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Christmas gifts for pets? November 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben saw an article in our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, this morning citing statistics from an Associated Press-Petside.com poll that 52% of pet owners plan to buy their pets a holiday gift this year. Our friend Ben frankly wonders what the other 48% are thinking.

Not that you have to actually buy something to make your pets happy. Sharing some of your food is enough to make almost any pet ecstatic, whether it’s a little salad with your bunny or a fragment of pumpkin bread or cheese with your cat or pretty much anything with your dog. (No chocolate for any pet, though, please, it poisons them.) Another gift any pet will love is the gift of your time: petting the cat, talking to the bird, throwing a Frisbee for the dog.

If you want to buy a little something to put under the tree, our friend Ben directs your attention to our earlier post, “The best Christmas presents for pets.” (Search for it on our search bar at top right.)

But there’s another present you might want to consider this year if, unlike us, you have a microwave. A reader of our paper wrote in to the pet column to recommend it. She uses it to keep feral (outdoor) cats warm during cold weather, but adds that they’re also great for old or sick pets who need extra warmth indoors. It’s called a Snuggle Safe Heat Pad, and apparently looks like a solid Frisbee. You microwave the pad for 5 minutes, slip it inside its protective fleece cover (so pets won’t be burned), and it will stay warm for 12 hours, so pets can lie on it or snuggle up against it to combat the cold. Like Carrie Morris, who recommended the Snuggle Safe Heat Pad, you might want to microwave it in the morning  and again at night so your pets have access to 24-hour warmth and comfort. Great idea!

Do you have any favorite gifts for your pets? If so, please share them with us!


What I bought on Buy Nothing Day. November 29, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As most of you know, the Friday after Thanksgiving has come to be known as Black Friday because it’s America’s biggest shopping day of the year, the day when merchants hope that consumer frenzy will take them out of the red and put them in the black for the year. Much of the nation has the Friday after Thanksgiving off (except for those luckless souls in retail sales), so they’re free to shop, and stores offer huge sales, deep discounts, and other enticements to lure people out to the malls, outlets, and other retail establishments.

Apparently, the marketing effort works beautifully. Long lines form at favored stores before dawn, with people waiting in the cold for hours so they won’t miss the hugely discounted gadgets, clothing, and etc. In previous years, people have been trampled and even killed in the stampede to get inside the stores and grab the precious whatever-the-hell-it-is before they’re all gone. Many people try to do all their Christmas shopping on Black Friday; others buy items they’ve been coveting but haven’t been able to afford.

Our local paper interviewed shoppers yesterday, ranging in age from the 20s through the 50s, to see what they had bought, and the results were rather dismaying to me: In every case, the shopper reported buying something on impulse, as opposed to something they needed or had wanted for a while, “because the price was just too good to pass up.” Yikes.

Anyway, this herd-mentality consumerism proved to be too much for a Canadian man named Ted Dave, who in 1992 founded Buy Nothing Day as “a day for society to examine the issue of over-consumption.” (Thanks, Wikipedia, for the specifics.) In 2009, 65 countries worldwide participated in Buy Nothing Day, which is celebrated on Black Friday in America and the following Saturday in the rest of the world.

So, okay, what did I buy on Black Friday, our Buy Nothing Day? Yes, I did indeed buy something. I bought two tickets to the marvelous movie “Coco Before Chanel,” about, obviously, the early life of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. Not only did I want to see this gorgeous film, but I wanted to treat our Thanksgiving-week guest Sasha to the film. Sasha, a college freshman, is the son of my best friend, and the rest of his family is out of the country, so he came to stay with me and our friend Ben for the holiday. (And, I think, fell in love with our black German shepherd puppy Shiloh.)

If you’re wondering why on earth I’d think an 18-year-old college freshman would give a damn about a movie about Coco Chanel, here’s why: Sasha has already created his own clothing line, Anso, with men’s and women’s lines (Anso Mann and Anso Merie), models, logos, and a defining symbol. (It’s ([])., Anso period, because after Anso, there’s nothing else. Clever, yes?) Sasha tells me there’s an Anso site on Facebook, so you non-Luddites can go check it out.

Needless to say, Sasha loved the movie, which I also highly recommend to viewers of all ages who love beautiful scenery, fabulous French chateaux, gorgeous horses, and fantastic costumes, not to mention, of course, incredible acting. See it on the big screen if you can, since the amazing visuals demand larger-than-life viewing. Aaaahhh!!!

But to return to the point. I felt great about buying those tickets on Buy Nothing Day, supporting the fine arts, giving enormous pleasure—and possibly genuine inspiration—not just to myself but to someone I love. Did I have anything tangible to show for my Black Friday purchase? Nope. But to me, it was priceless.

          ‘Til next time,


Thanksgiving: Luscious leftovers. (Aka frugal living tip #47.) November 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Every week in 2009, we here at Poor Richard’s Almanac have provided a Frugal Living Tip to help all of us get through these hard economic times. Today’s post is Frugal Living Tip #47, which I’ve tied into our Thanksgiving week theme. Leftovers are a fact of Thanksgiving life. And of course they’re delicious. Reheated turkey and dressing with cranberry sauce, or delicious turkey sandwiches with mayo: Yum!

