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The meaning of life and other serious questions. July 21, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets.
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Silence Dogood here. As a species that, as far as we can tell, is unique in its ability to ponder the abstract, we humans are given to thinking of the big, unanswerable questions: Why are we all here? How did life arise? What happens when we die? What does the future hold? Is there life on other planets, and if so, when will it get here? Why did those damned astronomers demote Pluto?

Or, in my case: Why is the canister of bunny papaya tablets sitting on top of the Kleenex box in the bathroom? 

Back in the good old days before global warming, summers were comparatively cool here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. Our aim was at least partial self-sufficiency, but with less than an acre, milk-producing critters like cows and goats were out, and since I’m a passionate vegetarian, aquaculture and the like was out as well. But OFB and I both love animals and we both wanted them as part of our homestead operation. So we created a chicken coop/bunny hutch enclosure, with kenneling on all sides and over the top so no predators could get in and a large grapevine growing over the enclosure to provide shade. Plus a spacious, well-lit chicken coop and top-of-the-line redwood bunny hutches. Our rationale was that the chickens would provide delicious organic eggs (which they do) and high-nitrogen fertilizer in the form of their droppings, while the bunnies produced a balanced organic, ready-to-use fertilizer in the form of their droppings. And besides, we love bunnies.

The thing is, bunnies need to chew. They need to chew woody, fibrous, tough-to-digest stuff. Which is where those little papaya/pineapple tablets come in. The tablets help the bunnies digest all that woody stuff so they don’t get sick.

The mystery, then, is not why we had a canister of bunny papaya tabs. It’s how they came to be in our bathroom years after our last bunny went to that great clover-and-carrot patch in the sky. You see, bunnies, like us, hate hot weather. And as our summers have become progressively more and more unbearable, we have found it impossible to justify bringing new bunnies into our homestead setup. So once our last bunny expired, we have forced ourselves to resist. Much as we love them, much as it kills us to walk away from adorable bunnies, we know we’re doing them a favor by not subjecting them to our horrific summers. 

The papaya tabs outlasted the bunnies who should have benefited from them, since we always seem to go overboard when it comes to stocking up on things. And what do you do with papaya tabs when you no longer have bunnies to feed them to and don’t know anyone else who has bunnies, either? This might be another of those imponderable questions. In our case, they just stayed on a shelf in our mudroom. Until just now, when I saw the canister sitting on the Kleenex dispenser in our bathroom.

How the papaya tablets migrated from the mudroom to the bathroom I’ll never know. (Since someone who’s now peacefully snoring away will never admit to having anything to do with this.) Why the papaya tablets migrated from the mudroom to the bathroom is, in my view, the more relevant question. Not to mention, what should be done with them at this point? Maybe some local animal shelter has a few bunnies who could use them.

                    ‘Til next time,

                                Silence

Of bats, books and Borders. July 20, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Darn it, I really wanted to write a post today about how wind turbines are killing bats (and birds)—an estimated 10,000 bats a year in Pennsylvania alone, according to the lead story in today’s local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call. There’s an anti-solar tirade in the same issue. Both cite the too-high cost of alternative, so-called “green” energy.

Our friend Ben will get to all this tomorrow, I promise. And since there are no easy answers, I’ll open up the floor to reader comments. (Well, as you’ll see, actually there is an easy answer; it’s just not one anybody is willing to even contemplate.)

But for now, as a writer and editor, I feel compelled to tackle the issue of the dissolution of Borders and the future of books. So here goes:

The news of Borders’ demise has been dominating headlines and shaking up the already-shaky publishing world. It has caused many pundits to predict that the use of e-readers will rise on Borders’ fall. Our friend Ben has seen much commentary from folks who say they’ll never buy another actual book, since e-books are so much more convenient. And commentary from folks insisting that there’s nothing like a real book and nobody will ever catch them reading a virtual one. And commentary from folks who recommend their local library as a way around the whole issue. And commentary from folks lamenting the imminent demise of public libraries, which they say are bound to go the way of Borders in a couple of years. 

