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The greatest inventions. October 31, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The November issue of The Atlantic featured the 50 greatest inventions since the wheel. Or so they claimed. Sure, there were the printing press, paper, the moldboard plow (thank you, Jethro Tull!), the combustion engine, the internet, the personal computer, and so on. But they seem to have forgotten the real boons that enabled us all to flourish.

I’m referring, of course, to plumbing, toilet paper, soap, and deodorant. Toilets and an ample supply of hot and cold water on demand date back to ancient Rome; feudal Japan under the Shoguns had toilet paper and hot-water baths. I can’t imagine anything that changed society more and made living more pleasurable. Except, perhaps, soap, shampoo, combs, antipersperant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and body lotion.

The list did include air conditioning, that wonderful relief from hot, humid, agonizing weather. And it included electricity, which brought safe, bright, affordable illumination into our homes, and glasses, which enabled those with impaired vision to read and participate in society. But it left out glass windows, stoves (though it included refrigeration), and coinage and currency, which enabled society to move beyond the barter system and assign abstract values to everything (for better or worse). “I’ll give you this fish for that bunch of grapes” became “I’ll sell you this fish” and “I’ll sell you these grapes.”

Plenty of other great inventions failed to make the list of 50, which is a pretty small number if you’re counting down from the wheel. Which inventions do you feel changed society or human history for the better?

‘Til next time,

Silence

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Thinking outside the (greenhouse) box. October 30, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood love the greenhouse our genius woodworking friend, Ken Burton, custom-designed and built for us when we bought our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. It’s big and bright, with a long in-ground raised bed on the low side and a long greenhouse bench on the high wall.

Ken’s goal was to make the greenhouse as solar-friendly as possible in our cold-winter climate. Glass covers the south-facing sloping wall, along with a glass window and glass door on the east and west sides. The north wall is white-painted wood to reflect the light pouring in from the south and to highlight the plants.

Under the bench, black-painted barrels hold water and act as solar collectors. And behind the north wall, a hayloft adds extra insulation in the form of straw bales for our chickenyard, while we stack wood for our woodstove beneath the loft, which also serves as added insulation..

But we think Ken’s most brilliant innovation was to use the sliding glass doors normally used for deck or patio doors as the long windows on the south-facing, sloping side. They’re double-paned for insulation and let in a ton of light. Over and below them, Ken added rows of screened pull-down windows so we could open them for fresh air and circulation (we also open the screened end-wall window and glass door).

The other day, as Silence and I were furiously hauling our bazillion plants back from the deck to the greenhouse for the winter (it’s already been in the 20s here at night, a real aberration, as we can usually leave the plants out well into November), our friend Ben was struck by an idea. Not a MacArthur “genius award”-worthy idea, no doubt, but still.

Our sliding glass doors that lead to our deck are designed so that one slides over the other, and if you wish, you can pull a full-length screen over the open door to let in fresh air. So why couldn’t you design a greenhouse wall of sliding glass doors that do that, too? One door would be fixed in place, and the other would move over it, and you could pull the screens to let in tons of fresh air to circulate, make sure the greenhouse didn’t overheat in summer, and combat fungal diseases and the like, without letting in bugs.

Three sets of doors would be plenty for most home gardeners, and what a gain in greenhouse circulation! Our greenhouse is still going strong, but if we ever need an update, we’ll see what Ken thinks about this idea. Meanwhile, what do you think about it?

Baker’s Chocolate vs. Scharffen Berger. October 29, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I grew up with Baker’s Chocolate. My beloved Mama relied on it exclusively in all baked goods and candies, including her famous fudge. She used unsweetened Baker’s Chocolate and their bittersweet bar, and we always had them on hand in the house. While I wasn’t prepared to take a bite of unsweetened chocolate, I very much enjoyed their bittersweet version, with its unique dark but dry or chalky (as opposed to creamy or oily) taste.

Sadly, no Baker’s Chocolate bar has ever entered my own home, except on the very rare occasions when I make Mama’s fudge for the holidays. I’d almost forgotten about it until I saw that our local health food store, of all places, was selling bars of Scharffen Berger Semisweet Fine Artisan Dark Chocolate. For years, I’d been reading about how Scharffen Berger—which, despite its Swiss-sounding name, is actually made in Robinson, Illinois, perhaps an ironic tribute to the Swiss Family Robinson—was considered the best artisanal chocolate in America.

