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Cheers to the holidays

Candice Woods knows wine. After 27 years in the municipal liquor store business — 10 years in Litchfield and the past 17 as manager at Liquor Hutch — Woods has spent much of her time learning about, purchasing and selling wine.

As part of her job, Woods enjoys helping friends, family and customers learn about various wine varietals and regions to help them explore and find new favorites.

Her expertise isn't limited to wine, either. She's learned plenty over the years about other beverages, from beer and champagne to liquor and mixed drinks. Now she's sharing her beverage knowledge during the Leader's new Home for the Holidays show Thursday, Nov. 7, at the Hutchinson Event Center.

Doors open for vendor sales at 5 p.m., followed by holiday decorating, cooking and hosting programs 7-9 p.m. Woods will be pairing wines with recipes from local cook Chris Schlueter as they discuss appetizers, entrees and deserts to serve during the holidays.

Tickets for the Home for the Holidays show are $10 in advance and $15 at the door, but seats are limited. Advance tickets are available at three locations:

  • the Leader office, 170 Shady Ridge Road N.W., Hutchinson
  • Cash Wise Foods, 1020 State Highway 7 W., Hutchinson
  • the Independent Review office, 217 N. Sibley Ave., Litchfield

The Leader sat down with Woods to talk about other holiday beverage trends and questions for this Q&A ahead of the Nov. 7 show.

Are holiday drinks like fashions? Do they go in and out of style? What are the popular holiday beverages this year?

I would say holiday drinks are not like fashion. They don't really go in and out of style. During the holidays, people drink cream liqueur. They drink things that are seasonally appropriate, like pumpkin liqueur and Irish cream.

Wine is all over the place, because people drink all different types of wine depending on what they're going to serve. Probably for almost a year, Moscow Mules have been really popular.

For easy holiday entertaining, how many and what types of beverages should a host serve?

Usually you would want to have some type of wine to serve with an appetizer, often a sparkling wine goes really well with your appetizer. Then you want something with your meal. Whatever is appropriate for your main dish. Generally after a meal, people will serve the cream liqueur or something holiday-ish.

True or false: red wine at room temperature, white wine chilled? Best recommended temperatures for serving each?

True. Red wine is room temperature, but we think of room temperature as like 70 degrees. Room temperature in wine, we're talking 60-65 degrees, so you can put your red wine in for a slight chill, but most of us prefer not. The reason is when you chill a red wine, you kill a lot of the flavor. Your palette cannot pick up the flavors because you've chilled it. White wine you generally want it refrigerator cold.

Are there any rules to remember when pairing wine with food?

There are a lot of different rules people use to pair wine with food, but the only thing I know for sure is that you like the wine. If you don't like the wine on its own, you are not going to like it with food. So first and foremost, you want to get something you're going to appreciate.

Then you want to pair based on sugar levels. So if you have a food that doesn't have a high sugar to it, you want a wine that also is not high in sugar. If you have a dessert with a high sugar, then you want a wine that meets or exceeds the sugar in your dessert, because if you get a wine that has less sugar than your dessert, your wine will go really bitter. So you want your dessert wine to be sweeter than the dessert. White wine goes with chicken, and red wine goes with red meats.

What wine would you recommend giving as a holiday hostess gift?

I would try to give something that's very easy, like fruit forward. Complex to some degree, but would hit a lot of palettes. So people who don't drink a lot of wine at the holiday event could still appreciate it, and people who do drink wine wouldn't say that's too sweet. If you know your host/hostess, then you want to get something you know they would appreciate.

What types of wines should I have ready for my holiday table? What do I pour first?

I guess it goes back to what you're going to pair with. If you're doing multiple courses, you want to pair with each course, and it depends on what food your going to serve. If you're going to do that appetizer as people come through the door, I would say go sparkling. Sparkling pairs with a lot of things. You can go sweet sparkling, dry sparkling, decide with your food what's going to be most appropriate, but also sparkling strips your tongue, so it takes any residue from the food so your ready for the next course.

What are the most frequent holiday beverage questions customers ask you?

How dry is this? That's the questions they ask us, or what can I pair with this? They're looking for suggestions on food parings. Those are the most common questions.

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Second Step teaches skills for life

Every student in American public schools is taught writing, science and math. But students at Park Elementary are learning there are many more skills to life, skills that even help them tackle their other lessons.

"The Second Step Program helps students with social and academic success," said school counselor Jill Bridge. "We directly teach students skills that strengthen their ability to learn, have empathy and solve problems."

She and counselor Valerie Huepenbecker teach weekly classroom lessons, with topics such as skills for learning, empathy, emotion management and problem-solving. 

"More and more, kids are coming to school with real needs in coping with their emotions," said principal Dan Olberg. "This program helps kids as they are dealing with some of the feelings they have."