The one thing pretty much everybody agrees on is that the death of Borders won’t bring back the independent, local, totally individual mom-and-pop bookstores that Borders and the other big-box bookstores (you know who you are) drove out of business with an efficiency and speed that puts Wal*Mart to shame. Fans of paperback bestsellers are speaking out in favor of discount chains like Costco (and Wal*Mart), not to mention groceries and pharmacies. Real booklovers—at least, those who love actual, physical books—seem to be hoping that maybe used-book stores can provide a refuge and last resort.

Our friend Ben hates to say “I told you so.” But being a history buff as well as a booklover, I’m only too aware that, for almost all of human history, books were a prized possession of a tiny elite. One had, first of all, to be able to read as a prerequisite, not exactly a widespread phenomenon until the past few centuries. One also had to be interested in reading books, as opposed to more mundane but relevant letters, accounting sheets, and the like. And one had to be able to afford the handwritten and sometimes lavishly illuminated manuscripts that were produced in minuscule and very heavily censored format in the monastic confines where the last vestiges of literacy survived and were perpetuated. Even the nobility who could afford the illuminated Books of Hours and the like often couldn’t read them, relying instead on clerks loaned out from monasteries to read out correspondence and reply to it, barely able to write their own names and affix their seals. Who really needed to know all that stuff, after all?

The invention of the printing press certainly changed all that, but the ability to read remained in the hands of those who could afford to be educated. That remained a tiny percentage of the population until widespread education became the norm in the nineteenth century. In Colonial America, most people owned exactly two books: the Bible, and a copy of our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin’s, Poor Richard’s Almanack. 

By the Regency period, and certainly the Victorian era, the world had changed. The middle as well as the upper classes could read. Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, the Brontes, Charles Dickens, Fenimore Cooper, Trollope, Victor Hugo, Herman Melville, and the like reigned supreme. Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Charles Darwin could change the world because everyone was hanging on their every word. Not since Shakespeare had writers been able to influence public thought so quickly and to such a pervasive degree.

Then came the era of public education, when pretty much everybody was taught to read, and expected to read books. Whether those books were Nancy Drew mysteries or Ernest Hemingway novels, Julia Child cookbooks or the adventures of Winnie the Pooh or Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf, it never occurred to anyone that people would ever want to stop reading, or stop buying, books.

But by the time of Harry Potter, people had started talking about the unthinkable. Rather than praising the Harry Potter novels for their own merits, critics praised them for interesting children in reading, as though it were a dying art that J.K. Rowling had single-handedly rescued from extinction.

And what of books themselves, those objects made of paper—or paper, cloth, and cardboard, or paper and “pleather” or paper and actual leather—that people once held in their hands and read? Our friend Ben has believed all my life that their destiny was to again become the possession of the elite, the few, the passionate. I have spent a lifetime collecting books against the day when every book is an e-book and nobody gives a damn. Hawk’s Haven may be no mediaeval monastery, but our bookshelves groan under the weight of books we love and/or feel could be useful to us.

When the last book is printed, the public libraries close for lack of funding, the used-book stores run out of copies to sell, and every conceivable piece of pathetic trash is available flooding the e-book market, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood will be fully stocked with enough real books to last us a lifetime. We only hope there will be people out there who’ll be interested in inheriting our literary legacy.

300,037. July 19, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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That’s the number of views we’ve had here at Poor Richard’s Almanac as of 6:57 a.m., according to our blog host WordPress’s official count. We were going to post about the pair of yearling raccoons playing hide-and-seek in one of our friend Ben and Silence Dogood’s garden beds yesterday afternoon (doubtless our karmic retribution for writing a post called “Those horrid ratcoons” yesterday morning).

But we’ve decided to celebrate the over-300,000 milestone instead by giving you all, who after all are the reason we’ve made it this far, a gift in the form of a recipe for one of our favorite summer drinks: the Paloma. (Named for the golden horse, not the famous jewelry designer.) It’s light, it’s refreshing, and it’s totally appropriate for a week that ends with National Tequila Day on Sunday, July 24. We, however, insist on adding our own unique twist, using pink (aka “ruby red”)  grapefruit juice instead of the golden grapefruit juice that gave the drink its original color and name. So without more ado:

                 The Pink Paloma

In a large glass, pour 2 shots of golden tequila and 1 shot of Triple Sec. Add splashes of Key lime and Key lemon juice. Pour in chilled pink (“ruby red”) grapefruit juice to fill the glass to just under the halfway mark. Fill the glass to the top with chilled sparkling Mandarin orange seltzer. Stir and enjoy.

