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

Pumpkin...

Hi Folks!

Fall colors are at or near their peak in Marinette County, and a glorious sight it is! How lucky we are to drive to work through golden autumn mornings!

And how hard it is to realize that dusk is falling by 6 p.m., and days will just keep getting shorter. Daylight Savings Time will end on the first weekend of November, so dark will come even earlier.

There have been heavy frosts, one morning so much that the windshield needed scraping. But then the sun came out, the frost melted and it was another marvelous day in Wisconsin.

We keep getting rain, probably more than we need. Experts say that’s why the leaves have been slow to develop full color this year. Conditions are right for them to just keep growing and producing chlorophyl or whatever it is that keeps them green.

MONSTER OF THE DEEP

Halloween is still two weeks away, but youngsters on a school outing in a southern California coastal community got quite a thrill the other day when an 18-foot sea serpent - a true monster of the deep - washed up near shore. Live, that might be the stuff nightmares are made of!

The creature is actually a Paddle Fish, which lives normally only in the deep, deep ocean and is seldom seen by man. Old stories of mariners spotting sea serpents probably stemmed from these creatures, which can grow up to 50 feet long.

Imagine the fright something like that poking its head up out of the water would cause to sailors in a fragile little sailing ship in unknown waters far from shore!

The creatures swim with their heads upright, tails down, and are equipped with paddles that help them maintain that position, hence their name. The few humans who have observed them say they can move very quickly, backward, forward, up and down. They are so rare that no one at the Catalina Island Marine Institute had ever seen one before.

PUMPKIN PUNCH BOWL

Speaking of Halloween, you can make a fine punch bowl for a Halloween party out of a nice large pumpkin. Thoroughly wash and clean out a pumpkin, making sure to remove all the pulpy strings. Scraping it with a spoon works well. Don’t cut out eyes, ears or mouth, paint hem on with a permanent marker. Refrigerate the pumpkin until you are ready to serve. It would look nice sitting on a platter surrounded by colored leaves and perhaps baby dried ears of corn. Simply pour in cold cider or other punch or witches brew mixture, add a ladle and you’re ready to go. Centerpiece and punch bowl all in one.

SAVOR THE SEEDS

When you clean out the pumpkin, whether for a punch bowl or Jack-O-Lantern, there are seeds, with strings attached. Save them for healthy treats. Simply wash to remove most of the strings. If some strings are left on, don’t worry. The strings will dry when you roast them and are actually healthy anyway.

Pat the cleaned seeds dry with a towel. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Pour some vegetable oil into a cookie sheet and spread it around to cover the bottom well. Toss the pumpkin seeds with some soy sauce and salt and then spread them around on the cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees until they start turning golden brown. Some people actually eat the seeds shell and all, but I prefer to split them and get out the tasty morsel inside.

ON THE SOAP BOX

SCHOOL CHOICE


Annual school district meetings are being held around Marinette County, and school report cards have been issued by Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Most of the schools in our area scored very well indeed on their report cards. The big city schools down south did not.

Wisconsin legislators, under the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker, expanded the school choice voucher system slightly this year, and information garnered from annual meeting discussions and the DPI reports show that could turn out to be the best thing that has happened to Wisconsin education in recent years.

The voucher system provides state aid for students attending private schools in selected districts, but not nearly as much as the public school would get. That leaves more DPI dollars to be divied up for the rest of the state, for places like ours where costs are low and education is good.

Cost to state taxpayers for each child getting DPI support to attend a private or parochial school in Milwaukee is about $6,000, half the $12,000 paid to support that same child at a poorly performing public school in the same city, the worst school district in the state, as demonstrated by the school report cards.

In 2010, only three school districts in all of Wisconsin were cited for failing to meet state educational standards in prior years - Milwaukee, Racine and Madison Metropolitan. Sadly, though they obviously aren’t spending their resources well, these districts still get the highest per capita aid per student.

By contrast, only two minor charter/private schools in the state, both in the Milwaukee area, were identified as needing improvement.

The recent school report cards show the same dismal results for the problem school districts.

