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Doughnuts vs. breakfast: Which costs less? September 29, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I love the music of Bill Miller, award-winning Native American flute-player, guitarist, and songwriter. I was listening to one of my favorites, a poignant song called “Faith of a Child” (the version I have is on his CD “The Red Road”). It’s about a very poor young woman with a menial job and a one-room apartment in a paper mill town. To bring home just how poor she is, he sings “Her brown hands are folded as she bows her head to pray/Over doughnuts and some coffee she made up yesterday.”

The picture of this girl in her single room expressing gratitude for some stale coffee and doughnuts is very powerful, and it and the song are lodged in my memory. So I guess it wasn’t that surprising that it came to mind as our friend Ben and I were splurging on a diner breakfast this morning after a rather harrowing doctor’s appointment, and I was looking at all the coffee and doughnuts going by.

“Ben, which do you think are more expensive, doughnuts or eggs?”

OFB tore his eyes away from his two-plate breakfast long enough to say, “Why doughnuts, of course. A dozen doughnuts must cost at least $4, maybe even $6.”

Hmmm. Refraining from asking how OFB, not the world’s most fervent grocery shopper, happened to know so much about the price of doughnuts, I instead announced, “Ben, let’s stop at the grocery on our way home!”

OFB’s eyes practically stood out on stalks as he stared from me to the (extremely scanty) remains of his breakfast. That look said louder than words that anyone who could even bear to think about food after a breakfast like this must be insane at best.

But by now I was on a mission from God, so I again refrained from pointing out that not everyone at the table had managed to consume two fried eggs, two pieces of bacon, two sausage links, a slice of pork roll, a fat slice of French toast, a giant pancake, a mountain of hash browns, plus half my Swiss cheese-mushroom omelette and both my pieces of rye toast. (My hash browns went home for the chickens.) Plus four cups of coffee. I even refrained from calling for a stretcher, but just barely.

Bearing in mind that we were discussing a girl who was living on coffee and doughnuts, I headed to the lowest-priced of the groceries in this area to do my comparison shopping. (No doubt the prices would be even lower at a discount grocery.) Shock surprise, OFB elected to remain in the car while I conducted my research. but in fairness, I have to say that he at least appeared to still be conscious.

First, those doughnuts. A dozen doughnuts cost between $3 and $4.50. Obviously, this girl would have gone for the $3 box. Bill Miller says she was eating “doughnuts” plural, so let’s assume she had two for her breakfast. If you math geniuses out there are following along, this will tell you that, not counting the stale coffee, her breakfast cost her 50 cents.

I next proceeded to the dairy aisle to price eggs. A dozen medium eggs cost 99 cents. That works out to 8.25 cents an egg. So if she ate two eggs instead of two doughnuts, it would cost her 16.5 cents.

But, though it packs a lot of protein and nutrients, that’s not a very tasty breakfast, is it? So I looked to my left at the cheeses, and saw that I could buy an 8-ounce block of cheese—Cheddar, Swiss, pepper Jack, muenster, you name it—for $1.67. Grating an ounce of cheese on those eggs would add 21 cents to the total.

What about some toast to balance out those eggs? Not just any toast, either—it couldn’t be a fancy brand, but it ought to be whole wheat or multigrain for maximum nutrition. I found big loaves of both 100% whole wheat and 12-grain for, again, $1.67 a loaf. I don’t know how many slices are in a loaf—it looked like a hundred—but to be safe, let’s say 50. If our poor girl had two slices with her eggs, it would cost her an additional 14 cents, and would really help fill her up plus add lots of good fiber.

Okay, that adds up to 51.5 cents, a little over our total. But what if, instead of the cheese, our girl decided to saute some veggies and then break her eggs into the pan on top of them? Heading to the produce section, I carefully weighed, then priced, a small onion (18 cents), medium-large red-skinned potato (40 cents), and a small red bell pepper (74 cents). Actually, the better buy on red peppers was a really big package of pre-sliced peppers for $1.45, three times as much by weight as the single pepper but with no waste in the form of core and stem, so at least as four-five times as much usable pepper for twice the price. We’ll take that one, thanks. And let’s add an 8-ounce box of button mushrooms for $1.67. (This store appears to love 3 for 5 sales.) 

Back in the apartment, let’s say she sautes a third of her onion (6 cents), saving the rest for more breakfasts and/or suppers. She dices half her potato (20 cents) and four strips of bell pepper from the big package (about 23 cents), then slices two mushrooms and tosses them in (again, about 23 cents).

Oops, we’ve done it again: Eggs, toast and veggies would come to $1.02, a bit over twice the cost of her doughnuts. But think what she’d be getting in exchange in terms of nutrition and flavor! And of course, if she just made her eggs with the sauteed onion and one veggie, say, mushrooms or bell pepper, she could drop that cost down to 59 cents for a yummy, nourishing breakfast.

