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Our Christmas miracle. December 26, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Every Christmas is special to me and our friend Ben. But this year, you might have thought we were really slacking off. I’d stocked up on balsam fir incense from Paine’s, a family tradition dating back to OFB’s childhood, and had ordered him his very own fruitcake from the monks of Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky in honor of his Kentucky-born Mama’s annual fruitcake-making ritual. (I’m happy to do it as long as OFB doesn’t try to make me eat any leaden, disgusting fruitcake, I HATE fruitcake, yuck.)

We’d bought a lovely fresh wreath from our local farmers’ market to hang on the outside of our cottage home, and I’d got a nostalgic bottlebrush-and-silver-ball wreath from the Vermont Country Store for the front door. But the rest of our decorating left a lot, for us, anyway, to be desired.

We put up the tree, with its endless tiny white lights. But for some reason, OFB simply wouldn’t bring down the 50 boxes of ornaments from the attic. I’m deathly afraid of heights, so climbing the attic stairs wasn’t an option. I did manage to eventually browbeat OFB into bringing down the wreath we hang over the mantel every Christmas. I put our red candles in all our candlesticks, on the mantel and on our kitchen table, and put out our red Christmas placemats and green cloth napkins. We bought red and white poinsettias and put them on our mantel and kitchen table, making a beautiful display with their gold, red, and green foil pot wrappers.

All this minimalist decorating, coupled with endless badgering by me, made OFB really look at our decorating, perhaps for the first time. He felt that he really loved this simple style, instead of the ornate, overladen tree, mantel, table and etc. that normally marks our Christmas season. I managed to persuade him to go to our local Big Lots for some simple red balls to add to the tree—no need for a trip to the attic!—and a red brocaded tablecloth to serve as a tree skirt, something we’d never had and that added the perfect finishing touch to our tree.

Our Christmas dinner was scaled way back as well. I made my famous endive boats as appetizers, so easy, so good, and so light on the stomach: Belgian endive leaves filled with crumbled blue or gorgonzola cheese, pecan pieces, a few dried cranberries, and fresh-cracked black pepper. Then I made my wonderful Christmas dressing, traditional corn pudding, roasted sweet potatoes, and green beans, and heated up some luscious, buttery dinner rolls. OFB had homemade cookies from our neighbors, famous handmade candies from me, and the Trappist fruitcake to choose from for dessert, but he was so full, he passed on all of them.

I won’t even go into all the dishes I didn’t make this Christmas, including the fabulous homemade eggnog (a family recipe for over 200 years) and the chocolate yummy-rummies that people have been known to fight over. Even without the additional decorations and dishes, you may be asking yourself what this could possibly have to do with a Christmas miracle.

Well, maybe we didn’t get to see all our beloved ornaments displayed this year, or eat all our favorite Christmas foods. Maybe we didn’t get every present we’d been hoping for. But what we did get was more than anything we could ever have hoped for in our wildest dreams.

You see, in August, OFB inadvertently held our back deck door open a little too wide, a little too long, while taking our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, outside for a bathroom break. And while the door was open, my favorite cat, Linus, shot out the door and escaped into the great outdoors.

This might not seem so awful to you, but you have to understand that we live in a part of the world where the gun-toting types that identify with “Duck Dynasty” are all around us. People shoot cats for fun or target practice. Cars race around the corner, hitting anything in their way. There are plenty of other types of viscious competing wildlife, from raccoons to coyotes and foxes. Every day, I looked for Linus and wept.

Four months later, Linus had miraculously survived and was making his presence felt. He was living under our studio and under our deck. He was eating the food we put out for him every day. He was following us around the yard when we took Shiloh out, coming to the deck door and even setting a paw or half of himself inside in the warmth and dryness, yelling his head off outside my office window if he wanted to see me, then rushing to the deck to continue the conversation in person. The one thing he wasn’t doing was coming back inside.

Then, this Christmas Eve, a miracle happened. Shiloh and our other cat, Linus’s half-sister Layla, were nowhere in sight. I heard Linus calling, so I went to the back deck door, cracked it open, turned on the deck light, and started talking to him. And there he was. He came part-way in, dashed back out, came back in, dashed back out, came back in—this time, far enough in for me to grab him and shut the door. Just in time for Christmas, Linus was back home!

He immediately jumped up on the counter where we have the cat-food and water bowls (out of Shiloh’s reach), then headed under our bed for a long winter’s rest. For the first night in four months, I actually slept through the night, with no nightmares of my beloved cat killed in the road or shot by some monster. At one point during the night, I woke to find the familiar furry body pressed tight against mine, purring his heart out.

I tell you, there has never been a better Christmas.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Batting 500,000. December 11, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Poor Richard’s Almanac has officially passed 500,000 views. We promised to shut up about views until we reached the 500,000 mark, and we think we managed it pretty well. Admittedly, 500,000 views is probably small change to many blogs, but it’s big stuff for an obscure blog about whatever strikes us written by ordinary folks. In other words, we’re excited!

Astute readers who check the site stats on our blog will see far fewer views than we’re boasting of here. But that’s because we’re such Luddites that we didn’t even think to ask our friend Nan, who helped us get started, to add Sitemeter until months after we’d begun blogging. Fortunately, our blog host, WordPress, has kept track of our stats from day one, and as we write, it shows 501,012 views. Hooray!

Thank you, WordPress, for making Poor Richard’s Almanac possible. And thank you, readers, for checking up on us and commenting on our posts when the spirit moves you. You’re what keeps us going!

As for us, it’s five o’clock somewhere (in the immortal words of Jimmy Buffett), and we’re kicking off a celebratory cocktail hour. As our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, memorably said, “Wine [also quoted as "Beer"] is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Amen. Hopefully we’ll still be awake and alert for Michael Buble’s Christmas special at 10 p.m. (gack, why so late?!), and we’ll post this tomorrow a.m. so you can celebrate with us. (Preferably not with a cocktail at that hour!)

