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A Letter From Kate

Dear Readers,
I have to admit, I love Valentine's Day. From the time I was a small child until I was in high school, my mom left gifts from the 'Valentine Cupid' in my sister's and my bedrooms. The gifts weren't too extravagant - usually just candy and a stuffed animal or a small piece of jewelry - but I loved the surprise of waking up and finding a card and a small token of my parents' affection. My parents were married on Valentine's Day, so maybe that's why the holiday is even more special to them.

When I was in grade school, I anxiously awaited going to school on Feb. 14. I could hardly wait until the end of the day, when my classmates and I were able to put away our books and prepare for our party. It was exciting to go through the valentines my friends had deposited in the box on my desk. I enjoyed the party refreshments and games, but I think I looked forward to opening the valentines even more.

As I got older, I still enjoyed Valentine's Day. Occasionally when I was in high school I would receive flowers at school from a boyfriend. I recall one year when I had broken up with a boy just days before Feb. 14, and my parents sent me flowers because they knew it would cheer me up. It still thrills me to receive flowers on Valentine's Day, and it's fun to see the flowers delivered to other people in my office as well.

I may not manage to send out Christmas cards each year, but I like to send valentines to my friends, because for adults, they're an unexpected surprise.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Kate Marchbanks


Together With God

Those elected to office have a daunting task to serve the public's welfare. We've had some good presidents, and we've had a few who left us wanting better from their performances. It takes a special person to even try to fulfill such a challenge, much less to succeed at the task.

I know, when I served as president of a local club, the problems I had with calming the nerves and satisfying the needs of all club members. It seemed that no matter what I did, or thought was a great solution, there were always opposing opinions on the subject. I've often imagined the president pacing the Oval Office, desperately seeking the answer to a problem.

Father, thank You for those who feel the need and obligation to serve the public's welfare by holding office. Guide them in their tough decisions by providing them with a strong heart and wisdom. Give them the strength needed to prevail through the hard times and lead our country. Amen.

- D. Susan Rutz


Remains impressed by President Roosevelt

President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a lasting impression on me. I was in the eighth grade as I stood beside the radio in our farm kitchen on Dec. 8, 1941, and listened to the president declare war.

In addition to dealing with the war, it must have been a huge task for President Roosevelt to manage the home front, with the wartime rationing and shortages. Other aspects of the president's life that left an impression on me include his dog, Fala, and his success in spite of the handicap he hid so well.

I guess I was too young then to realize that life for him and his family was not perfect, but my impression of him remains.

Breda, Iowa


Met president as a young girl

The president who had the most impact on my life was President Richard Nixon. He was probably the first president I was able to recognize as a child.

When I was a little girl, my family and I, along with several other Iowans, met President Nixon at our local airport. He was on one of his political trips to the Midwest.

Not too long after meeting the president, my mother wrote to him, asking for his autograph and to let him know that my great-grandmother shared his birthday. A few weeks later, we received his autograph on official White House stationery. I shared it with all of my classmates at school during a show-and-tell session.

A year or so after that, President Nixon was on TV for his role in Watergate. I remember watching television the day he left office and boarded the helicopter on the White House lawn. Each year, I am surprised when thoughts of him come to mind on April 22, the anniversary of his death.

It was a sad day for many, and especially to a child who did not understand the political side of things, but rather related to a human being who had made a serious mistake.

Reston, Va.


Carter set wonderful example

Before Jimmy Carter ran for president, I thought one had to be rich and from a famous family to be president. Then I realized that any person could be president.

And he was not just any person; he was a farmer. He was born in a small town, he had working parents, and he went to public school. It was an eye-opener for me.

Like most farmers, he loved the land and expanded the national park system to include protection of Alaskan lands. He did not let others tell him how to be president; he followed his own beliefs. I admire his continuing work with Habitat for Humanity.

Jimmy Carter does more than just talk about giving; he sets an example. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson are the only other presidents to be honored that way.

Jimmy Carter was my hero when he was president, and he continues to set a wonderful example for this country.

Clarksdale, Mo.

Truman always meant what he said

The president I admired most was Harry Truman.

I was privileged to hear him speak one year in the 1940s in the small town of Dexter, Iowa, at a farm gathering. I was impressed with his down-to-earth talk and the ideas he was proposing for the United States.

He was a common man who could talk to a farmer or an aristocrat. The sign on his desk in Washington, D.C., read 'The buck stops here,' and he meant it.

