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The stinkbugs are coming! August 31, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Eeewww, stinkbugs. Silence Dogood here. As longtime readers know, stinkbugs are my personal nemesis. I hate the way they get into the house, lurk unobtrusively on a window or door frame, and then, when you’re trying to write or cook something or, worse yet, sleeping, they blast off and land on your shirt (or nightgown, as the case may be). AAAAHHHHHHHH!!! Talk about a test of your cardiac fitness.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to see this headline from The Philadelphia Inquirer this morning: “Stinkbugs are coming to a home near you.” (Read all about it at http://www.philly.com/.) This Doomsday article contained such cheerful comments from entomologists who’d been studying area stinkbugs as “We’re expecting an epic year for stinkbugs” and “When they’re [i.e., innocent homeowners such as yours truly] knee deep in stinkbugs, they’re going to want to know what to do about it.”

Knee deep in stinkbugs. AAAHHHHHHHHH!!!! In my opinion, one stinkbug is one stinkbug too many. Hundreds or thousands of stinkbugs?! I tell you, it’s time to move to Nova Scotia. But don’t sit there feeling smug if you don’t live, like us, in scenic PA, apparently the stinkbug capital of the world. Stinkbugs have now invaded New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, New York, California, and Oregon. And they’re definitely on the move, so no doubt they’ll arrive in your home state before long.

As house pests, stinkbugs aren’t really all that bad, except for the blastoff scare factor. Unlike ladybugs, fleas, bedbugs, and spiders, they don’t bite. (Mercifully, we don’t deal with ladybug invasions here, and I had no idea they bit people until a friend told me her horror story. Yikes!) Unlike cockroaches, grain moths, and various tiny beetles, they don’t get in your food supplies and spoil them. Apparently, all they’re trying to do is stay warm in your house’s walls and insulation. Ugh, that’s creepy enough. But since they inevitably end up inside the house and on you, they are The Enemy.

The stinkbug experts in the article suggested a two-pronged approach to controlling the invasion: Sealing entry points like attic vents, doors, and windows, and calling in professional pest controllers to spray pyrethroids where stinkbugs were likely to be congregating. According to the entomologists, the time to act is right now: Unlike ladybugs and other insects who move into homes when the weather turns cold, stinkbugs head for the house in late August and September, and a preemptive strike is most likely to keep them in check.

Fortunately for us, here at Hawk’s Haven we’ve never had enough stinkbugs to need to spray them. We just try to avoid the live ones and toss the dead ones out the door whenever we find them. We’ve never encountered the trademark stink that gives the bugs their name (which is technically brown marmorated stink bug; we’re still trying to find out what “marmorated” means). But I was intrigued to see that stink described as “like stale perfume” in the article. Anyone who’s kept a bottle of perfume too long can instantly relate.

As I write this, I haven’t yet seen any stinkbugs in the house. But looking up, I see a gigantic spider slowly lowering itself outside the window, its shadow looming like something from a B-grade horror movie. AAAAHHHHHH!!!! Spider, please, go away. Unless your favorite food happens to be stinkbugs…

            ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

Summer’s end soup. August 30, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Are your counters and refrigerator exploding with produce and leftovers? Mine certainly are! If you find yourself in harvest overload, do as I did and make some soup. I was going to call this “Kitchen Sink Soup,” but since it’s fairly specific to summer produce, I opted for “Summer’s End Soup” instead. However, the “everything but the kitchen sink” rule definitely applies: Use whatever you have, as long as the flavors are complementary. Soup is very forgiving!

This particular “Summer’s End Soup” came together this way: Our friend Ben and I had just gotten a countertop oven, so I could finally bake again despite the apparent demise of our ca. 1960 Caloric gas stove’s oven. (And yes, the brand name really is Caloric. Truth in advertising!) I decided to make black bean soup and cornbread, so I could test the new oven with the cornbread. But what started out as black bean soup took a dramatic turn in a different direction.

First of all, my friend Huma had given me pretty much everything in her refrigerator and freezer before leaving the country for the academic year, including a container of whole tomatoes in tomato juice. Okay, I thought, I can put those in the soup. Our heat-loving friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders had stopped by with a bunch of not-so-hot peppers, knowing that OFB and I can’t take the full-scale heat he loves. I’d succumbed to a box of the big yellow-orange tomatoes that are my all-time favorites at a local farm stand, only to discover once I got home that every one of them was overripe. I had a container of leftover brown basmati rice in the fridge. I also had an extra ear of corn and a bunch of cilantro, as well as a half-carton of plain yogurt from Huma. Everything went into the soup.

By now, you might be begging me to refrain from sharing the recipe, but I’m going to do it, and here’s why: Our friend Ben and our friend Rudy both proclaimed it the best soup they’d ever eaten. (They also polished off all the cornbread, which, thank heavens, turned out fine.) Rudy very happily took home the leftover soup, leaving a disgruntled OFB eyeing me accusingly with that “charity begins at home” look. So here it is, should you want to try it—or your own version—at home.

