December 20, 2014

Recipe Corner: Christmas treats


By Ginger Isham

Many years ago, I had a fruitcake recipe that I made for the holidays right after Thanksgiving. It made three loaves and kept very well, soaked with rum. The following recipe is my substitute until I find the real thing again.

Fruitcake Squares
6 tablespoons butter, melted
4 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
3/4 cup each green and red candied cherries, halved
1/2 cup chopped candied pineapple
3/4 cup chopped dates
1 cup pecan halves
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
Pour melted butter into a 9×13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle wafer crumbs evenly over butter. Arrange cherries, pineapple, dates and pecans evenly over crumbs. Press down gently over all. Mix milk and vanilla and pour over top. Bake at 350 degrees fro 20-25 minutes.

Merry Christmas Scones
(from a Country Woman magazine 1992)
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cold butter
1 cup eggnog
1 cup pecans  (I use coarsely chopped rather than whole ones)
1/2 cup each green and red candied cherries, cut up
Mix flour, salt and baking powder. Cut in butter. Stir in eggnog until moist. Add cherries and pecans and mix until all blended. Knead on floured surface 10 times and pat into a round or square shape to about one-half inch thick. Cut into slices and place on baking sheet. Bake in 400-degree oven for 12-15 minutes. Cool slightly. Make a glaze of confectioners sugar, cream (I use half and half) and rum or vanilla flavoring. You could use eggnog in place of cream.

Verse: Some grandmas have limousines and the biggest homes you’ve every seen.
But my grandma is best by far—for she has a cookie jar!
Merry Christmas all!

Ginger Isham lives with her husband on a fifth generation family farm on Oak Hill Road.

Little Details: A Christmas Wish


By Kathering Bielawa Stamper

The image on the small card is of a little girl, wearing a blue cape with tufts of reddish hair peeking out from under her hood. She stopped on a snowy path to pet a deer. Her basket of apples rests near her feet. A little brown rabbit watches from the distance.
One Christmas, when I was around eight years old, my father gave each of his four daughters lovely little foil cards in envelopes bulging with coins, tips he’d earned tending bar at his second job. The printed message inside my card read, “A Christmas wish for happiness.” My father signed in his distinctive Polish script, “from Daddy.”
Even as a little child, I recognized the specialness of this gift, one Daddy had hand-picked for each of his daughters. I kept the card; it eventually landed in my scrapbook.
I remember saving some of the coins for collections at church, perhaps at the urging of my father. The rest were likely spent on treats at the local Richdale convenience store. I probably loaded up on malted milk balls and Bazooka Bubble Gum, the kind with comics on the wrappers.
My immigrant parents worked hard to create a nice holiday for our little family on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. With Poland burdened by a failing communist economy and doomed political system, there were never gifts for us from grandma, aunties or uncles. We shared what we had in America in packages sent to family in Poland. Coffee, chocolate, peanut butter, Cremora and Spam were common inclusions. My mother also sent clothes in heavy cloth parcels she stitched shut by hand.
Christmas Eve arrived with our house smelling of sweet yeast breads and pastries with poppy seed, prune and apricot fillings. Mushroom soup and cabbage soup and dumplings called pierogi all made appearances at our family table. We shared a special Christmas wafer called oplatek, wishing each other health and happiness in the coming year. We’d each open one present by the tree and then take a nap before rising to attend Midnight Mass at the Polish church.
As we got older and moved to college, we looked forward to travelling home for Christmas to partake in the food and traditions of our childhood. Walking into the house, feeling the warmth of the stove, and smelling familiar, festive aromas were welcome treats following the intense stress of exams.
My father, normally a man of mild disposition, tended to grow grumpy as the holiday festivities neared. This became more apparent as we entered adulthood, or maybe we just noticed it more then. He was never violent, just grouchy and seemingly sad.
Finally, one Christmas, my father told my younger sister, “There was no Christmas in the camps.”
Our father spent the Christmases of 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1944 as a teenager in slave labor camps in Nazi Germany. The Germans stole four years of his youth as he was imprisoned, abused and isolated from his family. The trauma left its indelible mark.
This will be our 18th Christmas since my father passed away. There is no more midnight Mass at the Polish church of my childhood. The Archdiocese of Boston closed St. Joseph’s in Peabody in 1997. Every Christmas with my daughter has been a Christmas without my dad.
We no longer travel to Massachusetts for Christmas, opting to create our own holiday traditions at home in Vermont. We’ll attend our church on Christmas Eve, sharing oplatek and traditional Polish foods in a candlelight picnic beside our illuminated tree and fireplace. We’ll share Christmas dinner with friends and sing carols while feigning British accents. I guess that’s become our tradition.
The holiday season can be a particularly sad time as memories of sometimes unhappy Christmases past can darken the experience of Christmas present. Similarly, memories of happier times can magnify grief for those experiencing loss during the holidays.
Holidays are meant to be happy times of sharing and good cheer. It is important to be patient with ourselves and others as we navigate the calendar through this expectation-laden, memory-conjuring time.
Decades later as I read the card from my dad wishing me happiness, I can say, with gratitude, “Thanks, Dad. Your wish came true.”
Dear readers, I wish you happiness, too.
Katherine Bielawa Stamper, a Williston resident, was a 2013 finalist for the Coolidge Prize for Journalism.  Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected]

Letters to the Editor


Thanks to sponsors
The Williston Girl Scouts (and the community!) would like to thank the local businesses that donated items for our Annual Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony, which was held on Dec. 7 at the town gazebo. It brings the holiday spirit and much joy to many of us!
—Williston Girl Scouts

