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Try a Red Roo this Christmas. December 15, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. This past Saturday, I was reading an article in The Wall Street Journal called “The Tippling Point.” The article was about the rising popularity of Champagne cocktails, how they were breaking out of the “Mimosa brunch” category and turning up at parties and suppers.

According to the article, this was because good Champagnes were becoming so affordable that people could afford to use them in cocktails (unthinkable with expensive estate Champagnes), that other sparkling wines like Cava and sparkling rose and Asti and Prosecco were becoming available in dry versions that were even more affordable then Champagne and delicious in cocktails. They also pointed out that Champagne cocktails went well with any food, were very light on the stomach, and left you feeling refreshed the following day as opposed to hung over.

The article interviewed seasoned mixologists about their (and their patrons’) favorite Champagne cocktails. I noticed that, while the Champagne or its equivalent sparkling wine may have cost “only” $30 a bottle, there were bazillion uber-expensive or unavailable ingredients in the form of liqueurs or, say, fresh-squeezed Meyer lemons (and where will you get those?) or homemade simple syrup infused with 10 super-expensive, elusive spices and strained through God-knows-what after cooking? Geez. By the end of it all, you might as well just show up at the party with a bottle of Champagne.

What I did notice, however, was that the basic recipes for the various Champagne cocktails included liqueurs, bitters, and typically fruit and fruit liqueurs (strained). Reading that you have to shake and strain a cocktail is enough to make me break out in hives: Can’t you just pour it in the damned glass and drink it? But I digress.

My favorite liqueur is Campari, the beautiful red herbal bitter aperitif. Typically, I drink a splash of Campari with mandarin orange sparkling water and a splash of Key lime juice. But I was inspired by The Wall Street Journal article to invent a “Champagne cocktail” of my own, one that’s affordable, flavorful, and beautiful.

Bless our friend Ben, he’d recently surprised me with a bottle of Campari and a bottle of Pink Bubbles, a dry sparkling rose. It’s made by Yellowtail, whose symbol is the yellow-tailed kangaroo (thus the “Roo” in Red Roo). I find it delicious as is (chilled, of course), and you can get a bottle for $9.99 around here. Can’t beat that price! Campari will set you back a bit more, as in about $28.99 a bottle, but you use so little in a Red Roo that a single bottle will see you well into the New Year.

Using just a little Campari is key here: It’s bitter, sweet, and complex, and you want it to color and add some flavor notes to your Red Roo, not overpower it. Try a jigger in your wine glass to start with, then fill the glass with chilled Pink Bubbles. (Do not be put off by the too-cute name, this is good stuff, I promise.) The color should be a perfect Christmas red, and the flavor should be delicious, with a light texture and that luscious sparkly finish. If you find you have a taste for Campari, you can always up the amount you put in your Red Roo, but not to the point where you weigh it down or make it too sweet, please.

Unlike everyone in the article I read, I don’t happen to own a set of coupe glasses or Champagne flutes. I don’t have room for glassware that can only be used for one thing, and I have better things to do with my money. So I use plain old wineglasses for my Red Roos, and they look both beautiful and festive. And taste amazing. Try some this holiday season. Cheers!

Note: I thought up a complementary holiday “Champagne” cocktail to offer holiday guests, the Green Roo. You’d substitute Absinthe (“the green fairy”) for the Campari and Bubbles (Yellowtail’s sparkling white, also dry and quite good on its own) for the Pink Bubbles. I’d think a tray of these red and green sparkling cocktails would be an amazing kickoff to any holiday gathering. Assuming the Absinthe remained green. And clear.

Absinthe is an herbal aperitif like Campari, and it got a bad name after so many French artists died after hanging out in clubs and bars drinking it. It was considered the opium of its day. As a result, it was banned here until just recently, when someone finally figured out that it wasn’t the Absinthe per se, but drinking until their livers failed, that killed all those idiots.

