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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

Fixing the Fourth’s leftovers. July 5, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. July Fourth’s eating extravaganzas may be over, but unless you planned perfectly or sent every last leftover home with friends and family, your refrigerator is probably groaning with the remains of yesterday’s feast. Assuming you took good care of your food, keeping stuff like deviled eggs and potato salad chilled on ice and out of the sun so they wouldn’t spoil and only bringing them out of the fridge at the last minute, I have some suggestions for transforming these dishes into new ones your family will love. And they’re all easy, because you’ve already done most of the work!

* Deviled eggs. Turn deviled eggs into easy egg salad by dumping them into a bowl and mashing them up with a fork until the whites and yolk mixture are blended. Voila! How easy is that? Now you have extra-yummy egg salad to spread on your morning toast, fill a sandwich of whole-grain bread with crunchy lettuce add tomato, or scoop up as a dip with celery, carrot strips or rounds (baby carrots are too slender and round for this), or broccoli florets.

* Potato salad. If your potato salad has a mayonnaise dressing (and you’re sure it’s been kept cold and covered), consider making a “composed” salad with layers of iceberg lettuce, potato salad, strips of red, yellow or orange bell peppers (curved ends removed), chopped scallions (green onions), arugula, sliced tomatoes, and sliced green olives. Make it in a circular ovenproof dish with straight sides or a glass brownie or lasagna pan (i.e., not in a bowl, or you won’t get even layers). Chill until serving time, then cut into individual servings, remove each serving with a spatula, and pass the salt, pepper and olive oil. If your potato salad has an oil-based dressing, on the other hand, you can heat it and serve as an extra-flavorful potato side dish. Yum!

* Pimiento cheese. Like egg salad, pimiento cheese is a great sandwich stuffer with lettuce and tomato. But don’t overlook its potential as a filler for omelettes and quesadillas, especially when coupled with crunchy red, orange or yellow diced bell peppers. It’s also a different and delicious topping for burgers and those leftover hotdogs. It’s a great dip for crudites, especially celery. And wait ’til you try pimiento mac’n’cheese!

* Grilled veggies. What, you have leftover veggies? Say it ain’t so! But if it happens that you do, it’s a real blessing in disguise. You have the perfect base for a great pasta dish! Just make your favorite pasta (spaghetti, fettucine, and penne all work well). Heat the veggies with a little extra-virgin olive oil and fresh basil or with storebought pesto. Mix them with the cooked pasta, top with shredded Parmesan, pass the salt, pepper, hot pepper flakes, and dried oregano, and enjoy! They’re also great reheated over rice, or used in a tomato-based spaghetti sauce, or added to an Alfredo sauce, or folded into quiche or an omelette or other egg dish, or reheated as the veggie portion of fajitas.

* Corn on the cob. This grilling favorite can be used in innumerable ways if there are leftover ears (again, gasp!). Stand each ear upright in a bowl (to keep the kernels from flying all over the place) or lay each ear on a cutting board and cut off the kernels. Add them to salads, burritos, or wraps. Mix them with canned black beans and heat for a yummy side dish, especially if mixed with diced tomato, jalapeno, bell pepper, and sweet or green onion just before serving. Saute them in a little butter as a side dish, with or without mushrooms and diced sweet onion. They’re great in quiche and corn pudding, and really enrich cornbread and corn muffins. Don’t forget corn pie and corn chowder!

* Coleslaw. What says summer like coleslaw? But what do you do if you have a big vat of it left after your Fourth of July guests depart? Well, here’s what I do: Use it as the ultimate flavorful topping on tossed salad. The combo of creamy slaw and crunchy salad is just about perfect. And if I’ve made one of my special slaws with tons of shredded red cabbage, carrots, diced sweet onion, cumin and cracked fennel seeds, oil and crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese, plus lots of fresh-cracked black pepper and salt (we like RealSalt), I’ll mix it into a mixed lettuce base and won’t need to do another thing to have the best, most flavorful, healthiest salad anyone could ask for. If your slaw is oil- rather than mayo-based, there’s no reason you couldn’t roll it up in phyllo or eggroll sheets for a luscious hot snack or use it as a hotdog topping. And if it is mayo-based, I’ve heard that a popular sandwich is made from rye bread, corned beef, and coleslaw. Go for it!

