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The amaryllis experiment. April 30, 2011

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are lucky enough to have a 16-by-10-foot greenhouse here at Hawk’s Haven, the country cottage we share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. (Well, it’s actually 16-by-16, but the north side is used for storing wood and as a hayloft, adding some insulation from the cold to the greenhouse part in the process.)

You’d think this would be plenty of room to overwinter tender plants. But you’d be wrong. Every year, we’d overwintered our amaryllises and cannas on the in-ground bed in the greenhouse, along with all our other tender plants, while those that stay in the greenhouse year-round make their homes on our raised bench across the aisle, and the hanging baskets hang out on a metal rod suspended along the length of the in-ground bed.

Then, last year, we realized that we just didn’t have enough space, thanks to our acquisition of more tropical and semitropical fruits, herbs, and spices. The cannas and amaryllis were just going to have to find another winter home. We were aware that many people let their cannas and amaryllis go dormant over winter, then stashed the bulbs and/or pots in the basement or another dark place until they returned to life in spring. But sadly, we don’t have a basement here.

We decided to put ours in our toolshed. But all our gardening friends raised a great outcry, insisting that the unheated toolshed would kill our plants. Thinking this over, we realized that there was only one dark, dry, warm space where there was room for our many pots of amaryllis and cannas. And that was the furnace room.

Huffing, puffing, and cursing, we hauled the bazillion pots of cannas and amaryllis into the furnace room, turned off the light, and closed the door. We weren’t going to look at our beloved collection again until spring. Would they really survive all those months with no water and no light? Would mice find their way in and eat the bulbs? We couldn’t bear to think about it.

Spring belatedly arrived, cold, dark, and unseasonably rainy as it’s been here. We didn’t dare set out our amaryllis and cannas before the night temperatures were consistently in the 40s, and that took a good month longer than usual. Finally, we decided we just had to get them outside.

Opening the door to the furnace room—talk about suspense!—we saw that, from the plants’ point of view, we’d waited about a week too late. They just knew it was time to start growing, and they did. We were confronted with leaves and even (in the case of a few amaryllis) bloom stalks that were a startling creamy white. We apologized profusely, pointing out that we couldn’t bring them out before they could go onto the deck or the cats and/or dog would destroy them, and took them all outside. Would they live or die, blanched as they were?!

We’re happy to report that it looks like everybody’s going to be all right. The foliage, stems, and bloom stalks have gone from cream-white to reddish to green within the week. Everybody’s growing rather than going into shock and dying. We may have a good amaryllis bloom season and a lusty canna foliage season after all. The stress appears to have taken more of a toll on us than on our plants.

Those of you who grow, enjoy, and overwinter amaryllis and cannas, we’d be thrilled to hear what you do and how it works. Relieved as we are that we didn’t kill off all our plants, we’d still like to avoid the anxiety and nail-biting this coming winter…

Old times there are not forgotten. April 28, 2011

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are both native Nashvillians, and though we have lived in scenic Pennsylvania for most of our adult lives, we remain tied to the South through our immediate and extended families, friends, and blogging friends throughout the area. We have close family in Tennessee, Alabama, and Washington, D.C., all areas involved with the devastating tornadoes and flooding that have swept and are sweeping through the South yesterday and today.

As we look outside our Pennsylvania windows at the winds flailing branches and the rain hurtling down, we can only imagine the terror of those farther South, especially in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where a mile-wide tornado left devastation—and at least 128 dead throughout the state—in its wake. Needless to say, we’ll be manning the phones at a more reasonable hour to call our families and make sure they’re all right.

For all of you who are facing or have faced this horrendous storm, our thoughts and prayers are with you. And for those whom we’ve come to know and love through your garden blogs, please check in and let us know how you and your gardens came through!

Admiral Semmes sails again. April 27, 2011

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Several years ago, our friend Ben was startled to discover the existence of the deciduous, yellow-flowered azalea ‘Admiral Semmes’. I first heard of it on the wonderful Fairegarden blog, and you can check it out for yourself by heading over to Frances’s post “Gardening for the Senses – Scent” at http://fairegarden.wordpress.com/, where she features photos of the Admiral in all his current fragrant, floriferous glory.

