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What’s in a name? December 28, 2012

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A picture may be worth a thousand words (here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we wouldn’t know), but the right name can be worth millions of dollars. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were on the road yesterday. A truck passed us that was carrying free-range, hormone-free chicken. The name of the enterprise? Free Bird. Priceless!

Sometimes it’s best to turn back. December 27, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, our friend Ben and I took to the highway for a lengthy road trip. It was snowing when we stopped for lunch before heading out, but when we left the restuarant, it was really snowing: We were in the eye of yesterday’s vicious storm, but we didn’t know it. So, unfazed, OFB took us on the steep, winding backroad that connects the little town of Kutztown, PA to the major highway that crosses the state.

I, however, was far from unfazed. Coming from the South, even after all these years in PA I’m still terrified of winter driving when there’s snow or sleet. Even on the main street through town, I saw cars skidding. And as our car skidded and slipped on the steep backroad with its serious drops on each side, I was white-knuckling it and gasping in terror.

OFB thought highway conditions might be better, and suggested that we get on the highway and see. By now we were pondering the necessity of turning back, as disappointing as it would be to us and those who were waiting for us on the other end of the trip.

Sure enough, after plowing through the slippery snow on the highway, watching the (comparatively) few cars skidding, crawling along at 25 mph, seeing semis with their hazard lights flashing, and encountering a sign warning drivers on the normally 65-mph road to go no faster than 45 (which some idiots were actually doing), we got off at the first exit and made our way back to Hawk’s Haven, our little cottage in the middle of nowhere.

We were demoralized and disappointed, but very grateful to have returned home in one piece. After all, if we’d ended up in the hospital (or worse), we wouldn’t have made it on time, either. Fortunately, we didn’t see the photo of the semi truck hanging over the side of a bridge on the same highway we were traveling, its cab suspended in midair, until later.

Once home, we contacted hotels, family, the petsitter, and etc. and announced (after carefully checking the forecast) that we’d be pushing our trip back one day and would try again the next morning. Then we turned on the Christmas tree lights, had a cocktail, I made a nice supper, and we watched a movie, as the wind roared around the house and snow and sleet pelted the windows. Inside our little nest, all was calm and bright. Sometimes, it’s best to turn back.

Wishing you all safe holiday travels.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Go West, young cheese. December 26, 2012

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if you happen to be a fan of good (or even great) cheese, we recommend that you check out the cheeses made by the Trappist monks of Gethsemani in Kentucky on our earlier blog post, “Christmas Gifts That Count,” by entering the post title in the search bar at upper right. But today, we’d like to recommend another artisanal cheesemaker and purveyor that we happen to love.

These California cheesemakers, Cowgirl Creamery (http://www.cowgirlcreamery.com/), offer a wonderful range of incredible small-batch cheeses, from their signature Mt. Tam and seasonal cheeses to the pungent, award-winning Red Hawk (definitely not for the faint of heart). They also make other local small-batch, artisanal cheeses such as Bellwether Farms’ Carmody available in their stores and through their website.

Let us just say that their cheeses are beyond delicious. We would hesitate to buy them for ourselves, but mercifully, Silence Dogood’s brother and his family have been good enough to gift us with them at Christmas for several years. (They fortunately happen to have an outpost in Washington, DC.) What can we say but YUM?!!!

These cheeses are enough to make anyone who loves cheese simply swoon. If you don’t know Cowgirl Creamery, head to their website and check them out. And when you succumb to the descriprions of their luscious cheeses, don’t forget to order Mt. Tam! Unfortunately, it probably won’t last beyond one snacking session. Forget Pringles or whatever brand it was that trademarked the saying “Nobody can eat just one!” With Mt. Tam, it’s more like “Nobody can stop eating it until it’s gone!” And our friend Ben would certainly say the same about Carmody if Silence weren’t even now wrapping it up and hauling it off, with death threats if I go anywhere near the fridge. Heartaches, nothin’ but heartaches.

