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The chickens of “Game of Thrones.” May 29, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I are getting a small flock of new heritage chickens in early July. There will be six, and as always, each will be a different heritage breed: Rhode Island Red (red), Barred Rock (black and white), Buff Orpington (gold), Delaware (white), Ameraucauna (red and gold), and Silver Laced Wyandotte (black with white edgings). Quite the colorful group, and all are hefty birds that lay big, brown eggs, except for the Ameraucana, who will lay blue or green eggs.

We’ve never ordered pullets through mail-order before, but couldn’t find anyone locally who would sell us some. (Pullets are young hens who are about ready to lay, as opposed to the day-old chicks that are normally shipped and sold in April.) Luckily for us, Murray McMurray hatchery (http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com) sells pullets individually, so you can buy one of each or any number that you want. They carry many heritage breeds, and they let them range on grass and eat grass and forage for bugs, seeds, and etc., as opposed to cutting their beaks as other hatcheries do, a horribly cruel practice akin to declawing cats. I suggest that, if you’re interested in chickens, you check out the Murray McMurray website; they’ll even ship you a free catalog.

So what does this have to do with “Game of Thrones”? Well, we’ve always named our chickens, since once we get them, we keep them (well-fed on organic pellets and grains, along with fruits, veggies, bread, and scraps from meal prep and leftovers) until they eventually die of old age. They also have their own enclosed yard, safe from predators, including hawks and owls, with a grapevine growing over it for shade and a chicken coop with a window and a transparent roof to let in light. We know from experience that every chicken knows its own name and will respond to it.

In the past, I’ve named chickens for Regency heroines (Venetia, Sophia, Lucretia, Charis, etc.), Tolkien characters, and the like. But at the moment, OFB and I are on a “Game of Thrones” kick. (And, alert viewers, chickens have appeared in a number of episodes.) So we’ve named our soon-to-arrive flock accordingly: The Delaware, white-feathered, for the white-haired Danaerys of House Targaryen. The Buff Orpington, gold-feathered, for the golden-haired Cersei of House Lannister. The Rhode Island Red, red-feathered, for the red-haired Catelyn of House Stark. The Ameraucana, red-gold, and less domesticated than the other heritage breeds, for the Wildling Ygritte. The Barred Rock, black-and-white, a fearless breed, for Arya of House Stark. And the Silver-Laced Wyandotte, a fancy, glamorous girl, for Margaery of House Tyrell.

Have fun with your own flock and their names. T.S. Eliot once noted that “The naming of cats is a difficult matter.” We beg to differ, both with cats and with chickens. But it’s especially fun to choose a theme for your flock and name them accordingly.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Bring back “Sherlock.” May 28, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. If there’s one thing that’s really aggravating, it’s when your favorite books finally are made into a series and then they just… vanish. Today, “Game of Thrones” fans are outraged because the producers chose to skip a Sunday showing over Memorial Day. Fans have to wait two weeks for the next episode.

But this is not a hardship compared to fans of “Sherlock,” who are apparently now going to have to wait until 2016—and, in case you’ve forgotten, it’s now 2014 and we last saw a season of “Sherlock” in 2013—for the show’s next season, thanks to star Benedict Cumberbatch’s hectic filming schedule.

Or fans of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries. Robert Redford took an interest and filmed three great PBS specials starring Wes Studi as Joe Leaphorn, Adam Beach as Jim Chee, the marvelous Graham Greene as Slick Nakai, the always delightful Gary Farmer as Captain Largo, and the fantastic Sheila Tousey as Leaphorn’s wife Emma. But rather than filming a weekly series, Redford chose to release a single episode a year. For three episodes, total. No surprise when you have a bunch of busy actors and are trying to get them together once a year. But what a disappointment, since we know there will never be any more episodes with these beloved actors. Shame on you, Robert Redford! You had a great chance, great plots, and great actors, and you blew it.

Ditto for Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series, starring Jill Scott as the beloved, compassionate, and wise detective Precious Ramotswe and the incredible Anika Noni Rose as her outspoken assistant, Grace Makutsi. The director died after just a few episodes were filmed, and the project was sidelined. For those of us who’ve read all the books and wait eagerly for the next tempting slice of the formidable Mma Potokwane’s famous fruitcake to be served up, this was and is a serious blow. Can’t blame the director this time, or the producers for not knowing how to move the series forward without him. But what a shame.