             Thank you and bless you,

                     Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders

Organic Mechanics (plus). March 26, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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So far, today has been a banner day here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. First, our Buff Orpington hen, Stella, laid the first egg of the season. Our friend Ben heard the triumphant cackling from the greenhouse, and looking out, saw Stella doing the traditional victory lap around the henyard, announcing her triumph at top volume. Thanks, Stella! It’s a beautiful egg.

In case you’re wondering, after their first year—when they mature and start laying eggs in the late summer, then continue through the fall and winter—hens raised without artificial light and heat stop laying for the year when the days get short in fall, and don’t start again until the daylight lengthens in spring. During the cold months, they use every calorie to stay warm. And people say chickens are stupid! But I digress.

The second great thing was that we discovered a new-to-us potting soil, Organic Mechanics, that we’d purchased at James Weaver’s Meadowview Farm in nearby Bowers. We needed more potting soil (shock surprise), and couldn’t resist a bag that boasted great ingredients, no peat (a natural resource that’s rapidly being depleted), and “Mom Approved.” When we opened it, we were wowed by the rich, beautiful soil. We could almost hear the plants we were potting up breathing a huge collective sigh of relief as their roots sank into this gorgeous soil.

Returning indoors, our friend Ben checked out the Organic Mechanics website (www.organicmechanicsoil.com). Apparently Silence and I aren’t the only folks who were wowed by this potting soil: It’s used by three of the most prestigious gardens in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens, Chanticleer, and the Scott Arboretum, not to mention the U.S. National Arboretum, the U.S. National Park Service, and the British Embassy. I don’t know what pleases me and Silence more, that we’re supporting an excellent local PA product, the anticipation as we wait to see what it does for our container plants, or the thought that all these important gardens and arboretums (and even the Park Service!) are using organic potting soil. Kudos to them, and to Mark Highland, Organic Mechanics’ founder.

Fortunately, you don’t have to live in the Mid-Atlantic region to find this outstanding organic potting soil. The Organic Mechanics website is excellent and informative, and you can order direct. Thier product line is short and sweet: Seed Starting Blend Potting Soil, Planting Mix (for raised beds), Premium Blend Potting Soil (for veggies and other food plants), Container Blend Potting Soil (for perennials and woodies), and Worm Castings.

We have our own earthworm composter, so we can attest to the incredible richness of earthworm castings as a soil conditioner and fertilizer. And of course, you can also use them to make earthworm “tea.” Here’s how Mark makes “tea” from castings: “Mix 1 pound of castings in 1 gallon of water. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds, let castings settle to bottom, then pour off a fraction of the liquid solution. Stop before pouring out castings particles, and repeat until tea turns light brown in color, then pour out any remaining castings and use as mulch.” Of course, when he says “pour out,” he doesn’t mean “throw out.” Use the liquid you’re draining off as a foliar spray or soil drench.

The third great thing about today happened when our friend Ben called up our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, to post this, and saw that we now have over 400,000 total views. We promised when we hit 300,000 views that we wouldn’t go on about this again until we reached 500,000, so ’nuff said. But you can bet we’ll be inviting our friend and resident blog historian, Richard Saunders, and his girlfriend Bridget over for a celebratory supper!

Unfortunately, by tomorrow we may not be having so much to celebrate. After several weeks of daytime temperatures in the 70s (including several days that reached 78 degrees) and nighttime lows in the high 40s and low 50s, tonight the temperature is plunging down to 26. Brrrr!!! With apples, peaches, and pear trees in bud and our pluot in full flower—not to mention our bed of greens, just peeping up through the soil, our spinach, Swiss chard, and herb transplants, and our windowbox planters of violas—we are seriously concerned. Guess we’ll have to hope for the best and see what makes it through the night.

Meanwhile, happy gardening to you all. Thanks for visiting, and we hope you have things to celebrate today, too!

Welcome, Natasha! January 26, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I’ve been housebound with a really rotten cold (courtesy of our friend Ben; thanks, Ben!) for the past week, and have spent most of the time sleeping, sniveling, hacking, and sneezing, doubtless causing a local run on Kleenex as panicked consumers noted that the shelves were suddenly stripped of boxes. Yuck!

Even OFB was feeling sorry for me, so last night, he proclaimed that I appeared to have passed the sniveling wretch stage and we should take advantage of the comparatively mild temperatures to get me out of the house for a bit. Our ultimate goal was supper at a favorite local restaurant, but we decided to run a few much-needed errands in the nearest little town, Kutztown, before heading off to eat.

“Ben, let’s stop in at that new thrift store that’s opened by the grocery,” I suddenly announced, much to OFB’s chagrin. “Just for a minute,” I pleaded, discreetly coughing to remind him of my weakened, consumptive state. We were parking in front of the shop in two coughs, and OFB considerately accompanied me inside.

I was exclaiming over a Corningware dish that would actually fit in our toaster oven but was big enough for a lasagna (a huge challenge, since our oven died a couple of years ago and most of my ovenware’s too big for the toaster oven), a pair of beautiful handmade pysanky Easter eggs, and a pair of cardinal ornaments for our Christmas tree, when I suddenly saw her: Natasha! I’d been looking for her for weeks, hoping against hope to stumble upon her, and sure enough, there she was. The price was right, and soon OFB was escorting her to our car and I was in an exalted mood.

Mind you, Natasha’s not much of a conversationalist. But that’s not her fault, since she doesn’t have a head. Her mobility is somewhat limited as well, since she has no legs, or arms, either, for that matter. In fact, she’s a slim but shapely neck-to-hips body mannequin, discreetly cloth-covered and set on her own three-legged wooden stand.

I’d been looking for just such a mannequin since I started planning to launch a handmade wearable art business this year. I’d need one to photograph my wares for displays and online, and if I’m lucky enough to be accepted into any crafts shows, I’d need her to be part of my booth or table so people could see how my creations would look. How phenomenally lucky to find her just like that and for that price, especially after pricing mannequins, even second-hand ones! Fortune smiled.