Now, I like deciduous azaleas, and here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home Silence Dogood and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, we have an area of light deciduous shade where our woodland wildflowers flourish and I’m sure deciduous azaleas would, too. But what motivated our friend Ben’s dogged search for a specimen of ‘Admiral Semmes’ was not just his impressive size, gorgeous flowers, or even fragrance. It was his name.

You see, Admiral Raphael Semmes was related to our friend Ben, descended from our common ancestor, the progenitor Marmaduke Semmes, who arrived on these shores (in Maryland, to be precise) before 1662. (You can read more about him in an earlier post, “Who’s looking for Marmaduke?,” by typing the title into our search bar at upper right.) Unless you’re related to a plant breeder, or were a French notable from the 1800s, it’s not every day that you find a plant named after one of your relations. The Admiral instantly went on my must-get list.

Today, the lightbulb finally went on: Mother’s Day is coming, and each year, our black German shepherd, Shiloh, gets Silence a Mother’s Day plant, with a little help from yours truly. Rushing to Google, I searched for a source for ‘Admiral Semmes’, and there he was at RareFind Nursery in neighboring New Jersey (www.rarefindnursery.com). I was even more thrilled when I saw that one of the Admiral’s parents was ‘Hotspur Yellow’, since Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy has always been one of my favorite Shakespeare characters. (He was of course an actual historical character as well.)

Here’s what RareFind has to say about the Admiral:

“The Confederate Series of deciduous azaleas was introduced by Dodd & Dodd Nurseries, Semmes, Alabama. [Semmes, Alabama?! Who knew?] An excellent large-flowered Exbury Azalea was crossed with the heat-tolerant, native Florida Azalea, R. austrinum, and the results are large-flowered, fragrant, heat tolerant cultivars. R. ‘Admiral Semmes’ was named after the famous Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes whose record of 87 ships sunk or captured remains unbroken to this day.* The plant bears beautiful medium-yellow flowers with deeper dorsal flares and pleasing fragrance in May. Very lustrous dark green leaves turn orange-bronze in fall. The handsome leaves are exceptionally mildew free.”  

Our friend Ben hit “add to cart” before you could say “Admiral Semmes,” and a specimen of the Admiral will be heading our way the week of May 9. I must say, Shiloh (and Frances, for that matter) has excellent taste in plants. Now, if I could just interest Dodd & Dodd in naming an azalea ‘Our Friend Ben’…

* Delightful as it would be to believe this of a relative of mine, sadly, I believe the actual record is held by the pirate Batholomew Roberts, the most successful pirate of all times, aka Black Bart, the Great Pirate Roberts, from whom the Dread Pirate Roberts in “The Princess Bride” took his name.

The truth about tweezers. April 26, 2011

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Our friend Ben was doing some much-needed yardwork yesterday when a splinter decided to do a job of its own on my index finger. Heading back to the house for tweezers, I began to wonder how long this useful little instrument had been around. Who invented tweezers? What did people do before the advent of tweezers? And how on earth did this humble household helper get that wacko name?!

I had a hunch that tweezers had been around for quite a while before the debut of medical forceps. Thinking back to ancient societies that had both advanced beadwork and jewlery techniques and extremely unnatural, exaggerated beauty practices, ancient Egypt sprang to mind. Small beads require precision handling, and all those bald Egyptian heads and stylized eyebrows might require a lot of plucking (and/or waxing and shaving).

Wikipedia confirmed my guess. Tweezers were in use in pre-Dynastic Egypt, as well as in Mesopotamia and India by 3000 B.C. The Romans also used them.

So far, so good. But what about the word itself, which is pretty bizarre when you come to think of it? Who would come up with a name like “tweezers” for a small, precise gripping implement?

Heading back to my good friend Google, I typed in “etymology of word tweezers” and got this: “Origin 1645-55; plural of tweezer, equivalent to obsolete tweeze, case of surgical instuments.” Tweeze apparently derived from etweese, an English corruption of the French etuis, from Old French etuier, to keep, ultimately from the Latin studiare, to care for.

