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

Fall Backward...

In less than a week, the hard fought 2016 presidential election will be over, and we Americans will have chosen the direction our nation will follow for the next four years, perhaps the next several decades. A vital decision in the future personality of our nation will have been made. Let us all pray that whichever way the balloting goes, it turns out to not be a disastrous decision!

And let us all check when we vote to be sure the paper ballot that recorded our vote reflects the choices we intended to make. If it doesn't match, tell a poll worker immediately.

CHANGE THE CLOCKS

Meanwhile, the seasons move along at a dizzying pace. Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is just three weeks away, and on Saturday, Nov. 5, we turn our clocks back, ending Daylight Savings time for 2016 . We get back the hour we lost in spring.

No matter that we're getting the lost hour back. Even with the extra hour to sleep, I continue to behave like Daylight Saving Time: spring out of bed in the morning and then fall back if you give me half a chance!

Do find it ironic that we have arranged to lose that hour in spring, when the weather is turning fine, and get it back as winter approaches and we would all be getting ready to hibernate if we were sensible creatures like bears.

No matter what we do with the clocks, daylight hours will continue getting shorter each day from now through Wednesday, Dec. 21, the official first day of winter. While there will be ups and downs in temperatures as usual, overall days and nights will continue getting colder overall from now until spring, which is probably about seven years away! Brrr!

CRITTER COMFORTS

Have mentioned that my home has a cat door, through which the cats who live there can come and go at will.

That is no longer true.

After finding a very large, very recently dead bobcat under one corner of the mobile home I occupy, the grandsons sealed up the cat door at my request. The cats will now need to either use a litter box or beg at the door like their predecessors.

The notion that that huge cat, at least three feet long while lying down, without counting its stubby tail, could have gotten into my home without invitation is more than a little bit frightening. I have seen what a normal size cat can do to a full size pit bull. I do not like to imagine what that super sized one could have done to me!

ON THE SOAP BOX

At the Wausaukee School District Annual meeting last week Board Member Dave Kipp presented budget information in a power point report that was prefaced with the following excerpt from an article on educational trends by Walter E. Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University:

"Among high-school students who graduated in 2014 and took the ACT college readiness exam, here's how various racial/ethnic groups fared when it came to meeting the ACT's college readiness benchmarks in at least three of the four subjects: Asians, 57 percent; whites, 49 percent; Hispanics, 23 percent; and blacks, 11 percent.

"However, the college rates of enrollment of these groups were: Asians, 80 percent; whites, 69 percent; Hispanics, 60 percent; and blacks, 57 percent.

"What I am labeling as dishonest, fraudulent or deceitful comes from the fact that many more students are admitted to college than are in fact college-ready. Admitting such students may satisfy the wants and financial interests of the higher education establishment, but whether it serves the interests of students, families, taxpayers and the nation is another question."

Note that across all ethnic lines, students were being admitted to college who did not have the test scores that showed they would succeed. Is the ACT test not in like with information being actually offered in high school classes, are students not taking the right classes, or are they not absorbing the information they will need?

Elsewhere in his article, Williams cites a Philadelphia magazine article which says: "...the percentage of college grads who can read and interpret a food label has fallen from 40 to 30. They are six times likelier to know who won "American Idol" than they are to know the name of the speaker of the House. A high school teacher in California handed out an assignment that required students to use a ruler. Not a single student knew how."

Elsewhere in his article Williams concludes, "To accommodate less college-ready students, colleges must water down their curricula, lower standards, and abandon traditional tools and topics."

I personally know young high school graduates right here in TIMESland who went off to college with full encouragement from high school instructors and advisors and learned after they had invested considerable time and money and incurred more than a little debt, that they were not prepared for the experience.

Pushing kids through high school who for one reason or another do not have the simple knowledge they will need to succeed in life is a service to no one!

CHRISTMAS CRAFTS

Hard as it is to face, Christmas is less than two months away. If you're planning to make some home made gifts, better get started.

You can easily turn plain furry-look slippers into adorable animal slippers with the help of some Piggly eyes, felt scraps in various colors, chenille cord, pompons, fabric glue or a hot glue gun, and soft ribbons. If you're going to use a hot glue gun, have a long tweezers to hold small parts in place while you glue. All the ingredients can be found in the craft department of your favorite big box store. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can find the various colors of felt and other craft items bagged at resale shops like St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill. Let your imagination go wild!

To make kittens or puppies, cut two sets of ears in slightly contrasting felt colors in a shape that suits your imagination. A dog, for example, might have droopy ears, while a kitten has perky, pointy ones. Glue the layers together, then arrange them, along with the eyes, pompons and/or chenille cord for a nose, and whiskers if you're making a cat or a mouse. When you like the arrangement, glue them in place. Dress up with ribbons if you like. You could also use chenille cord to put the child's initials on the side of the slippers if there's room.

COOKIN' TIME

Chilly days and approaching deer season makes this a time for rib sticking meals and for cooking ahead. Today's recipes would make great Deer Camp fare, and they're easy enough to make an inexperienced camp cook look professional.

SLO COOKER SHORT RIB STROGANOFF

Makes eight wonderful servings so easily you won't quite believe it.

