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What will you serve on Super Bowl Sunday? January 31, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, and yes, I’m going to talk about those sandwiches again. That is to say, the sandwiches featured in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal’s “Off Duty” section in an article called “Super Super Bowl Sandwiches.” (See yesterday’s post, “The python purse or a new car?” for more on this.)

The Journal noted that sandwiches had actually become—gasp!—trendy, so they’d asked six famous chefs to create one sandwich each for Super Bowl Sunday. Here’s what the chefs came up with: Braised Short Rib Sandwich with Moroccan Harissa, Romaine and Meyer Lemon; Serrano Ham, Ricotta and Nettle Pesto Sandwich; Shrimp and Sausage Po’Boy; Grilled Cheese with Curds, Prosciutto and Tomato Marmalade; Roast Pork Sandwich with Fontina, Bread and Butter Pickles and Sauerkraut; and Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato with Egg and Cheese.

But wait, it’s a lot more complicated than it looks. Making all the ingredients by hand, zillions more ingredients than you’d expect from the titles, making dressing and dressing the lettuce before adding it to the sandwich, pressing this, shredding that, processing the other—you’re talking about at least one entire day in the kitchen, up until Super Bowl time, anyway. The only simple sandwich was the Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato with Egg and Cheese, from the most famous chef of all, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se, and it was exactly as advertised.

Now, mind you, I thought some of these sandwiches looked really interesting. And the sandwich does have a noble heritage, being named for John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, an eighteenth-century English lord who is said to have preferred eating his meat between two slices of bread while playing cards (i.e., gambling, a popular form of aristocratic entertainment at the time) because it kept his fingers (and thus the playing cards) clean. The fashion caught on and the name “sandwich” was born.

But let’s get back to reality here. Is someone really going to prepare any of these sandwiches for Super Bowl Sunday? (If you’re, pardon the pun, game, check out the recipes at www.wsj.com.) As I was recycling the week’s newspapers this morning, I saw the front page of a circular from Wal-Mart, also addressing Super Bowl fare. It showed a happy family sitting in front of their giant TV screen, along with huge platters of fried mozzarella sticks, fried chicken, fried mini-eggrolls, huge slabs of greasy pepperoni pizza, and—in an apparent attempt to counter all this grease—a small bowl of celery sticks accompanied by, of course, a big bowl of bacon ranch dip.

Is this Nirvana for Super Bowl fans? You betcha. All that’s missing is the beer and peanut M&Ms. Oh, and the Chex Mix, pretzels, chips, seven-layer dip, breadsticks, burgers, wings, wieners, and more hi-cal dips, pleeze. But it’s really not our fault. Our bodies are hardwired to prefer fat, sugar, and alcohol—the three most calorie-dense foods—because we needed as much of all of them as we could get our hands on to survive back when every calorie could make the difference between life and extinction. It’s a preference we share with all animals to this day. Though we live in an age of unparalleled abundance, we just can’t shake those cravings. But does that really condemn us to the 10,000-calorie Super Bowl explosion?

There is the middle road, exemplified by a brochure I picked up in my local grocery featuring that platinum-haired, jewel-encrusted, bad-car-driving good-time guy, Guy Fieri. Working with his sponsor, Kraft Foods, Chef Guy tells us how to make all sorts of bite-sized football fare, including Ritz Asian Shrimp Toppers, Ritz Meatball Poppers, Ritz Half Moons, Ritz Southern BBQ Bites, Ritz Cheese Steak Sliders, and Ritz Big Island Pork Bites. The Kraft Kitchens staff has rounded out the brochure with recipes for Wheat Thins Veggie Pizza Dip, Triscuit Sloppy Joes, Wheat Thins Kickin’ Chicken Spread, Triscuit Ham & Swiss Melts, Fully Loaded Baked Potato Dip, Philly Buffalo Chicken Dip, Triscuit Chicken Parm Snackers, and Southwest Avocado Bean Dip.

Now far be it from me, a Southerner, to say one bad word about Ritz Crackers. They were the crackers of choice for any high-end occasion during my childhood, and a more buttery, melt-in-your mouth indulgence you will never find. Given the nutrient-free, hi-cal hit, these days our friend Ben and I go for the Triscuits instead, which are made with whole wheat and are high-fiber and (comparatively) low-cal. We especially like the new Triscuits Thin Crisps and black pepper-olive oil versions. I’ll even give Chef Guy his due and note that he tells brochure readers how to make things like Roasted Red Bell Pepper Aioli, Pineapple Savoy Slaw, and Ginger Aioli.