Let’s take this a little further, and assume she’s bought all this stuff. If she sautees up a batch of veggies one evening—everything but the potato, and puts them in the fridge, she could have her 59-cent breakfast. Then for lunch, she could make two slices of toast, then add a topping of sauteed veggies and split that ounce of grated cheese over the two before running them under the broiler of her battered Goodwill-issue toaster oven. The total cost for a filling, flavorful lunch would come to about 87 cents. If she’d like to make a grilled cheese-and-veggie sandwich instead of the openfaced ones, she could add an extra ounce of cheese to bring the grand total to $1.08.

What about supper? She could boil, bake, mash, or roast her potato, and eat it topped with grated cheese and veggies for about $1.13. Or have it with grated cheese and a side of raw pepper strips for about 76 cents. If she had rice, she could make a big plate of fried rice with sauteed veggies and an egg stirred in at the end for between $1 and $1.50.

Boiled eggs and toast for another day’s breakfast? At last, 40.5 cents, less than the cost of two doughnuts! The extra 8.5 cents could pay for a teensy smear of butter for that toast.

Are these the healthiest meals you could possibly eat? Of course not. (Look ma, no salad, no fruit!) Would you find them boring? Probably. Would you have to restock, at least on the eggs, cheese, and veggies, before week’s end? Absolutely. The bread and rice would probably be the sole survivors. But given a choice between doughnuts and stale coffee and this menu, I’d go for this one in a heartbeat. Being poor needn’t mean eating poor!

Amish funeral… potatoes?! September 27, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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2 comments

Silence Dogood here. I’ve heard often about Amish funeral pie, a raisin pie (not unlike mincemeat) that is popular at post-funeral gatherings because it can be left out unrefrigerated (a good thing, since many Amish don’t have access to propane refrigerators, much less electricity) after cooking, and keeps very well. But I was bemused when a reader came onto our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, seeking a recipe for Amish funeral potatoes.

I didn’t think the reader was confusing potatoes for pie (though they may have been confusing the Amish and Mormons, as we’ll see). I was determined to get to the bottom of this.

My first cast came up empty. The Amish Cook at Home, a beautiful, personable cookbook by Lovina Eicher with Kevin Williams (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2008), didn’t even have a potato recipe, much less a recipe for funeral potatoes. What, no potato recipes?! I was disconcerted but undaunted. Ten more cookbooks quickly joined The Amish Cook on my table.

Two well-known authors of Amish-themed romances, Beverly Lewis and Wanda E. Brunstetter, have each written cookbooks. Alas, The Beverly Lewis Amish Heritage Cookbook (Bethany House, 2004) had no funeral potatoes, though it did have a pretty appealing recipe for Scalloped Potatoes with Cheese Sauce.  I was no luckier with Wanda Brunstetter’s Amish Friends Cookbook (Barbour Publishing, 2007), which has recipes for Scalloped Potatoes and for Pork Chops and Potato Sausage Pie, but nary a sign of funeral potatoes.

Hmmm. Perhaps there’d be a recipe for funeral potatoes in a Mennonite cookbook, Mennonites being another Plain sect and the elder spiritual brothers of the Amish. Hefting the massive Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets by Esther H. Shank (Herald Press, 1987), I saw something that might be promising: a recipe for Quick Company Potatoes. That sounded appropriate for a funeral! But if someone served me this conglomeration of frozen hash browns with cans of cream of potato and cream of celery soup, I’d be tempted to join the deceased. Surely no reader could be looking for that!

Next, I pulled down the 1983 edition of the Koch Buch: A Collection of Pennsylvania German Recipes from the Kutztown Pa. Senior Neighborhood Center. Little Kutztown is just 10 minutes from my house, and the Amish are part of the group known as the Pennsylvania Dutch (actually Deitsch, their dialect for Deutsch, German). Maybe folks who were senior citizens in the ’80s would remember funeral potatoes.

Wrong again. There were recipes for Potato Filling and for Boiled Cabbage and Potato Filling (the creator of this version suggested also mixing in some applesauce!). But filling, a mashed potato/dressing hybrid comprised of variations on mashed potatoes with bread and seasonings, is so ubiquitous throughout Pennsylvania Dutch Country that it would hardly have gained the additional name of funeral potatoes, I reasoned.

All righty then, I still had The Kutztown Area Historical Society 1892-1992 Commemorative Cookbook, as plump as the Koch Buch was slim. This one had some delicious-looking potato recipes, including Potato Pie and Swiss Fried Potatoes, as well as another version of the hash-browns-and-canned-soup glop, I mean, casserole. Could a potato pie feature at a funeral, a savory version of Amish funeral pie?

Next up: Boyertown Area Cookery (Boyertown Historical Society, 2nd ed. 1985), from another nearby community. This one had Grandmother’s Creamed Potatoes, Potato Drops, Sour Potatoes, Potato Filling (3 versions), and Leftover Mashed Potato Cakes.

