IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  December 1, 2010

Plum Pudding for the Christmas Season

Thoughts of plum pudding conjure up verses from "The Night Before Christmas" and English carolers decked out in caps and scarves.

The touted Christmas dish hasn't been popular in the United States for some time, but this could be the year it comes back!

Old plum pudding was a dessert filled with an abundance of sweets, dried fruits and nuts. Its dark color came from being saturated with liquors like rum, brandy or whiskey.

In 1664, it was banned by the Puritans because of its alcohol content. In 1714, King George I brought it back as part of the traditional Christmas feast. It was set on fire when served.

While traditional plum puddings make use of dried plums or prunes, this new recipe incorporates fresh plums and is more like a cobbler than the traditional fare. It's easy.

21st Century Plum Pudding

The Plum Mix

12 plums, pitted and halved
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.

The Crust

2 1/4 cup Bisquick
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons butter melted.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large baking dish, blend the plum mix. Bake for 30 minutes.

Mix the crust ingredients and stir into a batter. Drop tablespoons of batter onto the plum mix. Turn the oven up to 450 degrees and bake 10 to 15 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown. Cool and serve. Brandy or rum could be added and set aflame.

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After all these years, Santa still reigns

Santa has been with us for hundreds of years, but has not one extra wrinkle on his face.

He loves kids and loves his reindeer, which makes him special. He's industrious. There at the North Pole, it is said that he and his elves work tirelessly to fulfill children's Christmas wishes.

Santa Claus symbolizes the holiday season like nothing else. The Christmas tree is a symbol of the season, but Santa Claus personifies the season in a way that trees cannot.

His image is not related to any church or country, so he can cross cultural and religious lines. It places him in a unique position for the entire season rather than for Christmas alone.

He's not just for kids. Adults enjoy his red-suited presence in stores, and his image on Christmas cards and in decorations. His is a sweet, loving image in a world where those qualities are sometimes hard to find.

Christmas grouches say the Santa is a lie that should not be told to children. But young ones add a few years of knowledge and intuition, they know the gifts are from Mom and Dad.

At this point, wise parents explain that Santa symbolizes the spirit of good will and giving at holiday time.

If history is a reliable predictor, Santa will be alive for centuries to come.


Swedish Americans celebrate St. Lucia Day

For some Americans, the Christmas season begins with the St. Lucia Day festival on the 13th of December.

The day honors a Sicilian girl who, around the year 300, was doing Christian charity work. She was sainted after being martyred.

Word of Lucia's virtues spread throughout Christendom, and even the Vikings honored her. She represented the coming of Christianity.

In the centuries since, Scandinavians have used Saint Lucia to symbolize compassion, charity and good fortune. She brings wishes for a prosperous year and reminds them that the dark days of December will soon be over. St. Lucia may visit guests at inns and hotels, singing carols and bringing coffee and saffron buns.

Today, at the crack of dawn on Lucia Day, the oldest daughter in a household dons a long white robe tied at the waist with a wide red ribbon, and a crown of lingonberries, holly and lights.

Originally, they were candles, now the candles are battery-operated. She wakens the family singing Christmas carols. They gatherer together for coffee, juice and the traditional lussekatter (Lucia cats), saffron-infused buns in several shapes decorated with currents or raisins and swirls.

In America, the ceremony has moved from home to church. The lucky girl chosen to represent Lucia moves down the darkened aisle of a church in her lighted-candle crown, followed by Lucia maidens and star boys, who carry wands with stars representing the Christmas Star of Bethlehem.

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Chuckles Corner

Placebo may perk up the body's healing powers

The placebo, which is an inactive treatment commonly called a sugar pill, is a tool usually used in the testing of new drugs. Test subjects receiving the new drug should show a big improvement over those taking the fake.

It's called the "placebo effect." It refers to real or imagined improvement people experience taking a placebo or fake drug.

While the effect is most pronounced in cases of pain relief or depression, where some 35 percent of those taking the fake pill feel better, there is evidence that it can do other thing, such as lower cholesterol levels, and decrease asthma attacks by about 10 percent.

Sometimes people believe so strongly in the medicine's healing power that their expectations trigger the release of body chemicals that help them heal. A strong belief in their doctor's skill in prescribing medications also has a positive effect.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore say it would be wrong to think that the placebo effect is just imagined. Observable healing is common among placebo takers.

The doctors say it could be possible that psychological factors do initiate true healing in ways they cannot yet fully explain. One thing this could mean to all patients: Believing a medicine will work might actually improve its performance.