Despite Absinthe’s reprieve, I can’t recommend the Green Roo, simply because I’ve never had Absinthe. And I have a bad feeling that I read somewhere that when you add it to a glass, it becomes cloudy, which would hardly enhance a sparkling cocktail, much less give it a green color. But then, why did they call it “the green fairy”? If anyone knows the answer to these mysteries, please let me know.

Meanwhile, enjoy your Red Roos!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Keep your Christmas plants alive. December 7, 2014

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were determined to get some poinsettias and cyclamen for our mantel and Christmas table yesterday. We didn’t want anything fancy—just two white cyclamen and two scarlet poinsettias for our mantel, and one large red poinsettia and two smaller white poinsettias for our Christmas table. We’ve found that the mantel plants are perfect with our Christmas tree with its red balls and twinkly white lights, and the kitchen table is too small for anything more elaborate than our poinsettias and two red candles.

As we were driving back from another classic display, the Goschenhoppen Historians’ Christmas market, we passed a small greenhouse that had been on the road from Green Lane to Red Hill just about forever. It was a classic mom-and-pop operation, its signs said it was open, and one of them said they grew their own poinsettias, a real rarity in this age when most greenhouses, groceries and the like buy theirs as “plugs” (started plants) from one or two enormous poinsettia greenhouses. Silence and I screeched to a halt, turned around, and returned to the little greenhouse.

It was a horrible, cold, drizzly, miserable day, the kind where you just can’t wait to get back inside and crank up the heat or turn up the fire. No wonder we were the only customers, and Grandma was the only person minding the store. But the plants were gorgeous, and Grandma was full of good, easy advice for keeping them healthy. Since we only bought the cyclamen and poinsettias, this is what she told us:

To keep cyclamen fresh and healthy, don’t water them until the soil is dry. The leaves may wilt, but the second you water them, they’ll perk up and the plant will look beautiful, including those gorgeous patterned leaves. Choose plants with plenty of buds coming on (look at the base inside the leaves), and you’ll have gorgeous blooms continuing through Easter.

As for poinsettias, Grandma said the only thing that could make them wilt was to overwater them. We’ve heard that before, too: That you can kill poinsettias by overwatering them, but otherwise, you’ll enjoy them through the summer. Our small white poinsettias (free from our local bank last Christmas) lasted through the summer. Who’s to know what these will do? Let us know how yours hold up.

Shiny hair at home. December 3, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. I was just reading an article on how to protect your hair from drying, brittleness, and a lifeless look now that winter is sucking humidity out of your home and your home’s heating system is making the situation worse.

Their experts suggested making an infusion of vinegar, fresh mint leaves, fresh rosemary, and lavender, then pouring boiling water over it and letting it steep. Once it had reached room temperature, you were supposed to strain it, then pour it over your hair after shampooing, work it in, and then rinse it out with COLD water.

No, thank you. It’s horrible enough to get into the shower when it’s cold, without pouring COLD water over your head. I expect this would certainly add shine, since the vinegar would strip off dulling residue, and the herbs would add a nice fragrance. But it seems like a lot of trouble to go to for one shampooing (the recipe makes enough for one use). And did I mention the COLD water?!

Fortunately, when I was in grad school, a Pakistani friend taught me a simple secret for healthy, shiny, hydrated hair, one I’ve never forgotten. She put plain yogurt on her hair about a half-hour before her shower, worked it in, then wrapped her hair in a warm towel. (Easy enough to warm a towel by tossing it in the dryer for a few minutes, and oh, the luxury! Not to mention that the heat will help open your hair’s pores so the treatment will be more effective.) When it was time to shower, she took off the towel and shampooed as usual. The result? Beautiful, healthy hair.

