The miracles of each moment. December 1, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: everyday miracles, great blue herons, Kazuaki Tanahashi, natural wonders
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Silence Dogood here. I’d been complaining to our friend Ben all day that we hadn’t seen the usual array of birds and other creatures that usually come to or live in our yard, making it colorful and fun. I kept going to the back door to check on them, but they just weren’t there. Where on earth had they all gone?
Then, a miracle happened. I saw our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, staring fixedly out the deck door, so I came over to see what had attracted her attention. And just then, two great blue herons rose up from our little creek, Hawk Run, and circled the yard before departing for parts unknown.
Great blue herons are called “great” for a reason: They can reach nearly 5 feet in height and length, with a wingspan that can reach 6 1/2 feet. I see great blue herons in flight, their long legs trailing behind them, maybe once or twice a year. And I occasionally see them in my neighbor’s yard, poaching a free meal from the fish and frogs in his water garden. But I’ve never, ever seen two at a time, and I’ve never seen one in our yard before.
OFB and I are privileged to own a beautiful piece of calligraphy by the master Kazuaki Tanahashi called “Miracles of Each Moment.” This was definitely one for me.
‘Til next time,
Who you gonna call? Phonebusters! November 30, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: cellphones, emergencies, emergency preparedness, landlines, phones, power outages, smartphones, telephones, the end of landline phones
Our friend Ben is a self-professed Luddite, aka a techno-idiot, so I may not know what I’m talking about here. But I was horrified to read an article yesterday that stated categorically that landline phones (the ones that attach to the wall with cords) were going to be phased out in the next three or so years. That would leave only cellphones and smartphones as means of communication.
On the surface, you might ask, so what? But the “what” comes in if there’s a power outage. Today, if that happens, your cellphone/smartphone goes out, but your landline phone stays on, so you can still call for help in a disaster or a medical emergency, or check in with your loved ones to make sure they’re okay. That’s why we’re advised to have both. If we only have mobile phones in the very near future, and the power goes out, we’ll be totally cut off from any way to communicate with anybody by phone.
Again, you might think, so what? But what if you’re caught in an ice storm and are trapped in your house, unable to drive to seek help, heat, medications, or supplies? What if the power’s down because of a Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Katrina or a tornado, and you need to tell your family you’re alive, or see if they are?
If I’ve been misinformed about this, please let me know. I’d appreciate it! But if I’m correctly informed, I’d love to hear if there are any other communication options that will still work when the power goes out.
Happy Thanksgiving! November 28, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders (Poor Richard), of Poor Richard’s Almanac, wish each and every one of you a joyous, blessed, and abundant Thanksgiving. Enjoy!
Get your chimney cleaned and your furnace checked. November 26, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: chimney cleaning, cold-weather house care, furnace maintenance, preparation for winter
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Our friend Ben lives in a tiny wooden cottage, which, as you might think, is vulnerable to fire. Fortunately, Silence Dogood and I have never had an unplanned fire here, though we had a close call last winter when an infrared heater overloaded our ancient wiring and caused a wall to go red-hot. (Fortunately, Silence discovered this in time to save the day.)
We have a fuel-oil furnace that came with the house, which means it’s more than 20 years old. We hate to think what it would cost to replace it, so we’re grateful that our service contract with our oil provider includes annual furnace maintenance.
But I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve been negligent about our woodstove. After the power failed in an ice storm the year after we bought our cottage home, we had a woodstove installed in the fireplace. We’ve used it to keep ourselves reasonably warm and the pipes from freezing in power outages, and of course we’ve enjoyed the occasional blazing fire as a luxury rather than a necessity. But we’ve never had the chimney pipe cleaned.
Our woodstove has a catalytic converter. But even so, creosote buildup in the pipe could be a potential fire hazard. Given how extraordinarily cold it’s been this fall, Silence and I finally broke down and asked the man who installed the stove to please come clean the chimney. (He actually remembered us, and where we lived, after all these years.) He’s supposed to come today, weather permitting, and Silence and I will have a much happier holiday season knowing that our chimney won’t set the house on fire.
If, like us, you’ve been putting this chore off, or you don’t have your furnace serviced every year, winter is coming. To our mind, it’s already here. Make maintenance a priority so you can go into the worst weather with the confidence that, whatever happens, your chimney won’t catch fire and your furnace will keep working.
Thinking outside the (greenhouse) box. October 30, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: custom greenhouses, greenhouse innovations, greenhouses, home greenhouses, Ken Burton, solar greenhouses
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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?
