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I feel lucky. January 2, 2013

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were passing through Virginia yesterday and stopped for gas and a bathroom break at a convenient Sunoco station. On the way to the bathroom, we passed several large lottery-related signs, including one that noted that the Sunoco station had sold a ticket worth 2.5 million dollars. We’ve never seen anything like that in our adopted home state of Pennsylvania, so we guess our local lottery vendors haven’t been that lucky. Maybe we’ll be the first.

The other thing our friend Ben noted was that Virginia appeared to be considerably more forthcoming about one’s chances of winning big than Pennsylvania. The two remaining signs on the Sunoco wall, advertising the biggest lottery games, Powerball and MegaMillions, actually gave the chances of winning on the bottom of the posters. Again, this is something I’ve never seen in scenic PA.

So, what are your chances of winning the jackpot in either game? According to the posters, 1 in 176 million. Needless to say, this doesn’t sound too promising. But it gets worse. To put it in perspective, our friend Ben went to the website of the U.S. Census Bureau, which maintains an up-to-the-minute population “clock” of the U.S. According to the Bureau, as of today, January 2, 2013, the population of the U.S. was precisely 315,099,094. Double 176 million and you get 334 million. Which basically means that you have about as much chance of winning the grand prize in the country’s two biggest lotteries as half the population of the U.S. The odds aren’t exactly in your favor.

Nonetheless, somebody has to win. And as our friend Ben has often remarked, the lottery is the cheapest form of hope. Where else can you spend a dollar and have a chance of waking a millionaire? Silence and I think it’s harmless fun—certainly a far better use of a dollar than buying a candy bar or soda—as long as you only spend a dollar (or two, for the two-dollar tickets).

Gambling on the lottery to free you from financial misfortune is like thinking that ordering a margarita at the local cantina will make you Jimmy Buffett, with his devoted fan following, Caribbean lifestyle and estimated $404 million fortune. (Our friend Ben recently read that he was the third-wealthiest living musician, ranking behind Paul McCartney and Bono but ahead of Elton John and Mick Jagger.) And that, if the first margarita didn’t quite do it, maybe if you ordered 50 you’d find yourself in Margaritaville.

At least if you ordered 50 margaritas, you’d find yourself with something to show for it (such as a colossal hangover or a massive bill from the emergency room, or possibly the mortuary). If you put on your flip-flops and Hawaiian shirt, cranked up “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” and confined yourself to a couple of margaritas, you’d probably enjoy yourself. At worst, you’d think that maybe something a little less sickly sweet might be even better next time. (I suggest a Paloma.) But if you buy 50 tickets for the same lottery game, all you’re doing is throwing away $50 to $100 without significantly improving your odds of winning.

One ticket? Why not. More than one? Save your money. In this economy, you’re going to need it.

This can’t be December. December 5, 2012

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were recently down in Nashville visiting family. The weather was beautiful: sunny and 70 degrees. Tee-shirt weather; it was all we could do not to sneak out and go for long walks along the tree-lined streets.

OFB and Silence grew up in Nashville and spent many a December there, so we can say with certainty that this is very unusual weather. It may not have snowed every Christmas while we lived there, but it was cold, and we often had white Christmases. Nobody was walking around in tee-shirts and bare legs; coats and mittens were standard December outerwear.

Here in scenic PA, we had snow in November and have had our woodstove chugging away. So we experienced a bit of culture shock (or perhaps “climate shock” would be more like it) down in Nashville. We’d pass a row of leafless trees and OFB would say, “Those poor trees! I wonder what killed them?” Silence would see a Christmas tree strapped to the top of a car, or a retail clerk in a Santa hat, and assume she was losing her mind. (Comment suppressed on that. Ow! Just kidding, Silence!)

Our experience makes us think of all the parts of the world where it’s consistently warm to hot at Christmas, and of Jimmy Buffett’s song “Christmas in the Caribbean.” We’re not generally fans of snow—shoveling, slipping and sliding, falling, breaking branches, skidding cars, ugh—but we do like a white Christmas. Our ideal would be a nice snowfall on Christmas Eve, a white Christmas through New Year’s, and no more snow until the following Christmas Eve. (Our dogs strongly disagree; both our dear departed Molly and our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, love and loved to race around making snow rings.) 

We’ll stay in PA this Christmas, thanks. How about you? Are you a white Christmas person or a Caribbean Christmas person?

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo! May 5, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. It’s Cinco de Mayo, and that means Fiesta Night here at Hawk’s Haven! We suggest that you plug in the chile lights, crank up the Jimmy Buffett, mix up pitchers of margaritas and sangria and stick ‘em in the fridge to chill, and join the party! (And yes, it’s okay to buy that tacky parrot pinata at the grocery. Just don’t beat the poor thing to death.) Tart up the deck with some blooming tropicals, or at least with some tropical-looking blooms. And yes, why not put on that long, brilliantly colored broomstick skirt and tank top or chile-themed Hawaiian shirt and shorts? Go for it!

Incidentally, for this occasion we recommend Jimmy Buffett’s CD “Take the Weather with You,” which features “Cinco de Mayo in Memphis,” and his box set “Jimmy Buffett: Boats Beaches Bars & Ballads,” which includes his classic “Margaritaville” on the “Beaches” CD. Both are guaranteed to relax you into a party mood, even on a Monday. Honorable mention also goes to Al Stewart’s “Down in the Cellar” CD, especially for “The Night the Band Got the Wine.”

