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Our salads, our selves. May 31, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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7 comments

Silence Dogood here. As a committed saladholic, I actually like salads. I don’t eat them in an attempt to fill up on empty, tasteless low-calorie fodder so I won’t have room for fries and dessert. I don’t eat them because it’s simply what one does, or because the waiter just slapped the salad plate down so you might as well eat it. Nor do I eat them because the place has an all-you-can-eat salad bar and that means it’s, like, practically free food! I eat salads because I like them. No, I love them. And so does our friend Ben.

But over our years of enthusiastic salad consumption, we’ve observed that what people choose to eat as salad, or put on their salads, tells a lot about them. People who go for the wedge of iceberg drowning in blue cheese dressing obviously love blue cheese dressing with a little crunch to it. Folks who belly up to the salad bar and come away with plates weighing as much as they do, overflowing with pasta salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, and any other cold, mayonnaise-laden glop they can shove a scoop into, with not a shred of lettuce or a fresh veggie in sight, clearly would not eat a salad if it rushed them and shoved itself into their mouths. Bring on those mayo-coated carbs!!! Worst of all are those lost souls who mix salad, pasta salad, Jell-o salad, and fruit salad on the same plate. Eeeeewwww, can’t they just make up their minds, or at least put their smorgasbord of salads on separate plates?! To the guilty parties: What are you thinking?! You know you wouldn’t act like this at home.

A quick disclaimer here, lest you think that our friend Ben and I, in our quest for the true salad and nothing but the salad, are holier than most. Yes, we love salad. But we also love carbs, and we feel that never the twain should meet. (Hold those croutons and bring on the hot buttered rolls, please.) We like our salads with food, not as food. We love big, colorful, eye- and tastebud-pleasing salads, but we would not elect to simply eat a big old salad as an entire meal. The salad with the pasta or potato or hot bread and cheese plate; the coleslaw with the club sandwich and fries. Observant readers will note a second theme emerging here, too: We feel that salads should be cold but the main course should be hot. The two should complement, not echo, one another.

This brings us to a very sticky point, gastronomically speaking: At what point during the meal should a salad be served? In America, it’s served before the meal. In Europe, it’s served after the meal. Our friend Ben and I can see the sense of serving a salad before a meal, especially if you’re trying not to overeat. After the meal? Sheesh. By then the caloric damage has been done and who has any appetite left, anyway? We’re sure that there must be some logic to this European tradition, but we’re at a loss to determine what it could possibly be. We don’t eat dessert with our meals; we tend to have dessert as a celebration, and to eat it alone, as a sort of one-dish party food. But the thought of eating salad, then proceeding directly to dessert, is enough to stand one’s hair on end. (Salad to fruit and cheese plate? Sure. But if you’re having a salad and a fruit and cheese plate, why not just add a good baguette and make a meal of that?!!)

Oops, I just had, in the immortal words of a friend’s mother, a rush of brains to the head. Thinking back over the history of salad, I recalled that, until comparatively recently salad greens (even lettuces) tended to be quite bitter, and were considered “bitter herbs” with curative properties. You can still get a sense of that from endive, radicchio, and frisee. People ate salad after the meal for health reasons, as a digestive aid after the rich food of the previous courses. Who knows, perhaps it prevents clogged arteries!

But let’s get back to the best time to serve a salad. Our friend Ben and I are convinced that the very best time is with the meal itself. I guess it’s because we’re sensualists, but we love the cold crunch and crisp flavors of salad contrasted to the hot softness of whatever else we’re eating. We enjoy being able to alternate. Admittedly, we draw the line at even eating salad—unless it’s a tropical fruit salad or a slice of melon with lime juice—with curries, but we’d far rather incorporate the salad into our Mexican Night extravaganzas as part of the toppings for our refried beans, or eat it concurrently, than have a taco salad followed by Mexican food. We’d prefer to enjoy a Greek salad with our baba ghannouj, hot, plump pitas, and falafel patties than eat the salad first. And the same holds true for any cuisine—give us mac’n’cheese and salad, black bean soup and hot cornbread and salad, you name it and salad, not salad, then whatever. Maybe we’re just salad outlaws, but we say, try it before you diss it. It’s a very satisfying way to eat.

One more pet peeve while I’m on a rant: Maybe you were lucky enough to escape this, but when I was growing up in an oh-so-proper household, I was taught that it was bad manners to use a knife to cut your salad into manageable bites. Thus, you were supposed to try to lift and cram huge onion and pepper rings, giant lettuce leaves dripping with dressing, and so on into your mouth with your fork without looking like a hog at the trough or dribbling gunk down the front of your shirt. Yeah, right. This reminds me of the days of Louis XIV and the like, when even the highest nobles had lice, but it was considered shockingly rude to acknowledge same in public by, say, getting them off you. So here were dukes and princesses with lice crawling out from under their wigs and down their faces at some ball or banquet, while they and everyone else pretended to ignore them. 

I say, forget that. This rule of etiquette evolved because the earliest salads were all neatly shredded like coleslaw, so no one needed anything besides a fork to eat them. But today, when inconsiderate folks put giant, mouth-stretching pieces of stuff into salads rather than cutting or tearing them into bite-sized portions while composing their salads (shredding is optional, but really, dicing a pepper isn’t going to kill you), let’s get over ourselves and cut our salads with a knife. Eating bite-sized forkfuls of salad will be far more polite than cramming giant leaves into your mouth to honor tradition, trust me. Or, if you don’t trust me, just ask your dining companions.

Now it’s time for the quiz. What do your salad preferences reveal about you? Take our Salad Personality Test and find out:

                   Silence’s Salad Personality Test

Choose your favorite salads and see what they say about you!

All iceberg, all the time. You like to know what you’re getting into. No surprises—consistency is your watchword. But this doesn’t mean you’re dull. You count on those little “extras” to spice up your life, just as the right dressing can turn a wedge of iceberg from boring to sublime.

Caesar salad, with anchovies. You like to see things done right; you’re a traditionalist at heart. But your view of life has a definite salty tang. You use that traditional base to develop your own eclectic views.

