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Why eat out? September 15, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Why do you go out to eat? Is it the convenience, a chance to get together with friends, a break from cooking, a “date night” with your spouse or partner (or a date, period)? Is it nostalgia for a neighborhood favorite that your parents took you to when you were growing up, the place you always went with your high-school sweetheart, or just a craving for fries, burgers, hotdogs, wings, milkshakes, and all the other bad-for-you things that you really, really love but would get a scolding for at home by the health police?

When I go out to eat, I sort of fall on the bad-for-you spectrum. My goal when dining out is to eat foods I would never make at home, and since I have a serious aversion to grease, that includes anything deep-fried or even shallow-fried. (Sauteing’s about my limit.) I’m also not a big fan of home baking, since it requires precise measurements and a lot of mess and cleanup. (Kneading, anyone?) Woking and the like aren’t exactly my specialty, either: The super-high heat and precision required are just too much for my nerves and poor coordination. Apparently, everyone else on earth can brown cubes of paneer (soft Indian cheese) and tofu effortlessly; when I try, they fall apart into pointless crumbles and never brown.

That’s why, when I go out to eat, I’ll get the baked spinach balls or flaming kasseri cheese or spanakopita or eggplant rollatini or crispy tofu triangles or tempura vegetable sushi or onion kulcha or something else that I’d never, ever make at home. None of it’s expensive, but it makes eating out such a luxury. And yes, every once in a blue moon, I’ll go for a veggie burger with crispy fried onions, barbecue sauce, and French fries. And I’ll enjoy every high-cal, deep-fried bite.

‘Til next time,


Cats and sliding glass doors. September 12, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets.
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Silence Dogood here. We’ve had a nightmare the past year with our two indoor cats, Linus and Layla. They’re half-siblings (cats can have kittens by multiple fathers at the same birth) who were born outside at our country cottage, Hawk’s Haven, to a feral cat who was hit by a car or, more likely, shot by some monster we later discovered was shooting outdoor cats for target practice, when they were just kittens. So we brought the kittens inside and raised them as indoor cats.

That’s been seven years now, and they’ve both been very happy with us. However, the sliding glass door that opens onto our back deck has always been an issue, since that was where they were born and lived as kittens before their mother died. Every now and then, one or the other would rush out the door before we could shut it, no matter how vigilant we would try to be about monitoring their whereabouts. This usually had to do with getting our black German Shepherd, Shiloh, in or out of the house. Mercifully, the escaping cat would usually recognize that it had made a terrible mistake and let itself be “caught” and brought back inside immediately.

But over the past year, we’ve had both cats run out and stay out for months. First, our beloved Linus escaped last summer and didn’t allow himself to be “caught” until winter was almost upon us. First, he simply vanished without trace. But a month or so later, he returned and lived on the property, showing up and yowling like mad to get our attention, until he finally let me grab him and bring him back inside on Christmas Eve, the best Christmas present I’ve ever received. As soon as he was back indoors, he acted as though he’d never been away, displaying zero interest in a second escape attempt.

But then this spring, Layla, not to be outdone, escaped from the same door in the same manner and remained outdoors until this week. She, too, simply disappeared for a month, then returned and hung out around the house, yowling and following us around, demanding to be petted but refusing to come inside. (Of course, we put out food and water in both cases.) Finally, I got her to come in, and just like Linus, she acted like she’d never been away.

Last night, I had a nightmare where we had a third outside cat, who was grey like Layla but lacked her white markings and peridot-green eyes. As with Linus and Layla, I was simply terrified that she’d be hit by a car or shot by the crazy neighbor. (Mercifully, I think he’s left our area now, since neither Linus nor Layla was murdered.) What a relief that it was just a dream!

Point being that I don’t know how to secure a sliding glass door when I’ve opened it to go outside, and especially not with the dog in tow. I try to watch as vigilantly as I can, but sometimes it just takes a second or two too long. (I say “I” here because this has never happened when our friend Ben was taking the dog out.) Our dog Shiloh recognizes that her job on returning to the house is to chase Linus to make sure he doesn’t try to escape, and she’s usually good at that. But it’s not fair to place responsibility on her for keeping the cats safe.

