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What’s lovelier than a rainbow? May 22, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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5 comments

Back in Ben Franklin’s day, the cause of the weather was referred to, tongue-in-cheek, as “the genius of the weather,” bringing to our friend Ben’s mind an image of Einstein, hair sticking out in all directions, furiously typing weather selections into his computer: “Hmm, I think I’ll send a little hail down on old Ben’s head this afternoon. No, wait, I’ve got it: lightning!”

All our friend Ben can say is that we’re afraid the genius of the weather has been deposed here at Hawk’s Haven and replaced by some guy with a 5-second attention span and an 80-channel remote control. All week, sun, clouds, and rain have chased each other across the sky so that, minute by minute, everything changes. And as we all know, when sun and rain share the sky, there can be rainbows.

Now, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood love rainbows. We have a crystal in one of the office windows that splashes rainbows across the walls, books, cats, dog, and doors every morning, to our unending delight. (I confess that we’re very easily amused, but it really is fun to hold up your hand and watch it take on rainbow colors.) And, of course, the thrill of seeing a rainbow in the sky—or, occasionally, a series of rainbows echoing each other into the distance—is never outgrown.

So maybe this will scandalize you, but our friend Ben saw something yesterday that struck me as even lovelier than a rainbow. I was looking out the window, wondering what on earth the weather was up to now. (And anyway, why is it so cold here all of a sudden? What happened to good old global warming?!) And I saw it: the play of light across raindrop-spattered bleeding-heart leaves. The tiny droplets shone like a spill of diamonds against the velvety blue-green surface of the foliage. In that moment, our friend Ben was convinced that never in life had I seen a more beautiful sight. It remains with me still, an imprint on the heart.

Maybe it’s just the gardener in me, but I would trade a rainbow (or a diamond) any day for another glimpse of that glittering, glorious perfection. How about you? What do you think is lovelier than a rainbow?

And, buddy, could you put down the &*%$#@!!! remote control?!!  

 

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Food fit for a pirate. May 22, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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3 comments

Silence Dogood here. To continue our pirate week theme here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, I’d like to present a few recipes for spicy dishes and tropical drinks that would make any pirate say “Yaaaarrrrrrrr!!!!”

Now, you may not have a high opinion of pirate cuisine. Perhaps images of barrels of salted herring, maggot-infested flour, and the inevitable bottle of rum come to mind. (The rum was not a myth, by the way. Pirates thought rum so essential that it was written into the pirate code of honor that, even if a pirate was being marooned on a deserted island for disobedience or some other infraction, he was to be given a pint of rum to take with him.) But this was the food of the seas.

Let’s not forget the “Caribbean” part of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” When in port, pirates enjoyed the delicious, spicy cuisine of Jamaica, Cuba, Barbados, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the other Caribbean islands. Then there was that other pirate hangout, the Barbary Coast of North Africa, where pirates could sample the diverse cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Yum!!! That’s a lot of good eating.

So let’s take a look at some foods (and drinks) they might have been sampling. You can whip these up for your next pirate-theme party, or anytime you’d like to add a little spice to your meals!

Callaloo

This Trinidadian pureed soup is traditionally made with taro (callaloo) leaves. We suggest spinach or Swiss chard if you don’t happen to have taro on hand.

3 pounds spinach or Swiss chard

1/2 pound okra, sliced

1 pound eggplant, peeled and coarsely chopped

4 tablespoons canola or olive oil

3 green (unripe) bananas, peeled and chopped

2 large onions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped chives

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 fresh hot pepper, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 quart vegetable stock

1 cup coconut milk (unsweetened)

salt and pepper to taste

Wash, drain, and coarsely chop the spinach or chard. Place in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven with the okra, eggplant, and vegetable stock. Cover and cook until the veggies are very tender; set aside. In a heavy Dutch oven or casserole, heat the oil and add the bananas, onions, hot pepper, and garlic. Sutee until the onions and bananas are tender. Add all other ingredients except the reserved pot of veggies and stock and cook for a few minutes more. Puree in a blender or food processor. (Be very careful when pureeing hot food!) Add the pureed mix to the cooked veggies and stock and puree with a whisk or return to the blender or food processor until you have a thick, smooth puree. Serve as is or over plain or spicy rice. Serves 6.

Spicy Rice

Add a little Caribbean flair to a normally bland side dish.

2 cups long-grain rice

juice 1 large lime

1 hot red or green pepper, seeded and chopped fine, or a splash of red or green hot pepper sauce (as Tabasco or Pickapeppa)

3 cups water or vegetable stock

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup peanut oil

Wash the rice thoroughly. Drain, cover with cold water, and allow to stand for 2 or 3 minutes. Drain. Pour 3 cups of water or veggie stock into a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Add the lime juice, pepper or hot sauce, and salt, bring to a boil, and pour in the rice. Stir, bring back to a boil, cover, lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes. Stir the peanut oil into the rice, cover, and cook at the lowest possible heat until the rice is tender, adding more water or veggie stock sparingly if needed. Serves 6.

