Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oregon strawberries are the best!

6/23/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Oregon strawberries are the best!

A couple of weeks ago I was in Junction City (with my husband at the hot rod show) and happened upon a fruit stand with freshly picked strawberries — the first of the season. They were to die for. Unlike the huge, tasteless and perfectly formed imported berries that we find in the supermarket, these berries were soft, sweet and red all the way through. Honestly, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Simply put, Oregon strawberries are the best. However, our strawberry season is so short that by the time you read this it may be over! It’s one of those “now you see them, now you don’t” crops. So if you haven’t already done so, you’d better head out and pick up a flat or two before they’re gone.

This year I plan on buying extras to freeze. We do grow our own berries but we usually only get enough daily to enjoy at breakfast or after dinner on ice cream. Now, I don’t have great success with freezing fruit. I freeze them whole, without sugar and put them in a far corner of the freezer. By the time I find them the following year —they’re ‘dead.’ The freezer has sucked all the life out of them.

The first thing to remember when freezing berries is to always begin with firm, fully ripe berries; wash only a few at a time in cold water or a colander. Drain and pat dry with a paper towel and remove the hulls. At this point, strawberries can be placed on a baking sheet in the freezer until frozen, removed and packaged in self-sealing plastic bags or as desired.

This year I’m going to freeze berries using the dry-sugar pack method. They can be frozen without sugar but in my experience, the quality will suffer. If using sugar, it is also recommended that crystalline ascorbic acid be added to the sugar to preserve the color. Follow the directions on the package, usually 1/2-teaspoon per pint; 1 teaspoon per quart.

To freeze using the dry-sugar pack method, halve, quarter or slice clean berries into a bowl or shallow pan. Sprinkle 1/3 cup (or more) sugar over berries for each quart of fruit. Gently turn berries repeatedly until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Package in pint or quart containers, leaving a head space of 1/2-inch for pints and 1-inch for quarts. Label and don’t forget to use them!

Today’s recipes are not your usual, pie, ice cream or cake assortment. They’re fun. They’re not practical. “Simply Strawberries” and the “Chilled Strawberry Soup” are so simple that it’s embarrassing. I suggest serving them as a light dessert after a heavy dinner. The “Strawberry Custard Tart” is a little more complicated but not much. It is sinfully delicious served with iced tea on a hot summer afternoon. Enjoy!

Simply Strawberries

Fresh strawberries, washed and dried
1 cup sour cream or crème fraiche
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar

Arrange strawberries in a large bowl or on a large platter.
Put sour cream and brown sugar into two separate small bowls.
To serve, let each guest dip a strawberry into sour cream and then into brown sugar. Or, instead of the communal dipping, have guests put a spoonful of each on individual plates before the dipping begins.

Chilled Strawberry-Mint Soup

1 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
Fresh strawberry slices, kiwi fruit slices, or fresh mint sprigs

In a food processor or blender, place the strawberries, sour cream, heavy cream, orange juice, and honey; whirl until smooth. Stir in mint. Taste for sweetness; if necessary, add more honey.

Refrigerate until well chilled. To serve, put into cold soup bowls and top with strawberry slices, kiwi fruit slices, or mint sprigs. Serves 2.

Fresh Strawberry Custard Tart

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup butter, cut into tablespoon-size slices
1 egg yolks
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 quart large ripe whole, hulled strawberries (see note below)
Pinch of freshly-grated lemon zest (rind)
Fruit Glaze (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a food processor, combine flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and baking powder. Pulse once or twice. Add butter by tablespoons and process until butter is incorporated and mixture is reduced to small crumbs (it will not form a ball).

Pour crumb mixture into a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press crumbs gently over the bottom and halfway up sides of pan, approximately 1/8-inch thick. Do not pack mixture down too firmly. Bake for 10 minutes.

While crust is baking, combine egg yolks, sour cream, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon zest.

Remove baked crust from oven and immediately pour sour cream mixture into the hot crust. Return to oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool, and then refrigerator until serving time.

When ready to serve, arrange whole strawberries on top of the custard. Lightly brush the strawberries with the Fruit Glaze. To serve, lift the tart from the side of the pan and place on a serving dish or cake plate.

Fruit Glaze:
2 tablespoons apricot jam (or jelly of your choice)
2 tablespoons water

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the jelly and water until syrupy; remove from heat and let cool.

*Note: This is actually easier to serve and eat if you halve or even slice the strawberries and artistically arrange them.

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

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Everybody loves dad!

6/16/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Everybody loves dad!

My father has been gone nearly 27 years and I still miss him. Every time I have a really difficult decision to make, I wish that dad were here to help me make it. And every time I have a family joy to share, I wish that he were here to join me in celebration.

