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Avocado time travels. August 31, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I wanted to follow up yesterday’s “Eat your avocado… leaves?!” post with some avocado recipes for you to try… if you dare. (If you missed it, check out yesterday’s post by scrolling down or typing the title in our search bar at upper right.)

But amateur food historian that I am, rather than giving you authentic—or even necessarily good—recipes, I wanted to see what people in the U.S. were doing with avocados in earlier eras. So I turned to my collection of vintage cookbooks to see what was on offer.

My first try, Fannie Merritt Farmer’s The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1915), came up empty. I’m thinking that maybe avocados weren’t exactly a drug on the Boston market back in 1915. (By contrast, my 1980 copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook has eight avocado recipes, including avocados with chicken stuffing; hearts of palm salad with avocados; avocado mayonnaise; cold avocado soup; watercress, orange slices and avocado salad; avocado-yogurt soup; and wheat berries, bean sprouts, tomato, and avocado salad, as well as, of course, guacamole. I’m sure old Fannie would be proud.)

Out in San Francisco, the avocado was on the menu in 1919, the year The Hotel St. Francis Cookbook was published. Their lunch menu for October 23 featured the following: “Avocado, French dressing. Split the avocado, remove the pit, and fill half full with a dressing made with salt, pepper, a little French mustard, and one-third vinegar and two-thirds olive oil.”

By 1943, the year my copy of The Joy of Cooking was published, Irma S. Rombauer was giving the average American housewife 15 ways to eat their avocados. They could try Avocado and Bacon; Avocado and Shrimp Salad; Avocado Cocktails I and II; Avocado Dressing; Avocado Filled with Lobster or Crabmeat Salad; Avocado Mousse; Avocado, Orange and Grapefruit Salad; Puree of Avocado; Avocado Salad; Mexican Avocado Salads I and II; Molded Avocado Salad; Avocado Spread (Guacamole); and Avocados Filled with Creamed Food. We’ll be revisiting some of these classics a bit later.

Moving forward in time, we next come to that priceless testament to the Hippie Era, Mo Willett’s Vegetarian Gothic (1975). Like The Hotel St. Francis Cookbook, it contains a single avocado recipe, Avocado-Egg Salad. Ms. Willett suggests cutting 3 ripe avocados in wedges, 4 ripe tomatoes in eights, 1 large cucumber in chunks, and 4 hard-boiled eggs into “small pieces,” then tossing it all together and serving it cold on “pieces” of lettuce. She says the ripe avocados will make their own dressing so there’s no need to add one. And of course she ends the recipe with “Save your avocado pits and grow trees from them.”

Let’s end our time travels by finally reaching the Southwest in 1988 with The Pink Adobe Cookbook by Rosalea Murphy. What was cooking at Santa Fe’s famous The Pink Adobe restaurant in 1988, avocado-wise? In addition to their signature Pink Adobe guacamole, diners (and home cooks) could enjoy avacado and chicken casserole; avocado dream boats; avocado-jalapeno soup; and halves of avocado stuffed with chicken in chile sauce. Here for your dining pleasure is the recipe for Pink Adobe guacamole, which Ms. Murphy rather startlingly described as “cool chartreuse velvet.” (I’m sure our fabric-eating black German shepherd, Shiloh, would approve.) But whatever.

               Pink Adobe Guacamole

2 large ripe avocados

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small onion, minced

1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped fresh green chiles or 1 4-ounce can green chiles, chopped (2 cans if you’re a real southwesterner) 

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1-3 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste

1 large lettuce leaf, for garnish

Paprika, for garnish

Tomato slices, for garnish

Tostados

Peel and remove the pit from the avocados. Mash with a silver fork* until the pulp is very smooth. Blend in garlic, onion, chiles, and salt. Mix in the mayonnaise and stir in the lemon juice. Serve nestled with a lettuce leaf in your prettiest shallow bowl; garnish with paprika and surround with tomato slices and tostado chips for dipping. Serves 6. [She also provides recipes for making tostado chips and mayo from scratch.]

