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Help your computer keep its cool. August 29, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Here’s the simple trick I use to keep my laptop from overheating: I set it on a cookie cooling rack, one of the ones with a wire grid set up on legs so the grid stands about an inch above my desk. This allows air to circulate under the laptop and helps it keep its cool.

Credit where due: I got this tip from my amazingly ingenious friend Delilah, who’s a genius at discovering new uses for inexpensive everyday objects.

Try it, it works!

‘Til next time,

Silence

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Want more lycopene? Try this. August 28, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. For whatever reason, I’ve always loved orange and yellow tomatoes more than red ones. Sure, a ripe red tomato is great, but for me, the flavor of an orange tomato trumps a red one every time.

I’ve always felt guilty about this because of the much-trumpeted news that the lycopene found in red tomatoes is so good for you. This super-antioxidant is even more bioavailable when cooked in a tomato sauce. (And yes, of course I love tomato sauce, pizza sauce, and the like.) Was I shortchanging myself by eating orange tomatoes instead?

Turns out, the answer is no. Research has now revealed that the lycopene in raw orange tomatoes is far more bioavailable than the lycopene in raw red tomatoes. Hooray! And it’s even more available when combined with olive oil.

Oh happy day! My all-time favorite summer salad is a play on the classic Caprese salad. I start with a bed of Romaine lettuce to add crunch, or a combo of Romaine, butter/Boston lettuce, and arugula to add depth and crunch. On top, I alternate slices of tomato, sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla), fresh mozzarella, and whole basil leaves. Then I sprinkle chopped scallions (green onions) over the salad, add salt (we like Real Salt) and fresh-cracked black pepper, and drizzle on some luscious extra-virgin olive oil (our favorite is Hojiblanca, from Spain). Yummmmmm!!! So easy, and so good.

I also enjoy thick slices of orange tomato on toasted whole-wheat bread with Hellman’s mayonnaise or Vegenaise, lettuce, and Cheddar cheese. And of course they’re perfect cut in more manageable segments in any salad.

So hit the orange tomatoes, splash on some olive oil, and enjoy your lycopenes while tomato season lasts! There’ll be plenty of time for spaghetti sauce and pizza come winter.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Pickerel frog sighting! August 27, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in critters.
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Silence Dogood here. This past weekend, I went to a retreat in the Catskills. Supposedly, the place where the retreat is held, with a huge lake set among beautiful forests, is crawling with porcupines. I was hoping to see them, having had a great experience petting a porcupine at the wonderful wildlife park in San Diego years ago. I’ve had a soft spot for porcupines ever since.

Sadly, I didn’t see a porcupine. But I did get to see two amphibians I hadn’t met before: a pickerel frog and a bunch of tiny salamanders.

The pickerel frog wasn’t down by the lake, as you might have expected, but up a fairly steep hill beside a small tree. But I recognized it at once, because I’d just looked up pickerel frogs, leopard frogs, and green frogs so our friend Ben and I could identify the two species that have occupied our deck’s half-barrel water garden all summer. It turned out that we had a green frog and two leopard frogs; pickerel frogs were too small (just 1-2 inches) and covered with bold, distinct spots.

The one I saw at the retreat looked just like the one in the picture. For some reason, I’d thought that pickerel frogs were a Southern species, but obviously, I was wrong. I was very happy to see this little guy! But I still wonder what he was doing way up the hill rather than in the lake.

What was in the lake were the salamanders—dozens and dozens of tiny (2-3-inch-long) black salamanders, swimming next to the shore. The salamanders that I’m familiar with are much bigger; I’ve seen orange-and-black tiger salamanders that were over a foot long at my family home outside Nashville, and many more modest salamanders that were still a good 6 to 8 inches from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail.

I assumed these salamanders were infants, but my friend Stephanie, who was walking along the lake with me, assured me that they were adults who’d returned to the water to mate and lay eggs. Why would salamanders lay eggs now, with winter coming, I wondered. But then, if they were infants, why wouldn’t they have hatched out in spring and enjoyed a full season of growth before winter’s arrival?

I’m not familiar with small black salamanders, so if any of you can shed light on the issue, please feel free to chime in and relieve my ignorance! Whatever the case, it was fun to watch them, and to see the pickerel frog. It really enriched my retreat!