But you can do a lot more with the leftovers from your Thanksgiving feast. Admittedly, my taste in food is simple: As long as it’s delicious, it never bores me. Back in the day when I still ate meat, I could have eaten turkey sandwiches or reheated turkey ’til the end of time. But as it happened, my Mama had a leftover turkey specialty that I loved best of all: creamed turkey. After all the big slices had been cut off the turkey and used to make hot turkey or turkey sandwiches, she’d carefully cut off the remaining shreds and put them in a pot with plenty of butter, salt and white pepper, turkey drippings, and cream, and cook them until the turkey was heated through and the sauce had cooked down thick. Then she’d make toast and serve the creamed turkey over that. To me, this was heaven on earth: the creamy turkey and the crunchy toast. You could, of course, serve creamed turkey over biscuits, rice, pasta, or even cornbread, and I’m sure it would be delicious. But there was something about the crunchiness of the toast that made it really special.

Turns out, creamed turkey isn’t the only thing you can do with leftover turkey. In our paper, the Allentown PA Morning Call, food editor Diane Stoneback interviewed the local matriarch of all things turkey, Anne Jaindl, who at age 80 is still cooking turkeys several times a week and making the most of the leftovers. Here are three of her favorite recipes for leftovers:

               Anne Jaindl’s Turkey Tetrazzini

8 oz. spaghetti (cooked according to package instructions)

6 Tbsps. butter

3 Tbsps. flour

1 1/2 cups turkey stock

1/2 cup heavy cream

3 Tbsps. dry sherry

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced

1 lb. cooked turkey cut into bite-size pieces (about 3-4 cups)

2 Tbsps. grated Parmesan cheese

Melt half the butter in a heavy saucepan. Sprinkle in flour. Stir over gentle heat for 2 minutes. Stir in hot stock and bring to a boil. Simmer until thick. Cool for 5 minutes, then add cream, sherry, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Melt remaining butter in separate pan. Add mushrooms and fry gently. Arrange cooked spaghetti, turkey and mushrooms in baking dish; cover with sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan and bake at 375 degrees F. for 30 minutes.

               Anne Jaindl’s Turkey Barbecue

1 onion, chopped

4 stalks celery, chopped  

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 cup catsup

1/4 cup vinegar

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 tsp. dry mustard

1 lb. cooked, cubed turkey (about 3-4 cups)

Combine all ingredients and simmer about 15 minutes.

                 Anne Jaindl’s Cranberry Turkey Stir-Fry

1 cup cranberry sauce

1/3 cup dry sherry

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup vinegar

2 Tbsps. cornstarch

2 Tbsps. cooking oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups carrots, sliced

2 cups zucchini, cut in strips

2 cups cooked turkey, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

4 cups bean sprouts

Combine cranberry sauce, sherry, water, soy sauce, vinegar, and cornstarch. Mix until smooth. Set aside. Stir-fry garlic in hot oil for 30 seconds. Add carrots: stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add zucchini and turkey and stir-fry 1 minute. Add cranberry mixture; cook until bubbly (about 2  minutes). Serve over sprouts. [Or pasta or rice.—Silence]

These recipes certainly help you think of good things to do with turkey, or even turkey and cranberry sauce. And speaking of cranberry sauce, if you have a lot of leftover sauce, you probably can’t face eating all of it with your turkey leftovers. So consider using some of it as a luscious topping for ice cream or sherbet. Vanilla, peach, and mango ice cream strike me as especially good choices, or you can bring out the orange in your cranberry sauce by using it as a topping for orange, lemon, or lime sherbet. (Bet it would taste great over pineapple sherbet, too.)

Which reminds me, you might consider trying cranberry sauce as a substitute for the usual pineapple in an upside-down cake. It could be delicious! If you enjoy a cherry or strawberry topping on your cheesecake, I’ll bet you’d enjoy a cranberry-sauce topping, too. It would also layer beautifully in a trifle. Or try this super-simple dessert: Slice a storebought angelfood cake into three sections crosswise. Whip a pint of heavy cream with sugar. Spread cranberry sauce over the top of each layer, followed by whipped cream, then gently put the layers together and serve.

Needless to say, if you bought an extra bag or two of fresh or frozen cranberries and didn’t end up using them, your options are almost unlimited. Cranberry bread or muffins would be fantastic. But how about cranberry chutney? Here are a couple of recipes from a classic cookbook in my collection, The Cranberry Connection, published in 1977 and written by Beatrice Ross Buszek of Cranberrie Cottage, Nova Scotia: 

          Cranberry Orange Muffins

1 3/4 cups sifted flour

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

2 Tbsp. sugar

3/4 tsp. salt

1 well-beaten egg

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup cooking oil

4 Tbsp. butter, melted

1/3 cup homemade cranberry-orange relish

To make the relish: Put 4 cups of fresh cranberries and 2 oranges, quartered, through a grinder. [Er, a food processor?—Silence] Stir in 1 1/2 cups sugar. Chill or freeze and use as needed. [You could also halve the recipe.—Silence]  

To make the muffins: Sift together flour, 2 T sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix well. Combine egg, milk and oil. Add to dry mix and stir until moistened. Spoon half the batter into 12 2 1/2-inch greased muffin cups. Top each with 1 teaspoon cranberry-orange relish. Then fill with batter mix. Bake 25 minutes at 400 degrees F. While still warm, dips tops in melted butter, then in the 1/4 cup sugar.