Is The Pink Adobe still serving Rosalea’s guacamole in 2011? I checked their menus, and they certainly serve guacamole with several of their New Mexican dishes, but it was not identified as anything special. If anybody’s eaten there lately, please let us know! Meanwhile, let’s compare and contrast Mrs. Rombauer’s 1943 version:

             Avocado Spread (Guacamole)

This makes a pretty canape or a fine dish in which to dip potato chips. Mexicans sometimes add chopped tomato to it, but I prefer it this way.

Pare: 1 or 2 avocados

Mash the pulp with a fork. Add to it:

Onion juice**

Lemon juice

Salt

Heap this on small crackers or toast.

Garnish with: Paprika and parsley

A good holiday touch is a bit of pimiento or a slice of stuffed olive.

** Or, omit the juices and add pickled onions, chopped. Minced sauteed bacon may be added.

Well, at least Mrs. Rombauer didn’t insist that her readers use a silver spoon! If anyone tries this, please do let us know what you think. Moving on, what’s an avocado cocktail? A martini with an avocado slice thrown in along with the pickled onion and green olive? Mercifully not. But the reality might be even scarier: avocado halves filled with tomato juice cocktail or chili sauce (horseradish optional for both), or marinated seedless grapes (?! no mention of what the marinade should be, I suppose everyone knew), or finely chopped dill pickles.

But we’re just warming up here. In 1943, aspics and “molded salads” were the ultimate in sophistication. Eeeewwww!!!! I double-dog dare you to make one of these recipes, and if you do, you’d better check back in and tell us all about it. Or send us a link to a blog post of your own that shows the finished conglomeration, I mean, er, mousse or whatever, in all its monstrous glory:

                  Molded Avocado Salad

I. Dissolve: 1 (3 1/4 oz.) package lemon-flavored gelatine in: 1 3/4 cups boiling water

Add:

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon horseradish

1 teaspoon grated onion

Chill these ingredients until they begin to set. Beat the jelly with an egg beater. Fold in: 2 peeled and diced avocados

Place the salad in an oiled mold or in individual molds. When chilled invert it onto: Lettuce leaves

Serve it with: Herb mayonnaise

II. Or soak: 1 tablespoon gelatine in: 2 tablespoons water

Dissolve it in: 1 cup boiling water

Add:   

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 cup mashed avocado

1/4 teaspoon celery salt

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

A few grains of cayenne

1/4 cup chopped pimiento

To mold and serve the salad follow the above rule.

Hungry for more? Let’s kick things up a notch and move on to that ultimate in elegance, Avocado Mousse:

           Avocado Mousse

Soak: 1 tablespoon gelatine in: 1/2 cup cold water

Dissolve it in: 1/2 cup boiling water or stock

Add:

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon onion juice

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 cups avocado pulp, mashed

Chill these ingredients until they are about to set. Whip, then fold in:

1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Place the salad in an oiled mold. Chill it.

Serve it on: Lettuce

Surrounded by:

Grapefruit and orange sections

Pineapple wedges

Gee, they just don’t make food the way they used to. Or do they? One of my contemporary Southwest cookbooks touts the enormous popularity of its chef-author’s famous Avocado Pops, which really are, sadly, avocado popsicles.

Also sadly, I don’t have a contemporary edition of The Joy of Cooking, so I can’t check to see if these delicious molded treats are still featured. If anyone would like to go to the trouble of checking their copy, I’d love to know what avocado recipes are included these days!

           ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

* At first, despite the “chartreuse velvet,” I thought maybe Ms. Murphy recommended using a silver fork to prepare the avocado to prevent the flesh from discoloring, a huge problem with avocados unless they’re eaten immediately or doused in citrus juice. But after “your prettiest shallow bowl,” I’m not so sure.

Disclaimer: Capitalization, punctuation, presentation, and spelling are consistent with the original recipes, and may vary rather wildly from recipe to recipe. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks.

Eat your avocado… leaves?! August 30, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Having once again succumbed to a new cookbook (cover your ears, Ben, and anyway, it was on sale), I made a rather startling discovery as I flipped through the colorful pages: apparently, avocado leaves are edible. The book, The Complete Mexican, South American & Caribbean Cookbook, included dried avocado leaves in several recipes, including one for refried beans, a favorite dish here at Hawk’s Haven.

