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Country Cousin

Baking...

Hi Folks!

Just think, folks - We’ve only got 10 days to wait for the first day of Winter! Considering we’ve had wind chills of 25 below this past week, wonder what we’ll face when Winter gets here?

On the other hand, it’s only 10 days until Summer starts in Antarctica - and Monday, Dec. 9, they had the coldest night ever recorded on this planet - 153.8 degrees below zero! Don’t know if the dark side of the Moon even gets that cold. Maybe Mars does. Talk about Global Warming! Whatever will we do about those shrinking Polar Ice Caps?

MISSED IT

Wednesday, Dec. 4, was National Cookie Day. Didn’t hear about it until it was all over, but do believe there was a cookie or two consumed anyway, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Speaking of cookies, the Riverside Bar in Crivitz is hosting a bake sale on Sunday, Dec. 15 to benefit 9-year-old Joey Pickett of Crivitz, who is being treated for brain tumors. Bring goodies to sell, and come with money to buy some replacements to take home.

ON THE SOAP BOX

UNAFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE


An unexpected consequence of Obama Care, otherwise known laughingly as the Affordable Health Care Act, is that some communities may be forced to pay health insurance premiums for volunteer firefighters. One problem is that no one seems to know for sure, and failure to provide the insurance should the IRS decide to demand it could result in some heavy penalties.

On the bright side, it’s not likely that any of the TIMESland volunteer fire departments or the communities they serve have more than 50 employees who work 30 or more hours a week, so they’re pretty safe. Probably.

Ah, “probably!” Therein lies the rub. Once anyone knows the answers, it could be too late.

Currently the IRS treats all firefighters, volunteer or paid, as employees for federal tax purposes. However, treating these volunteers as employees under the Shared Responsibility Provision of Obamacare could result in crushing cost increases for fire companies. Under the health care law, employers with at least 50 employees must provide health insurance to those who work at least 30 hours per week or face a penalty.

Republican Congressman Lou Barletta, from Pennsylvania, is trying to get some answers. “As a former mayor, I know from personal experience how much people count on their volunteer firefighters. And once again Obamacare has raised more questions than it has answered, and this one comes in two parts,” Barletta said. “First, are volunteer firefighters considered employees and therefore subject to the employer mandate under Obamacare? And second, how should volunteer time be counted to see if they’re working 30 hours?”

He has written to the IRS, which is to enforce the Obamacare program. He wants to know, for example, if the volunteers for a department are on call 24/7, what counts as their time?

Chief William Metcalf of the North County Fire Protection District (Fallbrook, CA), president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, is also concerned. In his own letter to the IRS, he wrote: “If incorrectly implemented, volunteer fire departments may be unintentionally forced to comply with requirements that could force them to close or curtail their emergency response activities. Many communities rely exclusively upon volunteer fire departments for fire protection and emergency medical services. In these communities, volunteers may receive nominal incentives and may be assigned to multiple 12- and 24-hour shifts - easily allowing them to work in excess of 30 hours per week.”

WHITER NAILS

Have personally always been cursed with the kind of fingernails that collect dirt without even trying. Accidentally discovered that denture cleaner works wonders on them. I use a powdered kind, but suspect that any of the fizzy soaking tablets or powders would work, provided they’re the quick acting kind. None of us wants to sit overnight with our fingernails in water!

Anyway, just mix up a half cup or so of water, about as hot as your fingers can handle, add the cleaner, stir and soak those finger tips while the mixture fizzes.

A beautician I used to know lightly nuked a mixture of olive oil and regular old table salt (careful, not too hot) and massaged it into clean soaked finger tips. Removes cuticle and softens fingers marvelously. Wash with mild soap and dry thoroughly before proceeding with nail polish if that’s what you want to do. Your nails may look so pink and healthy that you won’t want to do anything else with them.