Why Natasha? I’m so glad you asked. It seems to me that shopping for accessories and indulgences should be fun, delightful, and playful, since, after all, it’s something you’re doing for pleasure. And creating a setting for your shopping experience should be fun, etc. for me, just as creating the wearables you’ll be viewing (and hopefully buying!) is.

Natasha sounds like a supermodel to me. I love the idea of writing descriptions of my creations that go something like “Natasha is modelling Mandarin Moonlight, an opulent knotted silk halter with entarsia designs in flame and jade.” Needless to say, I just made that up. But the point is that it amuses me to show a torso mannequin and write her up like a runway model. (Admittedly, I’m easily amused.)

I still need a white, cream, or black wool turtleneck minidress for Natasha, since one of those would show off my creations to best advantage. If anyone knows where I can get one on the cheap, please let me know! Needless to say, I’ll keep checking the thrift stores around here and hoping to luck out.

Meanwhile, Natasha is sporting a white ribbed Salvation Army turtleneck and one of my favorite pieces to date. And so far, she’s managed not to attract the attention of our black German shepherd, Shiloh, or our three cats. Whew! Maybe it’s her undemonstrative nature.

Welcome, Natasha! I feel very lucky to have you. 

                  ‘Til next time,

                               Silence

Amish funeral… potatoes?! September 27, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I’ve heard often about Amish funeral pie, a raisin pie (not unlike mincemeat) that is popular at post-funeral gatherings because it can be left out unrefrigerated (a good thing, since many Amish don’t have access to propane refrigerators, much less electricity) after cooking, and keeps very well. But I was bemused when a reader came onto our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, seeking a recipe for Amish funeral potatoes.

I didn’t think the reader was confusing potatoes for pie (though they may have been confusing the Amish and Mormons, as we’ll see). I was determined to get to the bottom of this.

My first cast came up empty. The Amish Cook at Home, a beautiful, personable cookbook by Lovina Eicher with Kevin Williams (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2008), didn’t even have a potato recipe, much less a recipe for funeral potatoes. What, no potato recipes?! I was disconcerted but undaunted. Ten more cookbooks quickly joined The Amish Cook on my table.

Two well-known authors of Amish-themed romances, Beverly Lewis and Wanda E. Brunstetter, have each written cookbooks. Alas, The Beverly Lewis Amish Heritage Cookbook (Bethany House, 2004) had no funeral potatoes, though it did have a pretty appealing recipe for Scalloped Potatoes with Cheese Sauce.  I was no luckier with Wanda Brunstetter’s Amish Friends Cookbook (Barbour Publishing, 2007), which has recipes for Scalloped Potatoes and for Pork Chops and Potato Sausage Pie, but nary a sign of funeral potatoes.

Hmmm. Perhaps there’d be a recipe for funeral potatoes in a Mennonite cookbook, Mennonites being another Plain sect and the elder spiritual brothers of the Amish. Hefting the massive Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets by Esther H. Shank (Herald Press, 1987), I saw something that might be promising: a recipe for Quick Company Potatoes. That sounded appropriate for a funeral! But if someone served me this conglomeration of frozen hash browns with cans of cream of potato and cream of celery soup, I’d be tempted to join the deceased. Surely no reader could be looking for that!

Next, I pulled down the 1983 edition of the Koch Buch: A Collection of Pennsylvania German Recipes from the Kutztown Pa. Senior Neighborhood Center. Little Kutztown is just 10 minutes from my house, and the Amish are part of the group known as the Pennsylvania Dutch (actually Deitsch, their dialect for Deutsch, German). Maybe folks who were senior citizens in the ’80s would remember funeral potatoes.

Wrong again. There were recipes for Potato Filling and for Boiled Cabbage and Potato Filling (the creator of this version suggested also mixing in some applesauce!). But filling, a mashed potato/dressing hybrid comprised of variations on mashed potatoes with bread and seasonings, is so ubiquitous throughout Pennsylvania Dutch Country that it would hardly have gained the additional name of funeral potatoes, I reasoned.

All righty then, I still had The Kutztown Area Historical Society 1892-1992 Commemorative Cookbook, as plump as the Koch Buch was slim. This one had some delicious-looking potato recipes, including Potato Pie and Swiss Fried Potatoes, as well as another version of the hash-browns-and-canned-soup glop, I mean, casserole. Could a potato pie feature at a funeral, a savory version of Amish funeral pie?

Next up: Boyertown Area Cookery (Boyertown Historical Society, 2nd ed. 1985), from another nearby community. This one had Grandmother’s Creamed Potatoes, Potato Drops, Sour Potatoes, Potato Filling (3 versions), and Leftover Mashed Potato Cakes.

This book also contained two intriguing insights into Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine: “When frying cooked potatoes break up pie crust and stir it into the sliced potatoes and fry right along with the potatoes.” (Waste not, want not for this thrifty, pie-loving people.) And “Many Dutch housewives pour milk on vegetables before turning them into a serving dish and sending them to the table, often to the point that the vegetables float. No thickening is added but generally a glob of butter is put to it.”

Moving on to a cookbook from another local sect with the wonderful name of Schwenkfelders, I peeked into The Palm Schwenkfelder Church Cookbook. (Palm is the name of the town, and yes, we’re still in Pennsylvania, not Florida. Go figure.) This one also had a selection of potato dishes, including Potatoes au Gratin, Baked Sliced Potatoes, Potato Pie, Herb Potatoes, Gourmet Potatoes, Creamy Potato-Carrot Casserole, and two variations on potato cakes, Cornflaked Potatoes and Sauerkraut Potato Cakes or Patties.

And it had five—count them, five—variations on the dreaded hash brown/canned soup casserole, including one the contributor claimed was from Texas and three that were topped with cornflakes. Oh, surely not! One contributor noted that this dish was “Standard fare at Easter dinner.” No doubt if the Easter bunny catches sight of it, he’ll dive back down his rabbit hole and we’ll have six more weeks of winter.

It was time to delve into a little regional culinary history, so next up was The Landis Valley Cookbook: Pennsylvania German Foods and Traditions (Landis Valley Museum, Stackpole Books, 2nd. ed., 2009). This beautifully photographed and fascinating book devotes an entire chapter to funerals! Surely I could finally find the answer.

