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Why eat out? September 15, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Why do you go out to eat? Is it the convenience, a chance to get together with friends, a break from cooking, a “date night” with your spouse or partner (or a date, period)? Is it nostalgia for a neighborhood favorite that your parents took you to when you were growing up, the place you always went with your high-school sweetheart, or just a craving for fries, burgers, hotdogs, wings, milkshakes, and all the other bad-for-you things that you really, really love but would get a scolding for at home by the health police?

When I go out to eat, I sort of fall on the bad-for-you spectrum. My goal when dining out is to eat foods I would never make at home, and since I have a serious aversion to grease, that includes anything deep-fried or even shallow-fried. (Sauteing’s about my limit.) I’m also not a big fan of home baking, since it requires precise measurements and a lot of mess and cleanup. (Kneading, anyone?) Woking and the like aren’t exactly my specialty, either: The super-high heat and precision required are just too much for my nerves and poor coordination. Apparently, everyone else on earth can brown cubes of paneer (soft Indian cheese) and tofu effortlessly; when I try, they fall apart into pointless crumbles and never brown.

That’s why, when I go out to eat, I’ll get the baked spinach balls or flaming kasseri cheese or spanakopita or eggplant rollatini or crispy tofu triangles or tempura vegetable sushi or onion kulcha or something else that I’d never, ever make at home. None of it’s expensive, but it makes eating out such a luxury. And yes, every once in a blue moon, I’ll go for a veggie burger with crispy fried onions, barbecue sauce, and French fries. And I’ll enjoy every high-cal, deep-fried bite.

‘Til next time,

Silence

The alien phone. September 14, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Being a Luddite, I still use a land-line phone. (Our friend Ben was finally seduced by a smartphone.) But recently, my phone has malfunctioned, directing callers to voicemail on the first ring, buzzing rather than giving me a ringtone, not letting me answer incoming calls, make calls, or access voicemail. What’s the deal, was I late with a payment? (As the comedian Steven Wright said, “If you think nobody cares if you’re dead or alive, try missing a payment.”)

But this didn’t prepare me for last night’s drama. At 1 a.m., OFB and I were awakened by the unbearably loud barking of our giant black German shepherd, Shiloh, as she charged the front door. When OFB went to investigate (while I, of course, cowered in the bedroom), he found two police officers outside! They said my phone had been dialing 911, and they had come to see if anything was wrong.

The phone had been dialing 911 by itself. I quickly disconnected it so it wouldn’t continue to call officers to the scene, and wondered who else it had been calling. Rushing to my good friend Google, I found that this had happened to other people, and that the most frequent cause was a damaged outdoor cord that had allowed water to get in and short the phone out.

Believe that if you choose, but I have another theory: That an alien has entered our home, assumed the appearance of my old phone, and been trying to contact the Mother Ship. I’ll be pitching my story to The National Enquirer next week.

‘Til next time,

Silence

In praise of marmalade. September 13, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Marmalade, a less-sweet cousin of jams, preserves and jellies, is in my opinion an underrated kitchen hero. Long gone are the days when you could only get orange marmalade, often stuffed with sugar (or, gasp, high-fructose corn syrup) and sadly lacking in actual orange and orange zest. Now real all-fruit orange marmalade, lemon marmalade, lime marmalade, grapefruit marmalade, blood orange marmalade, even ginger marmalade is available.

So okay, you’ve got your jar of marmalade and you’ve got it home from the store. Now what? Well, it’s great for breakfast on toast, English muffins, croissants, crumpets, or as a glaze on hot scones. (With butter, people, butter.) But that’s just the beginning. Because marmalade isn’t super-sweet but is super-flavorful with its citrus or ginger hit, it’s perfect on other things as well. Think of it as a glaze on cheesecake or chicken, or paired with feta cheese in a phyllo wrap or cream cheese in a wanton wrap or topping baked Brie. And think what some marmalade could do to add complexity to your Thanksgiving cranberry sauce!

