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Tit for tat. November 30, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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The holidays tend to bring out the best in people. And, as our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have been reminded on our Thanksgiving travels, they also tend to bring out the worst. We like to think of these behavioral lapses as tests of character. So we’ve created a little test of our own. For each incident of bad behavior, there are four possible reactions. Which would you choose?


1. A car comes towards you in the opposite lane with its brights on, making it difficult for you to see. You:

a. Ignore it and think of something else.

b. Flash your brights briefly in case they didn’t realize theirs were on.

c. Complain about how horrible other drivers are for the next hour.

d. Turn on your brights to blind them. That’ll show ’em!


2. A telemarketer calls from the Arglebargle Insurance Company. You:

a. Already have caller ID, so you ignore the call.

b. Say “No thank you” and hang up.

c. Tell that idiot exactly what you think of telemarketers and telemarketing in general and insurance companies in particular, then slam down the phone.

d. Make increasingly sarcastic responses to the telemarketer’s pitch. (Example: You ask if they’d be interested in buying your vintage collection of adhesive bandages, which, though slightly used, are still, you think, a better deal than insurance, since they might actually help in an emergency and you only have to pay for them once.) After prolonging the conversation as long as possible, you get off the phone, hugely pleased with yourself and already anticipating the next telemarketing call.


3. You order a salad with dressing on the side. The server brings your salad with the dressing already on it. You:

a. See that it’s the dressing you ordered, at least, and decide it’s no big deal.

b. Point out the error but say you’ll eat it anyway.

c. Demand that the salad be returned to the kitchen and that you receive a fresh salad with the dressing on the side. When your server returns with another salad, dressing on the side, insist that they bring you two extra containers of dressing. After all, it’s not like you didn’t want plenty of dressing on your salad! You just wanted to put it on yourself. 

d. Stiff the server when the bill comes. That incompetent moron didn’t deserve a tip anyway.


4. You’re behind a car that’s crawling in a no-passing zone. You:

a. Recognize that there’s nothing you can do until the car turns off or you get to a passing zone, so you put on a favorite CD and ride it out.

b. Drive one inch from the jerk’s rear bumper to give him a hint.

c. Give the jackass the finger, lean on the horn, and shout obscenities.

d. Ignore the solid line, roar around the guy, then slam back into your lane right in front of him and start going 5 miles an hour. Let him see how he likes it! 


5. For the second year running, Aunt Ethel has given little Mary a copy of The Hobbit for Christmas. You:

a. Send Aunt Ethel a nice thank-you note, then pass the extra copy to a friend’s family, donate it to the library, or take it to a used bookstore and let Mary choose another book in exchange. 

b. Tell Aunt Ethel that, contrary to what she apparently believes, you’re actually not trying to amass a Guinness record collection of copies of The Hobbit.

c. Dig out the present Aunt Ethel sent you last year and send it back to her instead of the one you were planning to buy. She obviously won’t remember it anyway.

d. Regift Aunt Ethel with the most disgusting present you’ve gotten.


6. You’re standing in yet another line at a public restroom, and both the people in front of and behind you are yammering away into their cell phones. You:

a. Make a mental note to ask Miss Manners to devote a future column to cell phone etiquette.

b. Imagine what you would say if you were writing Miss Manners’s column on cell phone etiquette.

c. Slam your heavy purse into the knee of the person in front of you, then, while apologizing profusely, step backwards and “accidentally” stomp on the foot of the person behind you. My, you’re having a clumsy day!

d. Once you get in a stall, start talking loudly and inanely as if you were on your own cell phone. Maybe they’ll see how obnoxious it is.


7. Your neighbor’s dog has come over and pooped on your lawn. You:

a. Clean up the poop and decide to wait to see if it happens again before mentioning it to your neighbor.

b. Demand that your neighbor come over and clean up his dog’s mess.

c. Go after that stupid mutt with a rolled-up newspaper.

d. Put the poop in the neighbor’s mailbox. Talk about your special delivery!  


8. You’ve been standing in a checkout line for half an hour. When the cashier hands you your receipt, you see that she’s forgotten to give you the 57 cents off on your Supertroll Tilkatoy. You:

a. Decide that it’s not worth it to bother the cashier, who’s doing the best she can with all the crowds and has probably been on her feet for five hours.

b. Point out the mistake and see what happens.

c. Tell her you don’t want the stupid toy if you can’t have your discount.

d. Demand to see the manager. So what if there are 25 people behind you? You had to wait, so can they!


What did you think of our little test? Did you find options that match your own reactions? If not, feel free to contribute your own! And yes, we have actually seen virtually all of these reactions with our own eyes. 

Our friend Ben and Silence believe that it’s pointless to try to change other people’s behavior. We think you can only hope to influence them by behaving as courteously and considerately as possible yourself, and voting with your feet if you must. As the father of Silence’s ex liked to say, “If a dog barked at you on the street, would you get down on all fours and bark back?” This holiday season, it’s something to think about.


James Bond or Jack Sparrow? November 28, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have been experiencing a bit of culture shock while staying with family in Nashville this Thanksgiving weekend, and it has nothing to do with being back in the South. Instead, we’ve suddenly gone from having one tiny television in our entire house—a television that receives exactly no channels—to having an enormous television in the guest room where we’re staying that receives gadzillion channels.