Corn and Coconut Coo-Coo

You’ll go coo-coo for this tropical side dish, which originated in Barbados but has variations throughout the islands. (“Coo-coo” simply means a cooked side dish, but there’s no reason to reveal this when you serve the dish up. Just tell everyone what it’s called and see who’s brave enough to try it!)

12 small young okra pods

2 cups fresh sweet corn, grated off the cobs (you can substitute canned creamed corn in a pinch) 

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked, and sliced (optional)

2 large yellow tomatoes, sliced (optional)

2 pimientos, sliced (optional)

Lettuce for garnish (optional) 

2 cups veggie stock or water

4 cups coconut milk (unsweetened)

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia or Candy or WallaWalla type), diced

2 cups white corn meal

3 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

Sautee diced onion in butter until onion clarifies; set aside. Wash the okra, cut off the stem ends and discard them, and slice the pods into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Bring the veggie stock or water and salt to a boil; add the okra and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk and corn meal, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to blend the cornmeal in smoothly, and continue to cook and stir for about five minutes. Add the grated corn or creamed corn, onions, and butter, and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick, smooth, and creamy. Serve with sweet potato slices, tomato slices, pimientos, and lettuce, if desired, or chill, slice, and fry in butter, and serve with any or all of these traditional accompaniments. Serves 6. 

Coconut Chili Relish

Moving on to Africa, try this easy, delicious relish on pitas or other flatbreads, over cantaloupe or mango, or with rice, lentils, or as an accompaniment to a main dish.

2 ounces fresh coconut, grated, or dried unsweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons water

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped seeded fresh red hot pepper

Grate the coconut and place it in a bowl. If you’re using shredded dried coconut, add just enough water to moisten it. Add the lemon juice, salt, water, and hot pepper. Stir well to blend and serve.

Let’s not forget those drinks. These all feature that fabled pirate staple, rum:

The Calico Jack

Colorful and passionate like the pirate captain himself.

1/2 ounce dark rum

1/2 ounce light rum

1/2 ounce 151 proof rum

1/2 ounce sweet vermouth

1/2 ounce orange liqueur

1 ounce orange juice

1/2 teaspoon lime juice

1/2 teaspoon grenadine

1 tablespoon dry red wine

Mix all together. Serve over ice with slices of orange and lime. Serves 1.

The Black Pearl

Gosling’s Black Seal black rum makes this concoction a real gem.

1 1/2 ounces Gosling’s Black Seal black rum

1 teaspoon Triple Sec

1 tablespoon grenadine

1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur

1 dash bitters

Mix ingredients and serve over ice with a maraschino cherry and a slice of lime. Serves 1.

Stede Bonnet’s Planter’s Punch

The planter-turned-pirate would have enjoyed this on his breaks between raids.

1 1/2 ounces dark rum

3/4 ounce lime juice

3 ounces orange juice

1 teaspoon maraschino cherry juice

Serve over ice with a maraschino cherry and an orange slice. Serves 1.     

How humiliating, redux. May 21, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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6 comments

How humiliating. Our friend Ben has noted with pleasure that one of the top three searches used to find our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, has consistently been “ben ten.” I have always assumed this was a reference to my “Ben Picks Ten” posts, and when Silence Dogood has gotten too uppity about her own post, “Amish friendship ‘bread’,” being the most popular post on the blog, I have not hesitated to rub this in. Recently, however, I discovered that there is an apparently quite popular TV show called “Ben 10.” (Somehow, I’ve neglected to mention this to Silence.) In light of this, I have to assume that those folks who stumbled on my posts while searching for “ben ten” were probably appalled.

This is not the first time our friend Ben has come up against TV and lost. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we get absolutely no television reception, so we use our TV set to watch movies and series such as “Monarch of the Glen” that we rent from Netflix. But in a TV-driven culture, this can lead to some rather odd side effects.

When our friend Ben worked in a corporate setting, I was always stunned to hear colleagues discussing the characters and plots of popular TV shows as though, well, as though they mattered. As though those characters were personal friends, friends they shared with everyone at work. Passing rows of cubicles, our friend Ben never heard any personal, much less interesting or thoughtful, remarks. It was all about TV. This brought home to the astounded Ben that television had become the lingua franca of our day, the common cultural milieu that everyone shared, a safe way to reach out and connect to others without risk. Our friend Ben felt like a moron for not recognizing this much earlier.

Silence has told me that the same is true at her local Curves. Every day as she’s exercising, the conversation revolves around “American Idol,” “Dancing with the Stars,” and other popular shows. When I ask her how she copes, she says that, when people ask her which contestant she’s backing, she smiles and turns the question around to give them an opportunity to tell her about their faves. Yikes. Nothing like a daily battery of questions, all of which begin with “Did you see…?”

Conversation is not the only arena in which it’s assumed that everyone’s conversant with TV, and with TV commercials. A number of years ago, our friend Ben began noticing that billboards often made no sense. They seemed to be spouting incomprehensible gobbledegook. At first, our friend Ben wondered if marketers, normally the most savvy of humans, had developed some form of collective insanity. But then, embarrassingly, humiliatingly long after it should have, the truth struck our friend Ben: The billboards were playing off of television. They must be quoting the punchline of a commercial jingle or exchange. Something that the advertisers confidently assumed “everyone” knew. Oh. Now, when I see a billboard that makes no sense, I automatically assume that it’s TV-related and don’t waste time wondering which of us is going insane, me or the advertisers.

