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Why buy pullets? August 4, 2014

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Most people who want to raise chickens buy chicks, either directly from a mail-order hatchery or from a local ag store like Tractor Supply or Agway. Hatcheries offer the greatest variety of breeds, but they also usually stipulate a minimum order of 25 chicks. That’s way too many for a backyard chicken yard such as our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have here at Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. There are only two of us, anyway: How many eggs can we possibly eat?! Six chickens is our max.

In the past, we’d go to our local Agway and sign up for six of their heritage-breed chicks. Then we’d go to an appliance store like Sears and pick up an empty refrigerator box. When April rolled around and the chicks arrived at the Agway, we’d set the huge box up in our mudroom, add a layer of wood shavings, put a chick feeder and water dish on top of them, top the box with window screens, and place a heat lamp on top of the screens. Then we’d pick up the chicks, put them in the box, turn on the light, and spend the next two months waiting (and waiting) until they were big enough, and it was warm enough, to transfer them to the chicken yard, where they’d have plenty of safe, enclosed room to roam and perch and a secure coop to stay in at night. Needless to say, this made the mudroom inaccessible for other purposes, and cleaning up and removing that box once the chickens had been transferred was something else. Phew!

The upside was that we only had to do this once every eight to ten years, since we let our hens live out their lives (which can extend to 12 years, though we’ve never been fortunate enough to have a hen get that old) with us once they were with us. But after two rounds with the refrigerator box, Silence had had enough. “Ben, we need to get young hens that we can put outside right away without worrying about them getting cold or squeezing through the kenneling fence. We need pullets!”

Pullets are first-year hens that have not yet begun to lay. We began our pullet experiment when we needed to replace two elderly hens who had gone to their reward. Someone suggested a farm that might sell us a couple of young hens, and they did. There was some squawking in the chicken yard as the hens settled on their new pecking order, but everything went smoothly after that. No fuss, no muss, no mess in the mudroom! Silence was ecstatic.

But eventually, our last flock dwindled and died out. I was desperate for more chickens, for their bright colors, cheerful personalities, and super-fresh, organic eggs. Silence agreed, but only if we were able to get pullets. We like heritage breeds, the big-bodied, healthy, multipurpose layers of brown eggs (or, in the case of Ameraucanas, olive green, blue, or even pink eggs), and we like a mix, so we have lots of colors in our chicken yard. We asked around, but this time, didn’t find any pullets for sale at local farms. What were we going to do?

To our surprise, we discovered that our favorite hatchery, Murray McMurray (www.mcmurrayhatchery.com), now sells pullets as well as chicks. And it has a nice selection of heritage breeds. Best of all, there’s no minimum order, so you can get as many or as few as you like, and mix and match, to boot! We chose six different heritage breeds, one of each of Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Delaware, Ameraucana, Rhode Island Red, and Spangled Sussex. The chicks have been raised organic and free-range, eating bugs, grains, and other chicken goodies out in the field rather than confined to a cage. McMurray gave us our shipping date—not until (sob) July—so that they could ship the entire order to us at once. We resigned ourselves to waiting months and months.

And we worried about chickens being shipped to us from the Midwest via the US mail, not even overnighted through FedEx or UPS. Not even shipped to us, but to a “nearby” post office, which was supposed to notify us for pickup. We frantically rushed around to several post offices in the area and left our names and phone numbers, pointing out that live chickens might be showing up between July 8th and 11th. Yikes! We received an email from Murray McMurray that the pullets had been shipped at 3 pm. What, 3 pm?! They couldn’t possibly arrive here until the following day. How could they possibly survive?!!

Silence was frantic. She had me calling all the post offices in the area the next morning. No pullets. I tried to reassure her, but we both were envisioning boxes of dead chickens. By late afternoon, I finally got hold of the right post office, which had been trying to contact us by calling a wrong number since 6 am. I rushed over and retrieved what turned out to be six very healthy pullets.