Dad was an every-day kinda guy. He was a good husband who tolerated things like my mother’s passion for ballroom dancing when he’d rather have been elsewhere. He was a loving father to his three kids. He was a pillar of the church and a tough as nails businessman with a great reputation for honesty and ethics. And when he died, he left a hole in my heart.

Ordinary dads sometimes get a bad rap because they don’t measure up to some glorified “Leave it to Beaver,” expectation that society has of them. In reality, most dads are hard working guys just trying to keep bread on the table and the wolf from the door. They’re not perfect and they can’t always be at every class play or sporting event. They’d be there if they could but their support comes in other ways.

Looking back on fatherhood, my husband says, “It took me awhile to recognize the joy of being a father. But being dad became a way of life. I built Kathy dollhouses and the boys Sting Ray bicycles. We had squirt gun fights, played hide and seek, camped with Indian Guides and went on vacations. Later, together, we built street rods with custom paint jobs. It was life shared and it was all good.”

This testimony is from a man who for two decades worked 12-hour days, 6 days a week and had one week’s vacation a year. He made family memories through his boundless energy, work ethic and penchant for wicked fun.

Dad memories in our household run a wide range of everyday events. John (our youngest son) says, “One of my earliest memories was of dad scooping me up when he came home from work and rubbing his 5 o’clock shadow against my face. I remember laughing and squirming and feeling warm and loved. I did the same thing to my 3 boys when they were little.

“One time Dad came to pick me and Kathy up from the ‘Tigres Track Club,’ still wearing his cowboy boots and jeans after work. He told one of the coaches that he used to run track. The next thing we knew, he was down in the starting blocks; the gun went off, and he went flying down the track. He was still fast, cowboy boots and all.”

Our son-in-law Tim has memories of his dad Miles, teaching him and his brother to ride motorcycles on an old Honda 55, when he was 4-1/2 years old. Their feet couldn’t touch the ground so his dad would start them off by holding them up. When they were through riding, Miles would run up alongside to keep them from tipping over.

Paul, our oldest grandson, remembers family vacations at Hume Lake. “One year my dad, brother and I drove back into the woods to go target shooting. As soon as we started shooting the shotgun, a deer walked up, laid down and just watched us. We all had a good laugh.”

Grandfather memories run deep in our family. My dad purchased season tickets for the yet to be built Dodger Stadium after the Brooklyn Dodgers came to Los Angeles in 1958: Row 29U, seats 4,5,6 and 7. Lots of learning came from that quality time with grandpa and grandkids.

John remembers “I learned all about baseball at those Dodger games with grandpa: when to steal bases, the suicide squeeze, matchups, etc. I knew the stats of every player on OUR Dodger team: Cey, Russell, Lopes, Garvey, Yeager, et al. The first time I went to a World Series game was with him in 1974 against Oakland. Joe Ferguson made a great throw from right field to nail a runner out at home but the A’s took the Dodgers 4 games to 1. ‘Wait till next year’ grandpa said.”

“I learned about sportsmanship from him. He had utter disdain for those who booed Pet Rose or Willie McCovey at bat because they weren’t Dodgers. He loved, loved, loved the Dodgers! A family tradition he handed on to me and I’ve handed on to my three sons.”

Kathy remembers, “Grandpa would always give us money to go get snacks. When you returned and offered him his change, he'd always say ‘Oh, keep it honey. You'll probably want something else later.’ BUT if you didn't offer him his change, he'd look you in the eye and ask if you were forgetting something and want it back. My life lesson from grandpa was that in the middle of having fun you always do the right thing and you get paid back in the end (in this case, literally!)”

Tim’s “Grandpa Linman was the best grandpa anyone could have,” he says. “I still remember cutting wood for the cabin stove with him and a two-man saw. Bob and I swapped off on one end and he kept both of us going on the other end.”

Chuck’s memories of his grandfather are equally glowing. His father worked in the shipyards and money was scarce but grandpa Sautner lived nearby. “He was my mentor. My idol. My everything. He started me on my lifelong interests in gardening and woodworking and I’ll never forget him,” Chuck says nostalgically.

This Sunday we Americans celebrate Father’s Day. If your father is alive, rejoice and let him know that you love him. He may not be perfect and even seem boring but he’s doing the best that he can and someday you’ll appreciate the memories you make together.

At the end of life, it won’t matter if your father was rich or poor or what others thought of him. I know this because all that ever mattered to me about my father was that he loved me. He was — MY dad — a not-so-ordinary man who left me a lifetime of treasured memories.

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads and granddads!

