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Annoying advertising. January 18, 2015

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben remembers the first time it happened. I was reading an e-mail, and the end of the e-mail said “Sent from my iPhone.” What the bleep? Who cared where it was sent from? “Sent from my iPhone” had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the message. I’d never seen such a bizarre, inexplicable message.

From that point on, every message from that guy ended with “Sent from my iPhone,” as though it were a common sign-off like “See ya.” The subject didn’t matter at all: “I was in a wreck and broke both legs. Sent from my iPhone.” Worse, more and more people began e-mailing us and finishing with “Sent from my iPhone.” Did they want to make sure that everyone knew that they had an iPhone?

It was only when we also began getting e-mails that ended with “Sent from my Android” and every other brand on earth that I realized that this was yet another annoying ad. And despite the word “my,” the senders were probably unaware of its even being on their messages, while hapless recipients like our friend Ben were being forced to read it over and over.

I have one thing to say to you money-bloated smartphone corporations: Target your marketing to your audience, for whom every latest version, every latest app, is greeted with the same breathless anticipation as a new season of “Game of Thrones.” And leave the rest of us alone.

Sent from my SmartBrain

Happy birthday Ben! January 17, 2015

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin.
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Apparently this is National Fig Newton Month. Well, we here at Poor Richard’s Almanac have nothing against Fig Newtons. (Though the thought of that filling sticking to our teeth makes us cringe. And who was Newton, anyway?)

But for us here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, today, January 17, has quite a different significance: It’s the birthday of our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, who was born in 1706 (so it’s his 309th birthday!). He and Alexander Hamilton are perhaps the only two of the Founders who’d actually have enjoyed living in modern times and using social media and modern conveniences.

Ben would also have loved access to a gym—he was a huge health nut, like George Washington, and especially enjoyed swimming—far from the tubby scientist/statesman we picture today. Too bad we don’t have a picture of him from those days! He’d have loved the focus on health today, but kept the focus on balance.

Anyway, to Ben, who brilliantly combined earthbound savvy with statescraft, happy 309th! We wish you many, many more!

Another great quote (from the days when people believed them). January 15, 2015

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Which Founding Father said:

“I would rather die standing than live on my knees!”

Was it the fiery Sam Adams or speech-making genius Patrick Henry? The visionary Ben Franklin, or Thomas Paine, whose power with the pen kept the troops from deserting Washington? The brilliant Alexander Hamilton, boy genius from the tropics? Or perhaps Washington, Jefferson, or Madison themselves?

It certainly sounds like a Founding Father quote: big, noble, and brief (thus, memorable). But it isn’t. The man who said those words was Emiliano Zapata.

What a quote, so stirring! We’ve now heard it attributed to the owner of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo before the magazine was attacked by extremists. Maybe it was simply one of his favorites. Whatever the case, it would be nice to take the time to think about how you could stand for your principles without having to die for them.

Our hen lays blue eggs. January 4, 2015

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading.
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Since part of Poor Richard’s Almanac involves chickens (see our headline), occasionally our friend Ben likes to update our readers on all things chicken, especially when they’re happening here. Silence Dogood and I keep six chickens here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home we share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. Each chicken is a different heirloom breed, so we have a colorful brood—red, black-and-white, gold, white with black edging (the most beautiful, in my opinion), red with black and gold, and spangled black.

They’re all beautiful and fun to watch, but today, it’s the “red with black and gold” that I want to talk about. She’s an Ameraucana, descended from the nearly wild Araucanas of South America. And she looks wild, with a great ruff of feathers around her head, making her look more like a rooster than a hen. (We don’t keep roosters here, they’re aggressive and pointless unless you want your hens to produce chicks; they’ll still lay eggs without roosters, but the eggs will be sterile, just the way a vegetarian like Silence likes them.) She’s also thinner than the other chickens, another sign of her “next-to-wild” origin.