‘Til next time,

Silence

You know you don’t get out much when… August 20, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I recently returned from a trip to our native Nashville and to Bardstown, KY (in the heart of bourbon country). Naturally, we’d taken OFB’s larger and more road-worthy car, leaving my brave but battered little red VW Golf idle in our parking square.

Once we’d returned, we’ve been running errands together and recovering from our trip (along with our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, who’s always totally wiped out after being boarded). In other words, loafing. I haven’t seen the need to head out on my own, so the little red car has remained in place.

You can imagine my amusement when I went out to get the mail this afternoon and saw that a big, bold garden spider, the yellow-and-black orb weaver (Argiope aurantia), had woven its elaborate web from one tire to the daylily row alongside! I couldn’t wait until OFB returned so I could show him. We love these showy spiders, and it was the first one I’d seen so far this year.

I guess it’s time to move the spider to a safer location and fire up the old VW before the tires start to rot…

‘Til next time,

Silence

Now we are two. August 18, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were thrilled yesterday to see that two frogs have now colonized our half-barrel deck water garden. And not just any two frogs, but two different species: a leopard frog and a green frog. The leopard frog floats on the surface of the water garden, while the green frog prefers to lurk, submerged, with just its eyes and nostrils protruding above the water’s surface.

We like to provide a diverse assortment of plants in our water garden: a towering papyrus, bulbous water hyacinths with their purple flower spikes and glossy foliage, watercress, water iris, and submerged vegetation (ferny anacharis, in our case). Some years, we’ll add water lettuce, water clover, parrot feather, and so on, but we try not to overcrowd. It may not look like it at the beginning of the season, but those plants will spread! We also like to add a handful of water snails to help with algae control.

Anyway, it’s always fun to enjoy the water garden even when there are no uninvited visitors. But what a thrill to see that frogs have discovered our water garden and are adding life and liveliness to its surface, not to mention providing mosquito control. We don’t know about you, but we’d rather look at frogs than those doughnut-shaped Bacillus thuringiensis mosquito “dunks” any day!

What makes great bourbon. August 17, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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What do great caves and great bourbon have in common?

Give up? It’s limestone-filtered water.

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood just got back from a road trip from Pennsylvania through Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and back through Maryland and West Virginia to Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home in scenic PA. This is on the whole a beautiful route, with lots of mountains and lots of water. But not all the water was beautiful, to say the least. In many of these states, it resembled red sludge.

Not so in Kentucky’s bluegrass country, home to our friend Ben’s maternal Simms family, to thoroughbred race horses, and to bourbon. And also home to many wonderful caves, the most majestic being Mammoth Cave. As a child, our friend Ben spent many happy hours touring the caves, oohing and aahing at the giant stalactites and stalagmites, and stopping at roadside stands to buy smaller versions for my rock collection. (A practice now strictly forbidden.)

But it never would have occurred to me that the action of water on limestone that created the great caves of Kentucky would also have made it possible to produce bourbon, America’s only native spirit. True, the streams Silence and I saw on this part of our trip were crystal-clear. But it was only while viewing the excellent and informative displays at Bardstown’s Bourbon Heritage Center that I finally made the connection. (Thank you, Heaven Hill, for a truly marvelous museum.)

As the label on my prized bottle of Wathen’s Single Barrel Straight Bourbon Whiskey explains, “Pristine water, naturally filtered through Kentucky’s underground limestone deposits, is used exclusively in the 100% copper distilling process. The finest cereal grains—corn, rye, and malted barley—are selected, milled and proportioned to exacting standards to produce a mash that awaits the magic of the fermentation process. The Medley family yeast, a zealously guarded secret handed down through eight generations, is then added to the mash. After double distilling, the whiskey is then stored in the finest charred new white oak barrels and allowed to age unhurried to its peak of flavor.” (The charred barrels are what give bourbon its distinctive caramel color.)

Lest one wonder about the “eight generations” claim, a geneaology of the Wathen and Medley families dating back to the 1720s is thoughtfully provided on the label. Our friend Ben, a Wathen relative whose Kentucky ancestry also dates back to the 1700s, can only approve.

But I digress. Caves, bourbon, beautiful horses: Kentucky’s bluegrass region has it all. Next time you plan a trip that takes you within driving distance of Bardstown, make a point of stopping. Head to the Bourbon Heritage Center for a free tour and tasting (you’ll learn about the different types of bourbon and get our friend Ben’s favorite treat, a chocolate-coated bourbon ball, yum).