Remember, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere! Raise your glasses and toast Poor Richard’s Almanac. We’ll certainly be toasting all of you in return!

Those horrid ratcoons. July 18, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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It’s once again time for wacky blog post searches (aka “search engine phrases”) here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. Some priceless examples have poured in over our virtual transom, and it’s time to clean house and make way for the inevitable next batch. We hope you enjoy these as much as we did! As always, search phrase in bold, our response following.

are ratcoons harmful: Yes. Along with their cousins, batcoons and catcoons, they’re some of the scariest critters found in nature. That, or they’re about to become recurring characters in the “Dilbert” cartoon strip. Watch this space for further updates.

nicknames for benjamin franklin’s poor richard almanac: Actually, we’ve never considered giving a nickname to Poor Richard’s Almanac. We have, however, considered adding a motto. Contenders include “All the news that interests us,” “Ben says it best,” “Where stinkbugs fear to tread,” and “Please send money.” Feel free to vote for your favorite. Or send money.

cranium game pirate true false: We realize that pirates in general have always been obsessed with skulls, especially when combined with crossbones or cutlasses. But this is ridiculous.

kill friendship bread: Looks like violence is everywhere these days. No place to run, no place to hide, even if you’re a harmless loaf of bread. Whatever happened to extending the hand of friendship? Guess there’s always somebody just waiting to chop it off.

is happiness more than a lack of tragedy??: We suddenly understand why plays like “Hamlet” and “Romeo and Juliet” have retained their popularity down through the years.

how can you tell if popcorn kernels are ole?: Get out a magnifying glass and look for the tiny ponchos and sombreros.

the most scariest disease: Grammatakemia, where grammar and spelling are inexorably destroyed by that greatest of cancers, ignorance.

danger pudding: This sounds like another attack on our culinary sensibilities, but Silence Dogood points out that it’s actually a recipe in one of the Sweet Potato Queens’ books. And that it sounds every bit as toxic as its name.

found a stray dog with rabies: Um, you can’t actually find our house on MapQuest, can you?

irt friend adult finder: We don’t know, we don’t want to know, lalala, we can’t hear you…

squash casserole served in texas prison: Having never personally been in a Texas prison, we can only say that, if the squash casserole is made from zucchini, inmates are definitely paying for their crimes…

Perplexing purple beans. July 17, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, I broke down and bought my first carton of purple string beans at our favorite Mennonite farm, James Weaver’s Meadow View Farm in scenic Bowers, PA.

Our friend Ben and I love string beans, and our very favorite way to eat them is to boil mixed green and yellow wax beans ’til just tender, drain them, toss in butter, RealSalt or Trocamare (hot seasoned salt), and lemon pepper or cracked black pepper, shake the pan, and serve. Yum!!! We can’t eat enough of them, and they reheat well, too. (Our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and Plutarch the Parrot prefer their string beans raw, but they can’t seem to get enough of them, either.)

So why have I waited so long to try purple string beans (it appears that the variety is called ‘Royal Burgundy’)? It’s because I know that the anthocyanins that give the beans their gorgeous purple color dissipate in cooking, leaving you with plain green beans. We love plain green beans, anyway, so why bother to buy purple beans just to watch them join the green beans in the pot rather than creating a gorgeous purple, green and yellow mix?

This is certainly not a phenomenon limited to beans. Purple broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, and asparagus also change to green when they’re cooked. (Fortunately, purple, aka “red,” cabbage and onions don’t seem to have this issue.) And since purple broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cabbage, and onions can be eaten raw in salads, and the broccoli, peppers and cauliflower can be eaten raw with dips to add color variety to crudite plates, there are ways around the go-to-green issue. Not so with asparagus and beans. 

What to do? What if you briefly blanched, steamed, or stir-fried the beans or asparagus, then added them to boiled green and yellow wax beans or white and green asparagus? No dice, apparently; it only takes 2 minutes of cooking to turn them green.

Okay, then, what about roasting or grilling them? I’ve never tried roasting beans, but roasted tiny green asparagus, with a little olive oil drizzled on top, is incredibly delicious. Why wouldn’t roasted purple asparagus or beans be equally yummy, and without the interaction of water or steam, would the purple color stay true? I haven’t found an answer online, so I guess the only way to find out is to try it.

