Country CousinIssue Date: April 3, 2022
Spaghetti trees and Taco Bells....
April Fools Day is coming up on Friday, April 1. What with the Covid restrictions, distrust of election outcomes, constraints on free speech, and now the war in Ukraine, things have been a bit grim for all of us in recent months. As a society, we seem to have forgotten how to make - and take - a joke.
April 1 is traditionally the day for pranking, and we all could use a good laugh or two. Let's put a little effort into contriving pranks that puts a bit of fun in the day without hurting anyone.
The lingering winter weather around here hasn't helped any, and forecasters don't expect it to get much better for at least the next week.
Whoever took Global Warming, sure do wish they'd give it back. That said, the somewhat early springs of recent years have us spoiled. When I was a kid, we used to toss snowballs on days in late April, while we joked about the notion of having fresh flowers to pick for May baskets on May 1, and we certainly teased the grandmother who said if you wanted a good crop of peas they had to be planted on Good Friday. Always told her she could go outside, shovel away the snow and drill holes in the frozen ground to plant those peas if she wanted to, but we weren't going to help. That attitude is probably why peas almost never did well in my garden.
Not only are eggs in short supply these days, County Supervisor Robert Holley, who produces some wonderful maple syrup on his farm in the Beaver/Pound area says the sap isn't running well at all so far this year. Night time temperatures have been too cold and daytime temperatures aren't warm enough to allow good sap production. However, it is getting later in the season, once temperatures warm they may get too warm.
Maple sap production is best when night temperatures are slightly below freezing and daytime temperatures a bit above, so Holley expects the sap run season will be short this year, even if it is sweet.
Whatever the quantity available, real maple syrup, made from trees growing right here in TIMESLand, is infinitely better than any imitation maple syrup could even dream of being!
Sympathies go to the folks in the Amberg/Athelstane areas, where power went out during the snow and ice storm in the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 23 , and wasn't restored in many places until late Friday or early Saturday. That's a long time to go without heat, lights or hot coffee when temperatures are far, far below freezing. Hope there weren't too many frozen water pipes!
That said, pictures show that the storm turned the entire countryside into a winter wonderland.
Totally beautiful if you were inside a home with wood heat (and cooking facilities) while you looked out at it.
Not so great if you were struggling to keep your vehicle on an icy snow filled road, or huddled up in boots and jackets while you were struggling with the generator or trying to find some other way to keep warm.
Don't forget to go to the polls and vote on Tuesday, April 5. But if you aren't acquainted with candidates and issues, please ask a knowledgeable person that you trust who to vote for and why, or do some research on your own. If you aren't willing to put in that little effort, then please stay home. The future of our government is too precious to trust to chance.
Sure, that idea is contrary to all the get out the vote campaigns, but honestly, isn't a bad vote worse than none?
Especially in elections for local office, you can even telephone candidates to get their views. Most of them would welcome your call. If they don't, you don't want to vote for them anyway!
Back to ideas for pranking. If you share your life with a prankster, beware! And potential pranksters - be aware and have fun!
An Internet-related prank making the rounds a few decades ago instructed computer users to disconnect modems and other devices from March 31 through April 2, while the Information Highway was closed for spring cleaning. Technologists would be cleaning up odd bits of information floating around on its connecting arteries which might end up lodged in your computer if it remained connected. We understand untold thousands of otherwise normal and intelligent people dismantled their systems so that wouldn't happen.
This prank seems to be a new twist on an old one that came out when telephones were fairly new. Gullible phone customers for years dutifully covered the ends of their telephones on April 1 to catch dust that might be blown out during the annual spring cleanup of telephone lines.
News media love to get in on the April 1 game. Wish we could come up with a good one. I'm told it's been done here at the PT, but not in recent years.
Back in 1933 the Madison Capital Times ran a made-up front page photo of the Wisconsin State Capitol dome collapsing, victim of a series of explosions caused by "large quantities of gas, generated through many weeks of verbose debate in the Senate and Assembly chambers."
Some readers who swallowed the story were reportedly outraged to find out they'd been hoaxed. No sense of humor at all! Guess 1933 wasn't a very funny year, what with the Depression and all.