Rudolph’s birthday and anniversary
Fifty years ago, Dec. 6, 1964, “Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer” was shown on television for the first time. Seventy-five years ago, in 1939, an employee of Montgomery Ward, Robert May, was asked by his boss to design a booklet for Christmas as a promotional giveaway.
At the time, his wife was dying of cancer and his heart was not into the project, but it did give him something else to think about. He thought about how much his granddaughter loved reindeer—could he use reindeer in the promotional booklet? While walking home one evening on a foggy night ,the idea came to him. How about a reindeer with a red nose to help Santa find the children’s homes on a foggy Christmas Eve? He remembered the story of the ugly duckling and how every child at some time feels left out. But his boss and coworkers didn’t think it was a good idea. They related a red nose to someone who has had too much to drink. Robert went to a nearby zoo with an artist friend to sketch a little reindeer with a big red nose. It was so cute, it was accepted by his boss and coworkers.
A few months later, Robert’s wife died. His boss thought he should relieve Robert of his commitment to the project, but Robert told him he needed this Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer more than ever. So, he developed the story that became a favorite of children everywhere. More than 2 million copies of Robert’s story was printed and distributed all over the country that year.
Our 6-year-old grandson, Charlie, who has Down’s syndrome, is our Rudolph. When he mimics dad and characters on the television, dances to his favorite song, high-fives, waves to old and new friends and teachers at school and freely gives hugs when asked, he lights up many hearts.
—Ginger Isham

How the legislature works


By State Representatives
Terry Macaig and Jim McCullough
The legislature will convene on Jan. 7, 2015. Due to the lack of a majority vote in this year’s election for governor, the full legislature will elect the governor. We will also elect a speaker of the house and president pro tem of the Senate. The president pro tem presides over the Senate when the lieutenant governor is not available. All 150 representatives, 30 senators and state officials from the governor on down will be sworn in and the hard work will begin. The speaker will assign each House member to one of 14 standing committees and the Senate Committee on Committees will appoint each Senator to at least two of the 11 standing committees. Half of the committees meet in the morning, the other half in the afternoon. House members have more time to work on bills in detail as they spend all day in one committee. Senate members divide their time in both morning and afternoon committee sessions.
A group of non-partisan in-house attorneys, each with their specific expertise, is employed by the state as a Legislative Council. They draft bills as requested by the various representatives and senators. Often, a constituent will ask to have a bill introduced. The bill is read for the first time and sent to the committee of jurisdiction in the House or Senate. More than 1,200 bills are introduced during the two-year cycle. The committee will hear from the legislative sponsor of the bill and decide whether or not to take it up for a full hearing. A bill is almost never voted out of committee in the same form it enters, as people from all sides of the issue have their say on it and may offer amendments. A Legislative Council attorney is always present for bill research in committee, giving legal advice and rewriting the bill as directed by the committee chair. Once a bill is thoroughly vetted by the committee and voted out, it is sent to the floor of the House or Senate for second reading and vote. If it passes second reading, it is read a third time and voted on. If the bill passes third reading, it is sent to the other body to go through the same process of readings and committee action. If both houses agree on the wording, it is sent to the governor for signature. If there is disagreement between the two houses, then the bill goes back to the committee that started the process. That committee can agree with the other body and send it to the floor for a vote or it can disagree and ask for a Committee of Conference to be formed to work out the differences.
This committee is made up of six members, three each from the House and Senate. If they come to agreement, the bill is sent back to both chambers for an up-or-down vote without amendment. If the bill passes both chambers, it is sent to the governor for signature. As you can see, this is a lengthy process and few bills make it through the full process each year.
For the most part, polarization and partisan politics are most evident in the House and Senate chambers during debate. Lines in the sand may have been drawn according to political party core values. The “give and take of reasonable people” is more the norm in daily committee action as bills are being discussed. Compromise that Vermonters expect is the author of the final product prior to second reading.
The two weeks before end of session are quite exciting. Bills that have not moved out of committee are often tacked on to must-pass bills or others that have a good chance of passing. If they have not had hearings and been properly vetted, their chances of passage are slim.
Representatives and Senators are elected for two-year terms. They are paid a weekly salary with an allowance for transportation and meals with housing (if staying in Montpelier) only when the legislature is in session, usually from January to mid-May. They are also paid on a daily basis if their committee or a special committee meets after the session ends. While they may know generally of all bills introduced, they specialize in the bills that their committee is working on. Do not hesitate to ask your legislator the status of a particular bill. They may not be aware immediately, but can check with the committee chair or Legislative Council on it. You can go to the Legislative website to view bills “as introduced,” as well as track their progress (if taken up) in committee by viewing the weekly agenda for the committee of jurisdiction for your issue.
The public is always welcome to sit in on committee meetings and, in most instances, may testify if they request, in advance, to be on the agenda. There is a huge amount of information available on the website that is well worth becoming familiar with.
An integral part of the Legislature is the legislative pages. Thirty eighth grade students are selected each year from across the state to deliver messages and watch the legislative process. Ten pages each work six-week sessions, live in Montpelier four days a week and get paid for their efforts. We encourage students to apply for this unique experience next summer.
We are continually amazed how long it takes to get things done while, at the same time, how fast things happen. At any given moment, the Legislature is like your best and worst day at university; complete with your best and worst professors.
The Legislature works best when you do your civic duty and communicate with your legislator. And good government is a participation sport.
Jim McCullough and Terry Macaig are Williston’s state representatives. Their contact information is listed on page 6 of the Observer each week.