Say what? Don’t tell me there’s actually a use for those homely hippie-hangover avocado houseplants grown from avocado pits?! And what on earth would avocado leaves taste like, anyway? The book, alas, provided no answers.

Turning to my good friend Google, I was directed to a most informative website, Gourmet Sleuth (www.gourmetsleuth.com), which devoted an entire page to avocado leaves. According to the site, the leaves, called hojas de aguacate, are harvested from a Mexican species of avocado, Persea drymifolia, and are used both fresh and dried in Mexican cuisine.

Gourmet Sleuth notes that the fresh leaves are used as a flavoring for tamales and made into a bed for barbecuing meats, and the dried leaves can be used in bean dishes, soups and stews. They point out that Mexican cooking authority Diana Kennedy recommends them as a substitute for hoja santa, aromatic leaves of another Mesoamerican plant (Piper auritum) that’s related to black pepper.

But what do the leaves taste like? Apparently, according to another Mexican food authority and famous chef, Rick Bayless, they taste sort of like a combination of bay leaves and aniseeds. In fact, he recommends substituting a mix of bay leaves and cracked aniseeds if you don’t happen to have avocado leaves on hand.

Wait a minute, I thought at this point, I have a couple of Diana Kennedy’s cookbooks in my collection. Let’s take a look in the horse’s mouth (so to speak). Pulling down The Tortilla Book, I saw to my surprise that not just the leaves, but even the skin and pit were edible: “The leaves… can be cooked with barbecues or tamales; or they can be lightly toasted, ground, and added to a pipian (a stew thickened with ground nuts or seeds) or fried beans. The skin of the small, black avocado grown in Mexico can be mashed with the flesh to give a rather special texture and anisey flavor. And… [you can let the pit] dry and grate a little of it into an enchilada sauce—as it is used in northern Mexico—but not too much, or the sauce will be quite bitter.” Who’d’a thunk?! In Mexican Regional Cooking, she adds approvingly that leaves of the popular ‘Fuerte’ variety “had a strong, rich flavor,” so if you live where these are grown and don’t have access to the Mexican avocado, bear this in mind. 

Gourmet Sleuth, via Diana Kennedy, also addressed rumors that avocado leaves were toxic. Apparently, this is based on a single report in which goats that consumed a large quantity of avocado leaves from an entirely different species, Guatemalan avocado (Persea americana), suffered toxic effects. Ms. Kennedy notes rather drily that it’s extremely unlikely that the quantity of avocado leaves used in recipes—the refried bean recipe in my book called for 4 or 5—would have any toxic effects, and that in any case, if you buy the dried leaves, they’re from the nontoxic Mexican species. I might add that you’d think if the leaves were toxic to humans, there’d be reports of Mexicans, not to mention Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Bayless, dropping dead after eating them, which has not been the case. In fact, according to Answers.com, “In Panamanian culture of the Azuero Peninsula, a tea is made from the leaves and used to treat high blood pressure.”

Having dealt with the sensational, let’s move on to the revolting. (Well, revolting to me, in any case; fans of agave-based liquors sold with dead “worms” floating in the bottles will be fine with this.) Also according to Gourmet Sleuth, when you harvest or buy avocado leaves, you’ll often find small galls on the underside, which, they assure us, are harmless and actually enhance the leaves’ flavor. That may be so, but galls are made by insects to house their larvae. Being vegetarian, I think I’ll pass, but thanks anyway.

If you want to try avocado leaves in your own cuisine, the site provides recipes, including enfrijoladas (tortillas in bean sauce), mixiote de pollo (spicy chicken packets), and pork loin with avocado leaves. Or you can add 4 or 5 dried, crushed or ground leaves to your next pot of refried beans and see what you think. There’s a trick to bring out the best flavor, though: dry-roast the dried leaves in a cast-iron skillet briefly just prior to crumbling or grinding them for use in your recipe. You can even order a supply of the dried leaves directly from the Gourmet Sleuth page.