Do any of you have good ideas for keeping cats from running out sliding glass doors? We’d be so grateful to hear them!

‘Til next time,


A three-part food disposal system. September 11, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, chickens, critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. There’s nothing as demoralizing as wasting food, but we all do it. It’s not just a shame, but a sin, when people all over the globe, people in our own cities, are going hungry. Yet we’ve all had the experience of opening our vegetable drawer and finding produce that’s past its prime, or discovering a container of leftovers that makes us go “Eeeeewww!!!,” or looking forward to our morning toast and finding a moldy loaf of bread (sob).

No worries, this food needn’t go to waste. Our friend Ben and I have a three-part food-disposal system that takes care of pretty much everything. Well, actually, I guess it’s four-part. The first line of defense is our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and our yellow-naped Amazon parrot Plutarch. They do a pretty decent job of eating scraps of cheese, veggies, chips, nuts, and the like.

The second line of defense is our flock of six heritage-breed chickens. They’ll eat that moldy bread, overripe tomato, leftover rice or pasta, wilted greens, or what-have-you with relish. The only thing I’ve ever seen chickens reject is zucchini. If that’s not a statement, I don’t know what is.

Then there’s our earthworm composter. Earthworms also love leftover fruits, salad greens, and veggies, but they’ll also eat things like coffee grounds and tea bags, turning them into rich fertilizer for greenhouse and garden plants.

Finally, there are our compost bins. We can put anything in them, with these exceptions: diseased plants, meat, dairy, grease. Diseased plants will contaminate the compost, infecting whatever you put it on, while the other contaminants will attract rats and other vermin to your compost bins. I’d also advise against putting weeds, especially weeds that can harm you like poison ivy or aggressive weeds like thistle that can spread throughout your garden, in your compost bins. Sometimes, the trash can is the only option.

However, between pets, chickens, earthworms, and the compost bin, a lot of potentially wasted food gets returned to the earth and enjoyed. I love to cook and use fresh seasonal produce, but I never feel guilty about eating out. OFB and I make a point of bringing every single thing we don’t eat home. I’ll bring a meal home that’s big enough for the two of us for another supper. OFB will bring his leftover French fries and half a bun home for the always-thrilled chickens. With our pets, our chickens, our earthworms, our compost bins, and, well okay, ourselves, there’s never an excuse to waste food. As our beloved hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, would say, “Waste not, want not.”

‘Til next time,


Pet your dog, don’t praise him. September 7, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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One of our friend Ben’s favorite cartoons is a “Far Side” classic that shows what we say and what our dog hears. Basically, the man is saying “Ginger! Bad dog, Ginger! Why did you do that when you know I’ve told you not to, Ginger? What a bad, bad dog, Ginger! Shame on you, Ginger!” Then it shows what she hears: “Ginger… Ginger… Ginger…”

Apparently, the same is true in real life, according to recent research. The scientists compared the reactions of shelter dogs and strangers and pet dogs and their owners when the dogs were praised or petted. Then the process was repeated with dogs being praised, petted, or ignored. In all cases, the dogs responded strongly to being petted, but their response to verbal praise was the same as being completely ignored.

Good grief! Then what is that rush of attention, the brightening of the eyes, the licking of your hands and arms and biting of your clothes, trying to get as close to you as possible, when you speak to her? They say the brightest dogs can recognize 250 words. Our beautiful and beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you), certainly understands what we’re saying to her, whether we’re talking about treats, toys, or going outside, or about leaving her in charge while we’re out and how long we expect to be gone, or pretty much anything else, including “thank you.”

Of course, Shiloh loves to be petted, too. And we love to pet her. But it’s combining action (giving her a piece of bell pepper or a green bean or a dog treat or a toy) with words, or even special songs we’ve made up for her, that gets that tail going windmill-style and the happy tongue hanging out. We think she loves interacting with us on many levels, not just one. Do you think that about your dog? In any case, don’t forget to pet him!

