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Paleo, shmaleo. July 23, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, our friend Ben and I were grocery shopping. I’m always interested in checking out what my fellow shoppers are buying while I’m waiting (and waiting) in the checkout line; it beats the hell out of staring at those magazine covers about the Kardashians or “guess who this fat actress is.” Ugh!

Most of the time, I’m demoralized to see that the entire order consists of bags of chips and pretzels, sodas, gallons of ice cream, doughnuts, sliced lunch meat, a loaf of white “balloon bread,” and the like, with some sugary cereals and a jug of milk added to up the “healthy” contingent and the requisite dozen cans of cat or dog food. Maybe a few bananas and some orange juice. Basically a recipe for diabetes, obesity and heart disease. I’d never give my own pets canned food, but it’s probably better for them than all that fatty, sugary, chemically laden, nutritionless glop is for their loving owners.

Yesterday, however, the woman in line behind me had a quite different shopping agenda. I stared wide-eyed as she pulled gigantic package after package of meat from her cart: the biggest package of salmon I’d ever seen, a huge pack of organic shrimp, and huge pack of organic ground meat (turkey? it looked a little pale for beef). On and on it went, until the conveyor belt behind me looked like a slaughterhouse. Yet she had obviously gone to great effort to pick only the healthiest meats, and to seek out organic meats at that. Then, she extracted the only non-meat item from her cart: a skimpy bag of frozen, steam-in-bag mixed vegetables.

Gack! This time of year, the produce aisles are overflowing with beautiful, seasonal fresh vegetables and fruits. Our own shopping bags were bursting with them. Why on earth would a person who’d taken so much care to buy healthy meats and avoid all processed foods, much less junk foods, get a tiny bag of frozen mixed veggies when all earth’s bounty lay before her?

I was mumbling about this to poor OFB all the way home from the store. I just couldn’t understand it. I kept thinking she must be planning a cookout. But why would someone serve up a tiny bag of disgusting steamed mixed frozen veggies to their guests when they could grill corn on the cob and endless other grill-friendly veggies, scoop up some homemade guacamole, salsa and tortilla chips, offer big sides of homemade coleslaw and/or Caprese salad?

Then, finally, the lightbulb went on. We weren’t talking about a party here. We were talking about a woman on the Paleo diet. If anyone still doesn’t know, the Paleo diet is supposed to reconstruct what our ancestors ate back in the hunter/gatherer days, which in essence was damned little. They trapped, hooked, and shot what they could; they foraged for wild grains, berries and fruits, honey, roots, herbs, nuts, and shoots, and doubtless worms and insects and anything else they could find. Our pre-agricultural ancestors were opportunists, foraging for what they could find, the perfect definition of omnivores.

And yes, they were thin, the reason people embrace the Paleo diet today. They weren’t thin because they wanted to be, of course; they were thin because it was so hard to find food and to consume enough calories to offset the time it took to find them. They were starving most of the time. This put their body in ketosis, kidney failure, the exact same method all the meat-based diets like Atkins use to cause their clients to start burning their own muscle to lose weight. (Yes, I said muscle; they only burn fat once the muscle is exhausted.)

If our Paleolithic ancestors could have been fat and happy, never worrying about where their next meal was coming from, getting all the delicious fat, sugar and alcohol they could manage, there’s no doubt that they would have enthusiastically supported grain-based agriculture as their descendents who managed to stumble upon grain-raising as a way to ensure a supply of beer and in the process discovered breadmaking and prosperity. “Thin” was not an attractive quality in a perpetually starving population that were lucky to make it to their 20s, much less 30s. It was agriculture, a stable food-producing system that allowed us to grow crops and livestock in place rather than hunt and gather them, that gave us longevity. Not to mention civilization.

It might be worth remembering that next time you contemplate a Paleo diet, or raw food diet, or juice cleanse, or any extreme diet. Humans were never designed to be on diets, they were designed to enjoy a diverse diet of foods prepared in a diverse manner of ways, and to enjoy foods in moderation but not in deprivation. Anorexia was never considered to be attractive, just heartbreaking, the outward manifestation of an inner mental sickness. Eating whole rather than processed foods, prepared in delicious recipes and showcasing seasonal variety, will keep us fit, not fat. Let’s go for it.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Series that shouldn’t have stopped (plus). July 18, 2014

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As we all wait…and wait…for “Game of Thrones” Season Five (and for “The Hobbit” and “Mockingjay” and… ), our friend Ben is picking up the theme from yesterday’s Silence Dogood post “Feel-good films.” There are some film series and TV series that Silence and I loved and feel simply shouldn’t have stopped, or should have swapped out leading actors. Here are a few that ended before their time, starred the wrong guy, or passed on the chance to star the right girl:

* The Conan movies. We love “Conan the Barbarian” and “Conan the Destroyer.” Rather than waiting until Ah-nold was too old for the role, then trying to revive the series with a younger man (Jason Momoa of Khal Drogo fame), they should have kept going while the going was good. (And kept Conan’s original sidekick rather than replacing him with that creepy little man.) Robert E. Howard wrote many Conan stories, so the filmmakers had plenty of material to work with. A missed opportunity for fun for all ages, more classic lines from Ah-nold, and campy entertainment for adults.