           Refrigerated Cranberry Chutney

4 cups cranberries

2 oranges

1 lemon

2 apples

1 cup raisins

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp. powdered ginger

2 Tbsps. candied ginger [Crystallized ginger?—Silence]

2 Tbsps. grated onion

6 Tbsps. minced green bell pepper

Core apple and put fruit through chopper. [Food processor?—Silence]Add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate. Makes 3 pints.

Okay, now you’ve got the turkey and cranberries covered. What about the dressing? Well, if it’s that soft, gooey dressing that’s cooked inside the turkey, aka stuffing, you’re on your own. But if it’s the savory, crunchy dressing that’s cooked separately, and if you also have leftover mashed or whipped potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes, you’re in luck. Spread the potatoes in a buttered casserole dish or pie pan and top with a layer of dressing. Dot the top with butter and heat in the oven at 300 until hot through. Yum!!! (Naturally, you can always make a fresh batch of mashed potatoes if you don’t have potato leftovers. It’s worth it!)

What about those sweet potatoes? If you have leftover baked or mashed sweet potatoes, you might consider making Landis Store’s Sweet Potato Souffle. It’s the best! (See my earlier post, “Thanksgiving: Those sweet potatoes” for the recipe.) Or how about adding them to baked goods, like Sweet Potato Biscuits or Sweet Potato Corn Cake (a type of cornbread)? Here are recipes for both from Bill Neal’s classic Southern cookbook, Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie

          Sweet Potato Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour

heaping 1/2 tsp. salt

3 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. sugar, if desired

1/2 tsp. baking soda

5 Tbsps. cold shortening, butter, or a combination

7/8 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup mashed or pureed cold cooked sweet potato

Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Add the cold shortening and/or butter and work all through the flour with your fingertips. Every bit of flour should be combined with a bit of fat. Add the buttermilk and sweet potato and stir vigorously until the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly for 10 strokes. Stop just as soon as the dough begins to look smooth. Pat the dough out to approximately an 8 x 8 x 1/2-inch-thick square. Cut into 2-inch rounds. Place on an ungreased sheet and bake in an oven preheated to 500 degrees F for 8 minutes, until lightly browned. Biscuits will be a lovely apricot color. Serve hot with lots of butter. [And slices of aged Cheddar or maple syrup or apricot jam!—Silence] Makes 12-14 biscuits.

              Sweet Potato Corn Cake

2 cups cornmeal [White cornmeal is traditional.—Silence]

1 tsp. salt

1 1/8 cup water

2 Tbsps. butter

2/3 to 1 cup mashed sweet potato

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1 egg

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 1/2 tsps. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Sift flour with baking powder and baking soda into a large bowl; add cornmeal and salt and mix thoroughly. Beat egg with buttermilk. Bring the water and butter to a boil. When the butter has melted and the water is boiling, pour over the cornmeal-flour mixture and stir thoroughly. Add the buttermilk mixture and sweet potatoes and stir again to blend. Bake in a buttered 9-inch tin in the preheated 375-degree oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown on top. This is delicious split and buttered with honey or molasses. Makes 6 servings.  

Moving on, what if you have a can (or part of a can) of leftover pumpkin? (We’re talking about 100% pumpkin here, not pie filling.) I, of course, enthusiastically recommend my Curried Pumpkin Soup and Pumpkin Chili (search for my earlier posts, “Curried pumpkin soup” and “Silence’s Chili Surprise,” for the recipes.) And I suspect you could substitute equal amounts of pumpkin for the sweet potato in the biscuit and corn cake recipes. But here are two other intriguing options, from Pumpkin Lovers Cookbook:

             Pumpkin Spaghetti

1 cup canned 100% pumpkin

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/4 cup softened butter

12 oz. thin spaghetti

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring water to a boil and cook the pasta. When it’s nearly done, mix the pumpkin, cream, nutmeg, and 1/2 cup Parmesan in a small pan. Bring just to a simmer over low heat, stirring once or twice. Remove from heat. Drain spaghetti and pour into a large bowl. Add butter to spaghetti and toss ’til butter is melted. Pour pumpkin mixture over pasta. Toss. Serve with additional Parmesan, salt and pepper.

           Pumpkin Custard

1 1/2 cups canned 100% pumpkin

2/3 cup brown sugar

3 beaten eggs

1 1/2 cups scalded milk

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. powdered ginger

1/4 tsp. each powdered cloves and nutmeg

Mix all ingredients thoroughly and pour into a buttered baking dish. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F. over for 45 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

Sometimes you end up with leftovers you don’t expect. Our neighbors sent us home from Thanksgiving dinner with an entire container of cooked corn, for example. I had made the Gourmet magazine recipe for corn pudding using John Cope’s Dried Sweet Corn and substituting half-and-half for the milk (we were out of milk, gasp), and it was delicious. (See my post “Thanksgiving, PA Dutch style: Dried corn” for the recipe.) Alas, no trace of this delicious corn pudding remains, so I’m tempted to try it with the fresh corn and see how it is. I might also add some of the corn to my own standard cornbread recipe, or toss some into sauteed sweet onions and mushrooms to serve over pasta or rice, or…

Anyway. Making the best use of leftovers, so you eat every last bite with as much delight as the first, is frugality at its best. Let us hear from you if you have favorite ways to use leftovers! 

           ‘Til next time,


Corn pudding, cranberry sauce, and other seasonal sensations. November 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It seems to be taking me a lifetime to transcribe all the recipes for creative ways to use Thanksgiving leftovers—gasp!!!—so I thought I’d give you a brief update on my successes with this year’s menu items. Look for the leftovers post tomorrow.