                 Summer’s End Soup

4 cans black beans

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, WallaWalla or 1015 type), diced

4 large cloves garlic, minced

1 large can whole tomatoes in juice

4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 green bell pepper, cored and diced

4 small hot peppers (Thai Red or Cayenne type), minced

1 large ear of corn, kernels cut from cob

1 cup cooked rice

1 cup plain yogurt

1 box vegetable stock, any brand

1/3 cup fresh cilantro, minced

extra-virgin olive oil

lemon juice (we especially like Key lemon juice)

black pepper to taste (we like lemon pepper)

salt to taste (we like Trocomare or RealSalt, and plenty of it)

1/2-1 teaspoon each dried basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and summer savory, to taste

1 teaspoon-1 tablespoon each black mustardseeds and whole cumin seeds, to taste

splash Tabasco Chipotle sauce or Pickapeppa

Pour olive oil in the bottom of a large, heavy stock pot or Dutch oven (I love my LeCreuset Dutch ovens) and place over low heat. Add the onion, garlic, cumin, mustardseeds, salt or Trocomare, pepper, and dried herbs. Cook until the onions clarify, adding veggie stock as needed to prevent sticking. Add the bell pepper, hot peppers, and chopped fresh tomatoes, sauteing until the tomatoes cook down into a thick paste. (Continue to add veggie stock, a bit at a time, to prevent sticking.) Add the canned whole tomatoes and juice, mashing the tomatoes into smaller pieces with a wooden or bamboo spoon. Add the black beans, lemon juice, and cilantro.

With a potato masher, mash the beans in the pot until at least a third of them are mashed; stir well. Taste the soup-in-progress and add a splash of hot sauce if you’d like it hotter. Add the rice and corn, stirring well to mix, then the yogurt. Continue cooking on low until the soup is very thick and rich. Taste a final time and adjust seasonings if needed. Top each bowl with sour cream, shredded Cheddar, and/or fresh cilantro leaves as each person prefers.  

Serve with a crisp, hearty salad or coleslaw and hot cornbread or tortillas. Chilled cubed watermelon or cantaloupe makes a delicious, light dessert after this thick, rich soup. We Southerners like our melons with salt to bring out the sweetness, but a spritz of lime juice is also great on cantaloupe, and my parents ate theirs topped with salt and pepper! Hey, whatever works.

Enjoy your own version of kitchen sink—I mean, summer’s end—soup, and get some of that stuff out of the fridge and off the counters! You’ll be glad you did.

             ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

So many gods, so little time. August 29, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. This past week, I went up to the Poconos to visit my friend Huma before she returns to Doha to teach for the coming year. We’d turned out of our way to go to the Sorrenti/Cherry Valley winery in Saylorsburg, since Huma and our friend Ben and I are all fond of their wines—try their Marechal Foch and Proprietor’s Red if you’re ever in the area—and I thought I’d get a couple of bottles to bring back to Hawk’s Haven.

But as we headed down to the winery, I saw an amazing sight: There, on that wooded backroad, was what had to be a Hindu temple. It was pure white and cone-shaped, festooned with a froth of ornamentation, all in white. It looked like an especially ornate wedding cake, or perhaps a Baroque Papal miter. Seeing it there in what appeared to be a pleasant apartment complex fairly took my breath away. “Look! Look!” I screamed at poor Huma, who was, after all, trying to navigate the narrow, winding road.

“That has to be an ashram,” she said.

“What do you mean, ashram? Isn’t it an apartment complex? Look at all those buildings!”

“It’s an ashram. We can stop by on the way back from the winery and check it out if you don’t believe me.”

Well, God alone knows what I thought an ashram was supposed to look like. Maybe an elaborate temple itself, or a series of primitive straw huts or something. Certainly not that attractive, peaceful, tidy series of buildings tucked quietly among the trees. We stopped by after picking up the wine, and got rather sheepishly out of the car. (At least, I was feeling sheepish. What were we doing here? How would the members of this Hindu ashram react to a Muslim and Catholic wandering around their grounds? Were we intruding?) Fortunately, we soon encountered some of the residents, who encouraged us to visit the bookstore and go inside the temple.

Huma shares my bookstore mania, so we went to the bookstore first. She stocked up on Indian literary works while I checked out the extensive selection of Indian vegetarian cookbooks (including a wonderful assortment of regional cookbooks), then moved on to the religion section. But all good things must come to an end, and eventually we staggered back to the car with armloads of  books. Now it was time for the temple.

Entering barefoot and as quietly as possible, we beheld the shrine, with a large central deity surrounded by smaller deities. The shrine was housed in the wedding-cake portion of the temple, with a larger room opening out behind it for the faithful to gather to venerate the gods in the shrine, to participate in worship services, and to listen to the ashram’s founder and other spiritual leaders speak. After taking it all in and watching the prostrations of the devout before the shrine, we crept out again as quietly as we could.

All this prostration and such might have freaked out a Protestant or Jew, but as a Catholic, it didn’t faze me. Catholicism has its fair share of shrines, and the faithful often approach them on their knees and prostrate themselves before the Holy of Holies. What was a bit disturbing was the proliferation of gods.

Mind you, Christians believe in the Holy Trinity, the three manifestations of the single Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost/Spirit. And almost without exception, the religions of the ancient societies were polytheistic, from Greece and the gods of Mount Olympos to Ancient Egypt to the Maya and Aztecs of the New World. The novelty, the shocking thing, the exception was the insistence on a single god: Akhenaten’s religious revolution in Egypt, insisting that only the Sun God, Aten, was God; Abraham’s rejection of the endless gods of his day and embrace of the One God for his people; Muhammad’s insistence that there was no God but Allah.

