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Salad days. June 30, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was helping Silence Dogood get salad ingredients to make fatoosh, a Lebanese salad with lots of parsley and pita chips (as well as Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, garlic, and a lemon-sumac dressing) for a gathering tonight. Suddenly, the phrase “salad days” popped into my head. I asked Silence if she knew the origin of the phrase, and she didn’t. She wondered how many Americans were even aware the phrase existed.

Our friend Ben can’t answer that, but I figured that, with some help from my good friend Google, I could at least find out how it came to be. Up popped Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words website (www.worldwidewords.org) with a definitive answer:

“It [first] appears in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra of 1606, in the speech at the end of Act One in which Cleopatra is regretting her youthful dalliances with Julius Caesar: ‘My salad days, When I was green in judgment’.”

Mr. Quinion adds an interesting aside about salad itself, noting that in Shakespeare’s time, salads were made of chopped, seasoned vegetables. (So they more closely resembled today’s trendy chopped salads rather than a tossed salad.) He also points out that the word “salad” itself derives from the Latin for “salt.” (Which, we discovered elsewhere, is salis, presumably because salt featured prominently in their seasoning. Of course Silence and I approve.)

Thank you, Mr. Quinion, for relieving our ignorance. And thank you, Mr. Shakespeare, for your many contributions to the English language. We wish we had read you a bit more attentively in our salad days!

My poor hair. June 29, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I’ve worn my hair long all my life, except for eighth grade, when my mother for some reason decided that I should cut it all off. (I was eventually able to forgive her.)

But two weeks ago, the little local salon our friend Ben and I patronize was having a half-off sale on cuts, and I thought it would be a good idea to cut back to really healthy hair. So I had OFB drop me off en route to running a few errands and asked the stylist to cut it so that it just cleared my shoulders. I thought this would be a radical change. Little did I know.

Unfortunately, the stylist, who’d never before done more than trim the ends of my hair, failed to grasp its essential nature. Being very fine, the strands are weightless. And they have a great deal of body, which becomes more apparent the shorter they are, since then absolutely nothing is weighing them down. Everyone who cuts my hair is aware of the natural wave, but no one in my adult life has witnessed the sight that greeted me and the stylist when I looked in the mirror and saw a mass of hair curling at chin, not shoulder, level.

“Uh, I think your hair looks really cute short!” the stylist announced, recovering quickly.

Not so OFB when he came to pick me up.

“GAAAHHH!!! What’s happened to your hair?!!”

“GRRRRRRRR…”

“I mean, uh, it must be a lot, um, cooler now. Say… it reminds me of the character Alice in ‘Dilbert’!”

“GRRRRRRR!!!!”

I tried to forewarn our friends before OFB and I showed up for our next supper get-together, but even forewarned, they couldn’t manage to bear in mind that useful maxim, “The alternative to the truth is silence.”

“Your hair… There’s this character in the ‘Dilbert’ cartoon strip, I can’t think of her name, do you know her?”

[GRRRRRRR!!!!!]

Somehow both my friends and OFB are still alive… so far. But the ice is definitely getting thinner, especially for OFB, who greets me every morning with endearing comments like these:

“Ever considered becoming a major composer? I think I’ll start calling you Ludwig.”

“Morning, Einstein.”

“Have you ever seen a picture of Homer Simpson’s sisters-in-law?”

GRRRRRRRR.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to focus on one of my hair’s good points: It grows really fast. Maybe by fall this will all be behind me.

             ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Beets and butter. June 28, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Beets: Love ‘em or hate ‘em. I love ‘em. Even our friend Ben loves ‘em, amazing given his horrific encounter with his great-aunt Ethel’s beet Jell-O as a child. (Poor OFB thought it was cranberry Jell-O and took a big spoonful before realizing that he’d made a terrible mistake. How he got the stuff off his plate without offending his great-aunt is a story he’ll have to tell himself.)

Beet Jell-O aside, OFB and I grew up with small red canned beets, served hot with butter and salt (and pepper for those who enjoyed it) or, my own favorite, “string beets,” canned beets cut into ribbons much like the shredded carrots and broccoli slaw you can now find in most produce departments. These were fun to eat and also served hot with butter and salt. I’d still be eating them if only I could still find them on grocery shelves, but sadly, it’s been years since I’ve seen a single can, and trust me, I’m always looking.