* Veggie burgers. Gee, your guests didn’t go for the grilled veggie burgers? Not to worry. You can crumble those grilled burgers and use them as a salad topping, pizza topping, in spaghetti sauce, in a casserole, chili, shepherd’s pie, sloppy Joes, or lasagna as a meat substitute, or coupled with cheese in an omelette. Veggie burgers have come a long way: Some are really delicious, and some taste startlingly like meat. If you got them to appease vegetarian or vegan guests, don’t toss the leftovers. You may be pleasantly surprised.

* Buns. The bread bought for occasions like July Fourth is often an afterthought, but it’s still food that could potentially be wasted or saved, depending on your approach. Buns can easily be turned into garlic bread by smearing the inside surfaces with butter and chopped fresh garlic or granulated garlic or with jarred minced garlic with its oil, then heated. They may not reach the level of fresh-made garlic knots, but they’ll satisfy garlic bread-lovers’ tastebuds just as much as storebought, and you won’t need to do anything besides split each bun in half. You can also turn the buns into homemade croutons by cubing them, tossing them in a bowl with olive oil and herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary and basil, then baking them ’til crisp and golden. Think about brushing the cut surface of each bun with a little olive oil, then baking it ’til just hot and topping it with sloppy Joe spread or barbecue, potentially topped with coleslaw, or with egg salad or pimiento cheese spread.

* Melon. If nobody finished off the watermelons and cantaloupes you got, and you’re not prepared to eat all those leftover chunks with salt (as I do), try this: Make salad with Romaine, arugula, and frisee (watercress and baby spinach are also options). Add diced red (aka Spanish) onion, fresh mint, and melon cubes, along with crumbled feta cheese if desired. Top with splashes of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and pass the salt and pepper. Or blend the melons into a chilled soup, with or without a plain yogurt base. Or add blueberries and strawberries (for cantaloupe) or blueberries and kiwi (for watermelon) for a refreshing fruit salad, with or without a topping of plain yogurt and pomegranate seeds.

Enjoy, and don’t waste all that good food!

‘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

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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.

Easy, yummy summer melons. July 2, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. When I was growing up in the South, my family loved melons in the summer. Well, we loved cantaloupe (aka muskmelons) and watermelon. Summers were sickeningly hot and humid, so a cold slice or bowl of cubed melon really hit the spot. But what took it over the top was salt. We salted our cantaloupe and watermelon, amping up the hydration and dose of minerals and enhancing the sweetness. Salted melons were our Gatorade.

These days, I read about grilled melon slices, and would really, really love to try them, but we don’t have a grill and I have zero grilling skills. Bet they’d be good, though. (With salt, maybe a brush of olive oil, maybe some fresh basil leaves and fresh bufalo mozzarella or crumbled feta.)

Then there’s the issue of honeydew melons. When they’re ripe, they taste like melon. When they aren’t, they taste like cucumber. My family hated cucumbers (unless they were pickled), so we grew up in a cuke- and honeydew-free house. It took me practically forever to appreciate raw cucumbers, and our friend Ben still won’t come near them. For those of you who appreciate cukes’ many virtues, I suggest adding honeydew melon chunks (if you get one that tastes like a cuke) to any salad or dish you’d normally put cucumbers in. I’ve yet to hear of honeydew dill pickles or honeydew raita or tzatziki sauce, but I don’t know why it couldn’t happen, and be delicious, for that matter.