So, “Game of Thrones” fans, it’s tough to skip a week. But think of those of us who don’t get HBO and won’t pirate the series and are going to have to wait a whole year to get Season 4. Aaaagghhh!!! At least the showrunners are promising that they’ll take “Game of Thrones” through Season 7.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Chili and pasta. May 24, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, I saw that a fast-food chain I’d never heard of had gained fame by serving chili over spaghetti (the pasta, not the dish with tomato sauce). The article showed a photo of the chili-spaghetti combo, and, I have to admit, it looked luscious. I asked our friend Ben what he thought about the idea and he said, “Sounds good!” So I suggested to our Friday Night Supper Club that I make my own version for this past week’s gathering.

“What?!!” our horrified hostess responded. “But what about cornbread?!” I assured her that if she wanted to make cornbread, that was fine with me. I just wanted to try spaghetti topped with chili. I didn’t mention that I felt that buttered spaghetti with shredded Cheddar mixed in would be the ultimate to-die-for base for yummy hot chili, even better than buttered rice. Being a strong-minded character, I prevailed, and on Friday, I served up chili and spaghetti.

Admittedly, the fast-food chain was serving up meat-based chili that looked pretty much like a barbecue-sauce-free sloppy Joe over spaghetti. (And even then, it looked good, though I think a dollop of Frank’s Hot Sweet Sauce would have been a great flavor boost.) But, as a vegetarian, this was not an option for me. Instead, I made my favorite veggie chili and served it up over the buttered, cheesy, salted spaghetti, and OMG, was it excellent! I enjoy the texture of the beans in chili whole, but feel free to mash them with a fork to make them more ground-beef-like. Add a crunchy salad and you’ll be in heaven.

To make a basic chili, I like to use four cans of beans: light red kidney beans, red kidney beans, dark red kidney beans, and white kidney beans (aka cannelini beans) or black beans. Then I add a large can of diced tomatoes and a chopped fresh tomato or a large can of crushed tomatoes and a can of Ro*Tel diced tomatoes with hot peppers, depending on what I have on hand.

To cook the chili, I start with olive oil in a large, heavy, deep Dutch oven (I love my LeCreuset Dutch ovens for this). Then I dice two large sweet onions (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla) and add them to the pot. I smash, peel, and mince six plump garlic cloves and add them, along with a tablespoon of granulated garlic. I dice a green or red bell pepper and add it. Next, I slice and dice a jalapeno pepper and add it. If using, I dice the fresh tomato (and/or halved cherry tomatoes or diced paste tomatoes, whatever you have and need to use up) and add it to the pot. If things start drying out, I’ll add some veggie stock or broth to prevent burning and sticking.

At this point, I’ll add the seasonings: 2 tablespoons chili powder; 2 tablespoons Italian herbs (or the equivalent: basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary); 1 tablespoon cumin seeds; 1 tablespoon salt (we like RealSalt) or Trocomare, or more to taste; and generous splashes of Tabasco Chipotle Sauce or Pickapeppa and Frank’s Hot Sweet Sauce. After a good stir, it’s time to add the diced tomatoes, or the crushed tomatoes and can of Ro*Tel. Finally, it’s time for all the beans, followed by a good stir. And then, half a bag of frozen white corn, again stirred in well.

Maybe the beans and corn are the magic trick, but when I make spaghetti sauce, which after all has many of the same ingredients, if I don’t use a splatter shield I get sauce all over the stovetop, counters, and my clothes. For whatever reason, this never seems to happen when I make chili.

As the chili thickens and “ripens,” heat a big pot of boiling water. When you think the chili’s ready, add the pasta to the water and, when it’s al dente, drain, add butter and shredded cheese (if desired) and serve it up in wide bowls, topped with generous scoops of rich, spicy chili. (Alternatively, you could simply pass grated cheese for the guests to top their chili with if they wished.)

Things turned out well, as our friends rushed back for seconds and thirds. One even announced, “Cincinnati chili! That’s my husband’s favorite!” Apparently chili over pasta is a Cincinnati staple.