Cold days, warm appetizers. October 23, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
Tags: fall appetizers, hot appetizers, winter appetizers
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Silence Dogood here. We’re still a week away from November, and the weather this week is dipping to 32 and 30 degrees F. at night here in our part of scenic PA. Baby, it’s cold outside!
Yes, we’ve hauled all our plants back inside or into the greenhouse, along with our earthworm composter and water-garden plants. We’ve put up our birdfeeders and cleaned out our raised beds (sob). We still have to plant our garlic and ornamental bulbs, but everything else that needs to be in the ground is there. And we’ve put the “mufflers” on our sole window a/c and our outdoor faucet.
Still, our friend Ben and I aren’t ready for freezing and sub-freezing temperatures. What happened to fall, our most treasured season, when the colors of the leaves and the clear blue of the sky combine to form an incomparable, soul-lifting beauty, when you can sit out on the deck to watch the sunset and enjoy the blaze from the firepit and not even be cold?
Brrr. Cold is certainly the operative word around here. And the last thing I want when it’s cold outside and I’m cold inside is cold food. Suddenly, the thought of gazpacho and guacamole and Caprese salad and yogurt and all those other yummy hot-season dishes give me cold chills. So you can imagine how appalled I was to turn on my computer this morning and see an article devoted to “quick, easy, no-cook” foods! Sure enough, these foods were all cold. Brrrrr!!!
It’s not that I forgo all cold foods when the temperatures drop. I simply change the focus by adding richness. I’ll happily serve cold appetizers like my famous endive boats (Belgian endive leaves stuffed with blue, feta, and/or gorgonzola cheese, craisins (dried cranberries), pecan pieces, and cracked black pepper). An assortment of cheeses, crackers, and olives is a great warm-up to a hot meal; so is cheese and crackers paired with sliced apples or dried apricots, or cheese, nuts, and dried fruit.
A crusty baguette sliced and served with dipping oil (extra-virgin olive oil infused with lots of minced fresh garlic, herbs like oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme, Parmesan, red pepper flakes, and Trocomare or RealSalt or sea salt) will warm the coldest night. But there are so many luscious hot appetizers for the cold season as well:
* Popcorn. Simple hot popcorn with melted butter and salt, or with herbs and cheese if you prefer, is a welcome cold-weather treat, especially when served with a stemaing mug of apple cider.
* Baked Brie. Oh, yum!!! Topped with pecans, with brown sugar, with orange marmalade, with pepper jelly, or with the topping of your choosing, and served up molten with a sliced baguette or table water crackers, this melt-in-your-mouth treat is irresistible.
* Fondue. Okay, I’ve never had fondue. I think it skipped my generation. But there’s a fondue restaurant in a city near us, and one day, maybe I’ll finally try it. I haven’t so far because I think of fondue as an appetizer: skewered baguette chunks dipped in melted Swiss cheese, not a meal in itself. Somehow I’d rather have slices of buttered, toasted baguette covered with melted Jarlsberg. Add some orange marmalade or apricot jam between the buttered baguette and the melted Jarlsberg and oh, my!
* Roasted veggies. Okay, here’s the simplest hot appetizer of all, because it can be made ahead. Roast a medley of veggies—thinly sliced or diced sweet onion, mushrooms, red, orange, and/or yellow bell peppers, asparagus, broccoli—with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and some fresh-cracked pepper and salt. Now you can toss them with hot penne pasta and Parmesan, stir them into a frittata, or even use them to top a pizza.
What do you enjoy when it gets cold outside?
I’ll talk about more hot food for cold nights in upcoming posts.
‘Til next time,
Threatening the dog. October 21, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: bad dogs, dog humor, dog owners, dogs, German shepherds, Shiloh
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have a big, bad, black German shepherd named Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special. (I wanted another golden retriever, but Silence found Shiloh online and informed me that she was going to be our next dog and her name was going to be Shiloh. Well, alrighty then. And when we found out that her grandfather’s name was actually Lucas von Shiloh Special, we just couldn’t resist adding it onto her name.)
But to get back to our by now very big, very bad dog. When she does something bad—deafening us with her barking, chasing the cats or putting them through the “catwash” (her tongue is as big as the rest of her), pulling on her leash, or just generally being annoying—we threaten her. Not, mind you, with physical harm. Being wordsmiths, we threaten her with a fast flight to Asia.