But still, the proliferation of Hindu deities is a little overwhelming. With thousands of gods to choose from, how do you know where to turn? Yes, we Catholics have our many saints, but we don’t confuse them with God. We venerate, but don’t worship them. We view them as inspirations, as people who found their particular path to God, who blazed a trail we can choose to follow if it speaks to us. If God’s beautiful, delightful Creation speaks to you of God, as it does to me, you might follow the way of St. Francis. If you can open yourself to God in the measured and regular cadences of prayer, chant, and discipline, you might follow the way of St. Benedict. If you feel a vocation to assist the less fortunate because you see the face of God in every one of them, you might follow the way of Mother Teresa. And so on.

The Hindus also have their saints, their Holy Ones, who are venerated as such but not worshipped as gods. But what of their endless pantheon? I thought about this again yesterday, when OFB and I went to a local antiques store after making a dropoff at the nearby Goodwill. Browsing through the numerous booths, I stumbled on a poster for a Jimi Hendrix album that showed Jimi and his band enshrined among innumerable Hindu deities. Yow!!!

Seeing the poster, having just seen the ashram and its temple, and having thought about the Hindu gods in context with the intrinsic human impetus to worship something greater than ourselves, sparked an awareness in me for the first time: Perhaps Hinduism’s many gods serve the same purpose as Catholicism’s saints, leading each of us to God through our connection to that particular saint or manifestation. Thomas Merton or Padre Pio, Ganesha or Kali: Whatever it takes to get us there, it’s the getting there that matters.

           ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

Tasha Tudor Day August 28, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. On this day, August 28th, the beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tasha Tudor was born in 1915. She’d be 95 today. Her fans and friends have designated August 28th as Tasha Tudor Day in her honor.

I wasn’t brought up with Tasha Tudor’s childrens’ classics, Pumpkin Moonshine,  the Corgiville stories, and all the rest. In fact, I’d probably never have been aware of Tasha at all had it not been for the books about her extraordinary life, including The Private Life of Tasha Tudor and Tasha Tudor’s Garden, by Tovah Martin and Richard Brown.

As you can guess, our friend Ben and I love the idea of time-travel back to Colonial and Federalist times. Apparently, Tasha Tudor did too, back to a specific era, 1830s America. And unlike us, she succeeded in recreating that era in her home and lifestyle and mastering all the skills, including weaving, sewing, and hearth cooking, that her 1830s counterparts would have needed to survive and thrive.

With a few exceptions—Margaret Mead, Helen Nearing—I’m not sure I know of any woman more self-aware and self-determining than Tasha Tudor. Whether you’re enamored of a given historical era or grew up with Tasha’s children’s books or enjoy personable, historic cookbooks (The Tasha Tudor Cookbook is simply delightful) or love detailed paintings drawn from nature, it’s worth entering Tasha’s world and taking a good, long look, and what more appropriate time than on her birthday?

A great starting point is the Tudor family website, http://www.tashatudorandfamily.com/.  I can think of no finer celebration than trying Jen Tudor Wyman’s wonderful Raspberry Coconut Cakes with, of course, traditional tea. You’ll find the recipe on the Receipts section of the website (“receipts” being the old-time English spelling of “recipes”).  

Thanks, Tasha, for showing us what the combination of imagination, passion, talent, and determination can achieve. Happy birthday! I love you.

               ‘Til next time,

                              Silence

National Dog Day August 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Hi everybody! I’m Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you), the black German shepherd who shares the lives and home of our friend Ben and Silence Dogood. I’m guest-posting today because this is National Dog Day!

Now, I of course think that every day should be National Dog Day. But if there can only be one, I’d like to make sure that everyone who has a dog knows about it and makes the day special for their beloved companion.

Please start the day by giving your dog a special treat. We love treats! If you’re buying a treat, how about a bag of sweet potato chews or blueberry drops or my very favorite, the wild cherry bones that have lots of good stuff for our hips? Silence is always going on about how my joints are vulnerable since I’m such a big dog, and how the vets haven’t come up with hip replacement surgery for dogs so we have to be extra careful. So she feeds me big dog food with glucosamine and chondroitin and makes sure I get a yummy cherry bone every day.

I also love most fruits and veggies, boiled new potatoes, bread, pizza crusts, cheese, and eggs (raw and hardboiled), in case you’re stumped for a treat for your dog. And I really, really love plain yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk! Naturally, if OFB and Silence are eating something, I tend to assume it’s a really good treat for me, too, unless it’s pasta or rice. People are weird sometimes.

Now that we’ve gotten the treat category out of the way, let’s move on to toys. Silence and OFB refer to me as The Toyminator because I’ve never met a toy I couldn’t kill. But that’s not because I don’t love toys. I just tend to love them to death. My favorites are big, tough rope toys, bones, supposedly indestructible squeak toys (yeah, right, just give me a few hours), soft-cloth flying discs, and super-tough rubber Kong toys, “tires,” and hoops.

Well, that’s a lie. My all-time favorite toys are interactive, aka our three cats. But for some reason neither the cats nor OFB and Silence seem especially happy when I try to play with them. I also enjoy playing with the cats’ toys, even though they’re minute compared to mine, and have managed to pretty much decimate all of them. The cats are so greedy, they don’t like to share their toys with me. I think they need to be sent to remedial manners class.