But wait, there’s more, or at least, an alternative explanation, courtesy of the Word Detective (http://www.word-detective.com/):

“‘Tweezers’ are, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘small pincers or nippers (originally as included in the contents of an etui) used for plucking out hairs from the face or for grasping minute objects.’ That curious word ‘etui’ is the key to ‘tweezers’. An ‘etui’ (or ‘etwee’, from the Old French ‘estuier’, to hold or keep safe) was a small case that was often carried by folks in the 17th and 18th centuries containing personal instruments such as toothpicks, pins and what we now call ‘tweezers’. Over time the name for the case came to be applied to one particular instrument itself, that useful set of pincers, which was known as a ‘tweeze’ and eventually ‘tweezers’. The verb ‘to tweeze’, meaning to use tweezers on something, is actually what linguists call a ‘back-formation’ from ‘tweezers’, and didn’t appear until the 1930s.”  

Isn’t etymology (the study of the history and development of words) fun? Well, our friend Ben certainly thinks so. And now we know that, though they didn’t invent them, we have the fashion-forward French to thank for inflicting the word “tweezers” (and its equally twisted sister, “scissors,” for that matter) on us. 

However weird the word itself, I’m certainly grateful to the ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Indians, and whoever else devised such a handy little tool. One yank, no more splinter. It sure beats having to cut it out with a knife, the pre-tweezers method of removing embedded objects. But now that I think about it, who’d have come up with a word like “splinter”?!

Rice for the world. April 25, 2011

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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to tell you about a fun word game that tests your word savvy and feeds the poor. It doesn’t cost you a penny—just the amount of time you’re willing to spend on the quiz. When my girlfriend, Bridget, showed me the story about it in Sunday’s Parade magazine, I knew I had to check it out!

The site is called Freerice (www.freerice.com). As the Parade feature says, when you take the quiz, “For every correct answer, 10 grains of rice will be donated to needy countries through the World Food Programme. Eighty-nine billion grains—enough to feed 4.6 million people—have been donated since the site launched.”

Now ten grains per correct answer may not seem like much, but the numbers build quickly. I had racked up over 4100 grains of rice by the time Bridget finally dragged me away from the computer so we could have dinner, and the quiz showed no signs of slowing down.

The quiz is multiple-choice, and the words range in difficulty from 1 to 60. The better you do, the higher they raise the level of difficulty (giving you more obscure words to define), but if you start faltering, they’ll lower it. They’ll also show you the correct answers, then ask you the same word later to give you a chance to get it right (and donate more rice!). Sadly, I seemed to be stuck at level 55. I’ve challenged our friend Ben to try to beat that, and enlisted Silence Dogood to make sure OFB stays honest and tells me how he does.

I consider myself to have a pretty good working vocabulary, but I tell you, once you get up to the 50-plus level, the words were pretty darned obscure. Part of the problem is that the site is based on British English, and many words that would doubtless be child’s play to Brits were real posers to me. (Billingsgate? Wasn’t that a prison in London? What do you mean, it means “profanity”?!) I have to say that some of their definition choices also leave something to be desired, but at least if you know the word, you’ll be able to spot the closest match, even if it’s not the way you’d define it.

In any case, the quiz is fun, fast-moving, and definitely challenging. As the site says, you can learn something while you’re donating, so you get to help yourself while you help others. What a great idea!

Try it today and let us know how you do!

                 Warmly,

                             Richard Saunders

A dozen ways to eat an egg. April 23, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized.
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Silence Dogood here. Easter is almost upon us, and with Easter come the inevitable hardboiled Easter eggs. Our next-to-next-door neighbors have already gifted me and our friend Ben with two they’d dyed with onionskins to a beautiful red-brown. And I’d just made six this morning!

So what do you do with all those colorful eggs once the kids have oohed and aahed and it’s Easter Monday? Well, let’s hope you took them out of those baskets and put them in the fridge on Sunday. Now it’s time to let them go to the devil.

This abrupt descent from the exalted realms of Eastertide into the nether regions has nothing to do with theology and everything to do with everybody’s favorite, deviled eggs. You probably have a family recipe, but devilling an entire batch of Easter eggs all the same way can get a bit boring. So I’m going to give you a dozen variations on classic deviled eggs. With summer and picnic season coming on, you’ll have plenty of time to try them all and choose your favorites!