I’d never seen Scharffen Berger for sale before, so of course I snapped up a bar, eager to see what everyone was raving about. When I got home, I broke off a square and tasted it. And guess what? It tasted exactly like the Baker’s bittersweet bar of my memory, dark and dry/chalky. Hmmmm.

Since I wanted to post about this, I decided to do a little research about Baker’s Chocolate, and Wikipedia had a doozy of an article on the subject. First, I learned that Baker’s Chocolate was originated not as a cooking aid for bakers, but as a health food by a Dr. James Baker in 1764. Dr. Baker, not bakers. Yow.

But that wasn’t all I learned. Love that German chocolate cake? Turns out it has nothing to do with Germany, but instead is the result of a Baker’s employee, Samuel German, who invented a sweeter chocolate bar, called German’s Sweet Chocolate. A Dallas newspaper printed a recipe for a cake that used his bar as an ingredient as “German Chocolate Cake,” and so a legend was born. Ironically, the modern Baker’s product lineup includes sweetened coconut flakes, a key ingredient in German chocolate icing.

So, folks, there you have it. Nothing is what it seems, but chocolate is still chocolate, whether it’s Scharffen Berger or Baker’s.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Maximizing blog appeal. October 28, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we love our blog host, WordPress, because it’s so easy to use, even if you’re Luddites like us. (A Luddite, by the way, is a technophobe whose idea of human-friendly technology is a laptop with Windows XP and a landline with voicemail.) WordPress also has a great spam filter, Akismet, that’s caught pretty much every piece of spam we ever get here so nothing embarrassing pops up in our comments section. Thank you, WordPress and Akismet!

However, occasionally Akismet gets over-zealous and puts a legitimate comment in our spam folder, like the one our friend Ben found there this morning. It reads (in part):

“Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is valuable and all. However imagine if you added some great photos or video clips to give your posts more ‘pop’!”

This isn’t spam, it’s legitimate criticism; the person wasn’t trying to sell us anything or link us to a porn site or something (at least, as far as I know). And they’re right. What we say might be “valuable and all,” but in today’s split-second world, where a tweet is probably considered way too long if it runs to the full 150 letters and spaces, and visuals have made constellations of superstars from YouTube to Instagram, our posts definitely fall short on ‘pop’. Waaaay short.

Every now and then, the three of us who write Poor Richard’s Almanac—our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders—get together to talk about this. And every time, we come to the same conclusion. We realize that our posts get hundreds rather than hundreds of thousands of views because there’s nothing here but writing. Our dreams of publishers beating down our doors and MacArthur “genius awards” raining down on us are just not going to happen in a text-only format.

But we’re writers, plain and simple, all three of us. That’s what we do, and what we do well. And we’re Luddites. What we don’t do well is use technology and take decent photos, and we wouldn’t have a clue how to make a video or embed a photo or video or soundtrack or you name it into one of our posts. Nor do we wish to learn how to do any of these things, much to the horror and incomprehension of many of our friends.

I guess the three of us are well matched in terms of blogging because we share this perspective: We want to do what we do well and effortlessly and only what we do well and effortlessly. Blogs don’t write themselves, after all. Unless somebody’s paying you to write and/or produce blog posts, it’s a pure labor of love on your part.

I could be heading down the road for a pizza or paying bills or watching a DVD instead of writing this post, but I’m putting in the time because I really, really do enjoy writing, and I hope at least a few of you out there still enjoy reading and thinking. (Maybe those folks who prefer the plain black-and-white Kindle e-reader to the Kindle Fire. But we’d rather have real books, none of us has ever used an e-reader or even audiobooks. We can’t help it, we’re Luddites, we love holding real books with real paper pages and real ink and drawing the scenes portrayed with words in our imaginations.)

This is the joy and challenge of writing: Helping readers see and experience what you see and experience through the medium of words. We paint, we sing, we sculpt, we cook with words. If we can’t draw you in—if you can’t smell and taste Silence’s black bean soup and hot cornbread and succulent, savory endive boats after reading her recipes, or know the Founding Fathers or famous pirates better after reading one of Richard’s posts about them, or connect to one of my rants—then we’ve failed you, and we’ve failed ourselves as writers.