The scores and the spending say something about need for improvement in the flawed state funding system as a whole. Schools achieving the worst results should not be collecting the greatest financial rewards. Something needs to change!

The slightly expanded funding for the voucher system provided in the current biennium is a small step in the right direction. Hopefully Gov. Walker and the legislature will take more steps in the near future toward providing support for more parents who choose to send their children to schools that provide a better education.

Incidentally, parents continue to pay the difference, unless their church or some other organization picks up the tab, which means the local property taxpayers do not have to pay for them.

Private and/or parochial schools must meet specific standards to qualify for voucher payments, so yes, there are guarantees their students are being educated at least as well as their counterparts in the public school system.

How do you prefer to spend your tax dollars? $12,000 a year for each student at a failing public school in Milwaukee, or slightly under $6,000 for that same student at what may be an exemplary private or parochial school in the same city?

If the public schools in any given area can’t stand up to the competition they either need to make some changes or get out of the business. Parents should have the right to be sure their children are educated, and those who choose a parochial school deserve to have some of their tax dollars used for that purpose.

COOKIN’ TIME

Ah, autumn! Time to turn on the oven and enjoy the heady scents of simmering soups, roasting meats, or baking casseroles, pies and snacks in the wonderful flavors of fall!

Buy one rotisserie chicken and use if for two of today’s recipes, the Buffalo Tater Skins and the Mediterranean Chicken Soup.

MEDITERRANEAN CHICKEN SOUP

This light, but satisfying soup is a fine meal in one if you want it to be. Recipe calls for cooking Romaine lettuce, which probably strikes you as odd, but it works. If you prefer, substitute chopped spinach, kale or arugula. Takes 20 minutes or so to prepare, start to finish, and reheats very nicely. Just don’t keep it boiling too long or the meat will get stringy and the veggies will get mushy.

For extra deliciousness, nutrition and economy, before you start, separate the rotisserie chicken meat from the skin and bones, and set it aside. Save 1 cup of the meat for the Tater Skins, and keep the rest to add to the soup. Scrape any juices from the container the chicken came in into the soup kettle along with the skin and bones, add a pinch of salt and water to cover and simmer maybe 20 minutes. Strain and taste for seasoning. Add chicken bouillon or Golden Seasons broth mix to taste, and then add water or enough purchased chicken stock to make up the 9 cups and proceed with the recipe as directed.

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 scallions or green onions (white and green parts separated), chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 small zucchini, diced

1 carrot, thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

9 cups chicken stock, plus additional if needed

3/4 cup acini de pepe pasta (rice shaped) or alphabet

macaroni

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest

2 cups cooked diced chicken (if from a rotisserie chicken,

and add any broth in the container)

1 cup canned garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill weed or 1 teaspoon

dried dill weed

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried and

crumbled

1 1/2 cups shredded romaine lettuce or fresh spinach

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a large kettle, heat oil over medium heat. Add scallion whites, carrot and celery; cook 1 minute or until vegetables are tender, stirring frequently. Add garlic, zucchini, salt and pepper; cook 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add stock, pasta and lemon zest; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook 9 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chicken, beans, dill and parsley; cook two minutes or so, until chicken and beans are heated through. A few minutes before serving turn off the heat and stir in the lettuce or spinach, lemon juice and scallion greens. If soup becomes too thick, stir in additional stock as needed. Serve garnished with red pepper flakes, if desired.

BUFFALO TATER SKINS

This recipe comes from the folks at Wisconsin Public service. Wonderful green and gold snacks for a Packer party, or accompaniments for an oven dinner.