* The Tony Hillerman PBS “series.” Tony Hillerman wrote a shelf or two of Navajo murder mysteries featuring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, with a slew of great recurring characters, lots of Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni rituals and beliefs, and the breathtaking backdrop of the Four Corners as his setting. Robert Redford saw the books’ rich visual potential and filmed three PBS “specials” starring Wes Studi as Leaphorn, Adam Beach as Chee, and the marvelous Native American character actors Graham Greene as Slick Nakai, Gary Farmer as Captain Largo, and Sheila Tousey as Leaphorn’s wife Emma. But rather than making a regular series, Redford made one episode a year, stopping after just three. He should have filmed all the books while the cast was together, rather than letting them drift and losing momentum.

* The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Alexander McCall Smith’s series of novels that follow the adventures of the beloved Botswana detective, Precious Ramotswe, her assistant, Grace Makutsi, and a cast of gently humorous and unforgettable characters (shout out to you and your famous fruitcake, Mma Potokwane), calls out for a series. And it looked like it was finally getting one, with Anika Noni Rose giving a true star turn as Grace Makutsi, but it fizzled and died after just three episodes. No fault of the series or the actors—the director suddenly died. I’d have thought another director would have been brought in, but instead, the series ended just like the Tony Hillerman specials. We are hoping, hoping, hoping that The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and the Tony Hillerman novels both get a second chance.

* Master and Commander. Russell Crowe and the ensemble cast gave such a strong showing in the film version of Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic seafaring novel, showcasing everything from warfare at sea to natural history and Regency-era espionage, that it seemed a natural for followups based on O’Brian’s subsequent novels. Instead, no more were ever made. Silence and I are still waiting.

Moving on to casting:

* Sean Connery in “Shogun.” James Clavell wrote the lead character in his blockbuster novel Shogun with Sean Connery in mind, and Connery would have been perfect for the role. (He proved his range beyond Bond once and for all in “The Man Who Would Be King,” and gave his greatest performance, in our opinion, in “Rising Sun.”) Watching the series, if you picture Connery in Richard Chamberlain’s place, everything suddenly makes sense. What a wasted opportunity, since everyone else in the series was so good, and Sean Connery would have made it perfect. But in this case, it wasn’t the producers’, director’s, or casting team’s fault. Whoever played Pilot-Major Blackthorne would have had to commit to filming in Japan for two years, and Connery wasn’t willing to do that. Chamberlain was.

* George Lazenby as James Bond. Speaking of Sean Connery, there have been a lot of Bonds over the years, but none were so perfect in our opinion as Australian model-turned-actor George Lazenby, who was chosen to succeed Connery. In “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Lazenby proved virile, resourceful, intelligent, educated, and—in the only instance known to Bond—capable of actually falling in love. (Well, it was Diana Rigg.) You could totally believe both his 007 and human sides. This is a depth of character missing from most Bond portrayals, and, as Silence is constantly pointing out, he was very easy on the eyes, too. Yet he just played Bond in the one film. Why? Because his agent told him that being typecast as Bond would hamper his career. No doubt that great advice is why we all know him as an A-list actor. (Sarcasm.) I hope that agent is now supporting himself as a Wal*Mart greeter. We think Sean Bean, who played villain Alec Trevelyan in another Bond film, “GoldenEye,” would have made a fantastic Bond, too, so much stronger than Pierce Brosnan.

* Liv Tyler as Arwen Evenstar. Peter Jackson brought back Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, but passed on the opportunity to bring the gorgeous Liv Tyler back to Middle Earth in his film trilogy “The Hobbit.” She was, in our opinion, the strongest character in Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (sorry, Sean Bean and Andy Serkis, we loved you, too), and since they decided to simply stuff Orlando Bloom’s Legolas into “The Hobbit,” not to mention Galadriel, we don’t see why Liv Tyler’s Arwen couldn’t be there, too. We do applaud the choice of Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, though.

Speaking of “The Hobbit,” which stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Benedict Cumberbatch as the dragon Smaug, we are very concerned that the series “Sherlock,” starring Cumberbatch as Holmes and Freeman as Watson, might go the way of the Tony Hillerman specials. As it is, you’re lucky to get three episodes of “Sherlock” every two years, and its stars, and even its co-creator Mark Gatiss, who plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in the series and now the Banker of Braavos on “Game of Thrones,” are becoming increasingly busy with other projects. They’re promising a “Sherlock Christmas special” in December 2015 and three more episodes in 2016, but gee, that’s a long way off, and a lot of inertia and dispersion can happen between now and then. Hey, guys, show some pity! We could be hit by a bus between now and then and miss the next installment… if there even is one.

In an ironic turn, Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf in all the Peter Jackson movies, is also playing Sherlock Holmes (at 93) in the upcoming movie “Mr. Holmes.” We look forward to seeing it!

