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Hoppin’ John for New Year’s Eve. December 31, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Did you grow up with the New Year’s tradition that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve would bring good luck in the coming year? If so (or even if not), you might appreciate a few variations on that classic black-eyed pea recipe, Hoppin’ John, to add to your New Year’s repertoire. Choose your favorite or try ‘em all!

The first is a down-and-dirty basic Hoppin’ John from that priceless cookbook, White Trash Cooking by Ernest Matthew Mickler:

               Hoppin’ John

1 cup raw cowpeas [aka black-eyed peas---Silence]

4 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup raw rice [aka uncooked rice---Silence]

4 slices bacon fried with 1 medium onion, chopped

Boil peas in salted water until tender. Add peas and 1 cup of the pea liquid to rice, bacon (with grease) and onion. Put in rice steamer or double-boiler and cook for 1 hour or until rice is thoroughly done. [Note: 1 cup of rice in my rice cooker only takes about 1/2 hour to cook.---Silence] Black-eyed peas or canned peas will work if they’re already cooked.

Here’s a spicier version from Miss Daisy Celebrates Tennessee by Daisy King. (Miss Daisy’s Tea Room in Franklin, Tennessee was one of my favorite restaurants when I lived down there.)

          Hot and Spicy Black-Eyed Peas

3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 bell pepper, chopped

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 17-ounce can black-eyed peas

1 16-ounce can whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped [Yikes---hard to chop undrained tomatoes! I think I'd buy a can of diced tomatoes if I were making this.---Silence]

about 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Assemble all ingredients and utensils. Cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and saute onion and bell pepper; drain. Crumble bacon and reserve for later. In a saucepan, mix remaining ingredients and heat to boiling, then simmer for 20 minutes. Pour mixture into serving dish; sprinkle with bacon and parsley. Yield: 8 servings.

The third variation is from The El Paso Chile Company’s Texas Border Cookbook and is called Hoppin’ Juan (priceless!). Mind you, I’d make a few changes. I’d cut way back on the chiles—probably using just one the first time I made it, then upping the ante if I thought it could use more heat—and add a big diced sweet onion along with the green onions and garlic. If I didn’t feel like I had time to char, steam, peel, stem, and seed the chile(s), I might come up with a jarred version, or simply substitute some hot sauce (like my beloved Pickapeppa). But this recipe certainly sounds promising! Note that it’s vegetarian- and vegan-friendly.

        Hoppin’ Juan

6 long green chiles

1 1/2 cups black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed 

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup olive oil

3 green onions, trimmed and sliced (about 1/2 cup)

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 cup cooked white rice

In the open flame of a gas burner or under a preheated broiler, roast the long green chiles, turning them, until they are lightly but evenly charred. Steam the chiles in a paper bag, or in a bowl covered with a plate, until cool. Rub away the burned peel. Stem and seed the chiles and coarsely chop them.

In a medium saucepan, cover the black-eyed peas with cold water. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes, stir in the salt, and cook another 10 to 12 minutes, or until just tender. Drain. (The peas can be cooked up to 1 day ahead. Refrigerate, covered.)

In a large skillet over low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the green onions, garlic, and cumin and cook, covered, stirring once or twice, for 4 minutes. Stir in the chiles and cook 2 minutes. Stir in the black-eyed peas and the rice and cook, covered, stirring once or twice, until heated through. Adjust seasonings and serve. Serves 6 to 8.

The authors point out that this also makes an easy salad if you stir in 2 or 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, cool to room temperature, and sprinkle with minced fresh cilantro just before serving.

Okay, your turn! What’s your favorite recipe for black-eyed peas? Do you eat them for luck on New Year’s Eve? Let us hear from you!

            ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

Best spam e-mail of 2011. December 30, 2011

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“Christmas is coming, buy Viagra!”

So that’s why the kid saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus…

A salad a day. December 30, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, I decided to indulge myself in one of my favorite activities, a visit to the antiques mall. I always feel that visiting an antiques mall is like time-traveling, seeing the way ordinary people lived in the past, what they used and what they cherished, what they displayed in their best rooms and what made up their everyday surroundings. It’s like going to a free museum, where you can learn things about your own grandparents and many-times-great grandparents that you’d never have known.

Thanks to Christmas, I had a tiny bit of spending money and was ready for anything, except, perhaps, what I actually found: The Calendar of Salads. This Art Deco gem was actually designed in calendar format, suspended from a braided silk rope, with a salad recipe for every day of the year. It had been updated for World War I, but clearly dated from an earlier era, at a guess somewhere between 1890 and 1910.

The author of The Calendar of Salads, Elizabeth O. Hiller, was described by the publisher as “One of America’s Four Famous Cooks.” Who were the others?! Fannie Farmer, no doubt. Perhaps Mrs. Beeton still loomed large in the American culinary landscape. But who else? This was long before Julia Child, long before Irma Rombauer of Joy of Cooking fame. I’m dying to know, so if you have an idea or a guess, please check in and share with us! 