They took to their new chicken yard and perches at once. There wasn’t even any fighting to establish the pecking order, as we had feared. They were (and are) considerably smaller than they’ll be at full size, so we probably won’t get any eggs ’til next year, but that’s fine with us. We’re happy to wait, and enjoy them just as they are, letting them grow on organic scratch grains and pellets and lots of our own leftovers, from produce and fruit to bread and pasta. (Watermelon is their favorite.)

Ordering pullets is way more expensive than buying chicks, but you can get exactly what you want. Mail-ordering them sounds scary, but they arrive, improbable as it may seem, safe, sound, and healthy. Buying pullets saves you the work and mess of raising chicks indoors for months. If, like us, you only need a few hens, and if, like us, you plan to let them live out their lives with you, then we think pullets are the way to go. They’ll earn their $20 price tag again and again each year with delicious eggs, wonderful colors and personalities, and genuine companionship.

Morning rituals. July 31, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Do you find yourself beginning every morning the same way, with some soothing activity that brings you a little calm, peace of mind, and feeling of security before you plunge into your day? Maybe it’s as simple as picking up a cup of your favorite coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts on the way in to work. Or maybe a walk or bike ride every morning sets you up for the day. Sometimes a hot shower or a soothing rub of body lotion is enough to make you feel pampered and centered.

We have a friend whose morning would be a disaster if he couldn’t pore over the baseball box scores, and another who begins every single day by reading the comics, convinced that a good laugh is the right start to a good day. Another rises early every day to meditate. For yet another, it’s worth getting up an hour early to go to the local diner and indulge in the “farmer’s breakfast”—pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, homefries, and toast, with plenty of coffee to wash it all down. (Gulp. But it’s heaven to him.) One relative couldn’t imagine a morning beginning without attending morning Mass.

Of course, we have our own morning rituals here at Hawk’s Haven, too. Silence Dogood is not what you’d call a morning person, yet she wakes with the light. In the interval between daylight and the return of consciousness, she likes to keep things calm and absolutely quiet. She sits at her computer and reads Yahoo news and her e-mail, then visits a few favorite sites, and then will write a blog post or two to kick the day off. Our friend Ben, meanwhile, will put on some coffee, take our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, out for her morning walk, feed the chickens, water the garden, and get the papers, which he (and, eventually, Silence) will read. OFB enjoys hot toast or croissants or English muffins and marmalade or hot pepper jelly and lots of butter along with that morning coffee and the papers. Silence can’t even look at food before 10 a.m., and then she’s more likely to opt for fruit and cottage cheese or a quinoa salad.

It doesn’t really matter what you do in the morning, as long as it makes you feel good and sets you up for the day. But we do think that morning rituals, whatever they are—doing the same things at the same time every morning—will get your day off to a healthier, more empowered start. We even think that applies to the eye-popping diner breakfast, morning walk, and meditation equally.

That’s because so much of the modern workday is about powerlessness—you do this for this many hours in this exact place and you’d better do it just the way we say and produce these results, even if that’s impossible, or else. Your time, your life, your mind are not your own, your talents are unappreciated, you’re just another faceless cog on the wheel, a “worker bee,” as a heartless boss at one old company described his employees.

But before work, you’re in charge. You have the power. No one can tell you what to do, can make you keep up with 50 social media sites while also doing your job for the same pay but ever-increasing hours, can put you on call after you’ve already put in a full day’s work. The difference between morning ritual and the lack of it can be the difference between feeling in control and out of control. So don’t feel ashamed of that Mickey D’s Egg McMuffin you pick up every single morning. Think of it as an empowering ritual.

There’s a dog in my soup. June 28, 2014

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“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!”

Thus begins the hoary old joke we’ve all heard so many times. But it’s not so funny when it comes to some real-life object in our food that shouldn’t be there. Just today, two news items on Yahoo news featured unintended items that ended up in people’s food.