Anyway, I urge you to get your dog lots of treats and toys, not just today but every day. And please, take your dog out and have some fun! I love running, swimming, catching a Frisbee, walking in our little neighborhood park with OFB, and visiting with my neighboring dog friends. And, oh yes, I enjoy showing off my smarts and doing some blow-your-mind tricks, too. Just remember to shower me with praise and affection after my performances.

Affection: That’s what it all comes down to. Please remember to shower your dog with love and affection, today and every day. We love you so! Give us a nice brushing, rub our bellies, stroke our ears, tell us you love us. Talk to us, sing to us, dance with us, walk with us, play with us. No one will ever love you more, and more uncritically, than we do. So please, on National Dog Day, let us know you know that.

Your friend,

Shiloh

A night’s tale. August 25, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Today, I’m going to channel Scheherazade and tell you a story. It’s truly worthy of inclusion in The Arabian Nights: full of adventure, mystery, and romance. I think of it as the thousand and second night’s tale.

My story begins in the year 1732, when an English gentleman set out on a journey. Not just any journey, but a long, arduous journey to far Arabia, as the lands in that region were then known. Who can say what called him there? Perhaps he followed the famed Spice Road. Perhaps he longed to see harems and bazaars, swift, beautiful Arabian stallions and awkward, homely camels that resembled the sandswept terrain that only they could traverse. Perhaps he dreamed of joining a caravan to a distant oasis under the endless stars. Perhaps he wished to find Aladdin’s lamp and claim three wishes of his own.

We will never know what the Englishman hoped to find, but we do know that he found something he never sought: a tie that bound him for the rest of his life. It might have been blood brotherhood with a mighty prince, who showed him the wonders of  his palaces and took him hunting on those sleek, fleet-footed steeds. It might have been that, against all odds, he encountered a beautiful maiden and they fell in love. We cannot know this part of the story, except to know that two souls found unlikely mates.

What we do know is that, in time, they parted. The Englishman returned to his homeland, perhaps eventually to take ship to find a new life in the New World. But before he left, the pair made tokens of remembrance. Each had a coin from their native land, a large, heavy silver coin that happened to be the same size. So they had a jeweler in the bazaar cut each coin in half and solder the two opposite halves together with two silver bars, then attach a loop at the top and string the twinned pendants on silver chains. For the rest of their lives, the pair would wear the half-English, half-Arabian tokens over their hearts.

The details of my tale are entirely my invention, but the story itself is true. I, Silence Dogood, own one of the twinned tokens, purchased at an antiques store in scenic New Hope, PA. One of the reasons I love antiques stores is that, besides enjoying the many interesting and intriguing objects, I sense their stories crowding in around me: the love and care that went into their crafting, the lives and personalities of their many owners, the sad circumstances that led them at last to be abandoned in these shops. But few objects could speak as eloquently of love and loyalty across cultures and times as this pendant. Every time I look at it, I wonder if a distant hand is holding the matching pendant, another mind imagining the fate of the missing halves…

                 ‘Til next time,

                              Silence

Eggs: grow your own. August 24, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben confesses to feeling a bit smug this morning as I walked into the kitchen with three big, beautiful, organic, still-warm-from-the-nest eggs. Not that I would eat a raw egg, but I knew that I could eat these eggs (or feed one to our egg-loving black German shepherd, Shiloh) raw without worrying about salmonella or anything else. No recalls here at the Hawk’s Haven Pullet Palace!

The fact that salmonella-tainted eggs are once more in the news shines a spotlight on factory farming and its loathesome, cruel, filthy practices. According to The Washington Post, just 192 “agribusinesses” own 95% of the laying hens in the U.S. And if 192 companies producing pretty much all our eggs doesn’t strike you as too small a number, consider this: Americans consume 60 billion eggs a year.  Our friend Ben has noticed that it’s now trendy to refer to the monster pharmaceutical conglomerates as “big pharma.” I’d like to suggest that we start calling these agribusiness conglomerates “big farma.”

But there is a way to feed your family safe, wholesome eggs, and it’s as close as your backyard: Grow your own. Chickens are the easiest animals to raise after aquarium fish. They’re colorful, personable, and fun. You don’t need a rooster to get eggs, so you don’t have to worry about crowing disturbing your neighbors or a rooster going nasty and trying to spur you or your kids. And just two or three hens will give you the luxury of farm-fresh eggs every day (or, if you have a big family or a big egg-eater, every couple of days).

Our little flock of five heritage-breed chickens provides our friend Ben and Silence Dogood with plenty of eggs for omelettes, huevos rancheros, fried eggs, and hard-boiled eggs for our salads, as well as for baking. And we almost always have some to give away to friends (and, of course, share with Shiloh). In return, we supplement the chickens’ diet of scratch grains and egglayer pellets with tons of fresh greens, bread, fruits, veggies, and the occasional leftover pasta, rice, or what-have-you. They thrive on it all, and our eggs are out of this world. Thanks, chickens!

Keeping chickens isn’t cheap, but that’s only because of the initial outlay for a coop and a secure chicken yard. We designed the Pullet Palace ourselves and had a carpenter friend build it, then enclosed it and a good-sized yard around it in tall kenneling walls set over horizontal wire to keep critters from burrowing under. We also added kenneling panels over the top as a secure roof to keep out hawks and raccoons, then grew a wine grape over it to provide shade for the yard in summer. (Not to mention yummy grapes for the chickens and us!)