I’m sticking to chunks or slices of melon with a sprinkling of salt (we like RealSalt) to give it that fabulous spark. Salt is the match that lights the flavor fireworks for July Fourth, or any other time you want some yummy melon.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Sex versus violence. June 30, 2014

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were outraged by yesterday’s coverage of some preacher doing a video rant about how watching the giant HBO hit series “Game of Thrones” was like “crucifying Jesus twice.” We have watched the first three seasons of the show (not having HBO, we won’t see the fourth season until after the fifth has aired in spring of 2015). And it is unquestionably the most violent show either of us has ever seen, with routine murder, death, and torture (physical and mental), as well as the seemingly relentless killing of every noble, virtuous character on the show and corruption of the rest.

To say the least, “Game of Thrones” is not a cheerful, upbeat show, and its point seems to be that morality is doomed and corruption conquers all in a violent conflagration that leaves thousands of innocents dead in its wake. Not to mention that one character does indulge in a mass crucifixion, and others in enthusiastic flayings, both of which Jesus endured. You would think, no wonder a preacher would caution his followers against this show.

But the violence wasn’t what outraged the preacher at all. It was the female nudity on the show, the intimations of sex, that got his blood in an uproar and caused his furious condemnation of the show. Apparently, showing some woman naked crucified Jesus, but endless and endlessly bloody, horrific violence did not. A woman’s naked rump was far more horrifying to this man than someone losing his hand or having his head cut off or his eyes gouged out or a woman being forced to have sex with her own father or having her baby cut out of her womb as she was murdered. Oh, no. It was the naughty bits that got this preacher all riled up.

This reminds us of a wonderful recurring theme in the very great movie “Cinema Paradiso,” where the local priest had every movie screened before it was shown in the town’s cinema, and forced the poor guy who ran the films to cut out everything the priest found unacceptable, such as kissing. (He didn’t censor violence either.) It also reminds us of the notorious trial of the pornographer and publisher Larry Flynt, where Flynt showed photos of his spreads from his magazine “Hustler,” very mild by today’s standards, next to photos of Holocaust victims, and asked which was the true atrocity. Flynt was ultimately acquitted. But the sex/nudity quotient still drives the movie ratings over violence, hatred, bad language, and the like: You’ll get a PG-17 rating for sex or nudity, but a PG-13 rating for horrific violence and mutilation. For shame!!!

As Supreme Court Justice Byron White famously said when ruling on the film “Carnal Knowledge,” “The only thing obscene about this film is that it is obscenely boring.” Our friend Ben and Silence don’t indulge in watching pornography ourselves, but feel that as long as it doesn’t involve children, animals, or sadism, those who do choose to indulge should be left alone. Films and shows that promote and revel in mindless, horrific violence in the name of “entertainment” are quite another matter. What’s a bare bum compared to somebody’s head being blown off?

We certainly don’t think that Jesus would be a fan of gratuitous nudity or pornography. He respected the sanctity and dignity of every human being. But to think that He, the Prince of Peace, would uphold media violence while denouncing media sexuality is blasphemy. Beyonce or Miley Cyrus or Kim Kardashian in a see-through costume is surely better than the Taliban cutting off a beautiful girl’s ears and nose because she advocated education for women, or someone shooting a Pakistani girl in the head for doing the same, or setting a woman on fire because she declined to marry someone, or stoning her to death for having dared to marry the man she loved.

Preachers, direct your rants to things that matter.

The best saag paneer. June 29, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. I’ve made saag paneer, the Indian dish that combines spinach and other greens with cubed white, mild-flavored paneer cheese and sauteed spices for decades. It’s so delicious and easy to make! And those good-for-you greens have never tasted better, combined as they are with all the healing spices, not to mention super-healthy garlic and onion and lycopene-rich tomato.

I love to serve my saag paneer with basmati rice and plain Greek yogurt (as a baseline raita), sometimes also featuring a vegetable curry and embellished with luscious add-ons like tamarind and mint sauces and a fruit chutney, served with a generous helping of warm garlic naan. But that’s just for special occasions and guests. The simple meal of saag paneer, rice and yogurt is so good and so filling all by itself.