Over in England, a 7-year-old boy bit into what he thought was a fried piece of boneless chicken breast from KFC, only to discover that the crispy fried coating concealed not chicken but a blue kitchen towel (the kind made of paper, not cloth). Our friend Ben figured that KFC would quickly offer his family free chicken for the rest of their lives to avoid a suit, but no: The franchise offered the boy and his mother one free meal, and that only after the distraught mother had returned to the restaurant to complain and been told to call customer service instead, and the story had gone viral. Oliver, the little boy involved, declined this generous offer.

Meanwhile, back in the States, a family ordering fries from a Sonic drive-in discovered an unexpected item in their take-out container: a bag of marijuana. “Free pot with every purchase!” or “Get high on our fries!” would probably do wonders for the franchise’s bottom line, but our friend Ben suspects that the fries just went to the wrong customer. There probably will still be an uptick in patronage as customers hope to get lucky.

Given how many meals fast-food restaurants serve, and the emphasis being on speedy service, it’s amazing that stories like this don’t hit the news every day. (Well, maybe not the pot story.) Which means that most fast-food franchises must be doing a darned good job of monitoring their kitchens.

Not that there aren’t the occasional scandals caused by other actions, like substituting, say, cat for chicken a few years ago at KFC franchises in China. (Though cat might be a perfectly acceptable meat source in China, just as the very popular dog stew is in Korea.)

Nor are the alien objects limited to fast-food restaurants. Years ago, our friend Ben accompanied Silence Dogood to one of the few vegetarian restaurants then extant in the South. We had barely raised our forks when a little boy at a nearby table announced that there was a cockroach in his food. Far from expressing outrage, his parents suggested that he simply stop complaining and order another dish from the menu. But for some reason, like little Oliver in the UK, the child had lost his appetite. And so had we.

Being an omnivore, after all, shouldn’t involve eating dish towels. And being a vegetarian, by definition, means not eating insects. Or dogs.

The chickens of “Game of Thrones.” May 29, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I are getting a small flock of new heritage chickens in early July. There will be six, and as always, each will be a different heritage breed: Rhode Island Red (red), Barred Rock (black and white), Buff Orpington (gold), Delaware (white), Ameraucauna (red and gold), and Silver Laced Wyandotte (black with white edgings). Quite the colorful group, and all are hefty birds that lay big, brown eggs, except for the Ameraucana, who will lay blue or green eggs.

We’ve never ordered pullets through mail-order before, but couldn’t find anyone locally who would sell us some. (Pullets are young hens who are about ready to lay, as opposed to the day-old chicks that are normally shipped and sold in April.) Luckily for us, Murray McMurray hatchery (http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com) sells pullets individually, so you can buy one of each or any number that you want. They carry many heritage breeds, and they let them range on grass and eat grass and forage for bugs, seeds, and etc., as opposed to cutting their beaks as other hatcheries do, a horribly cruel practice akin to declawing cats. I suggest that, if you’re interested in chickens, you check out the Murray McMurray website; they’ll even ship you a free catalog.

So what does this have to do with “Game of Thrones”? Well, we’ve always named our chickens, since once we get them, we keep them (well-fed on organic pellets and grains, along with fruits, veggies, bread, and scraps from meal prep and leftovers) until they eventually die of old age. They also have their own enclosed yard, safe from predators, including hawks and owls, with a grapevine growing over it for shade and a chicken coop with a window and a transparent roof to let in light. We know from experience that every chicken knows its own name and will respond to it.

In the past, I’ve named chickens for Regency heroines (Venetia, Sophia, Lucretia, Charis, etc.), Tolkien characters, and the like. But at the moment, OFB and I are on a “Game of Thrones” kick. (And, alert viewers, chickens have appeared in a number of episodes.) So we’ve named our soon-to-arrive flock accordingly: The Delaware, white-feathered, for the white-haired Danaerys of House Targaryen. The Buff Orpington, gold-feathered, for the golden-haired Cersei of House Lannister. The Rhode Island Red, red-feathered, for the red-haired Catelyn of House Stark. The Ameraucana, red-gold, and less domesticated than the other heritage breeds, for the Wildling Ygritte. The Barred Rock, black-and-white, a fearless breed, for Arya of House Stark. And the Silver-Laced Wyandotte, a fancy, glamorous girl, for Margaery of House Tyrell.