Despite these revelations, our friend Ben and Silence have not signed up for cable or bought a satellite dish. We don’t doubt that, if we had free access to a world of programming, we would watch it. Like our friend Delilah, Silence would doubtless watch the cooking, gardening, and home channels. Like our friend Rob, our friend Ben would doubtless watch the History Channel and the like. Both of us would no doubt enjoy some of the PBS and BBC shows and the nature programs.

The thing is, we’re busy. We write and edit and garden and cook and maintain our property, pets, chickens and etc. We have tons of chores and little free time. (Does this sound familiar?) We’d like to spend our free time as we please, visiting friends and family, reading, taking walks, learning a new skill, making little scenic trips, watching a movie, listening to music, sitting on our deck, going to an antique, art, or craft show, or a local festival. Or, say, just talking. Television is a time sink. We think it’s a passive time sink. It demands nothing of you. If you’re reading a book, your brain supplies the images to go with your reading. But if you’re watching TV, it supplies the pictures; your brain is on pause.

When there’s only so much time, we don’t just want to, we have to make the most of it. We want to grab hold of every precious second with both hands and wring everything we can out of it. Our friend Ben cannot imagine the concept of being bored. There is so much to do, to see, to experience, to think about, to engage in or engage with, and so little time to cram it all in! Every minute, every hour, every day presents an endless assortment of opportunities. It’s all we can do to choose among them. So much to relish, so little time. If you have time on your hands, our friend Ben can only beg that you’ll pass it along to us. God knows, we could use it.

Yes, it is disorienting to see a magazine in the grocery and not have a clue who the famous celebrities on the cover are because you don’t watch television. Our friend Ben has actually been taken to task many times by colleagues who felt it was essential to “keep up” with TV as an emblem of popular culture, and practically unAmerican not to. And of course they have a point. When everything from the Simpsons and SpongeBob SquarePants to Paris Hilton and “American Idol” are alien territory, when you know Hugh Laurie not from “House” but from his appearances in the British comedy “Blackadder,” when you don’t know how to pronounce a popular actor’s or musician’s or politician’s name because you’ve never heard it spoken aloud, you do feel like an idiot. You miss a lot.

But you gain a lot, too. You gain the freedom to spend such time as you’re given as you please. It’s a choice we all must make, a choice with no right answer. Our friend Ben says this: As long as you make a choice you’re happy with, a choice that truly satisfies you, then that’s the right choice. If you don’t watch any TV, don’t let the vultures of popular culture get you down. If you earmark your favorite shows and watch them religiously, but don’t watch TV just to fill time, consider your choice well balanced. And if you watch TV nonstop from the time you wake up until you fall asleep, as long as you enjoy TV, you’ve made the right choice for you. And on the plus side, unlike our friend Ben, you’ll never be confused by any form of advertising!      

Stupid cardinals. May 21, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets.
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11 comments

Silence Dogood here. Don’t get me wrong, here at Hawk’s Haven, we love cardinals. Our friend Ben, who loves red more than most things, is especially fond of the brilliantly colored birds. And we have quite a collection of them on our rural Pennsylvania property. Maybe that’s the problem, or maybe it’s a spring courtship hormone surge. But drat those dumb male cardinals. Geez!

Here’s how it goes: I’m here at the computer, frantically working (sometimes I wonder if there’s any other way to work). BOOM!!! As I jump out of my skin, I realize that yet another male cardinal has charged one of the office windows after seeing his reflection in the glass. God forbid that that disturbingly familiar-looking male in the window should feel that he can get away with invading the idiot’s territory. So… BOOM! BOOM!!!

But that’s just the beginning. Electrified by the booming, our cat, Layla, throws herself against the glass from the inside, trying to capture the bird who’s stupidly flying, or so she thinks, right into her waiting paws. CRASH!!!

BOOM! CRASH! BOOM!!! CRASH!!!

By now, I’m about at my last nerve. But the full horror of the situation is still to come. You see, our office windows are absolutely full of plants—beautiful foliage begonias, Easter and Christmas cacti, African violets. So with each lunge, Layla has the potential to bring plants crashing down, or at least rip leaves and stems. Worse yet, her dim but adorable and enormous brother, Linus, eventually decides that she’s having far too much fun and he wants to join in, so he hauls himself up onto the desk—the earth shakes—and tries to hurl himself against the window, too. (By this time, the cardinal is long gone, but I figure Linus never knew what the point was to begin with, so he doesn’t care.)

BOOM! CRASH! BOOM! CRASH! rrrrrrrRRRRRRRUMBLE SMASH!!! RRRRIP!!!! THUNK!!!!! “LAYLA! LINUS!!! GET DOWN!!!” BOOM!

Grrrrrrrrrr. Stupid cardinals!

                ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

  

 

The ones who got away. May 21, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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1 comment so far

It’s pirate week here at Poor Richard’s Almanac! We hope you’ve been enjoying our pirate-themed posts so far. (See “A piratical post” for a pirate quiz and “Ben Picks Ten: Pirates” for some fun pirate facts.) Today, our friend Ben would like to share the stories of some very lucky pirates—the ones who lived to enjoy their ill-gotten gains. For most pirates, life tended to be ugly, brutish, and short. The end came quickly, in a hail of bullets, a blur of blades, a blast of cannon fire, or at the end of the hangman’s rope. Even the most famous pirates—Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and Black Bart, the Great Pirate Roberts—came to gruesome ends. Few pirates lived to reach a ripe old age.

We’ve already talked about two who turned a life of piracy into a public triumph. Sir Francis Drake’s privateering ventures (privateering was nothing more than state-sanctioned piracy) earned him a knighthood and Vice Admiralship. And the notorious Captain Morgan ended his days as Admiral Sir Henry Morgan, Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. 

But Drake and Morgan weren’t the only pirates whose luck held. Today, our friend Ben would like to introduce you to two of our favorites. Their real-life exploits are more exciting than anything you’ll find in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” we promise. May I present Anne Bonney and Long Ben?

Anne Bonney (or Bonny) was already married when she met and fell in love with Calico Jack Rackham, a dashing pirate captain. Divorce at that time was out of the question, but not to let a little trifle stand in their way, the smitten couple stole away to Calico Jack’s ship, the Treasure, and sailed off.

In defiance of the laws of the sea, even among pirates, which said that women could never be allowed on board ship (unless, of course, they were part of the plunder, in which case they were basically cargo being taken to the nearest pirate-friendly port), Anne and Calico Jack lived together aboard the Treasure. You may recall that there was another woman aboard the Treasure: Mary Read. But while Anne lived openly as a woman, Mary disguised herself as a man and earned a reputation as a fierce and cunning pirate.

Anne and Calico Jack enjoyed many adventures on the high seas before the Treasure was finally captured off Jamaica in 1720. While Jack and his crew faced the hangman’s noose, Anne and Mary were spared because they both claimed to be pregnant, and it was against the law to kill the innocent (the unborn babes). Instead, they were thrown into prison. Needless to say, this was no picnic: Dark, dank, and vermin-infested, the prison cells of the day were places where people were literally left to rot. Mary Read soon succumbed to jail fever, a common consequence of imprisonment. But Anne Bonney didn’t share her dismal fate. Instead, she disappeared. Vanished. Escaped without a trace.

Nothing is known of Anne’s fate after her disappearance. But given her daring, unconventional, intrepid nature, our friend Ben is willing to bet that, whether she returned to England to become an innkeeper, an actress, or the wife of an aristocrat, or traveled on to America to find her fortune in the young British Colonies, she made a success of her new life.

The second of our lucky pirates, fortuitously named Long Ben, had a piratical career distinguished both by its brevity and by the magnitude of its success. Long Ben’s career began innocuously enough when he, then known as Henry Avery, hired out as a midshipman in the Royal Navy. He took a position aboard the ship Charles, but boredom and lack of pay caused him to become disenchanted with the status quo, and he absconded with the ship and crew, changed its name to the Fancy, and embarked on a life of crime.

Long Ben cut his pirate teeth by successfully attacking and plundering five ships in rapid succession, as well as looting along the African coast. Then he went on to the real prize: the ships of the Mughal Empire, laden with treasure and bound on pilgrimage to Mecca. Joined by other pirate captains and their ships, Long Ben led the pirate fleet in the attack, capturing treasure-laden ships with an estimated 50-60,000 pounds of gold and silver, as well as arms and other goods.

Then Long Ben did a very astute thing: He took his share of the treasure and retired. As our friend Ben has long maintained, the secret of happiness is knowing when you have just enough. Long Ben gave away the Fancy, left his crew, and disappeared. In one short year, he’d become one of the most successful pirates in history. (He also made pirate history by becoming the first pirate to fly the skull and crossbones, though the skull on his flag was wearing a bandanna and hoop earring.) As in Anne Bonney’s case, no one knows what really became of Long Ben, but a legend at the time maintained that this “king of pirates” had gone to a tropical island, where he lived happily ever after. Our friend Ben just loves a happy ending, don’t you?

So that’s our story. And if you have a story of another pirate who lived to tell the tale, we’d love for you to share it with us! In the meantime, stay tuned. Tomorrow, Silence Dogood will share some piratical recipes that will have you saying “Yaaaarrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!” You savvy?       

   

Ben Picks Ten: Pirates May 20, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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2 comments

It’s pirate week here at Poor Richard’s Almanac! Picking up where Richard Saunders left off with his pirate quiz (see “A piratical post” to test your pirate savvy), our friend Ben would like to present my One-Ben Awards in ten (plus two) pirate-related categories. So without more ado:

1. Most ferocious-looking pirate. The One-Ben Award in this category goes hands-down to Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. Huge and burly, Blackbeard would have been intimidating in any situation. He was also armed literally to the teeth, bristling with cutlasses, pistols, daggers, and an assortment of other weapons. But his famous beard was his crowning glory. Long and thick, it was divided into octopus-like sections which were each tied with a red ribbon. In battle, Blackbeard must have looked to his terrified enemies like a fiend from hell, since he would put cannon fuses in his beard and set them on fire before charging, weapons ablaze, smoke and flames surrounding his head like an infernal halo.  