Caesar salad, no anchovies. You’re all about surface impressions but lack the depth that gives weight to your views. Unless you’re skipping the anchovies because you’re a vegetarian, in which case you’re not afraid to indulge yourself, ignoring what anybody thinks, while remaining true to your principles.

Spring or mesclun mix. If you really love mesclun, you’re a sensualist who loves mixing different taste sensations for an ultimate high. If you choose this salad because you think it’s trendy, you’re a follower with no clear idea of who you are, only a vague idea of who you should be. And if you enjoy spring mix or mesclun because it’s soft, with no crunch, you’re a softie at heart (or you need to get your dentures checked).

Waldorf salad. If this is your fave, you’re not afraid to declare yourself to the world—a little fruity, a little nutty, a lot sentimental. You’re the sort of person who couldn’t give less of a damn about what’s trendy—your beloved Grandma and Grandpa loved a Waldorf salad, and if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for you. It tastes good, it reminds you of them, end of story!

Pasta salad. Soft and slippery, you like to slide through life unnoticed. You’ve observed that calling attention to one’s self often brings risk—attracting attention can attract negative attention as well as positive. Better to keep quiet and hope that nobody notices you; then you can get on with your life without having to worry about what might happen next.

Pickled veggies. Pickled beets, peppers, cukes, and other veggies, as well as pickled red-beet eggs, can add a sweet-sour tang to a salad, and to life. You know that you often have to take the sour with the sweet in this world, and unlike many, have learned to relish both as part of a balanced life. You are the person voted “most likely to succeed”!

Radicchio and endive. Like the pickled veggie fans above, you know that life is not all about sweetness and light. You have to take the bitter with the sweet. But watch yourself—if you tend to go for all bitter greens and forget the sweetness, you’re likely to become cynical and bitter yourself. And nobody likes a cynic!

Spinach salad. You’re a person of substance who likes to see that you’re getting a return on your investments. What other people think of you matters. You keep up with trends, and update your look and home decor to retain your place among the fashionable elite. You’d never consider yourself cutting edge—that’s too risky, what if the trend doesn’t take?—but if “everyone” is drinking Chardonnay, even if you secretly prefer white Zin, by God, you’ll drink Chardonnay or die.

Arugula. You like to go for the meat of life. “Where’s the beef?!” is your mantra. If you could, you’d go for an all-arugula salad with maybe some almonds, onions, and orange slices for added spice. You enjoy life with gusto, but often have to tame down your natural instincts for the sake of others. You often find yourself adding arugula to spice up an ordinary salad, hoping to please everyone, rather than making the all-arugula salad you crave. But never fear—your efforts at accomodation will be rewarded. Everyone will love you, while acknowledging that there’s something special about you, even if they can’t put their finger on it.      

Mustard greens and horseradish. You like to add some heat to your life and your salad. You may not choose to live on the edge, but that little, unexpected bite of spice makes life worth living. And never knowing when you’re going to come upon it adds the real spice to your life. You are satisfied with who you are and are not out to prove it to anyone; instead, you find that people tend to flock to you as a natural leader. Get used to it!     

Tossed salad. You like variety in life and in salad, but don’t enjoy risk. The conventional has huge appeal, but you reject the boring. Mixing it up within conventionally accepted limitations gives you a chance to enjoy diversity without ever having to worry about what the neighbors think.

Topping fanatic. You don’t care what the underlying salad’s made of, what matters to you are the bacon bits, shredded cheese, hardboiled egg crumbles, sunflower seeds, croutons, and other toppings that make salad-eating worthwhile. You’re likely to be a well-adjusted person who deals with the ups and downs of life by recognizing that it’s the little things that make all the difference between happiness and misery.

I could go on, but I think that’s enough for one day. Tomorrow, I’ll post a wonderful spring salad and dressing that should convert every reader into a salad lover!

              ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

      

Gods and heroes. May 30, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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3 comments

Our friend Ben is, ahem, still reading Blue Highways. It’s William Least Heat Moon’s account of a road trip he took across the U.S., sticking to the back roads, in the late Seventies.

Yesterday I read the chapter in which Least Heat Moon arrived in Newport, Rhode Island. He likes to give a little history about each place where he stops, and of course, Newport has more than a little history to recount. But in this case, he gave a little vignette that was so wonderful and thought-provoking that our friend Ben has to share it with you.

First, a bit of background. George Washington was so revered after the Revolution that he often made ceremonial progresses—trips with welcoming parades in every town—through the former Colonies just so people could see him. And they turned out in droves everywhere he went, clearly aware that they were seeing a piece of living history. It’s hard to imagine who could inspire a turnout like that today, or even within (relatively) recent memory. The pope? Elvis? Simon Cowell? Dale Earnhardt? Bob Marley? JFK? The Beatles? Not even close.

Back to the story: Least Heat Moon recounts how, when Washington was parading through Newport, a little boy, held up by his father for a better view, finally got a glimpse of Washington. Surprised, he blurted out, “Why, Father! General Washington is a man!” Hearing the carrying, high-pitched voice, Washington replied, “Yes, only a man.”

Only a man. This made our friend Ben do a little time-travelling, back to the days when kings were routinely regarded as more than men, when they were considered to rule by Divine right. Which is to say, that God Himself had set their line upon the throne, and what man is to question God’s own choice? Thus, weak men and even madmen were allowed to keep their thrones, and regicide was considered an act against God as well as man. And thus it took a revolution to bring down a monarchy.

We could take the time machine still farther back, to Imperial Rome or Pharaonic Egypt, where rulers, living and dead, were worshiped as gods themselves. Or to the heroes of the Golden Age, where partial divinity was the birthright of almost all great heroes: Cuchulainn, fathered by a god; Achilles, born of a goddess. Clearly, no mere mortal could possess such prowess and power, could have been set so far above his fellow mortals simply through exceptional skill, unwavering focus, and fortunate circumstance. Here we have the most direct form of divine intervention.

With the exception of that very young child, no one in Washington’s day believed that he was more than human. But everyone felt that he was larger than life. (Which, by the way, was literally true: In a time when the average male height hovered around 5’8″ or 9″, Washington towered over almost all of his contemporaries at 6’4″. His heroic stature was definitely an asset, and he used it to his advantage throughout his life.)