Bowers Chile Pepper Food Festival. September 6, 2014

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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and our friend and fellow blog contributor, Richard Saunders, are very excited to once again be attending the annual Bowers Chile Pepper Food Festival today, September 6th, in nearby scenic Bowers PA at their very nice community park. The festival is free and open from 9 am to 6 pm. It features tours of the hot pepper fields at nearby Meadow View Farm; the tours are horse-drawn, since the Weavers, who own Meadow View, are Old-Order Mennonites who don’t drive cars. Yet James Weaver, who owns Meadow View and like most Old Order Mennonites probably has an 8th-grade education, is one of the foremost and most respected experts on hot peppers in the country, and the reason there’s a chile pepper festival in Pennsylvania that draws people from as far as Jamaica.

The festival features every kind of hot-pepper dish and jarred good you can imagine, as well as fresh, homegrown hot peppers in an unimaginable range of colors and heats and heirloom tomatoes in all colors and sizes. You can buy every imaginable kind of salsa, hot sauce, hot pickled produce (look for the amazing Kamikozee hot green tomatoes), hot chocolate bars, garlic vinegar (yum, so good), hot everything. We always buy the Kamikozee green tomatoes, the Rolling Hills garlic vinegar, Chef Tim’s salad dressing, and any salsas and sauces we can’t resist. Today, there’s lots of live music and a jalapeno-eating contest as well. And you can buy tons of hot-pepper-themed items like tee-shirts and necklaces, and even get spray-on pepper tattoos (we’re sure Silence will get one, she can never resist).

Within easy walking distance of the festival is one of our favorite local restaurants, the Bowers Hotel. We won’t be eating there because we’re sure it will be mobbed with festival-goers. But if you do happen to drop by, we recommend their famous spinach balls, an appetizer we can never resist.

At any event, we hope to see you today at the festival! Just don’t try to fight us for the last of whatever.

Where have the houseflies gone? September 3, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was busy in our home office when I noticed a small, winged insect buzzing around. At first, I thought it must be a young housefly, those annoying nuisances that always seem to find their way into the house in warm weather, no matter how hard you try to stop them. (Thus flyswatters, flypaper, and the like have been with us for a very long time; try as we might, we just can’t seem to keep the critters out.)

Eventually, I realized that the buzzing noise wasn’t housefly-like; the insect was something else. But it made me realize that, unlike past years, I hadn’t seen a single housefly, in or out of the house, this year. Not one. I wondered if America had been struck with housefly decline. For once, global warming couldn’t be to blame, since the flies love hot weather, but maybe last year’s super-cold winter killed them off. Or maybe, like the poor honeybees, they’d been struck with some dreadful malady. Our friend Ben decided to head to my good friend Google to find out.

“Housefly decline” didn’t bring up anything, so I went on Wikipedia to see what it had to say about houseflies. Yowie kazowie! I learned three things I didn’t know about houseflies. First, that the females can lay 9,000 eggs (yes, you read that right) over a lifetime, producing many, many generations in a single year. (So, where are they?!) Next, that once flies emerge from their pupal cases, whether they’re huge or tiny depends on how much food they got as maggots (which feed on rotting food and rotten or decaying flesh, as well as manure, yum). In other words, little flies don’t grow into bigger flies; little flies just didn’t get enough to eat in their maggot (sickening white, worm-like) stage. And last, that houseflies can carry diseases like cholera and tuberculosis (and plenty of others).

That’s sort of the opposite of all those movies like “Gladiator” where you see maggots eating away at rotting flesh on living men and saving them from infection, gangrene, and death. Which reminds me of the fourth thing I didn’t know about houseflies: They’re not just here in the good old USA, but occur around the world, and apparently always have.

So what’s become of them? Have you noticed fewer (or no) houseflies in your home this year? Let us know. I have to say, this is one creature I wouldn’t mind seeing on the decline.

Emergency preparedness: Buy toilet paper. September 2, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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There may have been something funny about the theme of this year’s Disaster Prevention Day in Japan, “Let’s stockpile toilet paper!” But there’s nothing funny about the disaster that prompted Disaster Prevention Day, held every September 1st. One Spetember 1, 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck an area of Tokyo and killed more than 140,000 people. Most of the lives were lost due to fires sweeping through the area and burning down the closely packed buildings, which were made of wood, bamboo and paper and used flames for cooking, heat, and light. In a country prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, being prepared for a disaster makes a lot of sense.