The two ways to keep the purple that I have found are to add the beans raw to salads or, as Lee Reich, the famous fruit expert, notes in a 2009 AP article, to soak them in vinegar or lemon juice before (briefly) cooking them. (Apparently increasing acidity helps them keep their anthocyanins and thus their purple color.) Hmmm, since we always put lemon juice on asparagus, along with butter, before serving, it might be worth trying this with purple asparagus, but lemon- or vinegar-soaked beans?! Pickled green and yellow beans are a specialty around here, so you’d think vinegared (pickled and canned) purple beans would have caught on right away if this worked. But I’ve never seen them. And adding vinegar or lemon juice to fresh-cooked beans is not something I’d really want to try.

One suggestion I found that sounds promising is to butter-baste the raw beans as quickly as possible, losing some depth of color but still having purple beans. Hmmm. I’d like to try this, and also roasting them. Or maybe stirring warmed purple beans into the boiled green and yellow wax beans we love before adding the butter and seasonings and shaking the pan would work?

If worse comes to worst and the purple beans turn green, apparently they still taste good like green string beans, so all that’s lost is the aesthetic quality. But if any of you enthusiastic gardeners and cooks out there know how to cook purple string beans and keep them purple, please check in and share your hard-won knowledge with all of us!

               ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Stop dissing vegetables. July 16, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. One of my pet peeves is people telling us not to eat various veggies because they’re not packed with nutrients. In an era when Americans are fighting an obesity epidemic and the most-consumed vegetable in America is the French fry, this is ludicrous, harmful, and just plain wrong. So I was really steamed (so to speak) when I turned on the computer this morning and saw that Yahoo! had highlighted an article from SELF magazine under the head “Top 3 Worst Veggies.”

The three that had ended up on the list were celery, cucumbers, and Iceberg lettuce. And of course there are plenty of other contenders, from zucchini to radishes. But let’s confine ourselves to the three featured in the story. Celery has 6—count them, 6—calories per 8-ounce piece of stalk, plus tons of fiber and water. In other words, it fills you up, not out. Cukes pack a whopping 16 calories in an entire cup of slices, plus tons of water. And the endlessly demonized Iceberg lettuce provides tons of satisfying crunch and hydrating water for, guess what, pretty close to zero calories per serving.

Not that I have a bad thing to say about the author’s suggestions for substitutions: carrots, purslane, and Romaine lettuce. I love carrots. I’ve never actually eaten purslane, but I noticed a purslane plant growing as a weed in our neighbor’s vegetable bed the other day and was thinking about swiping it to add to one of our salads along with that other nutritious weedy green, baby lamb’s-quarters.

And our friend Ben and I adore Romaine lettuce and include it in all our salads, though I confess I was dumbfounded to see the author’s suggestion that you should substitute a “wedge” of Romaine for a wedge of Iceberg in a classic blue cheese crumble. I would very much like to see the author produce a wedge from a head of Romaine lettuce! Far better to use whole leaves in a luscious Caprese salad with sliced ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh whole basil leaves, sliced scallions, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of good salt. If you’re craving the classic blue cheese wedge, stick to Iceberg.

But I digress. Let’s make a salad out of the three proscribed vegetables. Tear or cut up a head of Iceberg, slice those cukes and celery stalks. Toss in chopped scallions, sliced radishes, and a few cherry tomatoes if you’d like to add more flavor, savor and crunch. Add your favorite fresh or dried herbs (we love basil, thyme and mint in salads), a squeeze of lemon or lime or a splash of balsamic (or your favorite) vinegar, a grind of black or lemon pepper, a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil, and a sprinkling of sea salt, Himalayan rock salt, or RealSalt to taste. Toss everything well, and fill your bowl.

Eat up! You’ll be getting tons of flavor, fiber and satisfaction for less than 100 calories a delicious, filling bowlful. Sure beats a 1500-calorie serving of oily fries, don’t you think?

                  ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

Keep your dog cool. July 15, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood cherish our black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you). And between our increasingly hot, humid Pennsylvania summers (at this point, 90-degree days in late May aren’t unusual; thanks, global warming) and her black coat, we’re always concerned about helping her keep her cool as the weather heats up. If you have a dog, we recommend these tips:

* Keep your dog cool in the car. Obviously, you never want to leave a dog in a car in hot weather. Everyone knows this, right?! Even with the windows partially open, a dog can die from overheating very quickly in a car. The only time it’s safe to keep a dog idling in a car is when one of you is also in there and the a/c is running. 