These cracker toppings and dips look appealing enough, but I have a feeling most people would go for the Velveeta Famous Queso Dip made with (gack) Velveeta imitation cheese product and Ro*Tel diced tomatoes and green chilies featured toward the back of the brochure, maybe pick up a box or two of crackers along with their chips and Chex Mix, and leave it at that. But perhaps I’m just a cynic.

Unlike other feast days like Thanksgiving, where people may stuff themselves and even consume horrendous but traditional glop like green bean casserole with canned mushroom soup and canned sweet potatoes coated with marshmallow goo, but at least try to eat some real food, for Super Bowl Sunday, all bets are off. It’s perfectly fine to eat all that fried, ooey, gooey, fat-laden stuff in front of the TV, and forget about trying to eat anything that qualifies as actual unprocessed food. After all, it’s only once a year.

Wondering what we’ll be eating here at Hawk’s Haven on Super Bowl Sunday? Frankly, I don’t know yet, but a good guess would be pizza and salad. The pizza will be homemade, with pesto, tomato sauce, and shredded mozzarella, topped with an Italian herb mix and sliced mushrooms, sweet onions, black olives, red bell peppers, and artichoke hearts (or sliced jalapenos in place of the artichoke hearts on a second pizza if our heat-loving friend and fellow blog contributor, Richard Saunders, and his girlfriend Bridget join us). The salad will be big and crunchy, with lots of veggies on top the way we like it.

And yes, I probably will make a platter of raw veggies, tortilla chips, fresh salsa, cheese, and blue cheese dip so the guys can sustain themselves as the game goes on. OFB will want margaritas, and we’ll probably have some Yuengling porter, another OFB favorite, on hand. I’ll have a glass of cabernet with my pizza and salad, thank you, and find something else to do during the game—there’s only so much seating around here, after all—I think I hear my knitting, or possibly writing, calling. OFB and Richard can tell me if their beloved Steelers have won. (And God help all of us if they lose!)

So what will you be serving up for Super Bowl Sunday? Hmmm, maybe a big pot of chili and a pan of hot-from-the-oven cornbread would be just the thing, after all…

          ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

The python purse, or a new car? January 30, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben is an enthusiastic Wall Street Journal reader, while I tend to prefer our local paper. Our agreement is that we’ll share anything of interest in our paper with each other. However, I usually can’t resist poking my head over OFB’s shoulder when I see that the WSJ has a feature on food or trends.

Yesterday, they had a feature in their “Off Duty” section in which six top chefs created their own versions of Super Bowl sandwiches, so I snatched that section despite a torrent of protests and checked it out. (The most intriguing, from Chef Josef Centeno of Lazy Ox Canteen, involved layering homemade nettle pesto, whipped ricotta, homemade pickled shallots, dressed arugula or watercress, and Serrano ham on a sliced baguette. I’d have snatched that up in a heartbeat if the ham had been replaced with, say, sliced tomato. But I could also see the unfortunate murder trial if someone had just spent the last 59 hours making all those elaborate fillings, then triumphantly produced a platter of sandwiches at game time, to be met with “Thanks, Hon! You didn’t forget the chips and dip, didja? Oh, and Joey here wants a hotdog instead…”)

But I digress. I’d also noticed that the section had a feature on the comeback barrettes were making, and since I have many amazing barrettes, I turned to that page next. Only to be stopped cold by what I saw at the bottom of the page under the heading “Well Spent” (!!!). The piece showed five brightly colored python bags, which apparently are “the ideal accessory to invest in right now.” The price of the bags ranged from a modest $2,290 to $8,520.

Whipping out my handy calculator, I decided to see how much it would cost to “invest” in one of each. The grand total: $22,740. Money well spent, don’t you think? Proceeding inexorably to the “If I had $22,740, what would I do with it?” stage, I thought, well, I could buy a new car and still have enough money left over to put a nice cushion in the bank account. Or I could buy a less-used car and have enough money left over to get the outside of our house painted at last. Or I could forget about the car, get the outside of the house painted, buy a new stove and refrigerator, and put the rest in the bank. Or I could continue to patch-paint the outside of the house, get a new stove, fridge, toilet, and washer-dryer, and treat myself and OFB to a long-desired trip to Scotland or Australia or Morocco or Greece or Provence or Tuscany or… Maybe there’d even be enough money left over to fly to wherever the Lazy Ox Canteen is and order a couple of those sandwiches!