Now it’s your turn: Tell us some we missed, or what you miss.

Feel-good films. July 17, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I were talking just last night about favorite films, and OFB pointed out that many of my favorites were films that made me feel good. I agreed; I love films that cheer me up, that make me feel good, that give me hope, that make me laugh. So OFB challenged me to come up with my “Top Ten Feel-Good Films” list. I accepted the challenge, even though I was sure that I’d forget some of my favorites, and that there were so many more than ten that the list would necessarily be incomplete. But given those limitations, here are the ones that sprang to mind:

Bride and Prejudice. The Bollywood version of “Pride and Prejudice.” I love many adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, including Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Emma,” Ciaran Hinds’s magnificent performance in “Persuasion,” and Alicia Silverstone’s adorable “Clueless,” but the high energy, hijinks, and general color, lightheartedness, and mayhem of “Bride and Prejudice”—not to mention the gorgeous Naveen Andrews as Balraj (Mr. Bingley)—takes it over the top.

Young Sherlock Holmes. I love all things Sherlock, but for the ultimate feel-good Holmes film, I’ll take “Young Sherlock Holmes” any day. Alan Cox as Watson would be enough to make the film a classic, but the marvelous Anthony Higgins as Moriarty and the hysterical, campy Egyptian stuff really make it priceless. After seeing it, just thinking of the line “My name is Lester Cragwitch!” will make you roar with laughter.

Flashdance. This isn’t the most cheerful of films, but its ultimate message is so uplifting: Go for your dreams and never give up. The heroine, played sensitively by a very young Jennifer Beals, faces a lot of hardship and heartbreak on the way to reaching her dreams, but she succeeds (and her friends don’t) because her inherent optimism, kindness, generosity and drive attract allies that won’t let her down, no matter what. And there’s tons of energy in the music and dancing.

Blow Dry. Like “Flashdance,” “Blow Dry” takes us through the full range of emotions, especially since Natasha Richardson plays a woman dying before her time and we all know what happened to her. But this film is so full of humor as well as sorrow, so full of great actors (like Alan Rickman), so full of hysterical moments (Bill Nighy is priceless, as is his film partner, Louie, and the mayor of the small town in Yorkshire where the hair competition is held). Ultimately, it’s about the triumph of love, but it reaches its end with plenty of humor along the way. Best line: “He looks like bloody Sid Vicious!” Wait ’til you see who it is.

The Full Monty. This riotous film is also overflowing with humor, but the underlying message is uplifting, about the power that comes from sticking together. A bunch of very unlikely, unemployed men from the former booming steel town of Sheffield, England, decide to improve their fortunes—and love lives—by staging a Chippendales-style act of their own. After many misadventures, including being thrown into jail, losing their homes, losing a son through custody issues, a botched suicide attempt, grocery-store burglary, and so on, the guys get it together. And the attack of the garden gnomes during a job interview still makes me laugh so hard I cry.

Julie and Julia. Who doesn’t love Julia Child? Who doesn’t love Dan Aykroyd’s parody of Julia Child? Who wouldn’t love Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci as Julia and Paul Child? Not me. Seeing any of the above onscreen makes me feel good, especially the onion scene. Seeing Julia’s modern-day follower, Julie Powell, trying to make lobster thermidore while her totally adorable husband dances around singing “Lobsta killah, lobsta killah” is the greatest thing ever.

Smoke Signals. Based on Sherman Alexie’s novels of life on the Rez, this film brims over with laugh-out-loud humor and dry wit. The ultimate coming-of-age story and road trip rolled into one, it’s filled with great characters like Lester Fallsapart and the great Gary Farmer as Arnold Joseph, father of one of the protagonists, who ironically really does fall apart. But the true hero of the movie is Thomas Builds-the-Fire, a happy-go-lucky visionary who helps Arnold’s son Victor reconcile his relationship with his father, and with life, over the course of the road trip. As the Rez’s DJ says, “It’s a good day to be Indigenous.”

The Commitments. This movie about some kids in Dublin who form a soul band, “The Commitments,” is hilarious. Many of the best lines are provided by the Elvis-worshipping father of the protagonist, played just brilliantly by Colm Meaney, who has a portrait of Elvis hanging just under his portrait of the Pope. The adorable (and bizarrely named) Outspan Foster, played by Irish musician Glen Hansard, will win your heart, and Maria Doyle (now Maria Doyle Kennedy of “The Tudors” fame) is marvelous. Not to mention that the music is great.

Princess Caraboo. The movie that presumably introduced Phoebe Cates to her husband, Kevin Kline, is simply marvelous all-round. Catesby plays a servant girl in Regency England (the Jane Austen era) who runs away and pretends to be an exotic princess, named Caraboo. She is taken up as a novelty by high society and eventually even meets the Prince Regent himself before being unmasked by an investigative reporter, Gutch. But the film has a happy ending, as Gutch has fallen in love with the girl and arranges for her to make a fresh start in America rather than being hanged, and then joins her. Kline as Frixos, the Greek butler of the house that takes her in, is simply priceless, and a strong supporting cast, including Jim Broadbent, John Lithgow, John Sessions as the Prince Regent, and the marvelous Stephen Rea as the reporter, make this a total feel-good hit. Wait for Kevin Kline’s “Unfortunately.”

