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How to use chopsticks. August 28, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. If the only experience you’ve had with chopsticks is watching Pat Morita catch flies with them in “The Karate Kid,” it might be a little intimidating to go to a restaurant and see everybody else using them. And embarrassing to have to say “Could I have a fork, please?”

As a chopstick novice myself, I’ve managed to learn how to eat vegetable tempura rolls and things like stir-fries and General Tso’s tofu with chopsticks, but still can’t manage soft, slippery things like mapo tofu or tiny things like grains of rice. (Hint: In “The Man with the Golden Gun,” a James Bond movie set in Hong Kong, they showed a family basically holding bowls of rice to their mouths and shoveling the rice in with their chopsticks. Made sense to me!) I was once served a soup-like porridge at a Zen monastery which I was expected to eat, along with the rest of the meal, with chopsticks. Yow!!! Fortunately, we were able to serve ourselves and I took a tiny portion of porridge and somehow managed to down it all, as was expected. Never again!

Anyway, one restaurant, a wonderful Sichuan (Szechuan) restaurant in State College, PA, called Sichuan Bistro, has come up with a discreet way to help chopstick-challenged diners: chopsticks that come with directions. The directions, printed on the red paper chopstick cover, are straightforward: Take one chopstick, tuck it under the thumb of your dominant hand, and hold firmly. Add the second chopstick and hold it between your index finger and thumb, as you’d hold a pencil, while still holding the first chopstick wedged down between your thumb and hand. To eat, hold the first chopstick still and move the second one up and down to capture and immobilize food.

I certainly wouldn’t agree with the printed directions that “now you can pick up anything” with chopsticks—I’m still not going for the porridge or rice—but this technique really does work. Try it and see for yourself!

‘Til next time,


Should you choose gummy vitamins? August 20, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. I try to eat a healthy, balanced diet, but I’ve also always tried to supplement with vitamins, since, as a vegetarian, I know I need to add more iron, B12 and omega-3s, among others, than most omnivores. I used to swallow an amazing assortment of horse-pill-sized vitamins every morning and night.

But as time went on, I found it harder and harder to swallow big pills. And I found that, without even realizing it, I’d gradually stopped taking my vitamins. Just looking at one of them made my throat close up. What to do?

Fortunately, thanks to children’s vitamins, an answer seemed to be on the horizon: candy. There are now adult gummy vitamins, M&M-style vitamins, NECCO wafer-style vitamins. You can simply eat these sweet-treat vitamins rather than having to swallow them. You can choose multivitamins, individual vitamins, or an assortment.

But do they really work? An interview with a nutritional scientist on Yahoo News this morning said yes, that they were as effective as the horse pills (or any vitamin pills and capsules). And that their sweetness wasn’t an issue, since two gummy vites had just 15 calories and 2-3 grams of sugar (compared to 40 for a 12-ounce soda). Great news for those of us who’d worried about the gummy vites rotting our teeth.

But I had one more question. As a vegetarian, I didn’t want to eat gummy vites with gelatin. Were there any vegetarian gummy vites? My local health-food store came to the rescue. Nordic Naturals Nordic Berries were made with pectin (a fruit-based thickener), not gelatin.

So now I take the Nordic multivitamin gummy vites along with wafer-like vitamin C and B12. Do I want to eat candylike vitamins, since I’d never even think of eating candy? Certainly not. Would I rather eat candylike vitamins than not take vitamins at all? You betcha. Pass the bottle, please.

‘Til next time,


Eating money. August 11, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

—Based on a Cree saying

This Cree warning of the horrors of environmental destruction in the service of human greed is certainly powerful. But these days, it’s apparently not true. People collectively known as “biohackers” have set out to prove that farms, plants and animals aren’t necessary to feed people—all we need are labs.

The first of these to make headlines were the creators of Soylent, a chemical concoction with the appearance and flavor of sludge, named ironically for “Soylent Green,” the only food given a utopian/dystopian population in the novel of the same name. In the novel, Soylent Green turns out to be made from dead people. In the lab, Soylent is composed of a cocktail of chemicals, vitamins and minerals that support human life. It was developed by a tech creator who was sick of making runs to Costco for corndogs and the like. Surely there was a faster way to glog down nutrients so you could concentrate on things that mattered, like creating new video games?