Once the setup is in place, it’s simply a matter of providing food, water, grit, and straw (we also line our nestboxes with shredded paper if we have it on hand), visiting with the chickens, and collecting those yummy eggs. We think it’s a wonderful return on investment!

Our latest milestone. August 23, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Please forgive us here at Poor Richard’s Almanac for a little back-patting, but we’ve finally reached a milestone we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Sometime during the night, PRA finally passed the 200,000-view mark (as of this second, the official count is 200,362).*

Richard Saunders, up extra-early to prepare for the first day of class, was first to see our little triumph, and he quickly called Hawk’s Haven with the news. “Tell Ben to hold off on that post about the history of hex signs!” Richard told a delighted Silence Dogood. “We need to post about the 200,000 views!”

“No worries, Richard. Ben isn’t even out of bed. Shock surprise!”

“Uh, no doubt he was up late burning the midnight oil.”

“Yeah, right. So what should we say in our celebratory post? We’d better make it good, ’cause we won’t get to crow about ourselves again until we hit 500,000!”

“How about a quiz?”

“Well, we did that for our 100,000 milestone. I’d say we could do a Top Ten Things You Don’t Know about Us post, but I don’t think there are ten things our readers don’t know about us! At least, ten things they’d want to know about us…” 

“What if we stuck to ten basic things, and opened up the floor so readers could add their own answers in the comments?”

“Okay, I’m game. You come up with the categories and I’ll go wake up Ben.”

So, dear reader, here are Richard’s categories and our answers. Please join us and let us know how you’d answer them. And thanks so much for taking us to 200,000 views! We’re looking forward to hearing from you often as we take aim at 500,000!

                   Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood and Richard Saunders

1. What’s your favorite color?

     OFB: red

      Silence: red

      RS: blue

2. What’s your favorite time of day?

      OFB: mealtime

      Silence: dusk

      RS: late night 

3. What are your three favorite foods?

      OFB: potatoes (every which way), fried chicken, salad

      Silence: pasta, curry, salad

      RS: roast beef, barbecue, hot peppers

“Hot peppers aren’t a food, Richard. They’re a seasoning.”

“Oh, come on, Silence! I think of them as an entire food category. If Ben can list potatoes, why can’t I list peppers?”

“Let’s try this another way. If you couldn’t list hot peppers, what would you list?”

“Seafood!”

“All righty then.”

4. What’s your favorite dessert?

     OFB: chess pie

     Silence: fresh blueberry tart

     RS: a hot fudge sundae

5. Where would you like to have a vacation home?

      OFB: on the beach

       Silence: in the mountains

       RS: on a lake

6. What country would you most like to visit?

      OFB: France

       Silence: Morocco

       RS: Egypt 

“Ben, I thought you wanted to go to Scotland. Not to mention Turkey and India!”

“I do, Silence, but I want to go to Normandy more. Besides, what happened to Mexico and Greece? I thought those were at the top of your fantasy travel list. As for you, Richard, haven’t we been hearing about that dream vacation to Japan for about bazillion years now?”

“Well, yes, but if I could pick just one… Thank goodness real life isn’t limited to just one choice!”

“Amen.”

7. What’s your favorite kind of pet?

       OFB: dog

       Silence: Don’t even think about making me choose just one.

       RS: dog

“Silence, that’s cheating. Just answer the question.”

“Oh, shut up, Ben! I love all our pets. They all add so much to our lives in their different ways. How could I choose between a dog and a cat or a parrot or parakeets? I guess I could leave out the fish and shrimp, but only if I absolutely had to. And what about our chickens?!”

“Uh, never mind.”

8. What’s your second-favorite dessert?

“Richard, that’s just lame. Enough about the desserts. You’ve got to do better than that.”

“But, Silence, I thought you liked to cook. And besides, we asked for three favorite foods but only one favorite dessert.”

“I love to cook. And I love food. But you’re the one who made up these questions, so it’s your fault we only asked for one dessert. Too late now! I think it’s time we moved on to some other topic.”

“You mean, there is some other topic?”

“Shut up, Ben.”

8. What’s your favorite leisure activity?

       OFB: sleeping

“BEN!!!”

        OFB: reading, then sleeping

        Silence: [sigh] reading writing singing knitting beading cooking…

“Silence…”

          RS: history

“Richard, ‘history’ is not a leisure activity. Making history, maybe.”

“Well, what I really mean is pursuing history, through reading, research, travel, collecting historical artifacts, watching documentaries and films that attempt to recreate or illuminate an era, going to museums, and writing. But I figured that took too long to say.”

“You’ve got a point. I forgot to say thinking. I think I love thinking even more than reading and writing. Oh, and did I say sleeping?”

“BEN…”

9. Who’s your favorite author, composer, artist, musician, actor?

     OFB: Homer, Bach, Leonardo, Mark Knopfler, Robert Downey Jr.—or, wait, maybe Johnny Depp—no, Robert Downey Jr.

“Waffler!”

“GRRRRRRRR…”

     Silence: Jane Austen, Mozart, Leonardo, Bob Marley, Alan Rickman

     RS: David McCullough, Vivaldi, Leonardo, Jimmy Page, and, OK, I’ll plunk for Johnny Depp, so you don’t have to feel bad, Ben

“Gee, looks like we’ve got a Leonardo thing going here.”