Wednesday, I made two recipes in advance—Dorie Greenspan’s Cranberry Sauce and Winter Cole Slaw. See my earlier post, “Thanksgiving: Cranberry sauce and beyond,” for the cranberry sauce recipe, which is simply delicious, beautiful and luxurious and not at all bitter.

For my winter slaw, I mix (in a large bowl) one package shredded carrots with two packages of shredded purple cabbage, one finely diced large sweet onion, 1 bunch chopped green onions (scallions), 1/2  to 2/3 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), 1 teaspoon salt (we like RealSalt) or Trocomare, 1 teaspoon (or more to taste) each whole fennel and whole cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon lemon pepper, 1 carton crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese, and 1 bottle chunky blue cheese dressing. Stir all ingredients to mix thoroughly, chill and allow flavors to mix, and serve.

The slaw was a big hit, too. My savory, crunchy dressing is always a favorite (see “Silence’s Amazing Cranberry Stuffing” for the recipe)—I kept looking over and seeing people taking spoonsful right out of the casserole dish. (And some had dispensed with the spoons and were just scooping up the hot, fragrant, crunchy dressing with their fingers.) But I was especially pleased with the cranberry sauce, since it was the first time I’d made it, and with another first-time dish: corn pudding made with Cope’s Dried Sweet Corn.

I love corn pudding, but had never made it with dried corn. Would it taste weird? Would the corn remain hard and crunchy? Ack!!! Well, after reading a recipe for a dried corn pudding in our local paper, courtesy of Gourmet magazine, I decided to take my chances. (See “Thanksgiving, PA Dutch style: Dried corn” for the recipe.) I hadn’t realized that I was basically out of milk until I was in the process of making the pudding, so I grabbed a quart of half-and-half and used that instead. I think it made the corn pudding even more creamy and delicious. Sadly, there was not so much as a crumb left over for today’s lunch, but that at least tells me that everybody else enjoyed it, too.

You may not be able to bring yourself to make cranberry sauce more often than at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I recommend that you give the other recipes a try throughout the cold months. You’ll be glad you did!

           ‘Til next time,


Thanksgiving: Desserts. November 26, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, continuing a week of Thanksgiving-themed recipes here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. One thing it’s easy to be thankful for is a delicious homemade dessert. But if you’re not a pumpkin pie fan, or you just want to provide an extra dessert or two, you may be stuck trying to think of something appropriate.

Never fear! Between this yummy pumpkin roll and these easy, delectable cranberry oatmeal cookies, you’ll never be at a loss again!

             Pumpkin Roll

For the cake:

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup 100% pumpkin (not pie filling)

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

3/4 cup flour

powdered sugar

For the filling:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

4 Tbsps. butter, at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

For the cake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix the eggs, sugar, pumpkin, baking soda, cinnamon, and flour. Beat well. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit a jelly roll pan (or use a large rimmed cookie sheet), and line the pan with the paper. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and lift out of pan with parchment paper. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, then roll up with parchment paper so the layers don’t stick together. Cool for 2 hours.

For the filling: Mix the cream cheese, butter, cup of powdered sugar, and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Unroll the cake, remove the parchment paper, spread the filling over the entire surface of the cake, and reroll. Sprinkle more powdered sugar over the top. Refrigerate to set the filling.

               Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon real vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups quick-cooking oats

1 cup raisins

1 cup dried cranberries (“craisins”) or coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries

1 12-oz. package vanilla or white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream together butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda; add to the creamed mixture. Stir in oats, raisins and cranberries. Stir in vanilla or white chocolate chips. Drop by rounded teaspoonsful 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. Makes 6 dozen.

Yum! Just thinking of these makes me feel thankful.

We wish each and every one of you a joyous and blessed Thanksgiving. Our favorite Thanksgiving prayer is the beautiful old French prayer, “For this good food and joy renewed, we give you thanks, oh Lord.” We also like “God bless this table and all of us around it.” And let’s not forget that ultimate prayer, Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, every one.”

         ‘Til next time,


Thanksgiving: Those sweet potatoes. November 25, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. One of the more bizarre Thanksgiving traditions in my view is the sweet potato casserole. Like so many of the foods served at Thanksgiving—turkey, pumpkins, green beans, cranberries, and corn leap to mind—sweet potatoes are a New World food (they’re native to South America), so putting them on the table is completely appropriate. Besides, our friend Ben and I love sweet potatoes. So what’s my problem?

We’re getting to that. First, a little history: In my family (and in OFB’s), you baked sweet potatoes until they were so well done that the flesh literally separated from the skin with no help from you once you split them open. You added liberal amounts of butter, salt, and (if you liked it) black or white pepper, plunged in your fork, and sent your tastebuds soaring to sweet potato heaven.

If you’ve never had a good baked sweet potato, here’s the foolproof method: Choose orange-fleshed sweet potatoes that are long and comparatively thin versus short and stout. Wash but don’t dry the sweet potatoes, place them on a foil-lined cookie sheet to prevent drippings from ruining your oven, and puncture the top of each sweet potato with a fork every inch or so to let the steam escape so the sweet potatoes won’t explode while they’re cooking. (A very bad idea.) Bake at 375 degrees F for an hour or at 350 for an hour and a half, or until you can see dark brown caramelized goo oozing out of the puncture holes and the potatoes are completely soft to the touch. (If you’ve ever eaten—or tried to eat—an underdone sweet potato, you’ll understand the importance of letting them cook as long as it takes. Trust me on this.) Remove the well-done sweet potatoes from the oven, split them with a knife, and you’re good to go. Note: Dogs, parrots, and chickens love the cooled skins, escpecially if there are traces of sweet potato, butter, and salt left on them.