Meanwhile, I think I’ll get out some of my barrettes. It’s always nice to be trendy!

               ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

What’s your favorite dog? January 29, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood read with some astonishment the top-ranked purebred dogs of 2010 in terms of popularity, ranked by the folks who should know, the American Kennel Club. Number 1—apparently for the 20th year running—is the Labrador retriever. Number 2, the German shepherd dog, number 3, the Yorkshire terrier, number 4, the beagle, and number 5, the golden retriever.

We beg to differ. In our view, number 1 every time would be the golden retriever. More elegant, smarter, and better in every way than the stocky, stolid Lab, the golden is the perfect family dog and the ideal companion for anyone. We’re appalled that not only the Lab but that barky, pointless pack-dog, the beagle, and the Yorkshire terrier beat the golden in the AKC rankings. (What the hell’s a Yorkshire terrier, anyway? We can picture the Jack Russell,  wheaten, Scottie, and Schnauser, but can’t even begin to bring a Yorkshire to mind.)

And what of the noble German shepherd? We loved our goldens, and still think they’re the perfect all-round dog, but we have to admit that our black German shepherd, Shiloh, is our favorite dog of all time. We can’t say that a German shepherd is the right dog for everyone, unlike a golden, but for those for whom they are the right dog, there’s no finer, nobler, greater-hearted dog on earth. We’re proud to see them in the number 2 spot in the rankings.

If we could do our own rankings, we’d have goldens in the top spot, followed by German shepherds, with Springer spaniels (the perfect midsize dogs) as #3. After that, we’d say it’s up to you. We love most dogs, and are delighted to spend time with them. What breed or mix gets your top vote?

Reheating without a microwave. January 28, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was recently reading a statement on a blog I very much respect in which the blogger responded to someone who asked how to reheat leftover mashed potatoes without a microwave, “Mashed potatoes don’t reheat very well.” Gasp!

This certainly hasn’t been my experience. Now mind you, I’ve never owned a microwave, which for all I know could reheat mashed potatoes, leftover pasta, dressing, corn pudding, rice, dal, refried beans, chili, and so on perfectly at the push of a button. But if, like me, you don’t have one, what’s the alternative?

Clearly, it’s not a pot on the stove. Try reheating rice, mashed potatoes, pasta, or what-have-you in a pot, however heavy, on the stove, be it turned down ever so low, and you’re asking for the dreaded burned-on bottom and thrown-out, burnt-smelling top. Yuck! And to top it off, you need Iron Man to scrape all that burnt, sooty gook off the bottom of the pan.

Been there, done that, way too many times. Forget the stovetop: When it comes to heating leftovers, the oven is your friend. Our friend Ben and I have a compact countertop convection oven—larger than a toaster oven but way smaller than a conventional oven—on, shock surprise, our kitchen counter.

Now, this convection oven has definite drawbacks when it comes to cooking, simply because it’s smaller than a “real” oven. Fewer slices of pizza, fewer trays of roasting veggies, fewer pans of lasagna or dressing or a combination of casseroles can fit in the countertop oven at a time. But when it comes to reheating, it’s a dream.

Here’s what I do: Put a little milk—and I mean a little milk, a couple of tablespoons—in the bottom of an ovenproof glass, clay, or metal pan. Add your mashed potatoes or creamy pasta, cover with aluminum foil, and pop in the oven at the “convection-stay on” settings. I like to start out at 350, then quickly dial down to 300, then 250, then 200, removing the potatoes or pasta when they’re heated through. Give them a quick stir, serve: They’re perfect! No burnt anything, and if anything, they taste even better than when first made.

This works for pretty much any leftovers, too, even if they’re not creamy like mashed potatoes or creamy pasta. Suppose you’re reheating rice or baked beans or spaghetti or chili or refried beans or dal. If the rice or spaghetti looks really dry, add a splash—again, just a splash—of water or veggie stock in the bottom of the pan instead of milk, then put in your leftovers, top with foil, and heat until heated through. I’ve found that veggie sides like green beans, carrots, or roasted veggies reheat beautifully in the aluminum-topped pan with no additional liquid at all, as long as you added butter when you originally cooked them.