Today, a new group of biohackers have made headlines. They’re not trying to make glop for techno-nerds. They’re just trying to bypass the agricultural process to make meat and dairy products in labs. The meat producers use stem cells to grow lab meats, so that animals no longer need to be slaughtered. The non-dairy people, with names like Muufri (moo-free, get it?!), are more aligned with Soylent, making their dairy products from lab-concocted chemical combinations. Both groups tout how “clean,” how sterile their production tanks are compared to farms.

And both Soylent and the Muufri groups can proudly claim to be vegan—no animals are harmed, or used in any way, in their products. One reviewer noted that, if these lab-grown products were adopted by the public, animals would be so happy because they weren’t being milked or raised for meat, even on free-range organic farms. Well, no. If there were no agricultural reason to raise them, they would be allowed to go extinct. An extinct animal is not a happy animal. If someone asked you if you’d prefer a year or more enjoying a free life on open pasture under the sun, or never being born at all, what would you choose? There are plenty of non-meat, non-dairy options for vegans now that don’t involve the extermination of domesticated animals.

Of course, the parent of this trend is GMO crops, the Monsanto-led monsters that create a chemical soup of toxic herbicides, then create genetically modified crops that can withstand them, knowing all along that weeds will gain resistance to their chemical soup so they can sell ever-more toxic herbicide combos to the farmers who now depend on them and their GMO-modified seeds.

The lab rats who “biohack” pseudo-foods would be the last to identify themselves with Monsanto, though the inventor of Soylent has said that his product was the ultimate anti-organic food, being 100% chemical. Yet they fail to see the weakness in their system: The giant food price increases that could come if market giants bought their nifty startups, the market monopolies that could come if their techno-foods drove real food out of business, the end of actual food, real vegetables, real fruits, real cheese, real flavor. And then, if they were co-opted by some evil monster like Monsanto, the end of the world. “Buy our monstrous, lab-produced food or else!” Soylent Green is coming.

Take pride in your work. August 1, 2014

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“Every calling is great when greatly pursued.”

—Oliver Wendell Holmes

This quote reminds our friend Ben of a scene from the wonderful series “John Adams.” John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers, was a gifted lawyer and a staunch supporter of Independence. He was also America’s first vice president and second president.

But the scene that made such an impression on me showed Adams back at his home, a working farm, composting manure to make fertilizer for his fields. He proudly bragged to his young son, the future president John Quincy Adams, about his skill in turning this particular black gold into perfectly composted fertilizer to spread on the fields and gardens. You’d have thought that composting manure was the greatest achievement of his life. Every calling is great when greatly pursued, indeed.

Morning rituals. July 31, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five must-have hot sauces. July 30, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. It seems like hot sauce has taken over the world. Our friend Ben, Richard Saunders and I see thousands of different hot sauces every September when we attend the annual Bowers Chile Pepper Food Festival in scenic Bowers, PA, where vendors are offering all things chile*, from chile chocolates to salsas to jams and jellies to pickled hot green tomatoes to chile-raspberry soft ice cream. And yes, of course, those hot sauces with the incredibly clever names and packaging (like skull keychains hanging off the bottles), as well as artisanal, small-batch sauces whose creators box and bring them themselves.

Our friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders really goes for the hot stuff, bottles with names like Endorphin Rush and Mad Dog 35 Ghost Pepper. Once he and OFB got into a hot sauce-naming contest, coming up with dozens of memorable names for hot sauces. (My favorite was OFB’s Emergency Room Special.)

But OFB and I prefer sauces that don’t numb your tongue, burn your eyes, and send you to the emergency room. We like sauces that add both flavor and moderate heat while letting the flavor of the food you’re putting the sauce on shine through. With that in mind, here are the five hot sauces I reach for again and again:

Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce. From the famed McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, Louisiana comes my favorite sauce for anything that needs smoky heat. It may sound crazy that the makers of the ubiquitous Tabasco Sauce could make my favorite go-to sauce for refried beans, burritos, tacos, and other Mexican food, but to my taste, Tabasco Chipotle adds so much depth and richness that I can’t imagine making Mexican without it. Or chili, for that matter.