Cold beets just weren’t part of our childhood experience in the South. We might never have encountered them had we not come to scenic Pennsylvania, where pickled beets are an essential component of salad bars. It took me years to work up enough nerve to try a cold, pickled beet slice from our office cafeteria’s salad bar. But once I did, I was hooked! It took me a while longer to persuade OFB to give them a try, but now we both look forward to adding beets to our salads when we treat ourselves to an evening out. Hot buttered beets, or roasted red and golden beets with olive oil, herbs, and salt and pepper, are still our favorites, though.

Cold beets are one thing. Cold beet soup—aka borscht—is definitely something else. Hot beet soup, thick and full of shoestring beets and sauteed sweet onions in a rich vegetable broth, topped with sour cream: yum. Cold beet soup: eeewwww. (But please bear in mind that pretty much any cold soups, except cold fruit cream soups, which are really desserts, creep me out. I can sort of deal with gazpacho, but please heat up that vichysoisse—cold potato soup— before offering it to me, thank you very much.) 

I guess I’m not alone. OFB pointed out that today’s Wall Street Journal featured an article on the decline of borscht. Called “The Golds Try to Add Cool to a Soup That’s the Color Purple” (talk about reaching for a headline!), the article interviewed the folks who own Gold’s, America’s premier borscht makers. (Read it for yourself at www.wsj.com.) Despite sharp declines in sales, Gold’s still bottles six kinds of borscht. I decided to check the ingredients in the one that sounded most appealing, the thickest: Russian Borscht. Could a vegetarian like me even eat this borscht, or would it be made with chicken stock or chicken fat?

Good news on that front: Gold’s Russian Style Borscht lists only six ingredients: water, beets, sugar, salt, citric acid (a preservative, aka vitamin C), and garlic. Its calorie count is staggeringly low: 60 calories for a 6-ounce serving, or 120 for a more reasonable 12-ounce bowl. This doesn’t include sour cream, but if you add a tablespoon or two of nonfat sour cream, you’re still not going to go over 150 calories for a decent-size bowl. The description notes: “Originating in Russia, borscht—a specialty soup made from beets—has become a traditional favorite.” They suggest serving it with sour cream or chunks of potato.

Getting back to the WSJ article, the author, Lucette Lagnado, interviewed the scions of the Gold’s empire (best known for its iconic Gold’s Horseradish—and yes, I keep a bottle in the fridge at all times and add a tablespoon to my salad every night for extra zing) to see what they were doing to revive borscht’s popularity. The answers ranged from modernizing the jars’ labels to renaming borscht a “beet smoothie” (gack, God forfend) or promoting it as gluten-free and/or organic.

Well. Gourmet heirloom beets like ‘Chioggia’ (with its concentric red-and-white rings) and ‘Golden’ (actually a gorgeous orange), along with the rise of baby beets and the luscious and popular red beet-walnut-feta salad served on a bed of spring greens, have already converted any number of beet-haters into beet-lovers. In my opinion, it’s time for a borscht facelift, a transformation into a delicious, rich hot soup that will bring out the beet-lover in anyone. And fortunately, I didn’t even have to invent it. Judy Sobeloff of the Moscow Food Cooperative (http://www.moscowfood.coop/) had already found the perfect recipe.

Yowie zowie, what a delicious recipe. Thank you, Chef Ray Sandon! We’d of course add plenty of salt and pepper to taste, but otherwise are totally on board:

               Gold Borscht

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 medium onion, diced [I'd definitely use a sweet onion---Silence]

4 large gold beets, diced

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar [I'd sub a dry Riesling---Silence]

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

Saute onion in butter for 4 minutes. Add beets, broth, and cream. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add vinegar and turmeric. Pour in blender and puree until smooth. Return to heat until just hot; serve hot. Optional toppings: sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, pumpernickel croutons, fresh chopped dill.

