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Frugal living tip #26. June 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Incredibly, this tip marks the halfway point in our weekly Frugal Living Tips here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. 2009, where have you gone?!

Today’s tip is about buying generic or store-brand versus brand-name meds. This has been much on my mind since I did something ungodly to my left ankle last week and have been hobbling around in fair to excruciating pain with a hugely swollen ankle and foot and red, swollen, painful leg halfway up the calf. Yeeowch! There are no obvious breaks, which in my opinion means that conventional medicine is unnecessary. (“Take two X-rays and call me in the morning, at which point I’ll tell you we can’t really do anything, then charge you $1,000.”) But what to do instead?

Obviously, staying in bed with the foot elevated, taking aspirin twice a day for the inflammation, and applying cold compresses would be both sensible and nice. And yes, not being a complete idiot, I’ve been taking aspirin before bedtime and applying one of those flexible gel-packs that you keep in the freezer for just such emergencies and then wrap around the injured area every night before bed.

Fine. But then it’s morning, time to get up, do chores, take our puppy Shiloh for a walk, and then sit down at the computer and do some work for a living. Not only does it strike me as unfair to shove all of this on our friend Ben, but there’s Shiloh and her bonding to consider. Not to mention the little matter of burning off a few calories.

However, to say that all this hurts like a migraine, persistent bellyache, or toothache is no exaggeration. You just can’t stop thinking about it.

All of which is to say that I finally dragged myself over to a local pharmacy to consider my options. Looking at shelves full of hot, cold, hot-pack, cold-pack, cream, lotion, gel, menthol, and mercy knows what other options was enough to send me running for the car. Too many choices! But one thing that was very obvious was that in every case, the store brand was less than half the price of the “name brands.” But the active ingredients and quantities thereof were the same.

So why not buy them? I can think of three reasons: First, what exactly are the endless other ingredients besides the active ones, and what effects do they have? Second, are these meds cheaper because they’re made in China? And third, what do they smell like?

This third point may seem frivolous, but trust me, it’s not. Delighted to see a store brand of cold/hot ointment—which I’d heard worked wonders to relieve pain and swelling—for half the price of any name brand, I snapped it up and returned home in triumph. But its overpowering wintergreen scent left me wondering a few hours later if I could keep working on an outline I was developing, or if I’d have to head for the bathroom and stay there until the nausea the scent had caused subsided.

Ultimately, our friend Ben saved the day by heading back to the pharmacy and finding an unscented store-brand arthritis cream that gives pain relief to strained muscles and joints as well. It would never have occurred to me to even look at the arthritis section, but Ben, a high-school running star, has lots more sports-injury smarts than yours truly.

All of which is a very roundabout way of saying that, if you’re willing to trust them, by all means buy the generic brands rather than shelling out top dollar for the name brands. But make sure you look for unscented.

                 ‘Til next time,



Batting 100,000. June 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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The day has finally arrived that our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders have been looking forward to since we started Poor Richard’s Almanac back in February 2008 and realized that other people were willing to read it besides us, even though a) you really do have to read it and b) we’re such Luddites we can’t even take a decent photo, much less upload one: This morning, our Word Press stats revealed that our blog had welcomed its 100,125th visit.* (Other stats: 675 posts; 2,988 comments; 5,757 wretched pieces of spam; and 3054 views so far of our most popular post, “To thine own self be true.”)

We promised some fun when we passed 100,000, so today we’re going to give you two quizzes, one to test your knowledge of us and the blog, and the second, courtesy of Richard, to test your knowledge of the Founding Fathers, who as you may recall play a significant role in our proceedings. And at the end, we’ll reveal exciting prizes for a few lucky winners! (Silence steps up to remind our friend Ben that excitement is in the eye of the beholder. She suggested the word “wacky” as a more accurate description. Whatever.) Let’s get started:

How well do you know Poor Richard’s Almanac? Answer these multiple-choice questions to find out:

1. Our hero and blog mentor is:

a) Homer Simpson

b) Ebenezer Scrooge

c) Benjamin Franklin

d) Mr. Darcy

2. The cottage where Silence Dogood and our friend Ben live is named:

a) Poor Richard’s

b) Hawk’s Haven

c) Raptor’s Retreat

d) Rose Haven

3) We call ourselves Luddites because:

a) it takes all three of us to screw in a lightbulb

b) we belong to a little-known sect of Puritans who were believed to have died out in the 17th century

c) we’re technological incompetents

d) the asylum where we’re confined thought it sounded more dignified than Bedlamites