They had this to say about funeral dinners: “Food items were needed that would keep well and could be easily served. Certain foods came to be associated with funerals because they were served so often on these occasions. For example, raisin pie became known as funeral pie. Dried foods and pickles were common fare before modern methods of preserving, so they frequently appeared at funeral meals… The meals included cold meats, bread and butter, dried peaches, stewed prunes, pickles, and schmieres such as apple butter. Also, pies, rusks (rolls), cheese, and sometimes mashed potatoes and stewed chicken were served.”

The book gives an actual menu from a 1914 Pennsylvania German funeral which includes no potatoes, but does feature 100 cigars and 2 sticks of chalk. (I’m still trying to figure out what the chalk was for.) It also gives recipes for the classic raisin funeral pie and Potato White Bread, as well as homemade butter to eat on it.

Last but by no means least, I reached for two books by the great food historian of the Pennsylvania Dutch, William Woys Weaver, Sauerkraut Yankees: Pennsylvania Dutch Food & Folkways (Stackpole Books, 2nd. ed., 2002) and the extraordinarily beautiful, atmospheric Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking (Abbeville Press, 1993). Would the mystery be resolved now?

Sauerkraut Yankees mentions that cakes and vast quantities of, ahem, liquid refreshment were served at Pennsylvania Dutch funerals (though no alcohol was served at Amish funerals, I hasten to add!), but gives no hint as to the dishes served at the meal itself. However, Will Weaver has this to say about the Pa. Dutch funeral tradition: “By the mid-nineteenth century, it was not unusual for some funeral dinners to exceed 1,000 guests, particularly if the deceased had been a well-to-do farmer or a respected figure in the community… The great funeral banquet was something that the Pennsylvania Dutch looked forward to all their lives.” Yowie zowie. 

Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking sadly provides no references to funerals whatever, and includes no funeral-themed recipes, not even for one for funeral (raisin) pie. I was at the end of my in-house resources. It was time for a chat with my good friend Google. And that’s where the Mormons come in.

Googling “Amish funeral potatoes,” I was instead taken to a number of links for Mormon funeral potatoes, including a blog called Simply Simmer (http://simplysimmer.blogspot.com/) with a recipe for Creamy Funeral Potatoes in an April 23, 2011 post. The post says this: “Named ‘Funeral Potatoes’ for commonly being served as a side dish at traditional Mormon post-funeral family dinners… Many of my Amish relatives make a variation of this…” And sure enough, there’s the casserole recipe, with frozen hash browns, Velveeta, and canned cream of mushroom soup. 

Chowhound’s (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/) Home Cooking board also has a thread on Mormon Funeral Potatoes, with tons of recollections of Utah-raised Mormons enjoying them at funerals, plus a number of reader-contributed variations and a suggestion to find the basic recipe on the Ore-Ida website. And yes, it’s the same hash-brown/canned soup/cornflake, ah, creation.

Oh, dear. I’m sure by now you’re expecting a recipe, but if you want to make that, you’ll have to go to the Ore-Ida website, Chowhound, or Simply Simmer. I will give you a recipe, though, for something that I think would go well at a funeral dinner. It’s the Potato Pie recipe from The Kutztown Area Historical Society 1892-1992 Commemorative Cookbook, contributed by Arlene Wendell. As you’ll see, it’s actually a crustless quiche, and since quiche is good served either hot or at room temperature, it should hold up well on the funeral table. And hey, it does include (actual) potatoes!

                Potato Pie 

6 large eggs

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3 cups diced, cooked potatoes

6 ounces grated Swiss cheese

4 ounces diced ham

1/2 cup diced green peppers

1/2 cup milk

Generously butter a 9-inch pie plate. In a large bowl whisk eggs, onion, salt and pepper. Add potatoes, cheese, ham, peppers, and milk. Stir to blend. Pour into prepared dish. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until set. Cut into wedges. Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie.

All righty then. If I were making it, I think I’d use a quiche-friendly piecrust, up the onion, omit the ham, and use a yellow rather than green bell pepper. Maybe add a smidge of nutmeg or powdered fennel or basil to enhance the Swiss cheese and potatoes. But that’s just me. At least try it without the crust first! And I hope it’s a very, very long time before any of us have to eat any of these funeral foods in the setting for which they’re intended!

                ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

Week in Review at PRA: January 10-16 January 16, 2011

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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders have decided to revive our weekly posting of blog topics for the past week here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. We think it’s a useful feature (and frankly can’t remember why we stopped doing it), since folks who may not have checked in with us for a few days (gasp!) can simply scan the week’s post synopses below and see if they’ve missed anything worth reading. To find a post that interests you, simply scroll on down or type in the post title in our search bar at upper right. Look for this feature every Sunday, and enjoy!

Here’s an overview of the past week’s posts:

A satisfying stir-fry. Silence discovers that chili oil isn’t scalding hot, as she’d always assumed, but instead imparts a wonderful smoky flavor to food. She shares a stir-fry recipe she made up to showcase this delicious oil.

The perfect dog. After reading a description of the ideal German shepherd, Silence and OFB couldn’t resist sharing it and revealing how our own black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special, measures up.

The perfect storm. Silence, not generally a fan of snow, manages to find ways to enjoy our first significant snowfall of the season. 

Oh, please. When Silence discovers a PR flak billing herself as a “food concept architect,” she goes ballistic.

Where are the parks quarters? Self-described “chump-change coin collector” Richard Saunders laments the paucity of National Parks quarters in pocket change. 

Knitting up some tinsel magic. Silence shares how finding some glittery yarn can keep the Christmas spirit alive.

Chili and cornbread: hot food for cold nights. Quick, easy recipes for yummy chili and cornbread.

That’s it for this week! Tune in tomorrow for a very special post.

Food trends 2011. January 10, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, quoted four “experts” last Wednesday predicting what lies ahead for food and cooking in America in 2011. It all sounded rather, forgive me, predictable if you asked me.