2. Best pirate treasure. Others may have had greater treasures, but our friend Ben is giving the One-Ben Award in this category to Captain Kidd, who is the only pirate actually known to have buried a treasure. It strikes our friend Ben as hysterical, given subsequent history, but where Captain Kidd buried his fabled treasure was not on some deserted island but instead was on Long Island! Though historically factual, Captain Kidd’s buried trasure has never been found. But it fueled an unquenchable legend for buried treasure and treasure maps when three of the most successful writers of their day, Washington Irving (Wolfert Webber), Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island), and Edgar Allan Poe (The Gold Bug) used the legend of Captain Kidd’s treasure as inspiration for their works. These days, it’s sunken treasure rather than buried treasure that fires the imagination of contemporary treasure-hunters, as legendary ship after ship has finally been found with their cargoes of gold coin and other riches.

3. Luckiest pirate. The One-Ben Award in this category goes to Sir Francis Drake. The famous privateer and his ship, the Golden Hind, enjoyed the patronage and protection of Queen Elizabeth I, so rather than being pursued by the British Navy like other pirates, he could plunder with impunity—as long as he focused his efforts on the Spanish and gave a cut to the Crown. He was so successful that the Spanish, who called him “El Draque” (“The Dragon”), put a reward on his head that would now be worth 8 million dollars. Despite the enormous prize, no one ever collected, and Drake was knighted by the Queen and made Vice Admiral of the British Navy in recognition of his services to the Crown.  

4. Happiest pirate. Our friend Ben thinks Captain “Calico Jack” Rackham is best qualified for this award. While other pirates literally had a wife in every port—Blackbeard is said to have had between 12 and 14 simultaneously—women were generally forbidden on board pirate ships, so it was a long time between conjugal visits. Calico Jack, however, kept his mistress, Anne Bonney (or Bonny), at his side, on board and off. He even allowed another woman, Mary Read, to become a member of his pirate crew, provided she remained in disguise as a man.   

5. Best pirate flag. Blackbeard wins again. Though our friend Ben admires the flag of Calico Jack, with its paired cutlasses crossed beneath a skull—very clean, very much to the point, so to speak—for sheer terror, Blackbeard’s flag is unbeatable. It shows a horned skeleton with an hourglass in one hand, to show that time was running out for his unfortunate victims, and a spear in the other. The spear is aimed at a heart from which red drops of blood are falling. The eerie flag (black, of course) with its creepy horned skeleton would strike terror into anyone’s heart. Nothing “jolly” about it! 

6. Worst pirate enemy. The British Navy wins this one. Pirates may have wreaked terror on merchant ships and Spanish galleons, but if they ended up in a fight with a British Man o’War, it was likely to be their last. Many a pirate was finally brought down in an encounter with the Navy, including the greatest of them all, Black Bart, the Great Pirate Roberts. But we’ll get back to him in a minute.

7. Best time to be a pirate. Definitely during the Golden Age of Piracy, which lasted just a few decades, from the 1680s to the 1720s. It was during these glory days that Anglo-American pirates had their heyday, ransacking ships in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and along the Barbary Coast. Many pirates had been trained by the Royal Navy, but after Queen Anne’s War (the War of the Spanish Succession), they found themselves out of a job and took to the high seas. There was plenty of plunder to be had, and the pirates made the most of it. However, their behavior made them understandably unpopular with the British and American authorities, who eventually hunted most of the ringleaders down, bringing about the end of an era—but not the end of the pirate legend. 

8. Least likely pirate. Stede Bonnet was a Virginia gentleman who also owned extensive properties in Barbados. But the life of the landed gentry lacked excitement for Bonnet, so he took to the sea as a pirate. Unlike “real” pirates, who were generally seasoned sailors and typically acquired their ships as spoils, Bonnet bought his ship, and rather than luring sailors to sign with him on the promise of future treasure, he paid their salaries upfront. Despite his lack of piratical experience and his gentlemanly behavior, Stede Bonnet proved to be a success as a pirate, even partnering for a time with the fearsome Blackbeard. Perhaps the fact that his trademark was burning the ships he captured had something to do with his success.

9. Best-dressed pirate. The One-Ben Award in this category goes to Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts, aka the Great Pirate Roberts. Black Bart was a dandy by anybody’s standards, the bad boy rock star of his age. Tricked out in furs and velvet, with a crimson vest, a red feather in his hat, and numerous jewels, including a huge diamond cross (originally intended for the king of Portugal) on a massive gold chain, Roberts’ appearance was as extravagant as any Elizabethan lord’s. He also loved the refinements of life, including music and dancing, and preferred a good cup of tea to the rum that most pirates drank as their due.

10. Most successful pirate. The Great Pirate Roberts also wins this award hands-down. In his career, Black Bart captured more than 470 ships. He was more feared than any other pirate—ships refused to even put up a token fight against him, fleeing if they were able at the very appearance of his sails. His vast treasure—which disappeared mysteriously after his death—dwarfed that of any other pirate. Though today, pirates like Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Jean Lafitte, and Captain Morgan are better known, nobody else even comes close. 