Sweet potatoes cooked like this are so incredibly delicious that it’s hard to imagine improving on them. OFB and I love them with rice, broccoli, and a huge tossed salad, or with creamy pasta, green beans (or mixed green and yellow wax beans in season), and salad. They’re a natural with chicken, or, of course, turkey, and they go oh so well with cranberry sauce. But there is one sweet potato dish that we love as much, and maybe more. It’s a specialty of a local country inn, the Landis Store Hotel, and they were generous enough to post the recipe on their website so fans like us could enjoy it even when it’s not on the menu. Check this out:

      Landis Store’s Sweet Potato Souffle

2 lbs. sweet potatoes

1 tsp. salt

1 1/2 sticks butter

1/2 cup cream

1 egg

Peel and boil sweet potatoes until they’re soft. Drain sweet potatoes and put in a food processor, adding salt, butter, cream, and egg. Add salt and pepper to taste and bake in six individual buttered ramekins or souffle dishes at 350 degrees F until the tops are light brown. Serve piping hot. [Note: Because Landis Store is a restaurant, they always make their sweet potato souffle in individual serving dishes. If I were making it, I’d put it all into one big souffle dish instead.—Silence]

Let’s get back to why I have a problem with sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving. If someone served up well baked and buttered sweet potatoes, or sweet potato souffle, I certainly wouldn’t have a problem. In fact, I’d be the first in line. It’s the idea of turning sweet potatoes (often from a can) into a substrate for marshmallows that floors me. Eeeeewww!!!! Who ever thought of this?! How could anyone eat it, and why would they want to? Aren’t sweet potatoes sweet enough without globbing a bunch of marshmallows on top?!!

Some people have accused this casserole of being a white trash concoction. So while I was researching it, I headed straight for the source of all things trailer-park trashy, the totally hilarious Ruby Ann’s Down Home Trailer Park Holiday Cookbook by one of our heroes, the immortal Ruby Ann Boxcar. Now, you know when a book’s back cover begins with “Decorate the panelin’ and pile on the hair spray… It’s time to celebrate the holidays—trailer park style!” that we’re not talking about your ordinary cookbook. (“Don’t let Elvis’s birthday blow past you like a Baptist in a Revival bus.”) And sure enough, Ruby Ann didn’t let me down when it came to Thanksgiving sweet potatoes. If you have to have ’em sweet, leave the marshmallows on the store shelf and try this casserole from Ruby Ann’s mama-in-law, Momma Ballzak:

        Momma Ballzak’s Sweet Potato Casserole

3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup milk

1/2 cup margarine

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup margarine

2 cups Kahlua liqueur

1 cup chopped pecans

Combine the sweet potatoes, sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, and 1/2 cup margarine. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Put into a greased shallow casserole. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, 1/3 cup margarine, 1 cup of the Kahlua, and pecans. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole, and bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 minutes.Pour the remainin’ Kahlua over the casserole and cook for 5 more minutes. Serves 6.

As Ruby Ann notes, “I dare you to have two servin’s of this and then walk a straight line.” I’m quite intrigued by this recipe, I’ll admit, but if I ever decide to try it I’d substitute salted butter for that margarine, and might add a half-teaspoon of additional salt to offset the sweetness.

There are other sweet potato treats that I contemplate for the Thanksgiving season, including sweet potato cornbread and sweet potato biscuits. Try them, they’re yummy! (I’ll give you the recipes in Friday’s Frugal Living Tip, which will be about great frugal uses for Thanksgiving leftovers.) But one thing you’ll never see me making or tasting is that marshmallow-topped gunk.

One more thing while we’re on the subject of potatoes: My family always served mashed Irish potatoes rather than sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. I love mashed potatoes, so I can never resist making some for the occasion. I like to boil Yukon Gold potatoes until they’re thoroughly cooked, then drain them, return the pot to the fire, turn the heat to low, and mash them skins and all, adding lots of butter, light cream or half-and-half, salt (we like RealSalt) or Trocomare, and white or fresh-ground black pepper. I have a very heavy potato masher I inherited from my grandmother and it’s a real treasure.

Believe it or not, one of Ruby Ann’s friends at the High Chaparral Trailer Park apparently goes for mashed Yukon Golds at Thanksgiving, too. He adds butter, heavy cream, chives, salt and pepper, chopped parsley, and cream cheese to his. Hmmm. That actually sounds really good…

             ‘Til next time,


Thanksgiving, PA Dutch style: Dried corn. November 24, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As a native Tennessean, I had never heard of dried corn when our friend Ben and I first came to scenic Pennsylvania. Now, obviously, I’d seen ears of dried field corn, and many a kernel of dried popcorn. But around here, when you talk about dried corn, that’s not what you mean. For the Pennsylvania Dutch (that’s “Dutch” as in “Deitsch,” dialect for “Deutsch,” German, not “Dutch” as in Holland), dried corn is oven-dried sweet corn kernels that are then reconstituted during cooking into a variety of dishes that are considered Thanksgiving staples.