Stumbling on a movie channel, we were lucky enough to catch a “Best of Bond” retrospective, with clips of the villains, stunts, Bond girls, gizmos, and other features that make a Bond movie what it is. Silence’s favorite part was when a fashion expert discussed the worst Bond outfits (“That yellow ski suit made Roger Moore look like a banana!”), especially the ludicrous sky-blue terrycloth beachwear that Sean Connery was wearing in “Goldfinger.” Later on we watched a bit of “Goldeneye,” one of our favorite latter-day Bond movies, followed by a little of the Davey Jones installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

This, of course, started us thinking. We love Johnny Depp, and of course love his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. (Alert readers will recall that we love all things piratical from our now-infamous “Pirate Week” posts.) We also love many of the James Bond movies and find them highly entertaining. (Our favorite Bond is Roger Moore, at least in his early Bond outings, because he approached the role with a sense of humor and irony sadly lacking in Sean Connery’s and, most recently, Daniel Craig’s Bonds. We also liked George Lazenby as Bond and were sorry he only made one movie. But we think the best Bond of all would have been Sean Bean, one of our favorite actors, who played the villain in “Goldeneye” and blew us away with his out-Bonding of Pierce Brosnan. But we digress.)

However, if we had to choose, not between the various Bonds, but between James Bond and Jack Sparrow, who would be our favorite? We discussed this for all of one second before (for once in our lives) reaching complete agreement. Can you guess? (Drumroll) Jack Sparrow, of course! He scored top points from us on fashion sense, attitude (we prefer his laid-back approach to life and enthusiastic sense of self-preservation to Bond’s rigid, holier-than-thou demeanor), even one-liners (by a hair; Bond also gets high marks there). And Silence finds bad boy Jack far sexier than bad boy James (this could be an age thing; despite attempts to modernize him, we’ve always found Bond a bit dated). She says she’d have a much harder time choosing between Jack Sparrow and Sean Bean than Jack and Sean Connery, though she did think Sean Connery got much sexier as he got older, post-Bond (and stopped wearing terrycloth beachwear).

But that’s just us. Who gets your vote, the pirate or the elite agent? Are you a never-say-die 007 fan, or a savvy admirer of Cap’n Jack? Operators are standing by to take your call!

Joy of the day! November 27, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.

All of us here at Poor Richard’s Almanac would like to wish each and every one of our fellow Americans a joyous Thanksgiving filled with gratitude, good fellowship, good food, and good times! (A certain unnamed family member is shouting “You forgot ‘good football’!!!” in the background… ) And we wish our friends in other parts of the world a bright and beautiful day. We’ll be back tomorrow with more of our usual mayhem regarding the resurgence of ping-pong, the unknown George Washington, regional recipes, James Bond vs. Jack Sparrow, and more. Until then, God bless us, every one!

                       Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, Richard Saunders,

                                                and Families

And now, a word from our sponsor. November 26, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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As our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are southbound today, headed for our native Nashville, and Richard Saunders is off to Boston to meet his girlfriend Bridget’s parents for the first time (gulp), we were thrilled when our blog mentor and hero, Benjamin Franklin, dropped by and offered to contribute a guest post to Poor Richard’s Almanac today. Dr. Franklin had just one thing on his mind: talking turkey. Without more ado: Dr. Franklin!

Ben Franklin here to say a few words in defense of our national symbol—I mean, the bird that should have been our national symbol, the American wild turkey. Those of you who can recall your grade-school history lessons have probably heard the story of how I boldly championed the turkey as national icon, only to have the noble bird cast aside in favor of that cowardly scavenger, the bald eagle. Why, half the nations in Europe already had eagles as their symbols, but not one nation on earth had a turkey. Instead of looking like craven copycats, we could have forged new ground with a symbol as new and different as our nation. What a missed opportunity!

Now, I realize that most of you are probably only acquainted with the turkeys served up in your homes for Thanksgiving dinner. But those rotund repasts bear scant resemblance to our native wild turkey. In the process of becoming Butterballs, they’ve had all the brains bred out of them and have become such notoriously stupid Humpty-Dumpty types that “You turkey!” has become a ubiquitous insult.

It wasn’t always this way, believe me. The wild turkey is a handsome fowl and a cunning fellow at that, able to easily evade predators and survive to breed large flocks. Today’s bumbling, lurching farmstead turkeys would be dumbfounded to see their wild forbears zoom by at 55 miles per hour or soar up into the trees to roost. Fortunately for us, the wild turkey is making a comeback, and if you look carefully, you can sometimes see the patriotic poultry ambling along a field or roadside, or even checking out the birdfeeders in your yard!

Why are they called turkeys, anyway? I’m so glad you asked. People have claimed that Christopher Columbus, who was as we know a bit turned around when he arrived in the Americas and thought he was in India, named the big bird a word for poultry in the Tamil language, one of many spoken in India. But since Columbus had (obviously) never been to India and there is no reason to assume he’d be acquainted with any of the Indian languages, I say that’s poppycock. Of course, he might have actually thought he’d landed in Turkey instead, but I digress. Another theory is that the Pilgrims picked up the name from the Native American word for the bird, firkee. I do like that theory, but there’s another you might prefer: that the brazen birds got their name from the “turk-turk-turk”ing sound that they make when alarmed. What do you think?

