Sochi’s strays steal the spotlight. February 19, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: animal shelters, dogs, homeless dogs, mixed breeds, mutts, Olympic dogs, pet adoption, Sochi dogs, stray dogs
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have never understood why the Olympics, or any sports for that matter, exercise such a fascination for the general public. If you’re not playing, what’s the big deal? (Admittedly, we feel the same way about watching musicians sawing away for hours at a symphony performance; why not just listen to the CD, unless you play yourself and are trying to pick up technique?)
But we’ve been watching with bated breath ever since we learned of the 2,000 stray dogs in Sochi that were going to be killed before the Olympics to make everything nice and tidy. As dog lovers, we were horrified by their casual disposal—just another trash pickup—and were delighted to read of the international outrage once the news got out, and of the stray who joined the opening ceremony and became an immediate viral celebrity.
While not even Sochi’s strays could make us actually watch the Olympics, we’ve been following their plight closely: How the construction workers who spruced up the city for the Games fed them. How Olympians like Gus Kenworthy are trying to adopt them. How Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska funds and has expanded PovoDog, a Sochi pet shelter. How others are trying to import Sochi dogs to the U.S. to place in shelters here, believing that they’ll have a better chance at adoption.
Ultimately, the fate of Sochi’s dogs remains unclear, and for most, as for most shelter dogs, not too bright. But their presence at the Winter Olympics has done more to showcase the plight of homeless animals, and the lovable nature and attractive appearance of mixed-breed dogs (“mutts”), than any campaign launched by the Humane Society, PETA, and all other animal-welfare organizations combined. Let’s hope more people start visiting their local shelters and really seeing the dogs instead of dismissing them if they’re not purebred. And let’s hope adoptions skyrocket.
This year’s Winter Olympics produced 2,000 stars.
The marbles of my dreams. February 17, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: collectible marbles, collector marbles, Dave McCullough, David McCullough, JABO, machine-made marbles, marble collectors, marbles, Sammy Hogue, Sammy's Mountain Marbles, toy marbles
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Our friend Ben and my fellow marble collectors are fortunate to be living in a renaissance of glorious machine-made marbles.
Unfortunately, when the first flowering of machine-made marbles, with the glorious slags, brilliant colors, and intricate designs of the M.F. Christensen Company, Christensen Agate, Akro Agate, and the rest, occurred in the early part of the 20th century, marbles were considered children’s toys. The equivalent of penny candy, they were played with, damaged, and discarded without a thought. (The same fate had befallen their predecessors, the fabulously ornate handmade marbles of the 19th and early 20th centuries.)
As a result, finding undamaged examples of early marbles, hand- or machine-made, is next to impossible, since the few that remain intact are mostly already in the hands of collectors, and are rare enough to be featured in books like fine antiques. The rest of us are lucky to find “lightly-played” examples without noticeable chips and cracks. Sob! It seems impossible to believe that such beautiful marbles were treated with such casual disregard, or that, alternatively, marble-makers put such time and talent into toys that they knew would be destroyed.
Today, however, high-end marbles have largely passed into the realm of collectibles. Some collectors value them as historical artifacts, others because they remember playing with them as children, and still others, like our friend Ben, simply because they’re beautiful. And those of us who collect because we simply love gorgeous marbles are in luck, since for the past decade and more, David McCullough, arguably the greatest maker of machine-made marbles who has ever lived, has been making special runs for us.
First at JABO, with famous runs like the JOKER series, and now with gifted marble-maker Sammy Hogue at Sammy’s Mountain Marbles, Dave has been producing marbles to rival anything the early greats produced: marbles with gold lutz, green and blue aventurine, oxblood, and innumerable flames and color combinations. Awesome!!!
Our friend Ben was thinking about what Dave, Sammy, and the teams at JABO and Sammy’s Mountain Marbles have achieved, and of course I couldn’t help fantasizing about my own perfect marbles. Could they make them? Could anyone? Could anyone ever? I don’t know. But I wish!
My dream marbles would be transparent/translucent, in jewel tones: rich ruby, deep sapphire, emerald, azure, purple, topaz, carnelian orange, amber, pink, jade green. Through them would run gold, silver, copper lutz; vaseline glass; blue, green and black aventurine; strands of glistening silk-white and garnet. (Not all in the same marble, obviously!) Picture a glowing red marble, looking slick and luscious like a candy apple, with strands of silver or gold or copper lutz and endless depth, maybe with ribbons of vaseline glass. Wow! Imagine some glistening version in emerald or sapphire or azure. Yow!