Incidentally, if you’re a saag paneer fan who buys it frozen and you’ve been confused by palaak paneer, which somehow seems just like saag paneer, the difference is that palaak (aka palak) paneer is made solely with spinach, while saag paneer has multiple greens, including methi, fresh fenugreek leaves. I’ve been able to find both dried methi leaves and fresh, frozen, cubed methi leaves at a nearby Indian grocery. As you’ll see, I try to keep the frozen cubes on hand to put in my saag paneer, but if I’m out of them, I’ll substitute dried.

I thought my saag paneer was perfect until I saw a recipe called “Authentic Saag Paneer” on Allrecipes.com. It had an ingredient I’d never seen in a saag paneer recipe—a half-cup of heavy whipping cream. Say what?! That would certainly raise the calorie count while lowering the health quotient considerably. But would it really make for an even more delicious saag paneer?

Turns out, the answer is a definite yes. This is mostly because of the luscious sauce that will permeate the rice you serve it over. (In this case, definitely serve the saag paneer over the rice, not alongside it, to catch every drop of the delicious sauce.) I find adding cream and simply serving the spiced greens over rice to make a perfect lunch, totally flavorful, totally satisfying. But unlike the Allrecipes.com version, I make no claim that my saag paneer is authentic, just that it’s great. And a great way to get your daily dose of supergreens.

Saag Paneer

1 large bag chopped kale
1 large bag chopped collard greens
1 large bag chopped spinach
2 cubes frozen methi (fenugreek leaves)
1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia or WallaWalla, diced
2-4 tablespoons ginger and garlic paste, to taste
1/2 to 1 package paneer, cubed (I like lots of paneer, you may prefer less)
1 tomato, diced
1 tablespoon powdered turmeric
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1 tablespoon black or brown mustardseeds
1 tablespoon Trocomare, RealSalt, sea salt, or Himalayan salt
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
canola oil for cooking

In a very large, heavy pot (I use my very largest LeCreuset Dutch oven for this), add the bag of kale and sprinkle a little water over it. Cook, covered, over low heat until the greens have cooked down, stirring occasionally. When the greens have reduced, add the collard greens and repeat the process, adding a bit of water if needed and stirring the collards into the kale when they’ve cooked down. Finally, add the bag of spinach (again, with a little water if the pot seems dry), and stir the wilted spinach into the other greens, immediately turning off the heat.

In a second large, heavy pot (I use my next-largest LeCreuset Dutch oven), pour in canola oil to coat the bottom. Saute the onion with the salt until it clarifies, then add the spices, sauteing ’til fragrant. Add the diced tomato and the cubed methi (fenugreek leaves), stirring until broken down and incorporated. Now pour in the heavy cream. When it’s warmed, add the cooked greens and stir well to incorporate, then gently mix in the cubed paneer. Once the dish is hot, serve it over basmati rice and prepare to be blown away! It keeps well and reheats well, too. I make a big batch of basmati rice and stash it in the fridge, then prepare an ovenproof dish with some rice (and a little water) in the bottom topped with a helping of saag paneer, and tuck it in the oven at 250 degrees F. until it’s heated through. Yum!

Try it and see what you think.

‘Til next time,

Silence

There’s a dog in my soup. June 28, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, pets, wit and wisdom.
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“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!”

Thus begins the hoary old joke we’ve all heard so many times. But it’s not so funny when it comes to some real-life object in our food that shouldn’t be there. Just today, two news items on Yahoo news featured unintended items that ended up in people’s food.

Over in England, a 7-year-old boy bit into what he thought was a fried piece of boneless chicken breast from KFC, only to discover that the crispy fried coating concealed not chicken but a blue kitchen towel (the kind made of paper, not cloth). Our friend Ben figured that KFC would quickly offer his family free chicken for the rest of their lives to avoid a suit, but no: The franchise offered the boy and his mother one free meal, and that only after the distraught mother had returned to the restaurant to complain and been told to call customer service instead, and the story had gone viral. Oliver, the little boy involved, declined this generous offer.

Meanwhile, back in the States, a family ordering fries from a Sonic drive-in discovered an unexpected item in their take-out container: a bag of marijuana. “Free pot with every purchase!” or “Get high on our fries!” would probably do wonders for the franchise’s bottom line, but our friend Ben suspects that the fries just went to the wrong customer. There probably will still be an uptick in patronage as customers hope to get lucky.