The former colonists were quite ready to appoint him America’s own King George by popular acclaim, too. It was perhaps Washington’s most heroic deed that he walked away from kingship, and even walked away from the presidency, which could certainly have been his for life, after only two terms. In his day, this was recognized throughout Europe, by monarchs, politicians, and intellectuals alike, as an astonishing, unheard-of thing: to hold power, and the potential for absolute power, and simply to walk away.

But George Washington recognized that, for America to be truly free, to become the republic that the Founders envisioned and that so many patriots had fought and sacrificed for, it had to be free of him. And he had to be free of it—free to return to his beloved Mount Vernon, to enjoy the companionship of family and friends, to ride over the land he loved. To get back to the garden.

Yes, Washington was “only” a man. No god sired him, no goddess gave birth to him. (Though his mother, Mary Washington, was apparently quite a force to be reckoned with in her own right.) He did not rule by Divine right; he did not rule at all. But his ideals, and his pursuit of them, were truly heroic, in the best sense of that word. Our friend Ben can only wish that we had more “mere” men like him today.       

In search of, part two. May 29, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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4 comments

Our friend Ben noted in an earlier post (“In search of”) how much the search phrases readers use to reach Poor Richard’s Almanac amuse and educate us. Some of them make us laugh; some of them amaze us; and some of them intrigue us. We are grateful to our readers for all three types, and to WordPress for letting us see them. They really brighten our day.

Just today, we’ve had some real gems. In addition to the ever-popular “pirate food,” someone searched for “food ports pirates.” Our friend Ben doesn’t know about you, but that sounds like a Jimmy Buffet album title to me. (Listen up, Jimmy!)

There’s the intriguing “sea salt for fruit trees.” Our friend Ben doesn’t know about this one, but it’s certainly worth investigating. We love our salt; perhaps our fruit trees would, too? And what a great title for a novel or book of poems. (Don’t steal it, now!)

Then there’s “cook green beans with coke cola.” Now, our friend Ben loves green beans, and I love Coca-Cola. But the thought of even washing green beans down with Coke makes me feel queasy, much less cooking them in it. Coca-Cola in cake? We haven’t done it, but we can see it. Coca-Cola in barbecue sauce? Well, okay. (We’d rather drink our Coke and put bourbon in the barbecue sauce, but yes, we can see it, too.) Coca-Cola in green beans?!! This is scary, folks. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Most searches do, in fact, have some relationship to our blog posts. But there’s one recurring search that continues to baffle our friend Ben: “blue cat statue in yard.” Here at Hawk’s Haven, we do have cats in the yard. But we don’t have statues. No cat statues, no blue statues, no nude statues (sorry, Stuart), no statues, period. Our friend Ben wonders why this search brings readers to Poor Richard’s Almanac. But more to the point, our friend Ben wonders why there are lots of people floating around in the blogosphere searching for blue cat statues at all. It’s sort of spooky, isn’t it? Our friend Ben has visions of a Stepford Wives neighborhood peopled by blue cat statues, one in every yard. If you start to see them springing up near you, please do let us know so we can pack our bags and head to Canada while there’s still time.  

Our friend Ben’s favorite, however—perhaps my all-time favorite except for that priceless comment about our hapless friend and blog contributor, Richard Saunders, “Poor Richard will do anything for money” (yes, I’m still laughing)—is this one, bringing to mind as it does so many colorful visuals: “eating too much Amish friendship bread gone wild.” Oh, geez. If you recall Silence Dogood’s unfortunate experience with the escaping Amish friendship batter from her post “Amish friendship bread gone wild,” where the bag of batter kept dragging itself across the kitchen counter and throwing itself on the floor (and yes, this really did happen), the vision this particular search calls forth is worthy of an “I Love Lucy” episode, as the unwitting friendship-bread enthusiast is dragged this way and that by the crazed contents of their repast. I hope this was a hypothetical search rather than the result of someone’s overindulgence. Bad bread! Bad! Bad!!!

Keep ‘em coming, folks! You give us another reason to keep smiling.   

A most confusing name. May 28, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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10 comments

It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, back today to talk about one of our favorite Founding Fathers, Gouverneur Morris. (No one can touch the incomparable Dr. Franklin, of course, but Gouverneur Morris is definitely up there with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton in our top four.) I just saw with interest that someone had come onto our blog looking for help in pronouncing Gouverneur Morris’s name. Easy, right? It’s GOO-ver-NUR. Wrong! Uh, “governor”? Wrong. Appearances and common sense to the contrary, I have it on good authority that Morris’s contemporaries pronounced his name “gover-NEER.” Sheesh.  

And who’d saddle an infant with a name like “Gouverneur,” anyway?!! (Our friend Ben, whose progenitor in the Colonies was Marmaduke Semmes, points out that perhaps we shouldn’t throw stones here.) More than one of us grew up assuming that Morris was a governor and Gouverneur was his title, with some leeway for the elastic spelling of the time. But we were as wrong about that as about his name’s pronunciation.

Actually, the explanation is quite simple: Morris was named to honor his mother, whose maiden name was Sarah Gouverneur. This practice is still common in the South, where many of us, male and female, bear our mother’s family name as a middle name, and many go by it as their given name. Thus, Mary Jamison Roberts becomes Jamison, or just Jamie; Charles Colston Burrell is called Colston or Cole.

But still, “Gouverneur” is quite a mouthful. Wonder if he had any nicknames?

In a group of extraordinary people, in an extraordinary time, Gouverneur Morris led a life that was perhaps more amazing than any. Someday, I promise, I’ll tell you his larger-than-life story. I’d be willing to bet that he’ll become one of your favorite Founders, too!    

Get a Hummer. May 27, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening.
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10 comments

Gas prices got you down? Get a hummer or two and you’ll soon feel better.

Say what?! Not a Hummer, a hummer—as in hummingbird. These colorful, aggressive little critters are guaranteed to brighten anybody’s day, and you don’t have to drive anywhere to enjoy them.