These days, I’d use plain, full-fat Greek yogurt if I were doing this, since the yogurt’s already been drained of whey—no fuss, no muss—and the full-fat content will add more shine to your hair. You won’t be racking up bills, either, since you can use half a single-serving carton and the other half will keep perfectly in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. (Depending on how long or short, thick or thin your hair is, you might even be able to get away with 1/3 single-serving carton per use.) And don’t forget to heat your towel! Your hair—and cold body—will thank you.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Saving money on cheese. December 1, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. This morning, I was reading an article from Cook’s Illustrated comparing different brands of artisanal Cheddars. They were trying to see if they could find something that compared to a real English Cheddar, with a bite and a flaky texture, rather than those rubbery blocks of plastic-wrapped Cheddar we’re used to picking up in the dairy aisle. A Cheddar, in other words, that you could eat with crackers, fruit, crudites, or even ploughman’s lunch.

The problem with many of these artisanal Cheddars is that they can cost up to $25 a pound (not including shipping) and are often only available regionally, and not in groceries even where they are regional. (The one exception seemed to be a Cabot super-sharp white Cheddar, which the Cook’s Illustrated staff thought was the best grocery-store Cheddar.) The cheeses have another problem as far as I’m concerned: Many are aged in lard-soaked cloth, a definite no if you’re vegetarian like me.

So what do you do if you’re not up for shelling out $25 for a block of Cheddar and still want a flaky eating Cheddar that tastes great out of hand? I say, buy Asiago instead. Nothing beats an aged Asiago cut straight from the wheel at the cheese stand, but a mellow Asiago from the grocery (I believe the Cook’s Illustrated folks voted for Bel Gioioso the last time they compared grocery-store Asiagos, but please don’t quote me on that) will beat any grocery Cheddar hands down. Its delicious sharp but nutty flavor and flaky (but never crumbly) texture makes it a perfect accompaniment for dried and fresh fruit and nuts. Yum!

My fallbacks here are Black Diamond Cheddar (on the pricey side) and Cracker Barrel Reserve (in the black wrapper), which has great Cheddar flavor but that inescapable rubbery texture. When I was a child, before Kraft bought the Cracker Barrel cheese brand, my grandfather loved to buy his favorite, that day’s equivalent to Cracker Barrel Reserve. It was called Coon Cheese and featured a raccoon on the package, and we would eat it with apples. Ah, the good life! There was an even sharper Cracker Barrel cheese called Rat Trap, which was sold on the store shelves along with all the other Cheddars. My grandfather loved that, too (and it was quite good), but when Kraft bought the brand Rat Trap vanished. I guess their marketing department didn’t approve!

I’ve found that it’s easy enough to save money on Swiss cheese as well. Our favorite Swiss is Jarlsberg, with its smooth texture and rich, nutty flavor. It’s so delicious sliced and served on flatbread crackers with grapes, hazelnuts or almonds, and dried fruit like apricots and cranberries. (I prefer Swiss on crackers, unlike Cheddar, which I enjoy eating out of hand. Maybe it’s because those flatbread crackers, like Rye Crisps, add a satisfying crunch to complement the creaminess of the cheese.) But nobody ever said Jarlsberg was cheap! A chunk of it can eat a chunk out of your grocery budget.

What to do now? Easy. This time, Kraft has come through. I don’t know if it’s because the creamy texture of Swiss neutralizes the plastic packaging, but I’ve found that a block of Cracker Barrel Baby Swiss makes a perfectly good eating Swiss, and you can often find it on sale. You’re not going to end end up eating Jarlsberg, but you will be eating a nice table Swiss to enjoy with crackers, fresh and dried fruit, and nuts. You’ll enhance the experience if you add a little salt—but just a little sprinkle—over the cheese. And you will be saving lots of money while still enjoying Swiss cheese rather than something that tastes like stretchy plastic.

If you have other tips for saving money on cheese—but please, no tips about freezing cheese—please let us know!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Dreamboats. November 24, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner at home or going to join family and friends, having a beautiful, delicious, holiday-appropriate appetizer on hand is a must. This one is the best ever, with its holiday colors and flavors. It requires just four ingredients (plus black pepper), you don’t cook it, it keeps well, and it’s the perfect finger food for hungry guests: just give them napkins and watch the whole plate disappear.