Our friend Ben also approves of stockpiling toilet paper, tissues and the like for emergency purposes. The Japanese government suggested keeping a month’s supply for every household member in reserve; in Japan, they sell special emergency rolls that are something like 460 feet long and are rolled so tightly they look like those big rolls sold in the U.S. I wish we had those here!

I’d take this even further. Of course you could blow your nose with toilet paper if you ran out of tissue. But if you’re dependent on a well for all your water, as we are here at Hawk’s Haven, if the electricity goes out, your water stops running. Normally, we try to never use “picnic products” like paper plates and bowls, paper or plastic cups, and plastic knives, forks, and spoons. But we keep a supply on hand for emergencies, and actually used some of them when the power went off for almost a week last winter. When you have to drink bottled water, use it to brush your teeth, and use it to flush the toilet, you don’t want to waste it washing dishes! Paper towels and napkins are lifesavers here, too. Not to mention extra toothpaste, soap, and so on.

Even if you’re on a sewer and get city water, if something contaminated your city’s water supply so the water was basically unusable for drinking, bathing, etc., you’ll want a backup supply of bottled water. Those big gallon jugs are great for flushing the toilet, but we find that, over time, they deteriorate and spring leaks. We use them in our greenhouse and to water our raised beds and container plants, but always keep an eye on them and recycle any that spring leaks. We also keep some on hand for the toilet, but keep an eagle eye on them to make sure they’re not leaking on our mudroom and laundry room floors! For permanent, leak-proof water storage, our friend Ben recommends those perfectly clear plastic jugs that a lot of “spring water” is sold in. They’ll never leak unless you step on one. And for drinking water, we get cases of real spring water in glass jugs, which we’ll also use for tooth-brushing in an emergency.

Besides toilet paper, the Japanese government recommends stores of food and water, a portable toilet, and a first-aid kit. I don’t know what they mean by “portable toilet,” but our friend Ben doubts that it’s a Port-a-Potty. Instead, it’s probably one of those sturdy buckets with toilet seats that are sold at camping, hunting, and sporting-goods stores like Cabela’s. You put a plastic bag (like a plastic grocery bag) inside the bucket, anchoring it with the lid, then go when you need to go and toss the bag when it’s full.

If you have a lawn and garden, you might think about buying a chamber pot (a porcelain receptacle for urine) at a flea market and pouring the nitrogen-rich urine on your lawn and flowers (not your food garden!). Urine has been known for eons as an excellent natural fertilizer.

Here in scenic PA, we’re in the path of the aftereffects of major environmental disasters rather than on the front lines. We won’t have to face off against earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, or other terrible acts of nature. But we could certainly suffer their effects, as well as terrible droughts and winter ice and snowstorms. It’s always best to be prepared.

We always have a cord of wood curing for our woodstove, since if the power fails it could mean the difference between frozen pipes (and frozen us) and reasonable warmth. Our gas stove can be lit by matches if the electricity goes off, so we can have warm food, even in winter (you can also use your outdoor grill if you have one). But we also have canned food that we can eat cold if we must, along with food that’s durable and fine at room temperature like crackers, nuts, dried fruit and cheese.

Since we’re not in the eye of a storm or other catastrophe that would force us to abandon our home, we’ve basically tried to disaster-proof our home so we could continue to live in it in the face of a power disruption, ice storm, or whatever. But we have stocked our cars with durable emergency items (including first-aid kits and space blankets, toilet paper, bottled water, tissues, sani-wipes, condiments, utensils, etc.) just in case.

Last but by no means least are your pets and critters, who’ll find themselves cut off just like you. Making sure you have extra food (and litter, in the case of cats) for your pets on hand at all times just makes sense. We keep our cat, dog and wild bird seed in big pest-proof tins and our parrot and parakeet food in pest-proof glass jars. The chickens’ scratch grains and egg-layer pellets are stored in metal garbage cans in the chicken yard, safe from invasion.