Here in the East, we typically have just one resident hummingbird, the ruby-throated, though rufous hummingbirds are becoming more frequent visitors. Of course, you lucky Westerners have bazillion species swarming your yards and feeders. But we’re not bitter.

Actually, for once, we’re not bitter. Okay, we would love to host a rufous hummingbird here at Hawk’s Haven. But we’re really quite happy with our ridiculous little ruby-throats and their crazy antics.

Hummers seem like happy, innocent little busy beelike birds, but the males think they’re golden eagles or something. They’ll dive-bomb anything, including you and your windows, if they perceive you as rivals for anything from food and females to air space. Fortunately, they’re harmless, unlike, say, yellowjackets and other beelike bombers. So we can appreciate the humor of these little Napoleons without worrying about our safety.

And they really are entertaining. Until this morning, our friend Ben had forgotten about their obsession with one of our office windows—the one directly in front of the computer. It’s a shaded window, so there’s no way that they could see their reflection. But they still buzz it enthusiastically, squeaking all the while. Doubtless they’re looking at our friend Ben frantically typing inside and muttering “I’m gonna get you, Ben!!!” The abuse I’m forced to endure.

So, like millions of others, Silence Dogood and our friend Ben love our hummingbirds. But unlike others, we draw the line at setting out nectar feeders for them. The thought of constantly mixing up sugar-water, watching for disasters like fermentation and the dreaded black mold, sterilizing our feeders, and endlessly refilling, all the while fearing invasions from ants, bees, wasps, and the like is just too much for us. Not to even get into the warnings about mixing up the wrong proportions of sugar to water or, God forbid, using some other kind of sweetener. (In a word, don’t.) Refilling a tube feeder with sunflower seeds is one thing. Taking on a part-time job is something else.

Besides, we’re gardeners. Hummingbirds evolved to get their nectar from plants, not feeders, right? And here at Hawk’s Haven, we’re fortunate enough to have a range of hummingbird favorites that keep the little terrors hanging around quite happily until the onset of cold weather causes them to migrate to their tropical wintering grounds.

We typically see our first hummingbirds when the columbines and hyacinths bloom. From there, hostas and jewelweed, monarda (bee balm), salvias (like our beloved pineapple sage, which will bring hummers right up onto the deck), lantanas, fuchsias, trumpetvines, nasturtiums, and rose-of-Sharons keep these high-octane avians going. (Our friend Ben has always found the expression “eat like a bird” amusing. Pretty much any bird will eat ten times its weight in food every day, but hummingbirds, constantly in motion as they are, must consume many more times their weight to stay alive.) I’ve often seen them buzzing our cannas, too.

There are many other “hummingbird plants,” and not all of them have red flowers. Hummingbirds do associate the color red with nectar, thanks in part to hummingbird feeders, but they’ll sip very happily from white, pink, lavender, purple, blue, and orange flowers, too. Check to see which hummingbird nectar plants thrive in your area.

Our friend Ben thinks that growing hummingbird-attracting plants rather than setting out feeders serves three purposes: It attracts the hummers, it saves work, and it treats us twice, with blooms as well as our beloved ruby-throats. It doesn’t get better (or easier) than that!   

Raccoon 1, gardeners 0. May 26, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening.
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11 comments

*&%$!!#@! raccoon. Our friend Ben discovered a goldfish (dead) and snail (mercifully unharmed) lying on the deck yesterday morning, and a muddy, ripped-up mess where the container water garden had been looking so lovely and serene. As feared (see my post on setting up the water garden, “A good day for gazing balls”), the wretched raccoon had discovered the all-you-can-eat buffet on our deck and bellied up for its dinner.

As the earth awakens from its winter rest and gardening season moves from a longed-for dream to a blister-inducing reality, raccoons emerge from hibernation, mate, and bear their young. By May and June, the females have hungry mouths to feed (including their own) and the males are footloose and fancy free. Just as your first crops are ripening, you’re likely to see these big, smart, adaptable omnivores casing your produce or pet food—or worse, see the path of nocturnal destruction they’ve left in their wake.

We’re not the only ones who’ve suffered raccoon depredations in the past few weeks. Melissa at Zanthan Gardens (http://www.zanthan.com/gardens/gardenlog/) had a raccoon trash her water garden, too. And the Weed Whackin’ Wenches (http://www.weedwhackinwenches.blogspot.com/) had a very humorous encounter with a raccoon attempting to raid their garden and have since posted the formidable Diva Dog on guard duty to prevent any recurrences. Our good friend Edith had the ultimate horror, a family of raccoons in her attic. (Given the noise even a solitary squirrel makes overhead, our friend Ben shudders to think of the racket, not to mention what else might be going on. It probably sounded like boot camp in progress.)

From one end of the country to the other, the raccoons are active… and they’re hungry. Our friend Ben understands that they’ve even become naturalized in Europe, and are up to their usual tricks in urban and suburban areas there, too. Yikes!

What makes raccoons more of a menace than those other backyard marauders, groundhogs (aka woodchucks), bunnies, skunks, and ‘possums? (Note that I did not say deer. if you have a deer problem, you probably laugh at raccoons. But that is another story.) It’s a combination of intelligence, dexterity, omnivorous habits, and size. Did I mention that raccoons are big? A fullgrown male can weigh 35 pounds and be 36 inches—that’s 3 feet, folks—long, not counting the 10-inch tail. The largest raccoon on record weighed more than 50 pounds. It takes a fair amount of food to fill an animal that size, and the critter can do quite a lot of damage just waddling around among your plants.

Raccoons are dexterous because they really have hands rather than front paws, and they certainly know how to use them. And like us, raccoons are omnivorous. (Unlike us, they have a fondness for garbage cans, and have absolutely no trouble pulling off the lid so they can climb in and explore.) They’ve been known to open screen doors, climb in open windows, and squeeze through pet doors to get to the coveted kitchen, then open cabinets and refrigerators, removing choice treats from their wrappers and leaving a pile of wrappers and an open fridge door, much like a distracted teenager, in their wake. (Cheesecake is apparently a favorite; our friend Ben can sympathize.) The very word “raccoon” derives from a Virginia Algonquian word meaning “he scratches with his hands.”