And the bonuses:

11. Most unlikely pirate fact. The expression “honor among thieves” may have originated with pirates, because, in fact, they had elaborate codes of honor. Both Sir Henry Morgan (Captain Morgan) and Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts drew up a Pirate Code of Honour for their men. Black Bart’s 11 rules included these: “Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment,” “None shall game for money either with dice or cards,” “The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night,” “No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them,” “None shall strike another on board the ship,” and “The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day.” The rules were clearly intended to preserve order and prevent infighting, and any violations were punishable by slit ears and noses, marooning, or death. (Roberts did allow the pirates to settle disputes by dueling, but only on land.) Shares of the spoils were also spelled out in the Pirate Code, both for officers and for “private gentlemen of fortune.”

12. Most successful posthumous pirate: Admiral Sir Henry Morgan, aka Captain Morgan, was a piratical success story even while he lived. He amassed a huge fortune through piracy and privateering, and was subsequently knighted by King Charles II for his depradations against the Spanish New World colonies and made an admiral, to boot. On his retirement from the High Seas, he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, and enjoyed a dissolute retirement until his death from natural causes. Quite a difference from the usual pirate fate! But his greatest success came several centuries later, when Captain Morgan rum was launched in 1944. Today, Captain Morgan is the third largest-selling spirit in America and the seventh worldwide. The money that’s raking in would make the avaricious old pirate drool. The legend lives on!   

That cat-vs.-dog thing. May 19, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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5 comments

Geez, it seems like none of us here at Poor Richard’s Almanac can manage to keep our mouths shut today. First Richard Saunders, then Silence Dogood, and now our friend Ben are apparently just dying to tell you all something. Some days are just like that.

Spring is well underway here at Hawk’s Haven, and just now I saw the first ruby-throated hummingbird of the season ( a female) enjoying our columbines and hyacinths. This is always a cause for celebration, and I’d like to go on about our hummingbirds. Or about the bluebird pair that’s taken up residence in our backyard for the second season, and the comical sight of the male perched brazenly on top of our mailbox Saturday—what a photograph that would have been! The “Mad Bluebird” would have hung his head for shame. Or about our beloved goldfinches, who have pretty much abandoned our feeders as they seek more privacy to build their nests and raise a new generation. There is so much to write about!

But today, our friend Ben would like to write about a topic that’s always puzzled me: Why some people love cats and hate dogs, or love dogs and hate cats. Our friend Ben grew up in a pet-friendly but catless household. My parents both hated cats and refused to allow any in our home, to the great distress of my cat-loving sister. But the youthful Ben was largely oblivious—I had dogs and birds and lizards and toads and fish, my sister had dogs and birds, my brother had guinea pigs and the infamous parrot, Plug John—we weren’t exactly suffering for animal companionship. And there were always the horses and cows and mules at my grandparents’ and at horse camp every summer, where there were also ponies and peacocks.

It was only as I grew up and became an adult among adults that our friend Ben realized how strong the anti-dog or anti-cat bias was among people. Dogs were “stinky,” “gross,” “muddy,” the cat people claimed. Cats were “sneaky,” “aloof,” “mean,” the dog people insisted. Our friend Ben begs to differ. I have never met an aloof cat or a rude dog. After many years of owning many of each and meeting many, many more, I would like to state a simple truth: If prior mistreatment has not broken him or her beyond repair, an animal will love you and treat you with respect if you do the same for them.

Often, cats and dogs will do much more than that. I have seen many a cat and dog bear patiently with children and adults who squealed and shrieked at them and grabbed them and generally treated them like stuffed toys. I have seen my Maine coon cat Jessie, who spent nine months almost immobilized in a 3-by-3-foot cage with another huge cat in a pet store, respond lovingly not only to me but to every person she ever met. (More than I could have managed if our situations had been reversed and some cats had imprisoned me in a cage!) I have seen my beloved wild cat, Shawn, respond with enormous loyalty and affection towards me and my family and friends, even though her previous owners threw her out in front of my house like a cigarette butt. Animals are capable of great forgiveness and generosity of spirit.

We humans, too, are capable of more than we often give ourselves credit for: We are able to love the ones who love us, even when they are not the ones we sought. I’ve seen many a formerly cat-hating, burly male friend become best buddies with a cat who wandered onto the property and kept hanging around the workshop or garage until he became “Gary’s cat” or “Rob’s cat.” I’ve seen women who loathed dogs become as fiercely protective of the mutts their college kids adopted and managed to leave behind as if they were their own grandchildren.

Here at Hawk’s Haven, we have two of the least prepossessing cats known to man or beast as permanent residents. Our Kittenous has occasioned remarks like “Look at that cat” (not said in an admiring way by any means). And our scruffy old tom, Danticat, always reminds me of the line from one of our favorite James Bond movies, “The Man with the Golden Gun,” when the vacationing Louisiana sheriff turns to his nemesis, a small Indian elephant, and says, with total conviction and perfect truth, “Boy, you is ugly.” The beauty-loving Ben would not have sought either of these cats out. But through their loyalty and affection for us, they have earned their place here. We know that they wouldn’t stand an ice cube’s chance in hell at an animal shelter, but fortune has favored them, as it has us, with a safe haven. They are part of our family, and we love them as they love us.