Yum!!! But what about the butter part of our post? The Wall Street Journal also featured an obituary of the world’s greatest butter-sculpting champion, Norma Lyon, a Tennessee native like us. Norma apparently studied sculpting along with veterinary science at Iowa State University, then married a dairy farmer. Lifesize butter sculptures were popular at Midwest fairs, but Norma was unhappy with their shoddy quality and determined to put her education to use. Her butter cow sculptures, which ranged from Ayreshires and Brown Swiss to Holsteins and could weigh 600 pounds, were unequalled for realism. Though frankly, we’d have loved to have seen the 1925 Iowa State Fair butter cow, led by a butter President Calvin Coolidge. Which just proves that you really couldn’t make this stuff up.

OFB and I would prefer to save our butter for our beets—and other vegetables. And we’re definitely planning to try that Gold Borscht, served up hot with some crumbled Gorgonzola on top and luscious crusty buttered baguette slices, not to mention red beet-walnut salad.

               ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Quick cherry cream pie. June 27, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. It’s sour cherry season here in our part of scenic PA, as I was reminded this weekend when our friend Ben and I visited a local Mennonite farm stand and I saw quart cartons of the jewel-like red cherries, fresh-picked from the family’s own trees. I just had to get a quart. And I knew I’d get no argument from OFB, who’s been agitating for a year now for us to add a sour (aka pie) cherry tree to our backyard orchard.

Not wanting to waste good fruit, and confronted with a whole quart of beautiful cherries, I thought, hmmm, maybe I can make a pie for OFB and make a jar or two of cherry preserves at the same time. If you’ve cooked down cherries yourself, you’ll know that the whole quart barely made enough topping for one pie. But, hey, we all need to make mistakes in order to learn from them, right?!

First, the pie. Checking out cherry pie recipes, I saw that they were split into two categories: traditional fruit pies, which are made in unbaked pie shells and baked in the oven, with or without a crumb topping or a custard filling; and unbaked cream pies, which appear to be universally made with softened cream cheese and—gack!!!—canned cherry pie filling. Mercy on us!

I definitely wanted to make an unbaked cherry cream pie. It’s summer, after all, and the last thing anyone wants to do in summer is heat up the oven or eat a hot slice of pie. But I did not want to soften cream cheese and then beat it into submission. And I certainly didn’t want to use canned pie filling!

Thinking it all through, I recalled the Pineapple Coconut Cream Pie* I’d made for OFB last weekend, a huge hit with him and our neighbors. It used a prepared Graham cracker crust rather than a traditional pie crust, and instant vanilla pudding coupled with sour cream gave it its rich, creamy nature. What could be easier? And why couldn’t I make a cherry pie along these lines? I was determined to try.

The pineapple cream pie had been such a smashing success that I’d picked up three more prepared Graham cracker crusts at our local grocery on sale, and I still had plenty of instant vanilla pudding and sour cream. Time to get busy!

The first thing to do was to cook down the sour cherries. My first thought had been to simply top the pie’s cream filling with halved raw cherries, but after reading a bunch of recipes, I realized that I’d better cook them first. So I stemmed, washed, and pitted the quart of sour cherries. I pitted them by hand, holding each washed cherry in the heavy enamelled cast-iron LeCreuset Dutch oven I use to cook almost everything and pushing to split out the seed, which I dropped into a bag. I wouldn’t like to pit a treeful by hand, but it was fast and relaxing with just a quart.

Once the pitted cherries were all in the pot, I added a splash of water (not much, since I knew the cherries would yield lots of juice; I just wanted to make sure they didn’t stick). Then I added 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar and a teaspoon of ras al-hanout (a Moroccan spice mix) for a discreet but irresistible flavor undertone. If I hadn’t had ras al-hanout on hand, I would have used a teaspoon of garam masala, and if I didn’t have that, a teaspoon of ground cardamom or a half-teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Then I turned the pot on low and turned my attention to the cream filling.