Another famous thing raccoons do with their hands is wash their food before eating it—the Norwegian word for raccoon means “wash bear”—though scientists will hasten to assure you that they’re not actually trying to get the food clean. (Just what they are trying to do is still a matter of debate.) Unfortunately, this means that a water garden provides one-stop shopping: The raccoon can select its meal and wash it in one convenient location.

What to do? Putting netting over the water garden is reputedly effective at keeping raccoons (and other predators like herons) out, though it hardly enhances the water garden’s aesthetic appeal, which is surely the reason we have them to begin with. (Since most raccoons are nocturnal, I suppose you could net the water garden at night and remove the netting every morning, but what a pain.) Our friend Ben is hoping that a barricade of container plants will at least give our raccoon pause. (By contrast, our outdoor cats love them, lolling on the deck in the shade of the plants’ foliage and doubtless dreaming of the jungle.)

Incidentally, you may wonder how we know that it’s a raccoon and not the outdoor cats attacking the water garden. Fortunately, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure this one out. While the cats do exhibit a preference for drinking the water in the container gardens rather than the fresh water in their own bowls (gross!!!), they don’t fish in them or tear up plants. Battered, knocked-around plants and muddy water are sure signs of raccoon feasting.

Here at Hawk’s Haven, we have two other things going in our fishes’ favor: First, we laid a section of clay pipe horizontally in the bottom of the water garden to provide the fish with a safe haven, then put in lots of plants for cover. And second, in past years this raccoon has appeared practically nightly for a couple of weeks, then moved on for the rest of the season. Maybe the other fish (and snails) will fare better. If not, our favorite water-garden store, Aquatic Concepts, is fortunately just a couple of miles down the road. We’ll just wait until there’s no further sign of depredation and restock.

For someone like our friend Ben who grew up with Sterling North’s heartwarming book Rascal, his real-life story of growing up with a beloved pet raccoon, to make the transition to viewing raccoons as pests isn’t easy. But one look at the helpless fish, the hapless snails, and the ravaged plants is enough to cause an attitude adjustment. Not to mention the very real threat of rabies to our outdoor cats—37.5% of reported rabies cases are in raccoons.

This morning, the water garden is once again unmolested. The water is clear, the plants are recovering, and I can see the two surviving fish swimming peacefully in the depths. But our friend Ben knows better than to assume that the worst is over. Once the raccoon has a chance to size up the situation, it will be raccoon 2, gardeners 0. It’s going to be a long couple of weeks.       

Some eggcellent picnic fare. May 25, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes.
Tags: , , ,
6 comments

Silence Dogood here. Memorial Day weekend kicks off picnic—or, at least, outdoor eating—season, and with a whole summer of outdoor fare ahead of us, it seemed only right to share a few picnic favorites from the Hawk’s Haven recipe archives.

Needless to say, with our six chickens laying eggs like no tomorrow (we give them a rest over winter so they can devote their energy to staying warm and healthy, and they always seem to try to make it up to us the rest of the year), we love recipes that use a lot of eggs. So I’ll kick off with one of my all-time faves, deviled eggs, and give you a few more egg-based treats as well. Just be sure to keep those egg- and mayo-rich dishes on ice in a cooler or in the fridge until it’s time to eat! In the case of the deviled eggs, I doubt you’ll have a problem, though—I can’t seem to keep them around long enough to even set out! (Ben and Richard, are you reading this?!!) So of course I call them…

           Silence’s Bedeviled Eggs 

6 hardboiled eggs (or as many as you need)

mayonnaise (Hellman’s—hmm, what an appropriate name!—or grapeseed, please)

mustard (we like Jim Beam bourbon-honey mustard)

horseradish

hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa) or seasoning (such as Trocamare)

salt

Hungarian paprika (sweet or hot)

Drain 1 teaspoon horseradish (the secret ingredient). Shell and halve hardboiled eggs, dropping yolks into a bowl. Mash yolks with a fork. Stir in mayonnaise, mustard, and horseradish, a teaspoon at a time, to bind yolks into a thick paste (you don’t want yolks that are either runny or crumbly). If yolk mix is too dry, add more mayonnaise first, then taste, and add more mustard and/or drained horseradish to adjust seasonings to taste. Once the yolks are the right consistency, add a dash of hot sauce or Trocamare and salt to taste, stirring well to blend. Mound yolk mix back into egg halves, top each with a sprinkling of paprika, and refrigerate to set up. You can dress these up with a bit of pimiento or a slice of black or green olive on top of each if you’d like (or if nobody, ahem, eats them first), but they’re luscious as is. Maybe my family and friends are more deviled-egg crazy than yours, but I count on two eggs (four halves) per person and never have leftovers.  

Your may recall our friend Delilah from her wonderful Crock-Pot mac’n’cheese recipe. (See my earlier post, “The ultimate mac’n’cheese,” if you missed this recipe; believe me, that’s one you don’t want to miss!) She’s a great cook and a great gardener, and she and Chaz have chickens as well as ducks, so using eggs is a priority at their house, too. Here’s another “eggcellent” egg recipe from Delilah:

           Delilah’s Egg Salad

6 hardboiled eggs

sweet pickle relish

mayonnaise

mustard, preferably stone-ground

salt and pepper to taste

Drain a tablespoon of the pickle relish. Shell the hardboiled eggs and chop them fine in a bowl. Mix relish, mayo, and mustard into the chopped eggs, starting slowly and adding more until you have the taste and consistency you want. Add salt and pepper to taste, then cover and chill until ready to serve. Serve on toast, Melba toast, or Ritz crackers, or on celery. Or eat it the way we love to here: on a sandwich of toasted multigrain or whole-wheat bread with lettuce, tomato and mayo. Yum!!!!

Moving right along, let’s check out another favorite egg-based dish, quiche. An advantage of quiche as far as outdoor eating is concerned is that it tastes great at room temperature as well as hot (as long as you have enough salt!), so it’s fine picnic fare, especially when you make crustless quiche in muffin pans and serve everyone their own quiche “muffins”! This recipe, based on one from our CSA, Quiet Creek Farm, uses Swiss chard, which is coming in now here at Hawk’s Haven.