So please, even if you don’t share my enthusiasm for the turkey (unless it’s roasted to a perfect golden brown), at least try to have a bit more respect for the formidable fowl. I’ll leave you with a few more fascinating turkey facts, chiefly derived from an excellent educational website, www.teachervision.fen.com , before I wend my way to the nearest tavern to raise a glass of Wild Turkey in the big bird’s honor. As I like to say, bourbon is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. And a happy Thanksgiving, ahem, turkey day, to each and all of you! 

                    Flavorfully yours,

                               Ben Franklin

Tantalizing turkey facts:

* The turkey is the only native American species of poultry. Chickens, pheasants and the rest were all imported.

* Turkeys have excellent hearing (despite having no external ears), superb wide-range color vision, and a highly developed sense of taste. But their sense of smell is quite poor.

* More than 45 million turkeys grace Thanksgiving tables in the U.S. each year.

* Turkeys were originally believed to be related to peacocks! They’re actually related to pheasants.

* Fortunately, some of the very first domestic breeds of turkey, called heritage breeds, are making a comeback. These birds are colorful, intelligent, and flavorful—much more like their wild ancestors—and some of these breeds have been around for hundreds of years. Colorful breed names like Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, Narragansett, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, White Holland, and Standard Bronze clue you in to the range of colors and origins of these fine fowl. (The turkey on your table is almost certainly from a single breed, the Standard White.) You can read all about heritage turkeys, and see some pictures, too, by visiting the Heritage Turkey Foundation website (www.heritageturkeyfoundation.org) or heading over to the American Livestock Conservancy website on the blogroll at right.

A year of posts. November 25, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Today marks a milestone of sorts, the 365th post to appear on Poor Richard’s Almanac. (Astute readers will note that we still have several months to go before our blog’s one-year anniversary in February 2009; apparently our mouths move faster than our calendars.)

In these 365 posts, blog contributors our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders have raved and ranted about pretty much everything under the sun, from history and hot peppers to greenhouses and groceries, collections and coinage, recipes and radishes, lazy cats and crazy critters, prizes and pirates, marbles and mushrooms, with some chickens, philosophy, and poetry thrown in for good measure. (We still haven’t let our friend Ben post about the demotion of Pluto from planet status, something that continues to obsess him, but that’s another matter.) There has even been the occasional guest appearance by our blog mentor and hero, Benjamin Franklin. (Rumor has it that he’ll be checking in later this week to talk turkey, so stay tuned.) You just never know what you’ll find here, and neither do we—and that’s part of the fun.

We’ve had such a good time with Poor Richard’s Almanac, and look forward to writing many another post chronicling the ongoing battles of Silence and the stink bugs, our friend Ben’s unending efforts at self-promotion in hopes of winning a MacArthur fellowship, Nobel Prize, or at least a regular slot writing op-ed pieces for the New York Times, and Richard’s explorations of Colonial history and what the Founders can still teach us today. And we owe it all to you.

We’d like to thank two people in particular for getting Poor Richard’s Almanac up and running. First of all, a huge thank you to Nancy Ondra, whose marvelous gardening blog, Hayefield, is on our blogroll at right, and who also is a regular contributor to another great gardening blog, Gardening Gone Wild (also accessible through our blogroll). It was Nan who somehow managed to convince this crew of Luddites that even we could create and manage a blog via WordPress, and Nan who has continued to come to our rescue when some aspect of blogging has proved beyond our technical abilities. And second, thank you, Stuart Robinson, founding genius of Blotanical, that great compendium of over a thousand gardening blogs, for making it possible for us to reach so many like-minded gardeners and (now) blog friends.

Nancy and Stuart gave us a way to get our message out. But what makes Poor Richard’s Almanac more than three voices crying in the wilderness is you, its readers. You tell us what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong, and what we could be doing better. You give us ideas and insights. You make us laugh. You inspire us.

As we prepare to leave for Nashville, to celebrate Thanksgiving with family, we are thankful for each and every one of you who has ever taken the time to visit Poor Richard’s Almanac. We are grateful to those who stop long enough to comment. And we bless all our blog friends who make a point of stopping by often. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! We look forward to sharing the journey with all of you, wherever it may take us, even to Pluto and beyond. (No, Ben, no!!!)

           —our friend Ben, Silence, and Richard

Free turkey or money off? November 24, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here with a little quiz for you, the readers of Poor Richard’s Almanac. Would you rather have a free turkey, a discount on your grocery bill, or none of the above? Let me explain:

There are three supermarket chains where we live in Pennsylvania. The first two, Giant and Weis Markets, give store discounts on various items when you sign up for their free plastic grocery cards, which come in charge card and keychain models. You present your card at checkout, and the register automatically applies the discount as the cashier rings up your order or you ring it up yourself at one of the auto-checkout lines. At both stores, you also earn “points” each time you shop, and the accumulated points are also automatically computed for you at the checkout register. Smart marketing, right?