“So, what’s your point?”

“Seems like at least somebody would have voted for the usual suspects: Michaelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet…”

“Puh-leeze. Vermeer, Van Dyck, Fra Angelico, Holbein, Durer, absolutely. If there was no Leonardo. But there was, and that’s all there is to it. There’s Leonardo, and then there’s everyone else.”

10. If you could have been anyone in the course of history, who would it be?

        OFB: Supreme Lord and Ruler of the Universe, what else? Seriously, how could you even ask: Ben Franklin, of course!

         Silence: Hmmm. That’s a tough one. I wouldn’t have minded being old Ben, either. Elizabeth I has appeal, too, but I’m not sure she was happy, and I’d want to be happy, whoever I was.

“Not Marie Antoinette or Cleopatra, then?”

“GRRRRRRRRRR!!!”

“Uh, guys…”

“Sorry, Richard. Maybe Isabel Burton, the wife of the great explorer, linguist and author Sir Richard Francis Burton. She certainly had an interesting and romantic life! But only if I could rewrite a bit of it… How about you, Richard?”

          RS: Dr. Franklin certainly appeals. So does George Washington and Daniel Boone. But I’m thinking, if I could be anybody, few people in history had it as good as Louis XIV. Yeah, I’d like to come back—or go back—as the Sun King. 

* If you’ve astutely examined the number on the SiteMeter in the right-hand column of the screen, you may be thinking we’re a few tomatillos shy of a load in claiming that we’ve surpassed 200,000 views when the SiteMeter shows less than 170,000. But for once, we’re right and it’s wrong. It’s because we’re such Luddites that we didn’t even get the SiteMeter set up until our blog had been up for several months. Fortunately, WordPress, our blog host, also tracks blog views, and it’s been tracking from the first day our blog was up, so its count is accurate. Thanks, WordPress!

A coleslaw cavalcade. August 22, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

Silence Dogood here (again).* My friend Delilah noted the other morning that she’d harvested her last four cabbage heads and planned to make slaw, which is what we Southerners call coleslaw. (When I first moved to Pennsylvania and ordered slaw at restaurants, I was met with blank stares, even if it was on the menu. But of course it was listed as coleslaw.) Coincidentally, PChef over at www.SmartKitchen.com expressed interest in my contributing a guest post on the history of coleslaw for SmartKitchen.com. As summer winds down, coleslaw is clearly on people’s minds and menus.

That’s because it’s the perfect hot-weather use for cabbage: crunchy, cooling, delicious, easy to make, inexpensive, and good for you. What more could you ask from any dish? My researches turned up a fascinating history, and plenty of regional variants, including warm slaw and barbecue slaw (not a side dish to barbecue, but a Piedmont regional specialty that uses barbecue sauce on the slaw itself). You’ll have to wait for the SmartKitchen.com post for all the historical details—I’ll let you know when it goes up!—but I can tell you how it got its name and provide some yummy recipes here and now.

Coleslaw: What does that mean, anyway? From my horticulture background, I had no trouble with “cole”: The brassicas—cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and the like—are collectively referred to as cole crops. We learned that in class. But what does “cole” actually mean? And what about the “slaw” part?

Finding that out took me right to the founding of the American Colonies, or more particularly, to the Dutch founding of New Netherlands (you might know it by its later name, New York). Turns out, “coleslaw” is an Anglicanization of the Dutch koolsla, itself a shortening of koolsalade. A salad made from cole crops, or more specifically, cabbage. Early coleslaw was a simple combination of shredded cabbage, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, allowed to sit for a few hours to let the flavors marry, then served at room temperature.

However, even the Americanized word was hard for non-Dutch colonists to handle. Thus, by the 1800s, it was often referred to as “cold slaw,” much as iced tea is frequently called “ice tea” to this day, as if you were serving up a tea-flavored block of ice instead of an iced drink. Which in turn led to the creation of “warm slaw,” which was buttered and served with a garnish of hard-boiled egg.

Unlike many historic dishes, I think both the original Dutch koolsla and the Kentucky variant, warm slaw, would actually taste good. But let’s fast-forward to the wealth of coleslaws available to us today. Here are seven—count them, seven—easy, delicious coleslaws to try. Make ‘em all and find your favorite!

Mind you, I’m not a snob when it comes to coleslaw. If I have a head of cabbage, I’ll use half and hand-shred it with my trusty Victorinox paring knife. But if I don’t have a head of cabbage on hand, or am in a hurry, I’m so happy there are now convenient bags of pre-shredded red cabbage, carrots, and “coleslaw” mix of shredded green cabbage with a little red cabbage and shredded carrot thrown in. I also love the bags of “broccoli slaw,” with shredded broccoli stems mixed with carrots and red cabbage, though I’ve never tried to use them in coleslaw. Instead, I mix a half-cup of broccoli slaw into my tossed salads to add some extra texture and cancer-fighting oomph.

But let’s get back to those slaws. When I’m pressed for time and want a super-fast, super-easy coleslaw, this is my go-to recipe. Yes, it sounds too good to be true, but it’s not only delicious, you should see how fast it vanishes from everybody’s plate.  