But what’s a fiesta without good food and great drinks? Our friend Ben has persuaded me to share my regionally famous refried beans recipe with you, along with two ways to serve them, and of course I have to add a few salsa recipes and our favorite drinks (including one just for kids) to the mix. Not to mention our Sunday Brunch favorite, Hawk’s Haven Huevos Rancheros. (Check my earlier post, “Come and get it: cornbread and black bean soup” for a couple of other great fiesta foods.) These are simply too good to save for once a year, so we enjoy Mexican Night at our Friday Night Supper Club at least once every couple of months, and plainer beans-and-rice fare here at home every week or two. Yum! Are you in the mood yet? Put that Jimmy Buffet in the CD player and let’s kick off this party!

           Silence’s Top Secret Disappearing Refried Beans Recipe

I call these Disappearing Refried Beans because if I make them for a gathering they have a bad habit of disappearing before I can even get any! (Our friend Ben knows better than to try that stunt.) So if you make them, make sure you save some for yourself before setting them out! I’ll be the first to admit that I love the convenience of canned beans, but you can absolutely soak your own instead, and kudos for doing it. I’m also going to say as I do with pretty much every recipe that I’m an intuitive cook who tends to just toss stuff in rather than measuring it out. I find that recipes are very forgiving in this respect (UNLESS you’re baking—don’t try this in that case unless you’re a true chef or the recipe provides options), so I encourage you to add more of what you like and less or even none of what you don’t. Courage! It’s going to be great! And if for some reason it isn’t, just serve a few rounds of margaritas or sangria before supper and everyone will love it anyway! Thus saith Silence.

3 cans pinto beans, or mix of pintos, black beans, and/or kidney beans (we’ve tried them all and they’re all good, but they will change the color of the finished dish, so be forewarned)

canola oil or butter

1 large sweet onion (Walla Walla or Vidalia type), diced

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

3-6 paste tomatoes, chopped

1 heaping tablespoon black or brown mustardseeds (do not substitute yellow mustardseeds)

1 heaping tablespoon whole cumin seeds

1 heaping tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon salt (we like Real Salt)

1 tablespoon hot sauce or to taste (we like Pickapeppa or Tabasco Chipotle)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or 1 tablespoon cilantro paste

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat oil or butter in a heavy Dutch oven. (This is going to take up a lot more room than you think.) Add black mustardseeds, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and salt, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Add diced onions and saute until clarified. Add diced pepper. Once pepper has softened, add chopped tomatoes, lemon juice, and hot pepper sauce. Stir in beans and liquid from cans (if using soaked beans, I suggest that you rinse and drain them, simply replacing liquid with water or veggie stock as needed). When beans are thoroughly heated, use a heavy potato masher to squash beans into paste. (A strong arm is helpful here; thanks, Ben!) You don’t have to squash every last bean. The goal is to get a more pastelike consistency. Keep stirring to prevent sticking. Once the refried beans have reached a thick consistency, stir in the chopped cilantro or cilantro paste and serve.

Serving suggestions: We prepare bowls of chopped green onions (scallions), grated sharp cheddar or Mexican cheese blend, sour cream, fresh and prepared salsa (see below), sliced black olives, shredded lettuce, chopped fresh cilantro, diced red and yellow bell peppers, and chopped paste tomatoes (less juicy than other tomatoes, so ideal for this), and sliced jalapenos and set them all out, along with a big bowl of rice and a platter of hot white-corn tortillas so everyone can make their own favorite creations. Our friend Ben enjoys loading up crispy tortillas with beans, cheese, and toppings, and making a separate salad with the lettuce and more toppings, while I prefer skipping the tortillas and creating a platter with rice, beans, and toppings, including plenty of lettuce. Everybody will have a preference, and that’s part of the fun of setting it all out and letting everyone make their own.

As a fabulous dip: Here’s a serving alternative: Turn these yummy, spicy refried beans into the base for a 7-layer dip. Cook them until they’re really thick, then add a layer of them at the bottom of a souffle dish or other straight-sided serving dish. Top with layers of shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, sliced black olives, chopped paste tomatoes, and shredded lettuce, and serve with lots of white-corn tortilla chips (we like Tostitos and Green Mountain Tortilla Chips) for dipping. We like this dip best when the refried beans are still hot.

           Fresh Salsa a la Silence

1 large sweet onion (Walla Walla or Vidalia type), chopped

1 large red bell pepper, diced

3-6 paste tomatoes, chopped

sliced jalapenos to taste

chopped fresh cilantro to taste

1 teaspoon salt

splash lime juice                 

Mix, chill, and serve.

           Primo Peach Salsa a la Silence

I tweaked a salsa recipe from my CSA, Quiet Creek Farm, created by CSA farmer Aimee Good, to take advantage of peach season, when we had both an abundance of ripe peaches and a ton of ripe tomatoes. Freeze or can it in a hot-water-bath canner to use anytime, or refrigerate the cooked salsa and make a Mexican Night of it within a couple of weeks. This recipe makes a ton, so feel free to adjust the quantities down as desired or give pints as gifts.