Folate and fish could protect your hearing

Several studies now indicate that low levels of B vitamins, particularly folate, are linked to age-related hearing loss in people age 50 and above. The latest, reported by Tufts University, shows that people with the lowest levels of folate (folic acid is its synthetic form) were 39 percent more likely to suffer hearing loss.

The Daily Value for folate is 400 micrograms, which can be reached with 3/4 cup serving of fortified cereal.

In the Blue Mountains Hearing Study, researchers reported that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and eating fish was associated with reduced age-related hearing loss. Those who ate fish twice a week were 42 percent less likely to suffer hearing loss over the next five years than those who ate fish less than once a week.

Whatever your age, consuming the Daily Value of folate and eating fish twice a week, or taking an omega-3 supplement, will not only help to protect your hearing but do many other good things for your body.

New hope for chronic fatigue patients

Researcher have identified a group of retroviruses in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. The discovery could open new pathways for treatment.

The disease affects four million Americans and 17 million people world wide. It produces debilitating fatigue, chronic pain and symptoms that can increase or decrease at any time.

Some patients say friends, co-workers and family members don't believe they are really sick.

The National Academy of Science says the new finding will encourage patients to seek treatment with drugs developed to treat HIV. The virus group is different, but they are both retroviruses. The treatment will change how the illness is treated and viewed.

HIV drugs are already in use, so the treatment is immediately available.


Try these healthier holiday cooking tips

A generation or two ago, people ate more food with a lot of fat, but they still weighed less than people weigh today. It was probably because they were involved in physical work instead of sitting at a desk. Or maybe they ate less every day. Whatever the cause, tweaking Grandma's recipes is a great idea. Some examples:

  • Refrigerate the gravy and scoop off the hardened fat before reheating and serving.
  • Use less bread in turkey dressing and more onions, garlic, celery and vegetables. Moisten with chicken or vegetable broth and applesauce.
  • Make mashed potatoes with skim milk, chicken broth, garlic powder and Parmesan cheese instead of whole milk and butter. Some recipes call for fat-free sour cream.
  • Try a new recipe for eggnog: four bananas, 1 1/2 cups skim milk, 1 1/2 cups plain nonfat yogurt, 1/4 teaspoon rum extract and some ground nutmeg. Puree the ingredients and sprinkle the nutmeg on top.
  • For dessert, make pumpkin pie using two egg whites for each whole egg and replace cream with fat-free evaporated milk.
  • Replace heavy cream in cheesecakes and cream pies with evaporated milk. Top cakes with powdered sugar, fresh fruit or fruit sauce.
  • Remove the skin from roasted turkey before eating it or placing it on a serving dish.


    Jews often trade December 25 for other days off work

    With the devout but fun days of Hanukkah over for the year, Jews are deciding to do interesting things on December 25, when Christians and others celebrate Christmas.

    A lot of them are going to work, which is a real blessing for 24/7 businesses and services. But they have arranged to take their paid days off at some other time, like the Jewish New Year or added to July 4th.

    Family dinners are a big thing. They are not Christmas dinners but a time to get together with students and others who will have time off of work. It's easy to gather now.

    Opportunities for restaurant fine dining are limited on this day, but Chinese restaurants say it's one of their busiest days of the year. They don't celebrate Christmas either, and many offer special kosher meals, on the 25th.

    Doing public service work is popular option, for which the rest of the country offers their gratitude and thanks.


    The candy maker's witness

    A long time ago, a candy maker wanted to make a something that would be a witness to his faith. He started with a stick of pure white candy. The color would symbolize the Virgin Birth, and the rock hard candy the foundation of the church.

    The candy maker formed it into a "J" to represent the name of Jesus. The J also represents the staff of the Good Shepherd.

    As time passed, other candy makers made what has become known simply as the candy cane. But it still bears witness to the wonder of God's gift.


  • Keep holiday weight from hanging on

    At the meeting of one weight-loss club, a new member stood to tell her reason for joining. When she said she had been gaining two pounds a year, heavier members scoffed. Then she added ... for the last 10 years.

    Some health studies show that the average person gains four pounds in November and December of any given year. Eating less in January does away with two or three pounds, but all too often an extra pound or two hangs on. One pound a year sounds insignificant, but over time it adds up to 10 or 20 pounds. That's a health problem.

    Good advice for avoiding holiday weight gain can be found everywhere: Eat smaller portions, avoid high-fat foods, and don't be hungry when you go to a holiday feast are among the instructions. Somehow, when people get to the table, the advice is lost in the aroma of the food. Try your best to remember it anyway.
    Here are a couple of easy-to-take steps that could help.