You know you’re not in Kansas anymore when you flip up the cover of The Calendar of Salads and see that it begins with a quotation from Oliver Goldsmith, followed by a reference to Virgil. Having established a suitably literary tone, Mrs. Hiller goes on to bring in the dietary big guns to show why “salads play a very important part in our daily dietary.” She explains that “The oil [in the dressing] furnishes heat and energy as well as adipose tissue, while the uncooked fresh vegetables [think lettuce] contain valuable salts (mineral matter) which enter into all parts of the body’s structure.” In other words, the oil provides calories to help build up our fat deposits. Thanks for that.

Mrs. Hiller adds in her (as the publisher notes) “interesting foreword,” without further elaboration, the somewhat mind-boggling statement that “It is surprising the close relationship that exists between the eye and the digestive organs.” Er. Whatever. 

Moving on to the salads themselves, what does Mrs. Hiller suggest that we serve our families and guests? Let’s take a look:

For January 2, when people would presumably be recovering from the excesses of New Year’s, she offers this delectable creation:

                Frog Leg Salad

Cook 2 doz. frog legs in boiling, salted water until tender; remove the meat from the bones and cut in pieces; peel and cut 1 c. of cucumber or crisp celery, in small cubes. Toss all lightly together and mix thoroughly with mayonnaise. Serve in crisp lettuce heart leaves; add 1 green pepper, shredded, or 2 tbsp. pimientos, finely chopped, garnish with small radishes, cut to imitate tulips.

No doubt guests confronted with this dish would appreciate the delicacy of the tulip-shaped radishes. Skipping January 7′s Brussels Sprouts and Chestnut Salad, let’s move on January 11′s salad suggestion:

                Banana and Pimento Salad

Peel, scrape (with a silver knife) 3 ripe plantain (red bananas). Cut in three pieces crosswise, then cut each piece lengthwise in 9 strips. Sprinkle them with lemon juice to prevent discoloring. Arrange them in nests of lettuce leaves and strew over with thread-like strips of pimento. Garnish with Chantilly mayonnaise.

Hmmm, the “i” appears to have disappeared from “pimiento” between January 2 and 11. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been told that plantains had to be cooked to be edible. But let’s forget these quibbles and move on to January 19, which presents us with:

                       U. of C. Salad

Grate 1 c. American cream cheese; add 3 Neuchatel [sic] cheeses and work to a paste with a wooden spoon; add 1 doz. olives finely chopped, 3 pimientoes [whew, the "i" made it back in, but what's with those "toes"?!] cut in bits. 1/2 c. chopped pecan nut meats and salt, paprika and few grains cayenne. Moisten with heavy cream and shape with butter pats in small ovals. Arrange in nest of cress, sorrel or lettuce heart leaves. Marinate with French dressing. Serve with horseradish dressing.

I don’t know if “U. of C.” referred to the University of Connecticut, Colorado, or California, but if students were eating this “salad” as part of their daily fare, I suspect their mortality rate was incomprehensibly high. And anyway, what was an oval butter pat shaper? Not to mention, how could anyone grate cream cheese? I’d love to know!

Finally, let’s give you one last salad to round out the month, January 27th’s, Sardine Salad. Oh, yum!

                      Sardine Salad

Remove skin and bones from 12 sardines, cut in 1/2 inch pieces, marinate with French dressing; let stand 1 hr.; drain. Arrange cress or heart lettuce leaves in a shallow serving dish; heap fish in center, cover with 6 deviled olives cut in thin slices crosswise, 3 sweet pickle gherkins cut the same; cut whites of 2 “hard boiled” eggs in narrow strips, arrange them over other ingredients like the petals of a Marguerite; force yolks through a sieve in center. Pipe mayonnaise around base of salad.

A Marguerite, by the way, is an especially lovely daisy. How delightful to find sardines lurking underneath!

If your mouth isn’t watering by now, let me remind you that there are still 361 recipes to go! If you have a special day coming up and would like to prepare a special salad, please do let me know. I’d be so happy to share Mrs. Hiller’s salad recipe for that day with you!

            ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

My perfect Christmas album. December 29, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I love Christmas music. (Though even Ben is starting to turn a little green when I reach for yet another CD, now that we’ve heard it nonstop since the first Sunday of Advent.) We have an extensive Christmas CD collection, and try to add at least one new CD every year (usually that “one” mysteriously multiplies into two or even three). But of course, no single CD is perfect; they all manage to leave out some of our favorites, or throw in songs we despise. And of course, some interpretations are better than others.