On the one hand, we find a continued emphasis on local, artisanal, seasonal, organic, heirloom produce and foods (good), and on the other, the rise of celebrity butchers and a growing obsession with offal (i.e., entrails, guts, brains, eyes, feet, reproductive parts, and other animal parts more generally reserved for pet food). Not that the two trends are mutually exclusive. All this was coupled with what now seems like the obligatory nods to vegetarianism (Meatless Monday) and luxury (the return of cocktail hour, white truffles, and etc.). And, of course, smaller portions! As if we hadn’t had more than enough of that overpriced preciousness and pretension with Nouvelle Cuisine.

I, Silence Dogood, take exception to all this. I applaud the emphasis on local, organic, artisanal, seasonal, and heirloom foods. I have no objection to people following the time-honored peasant tradition in every country of eating “everything but the squeak,” and thus saving both money and resources, as long as no one asks me to join them. And far be it from me to decry the venerable cocktail hour. As Jimmy Buffett would say, “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

What I take exception to is all this turning up on trend lists. Surely nobody but Rip Van Winkle could have failed to see the trend towards local, artisanal, organic, etc.etc. of the past decade-plus. Ditto every celebrity chef from Anthony Bourdain to his parody, Ruth Bourdain, screaming about the unending delights of offal, pig fat, pig cheeks, and meat, meat, meat in general. Surely the cocktail had been enjoying a revival since the rediscovery of the martini in what, the 1980s? As for vegetarianism, veganism, raw foodism, cleanses… oh, please. Small plates? Please. Micro-servings predated the trend for microgreens (also old news) by several decades. Luxury goods? There’s never been belt-tightening where high-end trend foods were concerned.

So where does that leave us in terms of real trends? Here are Silence Dogood’s Top Ten Food Predictions for 2011:

1. A bad year for celebrity chefs. Paula Deen adopts Rachael Ray during a heartwarming TV special; Martha Stewart and Guy Fieri are godparents. Then Paula shocks the culinary world by running off with Emeril before Christmas. (Rumor has it they’ve bought an island in the Florida Keys and are starting their own Creole/Cajun casino.) Oprah invites them to star in a cooking show on her Oprah Winfrey Network, tentatively called “BAM! Ma’am.” Highlights of each show will be Dr. Oz having to eat an entire deep-fried meal created by Paula Deen, and Dr. Phil giving a blow-by-blow analysis of Paula’s and Emeril’s relationship and how they can make it better. Unfortunately, the monster hit show is forced to end prematurely after Emeril “kicks it up a notch” and flambes Dr. Phil after the third episode. Fortunately, devastated viewers can console themselves by tuning in to the new Rachael Ray/Dr. Oz show after the couple announces their elopement.

A scandal breaks out after the Iron Chefs are exposed for using all-aluminum cookware. RuPaul reveals that he is the real Ruth Bourdain, and also the real Ruth Reichl. LaToya Jackson announces that, as a renowned psychic, she has channelled Julia Child and Julia has told her that the future is goose liver pate. “Pate, dear girl, that’s foy-grah en francais! And do try not to drop it, but if you do, a few glasses of burgundy and your guests will assume those stuck-on dust bunnies are some nouveau variation on cracked pepper!”

2. Butter is exonerated. First, we learned that olive oil was good and the polyunsaturated oils like safflower oil, which we’d all been told to eat instead or else, were carcinogenic. Thanks, you stupid nutritionists. We’re glad you were eating them, too. Only a brain-dead plankton would ever have thought anything like margarine, aspartame, or Miracle Whip could be good for you, so revelations in those quarters could hardly have come as surprises.

But I’ve been most happy to see other formerly vilified foods besides olive oil raised to food superhero status in recent years: chocolate, caffeine, red wine, even salt. There’s even a movement to make lard respectable as a health food. I’ll let the offal enthusiasts tackle that one. I myself am waiting for the day that butter is finally recognized as a health food. It’s coming, I promise you.

3. People are finally encouraged to eat responsibly. Nowhere in the world is food consumption as perverted as it is in America. Rather than being told to eat until they feel reasonably full, and then stop, people are told to:

A. Chew every unappetizing mouthful 1,000 times like cows. Ever watched somebody chew food, much less chew it and chew it? Ugh.

B. Stop eating before they feel full. Hey, Sherlock: There’s a difference between feeling satisfied—”That was nice, but I’ve had enough”—and feeling like you’re about to blow up. It should be assumed that reasonable people can tell the difference between the former and the latter.

C. Eat low- or no-cal foods in unlimited quantities so as not to suffer from hunger. I’m not clear why common belief holds that people are always terrified of expiring from starvation if they’re not constantly stuffing themselves with food. 

D. Eat every five minutes, but only approved bizarre foods and in approved ridiculous amounts, to offset starvation. See C, above.

E. Eat chemically-laden foods that are low-fat, low-sugar, low-carb, and/or low-cal because it’s “okay” to eat as much of these pseudo-foods (as opposed to real, wholesome, nutrient-rich foods) as you want. Who cares what they’re doing to you? They’re low-cal!

F. Eat an all-protein, high-fat diet and skip those dreadful carbs, aka fruits, veggies, legumes, and grains. You’ll lose weight and keep it off! Never mind if your complexion is lumpy, your skin is grey, and your hair is lifeless and falling out. Hey, you’re thin! And that’s all that counts, isn’t it?

G. Try the latest fad diet. You can eat as much rice, grapefruit, blah-blah as you want, as long as you don’t eat anything else! Wow, talk about an inducement. Sign me up! Ditto those liquid diets, diet bars, or prefab diets with chemical desserts. (Gotta eat dessert, now don’t we?)

H. Take the final road. Forget food. Go for bariatric surgery, tapeworm tablets, or anorexia instead. Or make like Roman banqueters of old and make yourself throw up after every meal.