Seriously, the capitol at Madison could be in danger from the same cause today, and the capitol in Washington, DC would be in far greater danger.
Even better was an announcement by Taco Bell Corporation in 1996 that in a patriotic effort to reduce the national debt they had purchased the Liberty Bell and were renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. They said the revered national artifact would be kept available for public viewing, and expressed hope other corporations would make similar purchases to help the cause.
That surprise announcement brought hundreds of outraged calls to the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell resides. The national attention also bought Taco Bell a lot of free advertising, and about half a million dollars worth of added business that week.
Quick witted Mike McCurry, who was White House press secretary at the time, revealed his Irish humor when he came out with an immortal line of his own. Quizzed about the Liberty Bell sale, he not only confirmed that report, he said the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold to a large corporation. It would now be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
On April 1, 1957, BBC's broadcasting network aired a three-minute video segment, which showed farmers in Switzerland "harvesting" a rare delicacy from a grove of trees: spaghetti. They then were lying the fresh spaghetti strands out in the sun in large baskets to dry.
The segment was done by a normally serous news reporter, and was so believable that hundreds of viewers called in demanding to know how to grow their own "spaghetti trees."
After the segment aired, hundreds of people called into the BBC, expressing awe at the video, and wondering how they could get their very own spaghetti tree, to grow their own noodles at home. Keeping up with the joke, the BBC's official was to "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."
Yours truly fell for the prank half a century later, and ran a report on a new hybrid vegetable developed in Italy. The long vegetable strands grew on trees and were known as "Tree Spaghetti."
Which reminds me of a man who owned a family bar up on Highway C just east of Silver Cliff. His bar had a window overlooking an orchard in the back yard.
Families often stopped on their way up to cottages on Friday nights, or after church on Sundays.
The bar owner said he sometimes would lay strands of raw spaghetti on low hanging branches of the trees on the evening before a predicted drizzly rain, and they would go limp overnight. (I think he made that up. It would be a lot easier to hang cooked spaghetti.)
Anyway, he said he'd ask visiting kiddos to go out and pick him some spaghetti, and they were happy to do it.
Everyone who cooks knows that the watched pot never boils. We also know that as soon as you turn your back, that pot will not only boil, it will boil over, especially if you're cooking something like spaghetti, that leaves a gooey mess on the stove.
To prevent spaghetti boil overs, add a tablespoon or so of butter to the cooking water. The bit of butter prevents boil-overs, and adds a smidgeon of extra flavor as well, for very few calories, so you really can't lose.
Not sure, but think adding a bit of cooking oil to the pot would do the same thing, but butter is better.
It's Lent, Easter is less than three weeks off, but chill winds blow and the yards we would love to be working in are still frozen. Time to brew up a great batch of soup, and then bake some goodies to freeze for the fine Spring days that are coming - days when we won't want to be indoors cooking. By the way - eggs have been getting hard to find, so if you have an opportunity buy what you need for Easter now. They will still be good to eat after you find the Bunny's hiding places...unless of course that takes you months instead of hours.
HEALTHY SEAFOOD CHOWDER
For a less healthy, but even more delicious version, forego the low sodium, no fat idea. Use whole milk and a dollop of cream, and perhaps add a small pat of butter to each bowl. After all, some of us are on diets and some of us are not.
1 tablespoon butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 carrot, grated
2 cups cubed potatoes or sweet potatoes
2 cups low fat and low sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 bay leaves
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup skim milk
1 can clams including juice
1 pound fish, shrimp and/or scallops, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion, celery, and carrot and sauté ten minutes or until tender. Add the potatoes, chicken broth, and seasonings and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer until potatoes are cooked through and are tender if poked with a fork. Remove the bay leaf and throw it away. Mix the flour and water until smooth and whisk into the simmering chowder. Stir until thickened, and let it simmer for at least five minutes. Add the milk and the can of clams and stir until combined and has returned to a boil. Add the remaining seafood and simmer about ten minutes. Serve garnished with chopped parsley, perhaps a sprinkle of paprika, and possibly that little dab of butter mentioned earlier.