So simple, but so good! Clearly, this would work in a real oven as well if you kept the heat low, but it seems like a waste to heat an entire oven just to heat up some leftovers. But if you do happen to have a countertop oven, I think this is the very best way to reheat leftovers, even if you do have a microwave. And if, like us, you don’t, it’s a godsend.  

             ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

Addendum: Once again, my friend Delilah has come to the rescue with a great suggestion here. She uses a double boiler to heat leftovers without scorching, burning, or drowning them. Delilah points out that adding a bit of water—one or two inches—in the bottom pan of the double boiler (make sure you don’t add so much that it touches the top pan), bringing it to a simmer, then putting the leftovers in the top pan, covering it with the lid, then cooking until the leftovers are heated through, typically ten minutes, turns out perfect leftovers with no added anything, every time. Thanks, Delilah! Great idea!!!

Get ready for Groundhog Day. January 27, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. How do you celebrate Groundhog Day? If you’re like us, maybe you check out the local paper’s report on whether Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, but really are more interested in the photo of the famous groundhog than the weather report. Or maybe your family has a tradition of watching the movie “Groundhog Day” every year. Well, how about upping the ante this year with some groundhog cookies?

Sure enough, our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, recently had a feature about Betty Bamberger, who makes groundhog-shaped sugar cookies every year with special cookie cutters. And yup, the little critters really did look remarkably cute and groundhog-like.

Now, our friend Ben and I are no fans of sugar cookies, which strike us as a tasteless waste of calories. Give us some yummy chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies, chewy peanut butter cookies, melt-in-your-mouth buttery thumbprint jam cookies, or white chocolate-cranberry-pecan cookies. (We also love plain oatmeal cookies, as long as they’re chewy, and for a specially decadent treat, chocolate chip-toffee-oatmeal cookies or buttery toffee shortbread.) Pallid sugar cookies just don’t do it for us.

However. Rolled, stamped cookies like Betty Bamberger’s groundhogs require a refrigerated, sugar-cookie-ish dough that takes to being rolled out and cut. If I wanted to make them, but didn’t want to be confronted with tasteless, boring cookies at the end of my efforts, what could I do? Two options sprang to mind, both of which use refrigerated, rolling-pin-friendly dough. One is hickory-nut cookies, a regional specialty that OFB and I can never get enough of, and the other is pecan sand tarts, the homemade equivalent of Pecan Sandies.

Revitalized, I returned to the article to find out the critical info: where to buy groundhog cookie cutters. Apparently, you can buy handmade groundhog cookie cutters just minutes from us at H.O. Foose Tinsmithing Co. in scenic Fleetwood, PA. If you’re local, you can pick up a Foose handmade groundhog cutter at their shop on 18 West Poplar Street, Fleetwood, when it opens at 9 a.m. on February 1st after its annual winter break. Or order one or more cutters online at www.foosecookiecutters.com for $1.95 for each 3-inch groundhog cutter, plus $7.50 shipping for as many cutters as you want. Order now and you’ll get your cutters within five days, just in time! You can also order 2 1/2-, 3-, and/or 4-inch groundhog cookie cutters from that bastion of all things groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil’s Official Souvenir Shop. Prices are $1.75, $2, and $2.50 respectively, plus a shipping fee of $6.95 per cutter, which should arrive in four days; order from www.groundhogstuff.com.

Don’t share our distaste for sugar cookies, and fired up to make your own groundhog cookies? Here’s the recipe Betty uses to make her celebrated cookies:

         Betty Bamberger’s Groundhog Sugar Cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond or lemon extract

2 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix butter and sugar, add eggs, vanilla and flavoring of choice. Mix well. Mix dry ingredients and mix into batter. Chill for at least three hours or overnight. [Ahem, guess you'd better wait to preheat that oven!---Silence] Roll out chilled dough to the thickness you prefer and bake on cookie sheets that have been covered with parchment paper. Bake for seven to nine minutes, depending on the cookies’ thickness, until they’re done to your liking. [Note: The photos show those little chocolate sprinkles you can buy as cake decorations used, one per cookie, for the groundhog's eye. Looks good, recommended.---Silence]

I recommend that you check out the entire article, which also includes recipes for Punxsutawney Phil’s Spicy Groundhogs (more cookies) and Punxsutawney Phil’s Groundhog Sundaes. Look for “A New Take on Groundhog Day” by Diane W. Stoneback at www.themorningcall.com. And enjoy!