4. Silence and our friend Ben recently adopted a puppy named:

a) Geronimo

b) Beatrice

c) Shiloh

d) Winston

5. Richard’s three obsessions are Colonial history, backyard birding, and:

a) hot peppers

b) his girlfriend Bridget

c) The Wall Street Journal

d) fried chicken

6. Silence loves to cook but hates:

a) leftovers

b) lizards

c) curry

d) stink bugs

7. Our friend Ben collects all but one of the following. Choose the one he doesn’t collect:

a) marbles

b) Pueblo pottery

c) socks

d) antique chess pieces

8. Silence and our friend Ben now live in Pennsylvania, but they’re originally from:

 a) England

b) Kentucky

c) Nashville

d) Normandy

9. Richard, our friend Ben, and Silence all share an obsession with:

a) reality TV

b) pirates

c) pizza

d) fly fishing

10. Our friend Ben’s dream is to win:

a) the lottery

b) a Gates Foundation grant

c) a Nobel Prize

d) a MacArthur Fellowship

Okay, before moving on to the Founders, let’s see how you did with the PRA quiz. The correct answers are: 1-c, Benjamin Franklin, though Scrooge and Mr. Darcy have their admirers among us, and who doesn’t love a good doughnut?; 2-b; 3-c; 4-c; 5-oops! both a and b are correct (and c and d rank pretty high on the list as well); 6-d, Silence’s epic battles with the hated stinkbugs have provided fodder for many a post; 7-c, Silence says our friend Ben would collect map tacks if had access to a map store, and his collections are really diverse, but if there’s one thing our friend Ben hates, it’s socks; 8-c, Nashville, though they have ancestral claims to all the others, too; 9-b, with c as a close second; 10-all of the above.

But enough about us. Richard is here to provide a test of your knowledge of one of our major inspirations, the Founding Fathers. Let’s see what he’s managed to dig up on them now:

1. Which Founding Fathers weren’t born in America?

a) George Washington and Patrick Henry

b) Paul Revere and John Adams

c) John Hancock and Gouverneur Morris

d) Alexander Hamilton and Tom Paine

2.  Which of these men was not in the army with Washington at some point?

a) Alexander Hamilton

b) Daniel Boone

c) Benedict Arnold

d) Davy Crockett

3.  Which Founder never left his native shores?

a) George Washington

b)  Thomas Jefferson

c) James Madison

d) John Adams

4. Benjamin Franklin’s interest in the public good was perhaps his greatest passion. Which of the following did he not found in the Colonies?