Marmalade is also a very versatile substitute for other sauces and dressings. You can use it in place of duck sauce, orange sauce, General Tso’s sauce, and the like if you find yourself out of them and need dipping sauce for spring rolls or egg rolls or sauce for Chinese dishes. It’s delicious as a substitute if you run out of chutney and are serving Indian food. (Ditto for adding to dal, baked beans, lentil stew, and the like.) It’s also great mixed with oil, Dijon mustard, and vinegar in a salad dressing for fruit- or cheese-based salads. Not to mention as a glaze for piecrust, or a topping for cake or vanilla ice cream. (Our favorite is Ben & Jerry’s.)

For the adventurous, I’d suggest an omelet stuffed with cream cheese and/or shredded Swiss cheese and a (very) thin layer of orange marmalade. It’s the adult version of Dr. Seuss’s famous “green eggs” (made by scrambling eggs with Concord grape jelly, which turns them green); your choice whether to add the ham (or Canadian bacon). With adequate salt and some toasted, buttered English muffins, you might become addicted. Try it and see!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Cats and sliding glass doors. September 12, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets.
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Silence Dogood here. We’ve had a nightmare the past year with our two indoor cats, Linus and Layla. They’re half-siblings (cats can have kittens by multiple fathers at the same birth) who were born outside at our country cottage, Hawk’s Haven, to a feral cat who was hit by a car or, more likely, shot by some monster we later discovered was shooting outdoor cats for target practice, when they were just kittens. So we brought the kittens inside and raised them as indoor cats.

That’s been seven years now, and they’ve both been very happy with us. However, the sliding glass door that opens onto our back deck has always been an issue, since that was where they were born and lived as kittens before their mother died. Every now and then, one or the other would rush out the door before we could shut it, no matter how vigilant we would try to be about monitoring their whereabouts. This usually had to do with getting our black German Shepherd, Shiloh, in or out of the house. Mercifully, the escaping cat would usually recognize that it had made a terrible mistake and let itself be “caught” and brought back inside immediately.

But over the past year, we’ve had both cats run out and stay out for months. First, our beloved Linus escaped last summer and didn’t allow himself to be “caught” until winter was almost upon us. First, he simply vanished without trace. But a month or so later, he returned and lived on the property, showing up and yowling like mad to get our attention, until he finally let me grab him and bring him back inside on Christmas Eve, the best Christmas present I’ve ever received. As soon as he was back indoors, he acted as though he’d never been away, displaying zero interest in a second escape attempt.

But then this spring, Layla, not to be outdone, escaped from the same door in the same manner and remained outdoors until this week. She, too, simply disappeared for a month, then returned and hung out around the house, yowling and following us around, demanding to be petted but refusing to come inside. (Of course, we put out food and water in both cases.) Finally, I got her to come in, and just like Linus, she acted like she’d never been away.

Last night, I had a nightmare where we had a third outside cat, who was grey like Layla but lacked her white markings and peridot-green eyes. As with Linus and Layla, I was simply terrified that she’d be hit by a car or shot by the crazy neighbor. (Mercifully, I think he’s left our area now, since neither Linus nor Layla was murdered.) What a relief that it was just a dream!

Point being that I don’t know how to secure a sliding glass door when I’ve opened it to go outside, and especially not with the dog in tow. I try to watch as vigilantly as I can, but sometimes it just takes a second or two too long. (I say “I” here because this has never happened when our friend Ben was taking the dog out.) Our dog Shiloh recognizes that her job on returning to the house is to chase Linus to make sure he doesn’t try to escape, and she’s usually good at that. But it’s not fair to place responsibility on her for keeping the cats safe.

Do any of you have good ideas for keeping cats from running out sliding glass doors? We’d be so grateful to hear them!

