Thursday, October 28, 2010

Trick or treat — It's time to eat!

10/27/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Trick or treat — It’s time to eat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witches Brew

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

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

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

Healthy Buffalo Wings

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

Preheat oven to low or 175° F.

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

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

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

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

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

Vegetables with Spicy Blue Cheese Dip

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

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

Classic Caramel Apples

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

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

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

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing 
a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.
Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel newspaper

Homeless by choice

10/20/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Homeless by choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cooking up late summer produce

10/13/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

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

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

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

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

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

Baked Tomatoes with Crumb topping

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

Preheat the oven to broil.

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

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

Rice, Tomato and Corn Stuffed Peppers

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

Preheat oven to 475° F.

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

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

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

Baked Zucchini or Summer Squash

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

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

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

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

Roasted Zucchini with Onions, Feta Cheese, and Basil

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

Preheat oven to 375 F

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

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

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

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

10/6/10 Perusing the "Inbox"

10/6/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canning season is late this year!

9/22/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Canning season is late this year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Pioneer Lady’s Country Kitchen”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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