Friday, March 25, 2011

Perspective on a storm

3/23/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Perspective on a storm

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then photos of the Mar. 11 earthquake-triggered tsunamis that swept along the shores of Northern Japan have written books. The images of houses, cars, boats, collapsed roads and entire villages being smashed into smithereens are already archived. But it is the faces and stories of the survivors that will forever be etched on our hearts.

The numbers of dead and missing are mind-boggling. As of this writing, the death toll is approaching 10,000 people and continues to rise. To put your mind around that figure, imagine that the majority of residents in Cottage Grove suddenly disappeared in a storm. Entire families and neighborhoods washed away, buried in debris, burned up or pulverized by the elements.

As a survivor, what would you do? Where would you go? How would you begin again? The plight of Japan and those questions came to mind during the brief storm that swept through our area on March 13.

I was standing outside watching the gathering storm clouds when it began to rain. Suddenly the wind picked up and I ran into the house just as shingles began blowing off the roof. Our dogs were running in circles as branches broke off the trees. Decorations were torn off the walls of the house; yard art and furniture were tossed into the fields.

The lights flickered a couple of times and then went out completely. The phone gave one last gasping ring as the wind intensified. We gathered up the animals, light a fire in the stove and battened down the hatches to wait out the storm. It raged about 30 min. and then, except for the pouring rain, it was eerily silent.

Outside it looked like a mini-hurricane had gone through the property.

We needed a roofer to replace the shingles and a tree trimmer to dislodge the branches that are broken off and hanging every which way in the trees. The rest of the debris we can take care of.

Our neighbors were also hard hit. Suddenly we heard the buzz of chain saws and the hum of generators. Two trees had fallen on a house on the road behind us. Another neighbor had their driveway blocked by fallen trees. Across the street in the park, many trees were upended or the tops ripped off. One neighbor took his chain saw and cleared trees off Reservoir Rd. to let traffic get through.

There was a time when we would have had a little pity party after one of these storms. Not this time. In perspective to Japan’s plight, this is barely a blip on the horizon.

As night fell, we stoked the fire, set out our lanterns and drove into town for dinner. The Jeep lurched over fallen logs and we joined hundreds of people out on the town because they didn’t have electricity either. Surprisingly, no one complained.

Over and over again we heard, “It could be so much worse. Think of those poor people in Japan.” Compassion ruled.

The next morning we rolled out of bed to the familiar reality of no electricity. We used bottled water for brushing teeth and washing faces. In the refrigerator milk for our cereal was quickly warming up so Chuck plugged it and the freezer into the RV generator.

After that, I looked around and thought, “Now what do I do?” All forward motion stops in the modern house when electricity is down. Monday’s laundry could neither be washed, dried nor ironed. The house phone didn’t work and the battery on my cell phone needed to be charged. I could sweep the floors but not vacuum. And I couldn’t even pay bills because I do that online!

Just about 24 hours after the lights went off, they came back on. (Thank you, EPUD!) I breathed a sigh of relief as the stress level in my shoulders came down. Suddenly we were blanketed with warmth and security. Life was good.

The inconvenience of this tiny little storm gave me great empathy for the people of Japan (or any country) who would love to have to suffer my problems. Nearly a half million people are homeless with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no productive future in sight. They face months of survival at the most basic level: food, water, shelter, electricity and yes, helplessness.

The Japanese are a strong people but they are mortal just like us. Entire families were separated in the tsunami’s destruction. Daily they search for their loved ones. They are living a physical, mental and emotional nightmare compounded by nuclear fallout uncertainty.

One lady said she thought perhaps it would have been better if she had died. But she did not and life goes on.

The following piece of advice and personal tsunami experience was posted on a website and touched my heart — I hope it touches yours and brings perspective to your life.

“I live in Fukushima Prefecture about 100km from the coast … there is no gas for cars so in the event of evacuation, I'm not sure what would happen. There is a feeling of dread hanging like a pall over everyone. But we keep going. And every time I see some friends, hug my family, drink a glass of water, I am so much more thankful than I was 6 days ago. If you are wondering what you can do right now, here is one idea: don't take anything for granted. Appreciate what you have. Taste that water. Hug your family. Let stupid little things go.” Troy on the CTV News website, Montreal

P.S. Texting is an easy way to help Japan via a nonprofit agency:
American Red Cross: Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10
International Medical Corps: Text MED to 80888 to donate $10
Save the Children: Text JAPAN or TSUNAMI to 20222 to donate $10
Salvation Army: Text JAPAN or QUAKE to 80888 to donate $10
World Vision: Text 4JAPAN or 4TSUNAMI to 20222 to donate $10

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

Is Corned Beef really Irish?