2 large or 3 medium onions (I like to use sweet onions), diced

6 sweet red bell peppers, diced

1 large or 2 small heads of garlic, minced

1/2 cup hot peppers, sliced or diced

8 quarts paste tomatoes, chopped

6 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped

1 1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 1/3 cups minced fresh cilantro

Cook tomatoes on medium heat in a large stockpot or Dutch oven, stirring occasionally. Saute the onions, peppers, hot peppers, peaches, and garlic in olive oil until tender. Set aside. Continue to cook the tomatoes down on medium heat until desired thickness is achieved (this may take a few hours). Once the tomatoes have reached the thickness you want, stir in the cooked veggies and peaches. Add the salt, cumin, coriander, and red wine vinegar. Add the chopped cilantro at the very end. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

To can, pack hot salsa in hot sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal with hot sterilized lids and process in a boiling-water bath for 20 minutes. Yields about 8-10 pints.         

Gee, it’s drink time! Let’s move on from yummy main dishes and salsas to sangria and margaritas.

              Silence’s Sangria

1 bottle dry red wine

juice of two limes

juice of one lemon

juice of two oranges

1/4 cup sugar or 1/2 cup sugar syrup

1/2 cup triple sec

slices of orange, lemon and lime         

Mix all ingredients in a pitcher. Chill and serve.

            Ben’s Knock-Me-Down, Set-Me-Up Margaritas

I find straight-up margaritas too syrupy, but our friend Ben loves them, so here’s Ben’s go-to recipe. Per glass:

2 oz chilled gold tequila

1 oz chilled lime juice (juice of 1 chilled lime)

1 oz Cointreau

4 oz margarita mix (spring for the best; we like Jose Cuervo)

Make as many multiples of this basic formula as you have guests or want to. Chill pitcher until ready to serve. Serve straight up, on ice, or in a traditional margarita glass with the rim rubbed with lime juice and dipped in margarita salt.

           Chalino Special

Try this gorgeous, cranberry-colored Prohibition-era drink as an alternative to the usual margaritas and sangria. I found this recipe courtesy of MSN and Esquire. Yum! Per glass:  

3 ounces white tequila

1/2 tablespoon creme de cassis

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 tablespoon simple syrup

Shake well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon or lime peel.

Finally, just for kids:

            La Palomina

Per glass:

1/2 ounce lime juice

pinch of salt

grapefruit soda

slice of lime  

Combine the lime juice and salt in a tall glass and stir. Add ice, top off with grapefruit soda and lime slice, and stir again. If you can find it, use a Mexican soda like Jarritos, but if not, try a lemon-lime soda like Sprite or 7-Up with a splash of grapefruit juice. You can turn this into a refreshing adult drink, La Paloma, by adding 2 ounces of tequila (preferably reposado) to the basic recipe.

Oops! Almost forgot those huevos! Our chickens would never forgive me if I didn’t include them.

         Hawk’s Haven Huevos Rancheros

4 large eggs

butter

1 cup sliced button mushrooms

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 large sweet onion, diced (Walla Walla or Vidalia type)

chopped green onions (scallions)

Trocamare or salt and hot pepper sauce (we like Picakpeppa or Tabasco Chipotle)

White corn or flour tortillas or buttered slices of crusty baguette

Refried beans (optional)

Sliced orange and grapefruit

Sour cream

Shredded Cheddar or Mexican cheese blend

Fresh or jarred salsa or both 

Melt butter in a heavy skillet. Saute diced onion, mushrooms, and peppers until onions have clarified and mushrooms are well cooked. Push to the perimeter of the skillet and break four eggs into the center of the skillet. Liberally sprinkle eggs with Trocamare or with salt and hot sauce. When eggs have set on underside, flip them, sprinkle with more Trocamare or salt and hot sauce. Flatten with spatula and fry hard. When you break eggs into the skillet, heat white corn or flour tortillas or buttered slices of crusty baguette, and cut slices of orange and grapefruit. If you have leftover refried beans, lucky you! Heat them in a separate pan.

To serve, mound refried beans (if you have them) on a plate, top with two eggs and a generous helping of the onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Top all with green onions/scallions, shredded cheese, sour cream, and salsa to taste, and serve orange and grapefruit slices on the side and warm tortillas or slices of baguette for scooping.

This recipe serves two generously. Make more if you’re having company, and break out those margaritas! Or maybe a pitcher of Tequila Sunrises or Chalinos. Good times!!! 

Now get on out there and celebrate!

                 ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Ultimate refried beans. March 2, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. Tonight is Mexican Night at our Friday Night Supper Club, and as always, I’m cooking. I like to keep Mexican Night simple, fiesta-friendly, and fun, so I generally make refried beans and fresh salsa, and bring all the trimmings so folks can make their own tacos just to suit them.

But to my mind, not just any refried beans will do. Scan the ingredients list below and you’ll see that my refried beans are packed with flavor and good-for-you ingredients.

           Silence’s Top Secret Disappearing Refried Beans Recipe

I call these Disappearing Refried Beans because if I make them for a gathering they have a bad habit of disappearing before I can even get any! (Our friend Ben knows better than to try that stunt.) So if you make them, make sure you save some for yourself before setting them out!

I’ll be the first to admit that I love the convenience of canned beans, but you can absolutely soak your own instead, and kudos for doing it. I’m also going to say as I do with pretty much every recipe that I’m an intuitive cook who tends to just toss stuff in rather than measuring it out. I find that most recipes—unless you’re baking—are very forgiving in this respect, so I encourage you to add more of what you like and less or even none of what you don’t. Courage! It’s going to be great! And if for some reason it isn’t, just serve a few rounds of margaritas or sangria before supper and everyone will love it anyway! Thus saith Silence.