Corn, of course, is one of the “Three Sisters” of Native American cuisine, along with those other Thanksgiving classics, pumpkins and green beans. But by Thanksgiving, fresh corn on the cob would have been a distant memory before the days of worldwide transport that for decades annihilated the concept of seasonal cooking and had us all eating fresh corn, tomatoes and watermelon in January. Mercifully, regional and seasonal cooking is making a comeback. So is drying and canning summer’s bounty to enjoy the rest of the year. And that’s where dried corn comes into its own.

As far as I know, there’s exactly one brand of dried corn available for grocery-store purchase, and that’s John Cope’s. Cope’s—located in Lancaster County, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country—has been making and selling dried sweet corn for more than a hundred years. If your grocery doesn’t happen to stock it, you can mail-order it from a number of sources, including Amazon.com, Farm Stand Foods (www.farmstandfoods.com), and Zingerman’s (www.zingermans.com). Our favorite site was Farm Stand Foods, which is apparently the official Cope’s site and also offers paraphernalia for the Cope’s corn fanatic, including Cope’s theme mugs, decorative tins, and tee shirts (“I Brake For Cope’s Corn”), as well as gift baskets, other regional specialty foods, and recipes.

The recipe page was almost mind-boggling. You can find recipes for Corn Souffle, Chicken and Corn Pie, Curried Corn N’ Tomatoes, Lancaster County Corn Pudding, John Cope’s Baked Corn, Baked Corn Supreme, Cornburgers, Corn Fritters, Baked Corn with Oysters, Stewed Corn, Corn Puffs, Corn & Beef Hash, Chicken Corn Soup, Corn Chowder, Ham & Corn Royal, and Creamed Corn. A quick search revealed that many of these recipes used Cope’s canned or frozen corn rather than dried. But one, the recipe for Creamed Corn, which also happens to be the traditional Thanksgiving dish, uses the dried corn. Here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth:

           Creamed Corn

1 7.5-oz package Toasted Dried Sweet Corn

3 1/2 cups milk

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp salt

2 tbsp butter

Combine Toasted Dried Sweet Corn and milk and let soak in refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Add sugar, salt, and butter. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. (They have a microwave version as well: Mix all the ingredients in a 2-quart casserole, cover with wax paper, and microwave on high for 10 minutes. Stir and let stand for 15 minutes. Microwave on high for 5 minutes, and let stand until the desired consistency is reached.)

If this doesn’t sound particularly fabulous, listen to what the Zingerman’s site (which is quite delightful) has to say about Cope’s dried sweet corn: “Makes the best creamed corn you’ll ever eat. John Cope’s corn couldn’t be more of a culinary secret to everyone outside of Rheems, Pennsylvania, if we’d made a national policy to hide it. Martin Cope made his first batch in 1900, and despite a conspicuous lack of notoreity the company is still doing it now as they were then. They buy corn only during the height of the season, when the sugars are at their highest. Quick to the drier—like olives for oil, one key is to get the corn into production right after picking, before its sugars start turning to starches. The drying caramelizes the natural sugars in the corn, lending a subtle, sweet flavor that’s so pleasing you’ll want to eat it right out of the tin. Anything you make with fresh corn is fair game for Cope’s dried sweet corn.” 

Intrigued? I was, too, especially after reading an article by Diane Stoneback in out local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, that focused on dried corn and had a bunch of recipes for it, including how to make your own from scratch (well, from your own-grown or store-bought fresh ears of sweet corn). Read the whole article, “Roots in the first Thanksgiving,” at www.themorningcall.com, for fascinating insights into the history of creamed dried corn, its occasional moments in the spotlight (think Emeril, Thomas Keller, and the White House), directions on making your own dried corn, and additional recipes.

Diane Stoneback tells those of us who weren’t raised with dried corn how to make it part of the Thanksgiving feast: “Just top a serving of plain mashed potatoes with a spoonful of creamed dried corn and you can skip the butter. Let the corn’s ‘gravy’ mix in with bread stuffing for a special treat.”

The descendants of the original Copes have their own special recipe that they love even more than the famous creamed corn:

           Cope’s Baked Corn Supreme

1 7.5-ounce bag John Cope’s toasted dried sweet corn, ground in a blender or food processor

5 cups cold milk

3 1/2 tbsps. butter

2 tsps. salt

3 tbsps. sugar

4 well-beaten eggs

Mix ingredients thoroughly. Bake in buttered 2-quart casserole for 60 minutes in preheated 375-degree oven. Serves 4 to 6.

A variation on this recipe made it into Gourmet magazine as corn pudding:

      Gourmet Magazine’s Toasted Sweet Corn Pudding

1 7.5-oz. pkg Cope’s toasted dried sweet corn

4 cups whole milk

1 cup well-shaken fresh buttermilk (not powdered)

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 Tbsps. sugar

2 Tbsps. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsps. salt, 1 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 350 with rack in upper third. Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish. Whisk together all ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer to baking dish. Bake until pudding is set, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool 10 minutes before serving. Note: Corn pudding can be made 3 hours ahead. Reheat, covered, in a 300-degree oven.

Corn pudding was one of the best things our friend Ben ever ate as a child. He had it rarely—perhaps on trips to the Shaker Village in Kentucky en route to his grandparents’ house—and it was always made with corn fresh-cut off the cob. But, hmmm. I know there’s a box of Cope’s dried corn in my pantry someplace. Maybe I’ll surprise OFB with a Cope’s corn pudding for Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, if dried corn is a Thanksgiving tradition in your home, and you have a favorite recipe I haven’t listed, please share it with us!