6 small to medium Wisconsin baking potatoes

2 tablespoons butter, softened

Sea salt

3 tablespoons butter, melted

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup ranch dressing

3 tablespoons hot pepper sauce

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup cooked chicken, shredded

Cheddar cheese, shredded

Cayenne pepper, ground

For garnish, celery sticks and ranch of bleu cheese dressing

Scrub the potatoes clean.Rub the skins with the softened butter and sprinkle with salt. Place on a shallow baking pan and bake at 425 degrees for an hour or so until tender. Allow the potatoes to cool slightly. Split them in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides, leaving a scant 1/4-inch of potato attached to the shell. (Save the insides for American fries or potato salad for another meal.) Brush the insides of each potato half with the melted butter and sprinkle each with salt to taste and set aside. In a medium bowl beat together the cream cheese, ranch dressing, hot pepper sauce and black pepper until smooth and creamy. Stir in the chicken. Stuff each potato half with two tablespoons or so of the chicken mixture, dividing equally between the 12 halves until it’s all gone. Place on the shallow baking pan and bake at 425 degrees until the mixture is bubbly and heated through. Remove pan from oven, top potatoes with the shredded cheddar cheese and sprinkle with cayenne pepper to taste. Bake another two to three minutes to melt the cheese. Sprinkle with chives or parsley if you want a green and gold look. Serve with celery sticks and Bleu cheese or ranch dressing.

BEER ‘N’ BACON BRAISED CABBAGE

You can also make this with four bunches of collard greens, stems removed, and chopped, instead of the cabbage. Serve with apple cider vinegar to dash on.

1 head cabbage

6 slices thick cut bacon, large dice

1 onion, large dice

1 bottle beer, preferably a nut brown ale

pinch or so cayenne pepper

1/4 cup brown sugar (optional)

salt and pepper, to taste

Core the cabbage and chop it coarsely. Place the bacon in a wide bottomed pot or heavy frying pan with a tight fitting cover and cook over low heat. Add the onions after 10 minutes and continue cooking until bacon is crispy and onions have caramelized, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat to medium high. Add the half the cabbage or collard greens and the bottle of beer. Stir with tongs or a spoon and let some wilt before adding the rest of the cabbage or greens. Stir until the greens are mixed with the liquid and add the cayenne pepper, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Turn down the heat, cover, and let cook for 30 minutes or until greens are tender. Eat and enjoy.

CARAMEL APPLE PIE

When making a double crust pie around Halloween, cut a Jack-O-Lantern face in the top instead of the normal slits. Tastes the same, as long as you don’t cut the features too large. Works well to outline the eyes and nose with slits instead of actually cutting them out, but either way works.

For this pie you need:

Crust for a double crust pie

5 golden delicious apples (3 1/2 pounds, peeled, cored and

sliced 1/4 inch thick)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups sugar (divided)

1/4 cup water

1 cup heavy cream

1 egg (lightly beaten)

Buy crusts or make your own. Fit one crust into a 9 pie pan and save the one for the top. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil to catch the drips.

To make the filling, toss apples with 2 tablespoons of the sugar, plus the lemon juice, tapioca and vanilla. (I like to add a dash or two of salt also.)

To make the caramel, mix 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup water in a large, heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until mixture turns dark brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Don’t let it burn, though. Standing back to avoid splattering, pour in the cream. Reduce heat and stir until the caramel is smooth and thick, about 2 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spoon in half the apple mixture into the prepared crust. Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of the caramel. Mound remaining apples on top and drizzle with another 1/4 cup caramel. Cover and chill the remaining caramel. (You’ll rewarm it later over low heat or in the microwave before serving it with the pie. Think ice cream on top, and then the hot caramel sauce? Who needs supper?!!) Anyway, place second dough disk over the filling and press edges together with the tines of a fork to seal. It helps if you moisten the edge of the bottom crust first with a bit of water using the fingertip method. If there is excess crust trim it off, then crimp the edges to look pretty. Cut steam vents in the top. Then beat the egg with one tablespoon of water and brush over the top crust. Sprinkle on the remaining two tablespoons sugar. Place pie on baking sheet and bake until filling bubbles and crust is golden brown, about an hour. Check with a fork through one of the slits to be sure the apples are tender. Let cool before serving.

Thought for the Week: Forgive us, Lord, for so often taking for granted the good things You have provided for us. Thank You for a bountiful harvest, for beautiful fields and forests, for Autumn sunshine, and even for Autumn rains. Thank You for granting some of our prayers and for knowing when to say no. Thank You especially at this time for some special prayers for which the answer, at least so far, is yes. Amen.

(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.)

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