           Chard Quiche

1 pie crust (optional)

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk, cream, yogurt, or combo

1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper (or to taste)

1 bunch chard, chopped (preferably ‘Rainbow Lights’, ‘Bright Lights’, ‘Pink Passion’, or other colorful types)

1/2 large sweet onion (‘WallaWalla’ or ‘Vidalia’ type), diced

1 cup Swiss or Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated

Steam chopped chard until tender; let cool. Place in colander and squeeze out excess liquid. Saute diced onion in butter until onion clarifies. Mix eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add onions, chard, and Swiss or Parmesan cheese. Fill crust or pour into greased muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes. (If using a muffin pan, the individual quiches may take less time to cook, so keep an eye on them.) Let stand for at least 15 minutes to set before serving.

Sugar Snap peas and new potatoes are more of our springtime favorites. Here’s a potato salad that uses both, from our friends at Pheasant Hill Farm in nearby Emmaus, Pennsylvania:

          Potato and Sugar Snap Salad

2 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-size chunks

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon finely minced onion

juice and grated zest from 1 lemon

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

12 ounces Sugar Snap peas, blanched for 30 seconds in boiling water, then refreshed by plunging into very cold water

1/4 cup minced fresh chives

salt and pepper

Place potatoes in large pot and cover with cold water. Salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are fork-tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to large bowl. While potatoes are still warm, sprinkle vinegar over them, toss, and set aside to cool to room temperature. In a small bowl, whisk onion, lemon juice and zest, oil, and sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add snap peas and chives to potatoes. Pour dressing over and toss.  

           Veggies and Dips

Finally, let’s talk about veggies and dips. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we love varying the veggies we use for dipping by what’s ready to harvest. That way, we never get tired of crudites. Right now, we’re enjoying sliced radishes, rolled lettuce leaves, scallions, Sugar Snap (aka edible-podded) peas, and steamed asparagus. Of course, you can use sweet pepper slices, cherry tomatoes, celery sticks, broccoli and cauliflower florets, and carrot sticks or chips if you’d like. We say, what’s important is to eat your veggies!

Let’s not forget those all-important dips. We love dips as much as anybody, but we hate the idea of turning healthful raw veggies into an artery-clogging calorie fest. So rather than using mayonnaise or cream cheese as a base for dips, we use cottage cheese or (our favorite) yogurt cheese.

What’s yogurt cheese, you ask? It’s nothing but plain yogurt that’s been drained to form a thick, cream-cheese like paste. It is so easy to make at home, you simply must try it! And if you can’t stand the acidic tang of plain yogurt, rest assured, it seems to drain out with the yogurt whey (which our dog, cats, and chickens all love, and it’s so good for them, though you can also add it to soup stock). We really can’t tell the yogurt cheese from cream cheese.

Here’s all you do: Pour a large container of plain yogurt into a fine-meshed sieve and set it over a bowl or pan to drain. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator overnight (or longer, for even thicker yogurt cheese). Give the watery whey to your pets or use it in soup or pour it over your compost. Spoon out the yummy yogurt cheese and you’re ready to make your dip! (Taste it first to see for yourself how good it is. You’ll be amazed!) Confession: Since we really love yogurt cheese, I actually bought a special yogurt cheesemaker called The Wave, and that’s what I use to make mine. It’s nothing more than a Tupperware-like rectangular plastic container with an insert containing a fine mesh in a “M” pattern (thus the name “Wave”). I got it from Lehman’s Non-Electric Catalog; there’s a link on our blogroll at right to their blog, and you can get to the online store from there. But the sieve-and-bowl option will work just fine, as long as the sieve mesh is really fine. 

For a cottage cheese-based dip, I like to start with a drier cottage cheese and whisk it into a creamy mass, breaking up the curds (you could use a blender or food processor for this as well). Then I add shredded Swiss, white Cheddar, or Parmesan cheese, salt to taste, and a splash of hot sauce. Finely chopped black olives are great in this, too. (Our heat-loving friend Richard Saunders likes to add minced, drained jalapenos to his, but if you go that route, skip the black olives and go for a bolder cheese like Cheddar rather than Swiss.)

For a yogurt cheese dip, you can add anything you’d normally add to cream cheese and/or mayo, from ranch or other dressing mix to a fiery blend of Southwestern spices. But our all-time favorite yogurt-cheese dip mix is simply yogurt cheese with a bunch of very finely minced veggies (with salt or a blend like Herbamare or Trocamare to taste) blended in. We like to add scallions, carrots, radishes, and sweet red pepper, then refrigerate, covered, to give it time to “set” before serving with raw veggies and/or tortilla chips. Try it, you’ll love it! And please, enjoy this beautiful late spring, summer, and fall by sitting and eating outdoors as often as you can.

As always, if you have picnic or outdoor eating favorites you’d like to share, we would love to hear them!

           ‘Til next time,

                         Silence              

The best pirate movies. May 24, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Concluding our pirate week theme here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, I’d like to share some of my all-time favorite pirate movies with you all. I love pirate movies—they’re fun, they’re swashbuckling, they’re lighthearted, and they’re predictable: the pirate of the title is always a bad boy with a heart of gold; the authorities are always villains; the pirate always wins; the pirate always gets the girl; and there are always a lot of unforgettable characters, colorful costumes and settings, and adventures. The ultimate mindless, entertaining, feel-good movies, the Jimmy Buffett of the movie genre. What more could anyone ask as summer kicks off?! So let’s look at a few that you simply have to see. And if I’ve left out any of your faves, please let me know: I want to see them, too!

Swashbuckler. This ’70s pirate romp stars four of my faves, Robert Shaw, James Earl Jones, Geoffrey Holder, and Beau Bridges, along with Genevieve Bujold as the love interest. It’s a bridge between the Errol Flynn/Tyrone Power pirate classics and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Robert Shaw is irresistible as “Red Ned” Lynch, and his cohorts give knockout performances as they battle the corrupt governer of Jamaica. My favorite pirate movie.

The Buccaneers. I should mention that Robert Shaw first played a dashing pirate, Captain Dan Tempest, on a TV series, “The Buccaneers.” Well worth the price of admission, especially if you get it as part of a super-cheap DVD collection called “The Swashbucklers.”