Frank’s RedHot Sweet Chili Sauce. This may not be the healthiest sauce (it has 70 calories per 2-tablespoon serving, as opposed to 0 calories for Tabasco Chipotle, and it has a lot of sugar, its second ingredient after water), but boy, is it good. The fire is more spicy than mouth-burning, so it’s a great addition to spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and other places where you’d like a little heat and the rich tomato sauce will make sure nobody says “Hey! There’s hot-sweet sauce in here!” But it’s really great with Chinese food. If you’re heating up spring rolls or egg rolls at home, forget the duck sauce: Frank’s RedHot Sweet Chili Sauce adds spiciness and sweetness, and you don’t have to squeeze out those awful packets. And you can pour out as much as you want! If your eggplant with garlic sauce or veggie lo mein or General Tso’s tofu could use a kick, add a splash or two. Make it your secret ingredient mixed with ketchup on burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, chicken wings, sloppy joes, you name it, not to mention as a dip for French fries and sweet potato fries.

Pickapeppa Sauce. This product of Shooters Hill, Jamaica, has so much flavor that it will make you want to burst out singing your favorite Bob Marley tune every time you add a splash to soup, an omelette, a stew or casserole, the filling for stuffed peppers, a frittata, mac’n’cheese, you name it. No wonder: The ingredients list includes cane vinegar, sugar, tomatoes, onions, raisins, sea salt, ginger, peppers, garlic, cloves, black pepper, thyme, mangoes, and orange peel. Mix some with mayo on your next BLT (or veggie TLC) or burger, or slather the mayo/Pickapeppa on grilled veggie kabobs or grilled corn on the cob. And all for just 5 calories a serving!

Pili Pili Hot Sauce and Marinade. Heading to Africa, we love the Pili Pili Sauce produced in small batches by Alando’s Kitchen in nearby Quakertown, PA. It IS hot, but not mouth-scorching hot, and it’s so good on dishes like samosas, the amazing Kenyan fried potato dish bhajia (so try some on French fries!), on polenta, in chili, and in other bean, grain, and egg dishes, not to mention soups and stews. We haven’t tried other pili pili sauces besides Alando’s (order from http://www.alandoskitchen.com), but I know they’re out there, in stores and online, so make sure you try this delicious flavor for yourself.

Sriracha HOT Chili Sauce. For hot (but not too hot), garlicky goodness, it’s hard to beat sriracha. Fans use it on everything from Asian dishes to scrambled eggs to cheese to salads and sandwiches to Mexican to, well, anything. OFB and I have only had the classic Huy Fong (“rooster”) sriracha sauce, but there are other brands filling store shelves now, so find your favorite. If you love garlic and heat, add some to your next pizza sauce or spaghetti sauce or eggplant parm sauce. Drizzle some on kebabs, add some to sloppy joes, slather some on wings. Or splash it in a Bloody Mary. (That poor woman.) Or tomato juice or V8.

That’s it: My five must-have hot sauces. There are plenty of others, many of them are superb, and there are plenty of other ways to use them. But if I had to settle for just five, these would be the “fabulous five.” They’re flavorful, they’re affordable, and they’re available. Not to mention distinctive and adaptable.

‘Til next time,


* Wondering why some things are called chile, some chili, and some chilli? Chile is the name of the fresh hot pepper in the Americas. Chili is the name of the bean, meat, or meat-and-bean stew made with lots of hot chiles. And chilli is the way the chile (fresh or dried) is referred to in Anglo-Asian cultures. But we’re all talking about the same hot pepper pods.

Flip-flops. July 29, 2014

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Our friend Ben isn’t talking about summer flip-flops here, but flip-flops from liberal to conservative or conservative to liberal perspectives. I read a quote the other day via Yahoo news that defined a conservative as “a liberal who has been mugged by reality.” I found the quote amusing, but unfortunately, the article didn’t identify the source, so I turned to my good friend Google.

It turns out that this definition is based on a quote by Irving Kristol, someone I’d never heard of but who was a popular conservative commentor (not “commentator”!) back in the days of William F. Buckley. But the most priceless thing I learned from Google was that, upon hearing Kristol’s quip, the writer Tom Wolfe responded, “A liberal is a conservative who’s been arrested.” Priceless!

I love this interplay because it spotlights the limitations of labels. Life is a lot more complicated than “liberal” or “conservative,” and so are we. We can be morally conservative but support social programs that provide education, food and care to the less fortunate. We can support contraception but not abortion as contraception. We can oppose the mass availability of automatic weapons to the public while recognizing that an up-to-date arsenal and people trained to use it are essential to our security.

