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The best summer desserts. July 14, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. It always astounds me that people waste so much time obsessing about desserts, especially in summer when there’s such an abundance of delicious produce to choose from. However, my own home, Hawk’s Haven, isn’t immune from this dessert mania. Our friend Ben is a sherbet fanatic, and his favorite sherbet is one that combines several flavors and colors in a single carton.

Yesterday, we were at the grocery and, as usual, OFB began ranting about sherbet when we got to the dairy aisle. We began to think the search was hopeless: ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt, but no sherbet. Then, I saw a tricolored, three-flavored sherbet called “Twisted Cactus.” It was pink, orange and yellow, made from prickly pear, blood orange, and marula fruit.

Okay, this doesn’t sound like the sherbet we grew up with, or the tricolored orange, pineapple and raspberry sherbet we all knew and loved. But I love the red-orange blood orange and deep red prickly pear fruit (called tuna, but no relation to the fish), which makes the best margarita going. I didn’t know marula fruit, but was willing to take a chance. OFB gamely agreed: anything for some sherbet. I got some red raspberries to put on top, and we were off.

Once we’d had supper and were home, I made OFB a big bowl of sherbet and raspberries and had a spoonful myself, and whoa! It was sensational. So why didn’t I make myself a bowl? Well, because I had an even better, more refreshing dessert in mind: salted watermelon slices. They were so refreshing, so delightful, so salty/sweet, and so low-cal, the perfect summer dessert. Tomorrow, I’ll have some salted cantaloupe chunks with a few of those raspberries and maybe a few blueberries.

Yes, I did love the sherbet, it was really amazing. But I won’t be having more when I can have ripe fruit instead. (Even OFB has been grazing on our cache of grapes, cantaloupe, pineapple, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries, and I can’t wait to add cherries and peaches—along with more watermelon—to the mix.) A ripe, sliced peach topped with red or black raspberries and blueberries: What could be better than that? Unless it’s, maybe, a bowl of ripe cherries or some ripe (but not mealy) watermelon or mango or…

Don’t get me wrong, I love grapefruit and oranges and tangerines and bananas and apples and pears. I love stewed rhubarb, especially over Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream. I love homemade jam made with ripe apricots. I love cranberry sauce. I love pretty much all dried fruits, especially dates. I love shredded coconut. About the only fruit I can think of that I don’t love, fresh or dried, is papaya. (I think it’s a texture thing, again, that mealy texture, but then why don’t I like it dried? Maybe it’s texture and flavor.) But in summer, I want fresh, ripe summer fruit. It’s the perfect summer dessert.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Tesla or Edison? July 13, 2014

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Our friend Ben read an article yesterday wondering about who was the greater genius, Thomas Edison (inventor of DC current) or Nikola Tesla (inventor of AC current). The two were bitter rivals back in the day, and while Edison died a wealthy man, Tesla died poor, alone and obscure. Fortunately, thanks to Elon Musk and his ilk, Tesla is enjoying a revival in our time, a fitting renaissance for the man who said “The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.”

I meant to ask my brilliant godson Rashu which inventor he preferred when he was here with his family yesterday, but unfortunately became so obsessed with eating and visiting that I forgot. I cast my vote with Tesla, and here’s why:

Tesla was a true genius, a great inventor who gave us the inventions on which modern communications (he invented the cell phone) and entertainment (radio, TV) were based, in addition to AC electricity. Tesla’s 300 patents were all his own inventions. Tesla’s memory was eidetic, enabling him to envision objects in 3D in his mind and then create them. He famously said, “We all make mistakes, and it is better to make them before we begin.” He was also a pleasant and witty person who practiced good hygiene and was generally a joy to be around.

Edison, by contrast, was a mean, filthy slob. He held more than a thousand patents, but most were invented by his employees. He developed his theories by tinkering with various parts until something worked out, like the incandescent lightbulb and motion pictures (an idea he got from the famed freeze-frame photographer Eadweard Muybridge).

He was, in short, the Henry Ford of the electric industry: a practical man who saw what people needed and mass-produced those goods affordably via factories, hiring smart men and milking them for their inventions. It can easily, and correctly, be argued that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison did more to transform life for the average U.S. citizen in the 20th Century than anyone else.* The only other thing that comes close is advances in the food industry: pasteurization, canning, freezing, refrigeration.

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison died rich, successful men, Tesla broke and forgotten. But that begs the question: Was Edison or Tesla the greater genius? Let me leave you with another prescient Tesla quote before you draw your own conclusions: “The scientists of today think deeply but not clearly.”

* Oops, I forgot Alexander Graham Bell. The telephone also transformed everyday life in much the same way as the internet has for us.

Shut up about supersizing. July 12, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. I am SO sick of reading about how the giant portions served in restaurants are making us all obese. Good grief, we’re adults, we have eyes, we can see portion sizes. And all restaurants have a little thing called “doggie bags,” aka clamshell containers. Just because we’re served supersized portions doesn’t mean we have to eat them. Nobody’s holding our mouths open and shoving food down our throats like geese being fattened for foie gras.

When our friend Ben and I eat out, we split a favorite appetizer like spring rolls or tempura vegetable rolls or spinach balls or guacamole. A half-order of an appetizer kind of kills my appetite. I’ll enjoy every bite, but I’ll order my meal knowing that I’m unlikely to eat it then and there. I’ll order a salad with no croutons (empty calories!) and dressing on the side, so I can dip my greens into the dressing without sogging down the whole salad, which would cause it to rot within an hour, rather than staying fresh and crunchy for another meal.

Let’s say I’ve ordered fettucine Alfredo with grilled veggies, or bean curd Szechuan style, or a bean burrito as my entree. Yum! But oops, I’m already filled up from the appetizer. So I’ll get my food to go, and enjoy it for at least one and possibly two nights after our restaurant night. This is not just a delicious treat, but it saves money, since you’re paying for not one but up to three meals, and it saves calories, too. Go ahead and supersize that salad and entree, say I. OFB and I will happily split them tomorrow night.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Boston ferns as outdoor accents. July 11, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. This year, I’ve noticed a lot of big, beautiful Boston ferns for sale outside local groceries. I’ve been very tempted to buy one, too, but worried about where I’d put it, since to me, Boston ferns are Victorian-era houseplants, and there’s only so much room in the cottage home our friend Ben and I share for houseplants. What a shame to pass such fabulously healthy-looking ferns by!

Then, last weekend, OFB and I went down to Annapolis, MD, where the plantings in general were restrained and gorgeous, but Boston ferns of all things took the spotlight. Outside the Annapolis Visitors’ Center, containers of Boston fern, a purple-leaved coleus, and a red-flowered begonia stole the show. Such a simple grouping, but the impact was perfect. I couldn’t imagine Boston ferns surviving hot, humid summer weather (I could barely survive it myself), but there they were, looking like the top contenders on The World’s Healthiest Plants.

Seeing Boston ferns in such an unlikely setting taught me a few useful lessons: First, never assume a houseplant has to stay inside. Second, less is more when it comes to impact. And third, consider your placement and pots carefully and remember the importance of echoing.

Now I want to rush off to the grocery and make sure I can get some of those Boston ferns before they’re gone.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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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

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