Then enjoy lunch or supper at the historic Talbott Tavern, where you might share a table with the ghosts of Lewis and Clark, John James Audubon, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, King Louis Philippe of France, or many another luminary who stayed and ate there. Try their scrumptious fried green tomatoes and two of Kentucky’s signature dishes, burgoo (a type of stew) and hot brown (a turkey and cheese dish). Not to mention chess pie for dessert.

The Talbott Tavern has an extensive bourbon selection, including flights, where you can try three bourbons of your choice and compare them. And while you’re in the area, you might want to try the water.

In bourbon country. August 16, 2013

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood just returned from a trip from scenic PA to our hometown, Nashville. We decided to return via Kentucky rather than our usual route, through the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Going through Kentucky would take us directly through the heart of Bluegrass Country, known for its beautiful horse farms and thoroughbreds, its caves, and its bourbon.

The heart of bourbon country is in Bardstown, also the site of Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home.” And our friend Ben’s Simms ancestors moved from Maryland to the Springfield area, just 18 miles from Bardstown, in the late 1700s, so my roots go down deep in this part of Kentucky. I made the trip up several times a year from my earliest childhood, stopping en route at Mammoth Cave, which remains the most magnificent thing, along with the ocean and a prehistoric Irish elk skull, that I have ever seen.

Travelling as they did with three small children, my parents made many stops along the route. And one of them was always Bardstown, where we would eat in the historic Talbott Tavern. We were in good company: Lewis and Clark, Daniel Boone, King Louis Philippe, John James Audubon, Abraham Lincoln, and many another luminary had stopped there on their travels. I remember the fabulous fragrance of Bardstown, unlike anything else I’d ever experienced, between the tobacco warehouses and the distilleries.

If the mention of tobacco fragrance brings to mind the unspeakably foul stench of cigarettes, our friend Ben would like to set the record straight. Unadulterated tobacco, just dried tobacco leaves, gives off one of the most heavenly perfumes there is. No wonder the Native Americans held tobacco sacred! No potpourri even comes close. To drive through Bardstown when the tobacco had been gathered into the great warehouses was like waking up in heaven. It was the addition of toxic chemicals to cigarettes, to enable them to stay lit, that killed the fragrance and made them carcinogenic.

Sadly, Silence and I didn’t smell tobacco in the air this trip, nor did we see any tobacco warehouses. I guess that industry has died out or moved elsewhere. But the air was still redolent of bourbon.

This may have been because it was obscenely hot and humid when we arrived, so the bourbon scent of the distilleries may have been held close to the ground. But whatever the case, aaaahhh!!! The air smelled so, so sweet. Much as Silence and I hate heat and humidity, we could both have stood outside the Talbott Tavern and just breathed in the night air for hours.

Unfortunately, it was getting late, and serving hours were coming to a close. So Silence and I went in to the venerable tavern to enjoy their famous fried green tomatoes and (in my case) even more famous “hot brown” and some chess pie. Not to mention some bourbon from their extensive selection.

Coming from the area, our friend Ben is related to many of the famous bourbon families: the Beams, Mattinglys, Haydens, Dants, and Wathens, just to name a few. So when I saw a Wathen’s single barrel bourbon on the menu, I had to try it. And my, was it good!

Now I was on a mission from God. Here in our adoptive home state of PA, liquor stores are run by the state. Think 1950s communism: exhorbitant prices, limited hours, extremely limited selection. In the South, by contrast, every grocery store has an excellent wine and beer selection; even gas stations have wine and beer. And the selection in actual liquor stores is simply amazing. I was determined to find a bottle of Wathen’s bourbon before I returned to PA.

What I actually found, along with my bottle, was so classic I can’t stop thinking about it. Seeing a tiny box store selling liquor on the outskirts of Bardstown, I pulled in over Silence’s objections (“Ben! This looks like a dive! Let’s try to find a real liquor store!”). I could hardly blame her; it looked like a tiny, run-down filling station that was lucky to even have ice. But we were getting our usual late start and had many hours to travel, and I wasn’t eager to waste time trying to find something better unless it proved necessary.

