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Recreating spinach balls. September 27, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s not often these days that you find a restaurant, much less a quiet country inn, with a signature dish. But at the Bowers Hotel in the scenic crossroads of Bowers, PA, where chicken cordon blue and chicken marsala, not to mention shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, and liver and onions, are all still on the menu, one appetizer was the restaurant’s signature dish: baked spinach balls. Try finding those on somebody else’s menu!

The delicious spinach balls were the reason our friend Ben and I have been returning to the Bowers again and again since we first moved to this area. When the restaurant closed for a time before reopening in 1212, the first thing reviewers noted was that the beloved spinach balls were still on the menu. OFB and I loved taking visitors to the Bowers to experience the famous spinach balls for themselves. I’d recently been sick and unable to eat for a week, and last night, I insisted that OFB and I head to the Bowers so I could celebrate my recovery by sharing a plate of spinach balls.

Oops, what are spinach balls, anyway? They’re basically a mix of spinach and breadcrumbs, shaped golf-ball size and pan-fried or baked to a golden crispiness outside, then served hot over shredded Romaine lettuce with a honey-mustard dipping sauce. (And trust me, even if you think you hate honey-mustard, it’s a perfect match for spinach balls.) When we first encountered them, they were pan-fried, with a higher proportion of breadcrumbs to spinach. The latest incarnation had lots more spinach to breadcrumbs and was baked to make a healthier appetizer. Both were really good.

Backtracking to our experience last night, we arrived at the Bowers in a triumphant mood. (At least I did: Free to eat at last!) And then I looked at the menu. I looked at the appetizer menu again, and again, and again. No spinach balls. When our server arrived for our drink order, I asked where they were. “The chef’s replaced them with spinach-artichoke dip. Nobody was ordering them.” Spinach-artichoke dip! Excuse me, this isn’t Applebee’s!

I was devastated. But I wondered if, just once, I might be able to recreate the spinach balls at home, since they weren’t fried (something I refuse to do, eeeewww). What could go into them, I wondered. Thawed frozen spinach rather than fresh, I was guessing, cooked and with the liquid pressed out. Minced onion. Breadcrumbs. And a binder, such as beaten eggs or eggwhites, plus salt and pepper to suit.

I was unable to find the recipes used at the Bowers Hotel online (sob). But I did find a recipe on Epicurious that I thought captured the spirit of the dish and would be easy enough to make at home. Here’s a version of it:

Spinach Balls

Makes about 2 dozen.

1 10-oz. box frozen spinach
1 cup herbed bread stuffing (such as Pepperidge Farm)
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup grated Paresan cheese
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Cook spinach according to directions on box. Drain well. Mix in all other ingredients, continuing until well mixed. (Add more stuffing mix if needed.)

Form balls of 1 teaspoon-1 tablespoon size as desired. Bake on lightly greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees F. until lightly golden and done. Serve with honey mustard or the mustard of your choice as a dipping sauce.

Double recipe as desired. These freeze and reheat well.

Another thing I found in my researches was a recipe from a British restaurant chain (and possibly grocery) called Carluccio’s for a wonderfully delicious-sounding pasta dish with giant penne and spinach balls. The thought of making the spinach balls crispy, then adding them to a basic Alfredo sauce over pasta, struck me as brilliant. Will I make that? I don’t know, but I’d love it if someone made it for me. Will I try making from-scratch baked spinach balls at home? Yes, probably. Will I grieve the loss of another regional specialty? Absolutely.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Happy Hobbit Day! September 23, 2014

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Today, September 22, is Hobbit Day. And as huge fans of JRR Tolkien’s beloved book The Hobbit and all things hobbit, we here at Poor Richard’s Almanac thought we’d celebrate with a quiz. See how much you really know about hobbits! The answers will follow the quiz, but no cheating, now:

1. Bilbo Baggins lived to be:
a) 111
b) 75
c) 120
d) no one knows

2. Bilbo’s home was called:
a) Baggins
b) Bag End
c) Bag Hall
d) Boromir

3. Frodo Baggins was originally called:
a) Fungo, after a cartoon ferret
b) Drogo, after a horse lord from “Game of Thrones”
c) Bingo, after a toy koala
d) Groucho, after a popular comedian

4. A song was written as a tribute to Bilbo. Who wrote and performed it?
a) Captain Kangaroo
b) David Bowie
c) Michael Jackson
d) Leonard Nimoy

5. Who tried to steal Bilbo’s silverware, auction off his belongings, and move into his house?
a) a gang of trolls
b) Samwise Gamgee
c) the Sackville-Bagginses
d) the Black Riders

6. The wizard Gandalf came to Bilbo’s final birthday party. Why?
a) for old times’ sake
b) to shoot off fireworks
c) to check in on old Bilbo
d) to take the Ring of Power for himself

7. Where does Bilbo want to go when he “retires”?
a) to Laketown
b) to the halls of the Elvenking in Mirkwood
c) to Mordor
d) to Elrond’s halls in Rivendell (Imladris)

8. To which of these hobbits is Bilbo Baggins related?
a) The Old Took
b) Belladonna Took
c) Bullroarer Took
d) Peregrine Took (Pippin)

9. What do Bilbo and the creature Gollum do when they meet?
a) eat raw fish Gollum has just strangled
b) play chess
c) exchange riddles
d) show their childhood photos and exchange childhood memories

10. What is a hobbit?
a) a small, quiet, singular creature that inhabits Middle-Earth along with larger beings like dwarves, elves, and men
b) the name is a cross between rabbits and humans; JRR Tolkien created them to amuse his young children
c) a heroic small race whose attributes, though modest, enabled first Bilbo and then Frodo and Sam to save the day when no other race could
d) the hero of a parable: YOU can save the day (or the world), no matter how unimportant you—and everyone else—thinks you are

And now for the answers:

1. d) Bilbo sailed away with the Elves at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy; no one knows how old he lived to be.

2. b) Bag End. It’s basically in a luxury suburb of Hobbiton (as opposed to Bree or Bywater).

3. c) Frodo was originally called Bingo, after Tolkiens’s sons’ toy koalas. And Frodo was originally Bilbo’s son, not his nephew!

4. d) Leonard Nimoy. Good thing Doctor Spock mostly stuck to acting! Though you could certainly call his performance “out of this world.” Yowie kazowie!

5. c) Bilbo’s greedy, hateful, pretentious relatives, the Sackville-Bagginses.

6. a-c) Any or all of the first three would be correct as to why Bilbo’s dear old friend came to his 111th birthday party.

7. d) Bilbo had a fascination with Elves from the time he was a little hobbit, and when he actually saw Rivendell, he fell in love with them and their lifestyle.

8. a-d) Bilbo is a Took through and through on his mother Belladonna’s side; he’s related to all of them, even the foolish but lovable Peregrine Took (Pippin).

9. c) JRR Tolkien, a scholar of ancient Norse cultures and literature, must have found a connecting link across cultures in riddling. While it’s hard to imagine meeting someone now, especially a potential enemy, and challenging them to a game of riddles, Tolkien either found this plausible or didn’t want to scare his little boys, for whom The Hobbit was written.

10. a-d) All of the above. Hard to believe that Tolkien started out imagining hobbits as rabbit-sized people who lived in humanized rabbit holes, given the great importance they’ve taken on in the popular imagination. But there you are!

How’d you do? Happy Hobbit Day from our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders here at Poor Richard’s Almanac!

Chewable toothpaste. September 17, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. For most people, brushing your teeth is just another routine chore, like taking a shower or clipping your nails. But for me, it’s a dreaded ordeal. I have thyroiditis, and, for whatever reason, when I stick a toothbrush in my mouth, it usually makes me throw up. NOT fun!

