Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Benjamin Franklin, Dave McCullough, David McCullough, Dr. Franklin marble, JABO, machine-made marbles, marble collecting, marbles, Poor Richard's Alamanac, Sammy's Mountain Marbles, Steve Sturtz
Our friend Ben isn’t talking about the marble that is used to make kitchen countertops, palaces, and sculptures here, but about the round glass marbles, the so-called “toy” marbles, revered and collected by folks like me.
On my computer desk is a “Dr. Franklin” marble, named after our hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, the great Benjamin Franklin. It was created in a marble run sponsored by Steve Sturtz, “Dr. JABO,” produced at the JABO plant in Marietta, Ohio, one of the last marble producers in the U.S. (with the iconic Marble King), and created by the preeminent machine marble-maker of all time, the legendary Dave McCullough. (Check out Sammy’s Mountain Marbles for his latest amazing creations.)
“Dr. Franklin” is a beautiful, complex creation, with brilliant opaque orange, opaque pink, and glittery black aventurine suspended in a clear matrix. It’s spectacular. But it’s also rare. There are probably fewer than 50 Dr. Franklin marbles in existence, certainly fewer than 100. They are one of the most beautiful marbles our friend Ben, a rabid marble collector, has ever seen. I love marbles, I have many jars and boxes of marbles, but the Dr. Franklin is the only marble I showcase.
Thank you Dr. Franklin, thank you Steve, thank you Dave, and thank you to the crew at JABO that made these marvelous marbles. As the Marines’ motto goes, the few, the proud. The rarest marble in the world?
Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Caesar Flickerman, Hunger Games theme parks, Katniss Everdeen, Lionsgate, Peeta Mellark, President Snow, Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
Those of you who’ve read Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games books doubtless recall that the depraved and decadent citizens of Panem’s Capitol turned the arenas where teens were forced to fight to the death on national TV into resorts. They loved going to their favorite arenas—which, of course, were different and more horrific every year—with their families for a nice little vacation, reliving (and relishing) every moment of the unfolding nightmare that took place there, without, of course, risking their lives or their comfort.
This reminds our friend Ben of people who read and/or watch horror and murder mysteries as entertainment. What’s entertaining about being terrified? I doubt that the folks who seem addicted to such “pleasures” would be so thrilled if Charles Manson’s ‘family’ or Hannibal Lecter or a bunch of goons burst into their home and opened fire. But it’s apparently thrilling to watch other people being tortured, killed, or terrorized.
I have to wonder if we lived in a place where starvation, natural disasters, untreated disease epidemics, routine violence and torture, and repression were commonplace, we’d find these books and films so entertaining. I read just this morning that 80 people had been officially murdered in North Korea, many just for watching films from South Korea. Jews in Hungary and Christians in Egypt are being terrorized. Neo-Nazis are marching in Kansas to celebrate Kristallnacht, the anniversary of horrific Nazi atrocity. At least ten thousand Filipino lives have been lost to the latest typhoon, and Japan is still leaking nuclear waste from its devastated plant. Do you find this fun and relaxing? Why would you find any suffering fun and entertaining?
Suzanne Collins doubtless thought she was being ironic when she turned the murder of innocents into the Capitol’s Disney World. But now Lionsgate, which produces the film versions of the Hunger Games, is turning her nightmare into reality. According to today’s headlines, Lionsgate is planning to establish Hunger Games theme parks. No doubt we’ll all be given the opportunity to enter the arena with Katniss and Peeta, watch an interview with Caesar Flickerman, and be intimidated by President Snow. The real-world irony is overwhelming.
Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: mushroom-cashew stroganoff, stroganoff recipe, vegetarian recipes, vegetarian stroganoff
Silence Dogood here. One of my favorite go-to recipes for fall and winter is mushroom-cashew stroganoff, which is simple to make but so satisfying on a cold night! You only need five ingredients—a sweet onion, mushrooms, cashews, sour cream, and olive oil—plus fettucine and salt and pepper to taste.
To make my mushroom-cashew stroganoff, heat a large pot of water for the fettucine. While it’s heating, add extra-virgin olive oil to a heavy pot (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this) and toss in a large diced sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla) and sliced or diced mushrooms, depending on how you like them.
You can add a large carton of button mushrooms, or mix them up (the other night, I added shiitakes and portobellos to the buttons, simply because I had them in the fridge). We like lots of mushroom in our stroganoff, but suit your own tastes. Then add plenty of salt (we like RealSalt or Trocomare) and fresh-cracked black pepper. If the onions and mushrooms start to stick, add veggie broth or stock (or water) in splashes to prevent burning.
Once the onion has clarified and the mushrooms have released their juices, add a 16-ounce (2-cup) carton of sour cream and a good half-cup of shoyu (fresh-fermented soy sauce), tamari, or soy sauce. We love Ohsawa Organic Nama Shoyu, which is available from health-food stores and has a deep, rich, almost winey flavor. Your goal is to create a dark-brown, sort of beef-gravy-colored sauce, so add as much shoyu or tamari as you need (making sure you taste as you go).