I went into the tiny store, which had more varieties and sizes of bourbon (and everything else) than I could conceive of. I still don’t know how they managed to cram them all into such a minuscule space. And yes, my Wathen’s was there. But while I waited to pay for it, I noticed a feature I had never seen in a liquor store: a drive-through window. Sure enough, some patrons had pulled up in a pickup and were ordering a pint of something. And they were also ordering mixers and three cups of ice, all conveniently provided by the proprietors (“Do you want orange juice or orange soda?”).

Oh, oh, oh. Our friend Ben wishes Pennsylvania had liquor stores with a more extensive selection, better hours, and cheaper prices. I wish we were civilized enough to carry wine and beer in our grocery stores. But I think I’ll leave the drive-through option to the other 49 states.

Live like it really matters. August 9, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I understand that there was once a soap opera called “One Life to Live.” Well, we all know what soap operas are, yesterday’s forebears of today’s reality TV shows. If you truly realize that you only have “one life to live,” hopefully you won’t be wasting it watching either of the above.

Instead, what would you do? I was just talking to a friend who chose “early” retirement and severance when given the choice of that or giving up her job of 34 years (and all benefits) and reapplying for a different job, competing against God-knows-who for it. Her company’s betrayal paled beside the toll corporate mismanagement had taken on her health in the past few years. She said she’s still going through an adjustment/mourning phase, while thinking about her next steps, perhaps forming her own company.

People who work outside of a corporate environment don’t “get” the comic strip “Dilbert.” They don’t find it funny that the pointy-haired boss, the conehead CEO, and numerous other jobless higher-ups make it their business to ensure that the company’s engineers, who actually do the work and make the company’s profits, are incapable of doing their jobs thanks to bureaucratic incompetence.

Those of us who have worked in a corporate environment find “Dilbert” hilarious. Been there, done that. Our bosses call us “worker bees.” We call them “drones,” completely worthless idiots who contribute nothing to the bottom line or to innovation and progress—who in fact suck the life out of the bottom line with their exorbitant, completely unearned salaries, and who suck the morale out of their employees with their blatant contempt for them.

They don’t care if they’re morons who inherited the business from Daddy while their employees have genius IQs and doctoral degrees from Stanford and MIT. Hey, they’re in charge!

So what’s the point of this post? Should you give up your job at Wal*Mart and apply for a job at Tesla? My real point is this: Life’s too short to stay stuck in a job that kills you slowly, day by day.

The head of a company I once worked for was a health nut. He had it all—tons of money, the luxury of launching new initiatives that he genuinely believed in, and donating to all the charities he felt strongly about. He worked out, cycled, and ate right. He should have lived to be 112. Instead, he was killed at 60 when a bus crashed into his cab.

None of us can know when our time is up. Rather, it’s up to each of us to make the most of the time we actually have, the time we have now, day by day and hour by hour. I’m not saying you should cash out your 401(k) and head to Vegas. Instead, think about doing what you actually love, in a context that won’t kill you.

Life is short. Make the most of it. Be true to who you are.

‘Til next time,

Silence

A gardener’s nails. August 8, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The other day, I was standing in line and noticed my cashier’s long, glued-on, elaborately ornamented nails. I hoped she didn’t notice mine.

I’m a gardener, and during gardening season, especially if you like to feel the earth like I do with your bare hands, you’d better forget about nails. Forget about them all being a uniform length. Forget about them being long, much less the Mandarin length popularized by nail salons. (How on earth do those people even use their hands?!!) Forget about nail polish. If your nails are clean and not jagged, it’s a triumph.

They tell me that gardeners who want clean nails should run them over a bar of soap before they go outside, then rinse them out afterwards. I can see why this would work, but confess I’ve never tried it. Gardening is plenty of work as it is without adding an extra step. A good metal nail-cleaner usually does the trick for me.

I don’t know about you, but as a gardener, I’m proud of my short nails and functional hands. When I put hand lotion on, I make a point of rubbing it into my nails to give them a little relief. And of course I take my vitamins to nourish my nails from the inside out. But other than that, they’re on their own. Which is, as I see it, as it should be.

‘Til next time,

Silence

The most popular pizza. August 7, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. When I last opened my e-mail, I saw an ad for Domino’s pizza, featuring, of course, a photo of a pizza. You could see plenty of veggies on the pizza—green peppers, mushrooms—as well as the usual pepperoni. Of course, this started me thinking.

