been a strict Vegan (no meat, eggs, cheese, etc.) for many years. And he knows just how to gross out our meat eating family (me!) with strange stuff. So I never know what to expect when I open one of his ‘informational’ emails.

His latest treatise, “The world’s saddest cookbook!” came from a website. The article referred to a cookbook and video by Marie T. Smith. Her “Microwave Cooking for One “ garnered raves in the mid-1980s when microwaves were just becoming popular. Evidently, the idea behind the ‘saddest’ headline was that eating alone is a sad state of affairs and microwave cooking only makes it lonelier.

Well, that’s a questionable statement but the article did serve to remind me that many individuals live and eat alone: students, divorcees, the widowed, travelers, singles and others. And since all of us have to eat, I’m aware that most cookbook recipes are scaled to serve 4-8 people and are highly impractical when you’re cooking for one or two.

Because I love to cook, I find that cooking for two people is challenging. I am pretty much a failure at halving recipes. In fact, there’s no such thing as a small pot of soup at our house. The ingredients always expand to fill the container and provide leftovers for an army. I can always set an extra place at the dinner table.

Although there are only two of us, I often cook recipes for four people. We eat half of the entrée and I freeze and serve the remainder for another day. For-instance, I make the full recipe of spaghetti sauce and serve it over pasta the first night. Then, I divide the leftover sauce into portions for chicken marinara or lasagna. I also mix it with rice and use it to stuff bell peppers.

Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for cooking. So, in honor of singles and small families, here are some simple but delicious recipes to serve one or two people. They are quick to prepare, plate up nicely and taste so much better than fast food. I’ve also included a couple of desserts that look as good as they taste. And of course, all of the recipes can be adapted to serve four or more. Jeff, thanks for the inspiration! Enjoy!

Angel Hair Pasta with Shrimp and Asparagus

8 unpeeled jumbo fresh shrimp
4-ozs. angel hair pasta, uncooked
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. chopped shallots
6 stalks asparagus, cut into 2-in. pieces, blanched in hot water
1 cup peeled, seeded, diced tomato
1/2 cup sliced mixed mushrooms
Salt to taste
1/8 tsp. dried crushed red pepper or to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine (or wine vinegar)
1 Tbsp. each of chopped fresh basil, oregano, thyme and parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Peel and devein shrimp; set aside.
Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.
Heat a 9-in. skillet over high heat 1 minute; add oil, and heat 10 seconds.
Add shrimp, garlic, and shallots; cook, stirring constantly, 2-3 minutes or until shrimp turn pink; remove shrimp. Add asparagus and next 4 ingredients; cook and stir until hot. Add wine, scraping bottom of skillet to loosen any particles, if necessary. Add shrimp, pasta and seasonings. Toss gently. Garnish with Parmesan cheese. Serves 2 (maybe).

Spaghetti for One

1 sweet Italian sausage link, casing removed
½ onion, chopped
1 raw hamburger patty, crumbled and fried
2 whole mushrooms, washed and sliced
Dash of oregano
Dash of fennel
½ cup prepared (or bottled) spaghetti sauce
2 ounces of multi-grain spaghetti, cooked and rinsed

Cut the sausage link into bite-size pieces, and place it in a large skillet over medium heat. When the sausage is nearly done, add the onion and crumbled hamburger patty, and continue frying. When the meat is done, drain and add the mushrooms, oregano, fennel and spaghetti sauce.
Prepare the spaghetti according to the manufacturer's directions. Drain and rinse the spaghetti with hot water. Cover and set aside. As soon as the garlic toast has been broiled, grab a large bowl, fill it with a good size portion of spaghetti, top it with meat sauce and enjoy.

Red Pepper and Lemon Baked Chicken

1 chicken breast, skinless and boneless
half of a red pepper chopped fine
4 fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 lemon
1 tbsp of dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

1.Preheat oven to 425
2.Squeeze lemon juice into a small baking pan
3.Add red pepper and mushrooms to the pan, mix with a fork
4. Remove fat from chicken breast and add to the pan, coating it with the lemon, oregano, red peppers and mushrooms. Add salt and pepper. Put in the oven for about 30 minutes. Turn the chicken at least once and serve with the pan juices and vegetables. Serves 1.

Strawberry Ice Cream Sundae

1/2 cup frozen strawberries
1/4 cup strawberry jam
1 Tablespoon water
Ice cream

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over medium low heat until syrupy. Serve over ice cream.