a) the first abolitionist society

b) the first lending library 

c) the first volunteer fire department

d) the first medical school

5. It’s well known that Ben Franklin fought to make the wild turkey America’s symbol rather than the bald eagle. Why?

a) he thought too many other countries used eagles as their symbols

b) he valued the turkey as a uniquely American bird

c) he derided eagles as cowardly scavengers

d) he lauded turkeys for their courage and native intelligence 

6. Who was the bravest Revolutionary War general on the American side?

a) George Washington

b) Nathanael Greene

c) Benedict Arnold

d) Henry Knox

7. Why was George Washington revered in Europe, even by his enemies?

a) he won the Revolutionary War

b) he was the first President of the United States

c) he was the Father of Our Country

d) he walked away from a crown and an appointment as president for life

8. Who was the most scandalous of the Founding Fathers?

a) Tom Paine

b) Alexander Hamilton

c) Thomas Jefferson

d) Benjamin Franklin

9. Which Founder is least honored today?

a) George Mason

b) Patrick Henry

c) Sam Adams

d) Gouverneur Morris

10. Who’s the best-loved Founder?

a) Benjamin Franklin

b) Thomas Jefferson

c) George Washington

d) Patrick Henry

Ready for the answers? Here you go: 1-d, this could be viewed as a trick question, since none of them were technically born in America, which wasn’t yet an independent country, but for our purposes, we’ll limit the answer to offshore births: Alexander Hamilton was born in Nevis in the British West Indies and Tom Paine in England; 2-d, we don’t tend to think of Daniel Boone as Washington’s contemporary, but he was, and both played a role in the French and Indian Wars, it was Davy Crockett who came to prominence later; 3-c, the fragile Madison dreamed of France but never left America, while even the dour Adams went to both England and France and Washington went to Barbados; 4-Franklin actually founded all of the above; 5-all of the above; 6-c, Benedict Arnold, whose courage was awe-inspiring and was one of the reasons Washington loved him like a son, it was his judgment that was weak while his ego was strong, a fatal combination; 7-d, such a thing had never happened before, and even won the admiration of Washington’s old enemy George III, as well as setting a precedent for America; 8-b, though it’s closely contested: while the scandals that swirled around Ben Franklin were fabrications and exaggerations, Tom Paine’s drunkenness, slovenliness, chronic inability to keep a job, rabble-rousing, and divorce made him a good candidate, and Thomas Jefferson’s long involvement with and scandalous lack of concern for Sally Hemings have made him a figure of controversy in our own time, to say the least, but back in the Founders’ day, it was Hamilton who made the headlines with his notorious adulterous affair and his lurid death in a duel at Aaron Burr’s hands; 9-a, though all the Founders who supported states’ rights and failed to go on to play prominent national roles after the Revolution don’t get the respect of those who did, but George Mason, who was a key player in the early days of unrest and spent long hours discussing strategy with his friends George Washington and James Madison, is all but forgotten today except among historians of the period; 10-a, who else?!

Now that we’ve given your brain and memory a good workout, we’ll admit that we’re not about to keep score. If you want to be eligible for one of our fabulous, uh, far-fetched prizes, all you have to do is let us know in a comment on this post and be willing to give us your e-mail address so we can contact you for your mailing address if you win. Names will be selected at random in a traditional hat drawing, but we do ask that you indicate first and second choices for prizes so you don’t end up with something you don’t want. Note that we wish everyone could be a winner, but we can’t afford the postage, so we’re only pulling three names out of that hat!

Here are the prizes:

+ A bag of fabulous, limited-edition JABO marbles from our friend Ben’s stash

+ Richard’s custom-made Emergency Room Special Hot Pepper Mix

+ An autographed copy of Silence’s book Kick the Clutter

+ A Shiloh-approved recipe for dog treats

+ Silence’s favorite garam masala or curry powder, your choice

Yes, this is more than three prizes for three winners, but we wanted to give you all some options. And we’d like to say an absolutely HUGE thank you to everyone who’s gotten us here!!!

             Silence Dogood, our friend Ben, and Richard Saunders

* You’ll note that the SiteMeter on this page does not show 100,125 views or even close. That’s because it took us forever to get the idea to put SiteMeter up on our site, and even longer to ask our techno-savvy friend Nan to actually do it for us. Thank goodness WordPress was counting from the beginning!

On human potential. June 29, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood coincidentally saw two documentary films this weekend, courtesy of Netflix, that we think have life-changing potential. They are “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” and “Genghis Blues.” Collectively, we can only say “Wow.”

The first documentary, “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” is about Mark Bittner, a guy who came to San Francisco in the Flower Child era to become a famous musician, ended up being a street person, and eventually found his life work documenting a colony of cherry-headed conures on Telegraph Hill. (The whole thing almost gave poor Silence a heart attack until she realized that the film wasn’t about Mark Bittman, the famous cookbook author.) 

Mark Bittner’s actual music was so awful we instantly realized why only his cherry-headed conure Mingus enjoyed it. But his intelligence, sensitivity, and powers of observation were also obvious. We were thrilled by the movie’s surprise ending—the documentary filmmaker fell in love with Mark and the two of them married a year later—and we were also thrilled to learn that the documentary and Mark’s book about the parrots had become huge hits.

The second documentary, “Genghis Blues,” chronicled how a blind bluesman named Paul Pena had found his calling after his beloved wife Babe had died of renal failure. It’s horrifying enough to be blind without having your wife die. Pena chose to try to get himself past his grief by learning other languages via radio, and in the process, stumbled on Tuva throatsinging. The Tuva are a tribe of horsemen who were extant and valued during the time of Genghis Khan, and who have continued to try to preserve their traditions even as they’ve been absorbed into Russian rule.

