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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,

Silence

* 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?

Paleo, shmaleo. July 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Til next time,

Silence

The CSA conundrum. July 21, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Last night, my brother and sister-in-law stopped by en route to pick up our nephew from summer camp, and our friend Ben and I took them to a lovely old country inn for supper. Rather than talking about anything most people would talk about, we got into a discussion about the problem with CSAs (technically “consumer-supported agriculture,” typically organic vegetable operations that are supported by advance subscriptions and provide “shares” of vegetables each week during the growing season).

Here in scenic PA, we have a marvelous CSA just five minutes from our house. It not only provides a diverse selection of organic produce throughout the growing season, but it has a fantastic U-Pick garden where members can pick strawberries and raspberries, flowers, green and yellow wax beans, hot peppers, cherry and paste tomatoes, and a wide assortment of herbs. The farmers also partner with local organic farms to offer fruit shares, cheese shares, bread shares, pizza shares, mushroom shares, and free-range, grass-fed meat shares, as well as wild-caught salmon.

It sounds like a dream come true, and we enthusiastically joined up and belonged for several years before finally giving up on it. Why would we do such a thing, when it was so conveniently located and the produce was so well grown (and we really loved the U-Pick garden)?! We could get things at our CSA that we could find nowhere else: garlic scapes, tender Japanese turnips that were great sliced thin in salads, French breakfast radishes that we ate as the French do on buttered slices of baguette. And the fruit share was full of incredible varieties you’d never find in a store. I drool every time I read about the mushroom shares, which weren’t available in our day.

But we had to stop. It cost a great deal to sign up for a full share, and what you got depended on what the farmers planted and which crops flourished, not what you wanted or would actually eat. So, on a given week, you might get one ear of corn, one tomato, and what seemed like 50,000 pounds of Swiss chard or turnip greens or radish tops or the like. Now, I love radishes, beets, and those Japanese turnips, but I do NOT love bitter turnip greens, prickly radish greens, or Swiss chard and beet greens, which both taste like dirt. (And don’t dare tell me that sauteing radish greens makes them taste good, unless you’re also fond of stuffing fiberglass down your throat.) Plus, how are you supposed to feed two people with one ear of corn or one tomato?!! And sure, if we got a half-share, we’d only have gotten 25,000 pounds of Swiss chard and etc. But then we wouldn’t have even gotten our one tomato and ear of corn.

We wanted to support our CSA. We loved our CSA. But we really needed to buy food we would eat, in quantities we could use. So we finally gave up and now rely on the farmers’ markets near us and on our own veggie beds. (You can’t get any of the other shares, like fruit and mushroom, if you don’t belong to the CSA, sob.)

I felt like a total failure because we stopped supporting our CSA. I was too ashamed to mention it to anyone. So you can imagine how surprised I was to hear my brother and sister-in-law start talking about their CSA subscription and how challenging it was for them. Now mind you, they live in a city—Washington, DC—not farm country like me and our friend Ben. And they only subscribe for a quarter-share (not an option here, we’d get a handful of stuff, but apparently they’re still overrun, lucky them). But their experience was still like ours. Their kids don’t eat vegetables, unless you consider French fries vegetables, so they need to consume the CSA produce each week by themselves. And they too are overwhelmed by things like beet greens and, in my brother’s words, “vegetables we’ve never even heard of.”

Like us, they hate to waste food, and since they get so much in their week’s share, they end up eating whatever it is frantically every night of the week. Okay, so let’s hypothesize that you get a gargantuan bag of spinach in your share. (Would that we’d ever been so lucky.) You can add fresh spinach to your salad, cook some into an omelette or frittata, saute it with minced garlic and olive oil as a side, cook it down in a tiny bit of water and serve it up with salt and balsamic vinegar, or add it to saag or palaak paneer, lasagna, pasta, or you name it. But what if you’ve gotten a gargantuan bag of amaranth greens or Jerusalem artichokes or amaranth seed heads?

Oh, dear. There’s no question that supporting our local organic farmers via CSAs is the right thing to do. Perhaps OFB and I are just suffering from a breakdown of the imagination. But until further notice, we’ll be patronizing the local Mennonite farm stands, farmers’ markets, and growing our own.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on to casting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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