Here’s the recipe:

3 cans pinto beans, or mix of pintos, black beans, and/or kidney beans (we’ve tried them all and they’re all good, but they will change the color of the finished dish, so be forewarned)

canola oil

1 large sweet onion (Walla Walla or Vidalia type), diced

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

3-6 paste tomatoes, chopped

1 heaping tablespoon black or brown mustardseeds (do not substitute yellow mustardseeds)

1 heaping tablespoon whole cumin seeds

1 heaping tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon salt (we like Real Salt)

1 tablespoon hot sauce or to taste (we like Pickapeppa or Tabasco Chipotle)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or 1 tablespoon cilantro paste or 2 cubes frozen cilantro

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat oil in a heavy Dutch oven. (This is going to take up a lot more room than you think.) Add black mustardseeds, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and salt, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. (Add a little water or veggie broth or stock if necessary to prevent sticking.) Add diced onions and saute until clarified. Add diced bell pepper. Once pepper has softened, add chopped tomatoes, lemon juice, and hot pepper sauce. Stir in beans and liquid from cans (if using cooked dried beans, I suggest that you rinse and drain them, simply replacing liquid with water or veggie broth or stock as needed). When beans are thoroughly heated, use a heavy potato masher to squash beans into paste. (A strong arm is helpful here; thanks, Ben!) You don’t have to squash every last bean. The goal is to get a more pastelike consistency. Keep stirring to prevent sticking. Once the refried beans have reached a thick consistency, stir in the chopped cilantro or cilantro paste or cubes and serve.

Serving suggestions: We prepare bowls of chopped green onions (scallions), grated sharp white cheddar or Mexican cheese blend, sour cream, fresh and prepared salsa (see below), sliced black olives, shredded lettuce, chopped fresh cilantro, diced red and yellow bell peppers, chopped paste tomatoes (less juicy than other tomatoes, so ideal for this), and sliced jalapenos, and set them all out, along with a big bowl of rice and a platter of hot white-corn tortillas so everyone can make their own favorite creations.

Our friend Ben enjoys loading up crispy tortillas with beans, cheese, and toppings, and making a separate salad with the lettuce and more toppings, while I prefer skipping the tortillas and creating a platter with rice, beans, and toppings, including plenty of lettuce. Everybody will have a preference, and that’s part of the fun of setting it all out and letting everyone make their own.

As a fabulous dip: Here’s a serving alternative: Turn these yummy, spicy refried beans into the base for a 7-layer dip. Cook them until they’re really thick, then add a layer of them at the bottom of a souffle dish or other straight-sided serving dish. Top with layers of shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, sliced black olives, chopped paste tomatoes, and shredded lettuce, and serve with lots of white-corn tortilla chips (we like Tostitos and Green Mountain Tortilla Chips) for dipping. We like this dip best when the refried beans are still hot.

And what about that fresh salsa? In a hurry or when tomatoes are out of season, I’ll usually just grab a container from the produce section of our local grocery. But it’s easy to make your own, and so much fresher and better! See for yourself:

           Fresh Salsa a la Silence

1 large sweet onion (Walla Walla or Vidalia type), chopped

1 large red bell pepper, diced

3-6 paste tomatoes, chopped

sliced jalapenos to taste

chopped fresh cilantro to taste

1 teaspoon salt

splash lime juice                 

Mix, chill, and serve.

What can I say? Yum!!! Make up a batch of my refried beans and fresh salsa, and you may find yourself time-traveling to Margaritaville or Tijuana (“that Mexican border town,” in the words of Jimmy Buffett) in your mind for a weekly Mexican Night of your own!  

                            ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Braunschweiger in Paradise?! September 13, 2011

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Silence Dogood here, with apologies to Jimmy Buffett and his famous song “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

As longtime readers of our blog know, I’ve been a vegetarian all my adult life. Sunday, our friend Ben and I were out running errands with our black German shepherd, Shiloh, in tow, and I was starving. It was almost 2 p.m. and, unlike OFB, who’d had a hearty breakfast followed by pizza for lunch, I’d had nothing to eat all day. I was pizzaed out and craving a CLT (cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwich on whole-grain bread).

So when I dashed into our local grocery, I headed to the deli counter to see if they could satisfy my cravings. I ended up with a bonanza: plenty of fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, onion, and Romaine lettuce on a multigrain bun with olive oil, black pepper, salt, and oregano. They called it a “small (6-inch) Caprese hoagie,” but even so, I was only able to eat half when I got home, hungry as I was. (No “Supersize Me” action going on at this house!)  

So there I was, eating my late lunch and enjoying the flavors when I suddenly thought, “This tastes like a braunschweiger sandwich!” Braunschweiger, aka liverwurst, is basically a bologna-like but softer lunch meat made from calves’ liver and mercy knows what else. Braunschweiger sandwiches, with the lunch meat sandwiched between two slices of soft, spongy white “balloon bread” with plenty of mayo and iceberg lettuce, were one of the guilty pleasures of my childhood. We didn’t eat them often, but when we did, I loved them.

Now, you tell me: How could a sandwich on whole-grain bread with olive oil, fresh mozzarella, onion, basil, tomato and lettuce taste like a sandwich on  white bread with mayo and liverwurst?!! The only thing they had in common was lettuce, and somehow I don’t think the poor lettuce was responsible for the similarity of flavor.