So you can imagine how excited I was to read about toothpaste tablets in yesterday’s newsfeed. Toothpaste tablets?! I instantly pictured the equivalent of Greenies and other dog treats that cleaned dogs’ teeth while they chewed on them. The thought of chewing on a toothpaste tablet, even if I had to do it for ten minutes, spit out the remains, and wash out my mouth, sure beat throwing up.

I rushed to my good friend Google to see if this was true, or too good to be true. It turns out to be a little of both. There actually are toothpaste tablets, marketed both for children who are toothpaste-averse and for travelers who don’t want to carry tubes of toothpaste on planes. But in every case, you chew up the tablet, then brush your teeth. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help me at all. Rats! I’m not prepared to start chewing Greenies myself, so it’s back to the drawing board.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Don’t tread on me. September 16, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, critters, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to explain why a rattlesnake became a major symbol of American resistance and independence. Our friend Ben recently asked me if the yellow flag with the coiled rattlesnake and “Don’t Tread on Me” motto hadn’t been created by our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. Then Silence Dogood said, “No, Ben, that was the flag of the rebellion in New Hampshire.” Well, no.

Ben Franklin does get all the credit for promoting the rattlesnake as a symbol of the American spirit. In 1751, Franklin, publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette, satirically suggested that, since Britain made a policy of sending criminals to America, America might return the favor by sending rattlesnakes to England. Then in 1754, during the French and Indian War, Franklin published the first-ever political cartoon, showing a rattlesnake cut into eight pieces to represent the 13 Colonies (all New England was compressed into the head) with the message “Join, or Die.”

This “cartoon” was so powerful that it was used in the opening credits of the marvelous TV docudrama “John Adams,” and it was what our friend Ben was thinking of instead of the “Don’t Tread on Me” coiled rattlesnake flag. During the vote to ratify the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Franklin echoed the sentiment in his famous statement “Gentlemen, we had better all hang together [i.e., ratify the Declaration], or we shall most assuredly hang separately.”

So where did the “Don’t Tread on Me” (originally “Dont Tread on Me,” punctuation wasn’t that great in the Colonial period) flag originate? In South Carolina, Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden designed the flag, based on a concept initiated by the first American Marines, and presented it in 1775 to the first Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, who flew it on his mainmast. No wonder OFB and Silence found it in the Naval Academy gift shop on a recent trip to Annapolis! Historians usually refer to it as the “Gadsden Flag” for that reason.

It’s easy to see why Libertarians adopted the flag as their symbol: They want to mind their own business and for the government to keep out of their private affairs. But when the Tea Party took it up, that sort of tainted it, turning it into a symbol of intolerance, bigotry, and reactionary thinking. How demoralizing for everyone who would like to display the flag as a comment on their personal feelings, without any connection to the Tea Party! It’s rather like when the Cross of Christ was co-opted as the masthead of the Spanish Inquisition. Many good Christians were tortured and died while being shown the very Cross that was the foundation of their faith.

So there you have it: What Benjamin Franklin began in 1751 and immortalized in 1754 with “Join, or Die” morphed into “Don’t Tread on Me” in 1775 and electrified the U.S. Navy into victorious action. By then, Ben’s snake cut into eight parts had indeed been united into one, coiled and ready to strike, with 13 rattles representing the 13 Colonies. More than any other symbol of American freedom, the rattlesnake ended up standing for us.

Incidentally, Silence’s mistake comes from New Hampshire’s official motto, “Live Free or Die,” penned by its Revolutionary War hero General John Stark. Do you know your state’s official motto?

Warmly,

Richard Saunders

Why eat out? September 15, 2014

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

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

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

‘Til next time,

Silence

The alien phone. September 14, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Being a Luddite, I still use a land-line phone. (Our friend Ben was finally seduced by a smartphone.) But recently, my phone has malfunctioned, directing callers to voicemail on the first ring, buzzing rather than giving me a ringtone, not letting me answer incoming calls, make calls, or access voicemail. What’s the deal, was I late with a payment? (As the comedian Steven Wright said, “If you think nobody cares if you’re dead or alive, try missing a payment.”)