Nothing in real life is black or white. It’s easy to plaster a label on yourself, to say “I’m [fill-in-the-blank] and [fill-in-the-blank's] platform is this, so that’s my platform,” without even thinking about its specifics on multiple topics or wondering what you really believe, you, you alone, you personally, and why. Nazis, Fascists, and Communists were forced into this black-and-white mold during WWII; extremists of all types and stripes still find themselves shoved into these molds today. Imagine being a member of the Taliban and suggesting that your wife should continue to practice as a doctor and wear modern clothes, her face uncovered? Blasphemy!!! Stoning! Mutilation! Death!

Fundamentalism, unbending rigidity, is the death of progress, of freedom, and ultimately of civilization. And that is as true of so-called “progressive” ideology as it is of conservative ideology. When you don’t dare to question, when you feel you must hew exactly to the party line rather than thinking for yourself, you are headed directly toward Orwell’s 1984, toward today’s North Korea.

Please, don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Think for yourself.

What causes toe cramps? July 28, 2014

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Ugh. For the past week or so, our friend Ben has been experiencing toe cramps. These are not the excruciating calf-muscle cramps that are paralyzingly painful and take a good deal of stretching to get rid of (I grab the toes of the affected leg and pull straight back until the cramp subsides, but yowie kazowie, talk about pain, not to mention that the cramps can come back). No, these are cramps of the toes themselves, and they don’t happen at night like leg cramps. In fact, they’ve been happening while I’ve been sitting here at the computer.

It’s not like the toe cramps are a big deal. It’s more like they’re just plain creepy. You feel your toes constricting, accompanied by mild pain, and look down to see the big toe and a couple of others turn a sickly whitish-yellow color and start pulling back toward the foot. It’s easy enough to stop the whole performance by reaching down and straightening out the toes with your hand. It’s just sort of scary to watch your body parts decide to move independently of your body. Nobody wants to become an extra in “Alien” without getting paid.

So our friend Ben turned to my good friend Google to see what might be causing these cramps, which I’ve never had before. (Mercifully, I rarely get the horrific leg cramps, either.) One cause, apparently, is wearing high heels or tight fashion boots that compress the toes. Well, that’s not the issue here. Another is long, hard sessions of running (including on a treadmill), walking, or hiking. I wish I could tell you that was the cause, but forget that. Yoga and dancing, especially ballet, can also cause toe cramps. (Sorry, not my thing.) So can calcium deficiency and dehydration.

Now, that’s more like it. Our friend Ben can’t imagine why I’d suddenly be more calcium-deficient than usual, but it sure sounds like a great excuse to eat more cheese. And summer and outdoor chores put a premium on hydration. I’m not a fan of plain water, but iced tea, water-rich fruits like melon, and sparkling water are all high on my summer list.

The article also suggested doing exercises to strengthen the toe muscles. Pulling the toes up, gripping the toes down, stretching the toes out, and so on. But my favorite was picking up a hand towel or washrag, dust towel, or paper towel between your toes. Back in the day, I could pick up a dime or open a door with my toes. (Useful trick if your arms are full of grocery bags or whatnot.) Guess I’d better start practicing again between those cheese-and-cracker breaks.

A deck is a great cover-up. July 27, 2014

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When our friend Ben and Silence Dogood bought our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, there was a really nice deck off the back of the house. And a hideous, cracked, multilayered concrete “patio” to one side of the front of the house, several feet below our parking square and separated from it by a stone wall. We hated the so-called patio on sight, but lacked the funds to upgrade it. So we turned it into a storage space for our annual cord of wood. Needless to say, this didn’t exactly up its attractiveness, but at least it covered up some of the concrete and turned it into a useful space.

Year followed year, and Silence was constantly reminding me that it would be really nice if we could pave over the concrete and make a real, attractive patio. But buying pallets of slate or whatever was still beyond our modest budget, and we’ve both seen how easily slate cracks and breaks. Our friend Ben also has an aversion to brick patios, beautiful and durable as they can be, after having to try to pull weeds from between the bricks of the brick patios at not one but two childhood homes. Talk about backbreaking, frustrating, pointless labor! Ouch.

One day this summer, our friend and handyman Mark was here, and Silence broached the subject of the patio. What did Mark suggest? “Well, I know what I would do,” he replied. “I’d build a deck over that.” Genius! Silence and I immediately saw the point: We could have a usable, attractive space that covered a former eyesore, for a fraction of the cost of stone or brick paving and none of the maintenance. We power-wash and waterproof our back deck every few years and that’s all the maintenance it needs.