In my experience, two eggs (four halves) a person is about right, though some deviled-egg fans (are you reading this, Ben?!) have been known to consume an outrageous number all by themselves. I just spoon and shape the filling back into the eggwhite halves, and am lucky enough to have an egg plate, a gift from our friend Delilah, that holds them all upright. But if you lack an egg plate and/or would like to create perfectly-shaped, uniform fillings for your deviled eggs, I recently came across two tips that will help you.

They’re in my favorite cooking magazine, Cook’s Country, and both were submitted by readers. One suggested using a small ice-cream scoop to make perfectly shaped, perfectly sized filling balls for your egg halves. The other suggested using mini-cupcake (or mini-muffin) liners to hold the eggs and keep them from slipping and sliding. Pack the cupcake liners in a container sized to hold as many as you have egg halves, then put a half in each liner. Voila! If you choose to use both tips, you might want to position the eggwhite halves in their respective liners before adding the scoops of filling.

Moving on to the recipes, I’ll start with my own go-to recipe, Silence’s Bedeviled Eggs, and we’ll take it from there:

             Silence’s Bedeviled Eggs

However much I enjoy other versions, I still haven’t found one to top this.

6 hardboiled eggs

mayonnaise (Hellman’s or grapeseed, please)

mustard (we like Jim Beam bourbon-honey mustard)

horseradish

hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa)

salt (we like RealSalt, or try Trocomare instead)

Hungarian paprika, sweet or hot

Shell and halve hardboiled eggs, removing and mashing the yolks in a bowl. Mash yolks with a fork. Drain 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish (the secret ingredient). Stir in mayonnaise and mustard, a teaspoon at a time, until yolk mixture is no longer crumbly but is still stiff, not runny. Add horseradish. If the yolk mix is still 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 set, add a dash of hot sauce and salt or Trocomare 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. 

               Deviled Eggs with Relish

This version has a wonderful balance between spicy, sweet, pungent, and salty.

6 hardboiled eggs

1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish, drained

mayonnaise

stoneground mustard

salt and black or lemon pepper to taste

Mash yolks and add drained sweet pickle relish. Add mayonnaise and stone-ground mustard, a teaspoon at a time, until you have a smooth, creamy consistency. Add salt and black pepper to taste, stir well to mix, mound into eggwhite halves, and refrigerate to set up.

               Deviled Blue Cheese Eggs

Blue cheese is a marvelous addition to deviled eggs, giving them some punch, while the chutney and pecans add sweetness, spice, and depth and the onion and peppers provide a savory crunch.

6 hardboiled eggs

3 tablespoons blue cheese

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons chutney (sweet or hot to taste)

2 tablespoons chopped pecans

2 tablespoons finely chopped red, orange, or yellow bell pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla)

salt to taste

sweet or hot paprika

Mash yolks and add all other ingredients except paprika, stirring well to blend. Fill halves, sprinkle on paprika, and refrigerate to set up.

                  Greek Deviled Eggs

Opa! Why eat those beautiful red-dyed eggs plain when you can make these?

6 hardboiled eggs

3 tablespoons feta cheese

2 tablespoons minced kalamata olives

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons minced drained artichoke hearts

2 tablespoons finely minced arugula

2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet onion

salt and lemon pepper to taste

thyme or oregano

Mash yolks and combine all ingredients except thyme or oregano. Fill eggwhite halves, sprinkle thyme or oregano on top, and refrigerate to set up. 

           Smokin’ Southwest Eggs

Turn the heat up on your Easter celebration with these spicy, smoky treats.

6 hardboiled eggs

1 drained, finely minced chipotle pepper

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

1 scallion (green onion), minced

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon powdered cumin

salt or Trocomare and black or crushed red pepper to taste

1 small jalapeno, very thinly sliced

Mash yolks and mix in all ingredients except jalapeno slices, stirring well to blend. Mound yolk mixture in eggwhite halves and top with jalapeno slices. Serve as is or wrapped in warmed tortillas with fresh salsa, sour cream, and shredded Mexican or white Cheddar cheese.

           The Devil Went Down to Georgia Eggs

No wonder he went down there.

6 hardboiled eggs

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons barbecue sauce

2 tablespoons minced sweet onion

2 tablespoons chopped sweet gherkin or garlic dill pickles

salt and pepper to taste

garlic and cheese crispy onions (or your favorite)

shredded sharp white Cheddar cheese

Romaine lettuce leaves

small ripe tomatoes, quartered

Mash yolks and mix in all ingredients up to the crispy onions. Place on Romaine lettuce leaves, top with crispy onions, and serve with quartered tomatoes, sprinkling shredded cheese over all.