This book also contained two intriguing insights into Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine: “When frying cooked potatoes break up pie crust and stir it into the sliced potatoes and fry right along with the potatoes.” (Waste not, want not for this thrifty, pie-loving people.) And “Many Dutch housewives pour milk on vegetables before turning them into a serving dish and sending them to the table, often to the point that the vegetables float. No thickening is added but generally a glob of butter is put to it.”

Moving on to a cookbook from another local sect with the wonderful name of Schwenkfelders, I peeked into The Palm Schwenkfelder Church Cookbook. (Palm is the name of the town, and yes, we’re still in Pennsylvania, not Florida. Go figure.) This one also had a selection of potato dishes, including Potatoes au Gratin, Baked Sliced Potatoes, Potato Pie, Herb Potatoes, Gourmet Potatoes, Creamy Potato-Carrot Casserole, and two variations on potato cakes, Cornflaked Potatoes and Sauerkraut Potato Cakes or Patties.

And it had five—count them, five—variations on the dreaded hash brown/canned soup casserole, including one the contributor claimed was from Texas and three that were topped with cornflakes. Oh, surely not! One contributor noted that this dish was “Standard fare at Easter dinner.” No doubt if the Easter bunny catches sight of it, he’ll dive back down his rabbit hole and we’ll have six more weeks of winter.

It was time to delve into a little regional culinary history, so next up was The Landis Valley Cookbook: Pennsylvania German Foods and Traditions (Landis Valley Museum, Stackpole Books, 2nd. ed., 2009). This beautifully photographed and fascinating book devotes an entire chapter to funerals! Surely I could finally find the answer.

They had this to say about funeral dinners: “Food items were needed that would keep well and could be easily served. Certain foods came to be associated with funerals because they were served so often on these occasions. For example, raisin pie became known as funeral pie. Dried foods and pickles were common fare before modern methods of preserving, so they frequently appeared at funeral meals… The meals included cold meats, bread and butter, dried peaches, stewed prunes, pickles, and schmieres such as apple butter. Also, pies, rusks (rolls), cheese, and sometimes mashed potatoes and stewed chicken were served.”

The book gives an actual menu from a 1914 Pennsylvania German funeral which includes no potatoes, but does feature 100 cigars and 2 sticks of chalk. (I’m still trying to figure out what the chalk was for.) It also gives recipes for the classic raisin funeral pie and Potato White Bread, as well as homemade butter to eat on it.

Last but by no means least, I reached for two books by the great food historian of the Pennsylvania Dutch, William Woys Weaver, Sauerkraut Yankees: Pennsylvania Dutch Food & Folkways (Stackpole Books, 2nd. ed., 2002) and the extraordinarily beautiful, atmospheric Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking (Abbeville Press, 1993). Would the mystery be resolved now?

Sauerkraut Yankees mentions that cakes and vast quantities of, ahem, liquid refreshment were served at Pennsylvania Dutch funerals (though no alcohol was served at Amish funerals, I hasten to add!), but gives no hint as to the dishes served at the meal itself. However, Will Weaver has this to say about the Pa. Dutch funeral tradition: “By the mid-nineteenth century, it was not unusual for some funeral dinners to exceed 1,000 guests, particularly if the deceased had been a well-to-do farmer or a respected figure in the community… The great funeral banquet was something that the Pennsylvania Dutch looked forward to all their lives.” Yowie zowie. 

Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking sadly provides no references to funerals whatever, and includes no funeral-themed recipes, not even for one for funeral (raisin) pie. I was at the end of my in-house resources. It was time for a chat with my good friend Google. And that’s where the Mormons come in.

Googling “Amish funeral potatoes,” I was instead taken to a number of links for Mormon funeral potatoes, including a blog called Simply Simmer (http://simplysimmer.blogspot.com/) with a recipe for Creamy Funeral Potatoes in an April 23, 2011 post. The post says this: “Named ‘Funeral Potatoes’ for commonly being served as a side dish at traditional Mormon post-funeral family dinners… Many of my Amish relatives make a variation of this…” And sure enough, there’s the casserole recipe, with frozen hash browns, Velveeta, and canned cream of mushroom soup. 

Chowhound’s (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/) Home Cooking board also has a thread on Mormon Funeral Potatoes, with tons of recollections of Utah-raised Mormons enjoying them at funerals, plus a number of reader-contributed variations and a suggestion to find the basic recipe on the Ore-Ida website. And yes, it’s the same hash-brown/canned soup/cornflake, ah, creation.

Oh, dear. I’m sure by now you’re expecting a recipe, but if you want to make that, you’ll have to go to the Ore-Ida website, Chowhound, or Simply Simmer. I will give you a recipe, though, for something that I think would go well at a funeral dinner. It’s the Potato Pie recipe from The Kutztown Area Historical Society 1892-1992 Commemorative Cookbook, contributed by Arlene Wendell. As you’ll see, it’s actually a crustless quiche, and since quiche is good served either hot or at room temperature, it should hold up well on the funeral table. And hey, it does include (actual) potatoes!

