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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Country Cousin

Cleaning...

Hi Folks!

Seems possible that Spring may be really here. Still wouldn’t recommend setting out the tomato plants until after Memorial Day, but every one of these lovely days filled with beautiful sunshine is a bonus, so let’s relax and enjoy them.

Springtime sunshine feels so good, it’s no wonder some of those early civilizations worshipped that golden orb in the sky. And it does indeed make the trees and flowers grow.

Grass too. Who’d ever think here in northern Wisconsin we’d be on third and fourth mowings of the lawn before April even ended. Most years we’re still shoveling snow.

SPRING CLEANING

Open those windows, breathe the fresh springtime air. Let it blow in. Then take down the curtains, open the windows wider and let the sunshine in. Then even if you decide to loaf on the couch with a box of chocolates and a good book, your house will smell fresh and unless it’s a real mess, everyone will think you’ve been cleaning all day.

However, that wouldn’t really get anything done. Sooner or later we all have to bite the bullet and get down to some serious cleaning to avoid an infestation of cooties or some other horrible fate for our homes.

Best place to start in any room is at the ceiling, since dirt falls to the floor, which therefore should be cleaned up last. Ceiling fans, so wonderful for stirring up warm air in winter and cooler air in summer, tend to get pretty gringy quite quickly because the air they stir up is laden with things like pet hairs, cooking oils, dust, human exhaust, and simply the debris that we and our pets shed every waking moment. (We shed at night, too, but that’s generally in bed, where human danders tend to get trapped in sheets and pillow cases to feed the dust mites that breed there unless we launder and sanitize once a week.) But that’s another story.

Back to the ceiling fan. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but give it a look. The dust doesn’t blow off. It hangs there. In nice drapy strings and shreds if you ignore it long enough. You really, really don’t want that to happen.

So get busy and clean. Be sure the switches are all off. With a dry toothbrush, get as much dust as you can out of the vents and openings, or put the soft brush on your vacuum cleaner if the hose is long enough and vacuum as best you can. Best option is to have a can of air, as is used to clean computers and other electronic gadgets, and blow them clean. Then wipe the whole thing down with a rag rung out of a vinegar and water solution. Then spray with awesome or a wood cleaner like Murphy’s Oil Soap and wipe clean with a rag wrung out of the vinegar and water mixture. Pay special attention to brass or chrome trim to get it nice and shiny and smudge free. When you’re done, spray with a good anti-mold disinfectant spray and let it dry.

Now take down the glass shields from around the light bulbs. Unscrew the light bulbs, one at a time, and using a rag wrung out of a fresh vinegar and water solution, gently wipe them down. Don’t put them back in the sockets until everything is thoroughly dry.

The glass shields can either be run through the dishwasher or washed in nice hot soapy dishwater and then be rinsed thoroughly, preferably in another vinegar and water solution to make them shine.

Actually, you can rinse the shields first and then while they dry use the same solution to wipe down the bulbs.

Let everything dry before you reassemble.

Wasn’t that fun???

SHOWERS

No, not talking about getting ourselves clean. Also not talking about the weather, at least not exactly. Talking about meteor showers, shooting stars. Understand last weekend would have been the best of the year for observing particles falling toward earth from the Lyrid showers by looking toward the southern sky. There may still be pieces of the Thatcher comet tossing us shooting stars to wish on.

Then, in the southeast sky in the hour or two before dawn, starting about Sunday, April 29, we may be able to see some of the particles from Haley’s Comet that started their journey toward Earth 2,000 or so years ago. That annual shooting star display, called the Eta Aqurid Meteor Shower, is supposed to peak just before dawn on Sunday, May 6, with perhaps 20 shooting stars per hour. Unfortunately, that is also the night of a full moon, so shooting stars will not be as visible as they would be on a dark night, and the smaller ones might not be visible to the naked eye at all.

GOOD IDEA!

Speaking of wishing on a star, how many college students, after the grades are out, have wished they had studied harder, put more effort toward improving their grade point averages?

Well, now the wonderful caring Young Republicans of Columbia University have come up with a grand idea. They spent a recent weekend promoting the notion of sharing the wealth.

They carried petitions around campus urging a system where students with 4.0 grade point averages would share some of their points with their less talented and dedicated fellow students so everyone could graduate.

Not sure if they meant the school’s authorities would divvy up the grades, giving some better scores to the poorer students after subtracting them from the grades of star students, or if it would be voluntary sharing.

The mandatory version could be modeled somewhat after the income tax system now in effect for this nation’s wage earners, only the higher scoring students would be taxed grade points instead of money.

Now what could possibly be wrong with that?

Everything!!!

SAVING THOSE DOLLARS

If your pocketbook is still reeling from winter heating bills and high income tax, a new geothermal heating and cooling system for your home might be a way to save some money and the environment at the same time.

Anyone who had problems during the winter with their home heating system would do well to consider replacing it with one of the new systems that taps into the free solar heat energy stored in the earth and uses a series of pipes (called an earth loop) buried in the ground to move that heat into the home during cold weather and remove it during warm weather. The same heat energy can be used for a radiant floor system or domestic hot water heating.