WEIRDLY TRUE ANAGRAMS

Friend Deb Manix recently sent an e-mail with these anagrams and more. She knows I love word games. Rearranging the letters in these words produce results too true to be believed. Cover up the right hand column while you try to figure out the answers. It’s fun!

presbyterian best in prayer

astronome moon starer

desperation a rope ends it

the eyes they see

george bush he bugs gore

the morse code here come dots

dormitory dirty room

slot machines cash lost in me

animosity is no amity

election results lies let’s recount

NOT A BAD THING

Filling the sweet tooth of a diabetic or anyone who is sugar sensitive can be difficult, especially at Christmas. Many of us depend on artificial sweeteners to supply the flavor they crave without the blood sugar surge.

Aspartame, an artificial sweetener known as Equal and Nutrasweet, commonly used in soft drinks and sugar free dessert mixes, is not such a bad thing as we have been told. The sweetener has been demonized as being somewhat of a poison instead of a most satisfactory sugar substitute.

Did some checking on-line and found that, according to Snopes and other sites, most of the claims are false.

Aspartame is one of the most researched sugar substitutes available in the United States, with more than 200 studies examining its safety.

However, studies have concluded that aspartame specifically does not cause headaches, seizures, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, lupus or multiple sclerosis. In fact, no unsafe health consequences of aspartame have been identified, except for people who have phenylketonuria (PKU). They cannot eat aspartame because their bodies are unable to metabolize phenylalanine, one of the amino acids it contains.

That said, don’t use aspartame to cut carbs and calories in your holiday baking. Aspartame does not turn into a poison, but it does lose its sweet taste when baked, boiled or otherwise overheated.

SUGAR FREE BAKING

For sugar free baking use something like Stevia or Sucralose and make some recipe adjustments instead.

“E-How” advises choosing recipes for baked goods that are already moist, such as items with a fruit or custard filling, for the best results. Avoid using artificial sweeteners in pastry dough or breads which rely heavily on precise textures. “Artificial sweeteners mimic sugar’s sweetness but not the soft texture it adds, so heartier baked goods may end up too dry and crumbly,” they say.

Use 24 artificial sweetener packets for every one cup of white granulated sugar called for in the original recipe. If you’re using a liquid artificial sweetener, substitute 2 tablespoons of it for every 1 cup of sugar.

Skip the sifting step for sugar in your baking recipes because artificial sweeteners do not clump up the same way real sugar does. Mix any batters that contain artificial sweetener for an extra two to three minutes after the mixture looks combined to add some extra volume, since baked goods with artificial sweeteners can end up flat.

Add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the soda or baking powder called for per 1 cup of flour in cake recipes to prevent it from being dense and crumbly. Before baking, spray the batter with a light, even coat of cooking spray so the cake will have a light, golden brown top. Artificial sweeteners do not have the same color-changing qualities as heated sugar.

Shape cookie dough into flattened discs even when the recipe calls for rolled balls of dough because cookies made with artificial sweeteners will not spread out and flatten on their own as they bake like some regular cookie doughs. Use a spatula to apply enough pressure so the cookie dough has the same appearance you want for the final, baked product.

SCENTED MILK BATH

Homemade gifts are great when you’re on a budget, and this one costs less than a dollar each if you shop carefully.

1 cup epsom salt

1 cup powdered milk

1/4 cup baking soda

1/4 cup lavender flowers

4 drops essential oil: lavender, musk, etc.

Assemble some pretty jars, then mix up a big batch of this luxurious bath accessory. Use your hands to be sure everything is thoroughly combined. Attach the simple instructions, which are to add a quarter cup of the mixture to hot running bath water, and then relax. For a great presentation, decorate the container with lace, beads, artificial flowers, or whatever you think looks great. Make the milk bath mixture part of a spa gift by adding a loofah sponge, manicure set, scented soap, or even bath towels and wash cloths if you want a more impressive gift.

COOKIN’ TIME

CRUSTLESS HAM QUICHE

Great for brunch, supper, or an evening snack. This is low carb, for those who are counting.

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons butter, melted

4 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 cup small curd cottage cheese

1/2 cup flour

1 tsp. onion powder

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1/2 cup chopped cooked ham

Saut mushrooms in butter in medium skillet. Blend next seven ingredients in blender. Combine with mushrooms, cheese and ham. Pour into greased 10 inch quiche dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until set. Quiche should be puffed and golden brown. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Can also be served at room temperature.