One of those traditions is throatsinging, in which the singers are able to produce amazing, truly mind-bending sounds. Paul Pena’s imagination was captured by them. He was somehow able to teach himself both throatsinging (our friend Ben tried this after watching the movie and dares you to see if you can do it) and the Tuva language. Unlike Mark Bittner, Paul Pena was a greatly gifted musician; his blues are as inspired as his throatsinging. In the documentary, we follow Paul as he travels to Tuva to participate in a throatsinging competition and enjoy his triumphing both in his area of choice, a low-voiced form of throatsinging that earned him the nickname “Earthquake” among his Tuva fans, and in the “audience favorite” category.

Our friend Ben and Silence acknowledge that these documentaries are, ultimately, what might qualify as feel-good films. Two very bright and gifted men who are seriously down on their luck find joy and purpose; we can all be inspired and rejoice. But hey, why shouldn’t we be inspired and rejoice? Are we street people? Are we blind men whose beloved wives have died of a painful, incurable disease? If these men can remake their lives in such inspiring ways, good God, people, can’t those of us who have so much more than they do something meaningful for ourselves?

Yes. Yes we can. We can, if we really make the effort to find what gives us joy and then give ourselves to it. These films are ultimately about the transformative power of passion—passion in its constructive, not destructive, sense—and the strange ways that people can discover their life’s passion if they’re open to its manifestation.

Silence and I have both sacrificed comparatively high-powered, high-paying corporate careers for this very goal, so these films spoke very loudly to us. We believe that happiness and fulfilment are the greatest gifts life offers most of us. We recommend that you see these documentaries and think about whether your own life offers as much as the lives these films portray. If not, perhaps they’ll set you on a road you’ve not forseen, to rediscover a childhood passion or discover a new one, to experience transformation in your own life. And of course, one of the great delights of both these films is seeing the joy and transformation Mark’s and Paul’s passions brought to the other lives they touched. Joy and passion are contagious. It’s great to see people catching something good!

Worse than a rotten tomato. June 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Sometimes, the news actually features something worth repeating. Such was the case when our friend Lzyjo from Worms and Flowers(http://wormandflowers.wordpress.com/) mentioned in a comment on one of our posts that she’d heard in the news that the government of India was planning to make grenades with Bhut Jalokias.

Our friend Ben could not bear to do a search to see if this particular piece of news was true, since if it wasn’t, it definitely should have been. And it should gladden the souls of gardeners everywhere. You see, Bhut Jalokias are hot peppers.

Fruits and vegetables have long been used as a means of expressing displeasure. Pelting lackluster actors and politicians with rotten tomatoes, tossing a banana peel where an unsuspecting target might walk, smashing pumpkins on neighbors’ lawns: It’s practically traditional.

In fact, it actually is traditional, a tradition that began in the theaters of England back in Shakespeare’s day, when it became popular for “orange girls” to sell oranges and other treats on the floor of the theater to hungry and thirsty theatergoers. The patrons of the arts who could only afford seats on the ground floor, aka “the pit,” were not, shall we say, the most refined theatergoers. But they were certainly the most vocal. And now they were armed with orange peels and apple cores and the like. True, they could have just thrown them on the floor, and doubtless many did. But the more ingenious realized that they had weapons at hand with which to express displeasure, and used them freely, accompanied by catcalls and any number of other rude noises, when the actors failed to live up to their exacting standards.

Given theater prices today, it’s no surprise that this particular tradition is no longer in evidence. But at least now you know why popcorn and other refreshments are sold in movie houses to this day! If you buy some, you’re forging a direct link back to the theatergoers of Shakespeare’s time. King Charles II’s most entertaining mistress, Nell Gwynne, began her professional life as an “orange girl.” Our friend Ben suggests, however, that you refrain from tossing your discards either at the screen (or your cellphone-addicted fellow patrons) or on the floor, though, please.

But I digress. When it became apparent that a rotten tomato made a marvelous projectile I’ll never know, but I suppose that satisfying SPLAT!!! can really only be surpassed by shoving a pie in someone’s face, and the tomato is a lot safer, at least if you’d prefer to avoid hand-to-hand combat and/or a little run-in with the police. Not, of course, that our friend Ben would know. If our friend Ben is fantasizing about attacking someone, you can bet it would involve pinning the unfortunate to the wall and telling them at length exactly what I think of them, while punctuating my remarks with slaps upside the head, not pelting them with produce.