(Ahem. As an editor, it just kills me to list recipes in nonstandardized forms—tbs., tbsp., Tbsps., and etc.—in the same post. I don’t care how it’s listed, as long as all the recipes are listed the same way in the same post. But in this case, drawing from many sources, I simply listed them as they were published in each case rather than “fixing” them for consistency’s sake. But please don’t assume I was simply too clueless to notice! The one change I made was to omit “margarine” where a recipe said “butter or.” Margarine is a tool of the devil. Use butter, please! Not that I feel strongly about this or anything.)

          ‘Til next time,


Thanksgiving: Green beans. November 23, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Green beans are a traditional Thanksgiving side dish—like turkey, pumpkins, corn, and potatoes, a native New World crop and therefore appropriate to the day. (I’ll be talking about another regional Thanksgiving tradition, dried corn, tomorrow, and tackling the whole sweet potato issue on Wednesday, leading up to desserts for the day on Thursday, and frugal tricks with Thanksgiving leftovers on Friday. Stay tuned!)

Getting back to green beans, we always had them at Thanksgiving when I was growing up, but Mama served them simply boiled, topped with butter, salt, white pepper, and thinly sliced almonds. I had never heard of the apparently ubiquitous green bean casserole until I moved to Pennsylvania, and have still never tasted one, though that may change this Thanksgiving, since we’ll be celebrating with our neighbors.

I still love green beans the way my mama made them, and I still think “classic” green bean casserole sounds like a bad idea. Not because of the crunchy, oily “French fried” onion topping—hey, both our friend Ben and I love a good, crispy-crunchy, greasy onion ring, bring it on!—but because of that can of cream of mushroom soup, the milk, and the soy sauce. Soup, milk, and soy sauce with green beans? Good grief.

In case anyone besides me has never made a green bean casserole but might want to, here are two versions, from those who should know, Campbell’s, maker of the cream of mushroom soup, and Birds Eye, provider of frozen cut green beans. You’ll note that the amounts of each ingredient differ slightly, even allowing for the 12-serving Campbell’s recipe versus the 4-serving Birds Eye version, but the concept is definitely the same. I’ll depart from the original recipes only in eliminating the brand names.

              Classic Green Bean Casserole

This is the Birds Eye version.

1 10 3/4-ounce can cream of mushroom soup 

1/2 cup milk

1 tsp. soy sauce

ground black pepper

1 1-pound bag frozen cut green beans, thawed and drained

1 1/3 cups crispy French-fried onions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In an oven-safe casserole dish, mix soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper, green beans, and 2/3 cup onions until well combined. Bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle remaining onions on top and bake an additional 5 minutes until crispy. Serves 4.

         Green Bean Casserole

Here’s the official Campbell’s version.

2 10 3/4-ounce cans cream of mushroom soup

1 cup milk

2 tsp. soy sauce

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

8 cups cooked cut green beans

1 6-ounce can (2 2/3 cups) French-fried onions

Stir soup, soy sauce, black pepper, beans, and 1 1/3 cups onions in a 3-quart casserole. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes or until hot. Stir. Top with remaining onions. Bake for 5 minutes more. Tip: Toast 1/2 cup sliced almonds. Add with remaining onions. Serves 12.

Well, I guess Campbell’s was trying to make a gesture with the almond tip, but still. I remember reading a “gentrified” version of green bean casserole in my favorite cooking magazine, Cook’s Country, but I can’t find the issue, nor could I find the recipe online. Sigh. If I do, I’ll revise this post and include it. Once again, stay tuned.

Meanwhile, there just have to be other options for serving green beans on Thanksgiving. Here’s one I found in Parade magazine. (I love that it’s called “String Beans,” when mercifully most people now wouldn’t even know what that means. Back in the day, green beans had tough, fibrous strings running down the side with the line on it. Before you could cook them, you had not only to snap off the sharp, rough ends—thus “snap beans”—but also to pull off the “strings.” Modern varieties have somehow managed to do away with the tough strings, so now you only have to cut or snap off the ends.)

         String Beans

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 yellow onions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes

Kosher salt and finely ground black pepper

1 tablespoon each finely chopped fresh oregano and flat-leaf parsley

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed

Crumbled feta cheese 

In a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft and clear, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook briefly until soft and golden brown. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano, parsley, and about 1 cup water. Stir in the green beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer until beans are just tender, about 12 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon onto a warm platter and top with feta cheese. Serves 8.

Actually, this sounds good. In fact, it sounds like it might make a great topping for pasta or rice, especially if you sauteed some sliced mushrooms with the onion and garlic. But, whoa, it certainly doesn’t sound like Thanksgiving dinner, at least not to me. Yes, tomatoes are also New World plants that should perhaps be given a place, along with bell and hot peppers, on the Thanksgiving menu. But in the salad (and perhaps the sweet potatoes—we’ll be getting to that), not the green beans, thanks very much. 

So, okay, what green bean dish should you be serving with Thanksgiving dinner? I still love my mama’s buttered green beans with sliced almonds. But when push comes to shove, what I usually make is a simple dish of boiled green beans (cooked just long enough to be tender, but still bright green, drained, and topped with sauteed sliced mushrooms in browned butter with salt (we like RealSalt or Trocomare) and lemon pepper. Yum!!! Easy and oh-so-good.