Our chickens are pullets, first-year hens, so they had to fatten up (no problem around here) before they could get into laying mode, which began this fall. Suddenly, we began finding beautiful brown and bisque eggs in our nestboxes. But then the hold-your-breath watch began. Ameraucanas are often called “Easter egg chickens” because they lay colored eggs. The eggs can be blue, olive green, green, even pink. But a given hen will lay the same color all her life. If you only have one Ameraucana, what color will she lay?

Fortunately for us, our Ameraucana eventually laid an egg, and it was blue! We’ve been so lucky that over our decades of chicken-keeping, our Ameraucanas (and we’ve only had one at a time) have all laid blue eggs. Our friend Ben does not mean some pale stain on a white egg, either—these eggs are sky blue, robin’s egg blue. They are so gorgeous, Silence can barely bring herself to cook them! Mind you, they taste just like our other wonderfully fresh, organic, free-range, nutrient-packed eggs. It’s just the color that distinguishes them. But what a color!

There are only two of us, so we’d never want more than five or six chickens (as it is, we’re giving away six-packs of eggs to all our friends and neighbors). But if we had a larger spread, it would be very tempting to get a few more Ameraucanas!

If you don’t have chickens but would like to try blue eggs, of course you can try your local farmers’ market, but I’ve never seen them at any of ours. Where Silence and I have found them is at a local health food store, where a local farmer has made beautiful 8-packs of multicolored eggs. Maybe high-end groceries like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Wegman’s would have them, too. (But remember, you’re paying for the color of the shell, not the contents.)

Chickens lay blue eggs!!!

Seal those cracks. January 2, 2015

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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I don’t know if you’re like us, but every winter, once it gets cold and dry, we get the most painful, bleeding cracks on the sides of our fingernails and our heels. Ouch!!! These cracks aren’t big, but they hurt so much, and make it almost impossible to do the simplest tasks, like fastening a curtain (or anything else, for that matter). Seeing your bedroom slipper stained with blood isn’t fun either.

What to do? After extensive research, we have to give our recommendation to O’Keeffe’s Working Hands. The top says “For Hands & Feet That Crack & Split” and “The LEADING Skin Therapy For People Who WORK With Their HANDS.” (O’Keeffe’s also makes a tub of cream just for feet, but we find that, as advertised, Working Hands is great for both hands and feet.) You need to apply a minuscule amount a few times a day, rub it in, and enjoy the relief. After about three days, it will have worked its magic, and you can put the little tub away until the next episode.

If you have this problem, try Working Hands! We found our first tub at a local hardware store, but we think Tractor Supply also carries it. Check it out online and see where it’s offered near you. It’s probably on Amazon as well. And it’s both affordable and long-lasting: We bought a second tub as backup but are still on our first, years later.

Perfect pomegranate cocktails. December 30, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. You’ve heard that pomegranates, pomegranate juice, basically pomegranate everything is good for you, right? So it had to only be a matter of time before someone developed a pomegranate liqueur. Our friend Ben and I discovered this on Christmas Eve, when we’d been invited to celebrate with good friends and our hostess surprised us with a Christmas present—a bottle of Pama.

When we opened the bottle, we immediately noticed the heavenly fragrance and brilliant red color. We could tell from the smell that this was going to be sweet—way too sweet to drink on its own. (For us, anyway.) We needed something bitter to tone it down, and bubbly to cut the syrupy texture. Mandarin orange sparkling water to the rescue! The chilled, carbonated water was exactly what the Pama needed. (Think a goblet of 1/8 Pama to 7/8 sparkling water.) Beautiful red holiday color and light, effervescent texture!

