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Country Cousin

National Popcorn Month...

We've been having some fantastically beautiful Autumn weather, but Winter chill is in the air, and if frost isn't on your pumpkins yet it soon will be.

LIGHTED PUMPKINS

Speaking of pumpkins, Halloween decorations are popping up everywhere. The lights and other decorations on some homes are as fantastic as the ones used for Christmas. Kind of nice. With the shorter days and longer nights as Winter approaches, we can use all the light we can get.

Recently came across a really cute idea for making ghostly lighted porcupine pumpkins for yard or porch decorations, or even indoors as night lights.

Get two pumpkins of the proper size, or one large fat round pumpkin, slightly elongated, and one somewhat long-necked gourd, and a string of outdoor grade white Christmas tree mini lights, Cut off the stem end of the pumpkin with a hole just big enough to accommodate the gourd at its fattest point. Cut off the end of the gourd that will end up being tucked inside the pumpkin. Hollow both out, as for a jack-o-lantern, but instead of eyes, nose and mouth drill lots of holes running the long way of the pumpkin, just big enough to poke the mini lights through, but small enough to hold them in place. In what you choose to be the face of the gourd drill holes for eyes only. Put some mini-light holes in the "forehead" of the gourd too if you want to.

Put the mini light string inside the pumpkin and poke the lights through the holes. Leaving a spot for the plug-in part of the light cord to come out, stick the gourd inside the opening of the pumpkin so it looks like the critter's head. Leave a light or three inside the Pumpkin too, to sort of light the whole thing. Hold the "head" on with toothpicks or skewers, plug in the lights, and your pumpkin critter is ready to howl.

POPCORN POPPIN' MONTH

We're told by the folks of the National Popcorn Board that October is National Popcorn Poppin' Month in the USA. Their brochure included some pretty interesting information on the little grain that is believed to be the world's first snack food.

It is believed that popping was the first use of wild and early cultivated corn. The oldest ears of popcorn ever found, about 4,000 years old, were discovered in the Bat Cave of west central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950. They ranged in size from from smaller than a penny to about two inches.

Biblical accounts of "corn" stored in the pyramids of Egypt are misunderstood, they say, explaining that the word "corn" originally signified the most used grain in any specific place. The "corn" mentioned in the Bible was probably barley. In early England, "corn" was wheat, and in Scotland and Ireland the word referred to oats. Since maize was the common American "corn," it took that name " and keeps it today. 

Popcorn was integral to early 16th century Aztec Indian ceremonies. Bernardino de Sahagun writes: "And also a number of young women danced, having so vowed, a popcorn dance. As thick as tassels of maize were their popcorn garlands. And these they placed upon (the girls') heads."

In 1519, Cortes got his first sight of popcorn when he invaded Mexico and came into contact with the Aztecs. Popcorn was an important food for the Aztec Indians, who also used popcorn as decoration for ceremonial headdresses, necklaces and ornaments on statues of their gods, including Tlaloc, the god of rain and fertility.

An early Spanish account of a ceremony honoring the Aztec gods who watched over fishermen reads: "They scattered before him parched corn, called momochitl, a kind of corn which bursts when parched and discloses its contents and makes itself look like a very white flower; they said these were hailstones given to the god of water."

Writing of Peruvian Indians in 1650, the Spaniard Cobo says, "They toast a certain kind of corn until it bursts. They call it pisancalla, and they use it as a confection."

In South America, kernels of popcorn found in burial grounds in the coastal deserts of North Chile were so well preserved they would still pop even though they were 1,000 years old.

That said, the popcorn we know and love today comes in two forms, one called "snowflake" or "butterfly", which bursts into the larger, whiter kernels, and "mushroom, which remains sort of in a round shape and is better for use in confections like popcorn balls. Never paid attention before, but have learned that popcorn with the variety identified is available at some local merchants and on-line at very reasonable prices.

FOODS REHABILITATED

The so-called nutrition experts in America - and perhaps all around the world - tend to go off on tangents. With too few real life studies, they decide that this food or that is bad for us, and put their erroneous preaching into practice in the form of government financed propaganda and restrictions, like the ones imposed on school lunch programs a few years ago.

Remember when we were told caffeine was evil, and coffee surely would kill us? Lots of folks listened, and switched to soda for breakfast, or decaf coffee.

Sure am glad not to be among them. Had to believe that anything that makes us feel so much better had to be good for us.