Last Holiday. Queen Latifah at her finest, playing Georgia Bird, a gifted cook who worships Emeril and longs to open a restaurant but instead is working in the cookware department of a department store run by a greedy, horrific monster who embodies every moronic, “hot” management trend, much like Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss. When Ms. Bird is misdiagnosed with a terminal illness and told she only has two weeks to live, she decides to chuck it in and spend those two weeks at a super-elite hotel and spa in Switzerland, enjoying the delicious dishes prepared by their outrageously eccentric chef, played marvelously by Gerard Depardieu. When her horrid uber-boss shows up at the same resort, hilarity follows on a grand scale, and Georgia eventually triumphs. Don’t ever forget Depardieu’s secret to happiness: butter. (But he forgot salt.)

Independence Day. What red-blooded Earthling wouldn’t love this movie, where, as star Will Smith says, we “whup ET’s ass”?! Jeff Goldblum is simply priceless as the nerdy genius who saves the day, but it’s his onscreen father, played to perfection by Judd Hirsch, who steals all the scenes. At Hawk’s Haven, we watch “Independence Day” every Fourth of July. But I could probably watch it every week.

Honorable mention:

Scrooge. The musical version of “A Christmas Carol,” starring Albert Finney, is hilarious, and the music is fantastic. David Collings as Bob Cratchit, Karen Scargill as his adorable daughter Kathy, and one of Scrooge’s debtors, Tom Jenkins (Anton Rogers), a soup seller, are so great, and we’re treated to guest appearances by Sir Alec Guinness as Marley’s Ghost, Dame Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Sir Kenneth More as the Ghost of Christmas Present. But it’s really David Collings who steals the show as Cratchit. My other fave is “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” which also has really memorable music. The reason these fall in the “Honorable Mention” category is simply because they’re seasonal.

Conan the Barbarian. Ah, gotta love the two Conan movies, “Conan the Barbarian” and its sequel, “Conan the Destroyer.” These films introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to the world beyond weightlifting and made him a household name, mainly because they were filled with great Arnold one-liners that came to define his subsequent film roles, such as another favorite feel-good film, “The Running Man.” (“See you at the 25th prison reunion.”) It was “The Running Man” that first gave us Ah-nold’s deathless line, “I’ll be back.” But it was the Conan films that gave him the opening to inject humor and laughs into what could have been just another pair of tedious muscle/fantasy films that took themselves way too seriously.

Bend It Like Beckham. I suppose I’d appreciate any film that allowed an ordinary girl to triumph over the bizarre-looking, anorexic Keira Knightley. The parents of both the heroine and her best friend (played by Ms. Knightley) are marvelous. And like all Jane Austen romances—of which I think this was a modernization—there are plenty of twists and turns before the star-crossed lovers are finally united with a kiss.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. A gentle, delightful film about a bunch of British seniors who are, for a variety of reasons, forced to retire to India to spend their “golden years” in an affordable hotel. Plunged into an exotic culture and less-than-ideal accommodations, they discover who they truly are and even find late-life love and new careers. Meanwhile, the adorable proprietor of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel faces romantic and financial crises of his own, but amid considerable hilarity, all turns out for the best. Super ensemble performances, with standout turns from Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, and Dev Patel (as the proprietor). Impossible not to feel good by the end of this!

Cinema Paradiso. Some sad things happen in this Italian tale of a small town cinema’s rise and fall, but there’s such delightful interplay between a little boy, the man who operates the film equipment, and the village priest that it more than compensates. Lots of laughs and smiles along the way. And, in the end, two delightful surprises for the boy, now grown to become a famous director. Beautifully acted, great music, and totally heartwarming.

The Gods Must Be Crazy. This hysterical film pits a timeless, gentle, primitive culture against modern society, all because a pilot tossed an empty Coke bottle out of his plane. The Kalahari people on whose land the bottle falls at first believe it to be a gift from the Gods, but realize when it stirs up envy and enmity among the people for the first time ever that it is “the evil thing.” One man volunteers to take it away, and in the process has many misadventures as he meets more “advanced” cultures. At the same time, a hapless ranger has ludicrous, hilarious disaster after disaster, especially after he meets the woman of his dreams. Fortunately, all turns out well for the tribesman and the star-crossed lovers.

Sister Act. Okay, okay, I know it’s hokey, but it still cheers me up. Whoopi Goldberg may not be convincing as a casino act, but she’s simply great as a pseudo-nun in the Witness Protection Program. Dame Maggie Smith does a great job as her Mother Superior, and Whoopi’s fellow nuns are priceless, as she turns a hopeless choir into an irresistible act. I dare you not to sing along!

Okay, enough from me for now. That’s 18 movies that make me happy. Which films make you happy?