                Potato Pie 

6 large eggs

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3 cups diced, cooked potatoes

6 ounces grated Swiss cheese

4 ounces diced ham

1/2 cup diced green peppers

1/2 cup milk

Generously butter a 9-inch pie plate. In a large bowl whisk eggs, onion, salt and pepper. Add potatoes, cheese, ham, peppers, and milk. Stir to blend. Pour into prepared dish. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until set. Cut into wedges. Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie.

All righty then. If I were making it, I think I’d use a quiche-friendly piecrust, up the onion, omit the ham, and use a yellow rather than green bell pepper. Maybe add a smidge of nutmeg or powdered fennel or basil to enhance the Swiss cheese and potatoes. But that’s just me. At least try it without the crust first! And I hope it’s a very, very long time before any of us have to eat any of these funeral foods in the setting for which they’re intended!

                ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

Help save Landreth Seeds. September 26, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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It’s not too often that you get to order seeds from the same company that supplied George Washington (and every President through FDR). But thanks to Landreth Seeds’ focus on heirloom varieties, you can not only order from the same company, you can order some of the same veggies that Washington grew and ate at Mount Vernon! But probably not for long.

Loving both gardening and Early American history as we do here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we’ve been rooting (if you’ll pardon the pun) for Landreth’s success ever since we first read an article last year about the company’s return to its roots back here in scenic PA. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood quickly wrote a post about Landreth, “New life for an old seed company,” which you can find by typing the post title or “Landreth Seed” in our search bar at upper right. And of course we ordered a catalog from the company’s website (www.landrethseeds.com). 

To say that Silence and I were speechless when the catalog arrived is not only an understatement but a lie, given our chronic inability to shut up under almost any circumstances. Instead, let’s say that we had never seen such a gorgeous catalog in our lives. It wasn’t just a catalog, it was a keepsake, a journey through 225 years of American and gardening history, a treasury of heirloom plants, a magnificent collection of 300 color photos of vegetables, herbs and flowers. Packed with delightful illustrations and tips from historic Landreth catalogs, the company wisely created a vintage look for the catalog itself and put the photos in a central insert on very high-quality, high-gloss paper that gave the veggies an almost holographic quality. The catalog quickly joined our permanent horticultural library collection.

Having worked for publishing companies ourselves, part of our discussion was how Landreth could afford to just give away such an expensively produced catalog for free. Turns out, they couldn’t: It was a one-time promotional deal, with subsequent catalogs selling for $5. Which brings us to the present.

Silence and I were horrified to see a story in Yahoo’s local news section, “Venerable seed company in last-ditch bid to survive,” from yesterday’s (9/25/11) Philadelphia Inquirer (read it at http://www.philly.com/). Gack! Was Burpee going down the tubes? Alas, it turned out to be Landreth that was circling the drain.

The company, which was purchased and reinvented by venture capitalist and passionate gardener Barbara Melera in 2003, has finally turned a profit this year. But to keep the business going, the owner must put that money back into Landreth, and meanwhile, investors are getting antsy about not recouping the money they put up for the relaunch. One is suing, and as a result, a judge has frozen Landreth’s assets. Determined not to give in without a fight, Ms. Melera is trying to raise money from seed sales and pre-sales of the 2012 catalog before this coming Friday. If she fails, Landreth, in continuous operation since 1784, will have to close.

Now, we realize that being asked to pay $5 for a catalog when every other garden catalog we’re aware of is still free could be a stumbling block. But this is not just any catalog. In a time when almost every throwaway magazine on the racks costs at least $5 (uh, we mean $4.99), buying a beautiful, informative, richly historical catalog the size of a large magazine strikes us as a good use of money. We guarantee you’ll want to keep yours, too.

And preserving a great source of heirloom seeds is a worthwhile investment for every gardener. To quote the article: “Were Landreth to go out of business, or be sold and materially transformed, John Torgrimson, executive director of Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, says more than a business would be lost.” In the fight to preserve the diversity of our vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers, we can’t afford to lose such a valuable resource. 

If you’d like to help, you can go to Landreth’s website to order seeds, garlic for fall planting, and etc., and/or to preorder the catalog; they apparently also have a busy Facebook page.

Stop spraying my salad stuff. September 25, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I absolutely hate the fact that for years, I haven’t been able to approach the lettuce display in the produce section of a grocery without being attacked blasts of misted water. If I’d wanted to be sprayed with water, I’d have stayed home and taken a shower, or, say, gotten into a water-pistol fight with our friend Ben.

Worse still, I now have to bag up dripping produce, which is, you may have noticed, not at all happy or even willing to go inside a plastic produce bag. (Which is already hard enough to open, not unlike those hateful childproof bottle caps. But I digress.)

But far worse than any of this is the indisputable fact that constantly being sprayed with water causes produce to rot much faster than it would if it were left dry. A bunch of sprayed cilantro barely lasts long enough to rush home and use within the first two hours before it collapses into an oozing, slimy mess. And imagine what perfect conditions for the growth of bacteria and mold are created by keeping produce constantly moist? Yum!