Sure, we could throw in some photos. But we don’t think Silence’s black bean soup or Richard’s post about the greatest pirate of them all (not Blackbeard, not Captain Morgan, but the Great Pirate Roberts) would be improved. And while I wish I could show you a photo of my black German shepherd, Shiloh, or a video of Athena the Dancing Cat, I doubt that you’ll be grieving over their absence. After all, your time is as valuable as ours.

Ultimately, this is why blogs are so great. You can do what you want on your blog, and people can visit the blogs that resonate with them. If you want lots of visitors, you’d better have lots of photos and videos. It’s a smart way to maximize blog appeal in a visual age. Our advice is: Do what you enjoy. Enjoy your blog, whether you load it up with visuals and soundtracks and links or just say something you feel needs to be said. It’s all good.

What makes us live longer? October 27, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben read an article two days ago that confirmed everything I believe, yet left unanswered questions. I have long assumed that, just as we perceive time as very slow when we’re young children and very fast as we get older, so every creature perceives its own span in its own terms. A mayfly’s three days pass so slowly for it that every second is an hour, every minute a year. A dog’s 12 years do indeed seem like 84. A parrot’s hundred years pass just like ours.

This is why I’ve never understood why creationists have such a beef with evolution: Who are we to say what a day is to God? Seven of God’s days might be seven million, or billion, of ours.

Anyway, this article showed a researcher’s evidence that proved that every species did indeed live as long in their terms as we do in ours. But unfortunately, I had to go move furniture and reshelve hundreds of books, and didn’t get to write the blog post I’d hoped to about the piece. When I went back yesterday to try to find it, no amount of Googling turned it up, and ditto today. (It had been on the Yahoo! home page; maybe some of you would have better luck.)

Our friend Ben is always both irritated and pleased when science manages to confirm what appears to be intuitively obvious, as in this case, or science’s continual “shocking” discovery that pets actually have emotions and animals feel pain, something every pet owner can see for themselves without requiring millions of dollars of government grants. Grrrrr!!!!

But the article went on to say something else that I had long wondered about. It noted that the species with the fastest heartbeats had the shortest lives. I have read that the heart, like any muscle, has only so much staying power, in other words, only so many beats in it. So it seemed logical to me that the slower your heart rate, the longer you’d live, much like Indian yogis who can slow their heart rate to practically nothing, like Japanese Zen monks who sit for hours, barely breathing.

But this flies in the face of Western medicine, which tells you to exercise, run, crank that heart rate up!!! If the scientists who conducted the study on animal longevity could say, in a casual toss-off remark, that it was well known that the slower the heartbeat, the longer the life, then what does that say about our frantic efforts to speed up our heartbeats at all costs?

I don’t have any answers, just the one burning question. If you can shed light on this, please help me out!

Fall bulbs for spring bloom. October 26, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening.
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Silence Dogood here. For many years, I’ve wanted to plant White Flower Farm’s naturalizing daffodil mix called “The Works.” You get 100 bulbs of at least 30 varieties of daffodils. As anyone who grows daffodils knows, they’re long-lived, trouble-free, and deer-proof. Also squirrel-proof. Nobody and nothing is going to bother those poisonous bulbs, and they multiply all on their own every year.

There’s just one little problem, besides the fact that you have to plant them: You have to plant them in fall. As in, now, when it’s hitting 29 degrees at night here in our part of scenic PA. Not exactly planting weather, if you ask me, and totally counterintuitive for spring-blooming bulbs.

I guess I’m not the only one who feels that way. I was sitting in an examining room with our friend Ben this morning, waiting for his doctor to appear, when a pair of staff members came in and apologized for having to use the computer to call up someone’s schedule. I said it was no problem, we’d just been talking about daffodil bulbs. At which point one of the staffers said that she’d always wanted to plant daffodils and tulips but never seemed to get around to it, since it seemed like they should be planted in spring.

I told her that the one surefire daffodil you could plant in spring was the little, cheerful yellow ‘Tete-a-Tete’ that’s sold in pots all over the place every spring. You can enjoy the show indoors, plant out the pot’s contents when bloom is over, and the hardy little bulbs will return year after year to brighten your yard with their delightful blooms.