Are these perversions of eating really what we’ve come to as a nation? I keep seeing condemnations of American eating habits based on the presumption that, as a nation, we collectively grab a Big Mac and fries on the way home, then sit down in front of the TV every night and glug a keg of beer, eat a couple of pepperoni pizzas, wolf down a couple of bowls of buttered popcorn, enjoy a giant platter of loaded nachos, and then order out for a couple dozen wings while consuming several bags of chips. Hey, wait, can’t forget dessert! Where’s that gallon of ice cream and bazillion toppings and the plate of brownies? 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen anyone eat like this, or close. I have to admit, I’ve never even seen anyone order out, much less load up on high-fat junk. I’ve never seen anyone overload a plate. I’ve never seen anyone choose trash when good food was available. I’ve never seen anyone eat dessert after really good, healthy food was offered.

I think it’s time to say “Shut up!” to all the so-called experts and diet gurus and eat with our brains, our taste buds, and our appetites.

4. Cooking is demystified. I can’t tell you how many people I know who are terrified of herbs, spices, condiments, and cooking in general. Why?! Cooking is all about flavor, texture, and temperature. That’s all there is to it. Master those three things, and you’ll be a celebrated cook. In 2011, I’m predicting that chefs and cookbook authors will finally stop trying to complicate things for mystique’s sake and tell it like it is.

5. People finally discover that whole foods taste good. In today’s superprocessed society, this is not just counterintuitive, it’s shocking. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. No chip ever created tastes better than a carrot stick, scallion, or red pepper strip dipped in hummus, sour-cream-onion or -dill dip, or any cream cheese dip. No form of corn on earth—popcorn, corn chips, tortilla chips, corn muffins—can even begin to compare with a hot buttered ear of corn on the cob. Pretty much nothing can stand against a complex, crunchy salad, and nothing at all can stand up to a baked potato, roasted sweet potatoes, or mashed potatoes.

I could go on and on, but you get it: Fresh, whole foods are best. Once people give themselves permission to enjoy them with salt, pepper, butter, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pepitas, onion, scallions, herbs, spices, and the like, this will become obvious: Food prepared simply, and simply delicious.

6. People lose their fear of eggs. OMG, salmonella! Cholesterol! Bunk. Pass up factory-farmed eggs. Put your faith in organic, free-range eggs, and bear in mind that those alarmist nutritionists who squawk on and on about eggs have never, ever actually made a connection between the cholesterol in eggs and the cholesterol in people. Genetics suck. Eggs don’t.

7. Branching out becomes de rigueur. All fresh, all the time is great if you can swing it. But what if you live where the winters are harsh, like me and our friend Ben? I’m predicting that people will finally embrace the whole picture of dried, canned, frozen, preserved, and fresh foods. You can still buy local and put up your own. But for mercy’s sake, embrace the wisdom of your ancestors and make sure you have plenty of usable, delicious food staples stored away for bad weather or other emergencies.

8. Tony rocks the culinary world. Anthony Bourdain announces that he’s going to stop being a globetrotting TV star and get back to his roots as a hands-on chef. Then he turns the culinary world upside down by opening a vegetarian restaurant, Roots & Shoots, in SoHo.

Asked what caused him to abandon the world of meat for vegetarian cuisine, he replied: “I’m [bleeping] sick and tired of having to eat [bleepitty-bleep-bleep] [bleep] and smile and pretend I’m enjoying it! If I see one more [bleeping] piece of artisanal salumi, I’m going to [bleeping] throw up! And don’t talk to me about [bleep-bleeping] pig cheeks, pig fat, pig brains, pig eyeballs… Feed that [bleeping] offal to [bleeping] Rachael Ray. I want to eat something that actually tastes good for a [bleeping] change!  [Bleep] [bleep-bleep-bleepitty] [bleeping] celebrity! Just give me some [bleeping] food for a change!” 

Asked if he’d made any New Year’s resolutions, Mr. Bourdain responded, “Now that I’m a father, I’ve been making a [bleeping] HUGE effort to watch my [bleeping] language!”

9. Heirloom hysteria becomes balanced. Heirloom fruits and veggies have become huge in the past decade as consumers (that would be us) became more aware that many commercially popular foods were created to serve marketing (i.e. packing and industry) needs at the expense of flavor. Unfortunately, the backlash against industry greed and evil has been to vilify every hybrid as a tool of big business.

But it’s been our experience that certain hybrids, like ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes and ‘Juliet’ paste tomatoes, are better than anything else on the market. (Sorry, ‘Yellow Pear’ tomatoes and ‘San Marzano’ paste tomatoes; we still love you, too.) How did we encounter these hybrids? Through our organic CSA, which clearly shared our views.

We see that the mainstream vegetable catalogs have taken note of the heirloom craze and the drawbacks to heirlooms as well: low productivity, susceptibility to pests and diseases, extremely limited range. And we see that they’ve taken steps to combine rich heirloom flavor with hybrid reliability, as in the case of Burpee’s ‘Brandy Boy’, combining the flavor of the beloved heirloom ‘Brandywine’ with the reliability of their own ‘Big Boy’ hybrid.

We’re not suggesting abandoning heirlooms that do well for you for hybrids, God forbid. But if full-size heirloom tomatoes or whatever don’t do well for you, we suggest that you keep an open mind about the hybrids that are now available. We’re planning to try ‘Brandy Boy’ this year and see how it turns out.  

10. What’s in, what’s out. Fried turkey’s out, fried catfish is in. Sushi is out, tempura is in. Bacon is out, fried onion strings are in. Hummus is out, tzatziki is in. Martinis are out, Campari and soda (with a slice of lime) is in. Soy sauce is out, chili oil is in. Raw foodism is out, real foodism is in. Slow cookers are out, rice cookers are in. Cupcakes are out, doughnuts are in. Sourdough is out, no-knead is in. Fresh and pickled jalapenos are out, chipotle is in. Quiche is out, crepes are in. Jelly is out, marmalade is in. Salt and pepper are out, custom salt-pepper blends are in. Williams-Sonoma is out, King Arthur Flour is in. Black-eyed peas are out, butter beans are in. Bland, boring radishes and mustard greens are out, mustard greens and radishes with a bite are in. Lite beer is out, black & tan and porter are in. Chemically-laced sodas are out, flavored sparkling water is in. Caramel is in, chocolate and vanilla are out.