Will we ever see marbles like these, with the clear, brilliant colors of the very best slags combined with the bells and whistles of lutz, aventurine, fluorescent glass, and so on? Who’s to know? Maybe this is just my personal marble fantasy and nobody else would even be interested. But wow, to see a glistening candy-apple red marble, much less one with embellishments: Bring it on!!!
Dave, Sammy, are you listening?
What are your dream marbles?
Sherlock fans, watch this! February 16, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: best Sherlock Holmes films, Dr.Bell and Mr. Doyle, Ian Richardson, Joseph Bell is Sherlock Holmes, must-see Sherlock Holmes films, Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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Fans of “the great detective,” Sherlock Holmes, and his many film and television interpretations, including Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Sherlock,” you’re in for a treat. No, not yet another version of Holmes. Or, not exactly.
Holmes fanatics who know their history know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, got his inspiration for the character from one of his med school professors, Dr. Joseph Bell. You can now watch a fictionalized version of Doyle’s apprenticeship with Bell, including an encounter with a young Jack the Ripper, and how Doyle learned Bell’s deductive methods.
The BBC production, “Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes,” stars Ian Richardson, who played Holmes himself in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Sign of Four,” as Dr. Bell. It also features strong supporting performances, especially from Sean McGinley as the Lestrade-like Inspector Beecher and Charles Dance of “Game of Thrones” fame as an arrogant, hypocritical aristocrat. (We could expect no less from Lord Tywin Lannister!)
If you’ve missed this, we strongly suggest that you check it out—it’s at least as good as and more interesting than most Holmes interpretations we’ve seen. We first saw it on Netflix, and it’s available through Amazon. We enjoyed it every bit as much on second viewing, and plan to add it to our regular (extensive) rotation of Holmes DVDs. Great background, great plot, great acting, plus Holmes! What more could a Sherlock fan ask?!
What’s your favorite romantic movie? February 14, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: great romance movies, Princess Caraboo, romance films, romantic films, romantic movies, Valentine's Day
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Silence Dogood here. With Valentine’s Day upon us, I can’t help but think of all the great romantic films—films that celebrate love, be it love lost (“Gone with the Wind,” “Casablanca,” “Gladiator,” “Titanic”), love lost and regained (Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” “Jane Eyre,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “The Return of Martin Guerre”), love unexpectedly discovered (“Pride and Prejudice,” “The Crying Game,” “Stage Beauty,” “Avatar,” “Somewhere in Time”), or simply love enduring (the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Tony Hillerman triad, the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency films).
But, much as I love these films, my favorite is none of them. It’s an incredibly obscure film, set, like Jane Austen’s work, in the Regency Period in England, after King George III was deemed too mad to rule and before he died so that his son, the Prince Regent, could take the throne as king.But unlike Jane Austen’s novels, this film was based on a true story, about a housemaid with a wonderful, exotic imagination who created a new life for herself and in the process even met and danced with the Prince himself, bowled over upper-class British society, and ultimately got away with it.
The film, “Princess Caraboo,” stars Phoebe Cates as the maid/princess, her real-life husband, Kevin Kline, in a marvelous role as the supercilious Greek butler to a wealthy family, and Stephen Rea (whose moving performance lit up “The Crying Game”) as the dogged journalist who falls in love, not with the princess, but with the maid who created her. Strong supporting performances, including Jim Broadbent and John Lithgow, incredible sets and costuming, and the richness of the story weave a magic spell that I find completely captivating.
If you enjoy nuanced romance, Jane Austen, the Regency Period, or simply fine acting, I hope you’re able to find “Princess Caraboo.” I was able to get it on DVD, so I haven’t checked to see if it’s on Netflix and etc. Good luck! It’s worth looking for.
What are your favorite romance films?
Happy Valentine’s Day,
The Conqueror Diet. February 11, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: blog humor, crash diets, liquid diets, William the Conqueror
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Silence Dogood here. We’ve all heard about crash diets, even if we’ve never been stupid enough to try them: The grapefruit diet. The cabbage soup diet. Any diet that restricts you to a single food at every meal for a week or so, promising fast weight loss, so you can squash yourself into that too-small bikini, too-tight jeans, or sized-down wedding dress.