As for us, maybe I can finally get that top-secret hickory-nut cookie recipe from our friend Rudy, his friend Joanne, or our next-to-next-door neighbor, Mrs. Snyder. If not, we just might be having groundhog biscuits or mini-groundhog pizzas on February 2nd!

           ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

Yo, yarn, where art thou?! January 26, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our good friend Delilah, knowing what a knitting fiend I am, asked me to keep an eye out for some ragg wool yarn next time I was out visiting one of my favorite yarn shops. As if. Not that I wouldn’t be delighted to find ragg wool yarn for Delilah. The trouble is finding a yarn shop around here.

It wasn’t always this way. Even here in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, where our friend Ben and I live, there were three superb yarn shops within relatively easy driving distance: one in Kutztown, a mere ten minutes from us, one in Emmaus, a half-hour drive, and one in Bethlehem, about 45 minutes from here when the wretched highway isn’t jammed to a standstill.

All these shops carried really gorgeous yarns, many handmade, and an extensive selection. They also carried beautiful needles (many also handmade) and supplies and offered knitting classes and informal knitting circles. Every time I went, the shops were full of cheerful knitters shopping, chatting, and knitting.

But with the closure of the Bethlehem shop this month, I’m at a loss as to where to go for good yarn. I’m also at a loss to explain what happened to these shops. (Believe it or not, the one in Emmaus became a gun shop!) Knitting experienced such an explosive resurgence in the 21st century among all age groups, but especially twentysomethings, that I’d have thought yarn shops would be booming.

The shop in Emmaus had been there for decades, the one in Bethlehem for at least a decade. Owners of both shops said they were closing because they were retiring. Well, why didn’t they sell their stock and business to someone who would carry on? The shop in Kutztown, a small college town, was only open for a couple of years, run by an enthusiastic young woman who clearly hoped to tap into the knitting resurgence.

What happened? Was everybody in this great knitting resurgence buying acrylic yarn at Wal-Mart? I think not. Instead, I suspect two factors are at the heart of yarn-store closures. One is the Great Recession. Gorgeous, handmade, hand-dyed, real-fiber yarns aren’t cheap, to say the least. Buying four or more skeins of these yarns to make a scarf, as I do, can set you back $60, or even (considerably) more. And we’re not talking about a sweater, shawl, or throw here. That’s a luxury at any time, but an impossibility when times are hard. I don’t know about anybody else, but I stock up on fabulous yarn when I have the money and draw from my stash when I don’t.

The other factor is the internet. Today’s knitters were raised with the internet and are completely at home with internet shopping. I checked out the most recent yarn I’d bought—Moonlight Mohair in Rainforest—and it was $2 less a skein online than I’d paid for it, though I noted with horror the unspeakable shipping costs of $4.66 a skein that more than offset the savings. However, high-end yarn is definitely out there at the push of a button.

I myself love seeing and touching the wealth of yarns in a shop, holding them to the light, comparing them. Yes, I’m a sucker for Amazon, but it can’t compare to a bookstore experience, where you can discover all sorts of books you’d never find if you didn’t stumble upon them. Not that I’m dissing Amazon by any means! It’s the greatest if you already know what you want. But if you shop online exclusively, you’ll never know what you’re missing, because you simply won’t see it. I enjoy the thrill of discovery a brick-and-mortar store offers, and the breadth of offerings (not to mention discounts) the internet offers. For me, they’re complementary, not a one-or-the-other kind of thing.

Maybe there’s another explanation I’m not seeing, but I think that, as with so many actual stores in the virtual age, the overhead combined with the recession has been killing. Today’s knitters still see knitting as a communal activity, but rather than clustering in the back of a store after hours, they’d rather get together in each others’ homes or go on a knitting retreat or splurge on a knitting cruise with their stitch-and-bitch buds. Who wouldn’t?