I always wondered why nobody else ever talked about this, why people weren’t trying to stop it. Then, finally, I found an article this past week on the Yahoo! Finance site, “How Whole Foods ‘Primes’ You to Shop,” by Martin Lindstrom (September 20, http://finance.yahoo.com/). Mr. Lindstrom’s new book, Brandwashing, investigates how marketers alter our perception of reality by using what he calls “symbolics,” cues that remind us of good things, to get us to pay up for their products. The article, which I recommend to everyone, provides some fascinating examples of this omnipresent manipulation.

Obvious examples of symbolics include seeing a red valentine heart and thinking of love and/or romance, or smelling charcoal grilling and thinking of steak or burgers. In the context of the article, Mr. Lindstrom discussed how goods that would keep perfectly well simply refrigerated were displayed on ice in Whole Foods to up the perception of freshness.

And then, there it was: “Similarly, for years now supermarkets have been sprinkling select vegetables with regular drops of water—a trend that began in Denmark. Why? Like ice displays, those sprinkled drops serve as a symbolic, albeit a bogus one, of freshness and purity. Ironically, that same dewy mist makes the vegetables rot more quickly than they would otherwise. So much for perception versus reality.”

Thank you, Martin Lindstrom!!! But “ironically,” nothing. This way, the markets win twice: First, by persuading customers to buy Broccoli in the Mist. And then, by forcing them to return and buy produce much more often than they’d otherwise have to because their produce has rotted prematurely. This is disgracefully wasteful, in terms of gas, time, and water as well as produce. And you can just bet you’re ponying up a little extra for that parsley to pay for the mist-machine and its ongoing operation.

Big deal, you may be thinking, why don’t you just stop whining and dry it off when you get home? First, it’s already been in the mist for who-knows-how-long, so both the decomposition and the spread of greeblies has already started. Second, I have better things to do with my time than spend hours trying to get every drop of water off produce that shouldn’t have been wet to begin with. Third, I’d never succeed in getting all the water out of those poor veggies, so rot-inducing organisms could still be lurking. And fourth, I like to reuse produce bags to store, say, halves of onions, extra greens, things I’ve harvested from my own garden, cheese, homemade bread, and the like, instead of buying plastic storage bags. Trying to dry out the water-slicked interior of a bag used for sprayed produce is futile.

At any rate, I was overjoyed to see someone actually talking about this, even if it was in a finance forum rather than in a health or sustainable ag context. It’s a start.

And by the way, if you’re in a grocery and see a woman frantically digging through the lettuce or scallions trying to find the driest head or bunch, or leaping back muttering after (inevitably) being hit with the damned mist just as I’d finally found a quasi-dry specimen, or cursing while trying to a) open or b) shove a piece of wet produce into a produce bag, please head on over and introduce yourself. I’d be pleased to meet you!

             ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

The wit and wisdom of Benjamin Franklin. September 24, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to celebrate this blog’s hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, by sharing a few of my favorite of old Ben’s sayings. Doctor Franklin had an unparalled understanding of human nature, and the ability to compress a great deal of wisdom into a single witty, memorable sentence, as you’re about to see.

Let’s find out what Ben has to share with us today:

“He that speaks much, is much mistaken.”

“Three good meals a day is bad living.”

“Who is rich? He that rejoices in his portion.”

“A good example is the best sermon.”

“He that lives upon hope will die fasting.”

“The discontented man finds no easy chair.”

“Love your neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge.”

“A man who is wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.”

“Fear not death, for the sooner we die, the longer we shall be immortal.”

Ben died an old man, but I’m willing to bet he didn’t fear death—he was probably looking forward to exploring all the wonders and phenomena on the other side just as he’d done while on Earth. He certainly succeeded in gaining immortality, however, here among us if not in the afterlife.

Please share your favorite Ben Franklin quotes with us!

                  Warmly,

                             Richard

Gack, they’re baaaack! September 23, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Stinkbugs, that is. Silence Dogood here. Fall has definitely arrived here in our part of scenic PA: the corn and soybean fields are turning gold, walnuts are littering the ground, and night temperatures are dipping into the 40s. It gets dark early and stays dark late. Our friend Ben and I are hopeful that the reign of terror brought on by the wet summer, in the form of a plague of mosquitoes, will soon draw to a close.

But as one plague ends, another begins. Longtime readers know of my hatred of stinkbugs, so you can imagine my horror when I looked out our deck door and saw the first stinkbug of fall clinging to it. Then I saw three more on the kitchen window. “BENNNN!!!”

Mind you, to my knowledge, stinkbugs carry no diseases like West Nile virus or malaria that they can transmit to people or animals. Unlike mosquitoes, they won’t suck your blood. Nor are they likely to bite you. The reasons I loathe them are a) their en-masse migration into the house when the weather turns cold, which is pretty much impossible to prevent, and b) their modus operandi once in the house.