Well, today I was entertained to read about the very first crash diet, going all the way back to 1066. Apparently, William the Conqueror had feasted and gorged until he’d gotten too fat to ride his horse, not a good thing for a warrior, or anyone else in an age when horses were the only means of transportation.
William realized that desperate measures were called for: a crash diet. So he abandoned food and went on an all-liquor diet until he lost enough weight to once again mount and ride his horse into battle.
Today, a lot of cleanses and fasts rely on liquids to stand in place of solid food. (Think green juices.) And we all know about the various drink-this-can-as-a-food-replacement diets. Eeeewwww!!!!
I don’t know about you, but in the world of crash diets, I think the Conqueror Diet could be the next big thing.
‘Til next time,
Top ten cookware essentials. February 7, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: cookware, essential cookware, kitchen essentials, top ten cookware
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Silence Dogood here. If you could name just ten kitchen tools that you use constantly and that make your life easier, what would they be? Here are my ten:
* A gas stove. Gas has it all over electric when it comes to temperature control. Not only can you adjust the burners to the precise heat you need for each dish, but once you turn the burner off, it’s off (cool): no long cooling-down period as with electric. It’s got to be gas!
* LeCreuset pots and pans. Heavy, enamel-coated cast-iron pots and pans are a lifesaver in my kitchen. They have all the heat-retention of cast-iron without the bother of seasoning, rusting, off-flavors, and so on. They also are very easy to clean. I love my LeCreuset Dutch ovens and large, heavy frying pans. But they’re not the only options: I found a wonderful Mario Batali enamel-coated cast-iron saute/saucepan at a thrift store for pennies on the dollar of my LeCreuset pots and pans. (I’ve also bought LeCreuset pans and lids on eBay and saved big bucks.)
* A rice cooker. Perfect white rice, brown rice, lentils and rice, anything and rice, any kind of rice, every time: amazing. As someone who could never manage stovetop rice, the rice cooker has been a real godsend to me. We love rice and eat it often. And the rice cooker is fine with plain rice or rice doctored with everything from hemp and chia seeds to sauteed onions and mushrooms. Best of all, no worry about standing over the stove ’til it’s done. And its $19 price can’t be beat.
* Little Vicky. My Victorinox paring knife (fondly referred to by fans as “Little Vicky”) stays sharp and cuts beautifully. And it costs a fraction of what high-end knives like my Wusthof Trident paring knife go for. The Victorinox has serrations, unlike the Trident, and I find them helpful for holding slippery veggies in place while I’m trying to cut them.
* A real potato masher. I inherited mine from my mother, who may have inherited it from hers. It’s a heavy stainless-steel circle (of course, on a heavy handle) with square openings all over it. This design makes it not only incredibly easy to mash potatoes (or any other vegetable), but also to mash beans for refried beans or black bean soup. It serves as the perfect low-tech substitute for a blender or food processor when you need to thicken anything from a dip to a soup.
* An air-popper. Here’s another $19 item that will make life simpler if you happen to love popcorn. The air-popper spews out a bowlful of hot, fresh-popped popcorn, which you can choose to top with melted butter, shredded cheese, or whatever you like. No gross, stinky, carcinogenic microwave popcorn, no oil-coated popcorn and long, greasy cleanup. Once the air-popper is cool, just wipe it out with a paper towel and store until you need it.
* Pyrex dishes with lids. Forget storing leftovers in carcinogenic plastic containers, or storing takeout in the original containers. Buy an assortment of Pyrex glass containers with tight-fitting lids. They’ll go from fridge to oven (minus the lids), they keep food fresh, and they’re easy to clean. Avaialble in groceries everywhere.
* Corningware. I’d be lost without my Corningware, from individual heating dishes to casserole-size dishes with glass lids. I’ve bought all of it from thrift stores, except for the individual baking dishes, a hand-down from a friend, and I use them every day. I love the individual dishes because you can serve up a portion of leftovers and heat it up, just the right size for one serving.
* Bamboo spoons. I’ve dutifully used wooden spoons all my life, but they tend to fray and shred, even crack, over time. In my experience, bamboo spoons offer all the benefits of wood without the fraying and cracking.
* A good cutting board. Mine’s handmade maple, a gift from a friend. I use it every day, as I do so many items on this list. If I didn’t have this cutting board, I’d probably be looking into one made of bamboo.