* Have water, will travel. If you’re out running errands in the summer heat, you know how quickly you dehydrate and desperately need some cold water, iced tea, Vitamin Water or whatever. Your dog does, too. Always carry a water bowl when you travel with your dog, even if it’s just to run errands around town, and either keep chilled water in a cooler or buy him or her a bottle of cold water as you make your rounds and let him or her out to enjoy it in the bowl. S/he probably needs a bathroom break, too.

* Puppy pools are cool. We bought Shiloh a big red kiddie pool at a secondhand kids’ stuff store. The owner told us she couldn’t keep the pools in stock because dog owners were always snapping them up. Shiloh loves her pool, and we know your dog would, too.

* Pupsicles are always appreciated. More and more savvy ice cream stands are offering dog-friendly options along with their people-friendly selections. These are usually vanilla, but can also be unsweetened meat-flavored ice treats. Our friend Ben and Silence have seen two brands of frozen dog treats in the ice cream section at our local grocery as well. Dogs love them all, as well as ice cubes to lick in hot weather (you can add them to their water dish) or a spoon of your own vanilla ice cream. Remember, though, never give a dog chocolate- or caffeine-containing ice cream; they’re definitely not dog-friendly.

* Wring ‘em out. Pouring ice water on your dog’s bandanna and wrapping it around his or her neck: Aaaahhh!

* Point and shoot. Our friend Ben has a thing about water pistols; he has a green fluorescent model that he loves to load with cold water and then fire at an appreciative Shiloh. Another option we approve of is to stoke a spray bottle with cold water and ice and then spray it on ourselves and on our dog every 15 minutes or so.

* Keep them inside. We limit our own outdoor time when the temperature climbs above 80 degrees; we can’t stand staying out too long in the heat and humidity. And mind you, we’re not wearing fur coats! We strongly, very strongly, recommend that you keep your dog indoors in hot weather. In conditions where you’re comfortable, hopefully your beloved canine companion will be, too.

Please sound off if you have other great ideas for keeping dogs cool in hot weather!

Nature, nurture, food Nazis, junk. July 14, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Like all God’s creatures, we humans have been genetically programmed to be predisposed to foods that are salty, sweet, fatty, and/or alcoholic. I’d add meaty and smoky to that list as well, though obviously not all creatures share our predilections in that regard.

These are the high-density, high-calorie, water-retentive foods that have allowed all creatures to survive since time began, and all of us have been born to seek them, to crave them. Salty, sweet, and fatty foods in combination make us feel good, make us feel high, even without alcohol. And alcohol is the ultimate feel-good source of concentrated calories, as every bear, crow, dog, and yellowjacket feasting on fermented fruit will tell you. Species that have evolved to survive in a world where food was a maybe, a sometimes, not a given, have evolved to seek the most calorie-dense foods possible, and have evolved to, not coincidentally, find them the most tasty of all foods.  

Unfortunately as far as humans are concerned, many of us now have access to plentiful sources of calories and a considerable body of knowledge about nutrition and disease. For us, the problem is not about how to acquire the calories we need to survive, but to avoid packing on more calories, and more unhealthy calories, than are good for us.

Anyone alive today has been the victim of the health Nazis in this regard: We live our lives hemmed in by unending “do nots” with regard to what we may and may not eat. Do NOT eat salt, sugar, butter. Do NOT drink alcohol. Bad, bad, weak, decadent, horrible, fat people! Don’t you know that “beautiful” people, people who are anorexic like professional models, actresses, and Kate Middleton, would as soon die as touch a buttered roll, or an unbuttered roll, for that matter?! What’s wrong with you?! You’re weak, you’re ignorant, you’re low-class!

Not so. You’re simply in touch with your genetic heritage, your link with all life, rather than in denial. I suggest that you eat the buttered roll or the piece of shortbread or the salted slice of watermelon, and enjoy the glass of wine. Because if you don’t, you’re in danger. You’re in danger of succumbing to junk-food overload.