Have fun with your own flock and their names. T.S. Eliot once noted that “The naming of cats is a difficult matter.” We beg to differ, both with cats and with chickens. But it’s especially fun to choose a theme for your flock and name them accordingly.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Thinking outside the (greenhouse) box. October 30, 2013

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood love the greenhouse our genius woodworking friend, Ken Burton, custom-designed and built for us when we bought our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. It’s big and bright, with a long in-ground raised bed on the low side and a long greenhouse bench on the high wall.

Ken’s goal was to make the greenhouse as solar-friendly as possible in our cold-winter climate. Glass covers the south-facing sloping wall, along with a glass window and glass door on the east and west sides. The north wall is white-painted wood to reflect the light pouring in from the south and to highlight the plants.

Under the bench, black-painted barrels hold water and act as solar collectors. And behind the north wall, a hayloft adds extra insulation in the form of straw bales for our chickenyard, while we stack wood for our woodstove beneath the loft, which also serves as added insulation..

But we think Ken’s most brilliant innovation was to use the sliding glass doors normally used for deck or patio doors as the long windows on the south-facing, sloping side. They’re double-paned for insulation and let in a ton of light. Over and below them, Ken added rows of screened pull-down windows so we could open them for fresh air and circulation (we also open the screened end-wall window and glass door).

The other day, as Silence and I were furiously hauling our bazillion plants back from the deck to the greenhouse for the winter (it’s already been in the 20s here at night, a real aberration, as we can usually leave the plants out well into November), our friend Ben was struck by an idea. Not a MacArthur “genius award”-worthy idea, no doubt, but still.

Our sliding glass doors that lead to our deck are designed so that one slides over the other, and if you wish, you can pull a full-length screen over the open door to let in fresh air. So why couldn’t you design a greenhouse wall of sliding glass doors that do that, too? One door would be fixed in place, and the other would move over it, and you could pull the screens to let in tons of fresh air to circulate, make sure the greenhouse didn’t overheat in summer, and combat fungal diseases and the like, without letting in bugs.

Three sets of doors would be plenty for most home gardeners, and what a gain in greenhouse circulation! Our greenhouse is still going strong, but if we ever need an update, we’ll see what Ken thinks about this idea. Meanwhile, what do you think about it?

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!

Christmas gifts that count. December 10, 2012

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‘Tis the season to be giving. Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I like to make our Christmas gifts count, to give things that have value beyond the gift itself. It makes us feel better about spending all that money on presents if we know they’ll not only please the recipients but support a cause we believe in.

There are several ways to do this. You could, of course, make a donation in each recipient’s name; the person will typically receive a gift card from the orgnization. OFB’s Aunt Betty likes to gift people with donations to Heifer International (last year, she appropriately donated a chicken in our name). There’s also a vegetarian/vegan-friendly version of Heifer International called Plants-4-Hunger (A Well-Fed World, www.AWFW.org). Or you could donate to the Humane Society or animal shelter of your choice, or the Southwest Indian Foundation, or you name it.

We, however, like to both benefit a worthy cause and give the folks on our Christmas list something to enjoy. So we buy cheese, fudge and (gack) fruitcake (for those who insist they like it) from the monks of the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani in OFB’s mama’s native Kentucky. The monks make everything themselves, and sales of their food support the monastery (which happens to be the one where Thomas Merton lived and wrote).

We think their mild and pesto cheeses are delicious (the aged cheese is a bit strong for us, and we typically don’t go for smoked cheeses so we’ve never tried theirs). And their chocolate-pecan-bourbon and brown sugar-walnut-bourbon fudges are out of this world. (They have other flavors—plain chocolate, raspberry, lemon, and chocolate mint julep—but we haven’t tried them; why mess with perfection?) The monks make the only fudge I’ve ever tasted (apart from artisanal fudge) that actually tastes homemade, not gluey/plastic and artificial. Ugh!