I’m talking about endive boats, and this is all you do the make them: Buy two large, plump heads of Belgian endive (no wilting or browning leaves). Cut the end off each head and separate the leaves. Place a ring of leaves, tip ends pointed outward, on a serving plate, with a second ring behind them. Add a rosette of leaves in the center.

Fill each “boat” (leaf) with crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese, no more than four dried cranberries (for just a hit of flavor, you don’t want these to be sweet), and crumbled pecans. Lightly grind fresh-cracked black pepper over your boats. You’re done!

If you’re taking these someplace, cover the plate tightly with cling wrap so the boats don’t topple over. And, if you wonder about this particular flavor combination, make an extra boat and try it yourself. Once you have, just don’t eat the whole plate! This has become our go-to appetizer from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. It’s refreshing, fun to eat, and flavorful, but it never overwhelms the food to come—or the busy cook.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Healthier mashed potatoes. November 12, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Who doesn’t love mashed potatoes? Here at Hawk’s Haven, we make ours with Yukon Gold potatoes, then mash them with lots of butter and add half-and-half, salt (we like Real Salt or Trocomare, herbed salt) and fresh-cracked black pepper. If our friend Ben insists, I’ll toss in a little cream cheese, too. Talk about indulgence in a pan! It’s the ultimate comfort food, and it goes with practically everything but pasta, Thai and Chinese food, and the like.

But, though delicious, I wouldn’t exactly call this butter- and cream-filled dish a health food. What to do? Fortunately, our neighbors across the pond have figured out two ways to combine the creamy goodness of mashed potatoes with our beloved superfoods, kale, cabbage, even Brussels sprouts, to come up with sides that are nutritious as well as delicious and comforting. In Ireland, this dish is called colcannon; in the UK, it bears the delightful name of bubble and squeak (for the sounds it makes while cooking).

Bubble and sqeak originated as a way to use up leftovers. Basically, you minced up whatever was on hand—cooked cabbage, a few carrots, even scraps of meat—folded them into mashed potatoes, formed patties, and fried them until they were crispy outside and creamy inside. Because these originated during WWII rationing, they were typically served for Sunday night supper, but once rationing ended, they became stalwarts of the standard British breakfast, alongside meats, sliced tomatoes, and eggs.

Colcannon, by contrast, more closely resembles mashed potatoes (though the mashed potatoes may be green!). The basic premise is to make mashed potatoes as you usually would, then prepare an equal amount of shredded green cabbage, kale, or Brussels sprouts. (I don’t see why you couldn’t mix them. I also don’t see why you couldn’t start with a package of pre-shredded green cabbage for coleslaw and/or pre-shredded Brussels sprouts). Saute several large halved and sliced leeks (tough outside green leaves and ends chopped away) or diced sweet onion in plenty of butter until the onion clarifies adding ample salt, black pepper, and (if desired) a pinch of mace. Then add the greens and cover the pot until the greens are wilted and shiny, stirring several times as they cook and adding a little vegetable broth or water to prevent sticking if needed. Once the greens are cooked through, add the mashed potatoes, stir to combine, bring back up to heat, and serve as a side.

Now for the best part. Apparently the Irish serve a big dollop on each plate, but they don’t stop there. They spoon out a depression in the midst of each serving and fill it with a big piece of butter. It still may not be the healthiest dish in the world, but it sounds wonderful to me on a cold winter’s night!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Matthew, Mark, George and Ringo. November 10, 2014

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A friend who teaches philosophy at a local community college recently told our friend Ben that he’d asked his class who the current Pope was. Not one hand went up, even though Pope Francis is the most popular Pope of the era, or at least the one with the most media coverage. But let’s give the kids a break: Not everyone is Catholic, after all. Could you name the pastors of the megachurches if you weren’t Evangelical, or name the head of the Anglican Communion if you weren’t Episcopal?