Our friend Ben has come to believe that there is only one love, though we express it in different degrees. Whether it is love of our Creator or the beautiful world we live in or our pets or our beloved or our family or friends, it is the same perfect emotion, whether it soars or simmers, roars or whispers. When we arbitrarily cut ourselves off from a source of that love, by proclaiming broadly that we hate this or that, we not only diminish ourselves, we diminish our world. Cats and dogs are no more like each other than they are like us. Yet they, like us, are worthy of love. Give them a chance to love you. Give yourself a chance to love them. You’ll both be happier and richer for it.            

A plea for common sense. May 19, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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8 comments

Gack! Where is our good friend, Tom Paine (author of Common Sense), when we need him?!

Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I were appalled to see that someone had just visited Poor Richard’s Almanac after querying “Can you season food with gunpowder?” Oh good Lord. Well, obviously, you could use gunpowder or arsenic or rat poison or DDT or toilet-bowl cleaner or any other toxic substance to season food, if you didn’t mind dying in agony and/or spending a great deal of time and money in the emergency room. But we’d like to suggest that you season your food with a little common sense instead.

Salt, pepper, herbs, spices, oil, butter, vinegar, ketchup, mustard, salsa, hot sauce, sour cream, gravy, steak sauce, tartar sauce, mayonnaise, salad dressing, wine, marinades, rubs, cheese… We can think of many ways of seasoning food that are extremely unlikely to prove fatal, even if the particular brand or combination you choose is not a culinary triumph. We would feel a lot better if we thought you were confining your seasonings to these.

Those of you who missed our earlier post, “Scotch bonnets and Dutchy gunpowder,” may be wondering why our visitor’s query directed him or her to this blog in the first place. “Dutchy gunpowder,” the subject of that earlier post, is what Jim Weaver of Meadow View Farm calls the wonderful assortment of dried and powdered hot peppers that he offers lucky visitors to his farm store in Bowers, PA. “Dutchy” as in Pennsylvania Dutch (actually German). “Gunpowder” as in fiery hot. Not as in head for your local gun store, stock up on gunpowder, and swallow some!

So, please, let’s all get a grip on extreme literalism and keep the (actual) gunpowder out of the kitchen! Thank you.  

               ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

A piratical post. May 19, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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2 comments

It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here to kick off a week of piratical fun with a pirate-related quiz. Here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we’re all a little pirate-mad. From our friend Ben’s battered red VW Golf, the Red Rogue, with its pirate fish on the back, to Silence Dogood’s love of movie pirates (don’t try to stop her from watching Johnny Depp or an old Errol Flynn classic unless you want to walk the plank!), to my own obsession with finding the true stories behind the pirate legends, it’s definitely a shared interest. And this week, we’re going to share it with you.

Today, I have a quiz on all things piratical to share with you. I’ve made it multiple choice ’cause I think that’s more fun. Look it over and see if you can spot the right—or, in this case, wrong—answers! As the week continues, we’ll have our friend Ben checking in with a “Ben Picks Ten: Pirates” post, Silence will contribute pirate-themed recipes and movie reviews, I’ll be back with some pirate lore, and we may even send you all on a treasure hunt! But let’s start with that quiz:

                       Quiz: Pirates or the Plank

In the old days, pretending to be a pirate could be a quick road to the plank… or the gallows. In each of the questions below, someone or something is pretending to be piratical in the midst of the genuine articles. Can you spot the impostors? I’ll give you the answers at the end. But no cheating, now, or you’ll find yourself marooned on a desert island without a treasure map! Ready… set… aaaarrrrrr!!!