The two chains appear to be following different marketing advice when it comes to what to do with those accumulated points, however. During the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, you can use your Giant points—if you’ve accumulated enough—to get a free turkey. At regular intervals throughout the year, including the week leading up to Thanksgiving, you can use your Weis points to receive a discount on one grocery order. Weis has a sliding scale, so those with fewer points get 5% off, going up to, if memory serves, 15% for those with megapoints. And this is, of course, on top of the everyday discounts you’d get with your card.

My question, then, is this: Which store is smarter? Which would you rather have, the discount or the free turkey? What sounds like the better deal?

But wait—haven’t I forgotten something? What about that third chain? The third and smallest chain, Redner’s Warehouse Market, is local to us and employee-owned. (Wow!) It doesn’t offer cards, points, turkeys, or any other marketing gimmick. What it proudly offers is the lowest price it can on as many items as it can.

I shop at all three stores, and though I’m not systematic about comparing prices, usually choosing a store based on where I am when I need something rather than where something is cheapest, I can say with some degree of confidence that Redner’s lives up to its claims: They offer the best butter in the area for considerably less than you’ll find it at the other stores, even on sale, and I was recently able to buy our friend, fellow blog contributor, and Penn State fanatic Richard Saunders a jar of special Penn State mustard as a surprise at Redner’s after repeatedly passing it by elsewhere because it was way too expensive to justify the splurge. I’ve found many other great buys there as well.

But I have to wonder at the wisdom of Redner’s straightforward claims. No card, no gimmick, no fuss, no muss. Are they forgetting human nature? Even I, who know what the clever marketers are up to, confess that I love to hear the cashier at Weis say “You saved $8.47 today” when I check out, and especially love hearing “With your 5% discount, you’ve saved $17.63” (or whatever it comes to). Sometimes I do have the presence of mind to wonder if I’d have saved even more if I’d just gone to Redner’s, but I love that lottery-winner feeling at Weis. Our friends Delilah and Chaz love to save up their points for that free Giant turkey. It makes them feel like they can buy one for their own Thanksgiving celebration and invite friends over to enjoy a second celebration over the holiday season “free.” (And as savvy marketers know, there’s no more powerful word in the English language than “free,” followed closely by “new.”)

So now I want to hear from all of you. What sounds most appealing to you: a free turkey, a percentage off your grocery bill, or everyday low prices? Have Giant’s marketers got the magic formula, ar does Weis know something Giant doesn’t? Is Redner’s missing out with its no-frills approach? Every Thanksgiving, I wonder about this. Please help me out!

         ‘Til next time,


The first junco. November 23, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to talk about my favorite feeder bird, the little junco.

We’ve had enough nights in the twenties here in our part of Pennsylvania to give the earth a chill. The ground is frozen, and the last green plants are stiff and bent with cold every morning, eventually thawing as the sun warms them. Our friend Ben tells me that the little stream at Hawk’s Haven, Hawk Run, has frozen over, and the container water gardens are circular ice cubes. OFB and Silence Dogood have been keeping busy switching off the water dishes for the chickens, bunny, and outdoor cats to make sure they have unfrozen water to drink, and their comments about carrying the ice-cold bowls of frozen water back to the house don’t really bear repeating here.

But I don’t need to look at the frozen ground, turn on the Weather Channel, hear the report from Hawk’s Haven, or even look at my indoor-outdoor digital thermometer to know that winter has arrived, because yesterday, I saw the first junco at my feeder. (But I confess that my indoor-outdoor thermometer is totally addictive. Thank you, L.L. Bean!) I guess I should say that I saw the first junco on the ground under my feeder, since these little birds prefer ground-feeding to perching on any kind of feeder, though they will fly up to a hopper (cabin-style) feeder or even a tube feeder if they must. Juncos are typically the last birds to arrive at my feeders, bearing winter on their wings. They’re also my favorite feeder birds.

Not that I don’t love the bolder, more colorful birds that arrive before them: the cardinals, bluejays, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. I welcome the new flocks of lovable, talkative chickadees and titmice that join the year-round regulars at the feeders. I love seeing the goldfinches, now in their more discreet winter plumage, jostling with house and purple finches at the tube feeders, and the many types of sparrows (and occasional wren) that come to the cabin feeder. These days, I usually have a mockingbird or two who’ve opted to stick around despite the cold, and there are always a few mourning doves waddling around under the feeders with their big bodies and tiny pinheads.

And of course, I miss the birds who don’t come, too—the towhees and flickers I’ve seen here in years past, but not for the last decade. It feels strange to see bird populations change like that in my lifetime: mockingbirds moving up, towhees moving—where? Is it global warming, pesticide pollution, rainforest clearing, the spread of the suburbs? It could be any or all of those, or even something we just don’t know. No doubt the simple act of setting out birdfeeders affects the mix of birds we see. It’s humbling to think that, given the wealth of scientific tools at our disposal, there is still so much to learn.

But back to my junco. Looking out the window, I see him poking around in a patch of vinca (periwinkle) beneath two tube feeders, sharing space with a female cardinal. Male juncos are such handsome fellows, with their charcoal-grey backs and snowball-white bellies. They are the definition of dapper come to life. The females are more discreet, with brownish backs and white bellies, while the juveniles are streaked. All are about 6 1/4 inches long (compare that with a cardinal’s 8 3/4 inches or a chickadee’s 5 1/4 inches to get an idea of their size).