Getting back to those dippy hippies and their homegrown avocado plants: Can you grow and eat your own? Well, apparently the ‘Hass’ avocado, the blackish-green, bumpy one you’d be most likely to buy in the grocery, is a hybrid that includes Guatemalan avocado in its background. While the leaves really wouldn’t be likely to harm you, they won’t be nearly as tasty as leaves from the Mexican avocado. And forget about getting fruit from those seed-grown plants, which pretty much will never bear in a container, since they reach great heights in nature (as in 69-foot-tall trees). And as all gardeners know, fruit from hybrid seeds never comes true.

All is not lost, however: Logee’s greenhouse (www.logees.com) sells an avocado plant that will bear fruit in a container. Their miniature variety, ‘Day’, is grafted so the fruit will be true to its parent, and it will begin setting fruit 2 or 3 years after you purchase a plant from them (for $39.95). Here’s what they have to say about it: “Plants will fruit at about 3 feet in height and will produce a medium-sized tapered-neck avocado that is easy to peel and has a delicious, buttery sweet taste. The fruit will hold on the plant for six months with ripening occurring from July to September.” (Avocados bloom in spring in the U.S.) Plants eventually reach 4 to 6 feet tall and can also be planted in the ground if you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 9 or warmer. In-ground or in a container, they require full sun.

That’s the good news for avocado fruit lovers. The bad news for avocado leaf lovers: ‘Day’ is a Persea americana, not a Mexican avocado (as is ‘Fuerte’, fyi). If anybody knows a source of Mexican avocado plants, please let us know! And ditto if you have a favorite recipe that uses avocado leaves.

            ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

Emergency! Crank it up. August 27, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Like everyone on the East Coast, our friend Ben and I have been obsessing about the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irene and the potential damage it could inflict. In our case here in scenic PA, flooding, wind damage, including falling trees, and prolonged power outages are the most likely consequences of the coming storm. Let’s just say we’re not looking forward to them.

Yesterday, we posted some emergency preparedness tips (read our post, “Be prepared,” by scrolling down or typing the post title in our search bar at upper right). And readers contributed more great tips in the comments on that post.

But this morning, I read another simple preparedness tip that should be obvious, but that I’d never heard before, so I wanted to share it with all of you who are bracing for the hurricane and/or storm: Turn your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings now, before the storm hits. That way, the food in them will stay cold longer if the power fails.

Great idea! Then you just have to remember to turn it back down to its normal setting when power is restored.

I think it also makes sense to put refrigerated items you’re likely to want to eat during a power outage, like cheese, butter, and salad fixings (and salad dressing), in a cooler well-stocked with pre-frozen reusable ice packs. If you’re able to heat water to make coffee, keeping milk, half & half, or whatever in the cooler makes sense, too; ditto sodas if the kids would be cheered up by them. That way, you can get to the stuff you need without having to open the fridge and suck out the cold air that will hopefully keep your perishables intact until power is restored.

A second cooler with an actual bag of ice would give you the option of putting ice in beverages, chilling beer or soda, and keeping more food cool. But I have to say, our experience has been that ice melts awfully quickly in our cooler during our road trips, usually turning to water overnight. So its best use might be to chill extra cold-packs to cycle back into the main cooler as the first ones lose their cool. And don’t forget, you can use that melted ice to give the dog a cool drink or flush the toilet!

             ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Be prepared. August 26, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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As if the past week’s earthquake wasn’t enough to shake up the East Coast, now we have Hurricane Irene racing up the coastline, threatening to swamp states from North Carolina through New England this weekend. Governors in coastal states are suggesting that people pack up and leave their beachfront properties and vacationers head home pronto. The National Hurricane Center is concerned enough to have featured emergency preparedness checklists, disaster plan recommendations, and etc. on their website (find them at www.nhc.noaa.gov/).

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are plenty worried, even here in scenic PA. We’re not expecting 18-foot waves to come crashing over Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home, and sweep us through the surrounding cornfields out to sea. But we could get high winds and flash flooding, and our little house sits beside a stream under some very large trees.