He was a president who made up his own mind. His wife, while it appeared she stayed in the background, was a helpmate to him. The incident in which he threatened to punch the nose of a music editor who criticized his daughter's singing showed that he was a parent who did not like to hear derogatory remarks about his child. He wasn't afraid to say what he meant.

When President Roosevelt died and Truman had to step in, many people wondered how this man from Missouri could ever lead our country out of World War II. They needn't have worried. He used common sense, something that is lacking these days.

At the time Truman was president, there were people who thought his ideas and decisions were lacking, but history proved them wrong. President Harry Truman was one of the best presidents the country has ever known.

The state of Missouri had to be very proud of one of its own.

Exira, Iowa


The joys of being a grandparent

Most parents look forward to becoming a grandparent. And many of today's grandparents enjoy having an active part in their grandchildren's lives.

What have been your biggest joys as a grandparent? Did you learn from the example of your grandparents? What does it take to be a good grandparent? Tell us your stories about grandparenting.

Send your letters to Kate Marchbanks, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265.

Hot, hearty chili is a welcome meal on cold winter days

Chili originated as a way to make great-tasting, tough cuts of meat tender, so it's easy on the budget and tastes even better if made ahead. For fresh, juicy crunch, try topping chili with chopped sweet onions.

OSO Sweet onions are grown at the foot of Chile's Andes Mountains, where perfect growing conditions produce large, juicy onions with record-high sugar content, crisp texture and mild flavor that doesn't kick back. They also contain phytochemicals that can reduce the risk of cancer and protect against heart disease. So load up your chili with sweet onions, and to sop up those delicious juices, serve with warm cornbread. Round out the meal with colorful slaw, and you've got a healthy feast.  

Cincinnati-Style Turkey Chili

Spaghetti topped with chili, cheese and onions makes a hearty meal.

1/4 cup canola oil, divided
3 pounds ground turkey
1 sweet onion, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 can (12 oz.) tomato paste, diluted in 1 quart water
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
4 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 pound spaghetti
1 can (15 oz.) dark red kidney beans, rinsed, drained and heated
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 sweet onion, chopped

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat half of oil and brown turkey. Remove and reserve.

Add remaining oil to same pot; lightly brown onion and garlic. Stir in remaining ingredients, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper, and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaves before serving.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add spaghetti and cook until 'al dente.' Drain well; place in a large serving bowl. Top with chili. Serve with desired garnishes. Yields 8 servings.

Confetti Cornbread

Bright bell peppers add spots of color to this warm, soft cornbread.

1 sweet onion, diced
2 red, green OR yellow bell peppers, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1/2-pound bag (or 2 cups) frozen corn
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 cups buttermilk
6 eggs

Heat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

In a large skillet, fry onions and peppers in butter until crisp-tender. Remove from heat, stir in corn and set skillet aside.

In a large bowl combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt.

Lightly beat together melted butter, buttermilk and eggs. Pour into flour mixture and whisk together until just combined. Fold in vegetables.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until cornbread is set in center. Yields 8 servings.

Texas Beef Chili

This chili will warm you up on a cold day.

8 dried ancho chiles, trimmed and seeded
1/4 cup canola oil, divided
3 pounds ground beef, preferably coarse-ground chuck
1 sweet onion, diced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 cans (15 oz. each) pinto beans
Salt to taste
Chopped colorful bell peppers for garnish

Soak dried chiles in 1 quart warm water to soften, about 15 minutes. In a blender, purée chiles with their liquid.

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat half of oil and brown beef. Remove and reserve.

Add remaining oil to same pan, and lightly brown onion and garlic. Stir in paprika, cumin, oregano and allspice. Add chile purée, beef, beans and salt to taste, and bring to boiling. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, or until chili is rich and concentrated.

Serve with chopped bell peppers for garnish. Yields 8 servings.

Vegetarian Chili

A mixture of fresh vegetables and beans add flavor and texture to this chunky, zesty chili.

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 carrots, diced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 can (28 oz.) chopped tomatoes
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 small celery root, peeled and diced
1 bag (1 lb.) frozen corn
2 cans (15 oz. each) dark red kidney beans
2 cans (15 oz. each) black beans
Salt to taste
1/4 cup chili powder
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven. Add onion, carrots and garlic; cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Add tomatoes, butternut squash and celery root; bring to boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chili has thickened. Yields 8 servings.