This morning, I found myself wondering what I’d include if I could compile my own all-time favorite Christmas CD. Given that there are probably 65,000* Christmas CDs/albums already, with more coming out each year, there are obviously plenty of songs and versions I’ve missed. (Our collection only extends to 27 CDs… so far.) For now, however, here are my choices, in no particular order, except for the first and last:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel. This Advent song expresses our longing for the Lord, and is beautiful, rousing, and singable (three great virtues, in my view). The only recorded version I have is by the Carpenters, and much as I love their Christmas CD, I don’t think they do this one justice. But at least they included it.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. My favorite secular Christmas song. I have several favorite versions, including Amy Grant’s, Karen Carpenter’s, and Bing Crosby’s. Hang your shining star upon the highest bough!

White Christmas. I hate the snow but love the song. There are many great versions of this one, but I’d have to go with Bing Crosby’s, since he’s the man who made the song an enduring Christmas favorite. He recorded several variations; I love the one where he whistles.

Do You Hear What I Hear? Susan Boyle’s duet with Amber Stassi reminds me how much I enjoy this delightful carol.

The Little Drummer Boy. This is one of those Christmas songs you either love or hate, and I happen to love it. Ellen Reid of the Crash Test Dummies does a great rendition, as do Josh Groban and Charlotte Church.

Toyland. To me, this is the “Over the Rainbow” of Christmas songs. It brings the magic of Christmas alive for children, transporting them to a safe, soothing world of wonder and delight. (Unlike, say, the scary, unfathomable “Nutcracker Suite,” which all children are supposed to love. Ha!) Sadly, OFB and I have no recording of this at all; my memory of it is as a Christmas lullaby, sung by my beloved mama.

Silver Bells. Unlike “Jingle Bells,” which we enjoy (as long as it’s not rushed through) but don’t love, “Silver Bells” is one of our favorites. We don’t have nearly as many versions as we’d like, so we’re guessing it tends to be overlooked, but we do have nice interpretations by Bing Crosby (aka Der Bingle) and Karen Carpenter.

Coventry Carol (Lully, Lullay). This beloved 16th-century lullaby to the Christ Child sweetly captures the tenderness of the Virgin’s (and every mother’s) love for her child. Chanticleer sings it as it would have been performed at the time it was written, and Charlotte Church sings a lovely rendition. 

Baby, It’s Cold Outside. James Taylor and Natalie Cole’s riff on this classic may be the most enjoyable—and certainly the most adorable—Christmas song ever. They’re perfect together! Listening to the byplay between them on this song makes OFB laugh out loud every time.

Cold December Night. This song by Michael Buble totally captivated me. It’s so bouncy and upbeat I dare you not to sing along! Thanks, Michael, for adding to our Christmas canon!

What Child Is This? It may strike some as blasphemous that this beautiful hymn is sung to the tune of “Greensleeves,” supposedly composed by King Henry VIII for his lady-love, Anne Boleyn. But we think it’s a great use of a good tune. Josh Groban and Charlotte Church both sing this beautifully, and Andrea Bocelli does a beautiful duet of it with Mary J. Blige.

O Holy Night. Susan Boyle gives a rousing rendition of this beloved carol, and it soars in Charlotte Church’s rendition.

The Huron Carol. I have two favorite versions of this exquisite Native American interpretation of the first Christmas, written by St. Jean de Brebeuf, Patron Saint of Canada, to a traditional Huron melody: Rob Yoder’s on “An Evening of Christmas Music with Daybreak and Friends” and Ellen Reid’s on the Crash Test Dummies’ “Jingle All the Way.” Both have such beautiful voices, I can’t help wishing I could hear them perform the carol together.

Silent Night. Another favorite with many superb versions, the first Christmas carol I ever performed solo. (It may also have been the last.) If I could only choose one, it’s hard to resist Andrea Bocelli’s gorgeous voice on this one.

Sound of the Tambourine. I wish this joyous Christmas song by Emily Cole (also on the Daybreak CD) were better known; to hear it is to love it, and to want to sing it every Christmas.

Once in Royal David’s City. This is a favorite English carol that I think is too seldom heard outside Britain and the Anglican/Episcopal communion. Both the original hymn (if you haven’t heard it, check out the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge’s traditional version) and Ian Anderson’s classic Jethro Tull modernization (“A Christmas Song”) are favorites here.

Gabriel’s Message. This is another traditional British carol, and a majestic one, but it’s so little known outside Britain that we’d never even heard it until we stumbled on wonderful versions by Sting and by Charlotte Church. Well worth discovering! 

Soul Cake. Speaking of Sting, his rousing interpretation of an original song by Peter, Paul and Mary beats “Here We Come a Wassailing” by a mile. Fun and irresistible! But do try to resist the urge to start knocking on all the neighbors’ doors requesting cake, drink, and money. They’re just not used to that.