By now, your pot of water should have come to a boil. But be patient; don’t add the pasta until your stroganoff sauce has really started to thicken up. Your goal is to have a rich sauce that thickly coats each piece of pasta and wouldn’t even dream of dripping, and you don’t want the pasta to be done before the sauce reaches this stage. (You can always turn the sauce off once it’s reached the desired thickness, cover it, and it will be just fine when you add it to the hot al dente pasta.
Now that your sauce and fettucine are done, you might be wondering, hey, what about the cashews? Well, you don’t want them to go soft and gummy, so you stir them in the exact second you’re ready to serve up the pasta. You can toss the fettucine (or spaghetti, if you prefer it, but you need a strong, sturdy pasta to hold up to this sauce, no “thin” or angel-hair spaghetti, please) with the sauce and cashews, or top it with the cashew-laden sauce.
As with the mushrooms and onion, our friend Ben and I like lots of cashews in our stroganoff; we’ll typically use almost a whole can or package, but suit yourself. They add a yummy crunch that sets off the creamy sauce perfectly, but I never want to overwhelm the sauce with cashews, so I make sure I add plenty but not so many that it becomes cashew-mushroom stroganoff rather than the other way ’round.
While the fettucine is cooking, I throw together a crunchy salad to serve with our stroganoff. We like a simple Caesar with this, but certainly a mix of any combination of romaine, arugula, radicchio, kale, iceberg, red cabbage, endive, shredded carrot, diced bell pepper, and scallions would be great. The salad just needs plenty of body and a non-creamy dressing, such as a simple extra-virgin and balsamic vinegar, because the stroganoff is so rich. And I never serve bread with this stroganoff! We do find that it goes well with a full-bodied red wine like a cabernet sauvignon or a zinfandel.
So simple, so good. Enjoy! I think this will become one of your cold-weather go-to dishes, too.
‘Til next time,
Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Blotanical, garden bloggers
Blotanical, a compendium of garden blogs, was a big reason why our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders were able to launch our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac. It gave us an audience of fellow gardening enthusiasts from all over the world, and gave us access to lots of wonderful gardening blogs. From South Africa to Australia, from Canada to California, we were suddenly seeing and connecting with bloggers we’d never have heard of without Blotanical.
We were grateful, but we were busy. So we didn’t check into the site as often as we might have. We did, however, check in often enough to see that its founder appeared to have abandoned it several years ago, promising a monstrous makeover, then simply freezing the site. Ever since, we’ve checked in every six months or so, and have found no new updates on this fantastic transformation. Then today, we checked in once again and were unable to get on to the site.
Is Blotanical dead? Does anyone know? What a shame. It was a wonderful way to connect garden bloggers.
Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: 50 greatest inventions, great inventions, greatest inventions, The Atlantic
Silence Dogood here. The November issue of The Atlantic featured the 50 greatest inventions since the wheel. Or so they claimed. Sure, there were the printing press, paper, the moldboard plow (thank you, Jethro Tull!), the combustion engine, the internet, the personal computer, and so on. But they seem to have forgotten the real boons that enabled us all to flourish.
I’m referring, of course, to plumbing, toilet paper, soap, and deodorant. Toilets and an ample supply of hot and cold water on demand date back to ancient Rome; feudal Japan under the Shoguns had toilet paper and hot-water baths. I can’t imagine anything that changed society more and made living more pleasurable. Except, perhaps, soap, shampoo, combs, antipersperant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and body lotion.
The list did include air conditioning, that wonderful relief from hot, humid, agonizing weather. And it included electricity, which brought safe, bright, affordable illumination into our homes, and glasses, which enabled those with impaired vision to read and participate in society. But it left out glass windows, stoves (though it included refrigeration), and coinage and currency, which enabled society to move beyond the barter system and assign abstract values to everything (for better or worse). “I’ll give you this fish for that bunch of grapes” became “I’ll sell you this fish” and “I’ll sell you these grapes.”
Plenty of other great inventions failed to make the list of 50, which is a pretty small number if you’re counting down from the wheel. Which inventions do you feel changed society or human history for the better?
‘Til next time,
Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: custom greenhouses, greenhouse innovations, greenhouses, home greenhouses, Ken Burton, solar greenhouses
Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood love the greenhouse our genius woodworking friend, Ken Burton, custom-designed and built for us when we bought our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. It’s big and bright, with a long in-ground raised bed on the low side and a long greenhouse bench on the high wall.
Ken’s goal was to make the greenhouse as solar-friendly as possible in our cold-winter climate. Glass covers the south-facing sloping wall, along with a glass window and glass door on the east and west sides. The north wall is white-painted wood to reflect the light pouring in from the south and to highlight the plants.