* A hand-mixer. I have an old Sunbeam hand-mixer that I use whenever cream or eggwhites need to be whipped or butter and sugar beaten for a batter. It does the job perfectly and is easy to store afterwards, unlike a stand mixer.
There are so many other essentials that it’s hard to know when to stop. I couldn’t function without my set of stainless mixing bowls, which I use for everything from beating eggs for an omelette to serving as a salad bowl. What makes your top ten?
‘Til next time,
Let them eat cake. February 5, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: cake, fad diets, let them eat cake, Marie Antoinette diet, sensible diets, tapeworm diet, unrealistic diets
Silence Dogood here. We are so obsessed with dieting as a society that no day goes by that the popular news isn’t full of diet trends, tips, expert advice, and fads. This week, five of the hardcover nonfiction bestsellers (out of 10) were diet books. In an age where thinness is valued above every quality but youth, where Barbie dolls have thighs that are thinner than their calves and arms like toothpicks, this is still a testament to frivolous self-absorption but can hardly come as a surprise.
Yesterday, I read about yet another diet fad, the “Marie Antoinette Diet,” where the premise is, sure enough, that you can eat cake like France’s queen and still keep your figure if you have soup for supper (le souper in French). The same day’s news reported that a British medical researcher had consumed live tapeworms to see if it was true that they would allow you to eat whatever you wanted and still lose weight, a popular teen trend I’d read about some years before. (He actually gained weight, and the side effects apparently range from gross—as if being infested with parasites that can reach some 50 feet in length wasn’t gross enough—to fatal.)
But let’s get back to cake. Our friend Ben and I received a delightful belated Christmas present from our neighbor, Fran, a beautiful chocolate torte. The smell alone was swoon-worthy. We were going to our Friday Night Supper Club get-together, so I decided to bring it so the whole group could enjoy it. (This decision was made a lot easier since Fran had also given us some luscious-looking carrot cake.)
When we arrived, our friend Rudy was talking about how he and his brother Fritzie were trying to recreate their mother’s German jelly doughnut recipe. This recipe involved deep-frying the doughnuts in fat, then stuffing them with currant jelly or apple butter and rolling them in sugar. After a lengthy discussion, Fritzie asked Rudy if he thought they should really use Crisco, his mother’s choice, to fry the doughnuts. Was that really good for you?
Mercy. We’re talking about deep-fat-fried, empty calorie-laden, cholesterol-heavy, nutrient-free, diabetes-inducing junk food here. It’s a total indulgence, maybe a once-a-year treat. Deep-frying the doughnuts in canola oil isn’t going to transform them into health food.
I watched as the group ate their meal, then moved on to the chocolate cake. As I ate a half-cup of my delicious chili, a square of cornbread, and a half-salad (and no, I wasn’t depriving myself, that really was all I could eat), I saw the rest of the group go back for seconds and (in one case) thirds of hearty helpings of everything. I couldn’t call the cornbread healthy, but the vegetarian chili and avocado-rich salad certainly were. So far, pretty much so good.
Then came the cake. I watched with interest as each person cut their own slice. Some took paper-thin slivers, others half-inch cuts. Nobody cut themselves an inch-thick slab, and nobody had seconds. In fact, they tended to select a slice size that corresponded to their activity level. (I rarely eat sweets, so I considered my square of cornbread as dessert.) And yes, not one of them was even slightly overweight.
What to make of all this? As I see it, the answer is to stay physically active and match your food intake to your exercise output. To eat mostly healthy foods, and when you indulge, enjoy your indulgence, in its original form, to the fullest, but in rational portions and only occasionally. To eat a balanced diet, to eat only as much as you’re hungry for, when you’re hungry for it, and to forget about prescribed eating times and fads. And if you’re trying to lose weight rather than maintain your figure, you’ll just have to buckle down and follow the only valid weight-loss advice: Eat less and exercise more.
Folks, if you want a jelly doughnut, eat a jelly doughnut (or an apple fritter or even a Cinnabon), or French fries, or whatever. But eat the real thing—the actual thing you’re craving, not some sanitized substitute that can never satisfy you and could cause you to overeat trying to feel the satisfaction. Eat it only as a special treat, something you can look forward to, a few times a year. Don’t overeat it just to stuff yourself with a prized indulgence: Remember, enough is as good as a feast (and a lot less caloric). That way, if you want that gooey chocolate indulgence, you can have your cake and eat it too.
‘Til next time,