Okay, that’s it for us for 2011.  Please share your food trends predictions with us!  

           ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

Frugality: The interview. January 4, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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2 comments

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood realize that yesterday’s post, “2011: Another year of making do,” about belt-tightening during another year of minimal income and rising gas, fuel oil, and electric bills, was not exactly a mood-booster. Sure, we’re scared about all these price increases, when nobody’s exactly increasing the price for our services, but all isn’t doom and gloom around here.

To lighten things up, OFB decided to interview Silence about cost-cutting and mood-boosting in 2011. Here’s the interview:

Our friend Ben: Silence, how do you feel facing 2011?

Silence Dogood: Great, Ben! December 21, the winter solstice, is over, so every day brings a little more light. And every second of light makes me feel better and better.

OFB: We know you’ve had to cut back in many areas in order to make it through the Great Recession. If you suddenly won the lottery, what would be the first thing you’d do?

Silence: I’d turn up the thermostat. I’m so sick of being cold! The very first thing I’d do is crank up the heat to 65 degrees. Then I’d check the ticket to make sure I’d really won.

OFB: What would be your top tip for saving money in hard times?

Silence: Skip the so-called “convenience” stuff. Don’t even think about stopping for coffee or lattes or fast food, or buying ready-made “convenience” foods at the store. They cost so much more, they’re so much worse, they’re either high-fat or, in the case of diet convenience foods, high-chemical, and it’s so much easier and cheaper to make good food yourself. Resist!!!

OFB: What about dining out, going to the movies or shows, buying trendy clothes or the latest gadget, travel?

Silence: Gack, I guess I should have thought of those first, but it seemed so obvious that people should skip all that in hard times I didn’t even think of it. “Keeping up with the Joneses” takes on a very different meaning when times are hard. Instead of trying to spend as much on cars, upscale homes, designer clothes, and fancy vacations, maybe it’s time to share grocery coupons, carpool, swap hand-me-downs, DVDs, CDs, and etc., make enough food for two meals and share the extras with your neighbors in return for a meal of theirs, go in together to buy food staples in bulk.

OFB: That sounds good. But denying yourself new music, books, and movies seems pretty harsh.

Silence: It is harsh, Ben, I can’t deny it. I’ve been dying to see “The King’s Speech,” and I just read that a new Jake Shimabukuro CD is about to be released. But there are plenty of ways to get around it. There’s the library. Not only can we rent books, CDs, and DVDs for free, but there’s a whole bunch of free discard boxes of books and, occasionally, CDs and DVDs in the lobby. Plus, every Saturday the library holds a book sale, with books on sale for 25 cents to a dollar, and it has racks of bestsellers for sale all week for $1 each. If I’m craving a “new” book, I can look there. We’re fortunate to have a great used-CD and -DVD store, along with a super used bookstore, in nearby Kutztown. And we can see all the movies and TV series we want through Netflix for considerably less per month than a pair of movie tickets. But that’s not all.

OFB: Oh?

Silence: Think about it, Ben. We’ve spent years building up a wonderful home library of literally thousands of books, plus pretty hefty music and movie collections. Have you read all those books?

OFB: Uh…

Silence: I didn’t think so. And aren’t there some books you’d love to read again, but haven’t found the time for?

OFB: Of course there are.

Silence: I’m sure the same could be said for our music and movies. We can make fuller use of the resources we already have. And we can always ask for special books, movies, and CDs for Christmas and our birthdays, right? People never seem to know what to give us, so they’d probably welcome some concrete suggestions.

OFB: As opposed to that obscenely stinky cheese your brother decided to give us this Christmas…

Silence: Oh, shut up.

OFB: At least the chickens seemed to like it. Maybe the cold has impaired their sense of smell…

Silence: BEN…

OFB: Er, right, getting back to the interview. Knowing your passion for cooking, what would you advise folks to do if they’re trying to bring down their grocery bills?

Silence: That’s easy, Ben. Make a commitment to eat more legumes (beans, dried peas, lentils, etc.) and grains (rice, oats, cornmeal, etc.)—there are so many ways to make them delicious (refried beans and rice or tortillas being just one example). Clip those pesky coupons, watch for sales, and use the brains God gave you. Make soups, stews and pasta play bigger roles in your diet. Don’t buy frozen veggies in sauce when it’s much cheaper to buy them plain and add butter or your favorite flavoring, but do buy things like Bush’s Grillin’ Beans when it would cost you more to duplicate their seasonings from scratch. Buy store brands—they’re usually cheaper than name brands, even with coupons—but keep an eye out and buy name brands when that’s not the case. Stock up when prices are really good. Watch for sales on salad mixes that make them cheaper than whole heads of lettuce. Cut back on meat. Cheese and butter often go on sale; look sharp and stock up. And never be tempted to buy something just because it’s on sale, unless it’s something you actually like and will eat. You can eat healthy, delicious food on a budget if you’re willing to put a little time into planning and cooking.

OFB: You can?

Silence: (Sigh.) Let’s do the math here. One of your favorite meals is roasted sweet potatoes, sweet onions, and mushrooms served with creamy pasta, green beans or broccoli, and a hearty salad, right?

OFB: [brightening] Right! Could we have that tonight?!

Silence: Yes we could, but let’s not get distracted here. If I buy the packages of mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and green beans or broccoli at the “three for $5.99″ area of the produce section in our local store, that’s $6. Suppose I go for a package of red bell peppers, one of sweet onions, and one of tomatoes for another $5.99. Let’s say I add a bag of mixed greens reduced to 99 cents, a box of store-brand pasta for 99 cents, store-brand butter on sale for $2.50, store-brand sour cream at $1.39, plus shredded white Cheddar cheese on sale at two bags for $4. We’ll make that $22, including tax.