5 tablespoons flour, divided

1 tablespoon smoked paprika, divided

4 pounds beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat

2 tablespoons oil

1 package (8 ounces) whole mushrooms, cut in half

1 onion, coarsely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup fat-free reduced-sodium beef broth

3 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 cup sour cream

1 package (16 ounces) egg noodles

Mix 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) flour and 1 teaspoon paprika. Add to ribs; toss to evenly coat. Heat oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add ribs; cook 5 minutes or until evenly browned, turning occasionally. Place ribs in slow cooker; top with remaining paprika, vegetables, garlic, pepper, broth and Worcestershire sauce. Cover with lid. Cook on HIGH 6 hours (or on LOW 8 to 10 hours). Remove ribs from slow cooker; skim surface of sauce. Remove and discard rib bones. Return meat to slow cooker with sour cream and remaining flour; stir. Cook, covered, on LOW 10 to 15 min. or until slightly thickened. Meanwhile, cook noodles as directed on package. Drain noodles; place in large serving bowl. Add meat mixture; stir. Or, keep noodles and meat separate, and add just a little butter to keep the noodles from sticking together. The meat mixture is also wonderful served over mashed potatoes, instant or otherwise.

CHICKEN AND RICE CASSEROLE

This takes a little more work, but it's worth it. Can be made ahead. Loses nothing by being reheated.

1 whole chicken, cut into serving pieces

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 cup water

1 onion, diced

1/3 cup sliced green olives

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

2 tablespoons capers

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

2 teaspoons white sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 cups long grain white rice

4 cups chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season chicken pieces all over with salt and black pepper. Heat two tablespoons oil in a large skillet over high heat. Cook chicken in hot oil until browned, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Pour water over chicken into the skillet and remove from heat. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook and stir onion in hot oil until slightly translucent and softened, about five minutes. Add olives, garlic, paprika, capers, cumin, oregano, and cayenne pepper; cook and stir until fragrant, about one minute. Stir red bell pepper, green bell pepper, sugar, and salt into the onion mixture; cook and stir until mixture is just combined. Add tomato paste; cook and stir until tomato paste is just toasted, about one minute. Pour rice into onion mixture and stir until rice is completely coated in onion mixture. Add chicken broth; stir. Place chicken pieces on top of rice, pressing down lightly until each piece is almost completely immersed in the broth. Pour any accumulated juices from the skillet into the pot. Bring mixture to a simmer and cover the pot with an ovenproof lid. Bake in the preheated oven until chicken is no longer pink at the bone and rice is soft, about 30 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the chicken near the bone should read 165 degrees.

CHEESY EASY CROCKPOT PASTA

You do not stir this until the end, and don't need to cook the pasta ahead of time. Leftovers reheat nicely for another meal. Serve with crusty Italian or French bread and a crunchy green salad.

2 pounds ground beef

1 (8 oz.) block cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 tsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. dried parsley

2 (24 oz.) jars spaghetti sauce, divided use

1 (spaghetti) jar water, divided use

1 (16 oz.) box macaroni or other sturdy pasta

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Brown and crumble the beef and season to taste with salt and pepper. Go a little easy on the salt because of all the cheese you'll add later. Drain any excess grease. In a medium bowl, mix together cream cheese, sour cream, ricotta cheese, minced garlic and parsley. In the bottom of a 6 quart (or larger) slow cooker, add half a jar of spaghetti sauce. Add half the box of pasta. You don't need to cook it first. Pour remaining jar of spaghetti sauce over noodles. Pour on half a jar of water. Top with half the ground beef, then dollop the entire cream cheese mixture evenly as possible over the beef layer. Do not stir. Add the remaining jar spaghetti sauce, and then pour another half jar of water on top of it. Add the rest of the ground beef. Cover and cook on low for about 4-6 hours. Top with the two cups shredded mozzarella cheese. Cover and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

NIKKI'S ECLAIR TORTE

It's a wonderful day in the life of a grandmother who loves to cook when the time comes to start asking for recipes from her granddaughter. That happened to me not long ago when she sent not one or two pieces, but an entire batch of this marvelous dessert. She is right when she says it's quick, cheap and tasty! Needs to be made a day ahead too, so it's perfect for when you're preparing for the annual gathering of the clan for Deer Season.

1(1-pound) box graham crackers

2 (3 1/4-ounce) boxes instant vanilla or French vanilla pudding mix

3 1/2 cups milk

8 ounces real whipping cream, whipped

1 can chocolate frosting (or make your own with the recipe below)

Eclair Cake Frosting:

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1/2 cup cocoa

3 tablespoons butter, softened

1/3 cup milk

2 teaspoons light corn syrup

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Butter the bottom of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch pan and line it with a single layer of whole graham crackers. Whip the cream. In a second bowl, use an electric mixer to mix the milk and pudding mix. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Fold in whipped cream. (You can use an 8-ounce container of thawed frozen whipped topping). It's easier, but not quite as good. Pour half the pudding mixture over graham crackers. Place another layer of whole graham crackers on top of pudding layer. Pour over remaining half of pudding mixture and cover with another layer of graham crackers. Melt the canned frosting and pour over the top of the final layer of graham crackers. Or make your own frosting by blending together the sugar and cocoa. Add butter and milk, mixing well. Add corn syrup and vanilla. Stir until creamy. Cover cake with frosting. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or better yet, 24 hours. It's the sitting time that softens the graham crackers and turns the whole thing into a wonderful cake-like dish of deliciousness. Serve with additional whipped topping if you want to gild the lily. It's good both ways!

Tip: If you start by whipping the cream, then mix the pudding and then make the frosting you can use the same beaters without washing them in between. Also, you can use the bowl in which you whipped the cream to make the frosting. Anything to save cleanup time.

Country Cousin

Thought for the week:
Please readers, join in offering this prayer often between today and the closing of the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8: "Please, Lord, guide the voters of America. Help our nation elect the best candidate for president, the person who will work most effectively to serve You and to protect the values and the freedoms that we hold dear. And help us elect the Congressional leaders best able to help that new president get the job done in a way that is pleasing to You. 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 715-291-9002 or by e-mail to shirleyprudhommechickadee@yahoo.com.)


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