Do you have a favorite green bean recipe? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

             ‘Til next time,


Thanksgiving: Cranberry sauce and beyond. November 22, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, kicking off a week of Thanksgiving recipes with that classic, cranberry sauce. Our friend Ben and I grew up in households where our mamas lovingly made cranberry sauce for every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Their recipes were pretty similar—fresh cranberries, oranges, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, cooked up into a glittering but bitter dish served up in elegant cut-crystal dishes. Yes, they looked gorgeous. No, we didn’t like them. We’d take that canned cranberry jelly any day.

So, how do you make cranberry sauce without making it bitter? I saw a recipe in the Parade magazine last week that I thought would do the trick, from noted food author Dorie Greenspan. I plan to try it this Thanksgiving (with the changes I’ve noted in the recipe). You might want to as well.

          Dorie Greenspan’s Cranberry Sauce

2 bags (12 oz. each) fresh cranberries [Note from Silence: I have read emphatic assertions that frozen cranberries are actually better than fresh cranberries in cranberry sauce. I didn’t even realize there were frozen cranberries, but I might try them if I find them and see what I think.]

1 cup orange juice

1 cup apricot jam

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. powdered ginger [Note from Silence: No way! I’d mince either fresh or crystallized ginger and add it instead.]

1/4 pound dried apricots, finely diced

[Note from Silence: I’d at least think about adding 1/2 cup of dried cranberries—aka “craisins”—or dried tart cherries, too. And I know plenty of folks add a splash of Grand Marnier in their cranberry sauce. We’ve never done it, but can’t hurt, might help should you choose to try it.]

Stir all the ingredients together in a large, heavy pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the berries pop and the sauce starts to thicken—it will thicken much more as it cools—about 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature, cover, and chill.

Okay, sounds easy and good, right? But you might want to halve the amount—Dorie claims this recipe serves 20. (It certainly wouldn’t here! We love our cranberry sauce.)

 FYI, we posted lots of great Thanksgiving recipes and resources back in November 2008. To access them, use our search bar to look for the ones that speak to you: “Putting some heat in your Thanksgiving celebration,” “Curried pumpkin soup,” “Try this with turkey,” “Cookbooks to be thankful for, parts 1-3,” Silence’s Chili Surprise,” “Fabulous easy salad dressing,” “A good day for baking cookies,” “Pumpkin chili, glazed carrots, and sweet potato souffle,” “Time for pumpkin bread!”, “Picking pumpkins,” and “Silence’s Amazing Cranberry Stuffing.”

Meanwhile, keep an eye on this site for recipes and lore that will take you to Turkey Day and on towards Christmas! And please, we’d love it if you’d share some of your own favorite Thanksgiving recipes with us.

          ‘Til next time,


Frugal living tip #46. November 21, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. In 2009, we’re committed to bringing you a Frugal Living Tip every week to help people like us survive these tough economic times. This week’s is about not losing what little money you may have.

I’ll get to that in a minute. But first, a couple of statistics I read in the local paper that struck me as ironic. Savvy gardeners and homesteaders won’t be surprised to hear that, thanks to the recession, home canning is up. Sales of canning equipment were up 30% this year. That’s the good. Unfortunately, hard times also make us crave cheap indulgences—something we can still do to make ourselves feel better. So another sign of bad times is the skyrocketing sale of potato chips (up 22% this year) and other fatty, salty comfort-food snacks, rising dramatically after years of stagnant sales. Sansabelt, here we come. That’s the bad.

Now for the ugly, the point of this post: It’s bad enough when you don’t have much money sitting in the bank. But it’s a lot worse when what little you do have is siphoned off through overdraft fees. Here’s some scary data and excellent advice from Humberto Cruz in his article “Invest time to avoid fees.” (To read the entire article, go to www.themorningcall.com.)

First, the scary stats: 51 million American adults overdraw their checking accounts once a year; 27 million, five or more times a year; and 18 million, ten or more times each year. Those overdrafts come at the cost of $26.6 billion in hard-earned money, at an average of $29.58 per bounced check. Many banks charge fees if your checking balance falls below a minum each month as well. And late fees on credit cards are supposedly rising into the high 20s—in other words, heading towards a third of the bill.

The bad news doesn’t end there. Not only are fees for using debit cards at banks not affiliated with your own rising steeply—the average is now $2.22 per transaction plus a $1.32 fee levied by your own bank—$3.54 each time you use another bank’s ATM. (I’ve also read that some banks organize debit charges from highest to lowest amount rather than by transaction date, so unless you record each and every transaction as you make it in your checkbook and balance the total immediately, you may think you have more money than you actually do at any given time and overdraw inadvertently as a result.)

Yikes! How can you avoid this mess? Mr. Cruz offers some good advice from a consumer-oriented website, Bankrate.com: “Match your accounts to your needs. If it’s just simple checking, bill pay, ATM or debit card transactions, a non-interest-paying but free checking account with no minimum balance or per-check charge is best.” He also advises you to keep track of all your transactions and balances, including ATM and debit transactions and your credit cards. He checks his accounts online daily, and swears he can do this in under a minute. You may not want to check every single day, but if you have the uneasy feeling that your balance is bottoming out, it would be well worth it. After all, the last thing you need when money is already tight is to be handing what little there is over to the bank!

            ‘Til next time,