‘Til next time,

Silence

A three-part food disposal system. September 11, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, chickens, critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. There’s nothing as demoralizing as wasting food, but we all do it. It’s not just a shame, but a sin, when people all over the globe, people in our own cities, are going hungry. Yet we’ve all had the experience of opening our vegetable drawer and finding produce that’s past its prime, or discovering a container of leftovers that makes us go “Eeeeewww!!!,” or looking forward to our morning toast and finding a moldy loaf of bread (sob).

No worries, this food needn’t go to waste. Our friend Ben and I have a three-part food-disposal system that takes care of pretty much everything. Well, actually, I guess it’s four-part. The first line of defense is our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and our yellow-naped Amazon parrot Plutarch. They do a pretty decent job of eating scraps of cheese, veggies, chips, nuts, and the like.

The second line of defense is our flock of six heritage-breed chickens. They’ll eat that moldy bread, overripe tomato, leftover rice or pasta, wilted greens, or what-have-you with relish. The only thing I’ve ever seen chickens reject is zucchini. If that’s not a statement, I don’t know what is.

Then there’s our earthworm composter. Earthworms also love leftover fruits, salad greens, and veggies, but they’ll also eat things like coffee grounds and tea bags, turning them into rich fertilizer for greenhouse and garden plants.

Finally, there are our compost bins. We can put anything in them, with these exceptions: diseased plants, meat, dairy, grease. Diseased plants will contaminate the compost, infecting whatever you put it on, while the other contaminants will attract rats and other vermin to your compost bins. I’d also advise against putting weeds, especially weeds that can harm you like poison ivy or aggressive weeds like thistle that can spread throughout your garden, in your compost bins. Sometimes, the trash can is the only option.

However, between pets, chickens, earthworms, and the compost bin, a lot of potentially wasted food gets returned to the earth and enjoyed. I love to cook and use fresh seasonal produce, but I never feel guilty about eating out. OFB and I make a point of bringing every single thing we don’t eat home. I’ll bring a meal home that’s big enough for the two of us for another supper. OFB will bring his leftover French fries and half a bun home for the always-thrilled chickens. With our pets, our chickens, our earthworms, our compost bins, and, well okay, ourselves, there’s never an excuse to waste food. As our beloved hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, would say, “Waste not, want not.”

‘Til next time,

Silence

What’s the deal with Jack the Ripper? September 9, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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The internet has been on fire with the news that Jack the Ripper, Britain’s most famous serial killer, has finally been identified. Long thought to be a surgeon, an artist, or even the Duke of Clarence, the latest claims are that it was a Polish immigrant who set up shop in Whitehall, where the murders occurred. The claims are based on DNA analysis of the scarf of one of the victims, Catherine Eddowes. But longtime students of the case are dubious, and so is our friend Ben.

Certainly, the current suspect, Aaron Kosminski, lived in the vicinity where the murders took place. And, as a barber, he’d have had access to and known how to use sharp objects like a straight razor and scissors. But the five victims definitively associated with the Ripper were stabbed multiple times, and in several of the cases, an organ was removed (in Eddowes’s case, a kidney; in others’, the uterus). The deft use of the knife sounds more like the fictional Mack the Knife than a barber. And the removal of the organs certainly sounds more like the work of a butcher or surgeon.

But to our friend Ben’s mind, something more was going on. The Ripper clearly loved publicity and sought to stir it up by publicizing his crimes with letters. But he never sent any of the organs he removed to the press or Scotland Yard in little boxes or anything. Unless he was Hannibal Lecter and was enjoying them with a fine chianti, what happened to them? Why did he remove them?

But even more to the point, why did he stop his killing spree? Why would someone who was obsessed with serial killing, and the “fame” such killing brought with it, simply stop? The five murders that can definitively be attributed to the Ripper occurred in 1888. A couple of murders occurred earlier, and more occurred up to 1891, but Scotland Yard thought the style of them suggested either copycat murders or murders that coincidentally took place in the vicinity. Kosminski died in 1919. If he was really Jack the Ripper, why would he have suddenly stopped his serial-killing rampage? Not to mention that witnesses in Whitechapel at the time described a robust, fair-haired man, hardly the picture of the slight, dark-haired Kosminski.