Lime Cream Dessert
Razzle Dazzle Recipes

1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon grated lime peel
2 drops green food coloring
2/3 cup whipped cream (or low fat Cool Whip)

In the top of a double boiler, combine the egg and sugar. Cut the butter into tablespoons; add to double boiler. Add lime juice and peel; cook and stir over boiling water for 8-10 minutes or until thick. Remove from the heat; add food coloring. Cool. Fold in the whipped cream.
Chill for at least 1 hour.
Yield: 1 serving.

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.

Spring is the most capricious of seasons

4/14/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Spring is the most capricious of seasons

As I write this, in addition to the usual wind and rain, my rooftop is frosty white and yesterday we had hail. Nevertheless, the Rhodies are in bloom and other brave flowers are poking their heads out of the ground. It must be spring!

My first experience with an Oregon spring season was March 1989. That month it rained 11-inches and the grass seemed to grow a foot overnight. Running through the meadow, Heidi, our Dachshund, was swallowed in a sea of yellow wildflowers and blanketed in mud.

As a newcomer to the area, if I complained about the rain, the most common response was, “Oh, but we need it.” That was closely followed by curious concern: “So, what brought you to Cottage Grove?”

Well, at that time, I was beginning to wonder what had brought us to Cottage Grove. Our first day here, the moving van sank into the mud and had to be hauled out by a tow truck; the pipes in the house had frozen; we couldn’t build a fire in the fireplace and neither the water heater nor furnace worked.

So my answer to the “why did you move here?” question varied according to the complexity and expense of our house’s current money pit problem and the weather forecast.

“Insanity” was my first response to the plumber we called in an emergency. We had not only broken pipes but also massive dry rot in the kitchen, under the toilets and behind the bathtub where every tile on the wall had collapsed.

“Stupidity” was my answer to the electrician who kept finding wires that went to nowhere while spending three days rebuilding our non-working furnace. He was shocked. “You didn’t know this?” he said.

“I have no idea,” I told the industrious chimney sweep when he informed us that flue fires had collapsed the chimney liners in both fireplaces.

My husband, of course, was the real reason we moved here.

Now it is true that my whole life I had envisioned living the country lifestyle by a lake, enjoying the outdoors and entertaining guests on the deck. I just didn’t expect to be living 1000 miles away from my children in a house where nothing worked.

I also had fantasized that living somewhere with changing seasons would be delightful. I was especially ready for a change from California’s relentlessly sunny and rainless days. So my charming husband badgered me into believing that a new life and a home at Cottage Grove Lake was the answer to both of our dreams.

Twenty-one years later, the Money Pit sign is still up but I am pleased that we took a risk and moved out of our comfort zone. Our lifestyle is a dream come true. There’s just one thing that I’m still battling — springtime weather.

Prior to moving, I had mentally divided the four seasons into equal parts, each lasting three months. I expected bright sunny days in summer; crisp sunny days and cool fall evenings; wet and dreary winter days but spring would be showery interspersed with glorious sunshine.

Ha! Any Oregonian worth their salt would have told me that spring is the most capricious of all Oregon’s seasons. It is the season of surprises and can be more wintry than winter.

Last month, my husband and I had a “senior moment” and forgot all that we learned about Oregon springtime. After being cooped up all winter we decided to go whale watching and celebrate spring at the coast. The weather forecast looked good: “showers with sun breaks” heralded the experts. “It should be beautiful!” we chorused.

So we headed north to spend some time on the Colombia River in those sporadic showers and sun breaks that the meteorologists predicted. A few days later, the weather turned wet and gloomy as we approached Cannon Beach. The weather forecasts, however, were cheerful. After all, it was spring.

Hoping for warmer weather we decided to head south, stopping along the way at whale watching spots. We arrived at Winchester Bay but saw nary a whale. Salmon Harbor or “Windy Bay,” as it is also known, however, was about to live up to its name and reputation.

The nearly empty RV Resort gave us its premier parking spot on the point, facing the harbor. We were completely exposed on all four sides and had one day of reprieve before an unpredicted storm hit. Then, Mother Nature — despite the weather forecast — did what only she can do: the wind blew, the rain came down in sheets and the ocean raged over the seawall. For three days our motor home rocked and rolled. We thought we were going to take flight!

To entertain ourselves as the surf pounded and the wind whistled, we ate too much, played cards and got caught up on our reading. Watching the water roil, Chuck soon started reminiscing about his sailing days and recounted his favorite springtime, it-could-have-been-fatal sailing experience:

He and a couple of buddies were in a race around the Channel Islands in a 28-ft. Pearson Deep Water Racing Sailboat. The weather started out fine but as the spring morning wore on, wind gusts of 40-50 knots kicked up. In fact, the boat was heeled over nearly flat on its side when they saw what looked like a submarine straight ahead. Instead, it was a 50 ft. whale across the bow.