As with so many bird species, the junco has fallen victim to the ornithologists’ tendency to reclassify every bird that comes within their grasp, often tossing out the beloved and well-known names of species in favor of ugly and/or obscure names and classifications with seemingly no regard whatever to either tradition or the people who actually care about these birds as individuals. (Gardeners, does this sound familiar? Grrrr.) The juncos that visit my feeder were formerly known as slate-colored juncos, which perfectly describes the color of the males’ backs. Now, however, they’ve been lumped with four other species, demoted like poor Pluto from planet status to a mere subspecies of something called the dark-eyed junco, which makes absolutely zero sense unless you’re an ornithologist comparing them to a Mexican species called the yellow-eyed junco. But even slate-colored junco wasn’t their original name. When John James Audubon painted them for his Birds of America, he called the junco “the common snow-bird,” and I still hear people call juncos snowbirds to this day.

Juncos aren’t usually solitary birds. They live in the far north during the breeding season, then make their way down to feeders throughout the U.S. as winter arrives. Typically, they winter in flocks of 6 to 9 birds, though our friend Ben reports much larger groupings at his feeders out in the country. So I assume my lone junco is just scouting out the feeder situation until the rest of his group arrives.

What do juncos like to eat when they visit your feeders? Hulled sunflower seeds, millet, mixed seed, and cracked corn are their favorite foods, according to my favorite book on bird feeding, Birds at Your Feeder by Erica H. Dunn and Diane L. Tessaglia-Hymes (Norton, 1999). This book is a summary of reports from participants in Project FeederWatch, a joint project initiated by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada, the National Audubon Society, and the Canadian Nature Federation. Backyard birdwatchers across the U.S. and Canada send data to Project FeederWatch sites to help researchers map the abundance, distribution, behavior, and food preferences of feeder birds through the winter. (You can find out more about Project FeederWatch—and about juncos or any other birds, for that matter—by clicking the link to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on our blogroll at right.)

Are you likely to see juncos at your feeder? In the words of a certain politician, you betcha. According to Birds at Your Feeder, juncos are the most commonly reported winter feeder birds, appearing at 80 percent of feeders. Since they prefer ground-feeding, you might overlook them, at least until it snows, since their dark coloration helps them blend into the winter landscape. I think these endearing little birds are worth looking for, though. Make sure you provide some of their favorite feeder foods (a blend of mixed seed should do the trick, though my juncos also like to congregate under the black-oil sunflower feeders), and don’t be in a hurry to clean up spilled seed, or you may be denying your juncos their dinner.

These handsome little birds are weathermen in their own right. Just as the juncos’ arrival tells you that winter isn’t far behind, their departure for the north and their breeding grounds lets you know that spring is coming. But much as I can’t wait to see winter give way to spring, I always hate to see the juncos leave. I miss their dapper little gatherings, where the groups of males look for all the world like Victorian gentlemen at their club or at a dinner party, dressed to the nines in their black swallowtail frock-coats and snowy white shirts. All the juncos are missing are top hats!

Cookbooks to be thankful for, part three. November 22, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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For this good food

and joy renewed

we praise your name, O Lord.


     —a French Thanksgiving

 Silence Dogood here with the final installment of my series “Cookbooks to be thankful for.” (Part one reviewed cookbooks that focused on autumn and winter foods, and part two spotlighted books about baking; check them out if you missed them.) Today I’d like to share with you some of the many cookbooks in my collection that have gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving at their hearts. As our Thanksgiving holiday is rapidly approaching (yikes! where does the time go?!), it seems most appropriate to combine our feelings of thankfulness and gratitude for our many blessings and abundance with the act of cooking itself.

Fortunately, this is easy to do thanks to the many cookbook authors who’ve shared my feelings on this topic. Let’s plunge right in, and you can see which of these speak to you. I’ve enjoyed them all!

Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette. Astute readers will note that this is a person, not a cookbook. But Brother Victor-Antoine is the author of a slew of fabulous, joy-filled, reverent cookbooks that I love to take down and read. One of the many beauties of his books is that recipes are grouped seasonally, so that gardeners (and those trying to eat locally and seasonally) will have an easy time choosing from the many luscious recipes. Like me, once you buy one, you’ll want them all! Brother Victor-Antoine’s cookbook library includes From a Monastery Kitchen, Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, Twelve Months of Monastery Salads, Fresh from a Monastery Garden, This Good Food, and Table Blessings.

The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking by Brother Rick Curry, S.J. (Harper Perennial, 1995). Following the sacred seasons from Advent through Easter, Brother Rick shares bread recipes, breadmaking secrets, prayers, and lore from Jesuit bakers around the globe. You’ll find yummy treats like Irish Soda Bread, St. Peter Canisius’s Stollen, Holy Thursday Apple Bread, Spy Wednesday Biscuits, and Brother Bondera’s Italian Easter Bread.