             World’s Simplest Slaw

1 bag ready made coleslaw (shredded green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrot, not a dressed slaw)

1/2 bag shredded carrots

3 tablespoons diced sweet onion

1/2 to 2/3 bottle or jar of chunky blue cheese dressing

Mix slaw, carrots, and onion in a bowl. The goal is to coat the veggies, not drown them, so start with 1/2 bottle or jar, mix thoroughly, and add more, little by little, if needed. If your family doesn’t like blue cheese, you can substitute pepper ranch or cheese ranch instead. Cover and chill until picnic or serving time; stir again to mix before serving.

The next slaw is almost as easy, but it uses lemon juice and olive oil instead of dressing. Fresh and lively! I got the recipe from Aunt Debbi of the wonderful blog, Aunt Debbi’s Garden (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/). Thanks, Aunt Debbi!!!

            Aunt Debbi’s Cole Slaw

1 cabbage, shredded

2 carrots, chopped fine

juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 tablespoon celery seed

salt

Mix, refrigerate, mix again before serving, eat.

Let’s move on to some of my more elaborate coleslaws. But please note, as you read the recipes, that they’re easy, too. Bless coleslaw for being no more trouble to make, even in its more elaborate incarnations, than a tossed salad! The next one’s as beautiful as it is delicious:

           Silence’s Green and Gold Coleslaw    

1/2 large head green cabbage, shredded

1/2 large sweet yellow onion (such as Vidalia), diced

1 yellow bell pepper, diced

2 generous handfuls yellow wax beans, trimmed and cut in thirds

1/2 fennel bulb, diced

3 radishes, minced

1-2 tablespoons whole caraway seeds, to taste

1-2 tablespoons whole fennel seeds, to taste

1/2 bottle pepper ranch dressing

3 tablespoons lemon juice

salt (we like RealSalt) and lemon pepper to taste

Put shredded cabbage, radishes, yellow bell pepper, yellow wax beans, fennel, and onion in a large bowl; stir with a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly. Add caraway and fennel seeds, lemon juice, salt, and lemon pepper; mix well. Finally, add pepper ranch dressing and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly coated. Refrigerate, covered, overnight so flavors can marry, and stir again to mix before serving.

For a lighter slaw with a fresh, green taste, try this one:

              Coleslaw with Cilantro and Scallions

1/2 large head green cabbage, shredded

1 large bunch scallions (green onions), chopped

1 large bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

4 stems fennel tops (fronds), minced

1 red bell pepper, diced

2 tablespoons Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt)

1 tablespoon mixed hot red and black pepper, ground

1/4 cup sherry vinegar, or more to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste

In a large bowl, mix cabbage, red bell pepper, scallions, cilantro, and fennel. Stir in seasonings and oil and vinegar, mixing thoroughly. Refrigerate, covered, overnight, so flavors can marry, then stir again thoroughly before serving.

This next recipe is almost as easy as my World’s Simplest Slaw, and it’s both colorful and extremely healthy. But I’ve put it down here because it’s carrot-based, like the slaw that follows it. Needless to say, feel free to shred your own carrots and red cabbage rather than using the pre-shredded versions!

           Carrot Cabbage Confetti Coleslaw

1 package shredded carrots

2 packages shredded red cabbage

1 diced sweet onion (Vidalia, WallaWalla, 1015, or Candy), optional

1 carton crumbled gorgonzola cheese (or crumbled blue cheese or feta if preferred)

2 tablespoons fennel seeds (or caraway or cumin seeds if preferred)

1/4 to 1/2 cup sunflower seeds (shelled), to taste

Greek salad dressing, vinaigrette, or oil and vinegar

salt to taste (we like RealSalt)

Toss ingredients well to mix. Then add 1/3 to 1/2 bottle dressing, stirring in gently but thoroughly to just coat. Allow to stand, covered, for at least 2 hours so flavors can marry (or refrigerate overnight), then stir well again before serving.

Now for something a little more exotic: Moroccan carrot salad, which is really a slaw without cabbage. I found this online, but the original source was cited as Redbook:

           Moroccan Carrot Salad

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 10-ounce package shredded carrots

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1/4 cup raisins

2 tablespoons olive oil

In a large saucepan, combine lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and salt. Add cayenne pepper and bring to a boil. Stir in shredded carrots and cook 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to a large bowl, and add raisins, olive oil and cilantro, tossing to combine. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Serves 4.

But wait, where’s that mayo-based MidSouth coleslaw I grew up with? The kind you often find done badly, tired, minced to death, flavorless and watery. Done well, a traditional MidSouth coleslaw is delicious, even if that mayo does sort of offset the healthy component of the shredded cabbage and carrots. But where could I find a really good recipe?

Rushing to my good friend Google, I took a look around, convinced that the Cook’s Country website wouldn’t fail me. But it didn’t come up when I searched. Paula Deen’s recipe did, though. Convinced that I would find classic Southern slaw, I clicked on it. But no… green bell pepper, onion, and many another ingredient that had never seen the light of day in authentic Southern slaw turned up in Paula’s ingredients list. I’m sure Paula’s slaw is delicious, but it’s not authentic. I continued to search, eventually coming upon a recipe for buttermilk coleslaw on Allrecipes.com that I think pretty much does the trick, though I have to say, I don’t think anybody ever put sugar in my coleslaw, especially not 3 tablespoons! And the slaw I grew up with never came from a package. But thank you, TC Steffey, whoever you are! Here it is:

                  Buttermilk Coleslaw

2 cups mayonnaise

1 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons white sugar

1 teaspoon celery seed

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 packages shredded coleslaw mix

In a large bowl, mix mayo, buttermilk, sugar, celery seed, pepper, and lemon juice. Add coleslaw mix and stir well to coat with dressing. Refrigerate for several hours to let the flavors blend before serving.