Under the bench, black-painted barrels hold water and act as solar collectors. And behind the north wall, a hayloft adds extra insulation in the form of straw bales for our chickenyard, while we stack wood for our woodstove beneath the loft, which also serves as added insulation..
But we think Ken’s most brilliant innovation was to use the sliding glass doors normally used for deck or patio doors as the long windows on the south-facing, sloping side. They’re double-paned for insulation and let in a ton of light. Over and below them, Ken added rows of screened pull-down windows so we could open them for fresh air and circulation (we also open the screened end-wall window and glass door).
The other day, as Silence and I were furiously hauling our bazillion plants back from the deck to the greenhouse for the winter (it’s already been in the 20s here at night, a real aberration, as we can usually leave the plants out well into November), our friend Ben was struck by an idea. Not a MacArthur “genius award”-worthy idea, no doubt, but still.
Our sliding glass doors that lead to our deck are designed so that one slides over the other, and if you wish, you can pull a full-length screen over the open door to let in fresh air. So why couldn’t you design a greenhouse wall of sliding glass doors that do that, too? One door would be fixed in place, and the other would move over it, and you could pull the screens to let in tons of fresh air to circulate, make sure the greenhouse didn’t overheat in summer, and combat fungal diseases and the like, without letting in bugs.
Three sets of doors would be plenty for most home gardeners, and what a gain in greenhouse circulation! Our greenhouse is still going strong, but if we ever need an update, we’ll see what Ken thinks about this idea. Meanwhile, what do you think about it?
Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Baker's Chocolate, baking chocolate, chocolate, Scharffen Berger chocolate
Silence Dogood here. I grew up with Baker’s Chocolate. My beloved Mama relied on it exclusively in all baked goods and candies, including her famous fudge. She used unsweetened Baker’s Chocolate and their bittersweet bar, and we always had them on hand in the house. While I wasn’t prepared to take a bite of unsweetened chocolate, I very much enjoyed their bittersweet version, with its unique dark but dry or chalky (as opposed to creamy or oily) taste.
Sadly, no Baker’s Chocolate bar has ever entered my own home, except on the very rare occasions when I make Mama’s fudge for the holidays. I’d almost forgotten about it until I saw that our local health food store, of all places, was selling bars of Scharffen Berger Semisweet Fine Artisan Dark Chocolate. For years, I’d been reading about how Scharffen Berger—which, despite its Swiss-sounding name, is actually made in Robinson, Illinois, perhaps an ironic tribute to the Swiss Family Robinson—was considered the best artisanal chocolate in America.
I’d never seen Scharffen Berger for sale before, so of course I snapped up a bar, eager to see what everyone was raving about. When I got home, I broke off a square and tasted it. And guess what? It tasted exactly like the Baker’s bittersweet bar of my memory, dark and dry/chalky. Hmmmm.
Since I wanted to post about this, I decided to do a little research about Baker’s Chocolate, and Wikipedia had a doozy of an article on the subject. First, I learned that Baker’s Chocolate was originated not as a cooking aid for bakers, but as a health food by a Dr. James Baker in 1764. Dr. Baker, not bakers. Yow.
But that wasn’t all I learned. Love that German chocolate cake? Turns out it has nothing to do with Germany, but instead is the result of a Baker’s employee, Samuel German, who invented a sweeter chocolate bar, called German’s Sweet Chocolate. A Dallas newspaper printed a recipe for a cake that used his bar as an ingredient as “German Chocolate Cake,” and so a legend was born. Ironically, the modern Baker’s product lineup includes sweetened coconut flakes, a key ingredient in German chocolate icing.
So, folks, there you have it. Nothing is what it seems, but chocolate is still chocolate, whether it’s Scharffen Berger or Baker’s.
‘Til next time,
Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: blog content, blog criticism, blogs, visual blogs
Here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we love our blog host, WordPress, because it’s so easy to use, even if you’re Luddites like us. (A Luddite, by the way, is a technophobe whose idea of human-friendly technology is a laptop with Windows XP and a landline with voicemail.) WordPress also has a great spam filter, Akismet, that’s caught pretty much every piece of spam we ever get here so nothing embarrassing pops up in our comments section. Thank you, WordPress and Akismet!
However, occasionally Akismet gets over-zealous and puts a legitimate comment in our spam folder, like the one our friend Ben found there this morning. It reads (in part):
“Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is valuable and all. However imagine if you added some great photos or video clips to give your posts more ‘pop’!”
This isn’t spam, it’s legitimate criticism; the person wasn’t trying to sell us anything or link us to a porn site or something (at least, as far as I know). And they’re right. What we say might be “valuable and all,” but in today’s split-second world, where a tweet is probably considered way too long if it runs to the full 150 letters and spaces, and visuals have made constellations of superstars from YouTube to Instagram, our posts definitely fall short on ‘pop’. Waaaay short.