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

Friday, June 11, 2010

Positively pasta summer salads

6/9/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Positively pasta summer salads

The only kind of pasta salad that my generation made was a macaroni, celery, onion, sweet pickle and cheese cubes combination with a mayonnaise dressing. Sometimes we’d throw in a little tuna if we wanted to make it a main dish. It was a tasty summer side dish but today we have other choices. In fact, just walking down the pasta aisle, the choices can be overwhelming.

My personal combination favorite is “Trio Italiano,” an American Beauty mix. It has shells, corkscrews and penne pasta in a 12 ounce size that easily serves 6-8 people. It can be served as a cold salad or hot with a marinara sauce. I also keep on hand a package of those colorful garden spirals of spinach and tomato powder to brighten up a plate of chicken or seafood.

Pasta should be quite firm for salads. Do not overcook. Drain, rinse in cold water until cool and then drain again. While the pasta is cooking, gather up all your other ingredients and start slicing and dicing.

I do prefer homemade dressings, but there are exceptions. I think that Kraft makes a better coleslaw and poppy seed dressing than I do and I use them. Paul Newman’s makes a lite raspberry-walnut vinaigrette that’s out of this world on a green salad with fruit in it. So, when you buy good dressings on sale, I think they’re worth every penny.

One of the frustrating things about salad recipes is that each calls for a different dressing. But standard salad dressings are versatile and if a recipe calls for an Italian-style vinaigrette, there’s no reason that you can’t just reach in the refrigerator, grab what you’ve got and add a little soy sauce or something to make it similar to the recipe.

Back in our restaurant years, we used gallons of my husband’s delicious Thousand Island dressing. His handwritten recipe simply says this: Mix all ingredients in mixer: 3/4 carton mayonnaise (20#), 1 #10 can chili sauce, 1/2 gallon sweet pickle relish. Now, that’s a lot of dressing. The recipe below is a scaled down version.

I have been making my own light version of Italian dressing for years. I double the original recipe, mix it in a blender and taste it until it seems right. Give it a try. If it’s too tart add more oil; not tart enough, more vinegar. It’s very flexible and the water cuts down on the oil.

Following are some ideas to get your creative juices going for pasta salads. Just remember that the pasta usually soaks up lots of dressing so be prepared to close your eyes and grimace as all those calories get poured over the salad. Also, keep the salads cold when transporting and during the meal. No food poisoning allowed! Enjoy!

Hawaiian Pasta Salad

2 cups chicken, cooked and diced
12 ounces mixed pasta
1 small can pineapple tidbits, drained
1—11 ounce can mandarin orange slices, drained
1/2-1 small red onion, minced
1 small avocado, diced
1 small avocado, diced
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing:
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
Dash pepper

Mix dressing with a whisk in small bowl or in a shaker with tight fitting lid. Cover and refrigerate.
Cook and dice chicken, set aside.
Heat water in large kettle to boiling. Stir in pasta and return to boil. Cook 5-8 minutes. Drain and rinse pasta with cold water until cool. Drain well. Combine pasta, chicken, fruit, onion and one avocado. Pour dressing over mixture and refrigerate at least one hour. Garnish with chopped avocado and almonds. Serve on lettuce leaf.

Shrimp Pasta Salad

2 cups cooked salad shrimp
12 ounces mixed pasta
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 stalks celery, sliced
6 ounces pea pods (or 3/4 cup frozen peas, defrosted)
1-8 ounce can water chestnuts, drained
1/2 cup pimento stuffed olives, optional

1/2 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Heat water in large kettle to boiling. Stir in pasta and return to boil. Cook 5-8 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool. Drain well. Add shrimp and vegetables to pasta. Pour dressing over pasta mixture and toss lightly. Chill at least 1-2 hours.
Personal opinion: Best with 1000 Island dressing.

Betty’s Vegetable Pasta Salad

1 12-ounce package Garden Spirals pasta
1/4 cup red onion, finely minced
3 celery stalks, sliced in moons,
1 cup halved zucchini slices
1 cup small cheddar cheese cubes
1/2 can whole, small black olives, drained
1 jar artichoke hearts, drained and cut in half
2 carrots, grated, rinsed, drained and liquid pressed out
Garlic salt and pepper to taste
Italian Dressing

Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water until cool. Drain again. Add all ingredients and mix lightly with desired amount Italian dressing. Garnish with tomato wedges. Refrigerate several hours. Serves 8.

Betty’s Low Cal Italian Dressing

2/3-cup oil
1/3-cup cold water
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1-teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon each: dill, basil, and tarragon
Few red pepper flakes if desired
1 teaspoon sugar

Put in blender and mix. Taste and add whatever is lacking.
Refrigerate several hours before serving. Keeps well.

Chuck’s 1000 Island Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup chili sauce
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish

Mix everything together and chill. You’ll never buy store bought again!