Veggies add color hits to a pizza photo, but do people actually order them on their pizzas? I was willing to bet my last slice of Papa John’s Garden Fresh Pizza that when push came to shove, they went for pepperoni. Or maybe pepperoni and sausage. I turned to my good friend Google to find out more.

Mind you, I’m not throwing stones here. Before I became a vegetarian, my favorite pizza toppings were pepperoni, anchovies and black olives—with plenty of extra salt on every bite. (Now they’re black olives, onions and mushrooms, but still with added salt.)

I was just curious, especially after reading an article recently that noted that the more fast-food chains added “healthy” options to their menus, the more it drove business—right to the good old burgers, fries and shakes or whatever. Apparently, just seeing salads and whatnot on a menu is enough to make customers feel good about ordering a quadruple cheeseburger with supersized fries and a 90-ounce soda. Was the same true for pizzas?

Well, boy, did I find out more than I was asking for. An article on a site called TLC Cooking showcased favorite pizza toppings around the world. Oh, my. I guess the plus side is that pizza has taken off worldwide. But those toppings!

Mind you, if you’re willing to expand your definition of “pizza” to a hot flat bread with toppings, the possibilities are already out there in abundance. I’ve enjoyed hot garlic naan (a flat Indian bread) or Greek-style pita (a bit more like naan, i.e., spongier, than classic Middle Eastern pita) topped with a little butter, crumbled feta cheese, and a sprinkle of dried thyme, oregano, or mint many times. Simple but satisfying!

And of course hot pita wedges topped with hummus and chopped kalamata olives, green olives, crumbled feta, and/or roasted red peppers is supremely yummy. (Try it with white bean/garlic “hummus,” salt and fresh-cracked black pepper, and just the least squeeze of fresh lemon juice for an out-of-this-world experience!) Many cultures have their own favorite topped flatbreads; “pizza” seems to be a universal favorite worldwide, quick, yummy, and easy to eat.

But let’s get back to the TLC article, which focused on actual Italian-style pizzas with out-of-this-world toppings. If you live in Japan, the most popular pizza toppings are eel, squid, and Mayo Jaga (a combination of bacon, potato, and mayonnaise). If you’re in Brazil, you’ll order your pizza topped with green peas; in Costa Rica, with coconut. In Pakistan, you’ll top yours with curry (that sounds good to me!); in India, with pickled ginger, minced mutton, and paneer cheese.

In Australia, no surprise, the favored toppings are shrimp (doubtless hot off the barbie), pineapple, and barbecue sauce; in France, bacon, onion, and fresh cream. In Russia, you’d be ordering these toppings: mackerel, sardines, red herring, onions, tuna, and salmon (hey, no caviar?). And in the Netherlands, it would be the “Double Dutch”—double meat, double cheese, and double onion.

So what about the good old US of A? To my astonishment, the article said that America’s choice was a pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, and extra cheese. I guess those Domino’s people had done their market research before taking that pizza photo!

As for who’s the most popular pizza purveyor in the States, according to Google it’s one I’ve never even heard of, CiCi’s Pizza. They don’t have those here in scenic PA, or anywhere else I’ve ever been. I guess I’ll have to stick to Pizza Hut’s Veggie Lover’s Pan Pizza, with its yummy, crunchy crust, and, when I’d like a lighter treat, Papa John’s Garden Fresh Pizza (with the thin, crispy crust and no fresh tomatoes) for now.

Of course, I could simply make my own. I don’t make my own crust, but I do make my own dense, rich, veggie-laden spaghetti sauce, and when I have leftover sauce, it’s a great pizza topping. I buy a crust, spread it with olive oil and pesto, then layer on the sauce (full of onion, mushrooms, green pepper, garlic, zucchini, herbs and spices, red wine, and of course tomatoes and tomato paste), top it with a yummy mix of shredded cheeses, Italian herbs, and crushed red pepper, and into the oven it goes! Oh, yum.

Looks like most Americans don’t just order plain cheese, pepperoni, or pepperoni and sausage, after all. I guess I’ll have to give that last slice of Papa John’s Garden Fresh Pizza to our friend Ben. When you order pizza, what do you top it with, and who do you get it from?

‘Til next time,

Silence