But this didn’t prepare me for last night’s drama. At 1 a.m., OFB and I were awakened by the unbearably loud barking of our giant black German shepherd, Shiloh, as she charged the front door. When OFB went to investigate (while I, of course, cowered in the bedroom), he found two police officers outside! They said my phone had been dialing 911, and they had come to see if anything was wrong.

The phone had been dialing 911 by itself. I quickly disconnected it so it wouldn’t continue to call officers to the scene, and wondered who else it had been calling. Rushing to my good friend Google, I found that this had happened to other people, and that the most frequent cause was a damaged outdoor cord that had allowed water to get in and short the phone out.

Believe that if you choose, but I have another theory: That an alien has entered our home, assumed the appearance of my old phone, and been trying to contact the Mother Ship. I’ll be pitching my story to The National Enquirer next week.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Til next time,

Silence

What’s the deal with Jack the Ripper? September 9, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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The internet has been on fire with the news that Jack the Ripper, Britain’s most famous serial killer, has finally been identified. Long thought to be a surgeon, an artist, or even the Duke of Clarence, the latest claims are that it was a Polish immigrant who set up shop in Whitehall, where the murders occurred. The claims are based on DNA analysis of the scarf of one of the victims, Catherine Eddowes. But longtime students of the case are dubious, and so is our friend Ben.

Certainly, the current suspect, Aaron Kosminski, lived in the vicinity where the murders took place. And, as a barber, he’d have had access to and known how to use sharp objects like a straight razor and scissors. But the five victims definitively associated with the Ripper were stabbed multiple times, and in several of the cases, an organ was removed (in Eddowes’s case, a kidney; in others’, the uterus). The deft use of the knife sounds more like the fictional Mack the Knife than a barber. And the removal of the organs certainly sounds more like the work of a butcher or surgeon.

But to our friend Ben’s mind, something more was going on. The Ripper clearly loved publicity and sought to stir it up by publicizing his crimes with letters. But he never sent any of the organs he removed to the press or Scotland Yard in little boxes or anything. Unless he was Hannibal Lecter and was enjoying them with a fine chianti, what happened to them? Why did he remove them?

But even more to the point, why did he stop his killing spree? Why would someone who was obsessed with serial killing, and the “fame” such killing brought with it, simply stop? The five murders that can definitively be attributed to the Ripper occurred in 1888. A couple of murders occurred earlier, and more occurred up to 1891, but Scotland Yard thought the style of them suggested either copycat murders or murders that coincidentally took place in the vicinity. Kosminski died in 1919. If he was really Jack the Ripper, why would he have suddenly stopped his serial-killing rampage? Not to mention that witnesses in Whitechapel at the time described a robust, fair-haired man, hardly the picture of the slight, dark-haired Kosminski.

But whether he was, or wasn’t, Jack the Ripper, or whoever was or wasn’t, it would take quite a compulsion to power that spate of serial killings. What would make someone start? And what would make someone stop just as suddenly? If you believe that insanity was the cause, would the person suddenly have become sane? Are we talking about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or Dr. Frankenstein and his monster? The only answer that makes sense to me is that Jack the Ripper died in 1888, so he couldn’t continue with his “work.”

I haven’t checked the deaths of the Duke of Clarence or famous Harley Street physicians of the time or the like; our friend Ben isn’t a Jack the Ripper fan, my only contact with him has been through a couple of Sherlock Holmes films, since I am definitely a rabid Holmes fan. But if you are a Ripper fan, I suggest that you start looking at the death dates of probable suspects and draw your conclusions from them.

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

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

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

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

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

Bowers Chile Pepper Food Festival. September 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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