‘Til nex,t time,

Silence

Hurry up and invent it. July 15, 2014

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Inventions are different from discoveries, as several astute readers recently pointed out on our friend Ben’s post about two brilliant men and bitter rivals, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. Discoveries are abstract; inventions are their practical applications.

One of the great inventions of our day—at least for people who hate heat and humidity, like myself and Silence Dogood—is air conditioning. Air conditioning allows us to survive indoors in the summer and to ride in our cars in cooking-hot conditions. Without air conditioning, we would be packing up and moving to the Arctic Circle.

So, we ask ourselves, why hasn’t someone invented the personal portable air conditioner, a wearable device that allows us to walk around outside in sickening heat and humidity without passing out and expiring? About the best options we have are wringing out a bandanna in ice water and putting it around our necks, or taking a spray bottle of water and ice and spraying our exposed body parts whenever we’re feeling too hot. Both of these techniques rely on evaporative cooling, a very short-term solution.

In the era of Google Glass, surely the PPAC should be doable. Somebody, get on Kickstarter and start raising money! Our friend Ben read just this morning that somebody has raised $3 million and counting for an updated version of the classic picnic cooler. How about a people cooler?!!! We’ll be happy to test the trial version(s). If we can air condition a house and car, we should be able to air condition ourselves. Hurry up, please!

Tesla or Edison? July 13, 2014

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Our friend Ben read an article yesterday wondering about who was the greater genius, Thomas Edison (inventor of DC current) or Nikola Tesla (inventor of AC current). The two were bitter rivals back in the day, and while Edison died a wealthy man, Tesla died poor, alone and obscure. Fortunately, thanks to Elon Musk and his ilk, Tesla is enjoying a revival in our time, a fitting renaissance for the man who said “The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.”

I meant to ask my brilliant godson Rashu which inventor he preferred when he was here with his family yesterday, but unfortunately became so obsessed with eating and visiting that I forgot. I cast my vote with Tesla, and here’s why:

Tesla was a true genius, a great inventor who gave us the inventions on which modern communications (he invented the cell phone) and entertainment (radio, TV) were based, in addition to AC electricity. Tesla’s 300 patents were all his own inventions. Tesla’s memory was eidetic, enabling him to envision objects in 3D in his mind and then create them. He famously said, “We all make mistakes, and it is better to make them before we begin.” He was also a pleasant and witty person who practiced good hygiene and was generally a joy to be around.

Edison, by contrast, was a mean, filthy slob. He held more than a thousand patents, but most were invented by his employees. He developed his theories by tinkering with various parts until something worked out, like the incandescent lightbulb and motion pictures (an idea he got from the famed freeze-frame photographer Eadweard Muybridge).

He was, in short, the Henry Ford of the electric industry: a practical man who saw what people needed and mass-produced those goods affordably via factories, hiring smart men and milking them for their inventions. It can easily, and correctly, be argued that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison did more to transform life for the average U.S. citizen in the 20th Century than anyone else.* The only other thing that comes close is advances in the food industry: pasteurization, canning, freezing, refrigeration.

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison died rich, successful men, Tesla broke and forgotten. But that begs the question: Was Edison or Tesla the greater genius? Let me leave you with another prescient Tesla quote before you draw your own conclusions: “The scientists of today think deeply but not clearly.”

* Oops, I forgot Alexander Graham Bell. The telephone also transformed everyday life in much the same way as the internet has for us.

Shut up about supersizing. July 12, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. I am SO sick of reading about how the giant portions served in restaurants are making us all obese. Good grief, we’re adults, we have eyes, we can see portion sizes. And all restaurants have a little thing called “doggie bags,” aka clamshell containers. Just because we’re served supersized portions doesn’t mean we have to eat them. Nobody’s holding our mouths open and shoving food down our throats like geese being fattened for foie gras.

When our friend Ben and I eat out, we split a favorite appetizer like spring rolls or tempura vegetable rolls or spinach balls or guacamole. A half-order of an appetizer kind of kills my appetite. I’ll enjoy every bite, but I’ll order my meal knowing that I’m unlikely to eat it then and there. I’ll order a salad with no croutons (empty calories!) and dressing on the side, so I can dip my greens into the dressing without sogging down the whole salad, which would cause it to rot within an hour, rather than staying fresh and crunchy for another meal.

Let’s say I’ve ordered fettucine Alfredo with grilled veggies, or bean curd Szechuan style, or a bean burrito as my entree. Yum! But oops, I’m already filled up from the appetizer. So I’ll get my food to go, and enjoy it for at least one and possibly two nights after our restaurant night. This is not just a delicious treat, but it saves money, since you’re paying for not one but up to three meals, and it saves calories, too. Go ahead and supersize that salad and entree, say I. OFB and I will happily split them tomorrow night.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Aw, shucks. July 10, 2014

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Silence Dogood here, presenting the highlights of my trip with our friend Ben down to Annapolis, Maryland, this past weekend. One of the most priceless things we did was visit the Annapolis Maritime Museum. Now mind you, when OFB and I think “maritime museum,” we envision a museum packed to the gills with sailing ships, shells, and seafaring lore, like the one we’ve been to in Beaufort, North Carolina (which, as the home of Blackbeard, is also full of pirate-related items). I insisted that we go to the Annapolis Maritime Museum ASAP.