To make the filling, I put a 3.5-ounce package of instant vanilla pudding in a bowl, added 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar, 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract, 3 tablespoons light cream, and a cup of sour cream, stirring well to blend. (If the mixture seems too thick, thin it with a little more cream, adding a tablespoon at a time, but remember, you want it to be a smooth, creamy, cheesecake-ish consistency when it’s chilled.) When the filling had come together—less than 5 minutes from first to last—I poured it into the Graham cracker crust, smoothed it out with the back of a spoon, and chilled it while the cherries cooked down.

The cherries required only occasional stirring at first, but as they became thicker and more jammy, I had to pay closer attention. I stirred until the cherry mixture was very thick, then turned off the heat and let it cool to room temperature, returning to stir it every 5 minutes. When it had cooled down, I brought out the chilled pie and spread the cherry mixture evenly over the top, then re-covered it and put it back in the fridge until it was time to serve it.

Once it was time for dessert, I took the pie out of the fridge, cut the necessary number of slices, and added a thick layer of whipped cream to each before serving the plates. (I’d have added the whipped cream to the whole top of the pie before serving if I’d been sure it would all have been eaten at that meal, but you definitely don’t want whipped cream sitting on a refrigerated pie; it’s always best to add it fresh to any leftovers.)

You should have heard the sighs of pleasure coming from the table! OFB and our guest were beside themselves. Now I’ll have to add this pie to my list of easy pies for dinner gatherings. Try it and let me know what you think! 

          ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

* For the recipe, type “Pineapple coconut cream pie” into our search bar at upper right.

Flower power. June 26, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
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Once again, nature has stepped in to create a fabulous landscape effect here at Hawk’s Haven that wouldn’t have occurred to our friend Ben and Silence Dogood. We have a row of red-throated orange daylilies along one side of our parking square. Below them, along one side of our patio, a red-orange trumpet vine clambers over a stack of wood so ancient that both it and the trumpet vine were here when we bought the property. And behind that, across our little stream, Hawk Run, we’ve planted elderberries on the stream bank.

At this time of year, and for perhaps two or three weeks thereafter, the three are simultaneously in bloom. The effect is truly stunning, with the clouds of massed, fragrant white elderberry blossoms backing the abundant fireworks and color echoes of the trumpets and daylilies.

Impressive as the display is, it also creates a sort of secret garden effect, since it can only be seen in its entirety from certain bedroom and mudroom windows and from the parking square. And there’s the added benefit of ruby-throated hummingbirds at the trumpet flowers and beneficial insects pollinating the elderberries, plus, of course, the promise of an abundant berry harvest ahead. Even the clusters of elderflowers can be used to make wine, and, of course, daylily flower buds are edible, apparently excellent in stir-fries. But frankly, we’d rather leave all our flowers where we (and our fellow creatures) can enjoy them in the garden. 

Thanks, Mother Nature! We couldn’t have done it better ourselves.

New faves for okra lovers. June 25, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Okra is one of those things: You either love it or hate it. I’ve never heard anyone say something like,”Oh, okra’s okay.” Being Southerners, our friend Ben and I grew up with okra and fall into the okra-lovers category.

Growing up in Nashville, our encounters with okra were limited to two types: okra fried in cornmeal (either whole or sliced), or whole boiled okra served with butter and salt (and lots of black pepper for the adults). We loved both, though of course fried okra was a special favorite, as long as it was made right and not dried out and tasteless, as it too often is if you order it in restaurants. Needless to say, fans of Creole and Cajun cooking are more likely to enjoy okra as an essential ingredient of gumbo, a word which is actually derived from an African word for okra. And plenty of folks down South enjoy a type of thick sliced okra-tomato stew served as a side dish or over rice.

Where OFB and I now live, in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, okra is pretty much nonexistent on restaurant menus and in local cuisine. I can’t remember ever seeing it. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw big bags of frozen sliced okra in my favorite Indian grocery store, Rice and Spice in nearby Emmaus, PA. I have to say, okra hadn’t featured prominently on menus at local Indian restaurants. But there had to be some reason why it was in the store. I determined to find out what it was.