“Be prepared” is more than a Boy Scout motto. It could be a lifesaver!

Greens: Cooked or raw? August 30, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. I’m mostly an equal-opportunity greens fan; I love them raw (in salads and sandwiches), semi-cooked (in hot sandwiches like cheese panini with tomatoes and arugula), and cooked (in pasta, soups, dal, sauteed, or steamed). Pretty much the only greens I won’t eat are the ones that taste like dirt (beet greens, Swiss chard), the ones that are prickly (radish greens, turnip greens), and the ones that come from cans. (Just give me the beets and radishes and Japanese turnips and let me enjoy the colorful chard as an ornamental.) If I knew how to grill, I’d doubtless love the grilled halved Romaine lettuces and halved radicchio that have become popular.

I love to make a big pot of greens, including the “supergreens” kale and collards, along with spinach, arugula, and methi (fenugreek greens), cooking them down with a tiny bit of water clinging to the leaves, and then make saag paneer, the delicious, Indian dish that uses their equivalent of farmer’s cheese/fresh mozzarella, paneer, with a simply luscious mix of sauteed onion, spices, and cream. Served over basmati rice, which soaks up the sauce, it’s pure heaven.

Greens prepared this way are also a great base for soups and a great filling layer for lasagna. (You can tuck them in between the lasagna pasta and the ricotta or Greek yogurt, then top with sauce and shredded cheese.) So are greens that are added to dishes like pastas at the last moment. I love sauteing diced sweet onions and minced garlic in extra-virgin olive oil, perhaps with sliced mushrooms and diced red, orange or yellow bell pepper, a dash of crushed red pepper, Italian herbs (a mix of basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme), salt (we love RealSalt and Trocomare, hot herbed salt), and fresh-cracked black pepper. Then I add arugula when everything else has cooked down, use pasta tongs to immediately add cooked spaghetti to the sauteed veggies, and toss the pasta with the veggies and my choice of shredded cheese before serving it up. Yum!

But I’d still want to serve my pasta with a crunchy green salad. I really love salad, from a Caesar (yes to hard-boiled eggs, no to croutons and anchovies) to the famous iceberg wedge (I like mine with chopped sweet or purple onion, diced tomato, crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese, and an olive oil-lemon dressing, with plenty of salt and fresh-cracked black pepper).

There are so many salad variations that I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t love salad. One of my favorites has a crunchy Romaine base with arugula, radicchio, Boston (Bibb, butter) lettuce, watercress and frisee giving texture, flavor and color, with shredded carrots, diced bell pepper (red, yellow, and/or orange), diced red onion, cherry tomatoes (my favorites are the orange Sungold tomatoes), cucumbers, red cabbage, shredded white sharp Cheddar and/or blue or Gorgonzola cheese, sliced hard-boiled eggs, black olives, scallions (green onions), and pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) for nutritional value and crunch. I’ll add avocado and/or jarred artichoke hearts in oil for an especially decadent salad. With so much going on in the salad—especially if I mix in fresh basil, mint, cilantro, or another fresh herb—I like to keep the dressing simple: good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

But not all is well in the raw greens world. I had a very sad revelation a few months ago when I read that eating raw kale was damaging to people with thyroid issues. I love raw kale in salads, but I guess I’ll be eating all my kale cooked from now on. A dear friend reminded me that the oxalic acid in spinach is bad for people with arthritis, and can not just accumulate in the joints but contribute to the formation of kidney stones. And if, like my father, you’re on blood thinners to prevent heart attack or stroke, your doctor will probably tell you to avoid all greens and salads, since leafy greens are rich in vitamin K, a natural blood thinner. Bummer!!! Not to mention that you need to eat some oil with your greens to release their nutrients in the body, preferably a healthy oil like olive oil.