My brother gifted me with the monks’ mild and pesto cheeses and chocolate-pecan-bourbon fudge for my birthday this year, and needless to say, OFB and I were ecstatic. (I, er, actually hid the fudge in the back of the fridge so we could enjoy it at Christmas; otherwise you-know-who would have wolfed it down in a week. Hope you’re not reading this, Ben!)

OFB and I fall in the “get even, give fruitcake” category—we never met a fruitcake we didn’t hate—but OFB’s father and brother love fruitcake, as does my father, so we dutifully send the monks’ award-winning fruitcake (along with some cheese and fudge to soothe our fruitcake-hating consciences) to them each year.

We suggest that you check out the monks’ offerings for yourself at www.monks.org. And if anybody has the nerve to try the monks’ aged cheese (my parents’ favorite, yow) or smoky cheese, please let us know what you think of them. And if you place an order, make sure you reserve some of that mild and pesto cheese and chocolate and brown sugar bourbon fudge for yourself. Hey, don’t you deserve a Christmas present?

                    ‘Til next time,

                                  Silence

WordPress: What’s hot. September 15, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, chickens, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our blog host here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, WordPress, recently changed its sign-in page, so instead of going to the posts their editors loved best that day, a feature they call “Freshly Pressed” (and on which, sadly, we’ve never been featured), now you’re taken to a rather majestic-looking page that highlights a specific topic.

Our friend Ben frankly misses seeing the “Freshly Pressed” posts, but seeing the featured topics on the new sign-in page is certainly a revelation about what most WordPress blogs are about: travelogs, food, and cat photos. (Sadly, gardening, chickens, and homesteading didn’t make it. Neither did our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. And hey, what happened to dogs?! We love our cats, but equal time, please.) It seemed to me that every third post showcased in “Freshly Pressed” was about running, so it was a huge relief to see that that didn’t make the cut, either. Yet, anyway.

We love WordPress; it’s been good to us and idiot-proof (a necessary feature), even if it hasn’t chosen to showcase our brilliant posts despite years of faithful blogging and almost 500,000 views. But if we could respectfully suggest a few more categories to highlight, how about some thoughtful, intelligent posts? How about some funny, laugh-out-loud posts? How about something, anything that reaches beyond the usual suspects! Cat photos, for God’s sake.

Just a thought.

Breakfast of champions. June 8, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. It’s breakfast time! Now that our garden is starting to give us basil, tomatoes, green onions, and even peppers, and our chickens are laying steadily after their winter break, I can make a homegrown omelette with sauteed veggies for our friend Ben’s breakfast. Try it, you’ll love it!

First, I saute the veggies, using our garden’s bounty plus some local produce. I heat canola or olive oil in a pan, then add diced sweet onion, chopped green onion (scallion), diced red, yellow and/or orange bell pepper, shredded basil, sliced mushrooms, and corn cut fresh off the cob, seasoned with a mix of fresh or dried rosemary, basil, oregano and thyme.

Meanwhile, I crack three eggs into a shallow bowl, add lots of fresh-cracked black pepper and salt (we like RealSalt or the hot seasoned herb salt, Trocomare) and beat them. Trial and error has shown that more than three eggs turn into scrambled omelette. Ditto for adding things like milk, sour cream, cream cheese, and half-and-half. Trust me on this.

Once I’ve whipped the eggs with a fork, I put two of OFB’s favorite multigrain English muffins in our toaster oven, split and buttered, to heat up. Then I set out his favorite orange marmalade and/or hot pepper jelly to put on them.

When the veggies have cooked, I push them to one side and pour the seasoned egg mixture into the frying pan. I let it set on one side, then slice it down the middle and flip the two sides over to brown. (I’ve found this is the easiest way to make a perfect omelette. If you’re uncoordinated like me, forget trying to flip the whole thing.) At this point, I toss shredded cheese (sharp Cheddar, Parmesan, Provolone, Swiss, a mix, your favorite) on top of one half of the omelette, then top it with the other half.