Silence Dogood, on the other hand, is a big believer in pepper spray. Not, of course, a believer in attacking actors, politicians, or even people who’ve personally offended her with pepper spray, but in having canisters—lots of canisters—of FBI-strength pepper spray sitting around here at our rural cottage, Hawk’s Haven, in case fiends break in while our friend Ben is away and she needs to defend herself and our pets from harm.

Which brings me back to Bhut Jalokias. Our friend Rob is the only person our friend Ben has ever seen who can simply eat a Bhut Jalokia pepper. Last year, Silence and I had taken Rob, Rob’s son, and our friend Rudy to the Bowers Chile Pepper Festival, where Bhut Jalokias were the celebrity pepper of the year. That’s because the Bhut Jalokia is the hottest pepper in the world, and by a factor of more than double the next-hottest pepper. It practically shoots off the Scoville Units scale, the measure used to determine exactly how hot a pepper is; Bhut Jalokias come in at over a million Scoville Units. Rob became an instant celebrity at the festival, and no wonder: Even our heat-loving friend and fellow blog contributor, Richard Saunders, wouldn’t just sit there and eat a Bhut Jalokia. Apparently no one but Rob has ever just eaten a Bhut Jalokia, raw, plain, at a sitting. And yes, we are a bit worried about Rob, but we don’t really think he’s an android or anything. Really.

Anyway. The Bhut Jalokia pepper originated in India, and apparently the government has decided to make the most of one of their national treasures by turning it into a first-rate weapon. Our friend Ben doesn’t know about you, but I’d as soon not have a grenade filled with million-strength hot pepper spray explode anywhere near me. Silence, on the other hand, is eyeing our Bhut Jalokia plants with renewed interest. No doubt she’s envisioning the ultimate pepper spray. “Get back! This is Bhut Jalokia!!!”

Go for it, say I. But our friend Ben will admit that pelting intruders with stinking rotten tomatoes, tossing banana peels where they can slip on them, and smashing rotting pumpkins on their heads strikes me as equally effective. Just one more reason why veggie gardeners rule!

Did Ben Franklin invent mustard? June 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here to respond to a query on our blog about whether Benjamin Franklin, our hero and blog mentor, invented mustard. Well, no. But this question isn’t as bizarre as it might seem. (And no, Grey Poupon didn’t invent mustard, either. Neither did French’s. Nor did it originate in Dijon.)

We do tend to think of mustard as being a French condiment, but it’s actually much older. There are reports of Abraham using mustard in the Old Testament. The Chinese used mustard since at least early historic times. So did the ancient Romans, and it was the Romans who spread the use of mustard to France and England as their empire expanded.

This brings us back to Ben Franklin. Ben first visited England not as a diplomat but as a young man seeking a printing apprenticeship. He didn’t find it, but he did apparently find mustard, then as now used as a condiment on beef and other typically English fare. Appreciating its spicy tang, he did in fact introduce it to the American colonies on his return. So even though he didn’t invent mustard, hot dog lovers across the country can say a hearty “thank you” to old Ben for bringing us mustard.

What about ketchup, aka catsup? It, too, has a curious history. Ketchup originated in India as a spicy sauce made from fish. (I don’t actually want to think about this.) When the British came to India, they were captivated by the spicy sauce and brought it back to Queen Victoria’s Britain. But it didn’t become the ketchup we Americans cherish today until it crossed the Atlantic and met the tomato, a New World vegetable. Goodbye fish, hello tomatoes! Today’s ketchup bears scant resemblance to the original condiment that inspired it. But with the rise of lycopene as a super supplement for good health, tomato-based ketchup is more popular than ever.

But which is the most popular? Despite intense online searches, I was unable to find this out. Both are versatile: Mustard is an essential ingredient in many a vinaigrette, ketchup as a topping for meatloaf. There’s no question that mustard is available in more variations, from bourbon-enchanced to artisanal stoneground, but ketchup’s tomatoey tang and sweetness appeals to enthusiasts of all ages, whereas mustard’s pungency tends to be a more sophisticated taste.