Whatever the case, I suggest that you try it. It’s easy to make and oh-so-good!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Forget about food. May 21, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. On May 12, 2014, The New Yorker published an article by Lizzie Widdicombe called “The End of Food.” The article was not, per se, talking about rampant overpopulation, climate change, drought and water shortages, or the exhaustion of the soil due to massive overfarming of monocultures (growing a single crop on the same plot every year) and chemical poisons. It was, instead, about Soylent Green.

Sci-Fi fans may recall the 1973 Charlton Heston movie of that name, where overpopulation and pollution have led to the end of food. Instead, people receive nourishment from wafers called Soylent Green. At the movie’s end, a horrified populace learns that Soylent Green is made, not from a combination of soybeans (“Soy-“) and lentils (“-lent”), but from the surplus human population. (Fast-forward to “The Matrix.”)

Today, in an almost inexpressible irony, a group of Silicon Valley tech-nerd types have created a beverage, Soylent, to replace food, and have raised millions of dollars from backers and online fundraising campaigns to kick-start their company. Unlike Soylent Green and the fluid tube-fed to inert humans in “The Matrix,” Soylent is not made from human beings. Instead, it’s made from a combination of chemical powders, vitamins, fats, and water (maltodextrin, oat flour, rice, fish oil, and canola oil, plus vitamins and minerals).

The resulting slurry has been described as resembling Cream of Wheat, pancake batter, “One step better than what you drink before getting a colonoscopy,” and “my grandpa’s Metamucil.” Its creator claims that you can just forget about food and live on Soylent, and you’ll feel great and save money on groceries—he went from spending $470 a month on food to $50 by switching to an all-Soylent diet.

The creator, 25-year-old Rob Rinehart, was working on tech startups when he decided that food cost too much and took too much of his precious time. Stocking up on corndogs, ramen, and frozen quesadillas at Costco just wasn’t cost-effective. Surely a chemical concoction could fill the bill for less and free up time for more research and innovation?

If you’re a normal person who loves your burgers and fries, pizzas and breadsticks, pasta and salads, giving up food and drinking unflavored beige sludge that’s supposed to provide all your daily nutrients may sound unspeakably gross. But, sadly, there’s a large percentage of the population that have been drinking the equivalent for decades—babies drinking formula, seniors drinking Ensure, dieters drinking Slimfast and Metrecal, muscle-builders drinking Muscle Milk and the endless other protein shakes that have muscled real health foods off health-food shelves. They’re already conditioned to replace food with a liquid slurry, and hey, Soylent’s chemically balanced, so go for it!

Why should we be concerned about things like taste, texture, temperature, cooking method, variety, and the endless micronutrients found in real food? Tech nerds, like the ones who created and marketed Soylent, have no clue. They embrace a life philosophy called “lifehacking.” The point of lifehacking is to get rid of every needless task in life to make more room for things that interest you. Apparently, eating is one of the things on the get-rid-of list. Lifehackers have embraced Soylent, and its well-heeled backers see the tech-world potential.

I love eating. I love food. I love cooking. I love organics. I love buying locally grown produce and eating at local restaurants. I love everything that, it appears, Soylent’s founders oppose. Here are some robotic quotes from the future from Soylent’s completely disconnected founder, Rob Rhinehart:

“The general ethos of natural, fresh, organic, bright—this [Soylent] is the opposite.”

Soylent is also the opposite of what the article’s writer refers to as “a growing nostalgia for a time before corporate food lobbies, genetically modified vegetables, industrial farming, and the weed killer Roundup.” (Thank you, Monsanto.) What does Rob Rhinehart have to say about that?

“Rhinehart is not a fan of farms, which he refers to as ‘very inefficient factories.’ He believes that farming should become more industrialized, not less.”

But for me, the best insight into Rhinehart was the part about his clothes, which he doesn’t wash: “In an effort to optimize the dressing process, he alternates between two pairs of jeans, and orders nylon or polyester T-shirts from Amazon, wearing them for a few weeks before donating them. When the clothes get smelly, he puts them in the freezer, to get rid of the odor. ‘Sometimes, during the day, a couple of hours will do it,’ he told me. ‘I’ll wear a towel.'”