They quickly changed course and the whale swiftly moved on. Seamlessly, they got back on course, breathed a sigh of relief, and won the race. As they headed home after the race, the seas calmed down and all was well. But that wind and the whale had sure gotten their adrenalin going.

Looking back, I’ve decided that spring is just like life. It can be wild and exciting and challenging. Or it can be depressing and weigh me down. The key to coping is to focus on the coming summer sunshine. Then we can all complain about the lack of rain!

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

Saturday, April 10, 2010

New dietary challenges? Lighten up old comfort food recipes!

4/7/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Mindless snacking is a way of life for many of us, myself included. A cookie here, a candy bar there or a burger and fries several times a week, can all wreak havoc with our caloric intake and special dietary needs. Packing on the pounds has never been easier than in this fast food generation.

We are especially aware of carbohydrate and sugar consumption at our house because my husband was a border-line diabetic for 30 years. Unfortunately, he is no longer border-line and must seriously toe the line with his diet. Fortunately, he is not overweight and he eats somewhat sensibly. Unfortunately, he has an active sweet tooth. Trying to keep that under control and still satisfy his craving for carbs and sweet stuff is a real challenge.

Between his diabetes and my weight watching, I seldom make dessert for the two of us. Instead, I often succumb to temptation and bring home a half-gallon of ‘light’ ice cream from the grocery store. In fact, I sat down to write this column with a small serving of (light!) butter pecan ice cream in one hand and a spoon in the other. Yep. It had been a stressful day.

If you have diabetes, you know that it’s a battle to keep your blood sugar in balance. Although there are many helpful resources out there, you’re the one who is ultimately responsible for what goes in your mouth. The key to successful healthy meals for all of us is moderation. So, if you’re very careful, you can even eat dessert in moderation. If you’re not careful, well, disaster lurks around the corner.

Desserts and meals heavy with carbohydrates are the common culprits to blame for raising one’s blood sugar. Too much of almost anything except celery and carrot sticks can make it spike. At our house we have found that controlling our carbohydrate intake through portion control is the hardest thing that we do.

So this month I’m making a concentrated effort to scale back on portions (especially at dinner) and trying to prepare some favorite old recipes with less calories. I’m challenging myself to find lighter but still tasty ways of preparing our favorite dishes.

The other night I was hungry for an old-fashioned beef pot pie. One of my cookbooks has a recipe that substantially reduces the fat and carbohydrate count of the original. The crust is prepared with only 3-4 tablespoons of margarine and is quite edible. The pie is a wonderful way to use leftover roast beef (although the recipe calls for stew meat) and any variety of vegetables that you have on hand.

I also found a great recipe for Apple Crisp that can be used not only with apples but also peaches or pears. Just change the spices to cinnamon and nutmeg. So if you’re facing new dietary challenges, don’t lose heart. Just get creative and check out healthy new ways of preparing your family’s old favorites. Enjoy!

Deep-Dish Beef Pie
New Dieter’s Cookbook

Nonstick spray coating
1 pound lean boneless beef for stew, trimmed of fat and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon cooking oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup turnip, peeled and cubed*
1-1/2 cups tomato juice
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme or basil, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups green beans
Pastry (recipe follows)
1 teaspoon skim milk

Spray a large skillet with nonstick coating. Preheat over medium-high heat. Brown half the meat in skillet. Remove. Add oil. Brown remaining meat. Return all meat to skillet.

Stir in onion, celery, carrots, potato, tomato juice, thyme, salt and pepper, and 1/4 cup water. Cover and simmer one hour or until meat is tender.

Combine flour and 2 tablespoons water. Stir into skillet mixture. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in green beans. Spray a 1-1/2 quart casserole with non-stick coating and spoon meat mixture into dish. Cover with Pastry, flute edges. Brush with skim milk. Cut vents for steam.

Bake at 400° F. 30 minutes or until pastry is lightly browned and meat and vegetables are tender. Serves 6. Calories: 283 per serving.

*Note: I substituted one finely diced potato for the turnips and added a handful of frozen petit peas.

3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3-4 tablespoons margarine
3 tablespoons cold water

Combine flour and baking powder. Cut in margarine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle with cold water, one tablespoon at a time, stirring with a fork until mixture holds together. Form into a ball. On a floured surface, roll dough into a circle one-inch larger than the top of the casserole. Flute the edges and cut fancy steam vents.