But then, he asked them—a class who identified as Christians—who had written the four Gospels. Again, no hands went up. This is pretty bad, even shocking, to a generation who grew up reciting “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed I lie upon” every night. It’s one thing to ask a class to name the members of the Beatles, or the Monkees, or even Led Zeppelin, a generation or two out. Why would they know or care? But the Gospel writers?! Sheesh.

Get out there and vote. November 4, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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We know these “midterm elections” aren’t exactly thrilling. A friend who volunteers at a polling station every election year tells us the place is almost deserted unless it’s a presidential election. But what happens today will determine who controls the Senate for the next four years, whether your governor is a Republican or Democrat (as is the case here in scenic PA), whether three states legalize medical marijuana. And that’s just the beginning.

So no, a president isn’t being elected tonight. But a lot of very important things are going on, things that could change your life for better or worse. Whatever your party affiliation—Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Independent—the polls are open ’til 7. Please stop on the way home and cast your vote. Some of these races are so close that your vote will really make a difference.

Harvest time. October 28, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silnce Dogood here. It’s a mild October day, and normally I’d be sitting out on our back deck listening to the corn talk. (The farmers in front and in back of our little cottage here in the middle of nowhere, PA, grow corn, and once it gets tall and dries out, it “talks” with every slightest breeze.) Today, however, I’m hiding in the house.

That’s because the farmers are harvesting the corn behind the house. There’s a terrible noise, and every few minutes a rhino-like, John-Deere-green creature passes in front of our deck doors, bellowing and presumably cutting down corn. This of course isn’t corn on the cob, it’s dried corn and cornstalks to make silage and sustain their milk cows through the winter.

I wonder what our poor chickens make of all this. This will be their first winter, and they love the dried corn in their scratch grains, but I doubt that they’re loving the racket that machine is making. People always tell you that country living is quiet and peaceful, but apparently they forget about the machines.

It’s something to keep in mind if you’re thinking about a move. Not to mention all the toxic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and so on. There are plenty of upsides—we have lots of great deck-sitting days—but downsides too. Days we see toxic bubbles from farm chemicals in our stream and wonder if our well water is drinkable. Days we can’t breathe outside because of chemical application. How wonderful to live surrounded by organic farms!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Time for homemade cream of tomato soup. October 22, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. The leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping, and harvest season is coming to an end. This means it’s time for warming comfort food, like cream of tomato soup. I don’t know if a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of cream of tomato soup with a pat of butter melting on top was your idea of childhood cold-weather lunch heaven, but it certainly was mine. Yum!!!

Unfortunately, a check of the grocery aisles will reveal a selection of cream of tomato soups packed with high-fructose corn syrup, cornstarch or flour, and all sorts of other ingredients that I don’t want in a simple soup. But, thank heavens, it really is easy to make this one from scratch in just minutes and get the benefit of all that healthy antioxidant lycopene without stuffing yourself with things that are bad for you. Here’s all you have to do:

Silence’s Homemade Cream of Tomato Soup

1 6-ounce can tomato paste
3 cups whole milk
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 stick butter
salt (we like RealSalt), Herbamare or Trocomare, white pepper, and/or hot sauce to taste (we’d choose Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa for this, if we wanted to use hot sauce)

That’s really all you need. Heat the milk and half-and-half in a heavy pot, never allowing it to boil. Once it’s hot, add the tomato paste, mashing with the back of a large spoon until it dissolves into the milk/half-and-half mixture. Add the salt and whatever else you want, stirring to blend. Chop the butter into pieces, reserving two for the tops of the bowls, and add the rest to the soup, again, stirring and watching carefully to make sure it never boils (which would destroy he texture). When the soup is quite hot, pour it into two bowls, top each with a pat of butter, and enjoy, with or without the accompanying grilled cheese!

‘Til next time,

Silence

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