Anyway, check out the website. And if you’re ever moved to send me and Silence a gift, well, you have the address…

The world’s best eggnog. December 25, 2012

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Our friend Ben has found that most people either passionately hate or love eggnog. (This is true of only a few other foods, such as liver, beets, sauerkraut, rutabagas, or, say, fruitcake.) But here at Hawk’s Haven, eggnog is a cherished Christmas tradition; it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the famous Simms Family Eggnog. Even if you hate what you’ve been raised to think of as eggnog, please read on; I’m going to give you every reason to change your mind.

This eggnog is not for the faint-hearted. One sizeable mugful and you’ll start shouting “Ho, ho, ho!” But oh, mercy, it is good. One of the rituals of my childhood was my Grandaddy Simms ceremoniously concocting the eggnog in a huge crockery bowl, then setting it out on the freezing-cold back porch to let the bourbon work its potent magic. Watching him bring the bowl back inside, carefully stir the contents, and then distribute mugs all ’round (tiny silver baby cups for the kids, much to our outrage) made me feel that Christmas had indeed arrived and all was right with the world. Each Christmas, as I make and share this beloved treat with family and friends, I still feel just that way.

Each Christmas, I also find myself making my family eggnog more and more often. That’s because someone has only to taste it to insist that Silence Dogood and I bring it to their next Christmas party or gathering. (It’s gotten to the point where Silence and I now take turns making batches for friends, family and neighbors. Sheesh! And you thought cookie exchanges were bad.)

This goes for lifelong eggnog haters, too. Our friend Ben can’t blame people who grew up with that slippery, slimy, nutmeg-flavored fluid that passes for eggnog for hating the awful stuff. Ugh!!! I can’t tell you how many people have told us over the years that they hate eggnog. Then they see this eggnog. They smell this eggnog. They pick up a spoon (yes, it’s too thick to drink, you have to eat it with a spoon) and taste this eggnog. They ask for more eggnog to take home. And the next holiday season, when they invite us over, they say “And please bring your eggnog!”

We may not be able to come to your Christmas get-together this year, though we’ll doubtless be present in spirit. But you can still enjoy mugs of Simms Family eggnog—it’s incredibly easy to make!—and raise a toast to the Christmas spirit.

Simms Family Kentucky Eggnog

1 cup sugar

6 eggs, separated

1 quart heavy whipping cream

1 1/2 cups 100 proof bourbon whiskey

Beat 6 egg yolks and 2/3 cup of the sugar until lemon yellow. Add bourbon slowly, stirring to blend. (I use a fork for this.) In a separate, very large bowl, beat 6 egg whites with remaining 1/3 cup sugar until stiff but not dry. In a third large bowl, beat cream stiff. Slowly add the bourbon/egg yolk mixture into the whipped egg whites, drizzling it in and folding gently to blend. Fold in whipped cream and chill overnight. To serve, fold eggnog again gently from the bottom—the bourbon tends to separate out—and spoon into mugs. Serve with spoons for eating.

Note: Yes, this eggnog does contain raw eggs. That’s why you must use 100-proof bourbon, even if (as we do) you have to buy a bourbon that’s not your usual brand to find one in 100 proof. (Most bourbon is 80 proof.) The high alcohol content of 100-proof bourbon “cooks” the eggs so no greeblies can get you. Our family has been serving this eggnog to hundreds of people for at least four generations, and no one has ever gotten ill from eating it. Admittedly, my grandaddy added an entire pint of 100-proof bourbon to his version, but that’s a bit more of the Christmas spirit than we find we can stand. A cup and a half does it for us. Enjoy!

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” December 24, 2012

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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and our friend Rashu finally got to see the film adaptation of the first part of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The journey may not have been unexpected—we’ve all been reading The Hobbit regularly since childhood—but we were all anxious about the film adaptation.

The reviews have been lukewarm at best, praising Richard Armitage as the dwarf-king Thorin Oakenshield, Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf, and Andy Serkis as Gollum, the last two reprising their roles in the Lord of the Rings (LoTR) movie cycle.