As it turned out, this particular museum wasn’t a maritime museum at all. Instead, housed in the last operational oyster-packing plant in Annapolis, it was a museum of the oyster industry in Annapolis (and doubtless many other sites along the Atlantic seacoast). There was only one ship in the museum, and it had been cut into three parts so you could see what an oyster boat looked like both outside and in.

As our docent (museum guide) told us, this particular oyster plant had been in operation from 1919 to about 1989, when depletion of the oyster beds finally forced it to close its doors. (The harvest dwindled from 3 million to 100,000 a year.) She showed us the room where the oysters were dumped out from the boats, and the oystercatchers employees used to collect them (they looked like heavy-duty rakes facing each other, with long wooden poles attached).

She explained that boys raced to the shucking stations, where employees waited, with wheelbarrows full of freshly harvested oysters. Each shucker had his or her own personal shucking knife, typically short-handled, thin-bladed, and with a scoop-shaped end to scoop the oyster out of its shell once the knife had pried the shell open. She said the shucking style varied, from prying the shell open at the front to severing the muscle that held the shell closed at the back, but that all experienced shuckers had one trait in common: They worked at lightning speed.

Every shucker was supplied with buckets that held exactly a gallon of shucked oysters. The faster they could fill those buckets, the more money they made, since they were paid by the gallon. Once they delivered their gallon to the front, the oysters were poured out onto a slanted shute and counted, then agitated in a large barrel of fresh water to dislodge sand and silt. Finally, they were drained and packed, alive, in cans with clear tops so buyers could see them. The cans were sealed, and the oysters, still alive, were shipped on ice via, of all things, zeppelins, to their destinations in the Midwest and throughout the East. Once delivered, as long as they were packed on ice, they would live for about two weeks.

This was not exactly the “Stairway to Heaven” that I associate with zeppelins. The docent repeatedly emphasized that the oysters weren’t cooked, canned, or pasteurized in any sense that I was aware of. They were sealed in those cans and shipped off raw and alive. And she assured me that, if I’d ever eaten raw oysters, I’d still be getting them out of those same cans. All I wanted to do was scream “Thank God I’ve never eaten an oyster in my life!!!” But I thought that might come off as rude, so I tried to keep my mouth shut and my eyes from bulging completely out of my head.

The hilarious counterpoint to this adventure came when we thanked the docent and went out to the dock at the back of the museum so we could circle back to our car. We were met by a man charging at us with one of the long-poled oystercatchers, shouting “Get out of our way! Coming through!!!”

As OFB and I dove for the sides of the dock, the matriarch of the family explained that her grandson had dropped his cellphone into the water and her husband was trying to rescue it with the oystercatcher, conveniently located on the dock as a historical display. Her daughter, the mother of the kid who’d dropped his cellphone, added that, if they could fish it out of the water, they could put it in a bag of dry rice and see if they could revive it. (I’ve read that this actually works, but have never had to try it.)

Sadly, OFB and I managed to get in our car and depart before we found out if the family had succeeded in retrieving the cellphone. But using the oystercatcher to try to scoop it up was certainly a display of ingenuity worthy of the early oyster industry, and the men and women who provided America with an endless supply of oysters.

Today, Annapolis derives many of its raw oysters from carefully managed artisanal oyster farms. A restaurant I wrote about yesterday, Factors Row Restaurant & Bar, features at least a dozen of these family-farmed operations’ oysters on its menu. I’m so glad. But I’m still never, ever eating one.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Creamed corn, grits, and mango rice. July 9, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I just got home from a weekend in scenic Annapolis, Maryland, where we went out into the Chesapeake Bay in a sailing schooner, saw lots of happy dogs (many sailing with their owners), learned a great deal about oysters, and sat on the dock every sunset watching the yachts, sailing ships, and pretty much every other kind of craft you could imagine as the waves lapped the dock and every imaginable kind of seabird, from seagulls, cormorants and ospreys to ducks and swallows, patrolled the ocean for food.

That two-hour cruise aboard the schooner Woodwind, with a high wind and high waves (not to mention a lot of spray) thanks to Hurricane Arthur, was an exciting and delightful adventure. The only thing I wasn’t expecting was that the winds and waves would tilt the sailboat so that our side was practically pitching us into the Bay for the first hour. I’m a strong swimmer, but flying overboard in front of a boatload of spectators wasn’t my idea of entertainment.

Fortunately, OFB kept a grip on me until the ship turned and I could enjoy the crashing waves and rocking of the ship, plus the occasional refreshing blast of spray, without having to worry if I’d be washed overboard. The trip as a whole was simply great—I love the water—and I’d recommend it to anyone. (And to note, neither OFB nor anyone else on board, from elders to the numerous children of all ages, seemed the least bit concerned about washing overboard, so it must have just been me.)