             Curried Eggs

India and eggs? You betcha. This version is adapted from a couple of traditional Indian egg dishes.

6 hardboiled eggs 

3 tablespoons unsalted butter or vegetable oil

3 tablespoons minced sweet onion

1/2 teaspoon peeled, finely minced fresh ginger

1/2-1 small hot green chilli, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2-1 teaspoon garam masala 

salt and cayenne pepper to taste

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

Saute all ingredients except eggs and cilantro; allow to cool. Mash yolks and combine with sauteed ingredients; mix well. Fill eggwhite halves, top with chopped cilantro, and refriegerate to set up.

            Devil’s Delight

These eggs are sinfully delicious.

6 hardboiled eggs

12 yeasted dinner rolls, tops removed and reserved, hollowed out

1/2 cup cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese

2 tablespoons red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, or white wine, such as a dry Riesling

1 teaspoon fresh-ground mixed pink, green and white peppercorns

salt, Trocomare, or Herbamare to taste

3 tablespoons butter, melted 

Mash the yolks and mix together with the cream cheese, Swiss cheese, wine, ground peppercorns, and salt. Spoon the mixture back into the eggwhite halves. Brush the insides and inner top of each dinner roll with melted butter. Tuck half a deviled egg inside each roll. Heat ’til just warmed through, roughly 10-15 minutes at 300 degrees F., and serve. 

             Deviled Eggs Settlement Style

This 1941 cookbook claimed to be “The way to a man’s heart.” See if your man agrees when you serve these!

4 hard cooked eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon vinegar

1 tablespoon melted butter

Take eggs when cold, remove shell [eggcellent precaution---Silence] and cut each in two, lengthwise. Remove yolks and set whites aside. Rub yolks smooth and mix thoroughly with the rest of the ingredients and roll into balls size [sic] of original yolk. Place a ball in each half white of egg, and send to the table on a bed of crisp lettuce leaves. 

                   Deviled Eggs Fit for a King

Assuming the King is Elvis.

6 hardboiled eggs

marinated red onions, drained

6 tablespoons shredded pepper Jack cheese

3 tablespoons canned shoepeg corn, drained and chopped

3 tablespoons diced red or green bell peppers

3 tablespoons mashed ripe avocado

1 teaspoon pickled diced jalapenos

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and cayenne pepper to taste

sour cream

taco sauce

parsley

shredded lettuce

To make the marinated red onions, dice 2 red onions. Combine in a glass bowl with 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon light brown sugar, and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Refrigerate, covered, overnight. (You’ll have plenty of leftovers to top salads, burgers, or barbecue, or just halve the recipe.)

To assemble the eggs, mash the yolks and combine them with all the ingredients except for the last four. (You will probably have more filling than will fit in the six eggwhite halves, but no worries; you can fill hollowed tomato halves with any leftovers or make an egg salad sandwich with the egg mixture, Romaine lettuce, tomato slices and sliced Monterey Jack on whole-grain bread with mustard and mayo.) If the mix is too dry, add a little sour cream. Serve on a bed of shredded lettuce topped with taco sauce, sour cream, parsley, and (if desired) more marinated red onions and shredded pepper Jack cheese. 

            Deviled Eggs in Aspic

This classic recipe dates back to 1943, when it appeared in The Joy of Cooking back in the days when it was still written by Irma S. Rombauer. My parents loved aspic, but you won’t catch me making this!

tomato aspic

deviled eggs

Place half an egg (sunny side up) in 1/2 cup aspic that is about to set. Chill the apsic and when it is firm invert it on lettuce leaves [Hey, what happened to the sunny side up?!---Silence]. Serve it with mayonnaise.