3/16/11 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Is corned beef really Irish?

I can tell that St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner by walking down the aisle of the meat market. Corned beef briskets — that normally occupy a small area of the shelves — are piled high in a display that screams, “Buy me! Buy me!”

Here in the United States it has become tradition to eat a version of a New England boiled dinner on March 17 and proclaim it to be traditionally Irish. But is it really? The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

The Irish are known to have figured out a way to salt-cure beef sometime in the first millennium A.D. so obviously they have eaten corned beef for a long time. They just didn’t eat much of it. Cattle were an indicator of wealth and prized as a medium for barter. They were only slaughtered when they were no longer good for milking or breeding. In other words, they were worth more alive than dead.

Pork and lamb were the meats served on special occasions. Beef, a rare delicacy, was eaten fresh. Even during the potato famine they shipped corned beef to other markets. not corned. So most of the corned beef eaten in Ireland on March 17, will be served to tourists, not locals. The Irish tend to look upon corned beef as a reminder of their days of poverty and famine. Some commentators suggest that it’s just too plain, boring or old-fashioned for modern Irish tastes.

Personally, I love corned beef and that’s what we’ll be eating tomorrow. Today’s first recipe is from an old cookbook that adds an unexpected finishing touch of whole cloves and maple sugar. It’s fork tender and delicious.

An Irish lamb stew is probably more traditional for the Irish than corned beef. It’s a little more time consuming to put together than corned beef but it can be made the day before, refrigerated overnight and reheated for dinner. Recipe number two is easily doubled, nicely feeds a crowd and is almost as inexpensive as corned beef.

Be sure and serve Irish Soda Bread with either recipe. It is traditional. In Ireland, soda bread is baked daily. It is a basic quick bread made from flour, salt, baking soda and sour milk; meant to be eaten that day and not held over. A traditional soda bread does not contain yeast, honey, sugar, eggs, sour cream or fruit. We Americans tend to get carried away and make it more cake or scone-like. My recipe has been ever so slightly Americanized. Enjoy!

Serves 8 as adapted from
“The Yankee Cookbook”

4-5 pounds corned beef
1 large onion cut in 8 pieces
1 head cabbage, halved, cored and quartered
8 small whole carrots
8 small potatoes, pared
1 white turnip, pared and quartered
Whole Cloves
1/2 cup maple syrup
Pot Liquor:
2 cups cooking liquid
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
2 tablespoons butter

Cover corned beef with water and bring to boiling point. Drain, cover with hot water and let simmer until nearly done (4 hours). Add the vegetables and simmer until done. Remove the vegetables to a pan, cover and keep warm.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Place meat on a rack in an open roasting pan. Stick with whole cloves in diagonal design. Pour maple syrup over meat and put in oven to brown and glaze. Baste occasionally with maple syrup.

Meanwhile, make pot liquor: skim off excess oil from the cooking liquid. Stir in butter and parsley. To serve, slice meat on the diagonal against the grain. Spoon juices over meat and vegetables.


1-1/4 pounds thickly sliced bacon, diced
5 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup hot water
3-1/2 cups beef stock
2 teaspoons sugar
3-1/2 cups carrots, sliced
1-1/2 large onions, cut bite size
3 large potatoes, large dice
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Optional: 1 cup white wine or 1 can dark beer

Fry bacon in a large, deep skillet over medium high heat until brown. Remove from skillet, drain, crumble and set aside. Reserve bacon drippings.

Put flour, salt and pepper in large bowl. Toss lamb cubes in flour to coat evenly. Re-heat bacon drippings and brown meat in frying pan.

Place meat into stock pot, leaving 1/4 cup of fat in frying pan. Add the minced garlic and onion. Sauté until onion begins to brown. Deglaze frying pan with 1/2 cup water and put garlic, onions and liquid in stock pot. Add the bacon pieces, beef stock and sugar. Cover and simmer for 1-1/2 hours.

Add carrots, onions, potatoes, thyme, bay leaves and wine/beer to pot. Reduce heat and simmer covered until vegetables are tender.


2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup margarine, softened
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients with margarine, 1/2 cup buttermilk and egg. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into a round and place on prepared baking sheet.