Brother Juniper’s Bread Book by Brother Peter Reinhart (Addison Wesley, 1991). Recipes and reflections from Brother Juniper’s Bakery in Santa Rosa, California, voted the best bakery in Sonoma County. Brother Peter’s subtitle, “Slow Rise as Method and Metaphor,” and chapters with titles like “On Not Cutting into Bread Too Soon,” give a feel for this book on breads made by monks who give their profits to support homeless shelters. Recipes for Struan, Roasted Three-Seed Bread, Wild Rice and Onion Bread, Cajun Three-Pepper Bread, Oreganato, Stout Bread, Tex-Mex Cumin Bread, and many another baked good from pizza and stuffing to brownies and muffins will show you why Brother Juniper’s Bakery won its stars, and incredibly detailed, supportive directions will take all fear out of bread-baking no matter how inexperienced or discouraged you are.

The Spirituality of Bread by Donna Sinclair (Northstone, 2007). Before we leave the subject of bread, I’d like to present a very different kind of book. This simply beautiful, evocative book celebrates the sacredness of bread, bread-baking, and bread-eating worldwide. The photographs are breathtaking. The stories and portraits are enchanting. Yes, there are bread recipes, too—good recipes—but there’s something much more powerful at work here. A few quotes selected from the book will show you better than I can: “To eat bread without hope is still slowly to starve to death.”—Pearl S. Buck. “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”—Mahatma Gandhi. “The danger is not that the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.”—Simone Weil. “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.”—Nelson Mandela.

What Would Jesus Eat? by Don Colbert, M.D. (Nelson, 2002). This book and its companion, The What Would Jesus Eat Cookbook, explore the foods Jesus might have eaten and healthful ways to prepare them. A more spiritual take on the Mediterranean Diet, if you follow Jesus’s culinary path, you’ll feel better, look better, and eat better.

A Biblical Feast by Kitty Morse (Ten Speed Press, 1998). This lovely little book celebrates the foods of the Holy Land, with a wealth of authentic dishes from Bitter Herb Salad and Braised Cucumbers and Leeks with Fresh Dill through Lamb and Lentil Stew, Jacob’s Pottage, and Pomegranate Honey-Glazed Fish to Ezekiel’s Bread, Abigail’s Fig Cakes, Barley Cakes, Herb-Coated Yogurt Cheese, and even Homemade Red Wine. Rejoice!

Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings by Edward Espe Brown (Riverhead Books, 1997). For those who, like me, grew up with The Tassajara Bread Book and Tassajara Cooking, Edward Espe Brown, Zen priest and chef at the Tassajara Zen Monastery and Retreat House, was an icon as well as a cooking inspiration. Lest you picture a minute bowl of unseasoned brown rice and, for variety, a little unseasoned brown rice as typical Zen fare, Ed Brown was also a chef for years at the celebrated Greens restaurant and coauthored The Greens Cookbook with Deborah Madison. He has brought a lifetime of cooking and mindful eating together in Tomato Blessings, and it is a delight. Where else would you find sections devoted to “How to Eat Just One Potato Chip” or “The Sincerity of Battered Teapots”? And then there are the recipes: Corn Timbale with Ancho Chili Sauce, Broccoli with Olives and Lemon, Winter Squash Soup with Apple, Cumin, and Cardamom, Mushroom Filo Pastry with Spinach and Goat Cheese, Beet Salad with Watercress. Oh, yes.

The Zen Monastery Cookbook by the Monks at Zen Monastery Practice Center with Cheri Huber (Keep It Simple Books, 2003). Like the original Moosewood Cookbook, The Zen Monastery Cookbook is adorable, with its hand-written recipes and rustic hand-drawn illustrations. Essays from monks, former monks, and pupils, like “The Pupil and the Black Pot” and “The First Thing That Happens,” remind us that even those who are striving to be holy can burn the granola or mistake baking powder for flour. Fortunately, the delicious recipes will keep you from making any mistakes, and you’ll enjoy Nutty Rice Salad, Curried Spinach Salad,  Red Lentil and Squash Soup, Green Velvet Soup, Apricot Bread, Roasted Beets, and many another yummy dish.

Wake Up and Cook, edited by Carole Tonkinson (Riverhead Books, 1997). This book’s subtitle, “Kitchen Buddhism in Words and Recipes,” and the fact that it was published under the aegis of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review show that it takes itself a bit more seriously, especially when the back cover begins by proclaiming “In the Kitchen with Buddha.” (If the Buddha was ever in a kitchen, it’s news to me.) But the next line, “The preparation and eating of food is a celebration of life and a holy endeavor,” rings true to every cook. There are a lot of essays and poems in this book to inspire you to think of food, and the cooking, eating, and offering of food, in a new and more sacred way. But there are also some amazing recipes. In what other book would you find a recipe by the Dalai Lama himself, for Momos, or filled dumplings in soup? There are also plenty of recipes that would astound folks like yours truly who’d grown up believing that all Buddhists are vegetarians. You’ll find Steak Fajitas, Stewed Fox, and Free-Range Coq au Vin, as well as such seemingly non-Buddhist dishes as Apple Crisp and canned corn with milk.