I’ll still keep an eye out for that ragg wool yarn, but it may be a while before I find another yarn store. Meanwhile, in case you’re wondering, apparently you can find ragg wool yarn on Etsy and eBay…

         ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

For auld lang syne. January 25, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Today, January 25th, is the 252nd birthday of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). Fans of Burns often celebrate his birthday with a supper of traditional Scottish foods, including, of course, haggis (a mix of oatmeal, suet, onions, salt, pepper, mace, nutmeg, and sheeps’ guts, including the liver, lungs, and heart, stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled), given Burns’s celebrated poem, “Address to a Haggis,” and served with neeps and tatties (boiled, mashed potatoes and rutabagas).

Don’t know “Address to a Haggis”? Oh. Well, maybe you know “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose” or that ultimate New Year’s ditty, “Olde Lang Syne.” Both were penned by Burns. But neither holds the place in our friend Ben’s heart reserved for two of Burns’s other poems, immortalized for me in the versions sung by Dougie MacLean on his “Indigenous” and “Tribute” CDs. One is “Ae Fond Kiss,” a song about doomed love, and the other is the stirring “For a’ That and a’ That,” one of the early paeans to human equality and liberty.

Robert Burns was an early supporter of the concept that ability, not heredity, makes the man. Since American history has been one long attempt to prove the truth of that, it’s not surprising that we keep Burns’s memory alive with annual birthday feasts and celebrations. Back in Burns’s native Scotland, Dougie MacLean continues to battle classist remnants in his homeland with his beautiful, haunting music to this day.

So raise a glass of Scotch (if you can stand it) or at least Drambuie (our friend Ben’s preference) to toast Scotland’s great proletariat poet on his 252nd birthday. And enjoy these beautiful poems/songs with me:

        Ae Fond Kiss

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;

Ae farewell, alas, for ever!

Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,

Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee!

Who shall say that Fortune grieves him

While the star of hope she leaves him?

Me, nae cheerfu’ twinkle lights me

Dark despair around benights me.

I’ll ne’er blame my partial fancy;

Naething could resist my Nancy;

But to see her was to love her,

Love but her, and love forever.

Had we never loved sae kindly,

Had we never loved sae blindly,

Never met—or never parted, 

We had ne’er been broken-hearted.

Fare thee weel, thou first and fairest!

Fare thee weel, thou best and dearest!

Thine be ilka joy and treasure,

Peace, enjoyment, love, and pleasure!

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!

Ae farewell, alas, for ever!

Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,

Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee!

Love’s labor lost is pretty easy to understand despite the Scottish dialect. But it gets a bit thick in “For a’That and a’That,” and you may find yourself adrift. Just bear in mind that the point Burns is making is that the free man, the able man, is worth more than gold and certainly worth more than foolish, prancing lords who’ve inherited their titles but not their ancestors’ greatness. (Let’s not forget that ability to lead was what got the original lords their titles back in the day.)

          For a’ That and a’ That

Is there, for honest poverty,

That hings his head, an’ a’ that?

The coward slave, we pass him by,

We dare be poor for a’ that!

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

Our toils obscure, an’ a’ that;

The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,

The man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What tho’ on hamely fare we dine,

Wear hoddin-gray, an’ a’ that;

Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,

A man’s a man for a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

The tinsel show an’ a’ that;

The honest man, tho’  e’er sae poor,

Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,

Wha’ struts an’ stares an’ a’ that;

Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,

He’s but a coof for a’ that:

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

His riband, star, an’ a’ that,

The man o’ independent mind,

He looks and laughs at a’ that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,

A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;

But an honest man’s aboon his might,

Guid faith he mauna fa’ that!

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

Their dignities, an’ a’ that,

The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,

Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,

As come it will for a’ that,

That sense and worth, o’er a’ the earth,

May bear the gree, and a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

It’s coming yet, for a’ that,

That man to man, the warld o’er,

Shall brothers be for a’ that.

Sadly, WordPress always betrays me when I try to transcribe poems, separating the lines in each stanza and pushing the stanzas all together in a clump. I apologize! In “Ae Fond Kiss,” stanzas are four lines each; in “For a’ That and a’ That,” they’re eight lines. Sorry about that! Please share your own favorite Robert Burns poem with us. And happy birthday, Mr. Burns!