The Wexford Carol. If you haven’t heard this traditional Irish carol, please try to find it. It will make your heart soar! Celtic Woman’s rendition on “A Christmas Celebration” is ethereal, and we love Loreena McKennitt’s version, too.

Carol of the Bells. Here’s another carol I seldom hear, but I love it because of the beautiful tune (originally a Ukrainian celebration of the arrival of the new year). We only have two versions, a suitably upbeat one by Celtic Woman and a nice instrumental by the Carpenters.

Ring Out Solstice Bells. Ian Anderson’s celebration of the winter solstice may not bring to mind Druids and Stonehenge, but it definitely takes you back. If you haven’t discovered “The Jethro Tull Christmas Album,” check it out; it’s full of great music. Like the Crash Test Dummies’ “Jingle All the Way…” and Sting’s “If on a Winter’s Night…,” it might not be the first Christmas album that springs to mind, but all three are wonderful, if unconventional. (Tull’s is a rousing good time, Sting’s is sometimes dark and morbid, and Crash Test Dummies’ ranges from stunning to downright scary, as in Brad Roberts’ version of “Jingle Bells.” Priceless!) 

O Come All Ye Faithful. A rousing rallying cry to the faithful on Christmas Day. We can never resist its heart-lifting tones, or resist singing along. As with most of the great hymns, there are many beautiful renditions, so I’ll just mention that Josh Groban’s is one of our favorites.

Ave Maria. There are many gorgeous versions of this quintessential hymn of the Annunciation. But I think most beautiful of all—most beautiful of all the songs of Christmas—is Charlotte Church’s performance of the “Ave Maria in A Minor” by Giulio Caccini on “Voice of an Angel.” You don’t want to know how often I’ve tried to sing it myself (when, of course, OFB was out)! Our poor pets are probably suicidal.

Feliz Navidad. My favorite version of this delightfully upbeat carol (so far) is Michael Buble’s duet with Thalia. Another one you just can’t resist joining in on!

The Fallow Way. This is not a Christmas but a winter song, which celebrates the gifts of winter, yet prepares us for the blessings of the coming spring. Written and performed by Judy Collins, it is my favorite of all her songs, and believe me, it has plenty of competition. She invites us to rest in the stillness of the season, while, like the black earth, dreaming of violets. As “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel” seems to me to be the perfect beginning to a Christmas album, “The Fallow Way” seems to me the perfect ending.

There! I’ve sifted and sorted, and come up with the Christmas album I wish I had. The one that, if I could just sing well enough, I wish I’d made. What’s yours?

            ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

* This is just a guess; I tried, but failed, to find the actual number of Christmas albums.

Chocolate decadence for New Year’s. December 28, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Chocoholics, listen up: It’s time to share the recipe for the hands-down most luscious chocolate dessert I have ever eaten. But it’s also the dessert with the worst name I’ve ever heard, a name that’s so embarrassing that you have to steel yourself every time someone tastes it and says “This is the best dessert I’ve ever had! What’s it called?” You’re oh-so-tempted to lie, to just make a name up on the spot. But it’s not your recipe. So you gulp, take a deep breath, and say, “It’s a Chocolate Yummy-Rummy.” But you try very hard not to say it until after the person has already tasted it and is hooked.

Our friend Ben’s mama discovered Chocolate Yummy-Rummies in a Nashville Junior League cookbook when OFB was a child. They were easy to make and tasted indecently decadent—perfect for the holiday season. They immediately became part of Ben’s family’s holiday traditions, and a battered recipe card now resides in my rolltop card box and emerges every year to take its place in our Hawk’s Haven New Year’s celebration as well. Once you taste them, you’ll want to add them to yours. They’re so easy, and you can make them the day before; they’ll taste even better the next day!

Be warned, though: Like Ben’s Simms Family Eggnog, once friends and family have tasted Yummy-Rummies, they’ll want them every year, in spite of their name. (What was that woman thinking?! Maybe she’d been enjoying the leftover rum when she came up with that brilliant idea. But bless her for the recipe, anyway.) And trust me, you won’t mind making up a batch or two every year, either! Here’s all there is to it:

         Chocolate Yummy-Rummy

12-ounce package Tollhouse semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup strong coffee (or 1 teaspoon instant in 1/2 cup boiling water)

4 1/2 tablespoons rum (we prefer Bacardi light rum, silver label for this)

6 eggs, separated

whipped cream and pecan pieces for topping (optional)

Whip egg whites stiff. In a separate bowl, beat yolks with a fork. Heat coffee to boiling and add semisweet chocolate chips, stirring constantly so they don’t stick and burn. When they’re completely melted, remove from the heat and gradually stir in the beaten egg yolks. Add the rum, mixing well. Gently fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites, a half bowl at a time. Pour into dessert cups and refrigerate at least 12 hours before serving. Top with whipped cream (homemade, please) and/or pecan pieces if desired just before serving. (We like both toppings together.) Serves 8 to 10.