Maybe I’ve finally lost it. Like Jimmy Buffett, eating his zucchini fettucine and bulgur wheat but dreaming of cheeseburgers every night, perhaps I’ve started having braunschweiger-based delusional fantasies. Frankly, if I had to have a meat-based fantasy, I’d prefer for it to center around fried chicken or barbecued ribs or prime rib or lobster or roast turkey, not a lunch-meat sandwich. But what the hell. Once upon a time, I really did enjoy braunschweiger sandwiches. And I really did enjoy this “Caprese” sandwich, weird as the whole experience was. (I love Caprese salad, a summer favorite, which has all the same ingredients except bread, and have never, ever thought it tasted a thing like liverwurst.)

I guess the best course of action at this point is to take the always-excellent advice of Jimmy Buffett as expressed in two of his other hits, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Margaritaville.” Won’t you join us?

            ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

National Tequila Day July 24, 2011

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Yes, folks, today, July 24, is National Tequila Day. We hope you realize that margaritas are the original Gatorade, containing copious amounts of both salt and sugar, just the thing for combating a heatwave like the one we’re all going through now.* And did we mention, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere?

Here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we wanted to look into the history of the margarita and see when it first arrived North of the Border. So we turned to our venerable copy of Gordon’s Cocktail & Food Recipes, ca. 1934. There were no margarita recipes in the index, but there were three variations on a “marguerite cocktail,” so we quickly turned to page 91 in the hope that this was a Frenchified name for the venerable beverage. Alas, all three versions turned out to be gin-based, and one contained absinthe, which at the time was considered addictive and hallucinogenic and was, despite the popularity of absinthe cocktails in the book, illegal in the U.S. at the time (though legal in Britain). There wasn’t a mention of tequila in any form in the entire volume.

Based on these clues and the fact that Gordon’s Gin is produced in London, we concluded that, despite the fact that the book claimed to have been published in Boston and didn’t list any other places of publication (such as, say, London), it must have been British, and thus the absence of tequila in the book didn’t necessarily mean a corresponding absence of tequila at the time in the U.S. More research was clearly called for.

Turns out, tequila wasn’t introduced into the U.S. until the late 1800s, by Don Cenobio Sauza, founder of Sauza Tequila and Municipal President of the Village of Tequila from 1884-1885, according to Wikipedia. Since tequila had been made there since the 16th century, it surprised us that it took so long to get here; we’d have thought it would have arrived in the Southwest with the Spanish.

Here are five fun facts about tequila that we also learned from Wikipedia. Use them to astound your friends over margaritas tonight!

* The most expensive bottle of alcohol ever sold was not a vintage champagne, as we’d have assumed, but a bottle of tequila, which sold for $225,000 in 2006.

* In 2009, Mexican scientists discovered how to make tiny synthetic diamonds from tequila.

* Used Jack Daniels barrels are especially popular for making aged, or anejo, tequila.

* Despite the mythology, tequilas do not contain worms (actually caterpillars, moth larvae that feed on agave) in the bottle to prove that they were really made from agave. Apparently some mezcals from Oaxaca began including these worms in bottles as a marketing gimmick in the 1940s, and that’s how the legend started.

* In Germany, gold tequila is drunk with a dash of cinnamon taken before the shot and orange slices afterwards. White or silver tequila is taken with salt and lime as it is here.   

And by the way, all tequila is made from the blue agave plant, Agave tequilana Weber Blue variety, and exclusively produced in the State of Jalisco, where the village of Tequila is located. The best tequilas are 100% agave, while even the cheapest brands must contain 51% agave.  

Yikes, the sun is over the islands (to quote Jimmy Buffett, whose song “Margaritaville” did more to popularize tequila in the U.S. than anything before or since), so it’s time to share a couple of tequila cocktails.

First is the Tequila Sunrise, an International Bartender Association Official Cocktail (please don’t ask us the significance of that designation, we don’t know either). The version we all know and love originated in the early 1970s, and because the red, orange and gold layers settle out, it apparently reminded its creators of a sunrise. It’s made with tequila, orange juice, and grenadine, and served in a highball glass over ice with an orange slice and maraschino cherry. Bring ‘em on!!!

Next, of course, is the margarita. We make the Hawk’s Haven version with gold tequila, Triple Sec, splashes of Key lime and Key lemon juice, and Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix, served over ice with margarita salt. We like to serve them in huge goblets hand-painted with festive chile peppers that we found at Goodwill, preferably accompanied by white tortilla chips, homemade salsa and pepper Jack cheese. Lime wedges optional but always appreciated.

Silence Dogood is as fond of a good margarita or Tequila Sunrise as anybody, but her favorite tequila drink is the Pink Paloma, made with gold tequila, pink (“ruby red”) grapefruit juice, and Mandarin orange sparkling water. She says it’s not too sweet, not too thick, and perfectly refreshing on a hot, humid day.

What’s your favorite tequila drink?

* Disclaimer: While the salt, sugar, citrus, and water (ice cube or crushed ice) content of a margarita may help protect you from the effects of extremely hot weather, it’s well known that alcohol contributes to heat exhaustion. You’d be better off drinking iced tea.

Ben Picks Ten: Jimmy Buffett songs. June 3, 2011

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood came to be Jimmy Buffett appreciators rather late. For most of our lives, we’d have been the folks he gently mocks in the title of his album “Jimmy Buffett’s Greatest Hit,” since we of course knew “Margaritaville,” but had no idea he’d ever done anything before or after. Then we met our good friends Norman and Dolores, longtime Parrotheads (as Buffett fans are known), and discovered an entire body of work we’d had no clue existed.