When Mark actually built the deck, however, Silence was horrified. “Look, Ben, it’s so much higher than I expected! Now everyone who passes on the road will be able to see us if we sit out there!” I explained that Mark was just trying to create a level deck on what had been a sloping concrete slab, but to no avail. Then, Silence had what one of her friends’ mothers deathlessly described as “a rush of brains to the head.” “Ben, what about lattice paneling at the back of the deck, the part closest to the parking square? That would mean that we wouldn’t have to look at our cars, and no one from the road could see us.”

Mark was totally on board with the idea, pointing out that there were actually wooden tracks to hold lattice in place. (Of course Silence wanted natural wood lattice, not plastic, and wanted it left in its natural wood color, just waterproofed, not painted.) Mark finished putting up the lattice yesterday, and Silence is ecstatic. “It pulls it all together, Ben: Privacy from the road, no view of our cars from the deck. It’s perfect! Now we just need to string little white twinkly lights on the lattice and throw a deckwarming party!”

Uh, right. But we agree that a deck in front and a deck in back means that we can sit in the cool shade whatever time of day, since the sun will create very different hotspots depending on the hour and we like our deck-time cool and comfortable.

So, if you’re like us, confronting an eyesore and wondering what to do about it on a budget, consider the deck option: reasonable cost, very low maintenance, conversion to a usable space. And if there’s a privacy issue, don’t forget the latticing!

Game of Thrones: Who are the dragonriders? July 26, 2014

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MAJOR SPOILERS potentially ahead. Did showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss tell us who the dragonriders are in Season 4 of “Game of Thrones”? Maybe the fansites have long since picked up on this, but if not, check out our friend Ben’s theory below. I know the identity of the three dragonriders has been a hot topic for “Game of Thrones” enthusiasts and fans of George RR Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire.

Everyone assumes that all three of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons will need riders if Westeros will be retaken for the Targaryen dynasty. It’s not enough for Dany to show up on Drogon; it took Aegon the Conqueror three dragons and three dragonriders (the other two were his sister-wives) to take Westeros to begin with. Now we again have three dragons, but just one rider. Who are the other two?

In our friend Ben’s opinion, Season 4 was pretty heavy-handed about the reveal. And since the showrunners have talked with Martin about how the series ends, they probably have a pretty informed idea of how the whole dragon thing works out. Let’s look at how Season 4 played out in terms of dragonriding:

First, there’s Prince Oberyn of House Martell of Dorne. To intimidate a couple of Lannisters, he slowly passes his hand over a candle flame and obviously isn’t burned. We know that the Targaryens and the Martells have married in the past; Prince Oberyn has come to King’s Landing expressly to revenge himself for the death of his sister Elia, the wife of Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. He had also offered to wed Princess Arianne Martell to Vicerys Targaryen. That Oberyn’s line has Targaryen blood is demonstrated by his imperviousness to fire. But, due to his gruesome death at the hands of the Mountain, he obviously won’t be a dragonrider.

Second, there’s an interminable and completely unnecessary scene between Daario Naharis and Daenarys Targaryen in the first episode of Season 4, where he offers her three flowers. The first is a blue rose (aka dusk rose), the symbol of Lyanna Stark, her favorite flower. Lyanna was the sister of the late lamented Eddard Stark and the mother of the son she pledged him to claim as his, to keep the vengeful Robert Baratheon, who was determined to wipe out every last child of the Targaryens, from killing this child, fathered by Rhaegar Targaryen, the heir to the Iron Throne. Eddard dutifully proclaimed the child his own and named him Jon Snow. Jon has the best claim to the Iron Throne of anyone, and as half Targaryen, a fine claim as a dragonrider.

Daario also offers Daenaerys a bunch of Lady’s lace, a flower with multiple strands of white flowers like Daenerys’s elaborate white braids. I don’t think we need to overthink this one.

Finally, Daario offers Daenarys a beautiful red flower with prominent yellow stamens in the center. He tells her this flower is called harpy’s gold, and even though it’s beautiful, she should beware of it because it’s poisonous. Red and yellow are the colors of House Martell. If we recall that Prince Oberyn was called the Red Viper, and that poison was his weapon of choice, this flower points to him and his offspring, the girls known as the Sand Snakes. Oberyn himself won’t be riding a dragon or anything else anytime soon, but one of his daughters might. My bet’s on Nymeria, who was born of a noblewoman, but it could be the fierce warrior Obara Sand. All the Sand Snakes bear Targaryen blood through their father.

So, there you have it: Three dragons, three riders. Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow (aka Jon Stark Targaryen), and Nymeria Sand. What do you think?


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