I, however, had finally reached a tipping point. White Flower Farm was offering “The Works” at an unbelievable discount: $56 for 100 bulbs, the cheapest I’d ever seen it. But that wasn’t all. They also had a special deal on their “Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix”—100 bulbs of at least 50 different cream, primrose yellow, ivory, pink, peach, soft orange, white, rose, and lavender tulips for $59. It was time to have a serious discussion with OFB.

Most people think that to plant bulbs, you need a bulb planter, a conelike device that you shove into the soil and twist, removing enough soil to allow you to drop in a single bulb, at which point you upend the planter and dump the soil back into the hole on top of the bulb. Want to do this 200 times, while bent double on a freezing fall morning? I didn’t think so.

Fortunately, there’s a much easier alternative: trenching. Take your favorite garden spade and dig a 12-inch-wide, 6-inch-deep trench where you want to plant your bulbs. Then place the bulbs in the trench, narrow end up, 3 to 15 inches apart, depending on what sort of show you want in subsequent years, and cover them with the spaded soil, tamping it down to firm it snugly around the bulbs. No fuss, no muss, as long as somebody’s willing to dig the g-d trenches, which is where OFB came in.

“Ben, would you be willing to dig a few trenches in the front yard so I could plant some daffodils and tulips? I love the daffodil display in front of our island bed and alongside the house, and would love to extend that and plant bulbs around our parking square to brighten our spring show.”

“Trenches?!! Say what?!!”

I patiently explained that surely carting him to the eye surgeon and to work 300,000 times might warrant his digging a few trenches in return. Even OFB couldn’t argue with that.

What I didn’t tell him is the problem with tulips. Unlike daffodils, tulip bulbs aren’t poisonous, and squirrels love them. But they’re also not true perennials. Even the so-called perennial tulips bloom at best for 5 years, while daffodils are true perennials, blooming decade after decade with no care whatever. The “Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix” I had my eye on would probably bloom for two years, if that.

So why plant tulips at all? In my case, the answer was simple, and so luxuriously indulgent: My brother had given me a White Flower Farm gift certificate for Christmas several years ago, and it covered the cost of both “The Works” naturalizing daffodil mix, the “Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix,” and shipping and handling, and left me with a $32 credit. In other words, I could revel in a year or two of beautiful tulips for free, not to mention a lifetime of daffodils.

While White Flower Farm is having incredible deals on bulbs, I suggest that you check them out online (www.whiteflowerfarm.com). It’s not too late to bring spring beauty to your landscape! And I also think a WFF gift certificate to an ardent gardener in your family is a wonderful idea. Like me, they may wait a while to use it, but when they do, the pleasure and appreciation will be boundless.

‘Til next time,

Silence

National Pasta Day. October 25, 2013

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Celebrate! Today, October 25th, is National Pasta Day!

Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I love pasta, be it my super-intensive homemade spaghetti sauce or our favorite storemade pesto over penne (with, of course, a side of greens like broccoli or sauteed spinach and garlic and a big, crunchy salad). So I thought I’d give you all a few quick, easy ways to celebrate pasta and enjoy its comforting warmth on these unnaturally cold, wintry days.

* Creamy pasta. This is my go-to when true comfort food is needed, and fast. It’s so much simpler than Alfredo and so much better. The trick is to balance it out and enjoy a very moderate portion, so you can delight in every creamy, buttery, decadent forkful. I cook shells to al dente, then drain them and add sour cream and butter and return them to low heat. I add salt (we like RealSalt or Trocomare) and cracked black pepper, and stir until the sour cream/butter topping has cooked down and thickly coated the pasta. You can add shredded sharp white Cheddar or grated Parmesan at this point, if you want. I like the pasta as is, served in small portions alongside roasted or baked sweet potatoes and broccoli with butter and lemon and preceded by a crunchy mixed salad. Or enjoy it for lunch with baked beans and coleslaw (we love Bush’s Grillin’ Beans).

* Pesto pasta. My local supermarket’s refrigerated housemade pesto beats every expensive gourmet jarred pesto I’ve tried, so when I’m craving a quick pesto pasta, I get a carton and either pick some fresh basil from my garden or (if it’s out of season) buy a bunch at the produce aisle to brighten the flavor. I’ll cook up some spaghetti al dente, drain it, then stir in the pesto and minced fresh basil. Serve this up with some broccoli raabe roasted with olive oil and garlic and a Caesar salad and you’re good to go anytime!