As soon as the cheese melts, it’s time to serve up: The perfect half-moon cheese omelette, a side of sauteed veggies, and toasted English muffins with marmalade or jelly. Yum! This serves one.

Sometimes I’ll make an equally-loved variation, substituting sauteed apples (Granny Smith apples sliced thin and sauteed in butter and brown sugar) for the veggies. OFB loves them both. Or, if I have a leftover boiled or sweet potato, I might dice it and saute it with herbs and spices and serve it up with the omelette and English muffins.

What about me, you might be asking. What do I eat for breakfast while OFB is feasting on his cheese omelette and sides? I don’t think you really want to know.

For years, I never ate any breakfast at all; I’m simply not hungry in the morning. These days, I’m apt to eat a soup made from greens, mushrooms and tofu for breakfast (type “Super Healing Soup” in our search bar at upper right for the recipe). It’s an unconventional breakfast, obviously, but it tastes good and seems to boost my health and well-being. Having it every morning (as opposed to nothing) has even helped me lose weight, as counterintuitive as that sounds, presumably by kick-starting my metabolism. I’m eating my breakfast bowl as I write, and suggest that you try making a batch for lunch or supper if you can’t face soup for breakfast.

In any case, I hope you enjoy OFB’s breakfast omelette and sides!

                      ‘Til next time,

                                   Silence

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo! May 5, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. It’s Cinco de Mayo, and that means Fiesta Night here at Hawk’s Haven! We suggest that you plug in the chile lights, crank up the Jimmy Buffett, mix up pitchers of margaritas and sangria and stick ‘em in the fridge to chill, and join the party! (And yes, it’s okay to buy that tacky parrot pinata at the grocery. Just don’t beat the poor thing to death.) Tart up the deck with some blooming tropicals, or at least with some tropical-looking blooms. And yes, why not put on that long, brilliantly colored broomstick skirt and tank top or chile-themed Hawaiian shirt and shorts? Go for it!

Incidentally, for this occasion we recommend Jimmy Buffett’s CD “Take the Weather with You,” which features “Cinco de Mayo in Memphis,” and his box set “Jimmy Buffett: Boats Beaches Bars & Ballads,” which includes his classic “Margaritaville” on the “Beaches” CD. Both are guaranteed to relax you into a party mood, even on a Monday. Honorable mention also goes to Al Stewart’s “Down in the Cellar” CD, especially for “The Night the Band Got the Wine.”

But what’s a fiesta without good food and great drinks? Our friend Ben has persuaded me to share my regionally famous refried beans recipe with you, along with two ways to serve them, and of course I have to add a few salsa recipes and our favorite drinks (including one just for kids) to the mix. Not to mention our Sunday Brunch favorite, Hawk’s Haven Huevos Rancheros. (Check my earlier post, “Come and get it: cornbread and black bean soup” for a couple of other great fiesta foods.) These are simply too good to save for once a year, so we enjoy Mexican Night at our Friday Night Supper Club at least once every couple of months, and plainer beans-and-rice fare here at home every week or two. Yum! Are you in the mood yet? Put that Jimmy Buffet in the CD player and let’s kick off this party!

           Silence’s Top Secret Disappearing Refried Beans Recipe

I call these Disappearing Refried Beans because if I make them for a gathering they have a bad habit of disappearing before I can even get any! (Our friend Ben knows better than to try that stunt.) So if you make them, make sure you save some for yourself before setting them out! I’ll be the first to admit that I love the convenience of canned beans, but you can absolutely soak your own instead, and kudos for doing it. I’m also going to say as I do with pretty much every recipe that I’m an intuitive cook who tends to just toss stuff in rather than measuring it out. I find that recipes are very forgiving in this respect (UNLESS you’re baking—don’t try this in that case unless you’re a true chef or the recipe provides options), so I encourage you to add more of what you like and less or even none of what you don’t. Courage! It’s going to be great! And if for some reason it isn’t, just serve a few rounds of margaritas or sangria before supper and everyone will love it anyway! Thus saith Silence.