Every now and then, the three of us who write Poor Richard’s Almanac—our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders—get together to talk about this. And every time, we come to the same conclusion. We realize that our posts get hundreds rather than hundreds of thousands of views because there’s nothing here but writing. Our dreams of publishers beating down our doors and MacArthur “genius awards” raining down on us are just not going to happen in a text-only format.
But we’re writers, plain and simple, all three of us. That’s what we do, and what we do well. And we’re Luddites. What we don’t do well is use technology and take decent photos, and we wouldn’t have a clue how to make a video or embed a photo or video or soundtrack or you name it into one of our posts. Nor do we wish to learn how to do any of these things, much to the horror and incomprehension of many of our friends.
I guess the three of us are well matched in terms of blogging because we share this perspective: We want to do what we do well and effortlessly and only what we do well and effortlessly. Blogs don’t write themselves, after all. Unless somebody’s paying you to write and/or produce blog posts, it’s a pure labor of love on your part.
I could be heading down the road for a pizza or paying bills or watching a DVD instead of writing this post, but I’m putting in the time because I really, really do enjoy writing, and I hope at least a few of you out there still enjoy reading and thinking. (Maybe those folks who prefer the plain black-and-white Kindle e-reader to the Kindle Fire. But we’d rather have real books, none of us has ever used an e-reader or even audiobooks. We can’t help it, we’re Luddites, we love holding real books with real paper pages and real ink and drawing the scenes portrayed with words in our imaginations.)
This is the joy and challenge of writing: Helping readers see and experience what you see and experience through the medium of words. We paint, we sing, we sculpt, we cook with words. If we can’t draw you in—if you can’t smell and taste Silence’s black bean soup and hot cornbread and succulent, savory endive boats after reading her recipes, or know the Founding Fathers or famous pirates better after reading one of Richard’s posts about them, or connect to one of my rants—then we’ve failed you, and we’ve failed ourselves as writers.
Sure, we could throw in some photos. But we don’t think Silence’s black bean soup or Richard’s post about the greatest pirate of them all (not Blackbeard, not Captain Morgan, but the Great Pirate Roberts) would be improved. And while I wish I could show you a photo of my black German shepherd, Shiloh, or a video of Athena the Dancing Cat, I doubt that you’ll be grieving over their absence. After all, your time is as valuable as ours.
Ultimately, this is why blogs are so great. You can do what you want on your blog, and people can visit the blogs that resonate with them. If you want lots of visitors, you’d better have lots of photos and videos. It’s a smart way to maximize blog appeal in a visual age. Our advice is: Do what you enjoy. Enjoy your blog, whether you load it up with visuals and soundtracks and links or just say something you feel needs to be said. It’s all good.
Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: exercise, heartbeat, longevity, meditation
Our friend Ben read an article two days ago that confirmed everything I believe, yet left unanswered questions. I have long assumed that, just as we perceive time as very slow when we’re young children and very fast as we get older, so every creature perceives its own span in its own terms. A mayfly’s three days pass so slowly for it that every second is an hour, every minute a year. A dog’s 12 years do indeed seem like 84. A parrot’s hundred years pass just like ours.
This is why I’ve never understood why creationists have such a beef with evolution: Who are we to say what a day is to God? Seven of God’s days might be seven million, or billion, of ours.
Anyway, this article showed a researcher’s evidence that proved that every species did indeed live as long in their terms as we do in ours. But unfortunately, I had to go move furniture and reshelve hundreds of books, and didn’t get to write the blog post I’d hoped to about the piece. When I went back yesterday to try to find it, no amount of Googling turned it up, and ditto today. (It had been on the Yahoo! home page; maybe some of you would have better luck.)
Our friend Ben is always both irritated and pleased when science manages to confirm what appears to be intuitively obvious, as in this case, or science’s continual “shocking” discovery that pets actually have emotions and animals feel pain, something every pet owner can see for themselves without requiring millions of dollars of government grants. Grrrrr!!!!
But the article went on to say something else that I had long wondered about. It noted that the species with the fastest heartbeats had the shortest lives. I have read that the heart, like any muscle, has only so much staying power, in other words, only so many beats in it. So it seemed logical to me that the slower your heart rate, the longer you’d live, much like Indian yogis who can slow their heart rate to practically nothing, like Japanese Zen monks who sit for hours, barely breathing.
But this flies in the face of Western medicine, which tells you to exercise, run, crank that heart rate up!!! If the scientists who conducted the study on animal longevity could say, in a casual toss-off remark, that it was well known that the slower the heartbeat, the longer the life, then what does that say about our frantic efforts to speed up our heartbeats at all costs?
I don’t have any answers, just the one burning question. If you can shed light on this, please help me out!