The Buccaneer. Let’s not confuse Robert Shaw’s pirate series with another great and often-overlooked film starring Yul Brynner as Jean Lafitte. Lafitte teams up with Andrew Jackson (played by Charlton Heston) to save New Orleans from the British in this 1958 classic. Lafitte nobly acts in the interests of the youthful America during the Battle of New Orleans in the war of 1812, even though it seems that a British victory is inevitable. Claire Bloom plays Lafitte’s love interest, and for you trivia buffs, Lorne Green of Bonanza fame has a role as well. Brynner is great as the dashing pirate Lafitte, and the haunting bagpipes of the British army, sounding through a thick fog, make one of the most unforgettable moments in my entire film experience.

Captain Blood. This 1935 classic defined the pirate-movie genre. Based on the Rafael Sabatini novel, it presents the incredibly handsome pirate captain—played by the feature-by-feature-perfect Errol Flynn in his first starring film role—and his reluctant love interest, played by the lovely Olivia DeHavilland, also in her first starring role. The marvellous Basil Rathbone is Flynn’s nemesis, Captain Levasseur, and the setting, as for many later pirate films, including “Pirates of the Caribbean,” is Port Royal, Jamaica. All the elements are there—the noble pirate (in this case, an honorable doctor wrongly imprisoned and sold into slavery), the evil authorities, a lot of swashbuckling and swordfighting, and the good-hearted pirate ultimately triumphing, Robin Hood-like, over the black-hearted officials in power.   

The Black Swan. Tyrone Power is the dashing pirate, Captain Jamie Waring, and Maureen O’Hara his fiesty love interest in this 1942 classic. Supported by a splendid cast including George Sanders as the villainous Leach, Anthony Quinn as his brutish sidekick, and Laird Cregar as—of all people!—Captain Morgan, now Governor of Jamaica, this one has it all: swashbuckling, humor, romance, treachery, and triumph. It’s not quite “Captain Blood,” but “The Black Swan” is an entertaining pirate romp nonetheless.   

Live and Let Die. Okay, this is a James Bond movie, not a pirate movie per se. But I’m including it here because I love the Caribbean island setting, and if Geoffrey Holder’s performance as Baron Samadi isn’t as good as any pirate’s, I don’t know what is. “Live and Let Die,” “The Man with the Golden Gun,” “Goldfinger,” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” are my four favorite Bond movies. This one is a riotous romp with Roger Moore in his first Bond turn, injecting humor into a too-serious-for-words role, and Jane Seymour in her first film role. Another ’70s classic!  

An Awfully Big Adventure. Despite the title, this one isn’t really a pirate movie, either. (The title is taken from a quote from the inventor of Peter Pan and Captain Hook, Sir James Barrie.) But who could pass up an opportunity to see both Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant—two of my all-time faves—portray Captain Hook in the same film?!! Filmed before “Four Weddings and a Funeral” made Hugh Grant a leading man and fossilized him as a stammering, blinking, endearing love interest, in “An Awfully Big Adventure” he plays a corrupt, drunken, gay theater director, and his acting is nothing less than amazing. (Huh, you mean Hugh Grant can actually act, not just blink?! Why yes, Virginia, there really is a wonderful actor in there somewhere. Sadly not to appear again until he sends up Simon Cowell in “American Starz.”) Rickman is superb as always. To see these two play against type—Rickman as the romantic lead, Grant as the villain—would be delicious enough. But the real highlight is to watch their (very deliberately contrasted) performances as Hook. Marvelous!!! Alan Cox in a supporting role is every bit as good as he was playing the whining prep-school Watson in another all-time favorite, “Young Sherlock Holmes.” But be warned: Unlike every other movie in this list, this is not a feel-good film. Let the full Barrie quote, “To die will be an awfully big adventure,” serve as your warning.    

Pirates of the Caribbean series. Johnny Depp creates an unforgettable role in these films as Captain Jack Sparrow. His performance alone earns them star status in the pirate-film pantheon, but he also has a great backup crew in the form of the always great Geoffrey Rush as the rival Captain Barbossa, Bill Nighy as the awesome Davy Jones, and Naomi Harris as the wonderful voodoo priestess, Tia Dalma. The ludicrous pirate duo, Pintel and Ragetti, add the requisite dim-witted humor, aided by Captain Barbossa’s rather ominous monkey, Jack. The sometimes-cowardly Royal Governor of Jamaica, Governor Swann, is sympathetic, as is the rival suitor for the love interest’s hand, Captain James Norrington. And the villains, Lord Cutler Beckett, head of the East India Trading Company, and his assistant Mercer, are sufficiently loathesome. The real weakness of this series is the lovers, played by Orlando Bloom as Will Turner and Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann. In the typical pirate movie, the dashing pirate captain is also the lover. With Johnny Depp stealing the films’ fire as Jack Sparrow, it leaves Orlando Bloom, with his classic Errol Flynn looks, with nothing to do. And though Keira does her best to be a spitfire, her anorexic appearance is distracting. I appreciate her acting, but when watching her, always find myself wondering if there isn’t some way to persuade her to eat.  

           ‘Til next time,

                         Silence 

 

Pirate myths: true and false May 23, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, back on board (so to speak) to continue our pirate week theme. (If you’ve missed any of the previous posts on this theme, check out “A piratical post” to test your knowledge about pirates; “Ben Picks Ten: Pirates” for some fun facts; “The ones who got away” for some thrilling true stories; and “Food fit for a pirate” for some piratical recipes.) Today, I’d like to talk about some of the most common myths about pirates. As you’ll see, some of them are true, and then again, some of the most famous are false.

Let’s start with the ones that are false:

Walking the plank. Despite its popularity in novels and movies, there is only one historical case of someone being made to walk the plank. It seems like an easy way of disposing of mutineers and prisoners, but marooning (or simple murder) was the more usual route.

Buried treasure. As our friend Ben noted the other day, the only recorded instance of buried treasure was Captain Kidd’s burying his treasure on, of all places, Long Island! (New Yorkers take note: This treasure has not been found.) Again, the concept of buried treasure seized the imaginations of novelists and filmmakers, but in real life, most pirates were busy spending their spoils rather than thinking of ways to hide them.