3 cans pinto beans, or mix of pintos, black beans, and/or kidney beans (we’ve tried them all and they’re all good, but they will change the color of the finished dish, so be forewarned)

canola oil or butter

1 large sweet onion (Walla Walla or Vidalia type), diced

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

3-6 paste tomatoes, chopped

1 heaping tablespoon black or brown mustardseeds (do not substitute yellow mustardseeds)

1 heaping tablespoon whole cumin seeds

1 heaping tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon salt (we like Real Salt)

1 tablespoon hot sauce or to taste (we like Pickapeppa or Tabasco Chipotle)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or 1 tablespoon cilantro paste

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat oil or butter in a heavy Dutch oven. (This is going to take up a lot more room than you think.) Add black mustardseeds, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and salt, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Add diced onions and saute until clarified. Add diced pepper. Once pepper has softened, add chopped tomatoes, lemon juice, and hot pepper sauce. Stir in beans and liquid from cans (if using soaked beans, I suggest that you rinse and drain them, simply replacing liquid with water or veggie stock as needed). When beans are thoroughly heated, use a heavy potato masher to squash beans into paste. (A strong arm is helpful here; thanks, Ben!) You don’t have to squash every last bean. The goal is to get a more pastelike consistency. Keep stirring to prevent sticking. Once the refried beans have reached a thick consistency, stir in the chopped cilantro or cilantro paste and serve.

Serving suggestions: We prepare bowls of chopped green onions (scallions), grated sharp cheddar or Mexican cheese blend, sour cream, fresh and prepared salsa (see below), sliced black olives, shredded lettuce, chopped fresh cilantro, diced red and yellow bell peppers, and chopped paste tomatoes (less juicy than other tomatoes, so ideal for this), and sliced jalapenos and set them all out, along with a big bowl of rice and a platter of hot white-corn tortillas so everyone can make their own favorite creations. Our friend Ben enjoys loading up crispy tortillas with beans, cheese, and toppings, and making a separate salad with the lettuce and more toppings, while I prefer skipping the tortillas and creating a platter with rice, beans, and toppings, including plenty of lettuce. Everybody will have a preference, and that’s part of the fun of setting it all out and letting everyone make their own.

As a fabulous dip: Here’s a serving alternative: Turn these yummy, spicy refried beans into the base for a 7-layer dip. Cook them until they’re really thick, then add a layer of them at the bottom of a souffle dish or other straight-sided serving dish. Top with layers of shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, sliced black olives, chopped paste tomatoes, and shredded lettuce, and serve with lots of white-corn tortilla chips (we like Tostitos and Green Mountain Tortilla Chips) for dipping. We like this dip best when the refried beans are still hot.

           Fresh Salsa a la Silence

1 large sweet onion (Walla Walla or Vidalia type), chopped

1 large red bell pepper, diced

3-6 paste tomatoes, chopped

sliced jalapenos to taste

chopped fresh cilantro to taste

1 teaspoon salt

splash lime juice                 

Mix, chill, and serve.

           Primo Peach Salsa a la Silence

I tweaked a salsa recipe from my CSA, Quiet Creek Farm, created by CSA farmer Aimee Good, to take advantage of peach season, when we had both an abundance of ripe peaches and a ton of ripe tomatoes. Freeze or can it in a hot-water-bath canner to use anytime, or refrigerate the cooked salsa and make a Mexican Night of it within a couple of weeks. This recipe makes a ton, so feel free to adjust the quantities down as desired or give pints as gifts.

2 large or 3 medium onions (I like to use sweet onions), diced

6 sweet red bell peppers, diced

1 large or 2 small heads of garlic, minced

1/2 cup hot peppers, sliced or diced

8 quarts paste tomatoes, chopped

6 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped

1 1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 1/3 cups minced fresh cilantro

Cook tomatoes on medium heat in a large stockpot or Dutch oven, stirring occasionally. Saute the onions, peppers, hot peppers, peaches, and garlic in olive oil until tender. Set aside. Continue to cook the tomatoes down on medium heat until desired thickness is achieved (this may take a few hours). Once the tomatoes have reached the thickness you want, stir in the cooked veggies and peaches. Add the salt, cumin, coriander, and red wine vinegar. Add the chopped cilantro at the very end. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

To can, pack hot salsa in hot sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal with hot sterilized lids and process in a boiling-water bath for 20 minutes. Yields about 8-10 pints.         