If you’d like something a bit sweeter, you could swap out Martini Asti or Yellowtail White Bubbles for the sparkling water in the same proportion. (Or whatever pleases you!) There are more recipes with the bottle, and no doubt still more online. What a great way to celebrate the New Year, with this simple cocktail! Perhaps adding some pomegranate seeds and an orange slice would be the perfect finishing touch.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Is the bell still ringing ’round your house? December 23, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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To paraphrase the two gentlemen who accosted Scrooge on Christmas Eve in Charles Dickens’s beloved A Christmas Carol, at this festive season of the year, the poor feel want more keenly as the cold bites hard and the well-to-do rejoice. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood love the scene in the musical “Scrooge” where you see poor Bob Cratchit trying to pull together Christmas for his impoverished family against a backdrop of well-to-do Victorians and what they’re able to buy. It would be enough to give even a Scrooge, as Mrs. Cratchit points out, a piece of her mind to think about.

The great divide between the rich and poor in the Victorian era was as great as our own today, but there was a difference: The Scrooges of the past didn’t have to see the poor unless they wanted to. They were shut away in workhouses and poorhouses and coal mines and factories, the Oliver Twists (another great Dickens creation) of the world. Deprivation and dirt were ways of life. (Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games” lives this kind of life at home in District 12.)

Today, the poor aren’t kept away from us. We see them shopping at Wal*Mart or eating a Big Mac, painting their nails and using their electronics just like us. They don’t look thin or hungry—cheap but filling convenience-store food usually makes sure of that—unless they’re homeless, and they’re certainly not begging.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not suffering. Just this week, we read about a grandmother who was caught trying to shoplift a carton of eggs to feed her multigenerational household because the carton cost $1.75 and she only had $1.25 and was desperate. (The policeman called to the scene bought her the eggs, and she tried to give him the $1.25. In the ultimate happy ending scenario, she wasn’t charged and the townspeople started sending in food for her family and other needy people in their area.) Also this week, we read about families who had to choose between food and health care every month.

Pope Francis is building baths in one wing of the Vatican so the poor and homeless can take regular baths and feel better about themselves. And the soup kitchens and rescue missions are as busy as ever, while the rest of us have been documented throwing out an ungodly amount of food—48%, if memory serves—not even bothering to compost it or, say, feed it to the chickens or earthworms. Our friend Ben is sure Pope Francis’s favorite birthday present this year was the massive amount of meat a Spanish meat organization donated for distribution to the poor in his name.

Getting back to the point of this post, for many years around this time, everywhere our friend Ben and Silence went, we would encounter the jolly Santa and the black Salvation Army kettle, his bell ringing furiously as he doubtless froze to death. In front of one local pharmacy, Santa had been replaced by caroling kids. Whatever the size of our offering, we were always happy to give. But for the past three or so years, the black kettles and their tenders have been gone. Whatever happened to them?

We used to have a thriving Goodwill in the shopping mall in the closest little town to us. It was always packed with people, most of whom appeared to be buying clothes, shoes, toys, and the like for their families, most of whom were poor, most of whom spoke a language other than English. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood loved the Goodwill—going there was like treasure-hunting, you never knew what you’d find—and, as noted, it was as crowded as Cabela’s, a godsend for people for whom Wal*Mart was a luxury. A thriving business. Then one day, it was gone. We were horrified, but what must the people who depended on it to clothe and entertain their children think?

Just yesterday, we went to drop off some clothes at one of those drop-boxes in a pharmacy parking lot, only to find that it, too, was gone, and nobody seemed to know where another one was. Why and where had it gone?

In areas where just getting from one place to another is an issue if you don’t have a car, having stores like Goodwill just pack up and leave is a real hardship. For those of us who’d like to bring a little warmth and good cheer to those in want during the Christmas season, failing to find Santa with his bell and black kettle on every corner is really demoralizing.

If the bell’s still ringing ’round your house, please give to keep it going. For us, it’s one of the happiest sounds of Christmas.

And please, don’t waste food this year while others are going hungry!

Try a Red Roo this Christmas. December 15, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. This past Saturday, I was reading an article in The Wall Street Journal called “The Tippling Point.” The article was about the rising popularity of Champagne cocktails, how they were breaking out of the “Mimosa brunch” category and turning up at parties and suppers.