We do have flood insurance, just in case, but there’s not much else we can do to save our property from acts of God beside sending up prayers to the Almighty to spare us and our place from harm. However, Silence and I are big believers in emergency preparedness. We’ve done everything we can think of to be prepared for a prolonged power outage or a situation (unlikely, thank God) in which we’d be forced to evacuate our home. Here are our checklists, for your encouragement and inspiration. We’ll start with the evacuation checklist first since it’s shortest:

* keep car’s gas tank full at all times

* keep first-aid kit in car

* keep emergency food, water, toilet paper and toiletries, utensils, hand sanitizers, “space blanket,” extra clothes, maps, etc. in car

* keep cell phone charged and cell phone car charger ready

* keep car-repair supplies (extra tire, tire repair kit, battery charger, shovel, emergency flares, portable gas tank, etc.etc.) in trunk

* have pet supplies and pet evacuation plan in place (cat carriers, portable bird cages, comfy dog seat liner, etc.)

* have all important documents, for ourselves and our pets, in files in one portable file box, making it possible to race to the car with it in seconds rather than wasting time trying to find/grab everything at the last minute

* have prioritized what to save (family photos, jewelry, etc.) in what order should disaster strike

* have an emergency stash of cash on hand that can be rushed to the car in seconds, since it may be impossible to access money via banks and ATMs 

* have a battery-operated weather radio, battery and solar flashlights, and battery, crank and solar radio, plus extra batteries

Obviously, this list applies in any emergency situation, including a fire. And it’s definitely worst-case. What if, instead, you’re able to stay in your home but might be confined there, potentially without power, for some time? This is way better, but still requires planning. Here’s what we’ve done:

* have first-aid kits for ourselves and the pets, and even a dental first-aid kit

* have plenty of stored water, both spring water for drinking and bottled tap water for flushing and bathing (we’re on a well and septic system, neither of which will operate without electricity)

* have both cell phones and a land line; sometimes only one of these will work

* have lots of food on hand that doesn’t require cooking, a gas stove that can be lit by a match in case of power failure, two solar cookers, and coolers plus constantly frozen ice packs, as well as two propane grills and propane canisters and a fire pit with lots of wood

* have a woodburning stove and piles of cured wood as a backup heat source

* keep ample supplies of toiletries on hand

* keep extra pet and chicken food on hand

* have camp-style toilets on hand

* have battery-operated lanterns, a large supply of long-burning candles, and solar, hand-cranked, and battery-operated radios, flashlights, and etc., plus backup batteries

* have five rain barrels for backup water supplies

* have endless books, board games, and etc. to entertain ourselves

We’re not, in general, big fans of paper and plastic disposable plates and utensils, but should there be no water for washing dishes, it might make sense to keep some of these on hand for an emergency, along with, of course, garbage bags for their disposal. And obviously, if you take prescription meds, you need to have an ample supply on hand, though frankly, we’ve never figured out how you’re supposed to do this. Let’s just hope your doctor is a sensible and caring type who’ll appreciate the necessity and authorize multiple simultaneous prescription fills. 

If you live where a hurricane like Irene could actually send stuff flying through your windows, there are hurricane shutters that can protect them and hurricane-proof glass. You can read more about them in The Christian Science Monitor‘s article “Hurricane preparedness: 5 things you can do to keep safe,” which has lots of useful links embedded in the online version. I found this via Yahoo! News, but you could doubtless Google it and call it up or go direct to www.csmonitor.com.

So okay, what are we missing here? How do you stay prepared? Please let us know!

Chipotle dreamin’. August 25, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. For years now, our friend Ben and I have read about a chain of restaurants called Chipotle (actually, Chipotle Mexican Grill) that supposedly featured healthy Southwest-style food. We love Mexican food, and the thought of a chain of healthy, organic Mexican restaurants literally made our mouths water. But living as we do in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, look hopefully as we might, we couldn’t find one anywhere. No luck on our travels, either. Rats!

Then, this past Monday, my friend Huma asked if I’d like to come with her to Reading, the largest town in the area, to visit her son Rashu, who’d just started college there. Turns out, there’s a Chipotle right across the road from his campus, so we went there for lunch. At last, a chance to see what all the excitement was about!

Not much, as it turned out. But this wasn’t Chipotle’s fault, it was mine for building it up in my imagination based on the glowing reviews. The food was fresh, the staff was informative, cheerful, and helpful—not to mention patient with a clueless first-timer—and there was an obvious effort to be as clean and green as possible.