But whether he was, or wasn’t, Jack the Ripper, or whoever was or wasn’t, it would take quite a compulsion to power that spate of serial killings. What would make someone start? And what would make someone stop just as suddenly? If you believe that insanity was the cause, would the person suddenly have become sane? Are we talking about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or Dr. Frankenstein and his monster? The only answer that makes sense to me is that Jack the Ripper died in 1888, so he couldn’t continue with his “work.”

I haven’t checked the deaths of the Duke of Clarence or famous Harley Street physicians of the time or the like; our friend Ben isn’t a Jack the Ripper fan, my only contact with him has been through a couple of Sherlock Holmes films, since I am definitely a rabid Holmes fan. But if you are a Ripper fan, I suggest that you start looking at the death dates of probable suspects and draw your conclusions from them.

Pet your dog, don’t praise him. September 7, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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One of our friend Ben’s favorite cartoons is a “Far Side” classic that shows what we say and what our dog hears. Basically, the man is saying “Ginger! Bad dog, Ginger! Why did you do that when you know I’ve told you not to, Ginger? What a bad, bad dog, Ginger! Shame on you, Ginger!” Then it shows what she hears: “Ginger… Ginger… Ginger…”

Apparently, the same is true in real life, according to recent research. The scientists compared the reactions of shelter dogs and strangers and pet dogs and their owners when the dogs were praised or petted. Then the process was repeated with dogs being praised, petted, or ignored. In all cases, the dogs responded strongly to being petted, but their response to verbal praise was the same as being completely ignored.

Good grief! Then what is that rush of attention, the brightening of the eyes, the licking of your hands and arms and biting of your clothes, trying to get as close to you as possible, when you speak to her? They say the brightest dogs can recognize 250 words. Our beautiful and beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you), certainly understands what we’re saying to her, whether we’re talking about treats, toys, or going outside, or about leaving her in charge while we’re out and how long we expect to be gone, or pretty much anything else, including “thank you.”

Of course, Shiloh loves to be petted, too. And we love to pet her. But it’s combining action (giving her a piece of bell pepper or a green bean or a dog treat or a toy) with words, or even special songs we’ve made up for her, that gets that tail going windmill-style and the happy tongue hanging out. We think she loves interacting with us on many levels, not just one. Do you think that about your dog? In any case, don’t forget to pet him!

Bowers Chile Pepper Food Festival. September 6, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and our friend and fellow blog contributor, Richard Saunders, are very excited to once again be attending the annual Bowers Chile Pepper Food Festival today, September 6th, in nearby scenic Bowers PA at their very nice community park. The festival is free and open from 9 am to 6 pm. It features tours of the hot pepper fields at nearby Meadow View Farm; the tours are horse-drawn, since the Weavers, who own Meadow View, are Old-Order Mennonites who don’t drive cars. Yet James Weaver, who owns Meadow View and like most Old Order Mennonites probably has an 8th-grade education, is one of the foremost and most respected experts on hot peppers in the country, and the reason there’s a chile pepper festival in Pennsylvania that draws people from as far as Jamaica.

The festival features every kind of hot-pepper dish and jarred good you can imagine, as well as fresh, homegrown hot peppers in an unimaginable range of colors and heats and heirloom tomatoes in all colors and sizes. You can buy every imaginable kind of salsa, hot sauce, hot pickled produce (look for the amazing Kamikozee hot green tomatoes), hot chocolate bars, garlic vinegar (yum, so good), hot everything. We always buy the Kamikozee green tomatoes, the Rolling Hills garlic vinegar, Chef Tim’s salad dressing, and any salsas and sauces we can’t resist. Today, there’s lots of live music and a jalapeno-eating contest as well. And you can buy tons of hot-pepper-themed items like tee-shirts and necklaces, and even get spray-on pepper tattoos (we’re sure Silence will get one, she can never resist).