Veggie Slaw

Cool, crunchy slaw is a great accompaniment for chili.

3/4 cup canola oil
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons coarse mustard
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 teaspoons celery seeds
Salt and black pepper to taste
Vegetables: (or substitute 2 pounds precut slaw mix)
1 head curly cabbage, shredded
1 small head red cabbage, shredded
1 pound carrots, shredded
2 red, green OR yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced sweet onion

Whisk together dressing ingredients. Toss with vegetables; season to taste and marinate in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving. Yields 8 servings.

Light, classic desserts taste better with a touch of magic

It's been called 'magic.' At least that's how it seemed in 1856 when Gail Borden transformed fresh milk into safe and shelf-stable sweetened condensed milk.

Eagle Brand first became a staple during the Civil War, when troops needed milk that wouldn't spoil. When the two World Wars brought rationing and shortages to American households, Eagle Brand proudly provided a 'magic' way to make desserts. Today, Eagle Brand is still America's most trusted sweetened condensed milk.

Celebration Lime Cheesecake Bars

This recipe combines two popular desserts.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
7 tablespoons butter OR margarine, softened and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/3 cup flaked coconut, packed
2 packages (8 oz. each) plain cream cheese, softened
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup lime juice

Heat oven to 400°F.

With a mixer fitted with flat paddle, combine flour and sugar; add butter and egg yolk; blend until combined. Mix in coconut. Press dough evenly into the bottom of a greased 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until edge of crust is golden brown. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

With a mixer, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Add eggs; mix until just combined. Stir in lime juice. Pour batter over baked crust. Once oven has cooled to 350°F, bake for 17 to 22 minutes, or until center is set.

Cool. Cover and chill for 2 hours. Serve with toppings (optional, recipes follow). Cover and store leftovers in refrigerator. Yields 18 to 20 bars.

Quick Mixed Berry Sauce

1 cup raspberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1 cup blueberries
1 cup diced strawberries

In a large bowl, combine raspberries, lemon juice and sugar. Using a large fork or potato masher, smash berries to make a purée. Fold in blueberries and strawberries. Store, covered, in refrigerator. Yields 2 1/2 cups.

Quick Raspberry Sauce

2 packages (12 oz. each) frozen raspberries, thawed
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender; mix until smooth. Store, covered, in refrigerator. Yields 3 cups.

Mixed Fruit Salsa

1 mango, peeled, pitted and diced
1 cup chopped pineapple
1 cup diced strawberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Chill for at least 1 hour. Stir before serving. Yields 2 1/2 cups.

White Chocolate Glaze with Toasted Coconut and Pecans

4 tablespoons butter OR margarine, divided
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 1/4 cups white chocolate chips OR white vanilla chips
1/4 cup lime juice

In a skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add coconut and pecans; continue mixing until coconut is light brown. Remove from heat. Cool.

In a large bowl, combine chips, lime juice and remaining butter. Microwave on medium-high for 30 to 40 seconds. Mix until smooth. Pour glaze over bars, spreading evenly. Top with coconut mixture.

Coconut Macaroons

These delicious cookies are simple to make.

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1 egg white, whipped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 package (14 oz.) flaked coconut

Heat oven to 325°F. Line baking sheets with foil; grease and flour foil. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk, egg white, extracts and coconut; mix well. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets; slightly flatten each mound with a spoon.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until lightly browned around edges. Immediately remove from baking sheets (macaroons will stick if allowed to cool); cool on wire racks. Store, loosely covered, at room temperature. Yields about 4 dozen.

To make Macaroon Kisses: Prepare and bake as above. Press solid milk chocolate candy piece in center of each macaroon immediately after baking.

Magic Lemon Pie

Created in the early 1900s, this pie was touted as 'magic.'

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind OR 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
2 eggs, separated
1 (8- or 9-inch) graham cracker OR baked pie crust
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 tablespoons sugar

Heat oven to 325°F.

In a medium bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, lemon rind or extract, and egg yolks; stir until mixture thickens. Pour into chilled graham cracker crust or cooled pie crust.

In a medium bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar on medium speed, 1 tablespoon at a time; beat 4 minutes longer, or until sugar is dissolved and stiff glossy peaks form.

Spread meringue over pie, carefully sealing to edge of crust to prevent meringue from shrinking. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until meringue is lightly browned. Cool. Store leftovers, covered, in refrigerator. Yields one pie.