So why was I disappointed? Simple: I’d expected a restaurant, maybe the Mexican version of Applebee’s. Instead I found a fast-food joint, more like the Mexican equivalent of Subway. I have nothing against Subway—OFB and I often stop there and split a veggie sub as a midday break when we’re traveling—but I would never choose to go there as a dining destination.

I’d say the same for Chipotle. Oh, yes, I’d way rather eat there than in, say, McDonald’s or Taco Bell. But we don’t eat at places like that anyway, so it’s not a question of either-or for us. We’ve found wonderful, unique Mexican restaurants in our travels, from Jalisco in Front Royal to Rancho Viejo in Troutville, VA to Montezuma Mexican Restaurant in Chambersburg, PA. And given a choice, you can bet we’ll be choosing them. 

So, Chipotle, keep on keeping on. I wish you well! Sorry I blew you so out of proportion.

               ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Earthquake! August 24, 2011

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have long felt complacent about the location of our cottage home Hawk’s Haven, in the midst of beautiful Pennsylvania farm country. True, a tornado apparently swept through nearby Macungie shortly before we moved to scenic PA, knocking down trees to the right and left. But we’ve never heard of another tornado in the area in all the years we’ve lived here. We do occasionally get a hailstorm, maybe once in five or more years. And of course we get snow and ice every winter. But we’re accustomed to thinking of our greatest danger as coming from a possible malfunction of the nuclear power plants at Limerick or Three Mile Island, and neither is especially close to us.

We’ve always thought our little piece of paradise was pretty much perfect: temperate, with plenty of water and vegetation, not too many people, not too cold or too hot. No danger from hurricanes, forest fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or the other great natural disasters that seem to strike the rest of the planet with such terrible frequency.

So you can imagine Silence Dogood’s astonishment as she sat on our sofa yesterday afternoon watching “The Red Violin” and the sofa began bouncing up and down like one of those 25-cent vibrating beds they used to have in cheap motels. At first she thought that our black German shepherd, Shiloh, had decided to start crashing into the sofa for some obscure reason of her own. But then she realized that Shiloh wasn’t even in the room.

In fact, Shiloh was sleeping peacefully in the kitchen. So much for the theory that dogs can sense an earthquake long before it hits and warn their people of impending disaster. For an earthquake was, indeed, what Silence was experiencing, our first-ever earthquake. It had struck in Mineral, Virginia, registering 5.8 on the Richter scale and sending shock waves as far as New York and into Ontario.

Yikes! Fortunately, Silence, the house, and our property were none the worse for wear. We’re still checking in with friends and family in D.C. and Virginia to make sure they’re all right. And we still feel lucky to be living here in the precise middle of nowhere in beautiful PA.

Here’s hoping that all our East Coast readers escaped any ill effects, like us, shaken but not stirred!

Cast your vote: Tony Bourdain or Paula Deen. August 23, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. There’s a food fight going on between celebrity chefs/TV icons Anthony Bourdain (author of cookbooks, travel/food books, and tell-alls, including the bestseller Kitchen Confidential, former chef at Brasserie Les Halles in New York City, host of the Travel Channel’s hit show “No Reservations”) and Paula Deen (chef/owner of the Lady & Sons in Savannah, GA, author of bestselling cookbooks and a tear-jerking bio, It Ain’t All About the Cookin’, and supposedly the most beloved chef on television, combining the appeal of Oprah and the latter-day Liz Taylor).

Bourdain is perhaps best known for not sparing the expletives in his tell-it-like- I-see-it commentary. But Paula is no genteel Southern flower, either. So when Tony called her “the most dangerous person in America” (“Plus, her food sucks”) and accused her deep-fried, high-fat cuisine of contributing to America’s obesity epidemic, she fired right back, telling him to “get a life” and asking if someone had peed in his breakfast cereal.

I have to give Paula props on this one, much as I love Tony. Now that he’s given up cigarettes, cocaine, heroin and etc., I’m not sure how he manages to remain so thin (ADHD, bipolar disorder, a rigorous exercise routine?!), but his on-screen diet of endless fatty pig parts and alcohol would hardly contribute to anybody’s health. Most people who took his food regime as an example would weigh 5,000 pounds and be courting diabetes, heart disease, and God only knows what else. He’s certainly not the one to point a finger at the queen of deep-fat frying.