Polyester. Nylon. Chemicals. Farms as factories. Beige goop instead of food. If this doesn’t show the growing gap between the techs and the non-techs, I don’t know what does. Who cares about using gasoline-produced clothing and never washing it, just tossing it when it stinks so much you simply can’t stand it any more? Who cares if you never eat a fruit or vegetable or grain or pulse or bean in your whole life, no matter how good they taste or how good they are for you?

Rob Rhinehart mocks those of us who try to live by respecting the land and our fellow creatures, growing and eating organic food and following a vegetarian lifestyle. He despises everyone who enjoys eating as opposed to drinking his glop so they don’t have to eat and can just keep playing computer games or whatever. He insists that water is the most popular drink in the world, despite its total lack of flavor, using this as the reason he refuses to flavor Soylent, and clueless that water is cheap and hydrating, not popular. He claims that his Soylent will feed the world. But you know, I think the world, rich or poor, in whatever nation, would rather eat food and drink flavorful beverages than slug down Soylent. Yuck!

Controlling overpopulation, not feeding people gooey glop, is the answer.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Help stop black dog syndrome. May 14, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are the delighted owners of a BIG, black German shepherd, our beloved Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you). So we were horrified to read this morning that there’s something going on in shelters that’s so common that it even has a name: Black Dog Syndrome. Apparently black dogs are the last to be adopted, and big black dogs, especially if their ears stand rather than droop, are pretty much doomed to be euthanized or stay in the shelter for life. Apparently, people are afraid of them.

We’ve had two wonderful golden retrievers, and OFB grew up with an adored cocker/Springer spaniel mix and several springer spaniels, so it’s not like we’ve always had black dogs. But our Shiloh is so loving (towards everyone), so fun-loving, such a happy dog, with her constant huge smile, that she’s more than earned her name “Special” (from her grandfather, Lucas von Shiloh Special).

The thought that someone would reject a happy, loving (and, incidentally, gorgeous) dog because she happened to be black is appalling. After all, haven’t Labrador retrievers been the most popular dogs in America for more than 20 years, and aren’t most of them black, fairly large dogs? People come up to us in parks all the time and ask who we got Shiloh from, something that never happened with any of our other dogs (all of whom were also great, people-loving, attractive dogs).

We understand that some people are “big dog people” and some are “little dog people.” For us, even in our small cottage home, big dogs rule. Let others have the pugs and chihuahuas and bichons and papillons and all the rest. But please, whatever your preference, give black dogs a chance next time you want to adopt. That black poodle is just as smart and loving as the golden one in the next pen. And so is that black German shepherd. Please help put a stop to the stereotyping of Black Dog Syndrome and give these wonderful dogs the forever home they deserve.

Best store-bought marmalade? May 13, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. We’re big fans of marmalade here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. If we’re indulging in toast or English muffins or croissants for breakfast, we typically eat them hot with butter and a choice of marmalade and another jelly, jam or preserves, such as sour cherry jam or Alma Weaver’s locally famous hot pepper jellies (blackberry/Czech Black or apricot/Lemon Drop, for example). Yum!

Unfortunately, OFB—who indulges in these breakfast treats almost daily—isn’t the best at telling me when the marmalade’s about to run out. This is pretty aggravating, since I often use marmalade for cooking, as well—a couple of tablespoons in a pot of lentils or a teaspoon mixed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a dressing over mixed greens, mandarin oranges, red onion, and almonds, for example. So, when I noticed there was hardly a teaspoon left in our current jar, and OFB and I were heading off on our weekly grocery round, I added marmalade to my list.

I’m not desperately picky when it comes to marmalade. I like marmalade made with bitter Seville oranges, including shreds of rind, as is traditional. But I also like marmalade made with grapefruit, and would love to try blood orange marmalade. I’d rather have quince jelly than quince marmalade (the first kind of marmalade, before it was made from citrus), and don’t care for lemon or lime marmalade, unless you’re adding them to a pie or frosting. I’m sorry that sugar has to be a major ingredient in marmalade, but given the bitter component of the peels, it makes sense. (Another reason I view marmalade as an indulgence.)