If anyone has a definitive answer,* please let me know. Meanwhile, the rest of us can continue to use both (with or without mayo) on our burgers, dogs, and fries.

* Whoa! After endless Googling, I finally got the search terms right and ended up on several general business sites, which collectively gave me the surprising (to me, at least) answer. Unless you’re a kid who likes bright green ketchup, as far as I know, there’s one kind of ketchup and one only: good old red tomato ketchup. But just look at the mustard aisle: Jack Daniels mustard, jalapeno mustard, horseradish mustard, stoneground mustard. The list seems endless. So why is it that Americans consume almost ten times as much ketchup as mustard?!! (Stats showed just 12 ounces of mustard consumed annually per person vs. 1058 ounces of ketchup.) Folks, that’s a lot of ketchup—more than 132 cups of ketchup per person per year! Yowee zowie! Maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about getting more lycopene in our diets, and should start worrying instead about what on earth we’re putting all that ketchup on. I think I’m starting to see the cause of our obesity epedemic…

Announcing new miracle meals! June 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Silence Dogood here. Sheesh, when I saw this headline in my inbox, I thought it must be an e-mail from RealAge about how I could eat whatsit and live to be a thousand. But no, turns out it was from Duncraft, purveyors of birdseed and bird-related products like feeders and birdbaths. Duncraft was in fact announcing a new line of actual high-protein, balanced meals (think cornmeal, not dinner, they’re referring to texture) specially designed for nestlings.

Just yesterday, I got another shock in the “meals” line. As our friend Ben noted in a previous post, I’d dashed into a local grocery to snag some fresh mozzarella for a marvelous Caprese salad (while he and our puppy Shiloh stayed in the air-conditioned car listening to the latest sports updates on the radio). I was heading back towards checkout with the mozzarella when I saw a refrigerated case that was completely different from anything I’d ever seen in a grocery store before. It was devoted to fresh foods for dogs, packs of meatballs and sausage-like rolls. Grabbing a brochure, I read that the fresh foods were made from chicken, turkey, or beef, plus liver, peas, carrots, brown rice, and a bunch of vitamins and minerals, all lightly cooked to perfection without ruining their nutritional value.

No, I didn’t buy any—I barely had enough money for the mozzarella, and Shiloh has plenty of premium dry food at home—but I’ll admit I was awed. Our friends Delilah and Chaz cook up their own dog food for their beloved Boston terrier Duke, aka Dukie Macdonald, but this is the closest I’ve ever seen to what they make for him, and there it is, prepackaged and ready to go. A “miracle meal” indeed! Even more impressive, a miracle meal available from an ordinary grocery store.

I’ve long been aware of the raw-foods movement in pet foods, where advocates propose giving dogs and cats the equivalent of what they’d be eating in the wild, raw meat and some vegetables and grains (to make up the equivalent of prey animals’ stomach contents). But somehow, I’ve never been tempted. We humans started out eating raw foods, too, until we discovered that cooked foods tasted better and were easier to digest. Why not offer our hard-won advantages to our pets, as well? And if cooked food’s not worth eating, why the hell are we eating it?

But getting back to that refrigerated case of food for dogs—the brochure made the point that it’s not “dog food,” it’s “food for dogs”—does anyone out there cook for their dogs rather than feeding them “dog food”? And if so, what do you cook?

            ‘Til next time,


What’s up at our CSA? June 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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It’s time once again for our friend Ben and Silence Dogood to make a pitch for CSAs, those unfortunately named but wonderful operations known collectively, doubtless thanks to some bureaucrat, as “Consumer-Supported Agriculture.” If they couldn’t just call them subscription farms, which they are, at least they could have hired a spin doctor to give them a fun, catchy, or sexy name: Feed US Farms, Farm Fresh Direct, Farm to Family, Farm to Table. (Er, by now it should be obvious why our friend Ben and Silence aren’t in the marketing biz, but you get the idea.)

CSAs are, in fact, subscription farms, and as such, they’re win/win operations for the farmers and the lucky families who sign up for a season’s worth of farm-fresh produce. That’s because, by signing up and paying in advance, subscribers give the farmers the means to buy the seed and supplies they need for the year. And the farmers also know how much of each crop they’ll need to grow to meet subscribers’ needs.