* Mushrooms and Marsala. Such a simple, rich, luscious pasta dish. All you really need are button mushrooms, though you can add any others you like to deepen the flavors. Saute a diced sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla) in butter with salt (see above) and fresh-cracked black pepper. When the onion clarifies, add sliced or diced mushrooms (your preference) and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms release their liquids. Add a healthy splash of Marsala (or Madeira) wine, and, if you’d like a more deep, robust flavor, a splash of port or bourbon, and cook the sauce down. Serve over fettucine with a Caesar salad.

This dish is rich enough so that, instead of sides, you could simply add an appetizer, such as my famous endive boats, if you wish. To make endive boats, buy one or two heads of firm, fresh Belgian endive. Separate, wash, and dry each leaf. Fill each leaf with crumbled blue and/or feta and/or gorgonzola cheese, some dried cranberries (“craisins”), crumbled pecans, and fresh-cracked black pepper. Serve them up as a luscious but not too sweet or filling appetizer. Your guests will love them!

* Go Greek. Saute diced sweet onion and crushed minced garlic in extra-virgin olive oil. When the onion clarifies and the garlic is fragrant, add sliced mushrooms, broccoli florets, and/or halved thin slices of summer squash (yellow crookneck, yellow straightneck, and/or yellow and green zucchini) to taste. Saute with oregano, basil, and thyme, along with plenty of salt and pepper. Just before serving over spaghetti or fettucine, add crumbled feta cheese and green or kalamata olives.

*A Mediterranean melange. Our local farmers’ market has one of the best pan-Mediterranean stands going. I can never get enough of their tzatziki, baba ghannouj, fava bean hummus, fresh-made feta, luscious halvah, bean salads, spiral spinach-and-feta pastries in phyllo dough, you name it. But one of their dishes that I love is pasta-centric. It contains macaroni elbows, spaghetti, rice, chickpeas, lentils, and lots of crispy fried onions. Yum! I love this super-comfort food heated up with their, for lack of a better word, juicy and garlicky housemade feta, the best and freshest I’ve ever had. If you have just a little elbow macaroni, spaghetti, and rice in their respective containers, this is a delicious way to go. Otherwise, just pick one and go with it! If you can’t face crisping the onion, you can simply sautee sweet onion dice in olive oil instead. Add some sliced or diced mushrooms and take this dish to a whole new level!

If you’re lucky enough to live near a source of flavorful artisan pasta, as we are, there’s always the option of simply cooking the pasta and tossing it in butter or olive oil. Cracked pepper and salt, and maybe a few curls of grated Parmesan or aged Asiago, and you’re set! Whether you’re indulging in garlic and basil penne or harissa-infused fettucine, you’ll love the bright, vibrant flavors. Pair them with a bare-bones salad: endive, escarole, radicchio, Iceberg (to tone down the bitterness of the other greens), chopped scallions (green onion) and diced tomato or halved cherry tomatoes and a simple extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.

Yum! Happy Pasta Day!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Cold days, warm appetizers. October 23, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. We’re still a week away from November, and the weather this week is dipping to 32 and 30 degrees F. at night here in our part of scenic PA. Baby, it’s cold outside!

Yes, we’ve hauled all our plants back inside or into the greenhouse, along with our earthworm composter and water-garden plants. We’ve put up our birdfeeders and cleaned out our raised beds (sob). We still have to plant our garlic and ornamental bulbs, but everything else that needs to be in the ground is there. And we’ve put the “mufflers” on our sole window a/c and our outdoor faucet.

Still, our friend Ben and I aren’t ready for freezing and sub-freezing temperatures. What happened to fall, our most treasured season, when the colors of the leaves and the clear blue of the sky combine to form an incomparable, soul-lifting beauty, when you can sit out on the deck to watch the sunset and enjoy the blaze from the firepit and not even be cold?

Brrr. Cold is certainly the operative word around here. And the last thing I want when it’s cold outside and I’m cold inside is cold food. Suddenly, the thought of gazpacho and guacamole and Caprese salad and yogurt and all those other yummy hot-season dishes give me cold chills. So you can imagine how appalled I was to turn on my computer this morning and see an article devoted to “quick, easy, no-cook” foods! Sure enough, these foods were all cold. Brrrrr!!!