In a small bowl, combine melted butter with remaining buttermilk; brush loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut an ‘X’ into the top of the loaf.

Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean — about 30 to 45 min. Continue to brush the loaf with butter mixture while it bakes. Serves 6-8.

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.

How to write an obituary

3/9/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

How to write an obituary

Okay, today’s subject sounds rather morbid but it’s really not. In fact, if you live long enough, you will find that it is an invaluable life-affirming skill. Eventually, a dear family member is going to pass on and you are going to be given the responsibility of summing up their lifetime in a few short sentences. To do so, you’ll need both writing skills and rock solid facts.

All newspapers and funeral homes have forms for you to fill out regarding your deceased loved one. This is an important document. It is a formal public farewell to the deceased and an important genealogical resource for current and future generations. There’s just one problem with those forms — they call for lots of statistics. And many times we don’t have enough information about the deceased to accurately fill them out.

I discovered this when asked to write my mother’s obituary. I was not the keeper of the family tree. Mother was. And she had kept all of that information in her head. Somehow, it never occurred to me that she was going to die without leaving behind a tidy little binder of vital statistics. Well, she did.

It became my lot to make phone calls all around the country to aging relatives and reconstruct her early life. She was born an only child and died at the age of 94, having outlived most of her cousins, making the job that much more difficult. It would have been so much easier if I had asked those questions when she was alive but her generation was reluctant to discuss such things.

My advice is to interview your parents and grandparents — ASAP. None of us are going to live forever and if we keep putting it off, it may be too late. Schedule it. Put it on the calendar. Make an appointment with the folks for afternoon tea (or a beer!) and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If you don’t do it now, then when will you?

To save time, prepare in advance a basic questionnaire: name, date and place of birth; parent’s and siblings’ names; education and marriage information; careers, etc. It’s best to write the basic questions and send a copy in advance of the interview. That way they can think about it, fill it out and you’ll save time. If you need a guideline pick up an obit form at the newspaper to use as a guide.

Make the interview fun. Don’t be morbid about it. Tell your loved ones that this is their 15 minutes of fame and “let’s get this done right.” The awkward part is getting started. Go over spelling and dates to be sure they’re correct. Once someone starts reminiscing about where he or she was born and how times have changed, the ice is broken.

Next, ask some questions to give life to the person’s personality. Sure, Aunt Mabel liked to play Bingo and loved being a homemaker but she was more than that. Maybe she was a Rosie the Riveter in WWII, volunteered with the USO or taught in a one-room school. Uncle Joe may have been a decorated veteran, sung in a barbershop quartet or traveled every year with a missions group to Mexico. Make it sound interesting not mundane.

During the interview, be sure and throw in a few questions about family in general. This isn’t for publication. But it will be the perfect opportunity for you to learn about family history and share it with your kids and grandkids.

Finally, comes the hard part: burial and memorial service arrangements. It’s not easy to talk about death and dying. My mother would not discuss anything about the possibility of her own death. We knew she wanted to be buried by my father but that was it. We could only go by previous family arrangements in terms of planning her memorial service.

If I had been wise, I would have discussed with mom other funerals and memorials that she had attended. I thought I knew what she liked but I didn’t know what she disliked. Perhaps you could take note of this approach and apply it to your situation.

One final thought — pictures are important. File individual current photos of your loved ones with the printed information. Be sure they are either dressed in their Sunday best or something appropriate for publication. Notice, I said ‘individual.’ Don’t publish a picture of the person cut out of a group photo with someone’s arm hanging over their shoulder. Personally, I like it best when photos are published of folks in both mid-life and older years, giving the reader a perspective of their whole lifespan.

In the spirit of disclosure, I must tell you that because of this column, I decided to ‘outline’ my own obituary. Not wanting to be one of those “Do as I say not as I do” advice givers, I took my own advice and put together a couple of pages of basic obit information for my family. It only took me about 30 minutes and I must say that on paper I look really boring. My kids will have to work hard to spice up my life!

Now, the ball is in your court. What are you going to do with it? I hope that you take up this task with enthusiasm. Practice by interviewing yourself and then move on to the family elders. Then pat yourself on the back and file the information. You will be glad that you did.

P.S. Finn John, my long-time editor, mentor and friend, asked me to write this column a long time ago. As usual, I procrastinated. So, Finn, this is for you. I hope I covered all the bases.