Apple Crisp
Diabetic Living

5 cups cooking apples, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons sugar or equivalent sugar substitute
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon apple pie spice
1/2 cup regular rolled oats
1/4 cup sugar or equivalent sugar substitute
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon apple pie spice
3 tablespoons butter
Frozen light whipped dessert topping, thawed

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Filling: In a large bowl combine apples, sugar substitute, lemon juice and apple pie spice. Transfer apple mixture to a 2-quart square baking dish.

Topping: In medium bowl, combine oats, sugar substitute, flour and apple pie spice. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle topping over filling.

Bake 30-35 min. or until apples are tender and topping is golden brown. Serve warm. If desired, top with whipped topping. Makes 8 (1/-cup) servings. Calories: 142 per serving.

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.

Terrific but trivial tidbits

3/24/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Okay folks, it’s time once again to lighten up my email box and share some of its accumulated trivia with you. By the way, I looked up the word trivia and all dictionaries seem to agree that its definition boils down to mean “something of small importance.” One source read “details and pieces of information that are not important.”

Well, I love that sort of information. So, the following questions and facts may not be important but since they inspired the game “Trivial Pursuit” we’ll check out this recent batch of facts and situations. Believe me, they will have you scratching your head and saying, “That can’t be true!”

This first one is a common occurrence at our house:

Why do we press harder and harder when trying to operate a remote control when we know that batteries are almost dead? Why don’t we just change the batteries?

Why do we believe it when scientists say there are four billion stars but have to check it out when a sign says “Wet Paint.”

Why do banks charge a fee on ‘insufficient funds’ when they already know there is not enough money?

Why does Superman stop bullets with his chest but he ducks when someone throws a revolver at him?

Why did Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

If people evolved from apes, why are there still apes?

Why doesn’t Tarzan have a beard?

Whose idea was it to put an ‘S’ in the word ‘lisp’?

Is there ever a day when mattresses are not on sale?

Why do people constantly open the refrigerator with hopes that something new to eat will have materialized since their last look-see?

Why is it that no plastic bag will open from the end on your first try?

How do those dead bugs get into those enclosed light fixtures?

Why is it that whenever you attempt to catch something that’s falling off the table, you always manage to knock something else over?

Why do we keep the house as warm in winter as it was in summer when we complained it was too hot?

Why are we more polite to others than we are to our own family? When we are in the supermarket and someone runs over our toe with a shopping cart, we say, “It’s all right.” Well, it isn’t all right. So why don’t we say, ‘That really hurt. Why don’t you watch where you’re going?’ That’s what we’d say to our kids.

Okay, we’re moving on now to a different variety of trivia statements to ponder and see if you agree or disagree:

Babies are born without kneecaps. They don’t appear until the child reaches 2-6 years of age.

If the population of China walked past you eight abreast, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction. (Scary.)

Winston Churchill was born in a ladies’ room during a dance.

Women blink nearly twice as much as men. (Flirting?)

In the last 4,000 years, no new animals have been domesticated.

There are more chickens than people in the world.

A cat has 32 muscles in each ear.

A goldfish has a memory span of three seconds. (That long?)

A shark is the only fish that can blink with both eyes. (Shark blink?)

A snail can sleep for three years. (And then what?)

An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain. (Hmm.)

There are two words in the English language that have all five vowels in order: ‘abstemious’ and ‘facetious.’ (Okay, go ahead and admit it. You went back and read ‘A E I O U,’ out loud, didn’t you?)

“Typewriter” is the longest word that can be made using the letters only on one row of the keyboard. (Go ahead and test it. I’ll wait.)

Stewardesses’ is the longest word typed with only the left hand.

“Lollipop” is the longest word typed with your right hand. (That seems kind of short to me. Anyone have another word?)

The famous typing sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” uses every letter of the alphabet. (I know you’re going to try this one out for accuracy.)

No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver or purple.

‘”Dreamt” is the only English word that ends in the letters ‘mt.’ (This sounds reasonable. What do you think?)

The words ‘racecar,’ ‘kayak’ and ‘level’ are palindromes. They are the same whether they are read left to right or vice-versa.

There are only four words in the English language that end in ‘dous’: tremendous, horrendous, stupendous and hazardous.

Our eyes are the same size throughout our lifetime but our nose and ears never stop growing. (That’s interesting.)

And finally, my personal favorite trivia question of the year is: Why do people keep running over a thread a dozen times with their vacuum cleaner; then reach down, pick it up, examine it and then put it down to give the vacuum one more chance? (And yes, I’ll admit that at times I’ve been guilty of this.)

And that’s the end of today’s trivia tidbits. Hopefully you found something trivial to pursue and laugh about; and gained some new information to astound your friends.

Thanks for keeping me informed and keep those emails coming.
Have a good week, everyone!