  • Don't have a cocktail before dinner. It makes you want to eat more. If drinks are offered after dinner, opt for dry wine or a mixed drink. Caution the host to go light on the alcohol. Water is the best drink.
  • Instead of dishing up some of everything, choose only your favorites. Even those will add up fast, so take a smaller portion instead of what your appetite suggests.
  • Bring a healthy dish to dinner. Example: instead of traditional green bean casserole, make yours with chunks of potatoes instead of cream soup and top it with chopped almonds instead of fried onion rings.
  • Plan a new tradition. Invite everyone to take a holiday walk after dinner. The joyful camaraderie and exercise are invigorating.
  • At home, eat healthy meals before and after the day of a big dinner party. Don't overeat just to get rid of attractive leftovers. Just get rid of them.
  • Keep the goodies out of sight. If you maintain a holiday table with cookies and fancy candies, you'll probably snag one every time you walk by.

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    Landmark diabetes study shows moderation is key

    Because heart disease is a major concern for people with diabetes, aggressively controlling high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol seems to make sense.

    But the ACCORD study of 10,000 people with type 2 diabetes shows that lowering these factors may not be best.

    Seriously lowering blood sugar

    Study subjects in the Intense Therapy group had A1c ratings of 8.1 percent (7 is recommended by the American Diabetes Association). They were given glucose-lowering drugs or increased dosage of drugs they already took, some with a goal of lowering A1c to less than 6 percent.

    The bad news: After 3.5 years, the death rate in this group was 5 percent versus 4 percent in the standard therapy group or one extra death for every 95 patients. Researchers stopped the trial, concluding that such blood sugar lowering could do some patients more harm than good. Moderately low blood sugar was best for people with heart disease risk.

    Seriously lowering blood pressure

    The second aim of the ACCORD study focused on lowering blood pressure. They wanted to lower patients' blood pressure below 135 or 140 (top number) in diabetes patients.

    At the end of five years, researchers found these patients were no less likely to have heart problems. But they were three times as likely to experience serious side effects from treatment, such as an irregular heartbeat. The study was helpful because it determined that systolic blood pressure in the 135 to 140 range was acceptable.

    Seriously lowering cholesterol

    Researchers assigned more than 5,500 type 2 patients to two groups. The standard group received Zocor. The Intensive Therapy group received Zocor and TriCor, a fenofibrate.

    The study showed that the combination therapy was not necessary for people with diabetes.

    It concluded that moderately high levels of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol are acceptable.


    Scottish New Year

    As 2011 rolls in, Auld Lang Syne will fill the air at many a gathering. This traditional tune, from a poem written by Scottish poet Robert Burns, bids the old year farewell and welcomes in the new. Auld Lang Syne links Scotland to much of the world on New Year's Eve. But Scotland has many other traditions that make Scottish festivities unique.

    Hogmanay is the name that Scots give to the last day of the year and their celebration of the New Year. In cities, towns and villages, there are torch processions and the setting off of fireworks.
    In rural areas, bonfires, that are said to burn up the old year, take the place of fireworks. In some places, barrels of tar are rolled through the streets and set on fire to destroy the old year.

    In many homes "first footing" is still observed. The Scots believe it to be good luck for the first foot over the threshold, as the New Year begins, to be that of a dark-haired man bearing a gift such as shortcake, coal or whiskey. Such visits are often arranged.

    Foods popular during this time of celebration include cheese, bread, steak pie, shortbread, currant loaf, oatcakes and scones, all to be accompanied by wine, cordials and other spirits.

    Local areas of Scotland have developed their own Hogmanay rituals. An example is the Stonehaven Fireball Festival. Thousands flock to this North Sea fishing port, where on New Year's Eve approximately 60 participants in kilts whirl five to 15-pound flaming balls around their heads.

    They march to the harbor, accompanied by drummers and pipers, where they fling the flaming balls into the sea. Historically, this was done to drive out evil spirits and bring good luck to the fishing fleet. Now it also welcomes the new year.


    Santa Snickers

    The mall Santa Claus was surprised when a young lady walked up and sat on his lap, smiling nicely.

    Although he had never taken a request from an adult, he asked,

    "And what do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?"
    "Something for my mother, please," the young lady said.
    "Something for your mother? That's very thoughtful of you." The Santa smiled. "What do you want me to bring her?"
    Without blinking, she replied, "A son-in-law!"


    According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summertime, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December. Female reindeer retain their antlers until after they give birth in the spring. Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa's reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen, had to be a female.

    We should've known. Only women would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world in one night and not get lost.