But I digress. Returning this post to its true point, my question for all of you is this: If you could have Paula Deen or Tony Bourdain prepare a meal for you, then sit down and enjoy it with you and talk to you about whatever you wanted to discuss, who would you want to eat with? I know my choice. I want to know your choice. Please let me know! 

          ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

Poor alberts almanac. August 21, 2011

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Poor Albert. We don’t know who he is, but we do know that the wacky blog post searches have continued to pour in to Poor Richard’s Almanac as the summer progresses. Maybe it’s the heat?! Anyway, it’s time for another “best of” roundup. As always, search phrase in bold, our comment following. We hope you enjoy the latest batch as much as we have!

napoleon richard’s almanac, poor alberts almanac, poor richard almanac for texas: Um, whatever.

old blue and deer poem: “There once was a deer that was old and blue/If you were old and people were taking pot shots at you/You’d be blue too.” Does that work for you?

what to do if you don’t have a microwave: God help you. Clearly survival is not an option.

can you eat blight on tomatoes: Please let us know, but let’s just say we’re not planning to follow your example even if you survive.

Dutch recipes poor: We’ll refrain from passing judgement, since Dutch cuisine falls outside our ken. Guess it’s high time Silence Dogood looked into Dutch cuisine so we could see for ourselves.  

eat a james madison: Comment suppressed. Let’s just say we don’t think Mr. Madison would have been to our taste, tiny, bony thing that he was.

side effects of bourbon:  Trust us, they’re all good.

got sprayed by a stink bug on the hand, how long will stink bugs be around: Sprayed by a stink bug?! Maybe it was a mutant skunk. We hope your hand survives, or if not, that you donate it to science. As for how long stink bugs will be around, like kudzu, cockroaches, Japanese beetles, fleas, bedbugs, mosquitos, ticks, and poison ivy, however long it takes to torture human beings and take them to the edge.

blackened brie: Er. Is this for real? Sometimes we just don’t know. We’ve never heard of blackened Brie, but following the era of blackened everything, perhaps chefs are trying to expand. Please let us know if you know of or have tried it!

throw pennies at paul revere grave: This strikes us as disrespectful in the extreme. If you want to voluntarily part with your spare change, please throw it at us.

what cancels out garlic breath: Gas masks work. Or how about murder, or at least a good gag? Chewing fresh mint, cilantro, or ginger might also do the trick.

things to do with ripe tomatoes: Launching them on unsuspecting passersby is our favorite. (Who needs paintball?!) But whipping one out and splatting it in the face of the next petty official who demands ID is definitely an option. Who do they think they are?!

refrigerator pickles using ranch dressing: No, oh no. Silence says that pickles are great, ranch dressing is great, fresh cuke slices dipped in ranch dressing are great, but cukes pickled in ranch dressing are not just gross, how could they possibly be pickled?! She promises to write a post promoting the many benefits of fresh cukes soon. Meanwhile, please refrain from eating pickled cukes in ranch dressing.

red wine margarita recipe named after a car: Uh-huh. We’re not familiar with this drink. We doubt even Jimmy Buffett has ever heard of this one. To avoid a quality vacation in the hospital and/or jail, we suggest that you make sangria with your red wine, enjoy your margaritas straight up, and refrain from driving any car whatever after indulging in any of the above.  

That’s it for this batch! But we’re sure more are on the way…

Trick to keep tomatoes fresh longer. August 20, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , ,
2 comments

Silence Dogood here. Nothing’s as good as a ripe tomato in summer. And nothing’s as gross as a tomato that’s rotted away to a moldy, squashy, splattery, stinking mess seemingly the moment your back was turned. Eeeeewwwww!!!!

No doubt the best way to avoid this is to use your bounty of vine-ripened tomatoes (whether they’re homegrown or fresh from a local farm stand or farmers’ market) to make fresh salsa or fresh tomato sauce as soon as you get them home. But what if you want to save those luscious, incomparable summer treats to enjoy on a burger or BLT or CLT (cheese, lettuce and tomato, for us vegetarian types) or in a Caprese salad (with Romaine, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, a drizzle of olive oil, and salt) or that classic Southern summer lunch combo, sliced ripe tomatoes topped with cottage cheese? Or chopped as an accompaniment to refried beans and all the other goodness of a Mexican Night Fiesta, or in a classic fresh corn and black bean salad? Or you name it?