Monica Bhide’s The Everything Indian Cookbook (Adams Media, 2004) quickly showed me that we Southerners aren’t the only ones who love our fried okra. She gives recipes for a yummy-sounding snack, Spiced Crunchy Okra (Chatpati Bhindi*), where a delicious mix of spices and chickpea flour sub for the spiced cornmeal, and Fried Okra in Yogurt Sauce (Bhindi Ka Raita), where crispy fried okra meets yummy spiced yogurt. Mmmm!!! Bring ‘em on! Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking (Barron’s, rev. ed. 1995) revealed a flavorful stewed okra, Sweet and Sour Okra (Kutchhi Bhindi), that would rank high on the list of any Southerner’s must-try foods.

But I have an aversion to grease, so though I love to eat fried foods, making them is definitely out, and I was in the mood for a drier okra dish rather than a stew. Fortunately, both Madhur Jaffrey and Monica Bhide had delicious options for this diehard okra lover.

When I want true Indian comfort food, I’ll have the simplest possible meal: dal, plain basmati rice, and plain Greek yogurt (as a raita), sometimes with a little tamarind sauce and chutney on the side. So it cheered me to see Madhur Jaffrey say that, when she was “in the mood for some really soothing, comforting food,” she made dal, plain basmati rice, and ‘Dry’ Okra (Sookhi Bhindi).

To make Madhur Jaffrey’s dry okra, you can use a pound of fresh okra pods with the ends removed and sliced. Or the equivalent in frozen pre-sliced okra such as I found at Rice and Spice. Dice 1 medium sweet onion. She says to use a large non-stick frying pan set over medium-high heat, but I of course would use my heavy LeCreuset Dutch oven to make sure I had enough depth and the okra didn’t pour over the sides. Add 8 tablespoons vegetable oil and, when they’re hot, put in 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds. The second the seeds sizzle—and it just takes 10 seconds—add the onions and okra, spreading them evenly across the bottom of your pan. Fry for 10 minutes, stirring gently every now and then and making sure you spread and flatten the okra-onion mix out to completely cover the bottom of your pan after each stirring. When the onion begins to brown, turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook, stirring gently, for 5 minutes. Then add salt to taste, 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin. 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon ground amchoor (dried green mango) or lemon juice, and 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper. Cook another 5 minutes, stirring or tossing gently, and serve.

Monica Bhide has a more elaborately spiced version called Fried Okra (Bharwan Bhindi), which is really more of a stuffed sauteed okra. It too sounds entirely delicious. I wish I were eating a plate of it (with basmati rice and plain yogurt) right now! Here’s the recipe:

               Fried Okra (Bharwan Bhindi)

1 1/2 pounds whole fresh okra, washed, stem ends removed

1 T powdered coriander

2 t powdered turmeric

1 1/2 t red chili powder (or to taste)

2 t garam masala

2 t powdered cumin

1 t dried mango (amchoor) powder (presumably you could sub lemon juice)

4 T vegetable oil

1 medium red onion, diced

1 T ginger-garlic paste

2 green serrano chilies, slit lengthwise

salt to taste

Make a lengthwise slit through each okra pod, being careful not to cut completely through the pods. Mix all the spices in a bowl. Using the tip of a knife or a tiny spoon, stuff a little bit of the dry spice mix into each okra pod. Heat the oil on medium in a large, heavy skillet (or, again, a heavy Dutch oven). Add the onion and ginger-garlic paste; saute about 3 minutes, until the onions are transparent. Add the okra and green chilies. Saute about 4 minutes. Add the salt and any remaining dry spice mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add about 3 tablespoons of water, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the okra is fork-tender. Serve hot.

Monica provides recipes for you to make your own fresh garam masala (Warm Spice Mix) and Ginger-Garlic Paste in The Everything Indian Cookbook. Thanks, Monica! What a great resource. But I’ll admit, I buy mine ready-made; you’ll naturally lose that fresh-ground or fresh-pounded flavor, but it certainly saves time.

Other favorite okra recipes, anyone?

             ‘Til next time,

                           Silence 

*”Bhindi” is okra in (I, er, assume) Hindi.

Eek! A deer. June 24, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben had rushed off for an appointment and I was trying to finish off the morning chores when the phone rang. It was our 89-year-old next-to-next-door neighbor, and she had some news with a capital N.

“There’s a deer in your backyard!”