A Simple Celebration by Ginna Bell Bragg and David Simon, M.D. (Harmony Books, 1997). This book presents the nutritional program from the Chopra Center for Well-Being. As the Center’s founder, Deepak Chopra, says: “This book is about food for the soul. It is the celebration of nourishment at all levels: physical, mental, and spiritual. It is about wholeness and therefore about healing and that which is holy.” You’ll find some Indian recipes, like Cosmic Curry and Cucumber Raita, here, but also a world of other wholesome vegetarian cuisine, from Pasta with Madeira Mushroom Sauce to Vegetable Strudel to Baked Winter Squash with Wild Rice-Cranberry Stuffing, Lemon Bars, and Baklava. Mmmmm!!!!

Speaking of Deepak Chopra brings me to a great void in this list, books like Yamuna Devi’s Lord Krishna’s Cuisine that celebrate the great culinary traditions of India’s Hindu population. Mea culpa! There are so many fabulous books on Indian cuisine, even in my own cookbook collection, that I’ll have to save them for another post.

I Am Grateful by Terces Engelhart with Orchid (North Atlantic Books, 2007). A book by the owner and chef of San Francisco’s Cafe Gratitude surely belongs in this list. A celebration of raw foods cuisine at its most elaborate, this book is an eye-opener for folks like me who tend to think of raw foods in terms of salads, sprouts, and crudites. Mudslide Pie, Key Lime Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Tiramisu, and Vanilla Hazelnut Pie wouldn’t exactly have appeared on my raw-foods radar, yet here they are, along with Cinnamon Rolls, Pad Thai, Chiles Rellenos, Smoky Mole Pizza, Spinach Tortillas, Coconut Curry Soup, Falafels, Nachos, and many another astonishing recipe, all made completely with raw foods and served up with a big, delicious dose of gratitude. The cookbook is beautiful, too.

So many cookbooks, so little time. I’m going to group the next three, all of which take you on culinary travels back to a time when fire was sacred and cooking a ritual act. The most modern, The Sacred Kitchen, by Robin Robertson and Jon Robertson (New World Library, 1999), sums it all up: “In a world that has forgotten the warmth of hearth and home, The Sacred Kitchen provides relevance and meaning for your daily life in the twenty-first century.” Robin Robertson brings her experience as a vegetarian cookbook author to bear in combination with husband Jon’s spiritual insights. The Ancient Cookfire by Carrie L’Esperance (Bear & Company, 1998) is an education in “How to Rejuvenate Body and Spirit Through Seasonal Foods and Fasting.” Serving Fire: Food for Thought, Body, and Soul by Anne Scott (Celestial Arts, 1994) is not a cookbook at all, but a celebration of the central role of cooking throughout human history. 

Last, but by no means least, is a book that might not strike many people as spiritual at all, Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods, edited by one of my food heroes, Gary Paul Nabhan. Do we as a nation really need the Hutterite Soup Bean, Hidatsa Sunflower, Jack’s Copperclad Jersusalem Artichoke, Guinea Hog, Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope, Chapalote Popcorn, Gillette Fig, Chantecler Chicken, Olympia Oyster, Gloria Mundi Apple, Tennessee Fainting Goat, Narragansett Turkey, Fish Pepper, Zimmerman’s Pawpaw, Cotton Patch Goose, Ossabaw Island Hog, Goliath Grouper, Honey Drip Cane Sorghum, or Waldoboro Green Neck Turnip? Surely we can just grab a Red Delicious at the store or head to the nearest McDonald’s. Renewing America’s Food Traditions presents a beautifully written, gorgeously photographed argument (with recipes) about why these local specialties matter, even if we’ll never see, much less eat, an Arikara Yellow Bean or Eulachon Smelt. And why we should be grateful that we still have this diversity of foods and foodways.

I hope you’re able to find at least one of these cookbooks to savor and enjoy this Thanksgiving. And please, when you’re contemplating making your family’s meals a little more of a sacred occasion, remember to take a minute to give thanks after the meal as well as before. When counting one’s blessings, family members should be sure to thank the cook as well! We have so much to be thankful for.

        ‘Til next time,


PLEASE don’t ask, don’t tell. November 21, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Mercy on us. We have now officially received the most horrifying reader query in the history of Poor Richard’s Almanac. Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders, who contribute to this blog, have considerable curiosity and fairly strong stomachs when it comes to the search terms people use to get to us. We can endure the abuse to our blog mentor and hero Benjamin Franklin when someone searches for “ben franklin bad inventions.” We love Springer spaniels and are unfazed by “llbean springer spaniel fabric.” We try to bear up under queries about stink bugs, palmetto bugs, and bugs in general, however queasy-making.

But oh, please. Grossout food queries are more than we’re prepared to take. One of Silence’s most-read posts is called “Amish friendship ‘bread’,” and it continues to attract readers (several thousand, in fact) many months after it first appeared on our blog. That is certainly flattering, and Richard and our friend Ben attempt to ignore Silence’s constant comments on the fact that it and our most-read post to date, “Super summer squash recipes,” were both written by her. But what we can’t ignore is the latest search the friendship bread post generated: “why chocolate friendship cake turns green.”

We have no idea why chocolate friendship cake turns green. But we certainly all turned green at the thought of it. Please, dear readers, if you know the answer to this burning issue, don’t share it with us: We really, really, really don’t want to know. We love our readers, and we (generally) find reader queries informative, enlightening, and (often) amusing. They have spurred us on to learn things we’d never have known and to contemplate ideas we’d never have considered. But please, oh please: Save the really gross questions for your kids. Not only will they appreciate them, unlike us, but we bet they’ll be able to find the answer.