Silence and I certainly appreciate the happy-go-lucky, carefree, island-time Margaritaville mentality that endears Jimmy Buffett and his music to his bazillion overworked, overstressed, cold-climate fans. Who wouldn’t want to dream of a carefree Caribbean existence while working 65-hour weeks and freezing in an endless winter? But as we’ve discovered, there’s a lot more to Jimmy Buffett’s music than “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

So herewith are our friend Ben’s top ten (plus, of course, one) picks as to Jimmy Buffett’s all-time greatest songs (so far):

When the Coast Is Clear. This just has to rank as one of the all-time greatest songs. It’s a clear-eyed take on getting back to who you really are, and it’s wonderfully singable, too. What more could you ask of any song?

The Coast of Marseilles. Okay, so maybe coasts are figuring a bit too prominently in my early choices, but this mournful look at love and loss is my second-favorite Buffett song. Listen, and then dare to disagree.

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere. Who wouldn’t love this working man’s anthem? Our friend Ben has no clue if it was actually penned by Jimmy or his partner in performance, Alan Jackson. But whoever wrote it, it nails the working experience like nothing else.

Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On. As fans of Eckhart Tolle, Silence and I love this musical reminder to “be here now.”  

A Pirate Looks at Forty. This is my favorite of Jimmy’s many storytelling songs. Jimmy’s a wonderful teller of tales, and this one appeals to the inner pirate in all of us.

Margaritaville. Can’t leave this out, no matter how cliched it’s become. It’s a great sing-along song that’s defined the ultimate fantasy lifestyle for at least one generation.

Desperation Samba (aka Halloween in Tijuana). The driving beat and sense of danger bring to mind my musical hero, Mark Knopfler. Fortunately, Jimmy appreciates Mark, too, as we’ll see. Talk about a pulse-pounding, singable song! 

Incommunicado. There’s no bravado, false or otherwise, in this song about going invisible, through choice or otherwise. 

Whoop de Doo. We love Mark Knopfler’s own version of his bitter but oh-so-true song about recovering from lost love. And we love that Jimmy invited Mark to play on his version—we’d know that distinctive guitar style anywhere. If you’ve ever loved and lost, this one’s a must-sing-along.

Weather with You. This song first struck our friend Ben as a bit weird, but it grew on me, and once it did, I couldn’t shake it. See what you think!

And the bonus:

Stars Fell on Alabama. Jimmy’s voice is no match for Ella Fitzgerald’s, but his personalized take on this old standard is irresistible. We love his tributes to Montgomery (where my sister lives) and Birmingham (where Silence has cousins). It almost makes me forgive him for dissing Nashville, our hometown, in “Volcano.” 

So, now you have my ten (plus one). What have I forgotten? Let me know!

A buffet for Buffett fans. July 10, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I awoke this morning to an unfamiliar sound: little pelting noises all over the roof. And why was it so dark outside? Oh, yes, I forgot: That would be rain. Freed for the first time in what feels like a lifetime of hauling gallon jugs of water to the back of our property in an increasingly ludicrous attempt to save our vegetable gardens and new fruit and nut trees, I decided to spend some quality time with the latest addition to my extensive cookbook collection, Crazy Sista Cooking.

I confess, I bought this particular cookbook because it was written by Jimmy Buffett’s sister, Lucy Anne Buffett, whose restaurant, LuLu’s, is a famous local hangout at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores, Alabama, as well as a magnet for Parrotheads (as Jimmy Buffett fans proudly call themselves in an ironic allusion to Deadheads) everywhere. LuLu’s (correctly “Lucy Buffett’s LuLu’s at Homeport Marina”) is a legend in its own right, with a staff of 250 serving over a million customers a year.

I haven’t made it down to LuLu’s—a far piece from our home in scenic PA—and I’ll admit that, as a vegetarian, the thought of buying a cookbook that was bound to be heavy on fish and seafood (did I mention that LuLu’s is located at a Gulf Coast marina?) made me think many times before finally succumbing and pressing “Proceed to Checkout” at Amazon.

But the description of the book—full of anecdotes about Jimmy Buffett, growing up Southern, life on the Coast, and Lucy’s own life, plus tons of recipes, photos, tips, and fun—tipped the scales. (Er, pardon the pun. I just hope diehard Phish fans aren’t known as “Phishheads.” Eeewww.)

Not that I’m a Parrothead myself. I’ve never been to a Buffett concert. Our friend Ben and I have never even succumbed to the temptation to buy a bottle of Margaritaville tequila (we like Jose Cuervo Gold). But we love the cheerful, happy-go-lucky feeling of Jimmy Buffett’s music. And we respect him for the happiness he’s brought to the cubicle or factory-floor days and colorless lives of millions of people. Apart from Bob Marley, I can’t think of another musician who’s consistently done that, who’s spread happiness with his songs and his outlook. Kudos, Jimmy!

That same happy outlook permeates Lucy Anne’s cookbook. But there’s something else that endears it to me even more: Its essential Southerness. The recipes, the attitude, even the names of Ms. Buffett’s family and friends are redolent of the world I grew up in. (Just as she’s LuLu, her sister Laurie is LaLa. I have an Aunt Lalla and cousin Lalla Belinda, known to all as Little Lalla. Lucy’s good friend Dilana reminds me of my friends Lila and Delilah.)