Treasure maps. If you don’t have any buried treasure, you don’t need a treasure map. With much of the ocean and the continents and islands uncharted in pirate times, maps were considered treasures in and of themselves. Many a pirate captain treasured his precious maps, counting on them to lead him and his crew safely home after a marauding venture. But as for leading to treasure, pirates counted on rumors of treasure-laden ships picked up on shore, on chance encounters with merchant ships, and on well-known coastal towns that were ripe for raiding for their plunder, not on treasure maps.

Moving on to the ones that are true:

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. As Silence Dogood pointed out in her piratical recipe post, rum was considered essential for a pirate’s welfare. Not only was it consumed daily aboard ship, if a pirate was marooned on a deserted island for some infraction, he was left with a pint of rum (and a cutlass or pistol).  

The Jolly Roger. It’s true that pirates flew the skull and crossbones or some variant. The first to do so was believed to have been Long Ben, aka Henry Avery, whose flag showed a fashionable skull wearing a bandanna and a hoop earring. Successful pirate captains typically created their own flags based on the Jolly Roger theme, so ships would recognize them and be suitably terrified when they saw, for example, Blackbeard’s or Black Bart’s (aka the Great Pirate Roberts’) flags on the horizon. Why was it called the Jolly Roger, anyway? Why, because of that cheerful grin the skull is sporting! It is not true, however, that all pirate flags were black: Red flags were also extremely popular.

Hooks, pegs, and patches. Pirating was not an easy life, and the combination of frequent attacks by blade, gunfire, and cannon coupled with extremely primitive doctoring meant that many pirates lost limbs (and eyes). Eye patches not only covered empty eye sockets, they added ferociousness to a pirate’s already savage demeanor. Hooks and peg legs were convenient ways to replace missing limbs. Even one of America’s Founding Fathers, Gouverneur Morris, was fitted with a peg leg when he lost a leg as a result of a carriage accident. If Morris, who could afford anything, was given no better than this, it’s no wonder pirates stumped around on their wooden pegs. 

Bandannas and hoop earrings. Yes, it’s true that pirates wore both of these. Bandannas not only kept long, stringy hair out of your face (remember those sea winds!) and sweat off your brow—they could be lifesaving in a hostile encounter, when being able to see during the chaos could easily mean the difference between life and death. Hoop earrings, usually of silver or gold, served the same purpose (believe it or not!): In pirate times, piercing your ears with precious metals was thought to improve your eyesight.

The Miracle at Speedy Motors May 23, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I just finished reading the latest novel in one of my all-time favorite series, Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, and I wanted to share the fun with you and urge you to read it, too.

The Miracle at Speedy Motors has it all: The principals, No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency founder Precious Ramotswe; the formidable orphanage matron, Mma Potokwane (secretly my favorite character); the owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, Mr. J.L.B. Matakone; and Mma Ramotswe’s right-hand woman, Mma Makutsi. All our favorite supporting characters, living and dead, are there as well: Mma Ramotswe’s beloved late father, Obed Ramotswe, her hero, Sir Seretse Khama, and her brutish first husband, Note Mokoti; Mma Makutsi’s fiance, Phuti Radiphuti, and her arch-nemesis, Violet Sephotho; the shy wanna-be detective, Mr. Polopetsi; the orphans Mma Ramtoswe and her husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matakone, adopted, Motholeli and Puso; the incorrigible apprentice mechanic Charlie. And, as faithful readers have come to anticipate, the largely inanimate cast that plays as great a role in the stories as the characters themselves: the tiny white van; Mma Potokwane’s famous fruitcake; Mma Makutsi’s large round glasses and talking shoes; the inevitable cups of red bush tea; cattle herds; and, of course, Botswana itself, last in this list but certainly first in the books.

(Incidentally, I have written Alexander McCall Smith via his website and begged him to write a No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Cookbook, featuring the top secret recipe for Mma Potokwane’s locally celebrated fruitcake as well as Mma Ramotswe’s favorite dishes. I was told that his publisher had suggested this, too, so we may yet see a cookbook. I’ll definitely add it to my collection!)

Needless to say, plots and counter-plots abound, and I’m not about to give them away. I’ll just say that my favorite scenes both involved Mma Ramotswe, Mma Potokwane, the tiny white van, and the famous fruitcake. Ha!!!!!

I’ve loved the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series ever since I first stumbled on Blue Shoes and Happiness in my local library. Let me hasten to say that I’m no mystery fan. I love Sherlock Holmes, because of his marvellous character and the fact that most of his mysteries were intellectual puzzles rather than gore-dripping slaughterhouses disguised as books. I love Tony Hillerman’s mysteries because of his descriptions of the Southwest and the Navajo and Hopi lifeways. (And, okay, Jim Chee is hard to resist.) But usually, I pass mysteries by and wonder how people can sleep when they’re reading them. (Red Dragon, anyone?)

But the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series is not about blood, guts, and mayhem. Its gentle mysteries hark back to Holmes, when a mystery meant a puzzle, not a murder. Its characters are memorable and lovable. Mma Ramotswe has a heart big enough to hold all Botswana. The stories are filled with gentle (and sometimes laugh-out-loud) humor. (Our friend Ben has said that he always knows when I’m reading one because he can hear me laughing.) Instead of celebrating violence, these delightful novels celebrate the few things that really matter: love, loyalty, friendship, family, gratitude, generosity, appreciation. The ability to take little and make much out of it, because the “much” is a state of mind.

If you’re already a fan of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, let me just say that, to my own delight, The Miracle at Speedy Motors is my favorite book in the series (so far). It’s always a thrill to see that a favorite author has made his or her series stronger rather than petering out as the novels continue. Thank you, Mr. McCall Smith! Go to your local library and put yourself on the waiting list right now, while you’re thinking about it. And if you’re not familiar with the series, you have a real treat in store! Check out a few of the earlier books, put on the tea kettle, and get ready to lose yourself, then find yourself richer than before.  

               ‘Til next time,

                          Silence     

 

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