           Devil in the Blue Dress Eggs

Courtesy of Ruby Ann Boxcar’s Ruby Ann’s Down Home Trailer Park Cookbook, this recipe is not for the faint of heart. And that includes us! But if you’re looking for something completely different, this is definitely it. How you could get a blue egg mix when you’re using yellow yolks and French dressing is beyond me; I’d think you’d be lucky to get green and not brownish-grey (or worse). But mine not to reason why! At least it probably tastes better than it looks. And don’t forget that you can always omit the blue food coloring…

1 dozen hard-boiled eggs

1/2 cup French dressing

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dry mustard

blue food coloring

Shell eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the yolk and mix with the French dressing, salt, dry mustard, and enough food coloring to make it a bluish color. Replace the filling into the whites.

Well, there you have it, a full dozen recipes for deviled eggs. Let me know what you think, please share your own favorite recipes with us, and most of all, have a happy and blessed Easter!

                ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

The electronic library. April 21, 2011

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Our friend Ben’s head is still spinning from a pair of articles in this morning’s Wall Street Journal about electronic publishing. Taken together, they had all the makings of a blockbuster: ambition, success, greed, hope, and despair. (Not to mention murder, but that was in the plots of the e-books, not the articles.)

The first, “Cheapest E-Books Upend the Charts,” discusses how, among other things, writers can sell self-published e-books for 99 cents (of which they receive 35 cents per download) and still make a comparative fortune. The example they gave was of a mystery writer who made $126,000 from Amazon alone in March, thanks to 369,000 downloads of his 99-cent books, and received additional income from e-sales via Barnes & Noble, Kobo Inc., and Apple.

Lest you think I’m talking about Stephen King, the hero of this rags-to-riches tale is one John Locke, Louisville (KY) businessman by day, thriller writer by night, “who published his first paperback two years ago at age 58.” He’s only been self-publishing e-books since March 2010, so it took him exactly a year to reach that $126,000-plus monthly total. During that year he’s also kept the product coming: Seven of his e-books are now on Amazon’s top 50 digital bestseller list.

For a writer like our friend Ben, this success story is the ultimate fantasy, almost better than winning the lottery. Too good to be true? Yes and no. Yes, because Mr. Locke did everything right. First, he’s a businessman, not your average English major hawking fries at McDonald’s. He researched the market, settled on a format and price for his books, cranked them out to maximize exposure, put them up for sale on every e-book venue for the same reason, and did all the other things you have to do to create a successful sales platform: blog about the books, hire a freelance designer and editor, collect followers on Twitter (he currently has more than 20,000), answer hundreds of fan e-mails every day, get an agent to market the foreign and movie rights.

Mr. Locke sums up the reasons behind his books’ success succintly: “It’s all about marketing, but they have to like your stuff.” It’s also all about hard work and a major time investment, writing and tweeting and blogging and e-mailing and selling. Mr. Locke put all that in, and now he’s getting it out. If you or our friend Ben were to self-publish an e-book, be it never so wonderful, and not put that kind of push behind it, it would doubtless languish on the virtual shelves and we’d be lucky to make, well, 99 cents.

But in one sense, it’s not too good to be true, and that is that you no longer have to be Tom Clancy or Nora Roberts or one of the 12 other people whose books regularly flood the market to become a successful published author. But you do have to do the research, do the work, get it out there, and hope that enough people “like your stuff.”

 The other article that knocked our friend Ben for a loop was also about e-books, “Amazon’s Kindle Will Offer E-Books From [sic] Libraries.” Apparently, Barnes & Noble’s Nook other e-readers have offered purchasers the opportunity to download library books for free for quite some time. Now Kindle will join them in providing this service “later this year.”

Our friend Ben approves. I’m not an e-book reader; I spend my days in front of the computer writing, editing, and researching, and when I want to read for pleasure, I want a real book, not a virtual one. I also enjoy going to the library and looking around at the new books shelves and the stacks. But for those who do their reading on a Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, or what have you, having access to free library e-books, even if it’s just for the library’s normal lending period of 14 to 21 days, seems like a great feature.

But wait. Why on earth would you have to “return” a virtual library book? As our friend Ben continued reading the article, I became even more confused. “Only one person can check out each digital copy at a time,” it continued. Exactly as if the e-version was a physical book.

Say what, now?! What’s the point of making the books available digitally if everyone who wants to read them can’t do so simultaneously? Isn’t that, ultimately, the virtual advantage? Rather like the difference between streaming a movie from Netflix versus having them mail you a DVD. Imagine what an uproar there would be if Netflix only allowed one person to stream a movie at a time!