Thank God, help is now at hand, thanks to the good folks at America’s Test Kitchen, the publishers of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines. They did some experiments to see how to keep ripe tomatoes from going bad, and discovered that they stay fresh a lot longer when stored stem-end down rather than stem-end up.

This is counterintuitive to me, to say the least. I of course know that you’re supposed to keep tomatoes out on the counter or in a bowl at room temperature rather than refrigerating them. But I’ve always kept mine stem-end-up, so I could monitor for the first signs of mold, which always seems to start at the point where the stem is removed from the fruit, and not be taken by surprise. (Nothing like grabbing a tomato from the bowl and discovering that half of it’s gone moldy and rotten; I check mine every day, since I’ve learned from ghastly experience that assuming everything is fine leads to nausea-inducing disaster.)

The America’s Test Kitchen folks speculate that the stem end is the entry point for mold and bacteria. So putting the stem end down prevents that from occurring. They also suggest that moisture escapes through the stem end, causing wrinkling, and that this can be prevented by keeping the stem end down.

What they don’t say, but I assume from their comments, is that they’re putting the tomatoes stem-end down on a flat surface, such as a countertop or paper-lined shelf. Not, in other words, in a bowl as I do, which presumably would still let air (with its attendant bacteria and molds) reach the stem end, no matter what way it was pointed.

But what if, like me, you don’t have the counter space to set out a bunch of stem-end-down tomatoes? Well, here’s a weird trick that the America’s Test Kitchen folks found worked just as well: Tape over the stem end and your tomatoes will keep, plump and mold-free, every bit as long as those stored stem-end-down. Both will stay fresh as just-picked for at least a week.

               ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

The curious case of Uncle Sam’s missing head. August 19, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

No, in case you’re wondering, this isn’t a political commentary. Longtime readers and fans of lawn art may recall previous posts in which our friend Ben chronicled the bizarre behavior of the folks who live at the end of our road. To recap:

* First, they literally chained a two-dimensional wooden depiction of Uncle Sam to the base of their flagpole. The sight of Uncle Sam weighed down with more chains than Marley’s Ghost struck our friend Ben as a trifle unpatriotic, to say the least.

* Then, someone came by and chopped off Uncle Sam’s head. (How could poor Uncle Sam defend himself, chained as he was?)

* Next, the homeowners left the decapitated Uncle Sam figure chained to the post.

* The next development was even more disturbing to our friend Ben. Driving past the house, Silence Dogood and I saw that a second Uncle Sam figure was leaning unobtrusively against a side wall of the house. We speculated that this was an impostor who had killed off the real Uncle Sam and was lurking there, surreptitiously planning to take his place for his own inscrutable but indubitably evil ends.

* This, however, never came to pass. Instead, the homeowners moved both the ersatz Uncle Sam and the decapitated Uncle Sam up onto their porch and secured them both (we shudder to think how) to the wall. Months, perhaps years later, they remain there, an ominous reminder of the unfathomable nature of our fellowmen.

Our friend Ben, who travels this route daily, never passes the house without wondering what the hell its owners are thinking. If the vandals stole poor Sam’s severed head, why not give the body a dignified burial, or at least, put it in the burn pile or out for the trash? If the vandals left the head, why not reattach it with a strip of wood nailed discreetly to the back? In either case, why keep the decapitated body on display like some patriotic version of the Headless Horseman?!

As appalling as it is to think that someone would invade someone else’s property and mutilate their lawn art, it’s even sicker—in our friend Ben’s opinion, at any rate—to leave the mutilated lawn art (now safely out of reach) on display. And our friend Ben still finds it disturbingly unpatriotic. If you’re going to put a patriotic symbol, be it the Stars and Stripes, a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, a replica of the Statue of Liberty, or Uncle Sam, on proud public display, surely you should treat them with the dignity that your admiration warrants.

Our friend Ben says: Uncle Sam has, clearly, already suffered enough.

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