Given how many meals fast-food restaurants serve, and the emphasis being on speedy service, it’s amazing that stories like this don’t hit the news every day. (Well, maybe not the pot story.) Which means that most fast-food franchises must be doing a darned good job of monitoring their kitchens.

Not that there aren’t the occasional scandals caused by other actions, like substituting, say, cat for chicken a few years ago at KFC franchises in China. (Though cat might be a perfectly acceptable meat source in China, just as the very popular dog stew is in Korea.)

Nor are the alien objects limited to fast-food restaurants. Years ago, our friend Ben accompanied Silence Dogood to one of the few vegetarian restaurants then extant in the South. We had barely raised our forks when a little boy at a nearby table announced that there was a cockroach in his food. Far from expressing outrage, his parents suggested that he simply stop complaining and order another dish from the menu. But for some reason, like little Oliver in the UK, the child had lost his appetite. And so had we.

Being an omnivore, after all, shouldn’t involve eating dish towels. And being a vegetarian, by definition, means not eating insects. Or dogs.

Trading time. June 25, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have always loved our handymen. Neither of us is the least bit handy—screwing in a lightbulb and flipping the switch is a major accomplishment for us—and this trait runs in both our families, so it must be genetic. Our handymen (and our parents’ handymen, and presumably their parents’ handymen), by contrast, can do pretty much anything, professionally and affordably. From building a deck to repairing a leaky roof to replacing a faulty electric circuit to making a stone firepit to getting the clothes dryer back up and running, handymen are the best. We salute you!

But hey, what if your handyman worked for free? Most of us choose handymen rather than pros because we can’t afford professional service fees. A free handyman would be a huge boost to our tiny budget. So would a free tree pruner, petsitter, and auto mechanic. So you can imagine what a shock our friend Ben had this morning when I happened upon an online article from All You Magazine called ‘We Make Ends Meet Without Money’.

The trend to supply time-valued services for free in exchange for free services is apparently nationwide, but the article focused on five Vermonters who were connecting through a local time/service exchange, the Brattleboro Time Trade. Residents who sign up for the Time Trade can ask for services, such as lawn mowing and stacking wood, in exchange for babysitting, homecooked meals, dog walking, and clothing repair. Or, say, financial advice, massages, elder care, weeding, and music lessons. The possibilities are endless.

The article suggests checking out two websites, timebanks.org and hourworld.org, to see if there are already time banks, as they’re called, in your area, and if not, how to set one up. They suggest starting with at least 10 members and appointing a paid coordinator/administrator to take care of the online and phone work. They recommend that the members have clearly defined skills, post them on the site, and have the exchanges put in writing so both parties are clear on what’s expected and when.

In our case, that would mean exchanging our own highly honed writing, editing, vegetarian, cooking, gardening/horticultural/herbal, archaeological, paleontological, historical, collecting, art, chicken-raising, and in-depth knowledge of literature skills for some hands-on work. It would be so great!

But our friend Ben has a question: When will Big Brother, in the form of the IRS, show up and tax this classic form of barter?! Barter has always been popular with the underclasses, who are just trying to get by, and hated by the upper classes, who feel robbed of additional income, through taxation, of the goods/services being exchanged. Our friend Ben fears that this initiative will find itself taxed in a Hunger Games scenario, with The Capitol pouncing on the impoverished and helpless Districts and forcing them to give every last drop of blood in exchange for a crumb of food or a rag of clothing.

Barter is a time-honored means of exchanging goods and services the world over, from the earliest human history to the present. It enables those who couldn’t otherwise afford goods and services to have them. (Another Hunger Games reference: Those who know the books and films may recall the heroine, Katniss, exchanging a squirrel, destined for the stewpot, for a ball of yarn and the mockingjay pin on the black market.) Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood wholeheartedly approve of the barter system, and especially since it’s a great way to get to know your neighbors and make new friends.

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