Tired of the same old foods? Try these stuffed pancake turnovers with a variety of sweet or savory fillings. The pancake batter must be thin enough to really spread out or you'll end up with a raw center. According to friend Linda, her friend George is totally obsessed by her invention of "The Savory Pocket'. The pancake turnovers can also be filled cream cheese and/or jam or pie filling for a quick and easy way to fill a sweet tooth. This recipe only serves 2 or 3 hungry kids.
1 1/4 cups of low fat milk.
3/4 cup plain flour.
1/4 cup of whole grain flour.
fillings for pancakes such as cheese, bacon, mushroom, garlic, etc., or a sweet filling
Make the pancake mixture by mixing the milk, flour and eggs in a bowl until smooth. Use a blender, electric mixer or food processor if you like. Let the batter rest in the fridge for at least half an hour before cooking. Use this time to prepare the pocket fillings. Gently fry chopped mushrooms with garlic. Microwave some chopped bacon covered with a paper towel to stop splattering. Gently fry some onions and/or green peppers. Grate some cheese. Be sure the fillings are ready to go before starting to cook the pancakes. When the batter and fillings are ready, gently pour some into a fairly hot, lightly oiled non stick fry pan large enough to let it really spread out. Let it cook until bubbles start to appear, usually about 2 minutes or so. Quickly turn the pancake and immediately put a small amount of each filling that you like - cheese, bacon, onion, and/or mushroom - onto one half of the turned pancake. Do not overfill. Fold one half of the pancake over the filling so that it covers the filled half. It should look like a slightly puffy half moon. Seal the edges with your egg flipper/or a fork. If it's well sealed you should now be able to gently flip and further cook the other side for about another 30 seconds. This basic pancake mixture is delicious served with many fillings/toppings sweet or savory: such as honey, lemon juice, maple syrup, bananas, pears, smoked chicken, ham, herbs, feta cheese etc.
Make these ahead and freeze to have special treats available whenever company comes to call. Remember when making these that only real butter will do, and a electric mixer is almost a necessity. Eggs need to be added one at a time, and each must be beaten into the mixture completely before the next egg is added. Do not rush this step. Once you put the pan into the oven, resist any urge to open the door for the first 15 minutes. If taken out too early, or even looked at too early, they may collapse. They can have either a sweet filling of whipped cream, custard or other, or savory, for example tuna salad. Make them large like the State Fair variety, or small to be bite size treats, and adjust baking time accordingly.
2 cups water
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups unbleached white flour
7 large eggs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line shallow baking pans with parchment paper, spray lightly, and set aside. Boil water, butter and salt together in a large saucepan. Turn heat to medium and add flour all at once. On low-medium heat, beat constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball and leaves sides of pan for approximately 3-4 minutes. Transfer mixture to a high-speed mixer with a stainless steel bowl. Beat for 2-3 minutes on low speed, preferably with paddle attachment, which allows the mixture to cool down slightly. Turn mixer to medium and add eggs one at a time, beating after each egg. This should take 2 to 3 minutes. The dough is ready when it forms together and comes away from the bowl, which could take up to a total of 10 minutes. Spoon pastry into large pastry bag or plastic zipper bag with a corner cut out, or simply use a spoon. Pipe or spoon into puffs or eclairs, making them whatever size you need, leaving a few inches between. Bake at 400 degrees for 25-35 minutes, depending on size, or until the outside is golden brown, crisp and dry and they sound hollow. (Some cooks say cook at 400 degrees for perhaps 15 to 20 minutes, and then at 350 degrees for another 15 minutes or so. Store the unfilled puffs in a sealed container. These freeze well, making it easy to pop out a few when you need them.
EASY CREAM PUFF FILLING
2 packages vanilla instant pudding mix
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Beat all the ingredients together until the mixture gets a bit thick and fluffy. Cover and refrigerate until set. Then use it to fill the cooled cream puff shells.
The Country Cousin
Thought or the week: Read a recent joke that perhaps God gives each of us gifts, but some of us never bother to open the package. Lord, give me the grace to use wisely the gifts You have given me, for my good and for the benefit of the ones I hold dear. And help me, Lord, help all of us, to accept the gifts You so generously offer, and to understand that though You do not always give us what we want, You do always give us what we should have.
(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 email@example.com.)
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