Mind you, it’s not that Silence and I don’t love Richard Armitage, who stole the whole show in the BBC’s “Robin Hood” series as Sir Guy of Gisborne, normally a minor character, and even with really tough competition from the hilarious Sheriff of Nottingham (“ham” being the operative word, he was so funny) and a very sympathetic Palestinian boy-but-really-girl who was part of Robin’s band. And who wouldn’t love Andy Serkis?! His Gollum is priceless and displays a full range of very moving emotions, far beyond just muttering “my preciousss.”

Admittedly, Sir Ian leaves me and Silence cold as Gandalf; we’d have preferred our hero, Christopher Lee, in the role. (At least he makes a return appearance as Saruman the White, though his beard looked a lot better in LoTR.) But our real issue was that nobody’s talking about Bilbo.

Bilbo Baggins is the heart and soul of The Hobbit; it’s a book about his journey, from a sheltered life in The Shire to a very full life of adventure and self-discovery, and it’s full of humor, unlike the uniformly dark, brooding Lord of the Rings trilogy. And we’ve very much enjoyed Martin Freeman’s performance as the longsuffering Dr. Watson in “Sherlock” (we’re also looking forward to seeing—or at least hearing—Sherlock himself, the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch, as Smaug). So why wasn’t anyone talking about his performance as Bilbo, the star of the show?

We were also dismayed when our friend Rob and his son Christian went to see “The Hobbit” and both of them proclaimed it the most interminable, boring waste of time they’d ever sat through. (Given all the movies they see, that’s quite a statement.) What had Peter Jackson done to our beloved childhood favorite?!

We were prepared to believe the critics’ comments that the movie was padded; after all, Mr. Jackson has stretched the book into a film trilogy. And we were also willing to set aside Rob’s and Christian’s comments on the grounds that they hadn’t even read The Hobbit, much less read it every year, so they could hardly be called fans.

However, Silence and I had been far from impressed by the film version of LoTR, while everyone else seemed to be falling all over themselves praising it. We found it tedious, with most of the characters interchangeable (exceptions being Arwen Evenstar, Galadriel, Saruman, Gollum, Boromir, Pippin, Sam Gamgee, and, of course, Gimli, played by the marvelous John Rhys Davies), and the interminable battle sequences. But to be fair, we’d also found the trilogy in book form to be tedious, taking itself so very seriously, unlike the playful Hobbit. What worried us most was that Peter Jackson might have stripped all the humor from the film.

Not to worry. As it turned out, the dwarves were all great and all but Thorin were quite humorous. The makeup artists deserve a huge shout-out for their dwarves’ looks, especially the hair and beards. If you enjoy slapstick (which we do), the trolls were a scream. But Bilbo, who has a comedic aspect in the book much like Pippin’s in LoTR, seems to have lost it after serving a most unexpected supper to a bunch of uninvited dwarves and Gandalf at his home, Bag End. His performance can best be described as earnest. We hope he’ll recover it in the sequels.

Richard Armitage as Thorin was as good as advertised, and I have to admit that Silence thinks he’s a major hottie (as she did in “Robin Hood”) and makes a far better romantic lead than did Viggo Mortensen in the LoTR films (though we both admire Mr. Mortensen’s erudition enormously, he brings a depth to film that is seldom seen). Thorin may be a dwarf, but that’s not apparent in the film; he looms large as a valiant warrior and leader. This is a vast enlargement of his role in the book, where he was an arrogant, wooden, one-dimensional stick figure. Much credit is due Mr. Armitage, the screenwriters, and the director for this improvement on the original.

As before with LoTR, we felt that far too much time was devoted to digitalized fighting. But then, we’re not of the video-game-playing generation; maybe they’d find it fabulous. However, Rashu is of that generation, and he found the film much more disappointing than we did. We’re still not sure why, but we think it’s because so little of the film actually was drawn from the book. (We can only think of a couple of comments by Gandalf, and Gollum’s riddles, that were taken verbatim from the book.)