You see, the brown, shield-shaped stinkbugs lurk unobtrusively on doorframes, curtains, and the like. Then they suddenly blast off, with a roaring buzz, and crash-land, usually on your shirt, pillow, or other way-too-close location. Not only does the abrupt takeoff and landing scare the life out of sensitive souls like yours truly, but you then have to deal with getting rid of said stinkbug. Apparently, if you crush them, they emit their trademark stink. I’ve never tried this, instead grabbing the offender and tossing it out the door.

Needless to say, given the number of stinkbugs, this activity keeps me pretty busy in the fall and winter. And grabbing a live bug with my bare hand is not, to say the least, my preferred mode of entertainment. Eeeewwww!!!!

To add insult to injury, there are still plenty of mosquitoes hovering around, too, making life miserable for us and our black German shepherd, Shiloh. Too bad stinkbugs don’t eat mosquitoes, and vice-versa. Looks like we’re in for a really long fall. 

              ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

Are you a Luddite? September 22, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, and no, a Luddite isn’t a member of some obscure religious sect. It’s a person like me or our friend Ben who’s technologically inept and perfectly happy with that. Never been on Facebook? Don’t tweet? Never seen a YouTube video? Refuse to Skype? Keep a cellphone only for emergency breakdowns, and can’t remember too clearly how to use it if the car does break down? No worries.

I place a very high value on my time and privacy. If I go online, it’s to check and respond to e-mails, blog, research, check the news, and write (and/or edit). I figure that’s enough of my time spent online, and it’s many hours every day. I don’t want to waste even more time with Facebook, Twitter, and the like. I love peace and quiet, and resent any loud, abrupt intrusions into that stillness. I even have the sound turned off on my computer, and refuse to listen to radio, much less TV, so I’m not subjected to a constant barrage of high-volume ad pitching.

People who interrupt whatever they’re doing—even talking to other people—to frantically answer their phones or an incoming text are incomprehensible (and incomprehensibly rude) to me. My feeling is, if someone wants to reach me and I’m not immediately available, they can e-mail or leave a voice message and I’ll get back to them at my convenience. If whatever they have to say isn’t important enough to warrant leaving a message, it’s not important, period.

However. OFB and I don’t watch TV, we don’t even get TV reception here in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. I would not want to waste my time plunked in front of a TV screen, but I realize that TV, celebrity, and trendiness are the great unifying factors of our society. I may never have heard Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, but I feel I ought to at least have heard of them, so I don’t seem like an alien when I go out in public. (Friends pitch in on this, too, subjecting—I mean, exposing—me to everything from Adam Lambert to Lil’ Wayne. Me, I prefer Kelly Clarkson and 50 Cent, but I digress.)

My Yahoo home page helps out here, too, with its endless barrage of celebrity coverage. OFB and I love movies and watch them regularly via Netflix (again, putting us in control of what we choose to see), so I’m familiar with a lot of the stars who regularly feature in the headlines. If I’ve never heard of them, I tend to assume they must be on TV.

But there’s another effortless way to trend-spot and stay current that a colleague put me onto years ago: DailyCandy (www.dailycandy.com). The folks at DailyCandy tirelessly search for what’s hot, and what should soon be hot, nationally and locally, and you can subscribe to get regular e-mail updates from them. They’ll clue you in to the hot designers, restaurants, artists, spas, vintage clothing stores, cocktails, vacation getaways, yoga classes, you name it. If it’s something you can buy, DailyCandy is on it. I get regular e-mails from them covering the national scene and Philadelphia, the city nearest me, and I try to read them faithfully, though the likelihood of my ever taking advantage of anything they recommend is right up there with an asteroid hitting the earth.

Today’s communication from DailyCandy, however, reminded me of exactly how much of a Luddite I actually was. The e-mail heading was “Make Gift Cards Obsolete.” Well, I spend a fair amount of time and money selecting ever-more-expensive greeting cards for friends and family for birthdays and holidays, and, I’m humiliated to report, assumed “gift cards” meant “greeting cards,” so of course I opened the e-mail to see what DailyCandy had to say on the topic.

Oops. “Gift cards.” Those plastic cards to restaurants and stores you see in racks at the grocery. I’ve never gotten or given one, so they’re peripheral to me, but that’s no excuse for not cluing in on the headline. (And no, I don’t either send or read e-cards, in case you’re wondering. I actually write messages on cards I mail out, and try to make sure the messages say something worth reading.)

Oh, well. Having opened the e-mail, I figured I might as well read it. And oh, boy. It was like a snapshot of the modern, anti-Luddite lifestyle. To access this next-generation, stylish gift-card alternative, Giftly (www.begiftly.com), the giver goes to the site, customizes all the options, and sends the Giftly via Facebook. The recipient redeems the Giftly by clicking a button on her smartphone, and is reimbursed for her purchase via PayPal. (Disclaimer: There are other options as well, should you choose not to use any of the above.)