Now, with all this and the various herbs, seasonings, and condiments I already have on hand, I can not only make the creamy pasta, roasted veggies, green beans or broccoli, and salad (with added tomatoes, peppers, and shredded cheese) for our supper, I can make a second supper of  pasta with a Cheddar, sweet onion, mushroom, and red pepper sauce, green beans or broccoli, and salad. And there will be leftover pasta with sauce to heat up for lunch, as well as ample supplies of cheese, butter, tomatoes, sweet onions, and sweet potatoes for future meals, all for $22 for two people! If I were making rice rather than pasta to go with the meals, it would cost considerably less (no sour cream or Cheddar, and obviously, no pasta). See how easy it is?

OFB: I think I’m getting a headache.

Silence: (SIGH.) Skipped math class, did you, Ben? You should see how little it costs to make some yummy black bean soup and cornbread, or a hearty lentil stew with homemade bread, or a fabulous Indian feast with dal and curried vegetables and palaak (spinach) paneer… But there’s another point that’s even more important than trying to be cost-conscious when you’re shopping.

OFB: And what’s that?

Silence: Actually using what you buy. If you buy a bunch of stuff and end up throwing it out, you might as well set fire to a bunch of dollar bills and save the gas it takes to drive to the store.

OFB: But… we never throw anything out!

Silence: Waste not, want not, as our hero and blog mentor Benjamin Franklin would say. But there’s a reason we don’t throw anything out, Ben: It’s because I plan our menus carefully in advance and buy only the things we’ll need to make them. Unless I find a great sale on something, in which case, I’ll change the menu to feature whatever-it-is. Carrots, for example. We got a great deal on carrots at the farmers’ market the other week, remember? I knew they’d store well in our unheated mudroom, so we stocked up. And I’ve been adding curried carrots and boiled carrots as sides to our suppers, using carrots in lentil stew, veggie curry, and shepherd’s pie, and serving carrot sticks with our hummus and baba ghannouj ever since.

OFB: You know, I didn’t make the connection.

Silence: That’s because we both love carrots, and since they store so well, I knew we wouldn’t have to go on a monthlong all-carrot diet or something just to use them up. We’re lucky that we both enjoy leftovers, too, but getting creative with leftovers—using them in other dishes—is a great way to add variety without wasting food. Putting that extra half-cup of spaghetti sauce on a pizza or in chili or soup, for example.

OFB: Oh!

Silence: Another brilliant observation, Ben. And since you asked, there’s another reason we don’t waste food, and that’s because we’ve developed a sort of closed system here. We can compost scraps in our bins or put them in the earthworm composter; our chickens, our dog Shiloh, and our parrot Plutarch all love leftover odds and ends. Let’s use an end of stale homemade bread as an example. I could use it to make croutons, bread crumbs, or a base for a delicious dressing. Or we could give pieces to Shiloh, Plutarch, and the chickens. All you really need is a small chicken flock and a compost bin and you’ll never waste food again!

OFB: [desperate to change the subject and avoid more abuse] Ahem, if you could turn back the clock, what do you wish you’d done in 2010? 

Silence: I wish I’d invented Ruth Bourdain. Though if I’d been her creator, she’d have been Julia Bourdain. Imagine Tony fluting away in that Julia Child voice. Priceless! And her hair was almost as scary as Ruth’s. Almost. Well, not really.

OFB: If you say so. Any last words for our readers?

Silence: Life is short and uncertain. Live your dreams, or at least identify your dreams and start to live them, even if that longed-for trip to Italy is just some Italian movies, cookbooks, language lessons, an Italian-made coffee mug, and maybe a novel about Leonardo da Vinci at this point. Don’t let yourself end a day without having done at least one thing that matters to you, that gives you unalloyed pleasure.

We recently posted about Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, who ended his poem about what makes a good life with “Neither seek death, nor fear his might.” The Native Americans put it another way: “It is a good day to die.” Vow to greet each day with pleasure, and live in such a way that, whatever it brings, you can face it with calm, knowing that, whatever you’ve left undone, you’ve done enough to feel you’ve really lived.

OFB: Gee, Silence, I don’t know if that’s profound or scary, but thanks for this interview. Now, if we could talk about dinner…

[curtain]

Silence gets Smart. July 8, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , ,
3 comments

We at Poor Richard’s Almanac are delighted to announce that our very own Silence Dogood is now guest-blogging over at SmartKitchen.com (http://www.smartkitchen.com/blog/). Her first guest post is “Caesar’s Cuisine,” about cooking in Ancient Rome. (As opposed, to, say, a menu review of Little Caesar’s pizzas.) She even shares a recipe for an authentic First-Century Roman fish sauce.

We invite you all to head on over to SmartKitchen.com and check it out, along with the other colorful, informative posts by P Chef and others. You’ll be glad you did!

Needless to say, you’ll still hear plenty from Silence here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. But we’re excited for her to have an opportunity to stretch out! We think our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, would be proud. Who knows, maybe Silence will do a SmartKitchen.com post on good food from Ben’s kitchen!

                    Our friend Ben, Richard Saunders, and Silence Dogood

Batting 2,000. April 2, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized.
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1 comment so far

Today, the Sitemeter on Poor Richard’s Almanac passed 2,000. (The meter on WordPress is over 800 more than that; but being a Luddite, our friend Ben had to beg a friend to install Sitemeter a bit after our launch.) Two thousand blog visits may seem irrelevant to most bloggers: Our friend Ben has it on good authority that 2,000 visits a day is considered some sort of minimal threshold. And we know that the “big” blogs log in millions of visitors every day.

But Poor Richard’s contributors, our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders, are thrilled to have reached this milestone after less than two months of blogging. And we would like to thank each and every one of our blog visitors for helping us reach the 2,000 mark. We are thrilled and honored to have you visit, enjoy, and comment on our posts. We hope you’ll let us know if there’s a topic you’d like us to take on that we’ve so far ignored, or if you want us to say more about a subject we’ve already addressed. We’ve all loved our experience with Poor Richard’s Almanac so far, and we think our mentor and hero, Dr. Franklin, would concur. So thank you, thank you, thank you! Like the original Ben, you’re our heroes as well. Bless you all!!! 

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