JEZEBEL SAUCE

Serve this with meatballs or ham balls as appetizers

1 jar (16 to 18 oz) apricot preserves

1 jar (16 to 18 oz) apple jelly

1/2 cup horseradish

3 tablespoons dry mustard

2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients. Cover and chill.

Makes 4 cups.

CRISP SUGAR COOKIES

Buy a supply of prettily colored sugars and have at it. With this recipe you can bake up a lot of cookies in a hurry.

1 cup salad oil

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

Colored decorators sugar or cinnamon sugar

Beat the first three ingredients together. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl mix all the dry ingredients and add them to the first mixture. Mix well. Chill for at least an hour. When ready to start baking preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have ready whatever sugars you plan to use and a flat-bottomed glass. Form the dough into 1” balls, dip the top into sugar and place on ungreased baking sheet. Dipping bottom of glass into sugar each time flatten the cookies. Bake 10 minutes. Remove from pans immediately onto wire racks.

DELICIOUS FRUITCAKE

Unlike some of its more traditional cousins, this spicy light fruitcake, laden with dates and raisins, actually tastes good. The original recipe makes a huge batch - enough for four 9” tube pans or half a dozen loaf pans. Somewhat pricey, but you can give some as gifts. Or divide the recipe for a smaller batch. You should make it this week, because the cakes are supposed to ripen for two weeks before using. We don’t care for citron, so I simply leave it out, or substitute an extra pound of candied pineapple. You still get the lovely stained glass effect when the cake is cut into thin slices for serving.

3 pounds pitted dates

1 pound candied citron

1 1/2 pounds candied cherries

1 pound candied pineapple

3 pounds (12 cups) pecans

5 pounds seedless raisins

1 pint brandy

1 cup light corn syrup

2 cups butter

3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

12 eggs, separated

6 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon allspice

White cheesecloth

Cut the fruit and nuts, except raisins, in fairly large pieces. Put them in a very large bowl along with the raisins and pour on the corn syrup and one cup of the brandy. (No, you can’t drink the rest of the brandy. You’ll need it later. If you want to sample it, better get a quart instead of a pint. Naturally, the cook needs to know the quality of her ingredients, right?) Anyway, let this mixture stand at least 24 hours, stirring several times. Cover it between stirrings, and maybe you should hide it. It starts smelling awfully good. When you’re actually ready to bake, line the bottoms and sides of the pans with 2 layers of brown paper, baking parchment or waxed paper and grease it well. Pre-heat the oven to 275 degrees. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Set aside. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar and extracts until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, again until light and fluffy. Then fold in the beaten egg whites. Stir in the flour/spice mixture. Divide into the baking pans, and bake for about four hours. When the cakes begin to brown, lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top. (A piece of brown paper is more traditional, but I’m always afraid it will touch the heating element and start a disastrous cake fire.) When the cakes test done (no batter will remain when tested with a toothpick) remove from pans and cool on racks. Wrap each cake in cheesecloth, put into air tight containers (preferably plastic or glass), and pour the remaining brandy evenly over the cakes. (There should be a cup left from the pint, remember?) Put on the covers and store. You should occasionally open the containers and moisten the cloths with brandy to keep the cakes moist, so you’ll need some of that quart I mentioned anyway. Let the cakes enjoy their brandy for at least two weeks before you start slicing into them. (If you make it right now, it will be ready to serve on Christmas Eve. One day or so really won’t make a difference. Also makes a great addition to the New Year’s table.

Thought for the Week: If you start getting stressed and letting it show as Christmas approaches, keep in mind that kindness and smiles are the hardest gifts to give away. They keep coming back.

(This column is written by Shirley Prudhomme of Crivitz. Views expressed are her own and are in no way intended to be an official statement of the opinions of Peshtigo Times editors and publishers. She may be contacted by phone at 715-927-5034 or by e-mail to shirleyprudhommechickadee@yahoo. com.)

COUNTRY COUSIN


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