See? I told you it was easy! (But I didn’t say it wasn’t messy. Wear a full-body apron to prevent splattering chocolate and whipping cream from getting on your clothes.) Speaking of clothes makes me think of what this dessert reminds me of: The texture is like silk, the flavor like velvet, the finish like satin. It’s not a pudding, a mousse, or a dessert souffle, but there’s something of each in it. Yummy! Try it, serve it: You’ll be so glad you did. But, please: Let people try it before you reveal its name!

           ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

Bah humbracelet. December 26, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. This was a good Christmas for bracelets. I got a gorgeous amber bracelet from our friend Ben, two silver bracelets from my family, and a beaded bracelet from a friend. I love bracelets, so I was very happy. And very aggravated (a sentiment echoed by the longsuffering OFB).

I don’t know what it is about bracelets, but I wish bracelet designers would realize that those of us who wear them aren’t eighteenth-century ladies with our abigails (personal maids) dancing attendance. Why are bracelets still impossible to put on?!

Take the so-called lobster clasps (please). Named for their supposed resemblance to a lobster claw, to fasten a bracelet using one, you have to push down a pin to open the “claw,” then insert the opened claw into a ring on the other end of the bracelet. It takes OFB, on average, five attempts to fasten a lobster clasp, and that’s with me holding the wretched thing immobile with my free hand. Imagine the hours of entertainment trying to do this by yourself, as the ring end slides off your wrist every time you approach it with the opened claw. Not to mention that holding a lobster clasp open while attempting this is the best way I know to break a nail, since you have to use your nail to hold the claw open. GRRRRRRR!

The older style of this form of clasp, which has a ring, also with a pin that must be held open, and a teensy ring on the other end of the bracelet, is no better. I’ve never had a lobster clasp break (unlike my nails), but have had a number of the old-style clasps break. And of course, the even older-style open hook-and-ring or hook-and-clasp fasteners come open so easily, wearing one is like asking to lose your bracelet. (Something to keep in mind if you hate a gift bracelet, but really, Goodwill is a more generous option.)

Then there are bangles. I say, if a bracelet can go on over your hand, it can also fall off. But the real issue with bangles is how clunky they are. Far from decorating your arm, they hang like shackles over your hand, clacking and clanking every time you move your arm and disguising your lovely slender wrists, especially if you wear several at a time. This is especially true for people like yours truly, with enormous hands and slender wrists. By the time I can find a bangle that will go over my hand, it’s practically big enough to wear around my neck. I love bangles as curtain pulls and stands for circular objects, but I don’t wear them as jewelry.

Cuff bracelets, by contrast, are easy to get on. They also easily fall off, usually when you’re in a busy shopping center, jostling packages and wearing a coat. By the time you get home and take the coat off, discovering to your horror that your beloved bracelet is missing, it’s generally gone for good, no matter how hard you try to retrace your steps. (Take this from one who knows.) The exceptions to this rule are the heavy, flat silver cuff bracelets made by Navajo silversmiths. They are painful to put on, but once they’re on, they’re on. Until you have to risk a bruise or two getting them off.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the bracelets that are easy for a person to put on with one hand, and they’re comfortable to wear, too. But they’re fragile, and the more you love to wear them, the sooner they break. These include beaded bracelets strung on elastic thread, my favorites for easy on-easy off wear. But you haven’t lived until you have a pearl stretch bracelet break in an airport, strewing pearls everywhere. Gack!!! Memory wire is also easy to put on, but its memory eventually becomes faulty and the bracelet loses its shape.

Speaking of beaded bracelets, the ones with the beaded loop-and-ball fasteners are the worst of all in my opinion. These tend to be flat, elaborately beaded bracelets that fit very close to the arm, so there’s no extra room on the band; the fastener is directly against your arm. And because the beaded loop isn’t elastic, trying to shove the bead that holds the bracelet closed through the (always too-small) loop is virtually—make that actually—impossible with one hand.

The design that, in my opinion, should take the prize for ease of fastening, durability, and comfort is the bracelet that opens in two halves, then fastens close around your wrist. The size of your hands is no longer an issue, as it is with bangles, and the bracelet fits comfortably rather than bouncing around on your arm, crashing painfully into your hand, or, if you wear several, clanking like the chains on Marley’s ghost. I have several antique versions that close with a pin-and-chain mechanism, and a modern one that snaps together.

But this design is also fatally flawed. The pins on the older bracelets inevitably fall out, allowing the bracelet to gape open on your arm. While the chain usually prevents the bracelet from actually falling off, it’s a horrible feeling knowing that your bracelet is hanging open when your arms are (of course) full of books or groceries. Realizing that the bracelet has come open yet again in the middle of a party, business dinner, or event, and not knowing how long it’s been like that, is also, shall we say, disquieting. And the modern version can only take so much snapping before it snaps permanently. (Especially when the person doing the snapping is OFB, who’s become delighted with this new toy and is rushing around the house clicking it open and shut like a castanet. But I digress.)