It’s not that I forgo all cold foods when the temperatures drop. I simply change the focus by adding richness. I’ll happily serve cold appetizers like my famous endive boats (Belgian endive leaves stuffed with blue, feta, and/or gorgonzola cheese, craisins (dried cranberries), pecan pieces, and cracked black pepper). An assortment of cheeses, crackers, and olives is a great warm-up to a hot meal; so is cheese and crackers paired with sliced apples or dried apricots, or cheese, nuts, and dried fruit.

A crusty baguette sliced and served with dipping oil (extra-virgin olive oil infused with lots of minced fresh garlic, herbs like oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme, Parmesan, red pepper flakes, and Trocomare or RealSalt or sea salt) will warm the coldest night. But there are so many luscious hot appetizers for the cold season as well:

* Popcorn. Simple hot popcorn with melted butter and salt, or with herbs and cheese if you prefer, is a welcome cold-weather treat, especially when served with a stemaing mug of apple cider.

* Baked Brie. Oh, yum!!! Topped with pecans, with brown sugar, with orange marmalade, with pepper jelly, or with the topping of your choosing, and served up molten with a sliced baguette or table water crackers, this melt-in-your-mouth treat is irresistible.

* Fondue. Okay, I’ve never had fondue. I think it skipped my generation. But there’s a fondue restaurant in a city near us, and one day, maybe I’ll finally try it. I haven’t so far because I think of fondue as an appetizer: skewered baguette chunks dipped in melted Swiss cheese, not a meal in itself. Somehow I’d rather have slices of buttered, toasted baguette covered with melted Jarlsberg. Add some orange marmalade or apricot jam between the buttered baguette and the melted Jarlsberg and oh, my!

* Roasted veggies. Okay, here’s the simplest hot appetizer of all, because it can be made ahead. Roast a medley of veggies—thinly sliced or diced sweet onion, mushrooms, red, orange, and/or yellow bell peppers, asparagus, broccoli—with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and some fresh-cracked pepper and salt. Now you can toss them with hot penne pasta and Parmesan, stir them into a frittata, or even use them to top a pizza.

What do you enjoy when it gets cold outside?

I’ll talk about more hot food for cold nights in upcoming posts.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Threatening the dog. October 21, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have a big, bad, black German shepherd named Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special. (I wanted another golden retriever, but Silence found Shiloh online and informed me that she was going to be our next dog and her name was going to be Shiloh. Well, alrighty then. And when we found out that her grandfather’s name was actually Lucas von Shiloh Special, we just couldn’t resist adding it onto her name.)

But to get back to our by now very big, very bad dog. When she does something bad—deafening us with her barking, chasing the cats or putting them through the “catwash” (her tongue is as big as the rest of her), pulling on her leash, or just generally being annoying—we threaten her. Not, mind you, with physical harm. Being wordsmiths, we threaten her with a fast flight to Asia.

Silence once read a story about Koreans’ fondness for dog meat. The proprietor of Mr. Moon’s Dog Stew Emporium, which apparently was doing a booming business when the reporter visited, served up a delicious bowl of hot dog stew. His may have been the most celebrated, but was far from the only, dog stew emporium in the city.

After Silence read this, and of course shared it with our friend Ben with an appropriate amount of outraged commentary, we began threatening Shiloh at every instance of bad behavior with instantaneous exportation and being sold by the pound to Mr. Moon.

Since Shiloh weighs more than 90 pounds, we figured we could get a decent return on investment, especially if Mr. Moon was willing to pay shipping costs. Loud barking and destroying our rugs while rushing through the house brought pointed comments about how meaty Shiloh’s thighs were, and how succulent they would be in a stew.

Admittedly, these comments appeared to be completely lost on Shiloh, but they sure made us feel better about her outrageous behavior. Recently, though, we’ve had a change of tone in our threats. Silence read that the Vietnamese, who also love dog meat and believe that eating it brings good luck, have apparently recently begun to also embrace dogs as pets. Or, at least, high-end dogs; the rest are still consigned to the pot, and apparently the devoted pet-dog owners enjoy their lucky dog-meat dishes as much as everybody else.

Silence, a devout vegetarian, practically beat our friend Ben over the head with the offending article while ranting on (and on, and on) about how perverse people could be when deciding which animals could be sacrificed for meat and which were considered cherished family members. But she didn’t show me the article because of that, but rather, because it said that a pet German shepherd could bring as much as $40,000 (U.S. dollars) in Vietnam.