According to the article, this was because good Champagnes were becoming so affordable that people could afford to use them in cocktails (unthinkable with expensive estate Champagnes), that other sparkling wines like Cava and sparkling rose and Asti and Prosecco were becoming available in dry versions that were even more affordable then Champagne and delicious in cocktails. They also pointed out that Champagne cocktails went well with any food, were very light on the stomach, and left you feeling refreshed the following day as opposed to hung over.

The article interviewed seasoned mixologists about their (and their patrons’) favorite Champagne cocktails. I noticed that, while the Champagne or its equivalent sparkling wine may have cost “only” $30 a bottle, there were bazillion uber-expensive or unavailable ingredients in the form of liqueurs or, say, fresh-squeezed Meyer lemons (and where will you get those?) or homemade simple syrup infused with 10 super-expensive, elusive spices and strained through God-knows-what after cooking? Geez. By the end of it all, you might as well just show up at the party with a bottle of Champagne.

What I did notice, however, was that the basic recipes for the various Champagne cocktails included liqueurs, bitters, and typically fruit and fruit liqueurs (strained). Reading that you have to shake and strain a cocktail is enough to make me break out in hives: Can’t you just pour it in the damned glass and drink it? But I digress.

My favorite liqueur is Campari, the beautiful red herbal bitter aperitif. Typically, I drink a splash of Campari with mandarin orange sparkling water and a splash of Key lime juice. But I was inspired by The Wall Street Journal article to invent a “Champagne cocktail” of my own, one that’s affordable, flavorful, and beautiful.

Bless our friend Ben, he’d recently surprised me with a bottle of Campari and a bottle of Pink Bubbles, a dry sparkling rose. It’s made by Yellowtail, whose symbol is the yellow-tailed kangaroo (thus the “Roo” in Red Roo). I find it delicious as is (chilled, of course), and you can get a bottle for $9.99 around here. Can’t beat that price! Campari will set you back a bit more, as in about $28.99 a bottle, but you use so little in a Red Roo that a single bottle will see you well into the New Year.

Using just a little Campari is key here: It’s bitter, sweet, and complex, and you want it to color and add some flavor notes to your Red Roo, not overpower it. Try a jigger in your wine glass to start with, then fill the glass with chilled Pink Bubbles. (Do not be put off by the too-cute name, this is good stuff, I promise.) The color should be a perfect Christmas red, and the flavor should be delicious, with a light texture and that luscious sparkly finish. If you find you have a taste for Campari, you can always up the amount you put in your Red Roo, but not to the point where you weigh it down or make it too sweet, please.

Unlike everyone in the article I read, I don’t happen to own a set of coupe glasses or Champagne flutes. I don’t have room for glassware that can only be used for one thing, and I have better things to do with my money. So I use plain old wineglasses for my Red Roos, and they look both beautiful and festive. And taste amazing. Try some this holiday season. Cheers!

Note: I thought up a complementary holiday “Champagne” cocktail to offer holiday guests, the Green Roo. You’d substitute Absinthe (“the green fairy”) for the Campari and Bubbles (Yellowtail’s sparkling white, also dry and quite good on its own) for the Pink Bubbles. I’d think a tray of these red and green sparkling cocktails would be an amazing kickoff to any holiday gathering. Assuming the Absinthe remained green. And clear.

Absinthe is an herbal aperitif like Campari, and it got a bad name after so many French artists died after hanging out in clubs and bars drinking it. It was considered the opium of its day. As a result, it was banned here until just recently, when someone finally figured out that it wasn’t the Absinthe per se, but drinking until their livers failed, that killed all those idiots.

Despite Absinthe’s reprieve, I can’t recommend the Green Roo, simply because I’ve never had Absinthe. And I have a bad feeling that I read somewhere that when you add it to a glass, it becomes cloudy, which would hardly enhance a sparkling cocktail, much less give it a green color. But then, why did they call it “the green fairy”? If anyone knows the answer to these mysteries, please let me know.