Also have always had confidence in advice that came from the good nuns who taught our high school health and science classes years ago. More than one of them told us that anything humans over generations have considered beneficial probably is, in one way or another. Once again they have been proven right.

New studies show that caffeine indeed has some very beneficial health effects, and those effects become more pronounced as we grow older.

One of those studies, published in "Nature Medicine," states that more than 90 percent of all non-communicable diseases of aging are associated with chronic inflammation, and then goes on to say that caffeine reduces the incidence of chronic inflammation. Elderly test participants who reported consuming more caffeinated beverages produced fewer inflammation-causing genes and tended to live longer, healthier lives.

The report says it doesn't matter if the caffeine came in coffee or some other form, results are equally beneficial, so those who don't like coffee should drink tea, colas, etc., or eat lots of dark chocolate.

Wow! There's another perk! Coffee and dark chocolate for breakfast, anyone?

No pun intended in that reference to perks, even though most of us oldsters do remember percolators. For you younger folks, the perc-o-lator was the popular type of coffee maker between boiled and drip coffee and today's automated coffee makers, which in fact are a modern form of drip-o-lator.

Anyway, scientists say whatever the source, every caffeine molecule is the same. " A molecule of caffeine doesn't care where it came from," one of them declared. "It's identical to any other molecule of caffeine. But coffee has the most of any beverage we tend to drink [and] coffee drinkers live longer."

David Furman, lead author of one of the studies, said the finding that the beverage almost everyone likes to drink wasn't something they were looking for, and in fact came as something of a surprise.

While the studies confirm that caffeine consumption is beneficial, the article admits the research doesn't fully explain how caffeine interferes with inflammation, and says the results aren't quite enough to form the basis for medical recommendations.

Sure am glad to learn that the best way to wake up in the morning has health benefits as well as eye opening benefits!

FATS ALSO GOOD

Now, finally it appears that saturated fats are also being rehabilitated. It's no secret that the biggest obesity epidemic this nation ever endured started with the push to get fats out of our diets and replace them with carbs. Personally decided long ago that was very bad advice. Again am crowing "I told you so!"

The jury long ago came in with a "not guilty" verdict on eggs and real butter as being dietary killers.

Now more and more health writers are joining Dr. Atkins in promoting proteins and fats as the way to stay healthy and lose weight. One of the most recent is Michael J. Eades, author of "Protein Power," in which you can read about the multiple benefits of saturated fats for the purpose of lowering your cholesterol, losing fat (and weight), and improving your health generally.

Like Atkins, who was way ahead of his time, Eades and other researchers are now saying that saturated fat is good for you, not bad, as long as it's kept in moderation. Carbs, especially sugar and white flour, are the real culprits in the obesity epidemic.

ON THE SOAP BOX

RIGHT TO PROTEST


Recently received an e-mail from a good friend who is just as upset over the disgusting disrespect shown to our nation by the NFL and the football players who earn the big bucks working for them and entertaining us.

Dave Kipp of Wausaukee notes that Budweiser Beer, produced by Anheuser Bush, is currently a sponsor of NFL football, but is thinking about pulling their advertising over their disrespect for our nation, or flag and our National Anthem.

"Now you can weigh in on the NFL sponsors," the e-mail says. "Just call 800-342-5283, and when prompted, press 1 and you will be asked to express your opinion on that subject. Tell them to please pull their NFL ads!"

He suggests that we then pass this information along to our friends and ask them to do the same thing. People are also suggesting that we refrain from buying anything with a Packer or NFL logo as long as the demonstrations continue.

Money speaks louder than words to most of the folks who own the football teams, and when the money stops they will find ways to stop their very highly paid employees from insulting the rest of us.

Incidentally, bet 90 percent of those protesting players don't really know what they're not standing up for, or what it would take to satisfy them. We can't turn back the clocks and change history, so that's not an option. But we can change the future. It's time for all of us to get off this divided path and simply become good Americans, proud and happy that we are allowed to live here and enjoy lives that the illegal immigrants are willing to give up everything to attain.

Incidentally, many thanks to Vice President Mike Pence for having the courage to walk out on the football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday after some players knelt during the National Anthem, saying he did not want to "dignify" the demonstration.

Now, he's being criticized in the mainstream media for doing that. Apparently they believe the players have the right to protest, but our vice president does not.