Oh, no. In all the years OFB and I have lived here in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, no deer has dared to show its face in our yard. Rushing to the back deck door, I saw that our neighbor’s sharp eyes (and binoculars, conveniently located on their back porch to observe all comings and goings) were not mistaken: the biggest doe I’d ever seen was ambling around the backyard, checking out the offerings.

Predictably, our black German shepherd, Shiloh, far from letting loose with a volley of the deafening barks she never hesitates to fling at any human or dog who comes within view, lay down quietly at my feet as I watched the giant deer meander around. Oh, well, she’s not a hunting dog, after all.

Once the deer had wandered off, I took Shiloh with me out back to see if we could spot it crossing the farmer’s fields behind our property, but it had vanished from view. Shriek!

As everyone on the East Coast knows, deer are pretty much unequaled as garden and landscape pests, and will eat anything if they’re desperate and it’s not too thorny to stop them. Humans killed off all their natural predators, so now their only predators are vehicles and hunters. And white-tailed deer, the kind we have here, have proven to be incredibly adaptable to suburban conditions.

This one was probably checking out all the fruit that’s ripening or maturing here at Hawk’s Haven now: blueberries and raspberries, pears and apples, peaches and pluots, grapes and pawpaws, elderberries and cherries. It didn’t seem to be actually eating anything, just wandering around checking things out. But the fact that it had showed up here at all was disturbing in the extreme, and not just because our crops and ornamental plants are in peril.

Pennsylvania is the epicenter of Lyme disease, a disease transmitted to humans and dogs from deer ticks. And our local paper had just carried an article this week saying that ticks were out in record numbers this year thanks to our wet winter (ticks apparently require humidity to survive the winter). We put Frontline on our Shiloh’s neck every month to protect her from ticks, and she’s been vaccinated against Lyme disease. But what about us?

One of our good friends’ husbands and one of our colleagues contracted Lyme disease, and to say that the effects have been debilitating is an understatement. Terrifying is more like it. And they go on and on and on, year after year after year, taking a mental and emotional as well as a physical toll on the victims and on their families. While dogs can be miraculously cured of the paralyzing effects of Lyme disease with a single injection if the problem is recognized in time and the dog brought promptly to the vet, with people it’s apparently not that easy, far from it. This is one disease you definitely want to avoid.

So seeing a deer—presumably loaded with deer ticks—in the backyard is far more horrifying than simply observing a potential freeloader sizing up a meal. I guess it’s time to train Shiloh to “mark” our boundaries in the hope that this will discourage any further incursions. And if that doesn’t work, maybe it’s time to try out some predator urine, available from many garden supply stores. But, uh, I think I’ll have our friend Ben handle that part…

       ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

A car fit for a pirate. June 23, 2011

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Your humble bloggers here at Poor Richard’s Almanac—our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders—share a passion for all things piratical. Richard flies the skull and crossbones from the deck of his condo, and Silence’s and my huge pirate flag has waved so long in the backyard here at Hawk’s Haven that it could pass for the genuine article, with a cannonball hole just over the skull and the ends suitably tattered.

Our stash of pirate loot is somewhat limited, but we do have a bag of pirate “doubloons” plus some real pieces of eight and, of course, Plutarch the Pirate Parrot, our talking, singing, squawking yellow-naped Amazon parrot. (His favorite song is the James Bond theme, but we’re working on “A Pirate’s Life for Me.”) And, like Richard, we have an extensive stash of pirate histories, lore, and movies. Not to mention an instinctual love of the sea and a massive shell collection, if that counts for anything.

How this all brought our friend Ben to the topic of piratical cars I can’t imagine, though I have a vague feeling that it had something to do with the fact that Silence and I watched “Master and Commander” again last night after a hiatus of several years. The movie dealt with privateers (state-licensed pirates) rather than pirates per se, so I can’t be sure. But this morning found me on the website of those modern-day rapscallions, Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket, the No Quarter Given pirate magazine website (http://www.noquartergiven.net/), and shiver me timbers, there was a feature about piratical cars.