To my delight, there was even a recipe for that Southern summer staple, the tomato sandwich. Trust me, this is not a BLT: We’re talking about fat slices of homegrown, full-flavored tomato still warm from the vine, then sandwiched between two slices of white “balloon bread” such as Wonder Bread—nothing else is acceptable—thickly smeared with Hellman’s mayonnaise and liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper. For the sake of your clothes, this MUST be eaten on a large plate at a table, with your head extended cranelike over the plate so all the juice and seeds—not to mention the mayo and occasional escaping tomato—spills onto the plate, not you.

Sound gross? I double-dog dare you to try it (and our black German shepherd, Shiloh, backs me up on this). Get a big, vine-ripe heirloom or beefsteak tomato, force yourself to buy a bag of balloon bread, and go for it. (Hint: You can cut the sandwich in half or even quarter it—not that I’ve ever seen anyone actually do either—to make it more manageable. But if you do, use a sharp knife to keep from compressing the balloon bread to cardboard thinness and unravelling the tomatoes.) Don’t forget the napkins! Once you master the art of keeping the juice off your chin, hands, and—hopefully—clothes, you’ll be making yourself another one before you can say “tomato, tomahto.”

You’re right if you’re thinking this doesn’t sound much like a recipe and are wondering if LuLu has something a little more foodlike to offer. Well, of course she does! Besides the inevitable cheeseburger, you’ll find Coastal classics (with a LuLu’s twist) like Famous Fried Green Tomatoes, Deep Fried Okra, Creola Blackened Shrimp Quesadillas, Jalapeno Hushpuppies, Sloppy Shrimp, Crazy Cheesy Queso Dip, Crispy Coconut Fried Shrimp, Lucy B. Goode’s Crabcakes, LuLu’s Summer Seafood Gumbo, Shrimp and Crab Bisque, and Mama’s Favorite Oyster Loaf (this is a fried oyster sandwich, not oyster meatloaf, though there’s also a meatloaf sandwich).

If you’re getting the idea that LuLu’s cookbook is heavy on deep-fried foods and seafood, you’re right. But that doesn’t mean those artery-clogging appetizers and mains don’t sound delicious! For those of us for whom French fries or fried okra are a twice-a-year treat, not daily fare, there are also plenty of coleslaws (that’s just “slaw” to us Southerners), salads, and Lucy’s signature salsas, dressings, and sauces (including LuLu’s Wow Sauce and Jezebel Sauce). And LuLu’s “secret” seasonings, including LuLu’s Crazy Creola Seasoning, and her One Heart Marinade. (Some of these are available for sale at the restaurant and online at http://lulusathomeport.bubbleup.biz/.)

What about dessert? Enjoy treats like Weedy’s Margarita Cheesecake, Josie’s Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, Key Lime Pie with Grand Marnier Whipped Cream, and such Southern staples as Homemade Banana Puddin’ with Nilla Wafers and Chocolate Chess Pie.

If your motto is “it’s five o’clock somewhere,” there’s a whole chapter of drinks, including (of course) the Bama Breeze and seven margaritas (LuLu’s Big Blue Shark Margarita has the best name, but I’d go for The Cadillac Margarita myself), plus signature recipes for faves like mojitos, hurricanes and rum punch. Not to mention the priceless LuLu’s painkiller. Is it five o’clock yet?

But wait, there’s more: chapters on food for kids, favorite dinner party menus (with recipes), even a section on boat food. And my favorite chapter, entirely devoted to grits, including Hot Damn Gouda Grits Cakes. (“Makes 6 servings,” nothing. Just pass me the basket. Hot damn!) And sure enough, an ample serving of those delightful reminiscences, including one (the foreword) by brother Jimmy.

Ready for some recipes? Well, drat those publishers! Even the local publisher, Already Done LLC of scenic Gulf Shores, has the dreaded “No part of this book… may be reproduced or utilized” threat on the copyright page. (I asked myself, “What would Jimmy Buffett do?” and decided that “not get sued” was a good answer. Sorry about that!) So you’ll just have to go to Amazon and order your own copy of Crazy Sista Cooking, or check out the book’s website at www.crazysistacooking.com. You’ll find recipes there for LuLu’s signature L.A. (Lower Alabama) Caviar and the Bama Breeze cocktail, so you can put on “Take the Weather with You” and drink along!

           ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

Ben Picks Ten: Films for the Fourth July 3, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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At our house, watching “Independence Day” on the Fourth of July is a family tradition. So our friend Ben decided to present my Top Ten list of great films to watch on the Fourth, in case you’re planning a little July Fourth Film Festival of your own. Maybe your family will pick a favorite and start their own tradition!

Here are my top picks:

Independence Day. The unlikely but lovable team of Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith save the world from evil aliens on the Fourth of July. Lots of good humor and camaraderie as well as epic battles. A must-see for us every July 4th.

1776. The beloved musical presents the Founding Fathers as they wrangle over the Declaration of Independence, face the prospect of war and a split from the Mother Country, and generally rub each other the wrong way. Highlights include (of course) our hero and blog mentor Benjamin Franklin and a classic role for Richard Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee.

John Adams. Okay, I’m cheating, since this is a series rather than a single movie. But if you want to really experience what it was like to live in Colonial times and post-Revolution America, don’t miss this marvelous series. Its realism is just riveting, down to the tiniest details. John Adams is an unlikely and unlikable hero, but strong appearances by Abigail Adams, George Washington, and Ben Franklin (who steals the show yet again) make this a series we want to own and watch again and again. Our friend Ben thinks every American should watch it at least once. 