I’m stupefied every weekend when I get the sale circulars from area groceries and pharmacies and the coupon circulars. That’s because the coupons appear to be almost exclusively for junk foods and air fresheners. (Why just eat chemicals when you can breathe them, too?!) Pharmacies’ circulars  are especially bad for offering 10-for-$10 and buy one, get one deals on candy, cookies, chips, sodas and “sports” drinks, so-called diet foods, and crackers. (Shame on them! If anyone should know better… )

But grocery circulars are hardly blameless, either, adding super-processed “lunch meats,” mayo-laden pasta and potato salads, goo-filled gelatin molds, and the like to the boxed, canned and frozen junk foods on sale. Of course, at least they offset this stuff with deals on fresh fruits and veggies, canned beans, cheese, meats and seafood, pasta, nuts, yogurt, hummus, canned tomato products, and other whole and wholesome foods. That’s why I read the circulars each weekend, after all. But yikes, the stuff that’s showcased! Eeeewwww.

Still, those junk-food manufacturers know what makes people pull out their wallets or swipe their debit cards: food that’s packed with sugar, salt, and fat, or “diet” food that substitutes chemicals for some or all of the above. From Cap’n Crunch to Pop-Tarts to Screaming Yellow Zonkers, it’s amazing what people will put into their mouths. And these are the same people who wouldn’t dream of frying eggs in butter and eating them with whole-grain toast, since that screams calories and cholesterol to them, even though then they’d actually be eating simple whole foods! (Let’s not even talk about those doughnuts and frappucinos and loaded fries and mercy-alone-knows-what-else that apparently have no calories since you’re just picking them up and eating or drinking them as you’re driving, so it’s not really food.)

Horrifying as America’s love affair with junk food and fast food is, it pales by comparison to what appears to be the latest trend, which is taking junk food upscale. I was blindsided by this while reading an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal called “Chablis with Brie? No, Cherry Coke and Cool Ranch.” The article showcased a book called Junk Foodie by Emilie Baltz*, which includes recipes for dishes like Balinese spring rolls made from orange Fruit Roll-Ups, potato sticks, grapefruit jellybeans, the inside of a Mounds bar and Utz Red Hot Potato Chips. Two of Ms. Baltz’s other favorites are a combination of Cool Ranch Doritos with Table Talk mini pineapple pies, and Napoleons made from potato chips and Twinkies. (Go to http://www.WSJ.com to read the article in its entirety.)

Anyone who’s ever eaten M&Ms and potato chips or, say, so-called Hawaiian pizza with pineapple and Canadian bacon will understand the appeal of sweet, salty and fatty in combination. And, of course, the temptation to eat lots more than you would if you were just eating the M&Ms or the potato chips, since you can alternate. But, please, people! Salted cantaloupe, watermelon or grapefruit will give you the same satisfaction plus fiber, nutrients, and no fat. Even a slice of salted melon with a butter-fried egg and a slice of whole-grain toast would provide a wholesome, satisfying meal of real food with nary a chemical in sight. And for fewer calories, too.

As for that so-called Balinese spring roll, I think I’ll stick to the spring rolls being offered at our local Chinese restaurants. I’ve yet to see a jellybean or potato chip lurking inside one.

            ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

* I’m praying this book is actually tongue-in-cheek.

 

Sinfully scrumptious spreads. July 12, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. On Wednesday, my friend Amy and I went to the notoriously named village of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, to do some serious shopping. Intercourse (near the equally infamous Blue Ball, PA) is deep in the heart of Lancaster County—Amish Country—and we saw almost as many buggies as cars as we headed towards one of Amy’s favorite shopping destinations, Kitchen Kettle Village.

One of the best quilt stores in the country is in Intercourse, so I was excited about going, and there’s also a bookstore that specializes in topics of interest to the Amish and Mennonite communities, and that means cooking and putting food by. (Thinking about my room-sized fabric stash, I managed to drag myself out of the quilt shop without buying anything—not even the adorable micro-mini-iron that looked just perfect for flattening seams and making sharp points. But I couldn’t resist a new canning book at the bookstore.)