This was fun, as was sitting on the dock watching all the ships zip around or majestically sail in or waddle in, blasting their horns, as the golden light turned to darkness and the wind off the Bay cooled us beautifully, supplied as we were with delicious drinks—rum punch for me and Pusser’s Painkiller (medium strength) for OFB—from Pusser’s Caribbean Grill on the dock. I could have sat there all night, but OFB was getting hungry (shock surprise) and finally suggested that we get a move on and find somewhere to eat.

The first night, we decided to simply settle down where we’d started and eat at Pusser’s Caribbean Grill. Named, in case you’re wondering, for the only rum still manufactured to Royal Navy standards. Say Puss-er’s, puss as in pus, not puss. Eeewww. But the rum punch is outstanding, and OFB, who enjoys pina coladas, loved the Painkiller. (The name Pusser comes from “purser,” the guy who made sure a sailing ship in His or Her Majesty’s fleet was well supplied.)

I immediately discovered two dishes I need to recreate in the worst way, Pusser’s amazing mango rice and its even more amazing grits with goat cheese. OFB shared a taste of his mango rice, and it was SO delicious—not sweet, as you might think, but distinctively spicy—that if we’d eaten there again, I might have just gotten a plateful and forgotten about everything else (except unsweetened iced tea and rum punch).

As a Southerner, I love grits, and almost never get to eat them, since good grits are thick and luscious, but making them involves pain, since they love to spit on you as they reach that thick perfection, and being splattered by hot, sticky grits is torture. Here in the North, there are no grits to be found. And in far too many restaurants in the South, grits have become a gross, pasty, tasteless, runny side. Yecchh!!! So to find a restaurant that actually offered grits, and goat cheese grits at that, made me start drooling. But the grits were served as part of the famous coastal shrimp and grits dish. Would Pusser’s be willing to just serve me a side of goat-cheese grits sans shrimp? Indeed they would, and boy, were they delicious! I’m a grits-and-butter fanatic, but no butter was needed to supplement the goat cheese in this thick and luscious grits concoction.

Alas, OFB understandably wanted to try as many of Annapolis’s restaurants as we could manage for lunch and supper while we were there, so we didn’t return to Pusser’s and I never got my fill of goat cheese grits or mango rice. Nor could I find recipes for either online. Nor can I honestly say that I’m willing to endure the hissing, spitting grits agony to even try to make my own, or that I have a clue as to what went into the mango rice. I may just have to resign myself to waiting until our next trip to Annapolis to get the good stuff, and this time, plenty of it.

Which is not to say that Southern nostalgia didn’t play a big role in the rest of my restaurant menu choices. The last meal OFB and I ate in Annapolis, a late lunch after a tour of the Naval Academy’s amazing model ship museum, was at Factors Row Restaurant & Bar. (Like pursers, factors were also Colonial-era professionals, also responsible for goods coming in and going out. IRS, anyone? They eventually gave their name to factories, the places where goods were produced.) I was excited to eat there, since the restaurant prided itself on local sourcing, buying everything from its oysters to its beverages from folks who lived and made their living in the immediate vicinity.

But I was stunned by the artisanal drinks on offer. I had the best drink of my entire life at Factors Row, and only wish I could have tried the entire handmade, locally sourced drinks list. (Er, no. More unsweetened iced tea, please.) Factors’ bartender is a genius. Then there was the food.

I saw that the menu offered another classic Southern side dish, creamed corn. Yum! It had been SO long since I’d had creamed corn. After asking our server if it contained meat and receiving a negative, I ordered it.

If you don’t know creamed corn, here’s a little primer. First, forget the “creamed” part. There’s no cream, or even milk, in most creamed corn. Instead, it’s fresh white corn cut off the cob, then the cobs are scraped down to add the “corn milk” to the corn, then the kernels are mashed or chopped to release even more of their “cream.” To serve, the creamed corn is heated and served with butter, salt and pepper to taste.

To see this simple goodness offered on the Factors Row menu was just too much to resist. And oh my, when the creamed corn arrived, was it rich, creamy and good! Not buttery per se, just rich, mild, and delectably creamy. But it was a rather startling color, sort of a chrome yellow rather than a creamy white-yellow. What the bleep? I asked our server, who asked the chef, who revealed that the secret ingredient was avocado puree. Thank you, Factors Row chef! I would never have thought that avocado would have simply intensified the yellow color of creamed corn rather than turning it olive green or some other unfortunate color like khaki. Now it’s just a matter of perfecting that buttery, delicious creamed corn at home.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Patriotic trivia for the Fourth of July. July 4, 2014

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It’s me, Richard Saunders of “Poor Richard’s Almanac” fame, here today to remind you that two of the things we take for granted are comparatively recent additions to our national identity. In fact, we owe them both to the Civil War.

You might think that the Pledge of Allegiance is as old as the Declaration of Independence, but in fact, it was written by a socialist Baptist preacher, Francis Bellamy, in 1892. When our nation was founded, a long struggle between States’ Rights—the notion that every state was sovereign, and central government should be minimalized, espoused by Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and many other Founding Fathers—and a strong central government, promoted by George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and others, split our nation into two political parties, the Federalists (those in favor of strong central government) and the Republicans (those in favor of sovereign states and weak central government).