Each CSA is different. Some deliver; some ask you to come pick up your produce; some ask you to pick the produce or do a few chores around the place. Our CSA, Quiet Creek Farm, is located at the Rodale Institute in Maxatawny, PA, just five minutes from our home, Hawk’s Haven. Though it is not a Rodale-related operation—farmers John and Aimee Good lease the land for the CSA from Rodale—as you’d expect, it’s completely organic. And it’s completely amazing.

Silence and I have subscribed to Quiet Creek Farm since it first opened three years ago, since our property is shaded and our sunny veggie beds can’t begin to give us all the veggies we want to eat. Quiet Creek rounds out our produce production, and then some. Seasonal harvests of veggies, greens, and melons delight us weekly from June into November. And there’s an extensive U-Pick truck garden of herbs, flowers, and seasonal produce like sugar and snap peas, beans, edamame, paste and cherry tomatoes, and hot peppers, as well as strawberries and raspberries. If you want them, you’re free to get them when they’re ready for harvest.

Quiet Creek also partners with a group of local organic farms to provide honey and beeswax, handmade herbal soaps, spelt and white spelt flour, raw-milk yogurts, cheeses, and cheese spreads, eggs, tree fruits, and a vast range of organic meats, from chorizo to wild-caught salmon. If you want these, you have to pay extra, but the prices are reasonable and the products exceptional. Just today, Silence (preparing to make one of her fantastic Caprese salads) compared the price of the cheapest fresh mozzarella at our local grocery to the price of fresh, artisanal raw-milk mozzarella at the CSA. Grocery: $4.99. CSA: $3.75. Wow.

The extras don’t stop there: In season, you can buy organic apples, pumpkins, and sweet corn from the Rodale Institute’s own farm and orchard at our CSA. All season, Aimee provides recipes for the produce as it comes into season. She even gives seminars on how to preserve the bounty. Silence took one of Aimee’s canning and drying classes a few years ago and loved it.

As for what’s up, yesterday, Friday, is our CSA pickup day. Silence, our black German shepherd puppy Shiloh, and our friend Ben headed over to the harvest barn to check out this week’s offerings. There were still plenty of greens—spring mix and Swiss chard, tatsoi (Asian spinach), baby mizuna (oriental mustard greens), and heads of lovely leaf lettuce. There were salad turnips and radishes, heads of broccoli, and yummy summer squash. There were bunches of scallions and one of our favorites, garlic scapes.

After we loaded up our weekly haul, Silence headed out to the U-Pick garden for strawberries, snap peas, some fennel fronds, and cilantro, while our friend Ben and Shiloh lolled on the grass basking in the admiration of all (er, actually, it was all directed at Shiloh). Silence could have also picked snow peas, but we’re getting such a heavy crop from our own golden-podded snow peas right now that she chose to leave them for the less fortunate, whereas our snap peas have been so slow to get going this year we’re beginning to think we won’t get a crop at all. She could also have taken dill, thyme, sage, oregano, chives, and garlic chives, but we grow all those except dill ourselves, and Silence won’t need dill weed until her next batch of potato salad. Anyway, it was a delightful picking session: Silence was glowing as she returned to the car, and the whole way back we enjoyed the scents of cilantro, strawberries, fennel, scallions, and garlic scapes. Yum!!!

Speaking of Silence, she wanted to share some tips from farmer Aimee on using the less-familiar greens that are coming in now, like mizuna and tatsoi. So take it away, Silence!

Silence Dogood here, and thanks, Ben. Actually, all I’m doing is giving you the gist of one of Aimee’s many handouts, in case you’re not too familiar with some of the later-season greens and might wonder what to do with them. Coming from the South as we do, our friend Ben and I love the hot, pungent mustard greens we grew up with and tear some raw in salads to give an extra bite. Mizuna is way milder than our Southern mustard greens, but it still adds a bit of spice to a recipe. Anyway, here are some of Aimee’s tips for making the most of mizuna, tatsoi, and baby red kale:

* Use fresh in salads with other greens or lettuce. Add dressing just before serving to prevent wilting.

* Pile high on sandwiches and in wraps and burritos.

* Lightly braise or saute these greens. They cook quickly! Season with garlic and olive oil and eat.

* Add cooked greens to omelets, quiche, lasagne, mashed potatoes, or casseroles.