According to NAPS, a national news clipping service, homeowners who install a geothermal system before Dec. 31, 2016 can take advantage of a federal renewable energy tax credit that offers a tax incentive of 30 percent of the cost of the system. The tax credit can be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2009 and can be used in conjunction with other tax incentives and utility rebates.

Once installed, the system reduces energy use, saving up to 70 percent on heating and cooling bills throughout the year. That could add up to huge savings during the long life of the system. Life span of the new geothermal systems is said to be 24 years or more, compared with an average of 15 years for a traditional system, with fewer maintenance issues along the way. And in the end, it may well increase the home’s resale value.

Plus geothermal heating and cooling reduces our nation’s dependence on oil, emits no carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or other greenhouse gasses, and keeps the home cleaner and quieter than traditional heating systems.

Want more information? Visit www.waterfurnace.com or talk to an expert at 1-800-GEO-SAVE.

COOKIN’ TIME

Love soup at any time of the year, but especially now, when the furnace doesn’t need to be on but the home might need just a little something to remove the chill, energetic yard work whets the appetite, and we hate to come inside to cook. Put a pot of soup on to simmer (or use the slo cooker) and if there’s a bit of cheese, peanut butter or lunch meat in the house, lunch is pretty much ready whenever you are.

FRENCH CANADIAN PEA SOUP

Good to make now, when fresh produce prices are high. Serve with crusty French bread, and perhaps a fruit dessert to end the meal.

10 cups water

2 cups yellow or green dried whole peas

2 medium carrots, finely diced

2 celery ribs, finely diced

1 potato, finely diced

2 leeks, thoroughly washed and finely sliced

2 medium onions, diced

6 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 pound salt pork or bacon

1 ham bone (optional)

1 teaspoons fresh thyme

1 teaspoon savory

1 tablespoon minced parsley

4 cups chicken stock, reduced salt is fine

salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Sort and rinse beans, then put them to soak overnight in cold water. In the morning, bring to a boil, let boil hard for about three minutes and then shut off the burner, cover pan and let them sit for about an hour. Drain off about half of the water. Place peas, carrots, celery, leeks, onion, potato, garlic, salt pork, thyme, savory, parsley and stock to cover in a large pot. Add the ham bone if you have one. Put lid on, bring to a boil and simmer rapidly for about 1 hour, or until the peas are very tender. Stir in salt and pepper if necessary.

CHICKEN ETOUFFE

This chicken and sausage stew is made to be served over rice, but mashed potatoes are good with it too. Or if you’re going low carb, just eat as is, or serve over cooked cauliflower. Whisking the roux constantly is the key to evenly browning it without burning. Makes eight servings. The original recipe calls for andouille sausage, a New Orleans specialty. That’s hard to find up here, and we prefer Mettwurst anyway. If you like it hot, add a dash or so of Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce to your plate. Serve with a nice tossed salad on the side.

3/4 cup canola oil

3/4 cup flour

2 ribs celery, finely chopped

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely

chopped

2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

3 cups chicken stock

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1

pieces

1 pound Mettwurst or Andouille sausage, halved lengt

wise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch thick pieces

6 large scallions or green onions, white and green parts,

thinly sliced

Cooked white rice, for serving

Heat oil in a 6-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it almost begins to smoke. Add flour, whisking constantly, and cook for 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until roux is the color of milk chocolate, about 12-15 minutes. Add celery, onions, and peppers, and cook, stirring constantly, until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in salt, cayenne, black and white peppers, basil, and thyme, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. All at once, add 2 cups chicken stock, and bring to a boil; cook and stir until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a 12 skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, and cook, turning once, until lightly browned, 4-6 minutes; add chicken and butter to the Dutch oven. Pour remaining chicken stock into skillet, stir to scrape up any browned bits, and then pour into Dutch oven along with the sausage; cook, stirring occasionally, until thick and chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes more. Remove pan from heat, stir in scallions, and serve touffe with rice. This can very nicely be made ahead except for the green onions and kept warm in a slow cooker on low for hours. Just serve a bowl of the sliced green onions on the side at eating time, or stir them in at the last mintue.

STRAWBERRY YOGURT BITES

These dainty little treats are almost too easy to make, and look wonderful on a dessert tray. Unmold onto a cloud of whipped cream for extra-elegant service. Takes about 10 minutes to make 16 of the tasty little bites.

3 containers (6 oz. each) strawberry low-fat yogurt

1 package (3 oz.) strawberry flavor gelatin dessert mix,

regular or sugar-free

8 fresh strawberries, halved

Mix yogurt and dry gelatin mix in microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high five minutes or until gelatin is completely dissolved, stirring every 2 minutes. Spoon into 16 paper-lined mini muffin cups. Refrigerate one hour or until firm. Remove from liners; top with strawberries. (Try other flavors of gelatin, yogurt, and fruit, for example peach with peach, Also, try putting a small bit of fruit into the bottom of the mini muffin cup before you put in the gelatin/yogurt mixture so it’s anchored on. This would be good with blueberries and lemon flavored gelatin and yogurt.)

Thought for the week: Recall fever has hit Wisconsin in a big way. Join the fun. Let’s recall Santa Claus. I didn’t get what I wanted this year!

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