It’s obvious to us that the strong central government option won, but it wasn’t obvious to U.S. citizens before the Civil War. In fact, States’ Rights played prominently in the mobilization of citizens against the Crown and the lighting of the fuse that sparked the Revolution. It also was the justification behind the Confederacy’s breaking away from the North.

With our five-minute attention spans, we don’t realize what a long-lasting impact the Civil War had on Americans. Though the war itself ended in 1865, a nation ripped apart and crudely patched back together was still reeling and healing when Reverend Bellamy wrote “one nation, under God, indivisible” almost 30 years later. To this day, we reinforce this vow of unity every time we recite the Pledge.

The other aftereffect of the Civil War was the shift of our national motto from “E Pluribus Unum” to “In God We Trust.” This is rather ironic, given that “E Pluribus Unum” means “from many, one,” reinforcing the idea of a United States emerging from diverse colonies, and then states. It was also the chosen motto of the Founding Fathers, who set the shape for and values of our nation.

But in the aftermath of the Civil War, with so many dead and injured on both sides, so many ripped from their homes and families, the nation turned to God for comfort and consolation. The first coins to display “In God We Trust” appeared in 1864, prompted by another preacher, the Reverend M.R. Watkinson. It took almost a hundred years to appear on our currency (paper money), in 1957. President Dwight Eisenhower made it our country’s official motto in 1956, when we were still recovering from the aftermath of World War II, and still looking to God to save us from a nuclear apocalypse.

What would the Founders make of the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” as our national motto? God only knows. But I wish I could go back and ask them.

Warmly,

Richard Saunders

Patriotic pooch and cat. July 3, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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There are plenty of breeds developed right here in the USA, from coonhounds to sled dogs. But if our friend Ben had to pick just two breeds to celebrate this Fourth of July, they’d be the American foxhound and the Maine coon cat.

You see, the American foxhound was bred by the Father of Our Country himself, George Washington, in the 1770s and 1780s, using foxhounds imported from England and France. I guess our first president was as interested in animals as in agriculture. (Mount Vernon still has descendents of some of his favorite livestock breeds, including cattle and sheep, but alas, no American foxhounds, or at least, none that Silence Dogood and I saw on our last trip there.)

The American foxhound is recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), however, so it must still be out there, a long-legged, handsome breed. (Our friend Ben saw a recent photo of an entire pack, proving that they’re still alive and well.) But before you go rushing off to acquire one, bear in mind that, like all hounds, it was bred specifically to hunt. If you want one of General Washington’s hounds, you’d better be prepared to provide it with plenty of exercise.

Moving on to America’s most patriotic cat, the official State Cat of Maine, the Maine coon cat, is the obvious choice. These regal, gentle giants (think a majestic lynx and the personality of Hodor of “Game of Thrones” combined) have tufted ears, thick coats, and luxuriously furred paws, ideal for surviving the cold New England winters. They are also, in our friend Ben’s humble opinion, the most beautiful and affectionate of all cats, with their open, laid-back, loving, doglike personalities. (Full disclosure: We’ve been privileged to welcome five Maine coons into our home over the years, and would never even think of another breed.)

No one really knows how Maine coons came to be. Unlike American foxhounds, they weren’t bred, they simply turned up. As a result, numerous rumors have arisen over the years. One of the most popular was that Marie Antoinette, planning her escape from France before its citizens separated her head from her body, sent a ship ahead to Maine bearing her beloved cats, which subsequently went feral. Another is that Maine coons descended from cats on the Viking ships brought to America by Eric the Red.

The lack of knowledge of their origins makes the Maine coon even more All-American, since so many immigrants’ records and history were lost when they cast their lot and shipped out to the New World. But if you’re wondering about the breed’s name, the answer is easy: The original Maine coon cats’ coloring and enormous size reminded Mainers of raccoons. And like raccoons, Maine coons are drawn to water.

Now Maine coons are available in many colors, and they’re the ultimate lap cats. They love everybody (even dogs), have the most adorable tiny squeaky voices, despite their huge size—”Meep!”—purr like there was no tomorrow, and are perfectly happy as house cats. And, despite their often goofy, clownish antics, they’re really, really smart. (They had to be to survive the Maine climate, outside on their own, right?)

You might want to dispute my choice of breeds and say that the true All-Americans are the mutts, the cats and dogs who, like most of us, were forged in the melting pot that defines American freedom and have no distinct breed to call their own. Our friend Ben is not about to argue with that! Our shelters are overflowing with sad, discarded animals who need homes.

I can think of no more patriotic act on July Fourth than to bring one of these shelter dogs or cats home and give them their freedom with a loving, caring family. But—I cannot tell a lie—should you wish to follow our first and greatest President’s lead, or answer the call of American freedom and independence, the American foxhound and the Maine coon cat are, in my opinion, definitely the way to go.

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