Now, here at Hawk’s Haven, our ancient but valiant VW Golf, the Red Rogue, is disreputable enough to qualify as a pirate in its own right. And it’s adorned with an eyepatch-wearing pirate fish and an “AAAARRRR!!!” sticker to emphasize the point. But we hung our heads in shame after seeing what the pirate types on the No Quarter Given website had managed to find for their vehicles.

Personalized license plates abounded, with “PYRATE” the most popular, but there were plenty of alternatives, including license-friendly versions of Blackbeard, Ann Bonny, Captain Morgan, Jack Sparrow, Jolly Roger, Black Pearl, and the like. Some “vessels” had the names of famous pirate ships printed on their sterns, and others had their favorite pirate flags painted on their hoods. (VERY impressive!)

What impressed us most, however, was the treasure trove of commercially available adornments these blackguards had managed to find for their vehicles: the bumper stickers, license plate frames, trailer hitch covers, antenna toppers, bobble heads, and rear-view mirror danglers. Skeletons, skulls and crossbones, clever sayings (“I Brake for Pirates,” “What Would Blackbeard Do?”), and the like were everywhere. One enterprising pirate had found a rosary made out of bone for the rear-view mirror with the individual beads shaped like skulls.

Suddenly, our valiant little Red Rogue is looking a little, well, outmanned. We do have a smaller pirate flag that we could wire to our antenna. But now we want a piratical license plate frame! We want some piratical bumper stickers!! We want a personalized license plate!!!

But alas, we don’t know where to find them. Here we are, land-locked in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, the perfect place for pirates to lay low but hardly a goldmine of piratical loot. Our friend Ben managed to discover that there was a pirate-themed shop in scenic PA, Admiral Nelson Shipwreck Treasure & Pyrate Shop in Gettysburg, thanks to the No Quarter Given site. But unfortunately, like so many of the merchants listed in the No Quarter Given merchants’ section, Admiral Nelson declared that you would find no vulgar tourist trash—such as, presumably, bumper stickers and license plate frames—in his shop.

Aaaarrrr. Such are the trials of a Pennsylvania pirate. If you have a piratical vehicle, please tell us all about it. And if you know an online source of pirate-themed auto accessories, please do let us know!

Creamy corn chowder. June 22, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. In yesterday’s post, “Salads of the Seventies” (check it out via our search bar at upper right), I mentioned my favorite Seventies cookbook, Vegetarian Gothic (Mo Willett, 1975). So it seemed only right that I share a recipe from this Hippie-era classic, and what could be more fitting for summer than a delicious chowder made with fresh corn?

If you’re skeptical that a recipe that arose from a bunch of Hippies running a tiny restaurant called Krishna’s Kitchen—which had nothing to do with Indian cuisine—could possibly be delicious, who could blame you? This was, after all, the era of brown, heavy, deadeningly bland “health food.” It brings to mind visions of earnest vegetarians soaking dried soybeans, boiling them, and eating them plain (or, desperately trying to add some flavor, with a dash of soy sauce). Eeewwww!!!

But as you’ll see, this simple recipe is miles away from soy-sprout sandwiches and the like. And it’s super-easy to make:

               Corn Chowder

4 cups fresh corn

1 large onion

2 green peppers

6 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon powdered garlic

1/3 cup butter

Chop the onion and green peppers and saute until lightly browned. In a large pot combine the onion, green pepper, milk, corn, and cream. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Add the spices and butter and simmer until ready to eat.

I’d of course use a large sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla) and yellow or orange bell peppers in this soup for a sweeter flavor. (I don’t think yellow, orange or red bell peppers were available when Vegetarian Gothic was written, since only green peppers are used in the book; lucky us to have more options. It appears to have predated the arrival of tofu on our shores as well. But I digress.) And I’d saute them in butter in the heavy Dutch oven I’d use to make the soup, and until the onion clarified rather than browning. For a richer flavor, I’d add the fresh corn and seasonings at that point and saute them for a few minutes as well before cranking the heat way down and adding the milk and cream. And of course I’d add more salt and pepper! Maybe a teensy touch of garam masala for a subtle lift instead of the “powdered garlic.”