Meanwhile, enjoy your Red Roos!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Keep your Christmas plants alive. December 7, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were determined to get some poinsettias and cyclamen for our mantel and Christmas table yesterday. We didn’t want anything fancy—just two white cyclamen and two scarlet poinsettias for our mantel, and one large red poinsettia and two smaller white poinsettias for our Christmas table. We’ve found that the mantel plants are perfect with our Christmas tree with its red balls and twinkly white lights, and the kitchen table is too small for anything more elaborate than our poinsettias and two red candles.

As we were driving back from another classic display, the Goschenhoppen Historians’ Christmas market, we passed a small greenhouse that had been on the road from Green Lane to Red Hill just about forever. It was a classic mom-and-pop operation, its signs said it was open, and one of them said they grew their own poinsettias, a real rarity in this age when most greenhouses, groceries and the like buy theirs as “plugs” (started plants) from one or two enormous poinsettia greenhouses. Silence and I screeched to a halt, turned around, and returned to the little greenhouse.

It was a horrible, cold, drizzly, miserable day, the kind where you just can’t wait to get back inside and crank up the heat or turn up the fire. No wonder we were the only customers, and Grandma was the only person minding the store. But the plants were gorgeous, and Grandma was full of good, easy advice for keeping them healthy. Since we only bought the cyclamen and poinsettias, this is what she told us:

To keep cyclamen fresh and healthy, don’t water them until the soil is dry. The leaves may wilt, but the second you water them, they’ll perk up and the plant will look beautiful, including those gorgeous patterned leaves. Choose plants with plenty of buds coming on (look at the base inside the leaves), and you’ll have gorgeous blooms continuing through Easter.

As for poinsettias, Grandma said the only thing that could make them wilt was to overwater them. We’ve heard that before, too: That you can kill poinsettias by overwatering them, but otherwise, you’ll enjoy them through the summer. Our small white poinsettias (free from our local bank last Christmas) lasted through the summer. Who’s to know what these will do? Let us know how yours hold up.

Shiny hair at home. December 3, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was just reading an article on how to protect your hair from drying, brittleness, and a lifeless look now that winter is sucking humidity out of your home and your home’s heating system is making the situation worse.

Their experts suggested making an infusion of vinegar, fresh mint leaves, fresh rosemary, and lavender, then pouring boiling water over it and letting it steep. Once it had reached room temperature, you were supposed to strain it, then pour it over your hair after shampooing, work it in, and then rinse it out with COLD water.

No, thank you. It’s horrible enough to get into the shower when it’s cold, without pouring COLD water over your head. I expect this would certainly add shine, since the vinegar would strip off dulling residue, and the herbs would add a nice fragrance. But it seems like a lot of trouble to go to for one shampooing (the recipe makes enough for one use). And did I mention the COLD water?!

Fortunately, when I was in grad school, a Pakistani friend taught me a simple secret for healthy, shiny, hydrated hair, one I’ve never forgotten. She put plain yogurt on her hair about a half-hour before her shower, worked it in, then wrapped her hair in a warm towel. (Easy enough to warm a towel by tossing it in the dryer for a few minutes, and oh, the luxury! Not to mention that the heat will help open your hair’s pores so the treatment will be more effective.) When it was time to shower, she took off the towel and shampooed as usual. The result? Beautiful, healthy hair.

These days, I’d use plain, full-fat Greek yogurt if I were doing this, since the yogurt’s already been drained of whey—no fuss, no muss—and the full-fat content will add more shine to your hair. You won’t be racking up bills, either, since you can use half a single-serving carton and the other half will keep perfectly in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. (Depending on how long or short, thick or thin your hair is, you might even be able to get away with 1/3 single-serving carton per use.) And don’t forget to heat your towel! Your hair—and cold body—will thank you.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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