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

March Meal Malaise

3/2/11 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

March meal malaise

Welcome to March! Otherwise known as the “in-like-a-lion, out-like-a -lamb” month. This familiar old saying reminds us that the month usually begins with cold, unpleasant weather and ends mild and pleasant. Is that true? Well, we won’t know for another 30 days!

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, weather in the Pacific Northwest this March is going to start off fair but unsettled. It will be mild along the Pacific Coast with gales for both Oregon and Washington coastal areas. Later in the month there will be both showers and gales along the Pacific Coast. Idaho, Oregon and Washington will see some clearing. Mother Nature will finish us off with clearing and cold.

As spring weather forecasts go, that’s pretty normal. How it will play out on a daily basis is a roll of the dice. Every day will be different. Personally, I’m thinking that we’re going to pay for all those bright, sunny and dry days that we enjoyed in February.

Right now, there are a few harbingers of spring in my garden. The daffodils are about 6-inches tall, the tulips are just poking their heads out of the ground while the camellias, rhodies and azaleas are budded out. My biggest fear is that (like last year) we will have a freeze and lose all of those beautiful buds.

Fortunately, winter vegetable gardening is not my thing so I don’t have to worry about losing a crop of peas, broccoli or cauliflower.

I do have to worry about “meal malaise.” As winter dwindles down and the selection of fresh meat and local veggies becomes sparse, I tend to lose interest in meal planning. Right now I’m leaning heavily on all those fruits and vegetables that I canned last fall to brighten up dinner. Our jars of green beans, peaches and pears are meal savers.

Buying fresh fish is difficult at this time of year. IQF (individually quick frozen) halibut or salmon is one way to insure a quality product. Less expensive fish can be used in fish cakes. Today’s first recipe is an interesting variation on traditional fish cakes. The recipe is simple so don’t let the instructions for cooking the fish deter you.

I like to serve salmon patties with mashed potatoes, buttered peas and coleslaw. French fries (baked in the oven) or new potatoes are a traditional alternative. Any dark green vegetable or romaine salad is also good. Look for seasonal asparagus, broccoli, green beans or spinach as veggie choices. And if you’re not fond of coleslaw, try some tomato and mozzarella slices drizzled with Italian dressing.

A bit of chopped parsley makes a nice garnish. You could also top them with a relish of finely diced avocado, tomato, cilantro, onion and peppers mixed with Italian dressing.

FYI: I frequently use a good quality canned salmon for fish cakes. Last week the can of Icy Point Salmon that I picked up had some great ideas for using their product. I have listed them at the bottom of the column. Check a couple of these out when you’re in hurry to prepare a quick dinner. Enjoy!

Adapted from “A Glorious Harvest”
Henrietta Green

1-1/4 cups milk
1 small onion, sliced
2 whole black peppercorns
3/4 cup fresh cod (or any fish that flakes well)
1/2 pound russet potatoes, peeled
2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 large egg, hard boiled, shelled and chopped
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Pinch of cayenne
Salt and pepper
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1/4 cup flour, more if needed
Corn oil for frying
1 lemon, sliced to serve

Put the milk, onion and peppercorns in saucepan and place over medium heat until almost boiling. Turn the heat down, add the fish, cover and poach very gently 10-15 min., until the flesh just begins to break apart when tested with a fork. Strain the fish, reserving the milk and set aside; let cool.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes until soft. Drain and mash them, adding the butter, parsley and about 1 tablespoon of the poaching milk. Use more if needed. However, do not overdo it: If the mash is too wet and sloppy, the fish cakes will not hold together while being fried.

Once the fish is cool enough to handle, skin it and flake the flesh into a bowl with your fingers, taking care to remove all bones. Mash it lightly with a fork and stir in the hard-boiled egg, lemon zest and cayenne. Season to taste. Gently fold the fish into the potatoes, adding the beaten egg white to bind the mixture. Let rest 30 min.

Divide the fish mixture into 8 equal portions and roll each into a ball between the palms of your hands. Press gently to flatten them. Sprinkle the flour over a board and roll the fish cakes in it until they are lightly covered. Fry the fish cakes in fairly hot oil for a couple minutes on each side or until they start to turn a golden brown. Serve immediately with lemon.

Canned Salmon Serving Ideas
Icy Point Salmon

1. At breakfast: Mix salmon with cream cheese and serve on a toasted bagel.
2. At lunch: Mix canned salmon with celery, onions and mayonnaise and serve in a whole wheat pita pocket.
3. At lunch or dinner: Toss canned salmon with rotini noodles and seasonal vegetables for an easy pasta salad

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.