Facebook. Smartphones. PayPal. A Luddite nightmare all wrapped up in one short paragraph. Not that I’m dissing Giftly itself: It’s customized and beats the hell out of a generic plastic gift card. And, as the DailyCandy notes, unlike a gift card, a Giftly never expires. For most, Giftly sounds like a really great option.

But for Luddites like me, it still doesn’t feel right, even if I was supremely comfortable owning and using all the tech toys required to access it. I want to choose gifts for the people I want to give gifts to. (Otherwise, why not just hand them a check? God knows, we all could use one!)

I want to patronize local businesses and boost community well-being. I want to go into each shop, chat with each proprietor, and ask the person who made each piece of pottery or jewelry or herb blend or quilt or carving, or grew each beautiful plant or vegetable, or made each loaf of bread or wheel of cheese or bottle of wine, or selected each book or antique, all about it. I want to see it, feel it, smell it. If it feels right, if it makes me feel happy thinking about the person I intend it for opening the package and seeing it, hooray. Another joyful, community-enhancing, hands-on transaction.

What if the person you’re giving a gift to lives far away, or you have no clue what they’d like? If they live far away, that’s why God invented FedEx, UPS, and the postal service. If you don’t have any idea what they’d like, why on earth are you sending them a gift to begin with? I tell you, a check is always appreciated, especially in this economy. Or, say, a crisp new bill in a greeting card, be it a $5 or $100. Or maybe a Silver Eagle. But again, I digress.

Those who enjoy giving and receiving gift cards and are techno-competent, by all means click the link and check out Giftly (and subscribe to DailyCandy while you’re at it). But if you’re on our gift list, you’d better check your mailbox instead.

               ‘Til next time,

                               Silence

The egg(shell) and I. September 21, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, wit and wisdom.
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1 comment so far

Silence Dogood here. If you’ve ever cracked an egg, you’ve probably experienced that “oh, no” moment when one or more tiny fragments of shell ends up in your bowl or pan along with the yolk and eggwhite. Eeeewww! How do you get those slippery, slimy fragments of shell out of your dish so that nobody bites down or chokes on them while they’re eating?

Trying to fish them out with your fingers is futile; they just slip away. I was taught to use one of the eggshell halves to scoop up the fragments, and this does in fact work. The problem is, you often end up scooping up precious eggwhite along with the pieces of shell.

So I was thrilled to discover an online article, “7 Kitchen Tricks You Should Know,” on Yahoo.com. One of the tricks was how to get tiny pieces of eggshell out of the bowl. “Next time, wet your finger with water before attempting to fish it out,” the article said. “You’ll be shocked at how easily it can be grabbed and eliminated.”

“Grabbed and eliminated” sounds a little too Terminator-like to me, and “shocked” is a bit extreme, but “removed” certainly works. You can bet I’ll try this next time the inevitable happens. You should, too!

‘Til next time,

                 Silence

Please save Porkus Maximus. September 20, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets.
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1 comment so far

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood weren’t quite prepared for the lead story in yesterday’s edition of our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call. It was about Porkus Maximus. What was this, an expose of pork-barrel politics? A commentary on the porcine greed of obscenely bloated multinational corporations? The percentage of Americans contributing to the national obesity epidemic?

Well, no. The article, “Supporters go whole hog for Porkus,” was about a pet potbellied pig who’s being threatened with eviction from his home in nearby Whitehall Township. Usually, when a pet is threatened with eviction, it’s because it’s damaging a landlord’s property or because a neighbor complains about nonstop barking or because it’s threatening to attack people. In poor Porkus’s case, none of this is true.

According to the article, the entire neighborhood, including all the neighborhood dogs, loves Porkus. Porkus’s family owns their own home, so landlords don’t enter the picture. Porkus is quiet, clean, and friendly to everyone. So what’s the problem?

Turns out, a Whitehall zoning officer caught sight of Porkus sunning happily in his own fenced yard, declared that he was livestock, that owning livestock was illegal in Whitehall Township, and that the pig had to go. Porkus’s owner, backed by various potbellied pig associations across the country, contends that potbellied pigs are pets, not livestock, since neither they nor their byproducts (like milk) are used for consumption or commerce. 

The neighborhood has rallied to Porkus’s defense. Hundreds of people have signed the “Save Our Porkus Maximus” petition. Even a daycare center has gotten into the act, hosting a pro-Porkus rally featuring plastic pig noses and a big “Precious People hearts Porkus” sign.

But time is running out for Porkus. His township hearing is at 7 p.m. tonight, September 20th. If the zoning board rules against him, he’ll have to go, leaving a family that loves him and a neighborhood where he’s a celebrity. (Read the article in its entirety at www.themorningcall.com.)  

Now, our friend Ben and Silence are not exactly what you’d call pig people. (Though OFB admits to a fondness for barbecued ribs, bacon, sausage, pork roast, and barbecue sandwiches.) We’ve never understood the appeal of potbellied pigs as pets, since to us, they look like, well, pigs.