Within easy walking distance of the festival is one of our favorite local restaurants, the Bowers Hotel. We won’t be eating there because we’re sure it will be mobbed with festival-goers. But if you do happen to drop by, we recommend their famous spinach balls, an appetizer we can never resist.

At any event, we hope to see you today at the festival! Just don’t try to fight us for the last of whatever.

What is burrata? September 5, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I had invited our neighbor over for a deckwarming party last night. He’d offered to bring his famous homemade guacamole, and I was supplying hot jalapeno poppers, tortilla chips, fresh salsa, various hot sauces, and hot peppers fresh-picked from our garden. Not to mention margaritas! It was sounding a lot like Mexican night!

But at the last second, we got a message from our neighbor saying that he was missing an ingredient for his guac and would be bringing burrata instead. Fortunately, I had some guac with pico de gallo on hand, so no worries. But what was burrata? Some kind of scaled-back burrito? Something with meat in it that I, as a vegetarian, couldn’t even eat? Yikes.

While the jalapeno poppers were getting nice and toasty, I rushed to my trusty laptop and checked out burrata. Turns out it’s a soft, fresh cheese from the Puglio region of Italy, basically made with a bag-like rind of fresh mozzarella enclosing cream and curds. It’s so rich that its name comes from the Italian for “buttery.” And it’s only considered to be at its prime within 24 hours from its making, and past its prime after 48 hours. Yowie kazowie! Talk about a luxury product.

This was hardly Mexican fare, and there was no guidance about what to put it on. Fortunately, I had a lovely loaf of herbed ciabatta bread, some heirloom tomatoes, and a couple of ripe peaches. I felt certain that our neighbor could choose among them and we could pull this off. But as it turned out, he showed up not just with two burrata balls but with some crispy, airy Scandinavian crackers to serve the burrata on. And yes, they really were delicious. But I still think they’d have been luscious with fresh peaches.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Where have the houseflies gone? September 3, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was busy in our home office when I noticed a small, winged insect buzzing around. At first, I thought it must be a young housefly, those annoying nuisances that always seem to find their way into the house in warm weather, no matter how hard you try to stop them. (Thus flyswatters, flypaper, and the like have been with us for a very long time; try as we might, we just can’t seem to keep the critters out.)

Eventually, I realized that the buzzing noise wasn’t housefly-like; the insect was something else. But it made me realize that, unlike past years, I hadn’t seen a single housefly, in or out of the house, this year. Not one. I wondered if America had been struck with housefly decline. For once, global warming couldn’t be to blame, since the flies love hot weather, but maybe last year’s super-cold winter killed them off. Or maybe, like the poor honeybees, they’d been struck with some dreadful malady. Our friend Ben decided to head to my good friend Google to find out.

“Housefly decline” didn’t bring up anything, so I went on Wikipedia to see what it had to say about houseflies. Yowie kazowie! I learned three things I didn’t know about houseflies. First, that the females can lay 9,000 eggs (yes, you read that right) over a lifetime, producing many, many generations in a single year. (So, where are they?!) Next, that once flies emerge from their pupal cases, whether they’re huge or tiny depends on how much food they got as maggots (which feed on rotting food and rotten or decaying flesh, as well as manure, yum). In other words, little flies don’t grow into bigger flies; little flies just didn’t get enough to eat in their maggot (sickening white, worm-like) stage. And last, that houseflies can carry diseases like cholera and tuberculosis (and plenty of others).

That’s sort of the opposite of all those movies like “Gladiator” where you see maggots eating away at rotting flesh on living men and saving them from infection, gangrene, and death. Which reminds me of the fourth thing I didn’t know about houseflies: They’re not just here in the good old USA, but occur around the world, and apparently always have.

So what’s become of them? Have you noticed fewer (or no) houseflies in your home this year? Let us know. I have to say, this is one creature I wouldn’t mind seeing on the decline.

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