Silence once read a story about Koreans’ fondness for dog meat. The proprietor of Mr. Moon’s Dog Stew Emporium, which apparently was doing a booming business when the reporter visited, served up a delicious bowl of hot dog stew. His may have been the most celebrated, but was far from the only, dog stew emporium in the city.
After Silence read this, and of course shared it with our friend Ben with an appropriate amount of outraged commentary, we began threatening Shiloh at every instance of bad behavior with instantaneous exportation and being sold by the pound to Mr. Moon.
Since Shiloh weighs more than 90 pounds, we figured we could get a decent return on investment, especially if Mr. Moon was willing to pay shipping costs. Loud barking and destroying our rugs while rushing through the house brought pointed comments about how meaty Shiloh’s thighs were, and how succulent they would be in a stew.
Admittedly, these comments appeared to be completely lost on Shiloh, but they sure made us feel better about her outrageous behavior. Recently, though, we’ve had a change of tone in our threats. Silence read that the Vietnamese, who also love dog meat and believe that eating it brings good luck, have apparently recently begun to also embrace dogs as pets. Or, at least, high-end dogs; the rest are still consigned to the pot, and apparently the devoted pet-dog owners enjoy their lucky dog-meat dishes as much as everybody else.
Silence, a devout vegetarian, practically beat our friend Ben over the head with the offending article while ranting on (and on, and on) about how perverse people could be when deciding which animals could be sacrificed for meat and which were considered cherished family members. But she didn’t show me the article because of that, but rather, because it said that a pet German shepherd could bring as much as $40,000 (U.S. dollars) in Vietnam.
Okay, we’re not Einsteins, but we don’t think we could get that much from Mr. Moon, no matter how hefty Shiloh is or how much he’s paying per pound. So we’ve changed our threat to benefit our bottom line. Now, when Shiloh misbehaves, we inform her that we’re buying her a one-way ticket to Vietnam, and that we hope she’ll appreciate the contribution she’ll be making to our bank account.
Mind you, she pays no more attention to the latest threat than she did to our promises to sell her to Mr. Moon. But we don’t care. Every time we mention her future fate, we can sit back, relax, and imagine what we’d do with $40,000. And, once we feel totally cheered up, we can rub Shiloh’s belly and smooth her ears and enjoy the company of the best bad dog that ever was without having to shell out another cent. That would be the loving, happy dog with the huge smile and lolling tongue and bright eyes and waggily tail.
Not that she wouldn’t sell us in a heartbeat for $40,000 or even $40 worth of dog treats, or pizza and white Zinfandel for that matter. But that’s another story. (Don’t even think about giving her tequila; she’d sell you to Mr. Moon ASAP and claim you were a massive Bassett hound or something. One taste of spilled tequila on the floor, and the hilarious, horrifed expression and wrinkled muzzle, put Margaritaville forever on the back burner as far as Shiloh was concerned.)
Anyway, we encourage you to threaten your dog in the most inventive ways you can come up with. Even if the dog is oblivious, we promise, you’ll feel much better.
Upping the lasagna ante. October 17, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: healthy lasagna, homemade lasagna, lasagna, the best spaghetti sauce
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Silence Dogood here. Lasagna isn’t typically the first thing that springs to mind when you’re thinking about healthy eating. But it’s actually easy to make a lasagna that’s as good for you as it is good (without sacrificing cheese or olive oil). And the results are so delicious, you may find that lasagna is your go-to healthy meal!
It all starts with a rich, luscious spaghetti sauce. My go-to sauce includes lots of sweet onion, garlic, mushrooms, green peppers and diced zucchini sauteed in olive oil, with crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and diced fresh tomatoes (any I have on hand, including cherry tomatoes), tons of herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, etc.), salt (we like RealSalt or sea salt), and chipotle hot sauce, plus dry red wine to finish, cooked over low heat for a long, long time until it’s rich, thick, and practically caramelized.
This sauce is packed with veggies, nutrients, fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories. And it’s the richest, most delicious spaghetti sauce I’ve ever eaten. (Type “spaghetti sauce” in our search bar at upper right for the full recipe.) It also makes the perfect base sauce for lasagna and pizza, so when I make it, I make sure to make plenty so I’ll have lots left over.