Clearly, our friend Ben wasn’t following here. It turns out I wasn’t just clueless but naive. The reason only one person can check out a virtual copy of a library book is that the library itself must buy each copy from the publisher, and since e-books don’t wear out, the library need never replace it, unlike hardcover and paperback books. Publishers aren’t at all happy about the resulting loss of revenue, and have been trying to approach the whole digital books-in-libraries dilemma and come up with a profitable business model; limiting each digital book to the one-at-a time checkout, so each library must buy multiple copies of popular books, is one strategy.

So far, the profitable business model has proved elusive. Two major publishers, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, won’t sell digital books to libraries at all. Another publishing giant, HarperCollins, insists that libraries must repurchase their digital titles after 26 checkouts. Our friend Ben would think that publishers might view libraries as marketing tools—you read it, you love it, you buy it for yourself or as a gift—but I guess not.

Turning a profit in the virtual world has always been a publishing challenge. But now, thanks to e-readers and entrepreneurial writers like John Locke, that may be changing. I just hope that Mr. Locke gives copies of his books to libraries for free.

To find out more, go to www.wsj.com. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some writing to do…

Help, my cellphone’s dead again. April 20, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. In today’s smartphone world, cellphones probably seem almost as antique as phone booths, landlines, or (gasp!) rotary phones. Rotary phones?! You know, those things with the round dials with holes over the numbers and letters. To use one, you stuck your finger in the appropriate hole and moved it counterclockwise as far as it would go. You can still sometimes find them in antiques malls.

Now, our friend Ben and I are confirmed Luddites, using as little technology as possible and upgrading only when absolutely necessary. We still have a landline, and would still have a rotary phone had working from home not necessitated getting a stupid digital phone so we could have voicemail, speakerphone, and other work-related necessities. We still miss our rotary phone.

We would never, ever have caved and gotten a horrid cellphone were it not for our ancient VW Golf. Most of the time, the Golf abides. But occasionally, it bursts a tire or develops some other unfortunate problem that brings its forward progress to an abrupt and terminal halt, usually in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. And since, more often than not, I’m the one driving it at the time (it only seems to break down when OFB is away), our friend Ben put his foot down and insisted that I get a cellphone so I could call AAA should the need arise.

Great, another additional expense. But after a tire blew out en route home from a Friday Night Supper Club gathering on a backroad I didn’t even know the name of, in a part of the country where you’d be greeted by the business end of a gun if you knocked on someone’s door, when sure enough OFB was off on some jaunt in the Southwest, I decided that he had a point. So I got a cellphone, a Nokia, through AT&T, our long-distance carrier.

There’s just one little problem: I’m now on my third cellphone, and none of them will hold a charge. I never use them as actual phones, only when I need to call for help. I charge them once a week. Not one has been a dinky “get this phone free with a box of cereal when you shop at Wal*Mart” type phone. And yet. Every single miserable time I’ve needed to use the @#!$%$#@!!!! phone, it’s been dead. Every time. No charge, no light, no sound, no nothin’. Here I am paying God-knows-what a month for this stupid phone, and it’s never once come through.

Yes, it occurred to me that the phone might be defective, which is why I’ve traded them in three times. Each time, I’ve said that the only thing I wanted was a phone that would hold charge. Each time, the ten-year-old sales clerks have looked at me as though I were insane, and assured me that this time, I wouldn’t have a problem. Uh-huh.

Just this past Monday, I was meeting a friend at a restaurant, and she insisted that I call to let her know I’d arrived. (God forbid she could just show up when we’d agreed to meet and look for me.) So I get there, she’s not there, and I take out my cellphone and… nothing. Dead, black screen, totally dead. And yes, I really had charged it just the week before to the “battery full” point, and no, I hadn’t made a single call in the meantime.

I’m telling you, this makes me want to cry. What’s the point of paying monthly charges for a so-called safety device if, when you actually need it, it never works?! And why, why on earth doesn’t it work?!

Our friend Ben’s theory is that it doesn’t work because I only try to use it once every three months or so, and that, even though I charge it regularly, since I don’t use it, it loses charge. But that makes no sense to me. After all, OFB and I have a battery-operated weather radio. It sits there for nine months a year unused. Then, when the possibility of horrendous winter snow- and/or ice storms are upon us, we turn it on and its gives us the NOAA weather report as though we’d been using it every day of our lives. No dead batteries because we hadn’t been using it until we needed it. In two decades, we’ve had to replace the batteries exactly once.