The real divider in our household, though, is spinach. Our friend Ben likes it raw in salads, I like it cooked. I find the texture of raw spinach both limp and dusty—no crunch, and this dreadful musty, felted texture. (I feel the same way about raw mushrooms, and won’t eat them in a salad, either, although I love cooked mushrooms.) I, on the other hand, love cooked spinach (again, cooked down with just a few drops of water) with balsamic vinegar. OFB hates it. His exception is spanakopita, the Greek phyllo pockets filled with spinach and feta. We’ve finally found common ground with spinach sauteed in olive oil with minced garlic or onion. OFB will eat it if I add crushed red pepper, and I can discreetly add a splash of balsamic vinegar to my serving. And yes, I do buy baby spinach for his salads when I remember!

‘Til next time,


Why are tulips so short-lived? August 22, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
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The thing about bulbs is that most of them are so long-lived. Plant them once, and they either come back reliably year after year, or come back and multiply year after year. They’re one of the easiest and most dependable flowering plants, something you can plant once and look forward to every spring thereafter. This is true of daffodils, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, crocuses, glory-of-the-snow (chionodoxa), star of Bethlehem, snowdrops, Siberian squill, and numerous others.

Planting them is ridiculously easy, too: If you’re planting a sizable group of bulbs, dig a trench deep enough to cover the bulbs (shallow for small bulbs, deeper for daffs) and long and wide enough to contain the number of bulbs you’re planting, set the bulbs in root-side down, put the soil back over the bulbs, firm the soil by walking over it, the end. If you’re just planting a few bulbs in an existing bed, tucking in some grape hyacinths, snowdrops, crocuses, and/or daffodils, a narrow trowel will open a V-shaped slit in the soil (again to the appropriate depth) and you can just drop the bulb in (making sure the root end is facing down) and step on the slit to firm the soil over it. This avoids the big holes that “official” bulb planters gouge out of the soil, potentially damaging the roots of nearby perennials, and saves the steps of inverting the bulb planter after each bulb, knocking out the soil, and then replacing it in the hole.

So, our friend Ben wondered, what’s the deal with tulips? Once planted, daffodils grow and multiply for decades without further effort from you. But tulips? Apparently, most tulip hybrids bloom for one or at most two seasons. So-called “perennial” tulips, such as the Darwin hybrids, bloom for at most five years, typically blooming for three before declining. Yet they’re at least as expensive and as much trouble to plant as daffodils. Many gardeners simply treat them as annuals, planting them every fall, then digging them up after they bloom and discarding them.

This wanton waste didn’t sit well with me, and besides, I wondered why they behaved so differently from the rest of the spring bulbs. I consulted my good friend Google and found an answer from ornamental horticultural expert Rob Proctor. He pointed out that in their native land, tulips endured poor, rocky soil, cold winters, wet springs, and hot, dry summers. In these conditions, they were true perennials, just like daffodils, returning to bloom every year. He compared the climate to Colorado’s.

Apparently, our problem is that we cosset our tulips to death. We water their beds all summer, encouraging bulb rot; we feed them or plant them in rich soil (or both); our climate isn’t cold enough in winter or hot enough in summer. Our friend Ben read a fascinating tip, that in Britain, where summers aren’t known for being hot and dry, gardeners dig up the tulips when their bloom cycle has ended and their foliage is starting to decline and bring them inside hot, dry greenhouses to “cure,” then replant them in fall, thus encouraging many years of bloom.

Of course, this still sounds like a lot of work, and you’d need a greenhouse to pull it off. Is it worth it? Er. Our problem would be trying to remember where we’d planted the tulip bulbs, what they looked like versus the daffodil bulbs they were interplanted with, and how on earth we could dig them up without exposing our entire bulb border, a major undertaking. We had such a gorgeous display of daffs and tulips interplanted in our border last year it was breathtaking. But Silence Dogood and I have agreed that we’d better leave everything as is for next spring and see what happens. Maybe we won’t get a single tulip, or a single blooming tulip, but at least our daffodils can stretch out. And if we do get a few more tulip blooms, that will be great.

Love your lima beans. August 19, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. When I first moved North from my native Nashville, I discovered that most of my friends and colleagues hated lima beans. I was dumbfounded. How could anyone hate lima beans?! I found out soon enough when I ordered them in a restaurant and was served mushy, slimy “baby” lima beans, also the sort that I’d found in the local groceries’ freezer sections.