So jewelry designers, please. Those of us who wear bracelets are not octopi or Shivalike beings with multiple arms to help us cope with your mechanisms. Nor do we enjoy losing our beloved bracelets because they’ve slipped off or broken. And let’s just say that it does nothing for our relationships to constantly be begging for bracelet-fastening assistance. Please, there must be a better way! Find it, and your fortune is assured. Along with our undying gratitude.

           ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

A Christmas blessing. December 25, 2011

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Each year at Christmas, we at Poor Richard’s Almanac—our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders—have made a tradition of sharing a letter written at Christmas by Fra Giovanni to his patron in 1513 with all of you. This tradition is borrowed from Tasha Tudor, the beloved children’s author and illustrator, who read Fra Giovanni’s letter aloud to her family and guests every year at Christmas. The beauty and wisdom it conveys make it a tradition worth preserving, as we think you’ll see:

“I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace.

The Gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take Joy!

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.”

This festive and joyful season, we wish the same for each other and for every one of you. God bless us every one!

       —Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders

Christmas corn pudding. December 24, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I love corn pudding, but it’s far too rich and decadent to serve except on a festive cold-weather occasion like Christmas or Thanksgiving. (Or, ahem, both.) I didn’t make it for Thanksgiving this year, so it will definitely have a place of honor on our Christmas table tomorrow.

The recipe I use (and share with you below) uses dried corn, which I’d never heard of until OFB and I moved to scenic PA, where it’s a regional specialty. As far as I know, there’s exactly one brand of dried corn available for grocery-store purchase, and that’s John Cope’s. Cope’s—located in Lancaster County, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country—has been making and selling dried sweet corn for more than a hundred years. If your grocery doesn’t happen to stock it, you can mail-order it from a number of sources, including Amazon.com, Farm Stand Foods (www.farmstandfoods.com), and Zingerman’s (www.zingermans.com).

Gourmet magazine published the recipe for corn pudding that I use. It uses milk and dried corn, but I make mine with half-and-half and have used dried corn, fresh corn cut from the cob, and frozen corn with equally luscious results. Check it out:

      Gourmet Magazine’s Toasted Sweet Corn Pudding

1 7.5-oz. pkg Cope’s toasted dried sweet corn

4 cups whole milk

1 cup well-shaken fresh buttermilk (not powdered)

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 Tbsps. sugar

2 Tbsps. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsps. salt, 1 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 350 with rack in upper third. Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish. Whisk together all ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer to baking dish. Bake until pudding is set, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool 10 minutes before serving. Note: Corn pudding can be made 3 hours ahead. Reheat, covered, in a 300-degree oven.

I find that corn pudding reheats beautifully, so you can continue to enjoy it with your Christmas leftovers until—sob!—it’s all gone. Assuming, of course, any is left over after Christmas dinner! OFB and I like to enjoy a peaceful, leisurely Christmas dinner a deux, and celebrate with family and friends before and after Christmas Day, and not even Ben can wipe out the entire corn pudding at a sitting. But if you gather the family round, I can promise you won’t have to find room in the fridge for leftover corn pudding!

Oops! I almost forgot: I make my corn pudding in a souffle dish, as is traditional in the South, not in a shallow baking dish.

One last thought. One of the things that makes corn pudding such a perfect Christmas food is how well it goes with the other Christmas dishes: turkey or ham, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, green beans, dressing, cranberry sauce, you name it. Yum! Won’t you join us in a serving (or two) this Christmas?

          ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

Christmas comfort foods. December 23, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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3 comments

Silence Dogood here. I’m sure we all have foods that say Christmas to us. Some even feel that Christmas isn’t Christmas without (shudder) fruitcake; even some of our friend Ben’s and my relatives fall into this unfortunate category. But OFB and I do have a long list of yummy foods that we love to at least think about every Christmas (as you’ll see, it’s a bit much to try to make them all every Christmas).

Mind you, sometimes unseasonal comfort foods can somehow find their way into Christmas celebrations. Last night, for example, OFB and I celebrated Christmas at good friends’ with a chili cook-off, cornbread, rice, and a big, crunchy salad. Not exactly what we think of as Christmas food, but my, it was good!

Getting back to Christmas foods, here are some of our favorites. Let’s start with appetizers:

* Endive boats. These luscious appetizers taste rich, decadent, and seasonal, but aren’t at all filling, unlike, say, crackers and cheese (see below). To make them, split off the larger leaves of a head of endive (you can chop the rest into a salad). Fill each leaf with a mix of crumbled feta and gorgonzola or blue cheese, pecan pieces, a few dried cranberries (craisins), and fresh-ground or cracked black pepper. So easy, so festive, so good!