Speaking of canning and preserving, the heart of Kitchen Kettle Village is a large store that specializes in jellies, jams, pickles, salsas, relishes, and the like, and it was this store that Amy especially wanted to visit: Her father had run out of seedless black raspberry jam, his favorite, and she wanted to stock up for him. The beautiful jars of jewel-like jellies, jams, and so on are made on-premises—the day we were there, they were making pickles, and a group had gathered to watch and sample. You could also sample everything else in the store (bins of tiny crackers gave you something to put all those jellies, salsas, etc. on) so you could make sure you liked something before you plunked your money down. And they have jar sizes from about a half-cup to what looks like a half-gallon, so you can match the size of your purchase to your budget or enthusiasm.

After tasting the Wickles—wicked good pickles—and realizing that they were really hot and really good, I knew I had to bring some back for our friend Ben and our heat-loving friend and fellow blog contributor, Richard Saunders. But what truly caught my attention were the beautiful pepper jams. Gorgeous, glowing jars of Pepper Jam and Jalapeno Jam shone ruby-red in the sunlight. I just had to try them. And oh, yes, they were good. I especially liked the hot-sweet flavor of the Jalapeno Jam. And then I saw the recipes.

The simplest recipe calls for an 8-ounce block of cream cheese, brought to room temperature and topped with a half-pint (10 ounces) of Jalapeno or Pepper Jam, which guests could spread on crackers. As the Kitchen Kettle folks point out, “This is known as the caviar of Lancaster County.” I can see why. Yummy!

Then they move on to brie. As you may know, our friend Ben and I have a thing about cheese. And if you really have a thing about cheese, you have a thing about brie, that melt-in-your-mouth, sinfully delicious stuff that just screams to be smeared on a piece of crusty baguette and served with gorgeous grapes or other berries in season and tart green apple slices. Add champagne or a dry rose or Riesling and you have the perfect romantic picnic fare. Brie, berries, champagne, sensuality: It all goes together like white on rice. Forget oysters! Try this next time you want to set a romantic mood. Light some candles, dim the lights, sit on the sofa, enjoy that wonderful food and wine, and relax. Put some Ella and Louis on the CD player. Trust me.

Brie on a baguette is good. But hot brie on a baguette is great. Kitchen Kettle Village suggests topping a wheel of brie with an 8-ounce jar of Pepper or Jalapeno Jam and 1/2 cup of toasted almonds, then putting it in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees. Oh, my. I have my jar, and we’re going to try it when we get back from our North Carolina beach vacation. It sounds so good! 

Reading the Kitchen Kettle recipe brought to mind the best brie I’d ever eaten. It was at a party at our friend Erana’s house. She topped a wheel of brie with packed brown sugar and put it in the oven to warm through (again, I’d try 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees F while keeping a close eye on it). Brown sugar on brie would not have occurred to me, but it was so, so delicious, smeared on thin, crusty slices of baguette. Oh, yes! Try it and see for yourself. It’s so good, it just has to be sinful. But at least we’re just sinning against our waistlines instead of other people. I say, go for it! You’ll be so glad you did.

            ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

Nuke those zukes. July 11, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. And no, being Luddites*, we don’t own a microwave here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. But, like most of you, we find ourselves confronting a glut of zucchini every summer, both in the form of cheap and abundant summer squash from our local groceries and farmers’ markets and from our own garden beds. What do you do with bazillion green and gold zucchinis?

Here are a few of my favorite uses, but first, a few disclaimers: With the exception of zucchini bread—and we’ll get to that in a minute—I used to hate zucchini. That’s because, as a vegetarian, I was always being served zucchini in place of actual, flavorful food. Stuffed zucchini, steamed zucchini, zucchini kebabs, zucchini pizza: You name it, I was expected to eat it. Fuggidaboutit. If it’s bland, boring, mealy, and tasteless, why should I have to eat it? Why would anyone eat it?!! Yuck.

Turns out, there are some great, flavorful ways to use zucchini, as I eventually discovered. But before I get to them, let’s talk about that second disclaimer: zucchini bread. Who doesn’t love oil-drenched, sugary zucchini bread, preferably heated with butter or smeared with cream cheese and/or apple butter? I certainly do! But eating a slice of that is about as healthy (and as good for one’s waistline and cardiac health) as wolfing down a couple of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Alas.