So you’re already starting with a super-healthy sauce for your lasagna. How else can you up the health ante? One way is to use plain Greek yogurt instead of ricotta cheese. I discovered this when I’d promised our friend Ben I’d make lasagna for supper, then discovered when I was ready to put it together that I didn’t have any ricotta, but I did have plain Greek yogurt. I decided to take a chance, and it really paid off. The yogurt was thick and creamy, not grainy like ricotta, you don’t need to add an egg, and of course the yogurt has all those good-for-you live cultures. I’ve never looked back.
I’ve also found that you can add an additional layer of veggies for an even healthier lasagna. I’ve added sauteed eggplant or blanched kale or spinach with fantastically flavorful results. Even kale-haters like OFB wolf down their servings and ask for more.
I still use plenty of shredded mozzarella and some grated Parmesan in my lasagna, and yes—I’ll admit it—”oven-ready” lasagna noodles. We don’t have a dishwasher here, and saving a big pot really makes a difference when it comes to cleanup. After a number of very disappointing tries with “quick” lasagna noodles, I’ve found that San Giorgio’s “oven-ready” lasagna pasta really holds up well. It has body, stretchiness, and some chew, just like real lasagna noodles, rather than disintegrating into the sauce during baking. (Eeeew. That’s not lasagna!)
No doubt you could make this lasagna even healthier by using multigrain or whole-wheat pasta. But frankly, my version’s healthy enough for us, and I love that the flavor and texture are so authentic and delicious. We love our lasagna with a big, crunchy salad. If OFB is craving bread with the meal, I’ll thinly slice a fresh multigrain baguette and serve it with a bowl of dipping oil made from extra-virgin olive oil, lots of fresh minced garlic, and an Italian herb mix. Yum!
‘Til next time,
How to tell if a pawpaw’s ripe. October 10, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
Tags: eating pawpaws, pawpaws, ripe pawpaws, what to do with ripe pawpaws, zebra swallowtails
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I have quite the little pawpaw grove here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home we share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. We planted three different varieties in the hope of getting a good crop (pawpaws need a second variety to cross-pollinate in order to set fruit), and last year, for the first time, we finally got some fruit. But before we could harvest them, the critters made off with them all.
This confused us, since the wily wildlife here at Hawk’s Haven usually strikes our berries and other fruiting plants the second they’re fully ripe, but not a second before. And these pawpaws were still green!
We’d become intrigued by pawpaws, a native fruit also known as “banana custard” because of its texture and flavor, when a friend brought us some ripe fruit from her trees a number of years ago. The big fruits are oblong and about the size of the small yellow mangoes you sometimes find alongside the large variety in the produce aisle. They have golden yellow flesh and large black seeds, which are easy to remove. Then you can scoop the flesh out and eat it as is, add it to muffins, cookies or bread (a la banana bread), or use it to flavor homemade ice cream.
The pawpaws Deb brought us had a noticeable yellow flush over the green skin, and we were waiting for our fruit to change color when it vanished. This year, we have a bumper crop of pawpaws, and OFB and I are eager to get a few for ourselves this time. But, once again, they’re still green. So you can imagine our shock when our friend Leslie stopped over and announced that our pawpaws were ripe and, in fact, she’d just eaten two of them!
“But Leslie, they’re still green!” I exclaimed.
“They’re definitely ripe, or at least the ones that have started to soften up are,” she responded. “They’re delicious! You’d better get out there and pick some.”
What the bleep was going on? I went online and Googled “when are pawpaws ripe.” Sure enough, it turns out that the skin of some pawpaw varieties will blush yellow when ripe, but others just stay green. Ways to tell if the green ones are ripe include checking for a slight give when pressed, like a ripe mango; putting your nose up against the fruit and seeing if you can detect a fragrance; and twisting the stem sideways to see if it detaches easily from the tree. Other folks just wait for the fruit to fall, then harvest it quickly before something else does.
Not that we begrudge our wildlife their share of pawpaws. The reason we grow them is that their leaves are the sole food of the caterpillars that become the gorgeous zebra swallowtail butterflies. We love butterflies, so we grow pawpaws for the zebra swallowtails and milkweeds for the monarch butterfly caterpillars. We just wish the critters would leave a few pawpaws for us to enjoy!
If it ever stops raining, we’ll be out there checking for ripe fruit. OFB and I will probably go for the scoop-and-eat method rather than making bread or ice cream. One final warning from the web: Apparently pawpaws can go from lusciously ripe to black-skinned and inedible within days. So once you pick them, eat them ASAP or scoop and freeze the flesh to use later.
‘Til next time,