* Cheese and crackers. Okay, you really shouldn’t serve these unless supper is several hours off. And normally, if we’re having crackers, we opt for whole-grain goodness, such as Triscuits or Ak-Maks. But at Christmas, we say to heck with that. We break out the table water and Ritz crackers and the once-yearly port wine cheese log (rolled in pecans), pour a glass of port, and go for it. Of course, we serve the plates with sliced apples to try to salve our consciences.

* Cheese and nuts. A very sharp white Cheddar (Black Diamond comes to mind) or aged Asiago with almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, and/or cashews is our idea of indulgence. As with the cheese and cracker alternative, we like to serve them with port (our favorite is Sandeman’s tawny port) and sliced apples or dried apricots. (Extra points for glaceed Australian apricots. Yum!!!)

* Baked Brie. This is so decadent, it’s almost sinful. Bake a round of Brie, topped with brown sugar, until the cheese is oozy and melted, then spread it on baguette rounds and enjoy with a glass of dry Riesling. Heaven! But please, don’t try it just before Christmas dinner. If you like to have Christmas dinner midday, however, it’s always an option around suppertime.

There are, obviously, plenty of other delightful appetizers. Sliced baguettes topped with tapenade; crudites (we especially like carrots, broccoli florets, endive leaves, red, orange and yellow bell pepper strips, radish slices, and cucumber slices) dipped in hummus or tzatziki sauce or blue cheese dressing; thin-sliced rye, pumpernickel, or Irish brown bread topped with cheese topped with whole-grain mustard, served with an assortment of olives and pickles; puff pastry filled with cream cheese and topped with marmalade (or caviar, for you meat-eaters) and served with champagne.  The list is endless.

We don’t do soup on Christmas, since our favorite Christmas soup is curried pumpkin soup, made with anise liqueuer and cream and very rich, a meal in itself if served with rice or dinner rolls. But we do consider it a Christmas comfort food, and excellent option for Christmas Eve supper or for the night of the 26th. So let’s move on to salads:

* Winter slaw. We enjoy this rich variation on cole slaw with our winter meals. You wouldn’t want to serve our endive boats as appetizers and follow them with this, but if you choose another appetizer, this makes a festive, colorful alternative to a tossed salad. To make it, combine a package of shredded carrots, two packs of shredded purple cabbage, half a diced sweet onion, a diced yellow, orange, or red bell pepper, a container of crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese, a handful of salted, roasted, hulled pepitas (pumpkinseeds) or sunflower seeds, cracked fennel seeds, whole cumin seeds, Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt), and cracked black pepper. Drizzle on extra-virgin olive oil, toss to mix, and serve.

* The classic wedge. This is another indulgence we never have unless it’s Christmas or on the road, since it’s so much less nutrtious than a well-planned tossed salad. But for Christmas, it’s a perfect comfort food. To make it, cut a (washed, please) head of Iceberg lettuce in quarters. Top each quarter with crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper. Another fave that’s so simple but so good!

* Christmas salad. If you’re going to make a tossed salad for Christmas, why not make it special. We like to make a hearty, rich tossed salad for Christmas, with a base of arugula, radicchio, frisee, endive, watercress, and Romaine, topped with everything imaginable, from scallions, cherry tomatoes, diced bell peppers of every color, sliced hardboiled eggs, olives, shredded, cumbled, and cubed cheeses, artichokes, cukes, pepitas, radishes, diced sweet or Spanish (purple) onions, plus various nut and fruit options, like Mandarin orange slices, candied pecans, diced apples, pears, or persimmons, chopped dried fruits, paired with the appropriate nut or nut mixes. We of  course enjoy shredded or crumbled or cubed cheeses on top of our salads, too, not to mention an assortment of fresh herbs and some minced garlic. The real point is mixing ingredients that go well together, as opposed to, say, minced garlic and dried cranberries.

Moving on from salads to what we consider to be the heart of the meal, which of course includes OFB’s hot dinner rolls and would have had a roast turkey when we were growing up, here are the dishes we feel simply must be served at our Christmas dinner: 

 * Potatoes. Mashed, baked, roasted, sweet, white, gold, we’re not picky when it comes to potatoes, as long as we have some. But in the past few years we’ve had a mashed Yukon Gold/Butternut squash mix with Gruyere cheese and other yummy seasonings. So good, and so good for you! You can find the recipe by typing “Ultimate Thanksgiving mashed potatoes (plus)” in our search bar at upper right.

* Corn pudding. We love custardy corn pudding  as a decadent winter indulgence, served here at Hawk’s Haven only at Christmas. I’ve made it with Cope’s dried sweet corn, frozen corn niblets, or fresh corn cut off the cob, depending on my mood, and every version is good. Choose your favorite!