1.  Which actor has not played a pirate?

a. Geoffrey Rush

b. Yul Brynner

c. Hugh Grant

d. Tyrone Power

e. Dustin Hoffman

f. Charlton Heston

g. Alan Rickman

2. Which of the following movies does not have any pirates in it?

a. Captain Blood

b. The Black Swan

c. The Curse of the Black Pearl

d. Against All Flags

e. Hook

f. The Buccaneer

g. Mutiny on the Bounty

h. Cutthroat Island

3. Which of these words or phrases is not a euphemism for pirate?

a. privateer

b. corsair

c. buccaneer

d. brethren of the Coast

e. mutineer

f. swashbuckler

g. marrooner

h. gentleman of fortune

4. Which of the following is not a pirate flag?

a. Skull and Pistols

b. The Jolly Roger

c. Skull and Crossbones

d. Skeleton, Spear and Heart

e. Skull and Cutlasses

5. Which of these books or stories is not about pirates?

a. Treasure Island

b. Peter Pan

c. Sea Witch

d. The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest

e. Shiver Me Timbers

f. Queen of the Black Coast

6. Which of these is not a pirate ship?

a. Queen Anne’s Revenge

b. The Golden Hind

c. The Rising Sun

d. Royal James

e. The Virgin Queen

f. Fancy

7. Which of the following was not a real-life pirate?

a. Blackbeard

b. Redbeard

c. Bluebeard

d. Captain Kidd

e. Captain Morgan

f. Jean Lafitte

g. Calico Jack

h. Stede Bonnet

i. Long Ben

8. After whom did Johnny Depp model his pirate captain, Jack Sparrow?

a. Elton John

b. Mick Jagger

c. Alice Cooper

d. Keith Richards

e. Ozzie Osbourne

9. Which of these lyrics are not from pirate songs?

a. Yo ho yo ho a pirate’s life for me

b. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum

c. I only shed blood where another shed tears

d. Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest

e. Drink and plunder lads and to hell with the rest

10. Which of these characters was not a pirate?

a. Captain Hook

b. Long John Silver

c. Davy Jones

d. Captain Jesamiah Acorne

e. Cap’n Crunch

f. Yellowbeard

g. Black Jack Lee

And the bonus:

11. Which of the following was the most successful real-life pirate?

a. Grace O’Malley

b. Edward Teach (Blackbeard)

c. Jack Rackham (Calico Jack)

d. Bartholomew Roberts (Black Bart, the Great Pirate Roberts)

e. Henry Morgan (Captain Morgan)

f. Khair ad Din (Barbarossa, Redbeard)

g. William Kidd (Captain Kidd)

 

Hope you had fun! Okay, ready for some answers? Let’s “sea” how you fared:

1. f, Charlton Heston

2. g, Mutiny on the Bounty

3. e, mutineer

4. a, Skull and Pistols

5. e, Shiver Me Timbers (I made that one up)

6. e, The Virgin Queen

7. c, Bluebeard (Bluebeard, aka Gilles de Rais, was a Breton nobleman and serial killer, but not a pirate)

8. d, Keith Richards (but it should have been Alice)

9. e, Drink and plunder lads and to hell with the rest (sounds good, though, doesn’t it?)

10. e, Cap’n Crunch; his nemesis, Jean LaFoote, was the pirate

11. d, Bartholomew Roberts, the Great Pirate Roberts (aka Black Bart). I’ll let our friend Ben tell you why in “Ben Picks Ten: Pirates.” Stay tuned!  

Try ’em, you’ll like ’em (if you can just lift ’em) May 18, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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5 comments

Silence Dogood here. I don’t know why pots and pans popped into my mind today as a post topic, but they did. Our friend Ben and I grew up in a more innocent era when our mothers used thick aluminum pots and pans, many passed down the generations, which conveyed and retained heat beautifully without being heavy. But then Alzheimer’s reared its ugly head, and there’s no way we’re using aluminum cookware. (We wish we could avoid aluminum-based antiperspirants, too, since we’re really convinced that they’re the culprits, but we haven’t seen even one attempt at a commercial alternative. Marketers, are you listening?!!)

Back to cookware. The ideal cookware holds heat, so it cooks food easily without burning or scorching. It doesn’t rust. It’s easy to clean. It’s attractive. It will outlast you, even if you use it several times a day as I do. What is it? Two words: LeCreuset.

After researching cookware at endless length in grad school, I decided that LeCreuset cookware was the best there was, and I’ve had no reason to change my mind since. My beloved Mama was kind enough to buy me a starter set as a graduation gift, and I’m still using those original pieces to this day. I’ve added a few pieces over the years via eBay (a great source for new or used LeCreuset pieces at great prices, if you’re willing to bid on them) and thanks to generous friends. I love cooking, and I love LeCreuset.

There are two caveats, however. (“Caveat” comes from “caveat emptor,” Latin for “let the buyer beware.” Always a wise policy!) First, LeCreuset cookware is expensive. Yow! This is why eBay is a great option—you can find pieces at a fraction of the store price. My “starter set” included a frying pan and Dutch oven with a shared lid, and I often needed to use both—with lids—at the same time. Thanks to eBay, I was able to find a second-hand lid for a few dollars. Hooray!

The second caveat is the weight. LeCreuset cookware cooks so perfectly because it’s cast iron with an enamel coating. No rust, easy to clean, but heat-retentive. Fantastic!!! But oh, my, that cast-iron cookware is heavy. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, lack arm strength, or just aren’t as strong as you used to be, LeCreuset is not for you.

Otherwise, it’s the ideal cookware. Partner it with a Crock-Pot and a toaster oven and you’ll have everything you need for a lifetime of great cooking. Did I mention that it comes in fabulous colors, too? Sadly, my starter set is a boring grey, but I’ve purchased or been given additional pieces in beautiful shades of red, chartreuse, and true blue. And LeCreuset honors its lifetime warranty, as I know because our good friend Carolyn wrote the company when her LeCreuset Dutch oven developed a chip after twenty-odd years of hard use, and the company sent her a replacement with no questions asked. Wow.

So, there you have it: My best-of cookware recommendation. I’ve seen a lot of cookware, and nothing has ever made me even think of abandoning my LeCreuset. Try it, you’ll like it! (If you can just lift it…) 

                  ‘Til next time,

                                    Silence