Gee, it’s drink time! Let’s move on from yummy main dishes and salsas to sangria and margaritas.

              Silence’s Sangria

1 bottle dry red wine

juice of two limes

juice of one lemon

juice of two oranges

1/4 cup sugar or 1/2 cup sugar syrup

1/2 cup triple sec

slices of orange, lemon and lime         

Mix all ingredients in a pitcher. Chill and serve.

            Ben’s Knock-Me-Down, Set-Me-Up Margaritas

I find straight-up margaritas too syrupy, but our friend Ben loves them, so here’s Ben’s go-to recipe. Per glass:

2 oz chilled gold tequila

1 oz chilled lime juice (juice of 1 chilled lime)

1 oz Cointreau

4 oz margarita mix (spring for the best; we like Jose Cuervo)

Make as many multiples of this basic formula as you have guests or want to. Chill pitcher until ready to serve. Serve straight up, on ice, or in a traditional margarita glass with the rim rubbed with lime juice and dipped in margarita salt.

           Chalino Special

Try this gorgeous, cranberry-colored Prohibition-era drink as an alternative to the usual margaritas and sangria. I found this recipe courtesy of MSN and Esquire. Yum! Per glass:  

3 ounces white tequila

1/2 tablespoon creme de cassis

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 tablespoon simple syrup

Shake well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon or lime peel.

Finally, just for kids:

            La Palomina

Per glass:

1/2 ounce lime juice

pinch of salt

grapefruit soda

slice of lime  

Combine the lime juice and salt in a tall glass and stir. Add ice, top off with grapefruit soda and lime slice, and stir again. If you can find it, use a Mexican soda like Jarritos, but if not, try a lemon-lime soda like Sprite or 7-Up with a splash of grapefruit juice. You can turn this into a refreshing adult drink, La Paloma, by adding 2 ounces of tequila (preferably reposado) to the basic recipe.

Oops! Almost forgot those huevos! Our chickens would never forgive me if I didn’t include them.

         Hawk’s Haven Huevos Rancheros

4 large eggs

butter

1 cup sliced button mushrooms

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 large sweet onion, diced (Walla Walla or Vidalia type)

chopped green onions (scallions)

Trocamare or salt and hot pepper sauce (we like Picakpeppa or Tabasco Chipotle)

White corn or flour tortillas or buttered slices of crusty baguette

Refried beans (optional)

Sliced orange and grapefruit

Sour cream

Shredded Cheddar or Mexican cheese blend

Fresh or jarred salsa or both 

Melt butter in a heavy skillet. Saute diced onion, mushrooms, and peppers until onions have clarified and mushrooms are well cooked. Push to the perimeter of the skillet and break four eggs into the center of the skillet. Liberally sprinkle eggs with Trocamare or with salt and hot sauce. When eggs have set on underside, flip them, sprinkle with more Trocamare or salt and hot sauce. Flatten with spatula and fry hard. When you break eggs into the skillet, heat white corn or flour tortillas or buttered slices of crusty baguette, and cut slices of orange and grapefruit. If you have leftover refried beans, lucky you! Heat them in a separate pan.

To serve, mound refried beans (if you have them) on a plate, top with two eggs and a generous helping of the onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Top all with green onions/scallions, shredded cheese, sour cream, and salsa to taste, and serve orange and grapefruit slices on the side and warm tortillas or slices of baguette for scooping.

This recipe serves two generously. Make more if you’re having company, and break out those margaritas! Or maybe a pitcher of Tequila Sunrises or Chalinos. Good times!!! 

Now get on out there and celebrate!

                 ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

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