So please, those of you who might be reading this post and know the answer, what’s the deal with my cellphone?!  For my safety’s sake, I’d really like to know. 

               ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Why Greek Easter eggs are red. April 19, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood admit it: We’re Easter egg fanatics. Silence paints Easter eggs, and I collect them. You can see our past speculations on the origins and significance of Easter eggs (“Why eggs for Easter?”), find out how to color your own without chemical dyes (“Natural Easter egg dyes”), and learn about hens who lay different colors of eggs, including sky blue, pink, olive-green, and purple-spangled (“Real live Easter eggs”) by typing these post titles in our search bar at upper right.

So we were thrilled to add to our store of Easter-egg knowledge through an article in our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, called “Celebrate Greek-style Easter” by their food editor, Diane Stoneback. She interviewed John Kikrilis of Yianni’s Taverna, a Greek restaurant in nearby Bethlehem, PA, about the foods of Greek Easter and the meanings behind them. Our friend Ben and Silence have been to Yianni’s and enjoyed the food and atmosphere immensely; we recommend that you give it a try if you’re in the neighborhood. (You can also read the article, find the recipes, see a video of John Kikrilis of Yianni’s Taverna talking about Greek Easter, and view a photo gallery of Greek Easter foods at www.themorningcall.com.)

“Bowls of crimson eggs [symbolizing the blood of Christ] at Yianni’s Taverna are just one way in which the Greek restaurant in Bethlehem will share the customs of Orthodox Easter with guests who dine there on Easter Sunday,” the article begins. The hard-boiled eggs, crimson shells and all, are also incorporated into the braided Greek Easter bread (tsoureki).

It turns out that breaking the crimson eggs is as much part of the tradition as dyeing and eating them. “The bright red eggs, besides symbolizing the blood of Christ, have additional meanings,” Diane notes. “They also symbolize new life and a time for us to get over things that have been holding us back,” John Kikrilis explains. “The eggs’ shells are also like Christ’s tomb. When they’re broken, they symbolize that Christ has risen.”

“But there’s a special way to break them,” the article continues. “Kikrilis explains, ‘You pick up an egg and tap it against an egg held by another person. If one egg cracks and the other doesn’t, the person with the whole egg (or the one that’s closest to being intact), will have good luck for the rest of the year.’” Well, at least he didn’t say that the person whose eggshell shatters will have a year of bad luck!

Our friend Ben and Silence don’t know about the whole egg-cracking business. And frankly, we don’t take to the idea of putting dye on food we’re planning to eat. (We dye blown eggs and keep them, instead, giving the insides to our egg-loving black German shepherd, Shiloh.) But we do love the idea of the eggs symbolizing “new life and a chance to get over things that have been holding us back.” We all need an excuse to get over ourselves and make a fresh start. Maybe it’s time red Easter eggs became part of everyone’s tradition.

Don’t burn up when the power goes out. April 18, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s never fun when the power goes out, but it never occurred to me that its coming back on might start a house fire until my friend Dolores told me about a close call she’d had when her power went out during a bad storm last week. Here’s what happened:

Dolores had put a big pot of water on her glass-topped stove to heat for pasta for her supper when her power went out. When it didn’t come back on in a couple of hours, she did the sensible thing and went upstairs to bed. But she forgot that the burner was still, technically, on. Sometime during the night, the power came back on… and so did the stove. When Dolores came back downstairs in the morning, she found a ruined pan and a mess on the stovetop (which fortunately came off).

As Dolores said, she lost her big pot, but was fortunate not to have cracked the glass stovetop or, worse, started a house fire. “Thank goodness it was a full pot of water, and not just a little in the pot for something like asparagus,” she said.

I had never thought about this possibility before. We have a gas stove, and if the power goes off while I’m cooking, the gas flame doesn’t go out with it. So I’ll bring in some Coleman battery-powered lanterns, finish cooking the meal, and we’ll eat by candle- and lantern light. But if your stove is electric, be forewarned: Make sure those burners get turned off if the power goes out!

           ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

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