Is that enough coleslaw for you? If not, please send me your own favorite version. I think it’s something I could eat every day, at least until November!

                ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

* Our friend Ben has said that, if I don’t stop hogging the airspace here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, there are going to be “consequences.” But since he happens to love coleslaw as much as I do, he was willing to drop the threats for this post.

Eek! A mouse. August 20, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

Silence Dogood here. It is a truth universally acknowledged that all cats, however cute and cuddly they may seem, are, in their heart of hearts, ruthless predators. And that all cat owners, however tenderhearted, had better acknowledge this up front for the sake of their ongoing cardiac fitness.

Indoor cats may content themselves with killing cat toys. Or they may turn to those evil alien invaders, aka bugs, and make it their duty to stop them before they take over. Outdoor cats’ choices are typically broader: shrews, moles, voles, songbirds, and chipmunks, as well as the aforementioned bugs and any fish they can nab in your water garden or stream. And if, like our unfortunate friends Carolyn and Gary, you’ve thoughtfully installed a cat door so your little precious can go in and out at will, you may be confronted with the very-much-alive-and-now-loose-in-the-house results of your cat’s hunting skills at regular intervals.

But today, my topic is mice. Specifically, mice in the house. it seems like every cat has a unique way of dealing with mice, and if, like us, you live in the country, you have plenty of chances to see all these variations in action. We’ve found livers and spleens on our door mat. We’ve seen mice killed but left whole in situ for our admiration. We’ve found decapitated mice, either the head or the rest, depending on the cat.

Our all-time favorite mouser was our huge, gorgeous Maine coon, Diamondridge Seamus Beaumaine. Seamus was a no-fuss, no-muss mouser. If he discovered a mouse, he’d scoop it up in one huge paw, toss it down the hatch, and that was that. Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.

Our most problematic mouser was our senior cat, Tawillow’s Jessie Beaumaine. Jessie knew that her duty was to rid the household of all mice. And she was very good at catching them. But unfortunately, once she’d caught one, she thought it was our responsibility to take it from there. She would roam through the house, a live, uninjured mouse in her mouth, making a distinctive noise that I think of as the “broken cat noise.” And this could go on. And on.

I finally worked out a system for dealing with Jessie: When I heard the broken cat noise—inevitably around 2 a.m.—I’d haul myself out of bed, put on the fireplace gloves, and unlock the front door. Jessie would obediently trot up and drop the mouse on the doormat. It was then my responsibility to scoop up the mouse in the glove before it could get away and toss it out the front door.

Now, nobody likes being awakened in the dead of night by the announcement that there’s a live mouse in your cat’s mouth and you’d better do something about it pronto. But really, the system worked pretty well. Until the night that I didn’t wake up to the siren call. (And of course, our friend Ben just had to be away that night.)  Jessie was outraged that her heroic efforts were being ignored. So she did what any self-respecting cat would do, which is to say, jumped up on our high bed with the mouse in her mouth to show me her accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the effort of jumping that high and holding onto the mouse simultaneously proved too much: Jessie dropped the mouse, which proceeded to flee across my bare arm. As noted, I was sleeping at the time. As a result, I’m down to two of my original nine lives, and the neighbors probably assumed from my screams that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was being reenacted here at Hawk’s Haven.

Our current bunch of cats strike me as losers in the mouse-catching category. The present feline matriarch, Tawillow’s Athena Beaumaine, will disdainfully watch mouse-hunting but declines to participate. And our siblings, Linus and Layla, are so inept they give cats a bad name. However, something has been catching mice around here and leaving them for the unsuspecting yours truly to encounter.

One reason I’m unsuspecting is that mice out here in the country usually have plenty to eat outdoors until winter, so we don’t typically see them inside until snow and ice have decimated their usual food sources and sent them running for food and warmth. But this year, the drought has been so bad all summer and part of the spring that their food supply may have literally dried up.

The other reason I’m unsuspecting is that a dead mouse—at least, a dead mouse in this latest incarnation—looks remarkably like any of the numerous dog toys strewn across the floor, especially when it’s not really light out yet and your synapses don’t even start firing until 10 a.m. Both times I’ve discovered one, I’ve bent over to pick it up, thinking it was yet another wad of string pulled from a rope toy by our black German shepherd, Shiloh, aka The Toyminator.

Let me just note that coming within an inch of touching a dead mouse with your bare hand is not a good way to start the day. And these were not just any dead mice. They looked like they’d been stretched on the rack, then rolled through a press: sort of the mouse equivalent of a candy bar. What the bleep?!

As Sherlock Holmes observed, when you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. In this case, I think our latest mouser is a dog, especially given the proximity of each “mouse bar” to a pile of dog toys.

Well, whatever works. But I’m telling you, Shiloh, if the day dawns when I actually do touch one of those flattened carcasses, you’d better watch out for your own carcass. After all, I’m down to my last two lives.

                 ‘Til next time,

                                 Silence

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