Ode to an earthworm. November 21, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Responding to our recent post, “The Fallow Way,” Benjamin of The Deep Middle (http://deepmiddle.blogspot.com/) noted that he couldn’t think of a single poem praising winter. Our friend Ben couldn’t either, so I quickly pulled one of my favorite books off the shelf and started paging through. The book is Friends, You Drank Some Darkness, a collection of poems by three great Swedish poets, Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelof, and Tomas Transtromer, in the original Swedish with English translations by Robert Bly. Our friend Ben figured the Swedes would know a thing or two about winter.

Though I found several poems that were set in winter, notably Martinson’s “No Name for It” (“Namnlost”) and one of my favorites, Transtromer’s “Solitude” (“Ensamhet”), I found no poems about winter. But I did find a great poem about earthworms.

Like, I suppose, all gardeners, here at Hawk’s Haven we’re earthworm-worshippers. We rejoice to find an extra-fat earthworm wending its way through the leafmold or the compost, or looking disoriented when we trowel up the soil in our raised beds. (“Oh, thank God! We didn’t hurt it!”) We lovingly feed kitchen scraps to the earthworms in our earthworm composter—a gross extravagance we stopped trying to resist after lusting for one for at least ten years—and we haul the composter, box by box, into the greenhouse for the cold months and out into the shade of the roofline during the warm months so the earthworms who live there will be comfortable. Call us ridiculous. Call us gardeners.

At least, as John Lennon says, we’re not the only ones. From the time of Charles Darwin, whose book The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms is something of a cult classic, scientists have observed earthworms with fascination. Their ability to regenerate when severed, their pragmatic procreational abilities, and their ability to transform the structure of soil while unlocking its nutrient content have all generated both interest and respect (and, in the case of their regenerative powers, at least, no small degree of envy). Our friend Ben was not totally surprised that a Nobel prize-winning poet would turn his talents and attentions to writing a poem about earthworms. But I was surprised, I confess, that a Swedish poet would write about earthworms. Cold as it is, I didn’t even know that there were earthworms in Sweden. The things poetry can teach us!

I’ll give you Martinson’s earthworm poem in a second, I promise. But first, our friend Ben would like to say a few words about weather. That human life, that all life, would be shaped by the weather in areas of extreme climates such as our own desert Southwest, the Sahara, or the Arctic Circle, is not surprising. But the truth is that wherever we live, our lives are shaped by our climate. Its extremes determine our activities and emphasize the difference between rich and poor. (In extreme cold or heat, the elderly poor die in their unheated, unairconditioned tenement apartments while their wealthy counterparts head to Florida or the Caribbean or Monaco to escape the cold or to the great ski resorts and spas to escape the heat.) The general population may pretend, or even believe, that weather is trivial, and continue their routines as best they can however hot, cold, rainy, snowy, or dry it is outside. But the rising cost of fuel oil and electricity may bring us all back to our senses in a way that the sensational coverage of wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters has not.  

As gardeners, we are acutely aware of the weather. But, unless we move to a dramatically different area, we may not be as aware of climate and its effects in general. That’s where garden blogs come to the rescue. To read about the garden adventures of, say, Tyra in Sweden (http://waxholm.blogspot.com/) as opposed to Chaiselongue in the Languedoc, basking in the glorious Mediterranean climate of the Midi in France (http://olives-and-artichokes.blogspot.com/), is an education, to say the least. I almost wept last night to see Chaiselongue’s beautiful lemon tree being planted outdoors and the great buckets of tree-ripened olives her friends were giving them from their abundant harvests. Our friend Ben resolves to a) be kinder to our potted lime and lemon trees in the greenhouse and b) bribe someone into giving us a potted olive tree for Christmas. 

But about those earthworms. Here is Martinson’s poem. I’ll give it to you in Bly’s translation, and in the original Swedish for any Swedish-speaking readers who happen by. But alas, being a Luddite, our friend Ben can’t figure out how to reproduce the accent marks over the letters, so the Swedish will probably look ludicrous to you all. However, it seemed better to give the original than to ignore it, since I always love to see the original words spill out, to compare them, their sound and sense, to the translation, even when I don’t speak the language. And in this case, it’s also a reminder of how much English owes to the languages of the Vikings who conquered and settled the British Isles. Finally, let me just note that, for gardeners in general and earthworm lovers everywhere, the answer to Martinson’s “who” is a resounding “us!”


        The Earthworm

Who really respects the earthworm,

the farmworker far under the grass in the soil.

He keeps the earth always changing.

He works entirely full of soil,

speechless with soil, and blind.


He is the underneath farmer, the underground one,

where the fields are getting on their harvest clothes.

Who really respects him,

this deep and calm earth-worker,

this deathless, gray, tiny farmer in the planet’s soil.



Vem vordar daggmasken,

odlaren djupt under grasen i jordens mull.

Han haller jorden i forandling.

Han arbetar helt fylld av mull,

stum av mull och blind.


Han ar den undre, den nedre bonden

dar akarna kladas till skord.

Vem vordar honom,

den djupe, den lugne odlaren,

den evige gra lille bonden i jordens mull.