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

St. Patrick's Day feast

3/17/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Top of the morning to you! It’s March 17, which means that the whole world is looking over a four-leaf clover (really a three-leaf shamrock) and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with the Irish. Formerly a religious holiday, Dublin now welcomes nearly one million people to celebrate a more rowdy and secular St. Patrick’s Festival.

The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in the United States began after nearly one million Catholic immigrants flooded this country during the Ireland’s Great Potato Famine of 1845. Eventually they organized to become a serious political power and they hosted annual parades to celebrate their heritage.

Today, we Americans continue to go all out and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Although most of the time there is really nothing “traditionally Irish” about our menus or recipes, we dress, decorate and cook ‘green.’ Many people even drink green beer as an excuse not to get a St. Patrick’s Day pinch for not wearing green!

At our house, we eat Corned Beef and boiled vegetables with a side of soda bread and wonder why we don’t do it more often. I usually put together a green Jell-O combination of crushed pineapple and mandarin oranges to brighten up the dinner plate. Sliced avocadoes and fresh oranges on a lettuce leaf are also festive.

But if you’re planning on corned beef and cabbage for dinner tonight, you’d better get cracking. Corned beef brisket comes from the heavily exercised front limbs of the animal and is a tough cut of meat that need to be braised. In other words, cook it for a long time at low heat with plenty of moisture and it will be delicious.

Corned Beef in the crock-pot is the easiest way to go but if you prefer, just follow the instructions on your package of meat. Either way it will be delicious. And if you’ve never cooked corned beef before, prepare to be shocked at the shrinkage. Buy a much larger piece of meat than you usually would for your family or there won’t be any leftovers.

I always cook the vegetables separately, just before dinner, so they don’t get mushy. Some people add the vegetables to the cooking brine half way through the cooking process. Whichever method you chose, be sure and add some of the broth (pot liquor) to cook them in for flavor.

Irish soda bread is a basic quick bread served with family meals. It is not dessert and doesn’t have a cake texture. True soda bread does not contain sugar, eggs, shortening or sour cream. You can add them if you like but the Irish would call that cake. And if you add raisins, it’s called “Spotted Dog.” Soda bread is best eaten slightly warm from the oven. It dries out quickly but makes delicious toast the next day.

Dessert varies at our house according to my whim. The following Grasshopper Pie recipe is this year’s choice. It is a variation on the marshmallow pies of the 1980s. It is definitely not Irish but it is green. May good health and happiness be yours. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Crock Pot Corned Beef and Cabbage

3-4 pounds corned beef brisket
6-8 carrots, cut as desired
1-2 medium onions, cut into halves; each half cut into quarters
1 head cabbage, cut into small wedges
8 whole, small red potatoes, precooked 10-15 min.

Take the meat out of its packaging and rinse in cold water. Drain on paper towel. Put in crock pot with spices (if desired). Add enough water to barely cover the meat. Cook on Low setting 8-81/2 hours; or on high 5 hours. When meat tests done, lower heat or wrap in aluminum foil and place in oven on low heat until dinner.

Cook vegetables separately in large skillet. Add 1-2 cups pot liquor and cook slowly until done. Cabbage may be steamed separately in the microwave until tender-crisp.

Serve with strained pot liquor, horseradish, brown mustard or the following sauce.

Lemon-Mustard Sauce for Corned Beef

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons shallots, finely chopped
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper

Sauté shallots in olive oil until tender. Remove from heat; cool 1 minute. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and set aside until serving time.

Basic Irish Soda Bread

3-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
8-10 ounces buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450° F.

Mix dry ingredients together and sift into a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add enough buttermilk to make a soft (but not wet) dough. Knead quickly and lightly on a floured surface. Form dough into a round. Using a sharp knife, make a cross in the center. Bake at 450° F. 10 minutes; lower heat to 400° F. and cook another 20 min. or until it tests done.

Grasshopper Pie

1 package chocolate wafers
6 tablespoons melted butter
24 large marshmallows
2/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons crème de menthe
2 tablespoons crème de cocoa
1 envelope Dream Whip or 1-8 ounce tub Cool Whip, defrosted

To make the crust, crush chocolate wafers and mix with melted butter. Press into a 9 or 10 inch pie plate.

Melt the marshmallows and milk in a saucepan, over low heat or in the microwave. Once melted, add crème de menthe and crème de cacao.

Prepare one envelope of Dream Whip (or Cool Whip), fold into marshmallow mixture, put into crust and chill.

To decorate, break a chocolate wafer in half and rub the two edges together over the pie to make a nice sprinkling of chocolate crumbs.

Note: Add a drop of green food coloring to the filling if desired.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
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