But we were immediately drawn to Porkus because of his Latin name. We ourselves are the proud owners of Plutarch the Pirate Parrot. And when our black German shepherd, Shiloh, condescends to actually eat her food, she lies down to dine as if she were at a Roman banquet, at which point we refer to her as The Emperor Caliguleash or The Empress Hungricula. We decided to visit Wikipedia and other sources to find out more about potbellied pigs.

Our research turned up some data: Potbellied pigs are intelligent, inquisitive, trainable, quiet, and docile. They can reach weights of 60 to 300 pounds as adults, with the average about 120-150 pounds (though some very miniature pigs only reach 20 to 30 pounds, but this is the rare exception). They grow about as big as a midsize to large-breed dog, though they’re considerably, uh, stouter in body type. And like domestic dogs and cats, it’s recommended that they be neutered or spayed when they’re 6 months old. They can live to be 12 to at least 15 years old; the oldest known here in the U.S. lived to be 19.

It’s true that the Vietnamese potbellied pig is simply a breed variation of the barnyard pig, which itself is a domesticated descendant of the wild boar. And it’s also true that in Vietnam, potbellied pigs are raised for food, not friendship.

But we don’t think this makes the livestock argument valid. In Korea, dogs are eaten as a delicacy. In Peru, guinea pigs are raised for meat. Rabbits are raised for meat worldwide. Parrots are eaten where they’re indigenous (they taste just like chicken, no doubt). We Americans keep all these as pets, along with those other delicacies, fish, reptiles, and amphibians (frog legs, anyone?). Yet nobody slaps a zoning notice sign in our yards telling us we can’t have dogs, bunnies, parrots, guinea pigs, iguanas, and the like as pets and must give them up because they’re livestock.

We still don’t want a pet pig, thank you. We’ll stick with dogs, cats and birds. But we think Porkus should be allowed to remain in his home, undisturbed by officious types who create problems where none previously existed, all at taxpayer expense. Porkus Maximus, we’re, er, rooting for you!

Update: Good news, pro-Porkus people! The zoning board voted to allow Porkus to remain in his happy home. Sixty people from the neighborhood turned out to support Porkus, with none opposing. Whew!

Open wide and say “Aaaarrrrr!!!” September 19, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Today, September 19th, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and we pirate-mad lubbers here at Poor Richard’s Almanac would like to celebrate.

You can get in on the celebration by searching for some of our previous posts in the search bar at upper right, including “The best pirate movies,” “Ben Picks Ten: Pirates,” “Pirate myths: true and false,” “A piratical post,” “The ones who got away,” “Time to talk like a pirate,” “Food fit for a pirate” (with recipes), “Food fit for a Creole pirate” (ditto), “Giving pirates a bad name,” and “Blackbeard in the news.”

There’s a whole week of piratical mayhem going on in Philadelphia and other cities up the Atlantic Seaboard, which launched with a pirate battle yesterday aboard the tall ship Gazela. Read all about it at www.philly.com, “Mock-pirate skirmish on the Delaware amid Seaport Festival.” The descriptions are priceless.

You can also check out two of the best pirate-themed websites, the Official Site for International Talk Like a Pirate Day (http://www.talklikeapirate.com/), run by those illustrious pirates, Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket, authors of the classic books Pirattitude and The Pirate Life: Unleashing Your Inner Buccaneer, and No Quarter Given (http://www.noquartergiven.net/), home of the No Quarter Given pirate magazine and a book, The Book of Pirates: Plundering, Pillaging, and Other Pursuits

But if you’d rather walk the talk than read about it, here are a few suggestions for ways to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day:

* Begin every conversation and phone call by shouting “AAAARRRR!!!” (or “YAAARRR!!!”) Hopefully, at least one call will be from a telemarketer.

* Watch some piratical movie classics like “Captain Blood,” “The Black Swan,” “The Buccaneer,” or “Swashbuckler,” or indulge in a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie fest.

* Quench your thirst while watching movies with some piratical rum-based beverages from Silence Dogood’s post “Food fit for a pirate.” Or just drink some English Harbour Antigua Rum or Gosling Black Label straight up. Shiver me timbers!

* Fly the Jolly Roger over your home and/or car. Give the neighbors something to talk about.

* Walk around all day attired as your favorite pirate. Remember that an eyepatch and/or huge hoop earring always adds panache. Ditto a parrot, real or faux. A prominently displayed pistol and cutlass should probably be enough to cut off any derisive comments from killjoys who don’t understand that wearing a costume and getting into character is fun. Especially if the pistol is loaded.

* Lard your conversation with piratical phrases such as “Yo ho, me hearties!” “A pirate’s life for me!” “Dead men tell no tales!” “X marks the spot!” “Send that lubber to Davy Jones’s locker!” “You savvy?” “Bring out the swag!” “Take no prisoners!” and the like. Bonus points if you teach your parrot any of these phrases.

So say it loud and say it proud: “Aaaarrrrr!!!! Yaaaaarrrr!!! A pirate’s life for me!!!”

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