Okay, we’re not Einsteins, but we don’t think we could get that much from Mr. Moon, no matter how hefty Shiloh is or how much he’s paying per pound. So we’ve changed our threat to benefit our bottom line. Now, when Shiloh misbehaves, we inform her that we’re buying her a one-way ticket to Vietnam, and that we hope she’ll appreciate the contribution she’ll be making to our bank account.

Mind you, she pays no more attention to the latest threat than she did to our promises to sell her to Mr. Moon. But we don’t care. Every time we mention her future fate, we can sit back, relax, and imagine what we’d do with $40,000. And, once we feel totally cheered up, we can rub Shiloh’s belly and smooth her ears and enjoy the company of the best bad dog that ever was without having to shell out another cent. That would be the loving, happy dog with the huge smile and lolling tongue and bright eyes and waggily tail.

Not that she wouldn’t sell us in a heartbeat for $40,000 or even $40 worth of dog treats, or pizza and white Zinfandel for that matter. But that’s another story. (Don’t even think about giving her tequila; she’d sell you to Mr. Moon ASAP and claim you were a massive Bassett hound or something. One taste of spilled tequila on the floor, and the hilarious, horrifed expression and wrinkled muzzle, put Margaritaville forever on the back burner as far as Shiloh was concerned.)

Anyway, we encourage you to threaten your dog in the most inventive ways you can come up with. Even if the dog is oblivious, we promise, you’ll feel much better.

Upping the lasagna ante. October 17, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Lasagna isn’t typically the first thing that springs to mind when you’re thinking about healthy eating. But it’s actually easy to make a lasagna that’s as good for you as it is good (without sacrificing cheese or olive oil). And the results are so delicious, you may find that lasagna is your go-to healthy meal!

It all starts with a rich, luscious spaghetti sauce. My go-to sauce includes lots of sweet onion, garlic, mushrooms, green peppers and diced zucchini sauteed in olive oil, with crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and diced fresh tomatoes (any I have on hand, including cherry tomatoes), tons of herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, etc.), salt (we like RealSalt or sea salt), and chipotle hot sauce, plus dry red wine to finish, cooked over low heat for a long, long time until it’s rich, thick, and practically caramelized.

This sauce is packed with veggies, nutrients, fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories. And it’s the richest, most delicious spaghetti sauce I’ve ever eaten. (Type “spaghetti sauce” in our search bar at upper right for the full recipe.) It also makes the perfect base sauce for lasagna and pizza, so when I make it, I make sure to make plenty so I’ll have lots left over.

So you’re already starting with a super-healthy sauce for your lasagna. How else can you up the health ante? One way is to use plain Greek yogurt instead of ricotta cheese. I discovered this when I’d promised our friend Ben I’d make lasagna for supper, then discovered when I was ready to put it together that I didn’t have any ricotta, but I did have plain Greek yogurt. I decided to take a chance, and it really paid off. The yogurt was thick and creamy, not grainy like ricotta, you don’t need to add an egg, and of course the yogurt has all those good-for-you live cultures. I’ve never looked back.

I’ve also found that you can add an additional layer of veggies for an even healthier lasagna. I’ve added sauteed eggplant or blanched kale or spinach with fantastically flavorful results. Even kale-haters like OFB wolf down their servings and ask for more.

I still use plenty of shredded mozzarella and some grated Parmesan in my lasagna, and yes—I’ll admit it—“oven-ready” lasagna noodles. We don’t have a dishwasher here, and saving a big pot really makes a difference when it comes to cleanup. After a number of very disappointing tries with “quick” lasagna noodles, I’ve found that San Giorgio’s “oven-ready” lasagna pasta really holds up well. It has body, stretchiness, and some chew, just like real lasagna noodles, rather than disintegrating into the sauce during baking. (Eeeew. That’s not lasagna!)

No doubt you could make this lasagna even healthier by using multigrain or whole-wheat pasta. But frankly, my version’s healthy enough for us, and I love that the flavor and texture are so authentic and delicious. We love our lasagna with a big, crunchy salad. If OFB is craving bread with the meal, I’ll thinly slice a fresh multigrain baguette and serve it with a bowl of dipping oil made from extra-virgin olive oil, lots of fresh minced garlic, and an Italian herb mix. Yum!

‘Til next time,

Silence