* Wilt greens into hot pasta dishes, soups, or stir-fries.

* Substitute for spinach in recipes.

* Greens are great to freeze for use in winter. Simply wilt greens, cool, press dry, and pack in freezer bags.

Thanks, Aimee! Our trip to the CSA is one of the highlights of our week. We hope we’ve inspired you to check out the CSA options in your area!

         ‘Til next time,

                     Silence, our friend Ben, and Shiloh

Toad in the road. June 26, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.

Silence Dogood here. In the immortal words of our friend Edith Eddleman, “Heartaches, nothin’ but heartaches.” The unending rains here in scenic Pennsylvania have at least been good for water-loving creatures like amphibians. Our friend Ben and I have seen two toads here at Hawk’s Haven, one large and one smaller. Typically, female toads are larger than males, so we’ve been hoping they were a pair, though one might simply be younger and still growing. We love toads, and have been not just delighted to see these but anticipating a toad revival.

Our hopes may have been (literally) crushed this morning. I was taking our puppy Shiloh across the road to get the newspaper, and was so distracted between watching for traffic and trying to pry a hickory nut she’d somehow picked up out of her jaws, that I didn’t notice the splat of blood and guts on the road until we were on our way back across. It was small, and I assumed it was a mouse or other small rodent until my brain caught up with my eyes and I realized that there was no sign of fur or a tail. It had to be a toad.

To paraphrase John Donne, every toad’s death diminishes me. It was with much slower steps that Shiloh and I returned to the house. And then, to add insult to injury, it started to rain again.

Heartaches, and nothin’ but.

         ‘Til next time,


Looking under leaves. June 26, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , ,

Maybe it’s just the gardener in me, but usually, if I’m looking at the underside of a plant’s leaves, I’m checking for spider mites or insect eggs or some other horror rather than simply admiring them. It might never have occurred to our friend Ben that the undersides of leaves could be beautiful if I hadn’t seen the ongoing series of backlit leaf photographs by Mr. Subjunctive on his blog, Plants Are the Strangest People (http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/).

Our friend Ben can’t manage to take a photograph that captures the entire head of a family member or excludes my thumb, so I’m always impressed when someone else can take beautiful photos. But I’m even more impressed when the photos, like a poem, open our minds and imaginations to a new way of seeing something.

Anyway, I guess Mr. Subjunctive’s series must have subconsciously sensitized me, because today as I sat down at the computer, I looked towards the window and was struck by the beauty of the undersides of one of our begonia’s leaves. With the morning light from the East-facing window illuminating them, the network of prominent red veins stood out against the glittering green-red of the leaves’ under-surfaces like a river branching into a delta. It really was a beautiful sight.

Our friend Ben vows to try to take a little more time looking for beauty to balance the time spent looking for trouble. And what works for leaves works for life as well. Thanks, Mr. S., for the insight!

The case for Pluto. June 25, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.

Do you have a favorite lost cause? Our friend Ben’s is the planet Pluto. Poor Pluto, stripped of its planetary status like a Miss America contestant who was later discovered to have been stripping for the cameras herself. Or, say, a politician who was found engaging in extremely impolitic behavior and was forced to resign. But, I ask, what has Pluto done to deserve this? Talk about planetary persecution!

So our friend Ben was thrilled to discover that Alan Boyle, one of the science contributors to MSN, has a book coming out this October called The Case for Pluto. The publisher’s writeup describes Pluto as “the cutest and most unfairly treated planet.” It goes on to say “And yet, Pluto is the planet best-loved by Americans… one that may have contained the building blocks of life billions of years ago and may well serve as life’s last redoubt billions of years from now… The Case for Pluto is the must-read tale of a cosmic underdog that has captured the hearts of millions: an endearing little planet… ” 

It was balm to our friend Ben’s soul to read that Pluto was the best-loved planet and had “captured the hearts of millions.” It was almost enough to make me forgive that atrocious pun (“tale… underdog”). But, um, “the cutest planet”? Sheesh. Puppies, kittens, baby chicks, kids: fine. Planets? Not so much. Their PR person must be on something.

Nonetheless, our friend Ben is thrilled to see that a champion for little Pluto has arisen like David facing the Goliath of astronomers insisting on abusing the poor lonely planet. I hope Alan Boyle beats the hell out of them.