Of course, we all should know by now that the mainstream will find something to criticize about anything and everything the president and vice president and their families do, no matter how good it is!

GROWIN' TIME

Time is running out for winter chores. According to some lawn and garden experts, the time we spend raking leaves might be better spent mowing or shredding them.

Old Farmers' Almanac notes that shredded leaves make great mulch, and after they're composted they make great fertilizer. To compost, mix a thin layer of soil, manure or fresh grass clippings in among the leaves to get the good bacteria working in the mulch pile. By spring you should have a nutritious fertilizer treat for your garden.

They also say instead of raking, we should perhaps just mow over the leaves, with the mower blade set about three inches high. If the leaf cover isn't too heavy, you can then leave them right on the lawn for the winter. In any case, we're supposed to keep mowing until frost stops the grass from growing.

COOKIN' TIME

Apples are plentiful, pumpkins and squash are ready to use. Zucchini keeps growing. Frost will come son, but hasn't hit yet. Life is good!

ZUCCHINI AND TOMATOES AU GRATIN

Originally this recipe called for vegetable marrow. Never knew what vegetable that was, but this time looked it up. Turns out that vegetable marrow is just another name for grown up zucchini or other type of summer squash. The fancy name "courgette" is used for tiny, immature zucchinis or summer squash. Their grown up version is vegetable marrow, or just plain old zucchini. Anyway, here's a good way to prepare Vegetable Marrow, provided it's young enough that the skin isn't tough yet.

3 pounds zucchini

3 tablespoons chopped onions

3 tablespoons butter

2 cups cooked tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3/4 cup grated cheese

Wash zucchini and cut into quarter-inch pieces. Cook onion in butter, add zucchini and cook slowly for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cover and cook five minutes longer. Turn into buttered baking dish, sprinkle cheese over top and bake in 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes. This goes wonderfully with meat loaf.

PUMPKIN PIE BITES

Here's a healthy snack time recipe, courtesy of the Popcorn Board, that puts good old popcorn to another good use. There's no pumpkin in this, but the warm flavor of pumpkin pie spices give this indulgent snack a true taste of autumn.

12 cups unsalted, unbuttered popped popcorn

3 cups chopped white chocolate or white chocolate chips

1 tablespoon light olive oil

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1/2 cup toffee bits

1 teaspoon flaked sea salt, crushed

Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or waxed paper. Place popcorn in a large mixing bowl. In microwave-safe bowl, combine chocolate, olive oil and pumpkin pie spice; microwave on medium for 2 to 3 minutes or until melted and smooth, stirring after each minute. Pour melted chocolate mixture over popcorn; add toffee bits and toss to combine. Immediately transfer to prepared baking sheet, spreading to edges of pan; sprinkle sea salt over top. Let cool; refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours or until set. Break into chunks for serving.

HOMEMADE PUMPKIN PIE SPICE

Combine three parts ground cinnamon with one part each of ground nutmeg, allspice and ginger. Make as much or as little as you want.

COTTAGE CHEESE APPLE PIE

Here's a true Wisconsin-style dessert with a good share of healthy protein to keep blood sugar in balance. Use juicy, slight tart apples like MacIntosh, if you have a choice, but pretty much any apples will do. If they aren't at all tart, perhaps add a splash of lemon juice but only if you have the real thing. Breakfast, anyone?

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup cottage cheese

1 1/2 cups apples, sliced thin

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 prepared single-crust pie shell

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix spices into a quarter cup of the sugar and stir this into the sliced apples. Add a bit of extra sugar if the apples are not very sweet. Put the apple/spice mixture into the pie shell and put into oven to bake for 15 minutes. While apples bake, make a custard by beating eggs slightly, then adding the remaining half cup of sugar, salt, cream, milk, vanilla and cottage cheese. When the apples have baked for 15 minutes, remove pie from oven and turn heat down to 325 degrees. Pour the custard mixture over the pre-baked apple slices, return to oven and bake another 40 minutes, or until mixture is firm and browned.

Thought for the week: Ever wonder if maybe we're so much into decorating our homes and yards with ghouls, goblins and witches at this time of year is that secretly, in our deepest, primitive beings, we worry that these things may be real, and want to prove that we're not afraid of them?

Country Cousin

(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 715-291-9002 or by e-mail to shirleyprudhommechickadee@yahoo.com.)


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