Instead, I’ve discovered that zucchini is great as a thickener in homemade spaghetti sauce, adding the bulk that’s typically provided by ground beef. See for yourself:

                      Silence’s Spaghetti Sauce

2 large onions, diced (you can use sweet or cooking onions or one of each)

4 large cloves garlic, minced

2 large cartons button mushrooms, sliced, then sliced again crosswise

1 large green bell pepper, diced

3 medium zucchini, sliced, then each slice quartered

1 tablespoon each dried basil, oregano, thyme, and Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) 

1 teaspoon each dried rosemary, marjoram, black pepper (we like lemon pepper) and hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa or Tabasco Chipotle)

1 large (12-ounce) can tomato paste

1 large (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon sugar

dry red wine (chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, or whatever you have on hand)

extra-virgin olive oil

shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese

I always start by putting a huge, heavy pot of water, covered, on the stove to boil. (I use my biggest LeCreuset Dutch oven for the pasta and my second-biggest for the sauce.) Once I see that the water has come to a full boil, I’ll turn it off, leaving it covered, until it’s time to cook the pasta. The heavy pot retains the heat, so it will just take a minute or two to return that big pot of water to a boil rather than the 10 or 15 minutes or more it would take if I were starting with cold water.

Next, I pour a liberal amount of olive oil in another large, heavy pot, making sure the oil covers the bottom of the pot. Turning the heat on low, I wait until the oil is starting to heat up, then add the diced onions, minced garlic, and Trocomare or salt. When the onions have clarified, add the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms have released their liquid, add the dried herbs, black pepper, and hot sauce, stirring well. Add the diced green pepper and quartered zukes. Add the tomato paste, stirring until it completely coats the veggies. Add the crushed tomatoes, stirring until the sauce is totally blended.

Now for those “secret ingredients”: Once the sauce is hot, sprinkle the sugar over the top, stirring it in. Then pour a ring of wine around the perimeter of the pot and stir that in. Continue cooking over low heat, preferably with a splatter shield, until the sauce thickens. Then turn on the pasta water, bring it back to a boil, add your spaghetti, cook until al dente, and serve it up with your rich, luscious spaghetti sauce on top and as much shredded Parmesan as anyone wants to add. Leftover spaghetti sauce is great on pizza or in lasagna.

What else is green zucchini good for? Ratatouille, of course! This delicious French vegetable stew includes tomatoes, onions, eggplant, and zucchini, among many other ingredients, a great way to serve up summer’s vegetable bounty with slices of crusty baguette, a nice red wine, and wedges of cheese on the side. But I have to admit that I haven’t yet made a distinctively Silence Dogood version of ratatouille, so if you Google it, you’ll find plenty of recipes to try on your own. Let me know if you happen to strike gold!

Then there are my favorites, the golden zukes. Picked or bought young, they’re great sliced to top tossed salads. But you can also use them in one of my favorite summer treats:

      Silence’s Super Squash Casserole

5-6 yellow zucchini

1 package frozen white corn, or kernels sliced from 6 ears

1 8-ounce carton sour cream

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia or WallaWalla type)

4 garlic scapes, if available

1 small carton mushrooms (button, baby bella, crimini, shiitake, mixed, if possible)

1 package stuffing/dressing (as Pepperidge Farm) or coarsely crushed crackers (oyster, Saltine, Ritz)

2 eggs

1 stick salted butter

1 teaspoon salt

8-10 fresh basil leaves

Grease 9 x 13″ baking dish. Chop onion and sautee in butter until clarified. Slice mushrooms and add. Chop garlic scapes and add. Tear basil leaves and add. (Dried oregano and thyme may also be added, to taste.) Add salt. When mushrooms have cooked down, add corn and cook on low until liquid has mostly evaporated. Meanwhile, slice yellow zukes, then quarter slices, and boil until tender. Beat eggs. Drain squash and stir in sauteed veggies, eggs, and sour cream to blend. Melt remaining butter in saute pan. Pour squash mixture into baking dish. Top with stuffing/dressing or crackers. Pour melted butter on top. Bake at 350 degrees F. for an hour. 

I hope this has helped you face the annual zucchini glut. And please, if you have any delicious recipes that includes zucchini, feel free to share them here!

            ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

* No, Luddites aren’t some kind of specialized religious cult, in case you’re wondering. They’re just a bunch of disparate techno-illiterates who eschew unnecessary (to them) high-tech devices, be they microwaves, e-readers or iPads.

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