Because this is a cream soup, I’d think it would carry well into the colder months, too, substituting frozen white corn (or a mix of white and yellow) for fresh-from-the-cob. But if you use frozen corn, I’d think it would be essential to saute it until it thaws and the water has a chance to evaporate before adding the milk and cream. 

For summer, though, I’d say this chowder would make a great lunch, served up hot and accompanied by the simplest side salad of Bibb and Romaine lettuces with wedges of ripe tomato, fresh basil leaves, good olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and lemon pepper or cracked black pepper. Yum!!!

              ‘Til next time,

                           Silence 

 

 

Salads of the Seventies. June 21, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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2 comments

Silence Dogood here. Some of my favorite cookbooks in my massive collection are those from the Hippie era. You know, like the original Moosewood Cookbook, with its hand-lettered recipes and crudely drawn illustrations. My all-time favorite is a fabulous find from the dark, scary attic of a used-book store. It’s called Vegetarian Gothic, and has black-and-white photos of the Hippies from the commune who ran the little restaurant that had inspired the recipes, as well as the inevitable hand-lettering and drawings and some truly priceless era-appropriate commentary. Far out!

Not, I admit, that I actually cook from these books; I just love reading them and time-travelling back to an era when Flower Power was considered a viable concept, and personal ornamentation and idealism reached a level the world hadn’t seen since the Cavalier days of King Charles I. But I digress.

Returning to salads, I was thrilled to find a cookbook from 1978 at our local library’s weekly book sale. It had originally cost a whopping $1.95, but the lucky owner had gotten it on special, “2/$1.00,” according to a tag on the front cover; I got it for free. Unlike most books of that era, this was a specialty cookbook, focusing entirely on salads: Wonderful Ways to Prepare Salads by Jo Ann Shirley. Of course it was printed in green ink on brown paper, each page bordered with a great illustration of salad ingredients.

The salads themselves were something of a revelation. Most of them seemed to include anchovies and caviar, and there were plenty of “molded salads” (aka aspics) of all types and stripes, as well as gems like Lamb Salad, Bacon and Egg Salad, Scrambled Egg Salad, Tongue Salad, and Dairy Cheese Salad. Oh, my. Those lucky Seventies families!

However, there actually were some perfectly decent-looking salads, and there was an entire section of homemade salad dressings. Since we’re heading towards July Fourth, how about a couple of retro coleslaw recipes? Here you go:

              Cabbage Salad

1 tomato, chopped

4 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup chopped celery

1/4 cabbage, shredded

1. Combine tomato, scallions, salt, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Mix well and chill.

2. Combine celery and cabbage.

3. Pour dressing over the salad and toss lightly.

Serves 4-6.

            Garden Cole Slaw

1/4 cabbage, shredded

1/2 cup sliced radishes

1/2 cucumber, sliced

2 stalks celery, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 tablespoons grated onion

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar

2 tablespoons prepared mustard

1/2 cup cream

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1. Toss together cabbage, radishes, cucumber, celery, parsley and onion.

2. Combine mayonnaise with the vinegar, mustard, cream, salt and pepper. Beat well.

3. Pour over cole salw and mix well.

Serves 6-8.

And the bonus:

               Apple-Cabbage Salad

1 Savoy cabbage 

5 red apples

1/2 lb. Cheddar cheese

salt and pepper

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup vinegar

1 tablespoon prepared mustard

pinch sugar

1. Wash and drain cabbage. Shred finely. Retain outer leaves.

2. Wash apples. Core but do not peel. Dice the apples.

3. Grate cheese.

4. Combine cabbage, apples and cheese. Mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Beat mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard and sugar together.

6. Pour dressing over salad and toss lightly.

7. Line the salad bowl with the outer leaves of the cabbage and fill with the salad.

Serves 8.

Note: “Prepared mustard” simply means jarred or bottled mustard, as opposed to dry (powdered) mustard.

Ready for your retro celebration this Fourth of July? No? Well, maybe I can come up with more authentic era-appropriate recipes for deviled eggs, potato salad, and other picnic staples. Then all you need are your love beads, peace signs, and tie-dyed tee-shirts!

                 ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

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