Skills for learning include focusing attention, listening, using self-talk to stay on task, and learning how and when to be assertive. At a recent School Board meeting, students spoke of how learning to be assertive taught them how to stand up to bullies or students who were unkind and detrimental to a group project.

Students learn empathy through lessons about understanding the feelings of others, respecting differences and showing compassion. Emotional management lessons help students learn to identify and manage their feelings, how to handle disappointment, how to tackle test anxiety and avoid jumping to conclusions.

Lessons are tailored to each grade level. For grades two and three, Bridge and Huepenbecker use songs to help impart their lessons. In grades four and five, they use music videos to better target the age group.

"Kids memorize them and they love them," Bridge said. 

"It's a nice break from reading and math," Olberg said. "And kids enjoy that. Jill and Valerie do a good job with it."

The lessons taught to students develop a common language and common expectations for behavior, which teachers use to address problems that come up in the classroom.

"They refer back to the Second Step lessons quite a bit with their kids," Olberg said. 

The lessons have been part of Park Elementary's curriculum for six years now. After each unit, the counselors send a link home to parents so they can read about what was learned. 

"A lot of times in the classroom, we talk about how these are skills they will use forever," Huepenbecker said. 

By practicing skills safely in the classroom, and showing students how to resolve problems without depending on adult intervention, the teachers hope to empower problem-solving as a life skill. The STEP method, which uses steps, also functions as an acronym for the steps:

  • Say the problem without blame
  • Think of solutions that are safe and respectful
  • Explore consequences
  • Pick the best solution

A STEP area painted on the playground gives students a space to visit and use the system when problems come up during play or while outside. 

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Firelake Manufacturing moves to Hutchinson

Hutchinson’s newest manufacturer is burning for businesses.

After 40 years in Dassel, Firelake Manufacturing moved its operation to a cozier fit at 25 Michigan St. S.E., Hutchinson. The change was part of the company’s recent downsizing.

“Essentially what happened is we sold the building,” company president Kent Wischmann said. “We had moved a few products to other locations out of state and sold off some product lines and equipment, so we just did not need that large of a building. So we scaled down and this was a good option.”

With a smaller and more streamlined facility, Wischmann says the company wants to concentrate on growing its incinerator products.

“We really want to focus on this product line, incineration, cremation equipment and looking to expand,” Wischmann said. “There’s a lot of market segments we can tap into, so right now we’re looking primarily at this industry and this product.”

It’s also continuing operations globally. Firelake Manufacturing has products operating in at least 90 different countries. Recently the company sent a technician to the islands of Micronesia off of Guam and Japan to install an incinerator at a hospital.

“That’s literally halfway across the world,” Wischmann said.

When it first opened for business, Firelake Manufacturing was known as Storm Industries. It developed poultry egg collection equipment and sold it to farms, and Wischmann’s father came to work at the company after the Korean War ended.

“In the late ’70s, my father and partner ... purchased the company,” Wischmann said. “They grew the product line and expanded it from there.”

His father continued with that product line until 2000, when the company switched with one of its distributors. Today, Wischmann and his business partner are the owners of Firelake.

“That’s where we switched away from the poultry equipment and got into the incineration equipment,” he said. “Along with a line of waste oil furnace equipment, which we have since sold and moved that off.”

Currently, Firelake makes incinerators and crematoriums for farms and agricultural operations, veterinary clinics, medical companies and municipal waste management.

“In the animal world, daily mortality is a topic that needs to be dealt with,” Wischmann said. “So this is a way to dispose of that clean without contaminating the ground, without contaminating the air, without contaminating the water. It’s a clean process to dispose of, and you end up with sterile ash.”

Farm industries and veterinary clinics are a couple of the top buyers of Firelake’s incinerators. Another increasing customer base, according to Wischmann, is the rapidly growing medical marijuana business, which uses incinerators to destroy leftover debris.

“When they do their cultivation and harvest, they just have some leftover plant stem materials that they want to incinerate and get rid of,” Wischmann said.

Hutchinson High School's ACT scores on the rise

Hutchinson High School students have continued a positive trend.

Class of 2019 students participating in the ACT exam achieved a school-average composite score of 21.9. Tests are scored on a range from 1-36. The national average for the class of 2018 was 20.7.

This schoolwide average of 21.9 is 0.5 points higher than the statewide Class of 2019 average of 21.4 and also improves upon the HHS five-year average of 21.88.

“This result is exciting, but also in line with the extensive work that HHS teachers have done to develop rigorous courses across curriculum areas,” stated Rob Danneker, Hutchinson High School principal. “We feel that our college and career readiness programming via our TigerPath Academies model is second to none and exemplifies what the state of Minnesota was looking for in implementing the World’s Best Workforce legislation in 2013.”

The ACT consists of curriculum-based examination of educational development in English, mathematics, reading and science designed to measure the skills needed for success in first-year college coursework. ACT Research has shown that it is the rigor of coursework — rather than simply the number of core courses — that has the greatest impact on ACT performance and college readiness.