CALENDAR YEAR: A new life on Earth

On New Year's Eve a friend was showing off photos of his first grandson, born at Christiana Hospital that morning. The infant had the tax-savvy smarts to arrive on the final day of 2019. Even though the proud new grandfather was wearing a surgical mask in the photos, you could tell he was grinning ear to ear while gazing at the sweet new baby. He'll be a wonderful grand-dad!

FOOD: King Ranch Casserole

King Ranch Casserole: as soon as I saw the name, I knew I had to try making this hearty dish.

For its debut I chose a foolproof audience, a New Year's Eve potluck dinner whose guests are always hungry and will eat just about anything. I got lots of positive feedback and was asked to share the recipe, so here it is. It's got a little bit of a bite to it, but you can certainly amp up the spiciness if desired by adding more peppers. It's delicious and would be a great choice for a football playoff game party.

1. Roast eight boneless skinless chicken thighs at 400 until cooked but not dried up (option: use the meat from a precooked rotisserie chicken). Shred the meat with two forks.

2. Saute in butter a chopped bell pepper, a chopped onion, a half-pound of chopped mushrooms (local, of course!), and four cloves of garlic (minced).

3. Transfer the vegetables to a stock pot.

4. Add salt, black pepper, a few dashes of Tabasco and a half-teaspoon of chili powder.

5. Thicken by adding a cup of flour, a little at a time. Stir well, then add 3 cups of chicken stock, a half-cup of heavy cream, and a 10-oz can of diced tomatoes and green chili peppers (Giant brand; I used "mild").

6. Soak 6 corn tortillas (5.5-in diameter) in chicken stock for a few minutes and then use them to line the bottom of a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. They will overlap by about a third.

7. Cover the tortillas with half the sauce. Add half the shredded chicken. Top with 2/3 cup cheese (I used a Giant-brand mixture of shredded Jack and shredded cheddar).

8. Soak 6 more tortillas and make another layer of tortillas, the rest of the sauce and chicken, and another 2/3 cup cheese.

9. Top with 6 more tortillas and a final 2/3 C cheese. The pan will be full!

10. Bake at 350 until lightly browned.

11. Let it cool for 15 minutes (for easier serving).

KENNETT SQUARE: The Mushroom Raising

We wimped out this New Year's Eve and attended the Mushroom Raising at 9 p.m. rather than the Mushroom Drop at midnight. A lot of people had the same idea: in fact, the earlier celebration was so well attended that we failed to see some family members who turned out to be there. Before the lighted mushroom was ceremoniously hoisted up, we watched a juggler and some hula-hoop twirlers performing at State and Union Streets and chatted with some Kennett Square police officers who were on duty.

The Funsters were just setting up their equipment on a stage in the middle of South Union Street. I'm told that later in the evening the band did a rousing version of "Love Train" that sparked an impromptu love train among the crowd.

JENNERSVILLE: One-stop shopping

Driving through the parking lot of the Jennersville Hospital, I saw a sign that made me chuckle. Underneath a stop sign was an arrow and a sign saying, "ALL MOB DELIVERIES." I immediately thought of Tony Soprano and his underworld colleagues and how convenient it would be for them to have a place to drop off unwanted, uh, items rather than making nighttime detours to the Pine Barrens. Given the context, though, I'm assuming that MOB stands for "medical office building."

WEST MARLBOROUGH: Tax increases approved; West Marlborough will help fund new library

In 2020, West Marlborough Township taxpayers will see their property taxes increase from 1.7 mills to 2 mills and their earned income taxes increase from 0.5% to 0.75%. The money raised by the tax increases will go toward emergency services, construction of the proposed Kennett Library and creation of a $10,000 rainy-day fund.

The supervisors unanimously approved the budget and the earned income tax increase at a standing-room-only meeting on Dec. 30. The board had approved the millage increase at a separate meeting earlier in December.

Residents packed the Dec. 30 meeting in the township garage -- after all the folding chairs were filled, some stood and others sat on the running board of the township truck. Everyone who spoke was in favor of funding emergency services, but the residents were split on whether township taxpayers should help pay for library construction.

Supervisor Bill Wylie reminded residents that the vast majority of the tax money is going to fund emergency services: "EMS is why we're raising taxes," he said.

Dot Shaw said not many township residents use the library, and her husband Bill Shaw called the library's proposed building an unneeded "frill" and a "Taj Mahal." John Taylor urged the board to "keep our money in West Marlborough." Don Silknitter said funding the library "does not seem to be in the interest of the whole township." Christina Powell said she didn't agree with the way the library board expected the townships to pick up the tab.

But Starr Bright called the library "an incredible resource" that "enhances the community." She visits frequently, not only to check out books and audiobooks but also to attend meetings. "If you don't use it, you don't know how much they offer," she said. Her husband Clayton Bright said supporting the library contributes to "an educated community."

Brett Dolente, another library user, said the library is "a public service we should all contribute to."

Tom Brosius said he found the library board's presentation to be moving and pointed out that the library provides "a lot of education," including citizenship classes and English tutoring. "It's a tiny amount of our money," he said.

Phoebe Fisher said that even people who don't use the library still benefit from having an educated community.

Supervisor Jake Chalfin said he had originally been "on the fence" about funding the library "until they came and spoke. I was extremely impressed." He said the other municipalities in the library's service area all providing funds and "we'd look pretty silly if we didn't contribute." He said although a new library has been talked about on and off for decades, "I have a lot of confidence they're going to pull this off."

He said the modern, accessible library will have meeting rooms, classrooms, and programs for all segments of society and will actually be less expensive to operate.

"An educated community," he said, "is a strong and prosperous community."

The budget calls for a $65,000 contribution to the emergency services that serve West Marlborough, or $79.85 per resident. The supervisors are proposing to contribute $15,000 a year for five years to fund the library construction, or $18.42 per year per resident. The township currently contributes $1,500 a year ($1.84 per resident) to fund library programs. The real estate tax will raise a total of $145,000 (a $25,000 increase) and the earned income tax will raise $195,000 total (a $65,000 increase).

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