* Green beans. Okay, I know lots of folks feel compelled to make that horrid green bean casserole with the canned cream of mushroom soup. But why?!! Here at Hawk’s Haven, we love green beans at Christmas, too, but we simply boil them, then toss them with butter, salt and pepper, and serve. So simple, and a light side instead of a suffocating calorie hit that isn’t even good. Roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted green and white asparagus, or boiled broccoli or broccoflower with lemon juice, butter, salt, and pepper would also be delicious. 

* Dressing. Since we don’t stuff a turkey, we’re able to indulge in a rich, luscious dressing that we bake in a casserole dish, so the outside is crunchy and the inside is tender. It’s one of my all-time favorites, so I suggest that you search our earlier post “Delicious Thanksgiving dressing” for the recipe. Try it, please! It’s so good.    

* Cranberry sauce. Nothing like homemade cranberry sauce to set off a Christmas meal! At least, when it isn’t bitter or sour. My marvelous cranberry sauce is sweet, flavorful, and delicious, and it’s so easy to make. (See our post, “Is cranberry sauce supposed to be bitter?” for the recipe.)

Time to move on to dessert. Yikes, there are so many, and all say “comfort” to us!

* Simms Family Eggnog. Our friend Ben’s family celebates Christmas with a potent Bourbon-laced eggnog that’s so rich, you have to eat it with a spoon. But trust me, that’s no hardship! Search for the recipe on our search bar and try it for yourself.

* Boiled custard. A rich, non-alcoholic blend of eggs, cream, vanilla, and sugar that soothed the sore throats of childhood and was so delicious it’s hard to choose between it and OFB’s family eggnog.

*Homemade fudge. My beloved Mama made homemade chocolate fudge every Christmas. Made with real chocolate, butter, and vanilla, it was so good I can recall its rich, crystalline texture and flavor to this day. So very different from storebought fudge with its stale, gummy texture and flavor. And so easy to make it’s a disgrace to make it gummy and gross! Yucko.

* Penuche. I don’t know where this word came from, or how it came to be associated with the brown sugar fudge served at Christmas, but it is so delicious (especially spiked with Bourbon)  that it’s an entrenched family tradition with both my family and OFB’s. My mother got her recipe from an ancient copy of The Joy of Cooking, but you might want to purchase yours ready-made from the good monks of the Abbey of Gethsemane.

* Pecan pie. Our friend Ben’s favorite winter dessert. And so fast and easy to make. Top with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and enjoy the compliments!

There are so many more cold-season comfort foods, from mac’n’cheese to hot toddys, but hopefully this will at least get you thinking about yours. Please share them with us!

Did you decorate this year? December 22, 2011

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

Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I have been delighting in our Christmas decorations since we began putting them up the first Sunday of Advent, and we’ve added to the display every weekend since. First thing every morning, we plug in the lights on our Christmas tree, wreath, and schwiboggen (a delightful carved German winter scene). We light some Christmas incense, put on some Christmas music from our extensive collection, and revel in the joy of the season until bedtime forces us to turn it all off, at least until morning.

Our Christmas decorations aren’t just a knee-jerk response to the season here at Hawk’s Haven. Each and every ornament has been selected by us with delight, from deathless vintage ornaments from the first half of the 20th Century to antique ornaments to handcrafted ornaments from around the world. Other ornaments have been given us by friends and family, and we recall the origins of each one fondly as we place it on the tree or fireplace display. Taking each ornament from its box and reminiscing about it is one of our happiest Christmas traditions.

Decorating—and enjoying the delights of our decorated home—is such a joyful experience for us that we’ve been dismayed to find that so many of our friends and neighbors have opted to skip decorating this year. “I don’t have time to decorate; I’m cleaning the house.” “We’re going away for the holidays anyway, so why bother?” “I’m too depressed to decorate.” “We just didn’t get around to it this year.” “I’m doing some renovations and don’t want to clutter the workmen’s access to the house with a tree.” “This is such a busy time at work, I’d never be at home to enjoy the decorations anyway.” “I’m no good at decorating.”

Sheesh. This epidemic of non-decorating is so rampant among our nearest and dearest this year that we’ve taken to inviting them over (or, in the case of one neighbor, dragging them over) just so they can spend a little time surrounded by the color and wonder of Christmas, basking in the glow of Christmas lights, without the “stress” of putting up their own. Watching them disappear from our kitchen table after a meal, and wandering out to the living room to find them standing entranced in front of the tree, adds a little extra joy to our own Christmas.

But, of course, we’re wondering if this is just happening to our own circle, or if it reflects a nationwide trend. Are hard times getting people so down they don’t feel like decorating? (We think that’s the most important time to bring some delight into our homes.) Have people become too busy to bother? Do people think the only reason to decorate is if there are young children in the house?

Please help us out here! Did you decorate this year? And if not, why not?

              ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

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