Maybe it’s because we weren’t expecting much, but we actually enjoyed the film. (Though we did mutter a lot of “Poor Bilbo!” as it progressed.) Would we see it again? Probably, but at home where we could walk away from some of the fight scenes (though we’d watch the opening fight of Thorin’s ancestors and the one where he battles the wargs and orcs in the final confrontation of the film; they were great.) But we think the fan documentary “Ringers” captures the playful spirit of The Hobbit far better than “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” If any of you have seen it, please let us know what you thought!

Seeing Santa. December 23, 2012

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Today’s “Pickles” cartoon was priceless. (“Pickles” is a gently funny strip and one of our favorites.) It reminded our friend Ben of one of my most cherished childhood memories. In the cartoon, the grandson asks his grandfather if he’s ever seen Santa Claus. The grandfather replies that he saw Santa when he was about six. He heard a noise outside, went to see what it was, and saw a fat, white-bearded old man in a red suit walking through the snow toward the house. Then he notes that he thought it was Santa, but it might have been his grandfather in his red long johns coming back from the outhouse.

When our friend Ben was six, I too had an encounter with Santa. It was Christmas Eve, and all of us were in bed, when a loud crash shook the whole house. My Mama, who could certainly think on her feet, rushed into my room and announced that it was just Santa landing on the roof and if I looked, there would be no presents for me! Naturally, I didn’t look. But after that, nothing could shake my belief that there really was a Santa Claus. I was probably 12 before I finally learned that a bus had crashed into our ditch. (No one was hurt, but it sure made a racket.)

One never knows what will enhance the Christmas experience. Maybe it will be Grandpa in his red long johns; maybe it will even be a bus swerving into a ditch. But whatever the case, our friend Ben is all for it. Childhood memories of Santa are far too precious to pass up.

Iron Chef: Oh No! December 22, 2012

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Oh, dear. Silence Dogood here. As longtime readers know, one thing I always look forward to when staying out of town is watching the Food Network. We don’t get it at home here at Hawk’s Haven, so it’s a special perk when staying in hotels. Poor our friend Ben is resigned to my screaming, shrieking advice to the judges and contestants on the various cooking shows. (In fact, he swears it’s so entertaining watching me react to the cooking shows that he doesn’t even miss watching sports programs, since clearly I view cooking as the greatest sport of all.)

My favorite cooking shows are “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America,” and I’m always ecstatic if the nights we happen to be staying in hotels also happen to be the nights those shows are on. But I’ll confess that the “Iron Chef” shows always confused me.

The shows feature “The Chairman,” a mysterious Japanese figure who directs the action of each Iron Chef competition, encouraging the competitors, revealing the secret ingredient they must use in their courses, throwing his famous curveball at them partway through the show. This is all great theater, and The Chairman is priceless. But he’s rarely on-screen; instead, the action is largely narrated by wimpy host Alton Brown and his completely forgettable on-floor cohort. The competing chefs and the judges have personality to spare, but why waste time and money on Alton Brown and that other nonentity? And why doesn’t The Chairman participate in the judging? He sits with the judges, he eats with them, but nary a word passes his lips on the content or quality of each course. Why?!!

Well, it belatedly dawned on me to Google “Iron Chef America,” at which point I discovered that The Chairman is simply an actor hired to spice up the show. Alton Brown, by contrast, is a chef. No wonder he’s directing the action, and no wonder his comments about what the chefs are doing are almost always on target, even though he’s observing from a distance. (Sometimes the chefs’ behavior is so esoteric, especially in the case of grand chef Masaharu Morimoto, whose presentation is not just beautiful but the most breathtaking I have ever seen or could conceive of, that even Mr. Brown can’t tell what’s really going on.)