Elected! January 24, 2011

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Our friend Ben was thrilled to learn this morning that one of my longtime faves, Alice Cooper, has finally been given the nod and will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this coming March. Woohoo! God knows it’s taken them long enough.

In addition to decades’ worth of wonderful songs (including “Poison,” “School’s Out,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” “Bed of Nails,” “Can’t Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me,” “House of Fire,” “I Never Cry,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “Welcome to My Nightmare,” and, of course, “Elected”), Alice is widely recognized as the Godfather of punk rock, costume-rock megastars like Kiss, and the like. He was the first, and he may well be the last. I’m glad to see that he’s been “Elected” at last.

Week in Review at PRA: January 17-23. January 23, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders, your bloggers here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, have decided to recap each week’s posts here every Sunday so readers can see at a glance if they’ve missed anything worth reading. Here’s this week’s worth of posts in brief. You can find the posts by simply scrolling down, or by typing the titles in our search bar at upper right. Enjoy!

Happy 305th birthday, Ben! Our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, celebrated his 305th birthday on January 17. We invite you to join the party by providing a selection of Ben’s greatest quotes.

James Madison’s favorite food. Silence Dogood shares a bit about America’s puniest President, James Madison, and his favorite foods, along with food faves of some of our other Founders, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin.

Farewell to books and DVDs. Our friend Ben read that one of our favorite services, Netflix, is planning to discontinue its DVD service in favor of direct-streamed videos, and ponders if—thanks to the e-reader phenomenon—books will soon be going the same way.

An older married wombat. OFB ponders the unfortunate fate of Tasmanian devils, and segues into the vicissitudes of language use and abuse. 

Leftover roasted veggies. Our friend Huma made more roasted vegetables than she knew what to do with. Silence helps her out with a slew of suggestions for great uses for roasted veggies.

Yaktrax to the rescue. OFB and Silence owe their lives to Yaktrax, the boot add-ons that help even the most uncoordinated keep their footing on winter ice.

Tell me why: Big Ben. It’s big, but why is it Ben? OFB ponders the stories behind Big Ben, the clock, Big Ben, the quarterback, and the biggest Ben of all, Benjamin Franklin.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for joining us!

Tell me why: Big Ben. January 23, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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“Why do they call the clock in London Big Ben?” our friend Rob asked the other night over a bowl of Silence Dogood’s exceptional chili and some hot-from-the-oven cornbread. Now, it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to see why they called it Big, but the Ben part is another matter.

Of course, we knew why the question had come up: Rob, a rabid Steelers fan, was doubtless thinking of “Big Ben” Roethlisberger, the Steelers’ quarterback. At 6’5″ and 250-260 pounds, Big Ben has clearly earned his nickname. But what about that clock? Our friend Ben, never averse to researching anything related to the name Ben, headed over to Google to find out.

Gadzooks! Turns out, the name Big Ben is correctly that of the biggest bell in the clock tower, not the actual clock (correctly “the Great Clock of Westminster”) at all. Even the bell’s real name is “the Great Bell.” Wikipedia explains:

“The origin of the nickname Big Ben is the subject of some debate. The nickname was applied first to the Great Bell; it may have been named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw the installation of the Great Bell [and whose name appears on the bell itself], or after boxing’s English Heavyweight Champion Benjamin Caunt. Now Big Ben is often used, by extension, to refer to the clock, the tower and the bell collectively…”

And the clock and tower? According to Wikipedia, “It is the largest four-faced chiming clock and the third-tallest free-standing clock tower in the world. It celebrated its 150th anniversary in May 2009… The clock first ticked on 31 May 1859.”

In 1859, Queen Victoria was 40 years old and had been on the throne for 22 years (there is an inscription on the clock itself, DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM, “O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First,” linking it forever to the Victorian Age), and Sherlock Holmes was not even a gleam in his creator’s eye, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself was born on May 22, 1859, less than two weeks before the clock was set in motion. (Holmes first appeared in 1887.)

So there you have it. While Big Ben the bell/clock/tower may be the best-known and best-loved symbol of Great Britain and London, and our friend Rob may be hoping that “Big Ben” Roethlisberger will go on to become the same here in the States (or at least in Pittsburgh), here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, the biggest Ben of all remains our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. “He snatched the lightning from heaven and the sceptre from tyrants.” Kinda hard for a mere tower, or even a quarterback, to beat that.

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