So OFB and I went to a little local grocery after running errands this past Saturday. Running down my list, I said, “Ben, we need marmalade!” We swung by the jelly/peanut butter/bread aisle (see what you think of that). There was orange marmalade. Yay! There was its ingredients list, with high-fructose corn syrup listed as the first ingredient. Yikes! But fortunately, there was an alternative: Smucker’s orange marmalade. I would be happy to pay the premium to get real marmalade with real sugar. But alas, its first ingredient was high fructose corn syrup, as well.

Returning home empty-handed, I rushed to the fridge and sure enough, the almost-empty jar (thanks, OFB) also listed high-fructose corn syrup as its main ingredient. Turning to my good friend Google, I searched for marmalade without sugar or with real sugar. I came up with a handful of recipes. I don’t know about you, but damned if I’m zesting anything; I want my marmalade premade in a jar. So I tried again, and this time, I got a hit from Smucker’s. Sheesh, I thought, I guess they make real marmalade after all! But clicking on the link, I saw that it was for sugar-free marmalade made with Splenda. I have nothing against Splenda, I just don’t want it in my marmalade. Back to the drawing board.

I finally struck gold when I searched for “what’s the best brand of marmalade.” Readers recommended Dundee, Polaner All Fruit, Rose’s, Trappist Monk marmalades, Sara Beth’s, Robertson’s Thick Cut, Stonewall Kitchen’s pink grapefruit marmalade, Wilkin & Sons Tiptree marmalades (especially the Tawny Thick-Cut and Crystal), Busha Browne’s, June Taylor’s, Robert Lambert’s, and Frank Cooper’s Oxford marmalades. Unfortunately, many of these are imported or artisanal brands that must be mail-ordered at premium prices. But some of them (Polaner, Robertson’s, Dundee) might be available in a decent-sized grocery store. Next time OFB and I go grocery shopping, I plan to keep my eyes peeled!

Do you have a favorite marmalade?

‘Til next time,

Silence

To eat, or not to eat, carbs: That is the question. May 13, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. If your news feeds are like mine, you’re constantly reading about the benefits of low- to no-carb, high-protein, high-fat diets versus high-carb, low- to no-fat, relatively low-protein diets. The low-carb, high-protein and high-fat diets typically offer weight loss as their goal, while the high-carb, low-fat and low-protein diets typically offer heart health as their goal. What’s the deal?!

Recently, I read an interesting study that claimed that both diets were right, because they both banned refined carbs. This study claimed that it wasn’t the fat or the protein that mattered, just the absence of refined carbs.

Well, hmmmm. We all know that potato chips and French fries aren’t exactly health food. Nor is movie popcorn drenched in toxic oils or microwave popcorn in its toxic bags. But how is it that the Japanese, Chinese, Indians and etc. with their white rice, the Japanese, Chinese and Thai with their white noodles, the French with their baguettes and croissants, and the Italians with their white (as opposed to whole-grain) pasta are so much healthier than we are?! Not to mention all the cheese and other dairy products consumed by so many of these long-lived cultures (Greek, Cretan, Italian, French, etc.). No “low fat/no fat” yogurt, cheese, milk and etc. there! And yay, they drink wine (or sake) and beer!

These world cuisines have little in common. What they don’t eat is refined, fried, unnatural products. Most eat moderate amounts of meat and seafood, so that’s not the defining issue. And yes, every once in a while they can’t resist the freshly made, delicious local street foods that would hardly be called healthy, fried as they almost always are. But they cook their meals at home, and make sure that diversity plays a part and that the ingredients are as fresh as they can get. Lots of veggies, lots of fresh fruit to go with those meals of rice or pasta and a little meat or seafood. Soup is also a big player in these cuisines, from the famed lemon-egg soup of Greece to the miso soup of Japan to the bouillon of France, adding hydration and preventing overeating.

I suggest that we try this well-rounded approach for ourselves, rather than jumping on some low- or no-carb, high-protein or low-protein, whole-grain, fat-free bandwagon. Or any bandwagon, for that matter. Eat a ton of seasonal mixed produce, seasoned with oil, butter, herbs, and spices to your taste. Eat lots of rice, pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and etc., brown, whole-wheat, whole-grain, or refined, as you like, with all those gorgeous veggies served on top.

Eat tons of fruit, fresh or cooked, without added sugar. Eat whole-grain bread, toasted with butter and apple butter or with whole-fruit preserves, with your morning eggs and grapefruit. Eat a huge salad with everything on it, preferably topped with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. No meat, no croutons, but pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) for crunch and health.