As you can imagine, I was crushed by this discovery. But at least now the show makes perfect sense. I just wish Alton Brown brought more of The Chairman’s verve, or at least the judges’ opinionated remarks, to the program. Perhaps he simply views his role as being directed toward the viewers rather than the chefs. Or perhaps he’s a gentleman and doesn’t want to blast the contestants. In any case, I’ll watch with more appreciation next road trip!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Take Joy. December 17, 2012

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Each Christmas season, we here at Poor Richard’s Almanac like to post a prayer that, for us, epitomizes Christmas and our Christmas wishes for all our readers. It was written in 1513 by a Franciscan monk, Fra Giovanni. We hope that each of you, whatever your faith, takes joy in it as we do.

Fra Giovanni’s Christmas Prayer

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 the present moment. 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.

The murder of innocents. December 16, 2012

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Your faithful bloggers here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders, would like to join the chorus of horror over the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut. At the time of year when we should be celebrating the birth of the Holy Child, instead we are mourning the death of innocent 6- to 8-year-olds who apparently were each shot point-blank multiple times, and the adults who attempted to protect them.

We’d first read that the murderer’s mother, a strict disciplinarian who was apparently hated by her son, worked at the school, which was the ostensible reason for the rampage. But now we’ve read that the mother didn’t work for the school, and there was no connection between the murderer and the school at all. Certainly he didn’t know, much less hate, the children and adults he destroyed.

We simply don’t understand anything about random acts of violence. Why would anyone kill perfect strangers? It’s one thing if someone breaks into your house brandishing a gun in the dead of night and you inadvertently kill rather than simply disabling them; in the terror of the moment and the darkness, anyone’s aim could be off.

We can also understand—though certainly don’t approve of!—the idea of a vendetta, revenge killing targeting a specific person or persons who did you wrong. (We think this is the idiot’s solution; there are so many better ways to move on that don’t involve violence.)

But killing people you don’t even know, people who’ve done nothing to you, 6-year-old children? Why, why would anyone do such a thing? Yet again, we urge all Americans to move away from the culture of casual violence that has seemingly engulfed us: to stop reading murder mysteries for entertainment, to stop watching crime shows on television. There is nothing entertaining about murder, and to deaden ourselves to that reality is to promote the Black Knight and Columbine and Sandy Hook massacres. Please, people: Just say no to violence as entertainment. If we don’t, we’re vicariously condoning the very acts of real-life violence we condemn.

God bless the Sandy Hook victims; our prayers are with you and your families, and with everyone at your school who survived that dreadful day. May the children who survived grow up in a safer and better world. And may the Child born on Christmas Day bless each of you, the living and the dead, now and forevermore. Amen.

Broccoli salad. December 13, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I fell in love with a broccoli salad prepared by our local grocery. It was simple as could be: broccoli florets, shredded Cheddar, diced red onion, blue cheese dressing. It was crunchy and addictive; I would buy some and serve it over greens with a sprinkling of pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds). We loved it, and would have been happy eating it three times a week. But it was not to be.

To my dismay, the grocery started adding bacon or ham. As a vegetarian, this was unacceptable to me. What to do? Duh. How about making it from scratch?

Now I toss broccoli florets with diced red onion, diced red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, and a mix of shredded Cheddar, Parmesan, and crumbled blue cheese. I serve it over mixed greens, and add any dressing that appeals to me and OFB on a given night, from a simple olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette to Parmesan peppercorn, blue cheese, or chipotle ranch. Topped with pepitas, it’s a healthy, satisfying salad. Adding it as a topping to a bowl of greens keeps it from being too filling, so we can still enjoy our meal of pasta, roasted veggies, soup, or whatever, as opposed to serving up an entire bowl of broccoli salad (yummy, but still).

You could sub golden raisins and slivered almonds for the bell pepper and pepitas, for a sweeter but still delicious option. And you could add chartreuse broccoflower and/or white, orange and purple cauliflower florets to give a rainbow effect (but make sure they’re small so they’re easy to chew). Broccoli, broccoflower, cauliflower, and onions all have anti-carcinogenic properties, so you can feel good about eating this salad, especially served on a bed of greens for vitamin and fiber power. Enjoy!

                 ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

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