Glory. This stirring Civil War movie documents another revolution: the fight to free America from the abomination of slavery. It portrays the true story of the first Black U.S. battalion. This brutal but brilliant movie pulls no punches: There is no happy ending, so if this one’s your July 4th pick, consider yourself forewarned. But if you’re looking for bravery and valor, this movie would be hard if not impossible to beat. 

The Long, Hot Summer. Don Johnson and Cybill Shepherd sizzle in the fantastic 1985 remake of the 1958 classic starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Based on a novel by famed author William Faulkner, this pre-air-conditioning look at Mississippi life during an unforgettable, sweltering summer will have you sweating as much as its characters. But you’ll love every steamy minute.  

The Empire Strikes Back. Jedi knights strike a blow for galactic freedom as they take on the Evil Empire in my favorite of the Star Wars movies. May the Force be with you!

The Fellowship of the Ring. Humble hobbits battle the evil overlord Sauron for the freedom of their world in the first installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings.”

Jimmy Buffett Live in Anguilla. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere! Chill out with a margarita or bottle of Land Shark Lager and enjoy the beautiful beaches of Anguilla and the antics of the colorful and wacky Parrotheads on this live concert DVD. There are two CDs for the car, too, the best recording of Jimmy Buffett’s music our friend Ben has ever heard. So kick back, wiggle your toes in the sand, pig out on cheeseburgers and Junior Mints… but watch out for those land sharks!

Avatar. This time, the movie’s about struggling for planetary freedom and environmental wholeness as Good battles Greed. The computer-generated planet is light years beyond anything created before; it really has to be seen to be believed. And like the other movies here, there’s so much going on that every viewing shows you something new. Enjoy!

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music. The revolution of the Hippies, the late-’60s/early ’70s Peace and Love generation, vegetarianism, the Back to the Land Movement, the Flower Children, and their flowering of clothing, art, ornamentation, and above all, music, is always worth revisiting. The Summer of Love may not have coincided with the Woodstock Festival in 1969, Joni Mitchell may have composed “Woodstock,” with the immortal line “We are stardust, we are golden,” having never been there, but this 1970 documentary captured the music, and the feeling, that sparked a genuine revolution in search of a better world. Hungry for more? Try Across the Universe and Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same for a real Sixties flashback.

And some very close runners up:

James Bond. When it comes to Bond, our friend Ben goes for the gold: Goldfinger, The Man with the Golden Gun, and Goldeneye. But all the James Bond movies make for entertaining summer fare, so pick your faves and settle down with a martini (shaken, not stirred).

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Mma Ramotswe is on the case in these episodes set in her beloved Botswana. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood love Alexander McCall Smith’s novels and the subsequent film series. The action is low-key, but the temperature is hot!

Pirates of the Caribbean. Aaarrrrr! What’s summer without a good swashbuckler or two? Who could resist Cap’n Jack Sparrow, Captain Barbossa, Davy Jones, Tia Dalma and the crew? My favorite is the first of the series, The Curse of the Black Pearl, but I think Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End are almost as much fun. Grab a bucket o’grog and plenty of pirattitude and enjoy ‘em, you savvy?!  

That’s it for us. What are your favorite summer movies?!

Lyrics for summer’s end. August 31, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Frances of Faire Garden (http://fairegarden.wordpress.com/) inspired me to think of this post today when she mentioned Led Zeppelin in one of her always-marvelous posts. Jimmy Page is one of my guitar heroes. But for some reason, Frances’s post made me think of the end of summer, especially since this is the last day of August and, conventional wisdom bedamned, I always think the first of September is also the first day of autumn.

Thinking of Led Zeppelin made me wonder if any song captured the end of summer the way Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” captured its beginning. And yes, there is a perfect end-of-summer song, from Jimmy Buffett of all people. If you only know Jimmy from “Margaritaville,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” or “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” this poignant song will take you by surprise. It’s my all-time favorite Jimmy Buffett song, perhaps because it’s about Pensacola, the delightful North Florida area where I spent my family vacations every year as a child, and where I have such glorious memories of shelling and beach walking, riding the waves, and daring the Man-of-War jellyfish to sting me. Like Jimmy’s, my Pensacola was a quiet place, with beach houses, sand, and ocean. The “hot spots” were all farther down the coast. I guess, to hear this song, that’s not true any more! But still the memory lingers.

             When the Coast Is Clear

They’re closing down the hangouts

The air is turning cool

They’re shutting down the super slide

The kids are back in school. 

 

The tourist traps are empty

Vacancy abounds

Almost like it used to be

Before the circus came to town.

 

That’s when it always happens

The same time every year

I come down to talk to me

When the coast is clear.

 

Hello mister other me

It’s been a long, long time

We hardly get to have these chats

That in itself’s a crime.

 

So tell me all your troubles

I’ll surely tell you mine

We’ll laugh and smoke and cuss and joke

And have a glass of wine.

 

That’s when it always happens

The same place every year

I come down to talk to me

When the coast is clear. [repeat]

 

The music that accompanies these lyrics is great. If the early nights and late light at morning, the cool temperatures, the return to work and onset of winter are getting you down, check out this soulful song. Then maybe put on Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” to take you far, far away from your troubles! (And don’t forget “Marrakesh Express.”)

           ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

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