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, June 3, 2010

Teacher Maura Dervan is moving on

6/1/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Teacher Maura Dervan is moving on

Maura Dervan is retiring. After a half century of teaching young children, she is hanging up her charts and chalkboards and moving into life without a classroom. And yes, you read that correctly, she has been teaching professionally for over 50 years. However, her influence on thousands of student minds and spirits is incalculable.

Dervan’s career journey began on a farm in western Ireland. She was born at the beginning of World War II and is the oldest of nine children, seven of whom are still living. She remembers the farm as a busy place with chickens, ducks, sheep, cattle and horses. Work horses helped till the land, as they didn’t have a tractor. They weren’t saddle horses but she and her siblings rode them anyway —Bareback, of course.

She remembers that there was lots of space for the kids to roam and play and that there was fresh milk and homemade bread every day. All had chores to do and every morning before school Maura got up to milk the cows with her bucket. Electricity didn’t come to the farm until she was in her early teens.

Maura and her siblings attended a school with only two teachers and an attendance of 60-70 students. The female teacher taught the “Infants” category of children from the ages of kindergarten through second grade. The male teacher taught students from the third to seventh grade.

After seventh grade, there were boarding schools for a fee but no free education until the 1960s. Maura attended a secondary boarding school 30 miles away near Galway. She came home only on holidays and summers when she worked haying on the farm.

Her boarding school was a five-year high school with ocean views and very lofty standards for its students. She thrived on the environment and thus was born a love for learning that led her to reject a nursing career and chose a career in education.

Immediately after graduation from high school, she began elementary school teaching as a teenager in Ireland and then moved to England where she taught Latin. No teaching certificate was necessary. During her time there she went to school at night and received a diploma in the Montessori method of education.

In the mid-1960s the United States had a teacher shortage. Dervan and a friend applied to come across the pond and teach. She was interviewed and accepted to work at the USA Providence Child Center in Portland. The company issued her a two-year contract and paid her airfare from Dublin. She flew into Boston, visited family and then flew to Portland where she initially earned the sum of $250 plus board per month.

Eventually, she moved to Eugene where she continued teaching at a Montessori School but attended night classes and summer sessions at the University of Oregon. In 1989 after completing her
Bachelor’s, Master’s and Oregon Teaching Certificate, she came to work at Bohemia Elementary School where she’s been ever since.

At Bohemia, Maura daily teaches two sessions of kindergarten. “I like teaching younger students,” she says. “They’re such a joy. They’re innocent and delightful, like little sponges.”

Her busy classroom is a kaleidoscope of activities but the chaos of the classroom doesn’t bother her. “I thrive on it,” she says, and slyly confides that she’s a little hyper herself.

Paperwork is the least favorite part of her job but she loves parent conferences. “Parents want the best for their children, no matter what. Conferences with them are really exciting. It is a joy to see parents delighted in seeing their children’s progress.”

Her advice to parents of preschoolers is to read to them and expose them to letters and numbers. She also stresses that young children need to learn social skills if they are to successfully get along with others in or out of class.

Maura’s personal mantra is similar to what she teaches in the classroom. “I like to concentrate on the positive and vivaciousness of life; to explore and continue to acquire knowledge … remembering that it is a process no matter what stumbling blocks one meets along the way.’

Jean Harris who taught next to her for nine years said, “She is matter of fact, down to earth and can teach up a storm. My own children still have the clay and stitching projects that they made. An amazing woman!”

Another teacher, Kristi Geisler said that Dervan “has a kind spirit and does such wonderful things with her 'Kinders.' She will be greatly missed and I hope she visits and volunteers in the future.”

A custodian for her classroom, Ruth Dusky-Price wrote, “I have MANY times seen her here late, always saying, ‘Just one more thing and then I’m going. An hour later she is still ‘going.’”

Jan Settlemeyer co-teaches with Maura and suggested this article. She noted that “Maura is a wonderful teacher; a simple and humble person and the staff wants to help her celebrate this milestone.”

Retirement will not be boring for this Irish lassie. She is an avid sports fan with season tickets to both Duck basketball and football games. She loves to travel and is contemplating a trip to Australia where she has always wanted to visit. A favorite summer destination is Canada where “they can make tea with boiling water!” she laughs.

She will miss the excitement of the first day of school and the children’s little faces and the interaction with her colleagues but she has no regrets as she quotes Ellen Goodman on retirement:

“There’s a trick to a graceful exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over — and to let go … It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry; that we are moving on rather than out.”

Tomorrow, June third, Bohemia will celebrate Maura Dervan Day. June 10 her students’ parents will be invited to one final time of classroom sharing and singing. Soon she will exit this teaching cycle of life and enter a new one. There, Ms Dervan says, “I am looking forward to riding a bicycle and enjoying the daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze … every spring.”

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