These nasty, slippery, tiny things bore no resemblance whatever to the big, plump, meaty butterbeans I’d grown up with, so delicious boiled and served with butter, salt, and pepper, as a side with mashed or new or baked sweet potatoes or baked potatoes or corn on the cob. (The limas were also often boiled, then sauteed in butter for a minute or two with corn just cut from the ears). Fried chicken and meaty slices of beefsteak tomato were popular accompaniments.

To this day, I don’t know if butterbeans got their name because they were invariably cooked with butter or if their taste and texture simply struck someone as buttery. But I did notice something here in scenic PA: The local Pennsylvania Dutch, including the Amish and Mennonites, weren’t buying those awful baby limas. Nor did they seem to eat lima beans fresh. Instead, they were making baked beans out of big, meaty dried limas. But when they were in season, which is now, they’d sell big, meaty limas in the pod at their farm stands or shell and sell them ready to cook.

If your farmers’ market sells big, plump lima beans in the pod or out, here’s what to keep in mind: Shelling limas is a pain. That’s because the pods are big and thick, and there are typically only two or three limas in each pod, so it takes a lot of work to get enough to eat, and you’re left with a giant mound of empty, somewhat hairy pods. (Hint: You can compost them.) That’s why, if you buy them pre-shelled, they cost so much more. You’ll be saving a lot of work and getting a lot more limas, but there’s a catch here, too: Once they’re shelled, they don’t keep too well, so you need to cook them soon or they’ll get mushy and slimy and you’ll have to compost them. I prefer to shell them just before cooking them, but there are only two of us. If you’re cooking for a family, I’d suggest buying a bag of shelled limas and saving yourself some prep time.

If you’re cooking fresh limas, boiling is definitely the way to go, and they’ll take more time than, say, green and yellow wax beans, summer squash, asparagus, or broccoli, but less time than new potatoes. When I cook fresh limas to go with corn on the cob, I’ll bring a covered pot of water to a boil for the corn. If I were going to cook green and yellow wax beans to go with the corn, I’d prep the beans, put them in a pot, cover them with water, and bring them to a boil once I saw that the corn water was boiling. (Fresh corn on the cob takes just enough time to heat through, so you want everything else to be pretty much ready to serve before you put it in the pot.) For limas, however, I’ll put them in water and heat them the moment I start heating the water for corn. And I won’t add the corn to the boiling water until I’m sure the limas are done, when they’ve turned pale green and are tender and delicious, not hard or slimy (at which point I’ll turn them off, since I know they’ll stay hot in the water until the corn is ready).

What about frozen and canned lima beans? I’ve noticed that some of the more local brands occasionally offer frozen limas rather than the ubiquitous “baby limas.” They may not be quite as big and succulent as butterbeans, but at least they’re not tiny and slippery. If I’m craving fresh limas in the off-season, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for them. And yes, you can get big, meaty limas in cans, but they’re white, not green. I use them mixed with other canned beans in my chili; they add body and contrast, and are just great with several colors of kidney beans. I certainly wouldn’t attempt to heat them up straight out of the can on their own, though. Yecchhh!!!

What about those Mennonite baked beans? Well, they all have bacon or ham in them, even the grocery-store versions, just like most baked beans, so given that I’m a vegetarian, I’ve never tried them. (Not to mention that they involve the endless time involved rehydrating and cooking dried beans.) But they sure look good! When we want baked beans, we turn to Bush’s Grillin’ Beans, which have a variety of flavors that are vegetarian, but taste so rich and good, you’d never—and I NEVER say this—miss the meat. Paired with cornbread and coleslaw, or corn-on-the-cob and a classic wedge salad, or creamy pasta and a crunchy tossed salad, they’re heaven. And nobody’s slapping your hand if you want to have them with fried chicken or burgers or barbecue or whatever. And many of the Bush’s Grillin’ beans varieties do have meat.

So choose what you enjoy! But please, don’t ignore fresh lima beans, the big, thick, meaty ones we in the South know as butterbeans. If all you know are tiny, slimy, slippery limas, these will be a revelation.

‘Til next time,



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