Forget categories. Go for moderation, diversity, local produce and plenty of it, no “Frankenfoods” or super-manufactured junk food or deep-fried fast foods. You can have your carbs and eat them, too, if you make them at home and skip the deep-fried mac’n’cheese cubes, the bag of chips, and the cheese-stuffed pizza crusts.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Unobtanium: The recipe. May 10, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, ranting again about one of my pet peeves. Fans of the movie “Avatar” will recall that corporate greed for a mineral called “unobtanium,” available only on the inhabited moon Pandora, led to the near-destruction of the moon and its native life forms. Obviously, “unobtanium” is a heavy-handed reference to unobtainable. But my peeve has nothing to do with “Avatar,” which I really enjoyed. Instead, it’s about recipes that demand unobtainable ingredients.

I love cooking, and I love reading recipes and imagining making them, what I would change if I were making them (if anything), and how I could adapt them to my limited range of cooking options. (Try: an ancient stove with two working burners and a defunct oven, a countertop convection oven, no food processor, no dishwasher—thus, no food processor, try cleaning one by hand—no microwave, and so on.)

I’m an experienced cook, and an imaginative one, so I can usually spin a recipe into something our friend Ben and I would enjoy. The sole and very sad exception is fried foods. I hate grease, and much as I love fried foods, I’m not about to pour inches of oil into a pot and dunk anything into it. Eeeeewwww!!! If I’m craving yummy and fried, I’ll go out to eat.

I don’t resent recipes that call for techniques I’m not able to do with my limited equipment. After all, most people have fully functional stoves, microwaves, grills, food processors, dishwashers, stand blenders, and the like, even specialty stuff like ice-cream makers and juicers. It’s that “unobtanium” issue I take exception to, the “If you don’t live in NYC or San Francisco and are willing to spend $100 on one meal’s ingredients, forget trying to get these, but I’m going to put ten of them in this recipe anyway so there’s no way you can make it. Drool, fools, drool!!!” approach.

This morning, my ire was roused on this hot-button issue by a seasonal spring recipe for “Smashed Pea Toast with a Snap Pea Salad.” That sounded interesting, and even vegetarian, so I eagerly started reading. Certainly, it was nothing I’d ever made before. And nothing, I quickly realized, that I’ll ever make, period. The recipe starts with tiny peas from local farmers, procured within 24 hours of picking. Good luck with that! Then you need 1/2 pound of black trumpet or morel mushrooms. Good luck with that! Next, a Meyer lemon. Good luck with that! And finally, Idiazabal cheese. Good luck with that!

If you’re publishing a recipe in a national or local paper, it seems to me it should be one people across the country or locally could actually make. I can’t tell you how many recipes I’ve seen this spring calling for ramps, a wild onion relative native to very limited parts of the country, that say “Oh, you’ll find them at your local farmers’ market.” Not anywhere I’ve ever lived. Not ever.

The point about unobtanium ingredients was inadvertently made in two other articles in the papers our friend Ben and I get. One was about a culinary travel adventure, where the writer went to the Andalucia region of Spain to sample all the marvelous regional specialties at the local restaurants, tapas bars, and markets. The second was about celebrity chefs who had come to Philadelphia and opened high-end restaurants. Both mentioned the (obviously unobtainable) ingredients and dishes they encountered or served.

But I had no problem with this. Someone who was thinking about traveling to Spain could clip the article on Andalucian specialties and stick it in their travel guidebook. Someone planning a night out in Philly could clip the article on all the great new restaurants and see if they could get a reservation. Unlike the recipe article, in neither case was someone promising that you could make this food. The implication was that you would have to go to experience it. That’s an honest implication, as opposed to implying that you could make a dish in your own home using locally unobtainable ingredients.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Tulipomania strikes again. May 7, 2014

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It’s daffodil and tulip season here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. To cheer us up after the horrible winter that still hasn’t fully left us—tonight’s low is predicted to be 34 degrees—our tulip and daffodil display is our best ever.

That’s because OFB’s brother and his family gave us some nice gift certificates to White Flower Farm over the years, and this past fall, they offered phenomenal deals on their daffodil mixture, “The Works,” and a pastel tulip mix that was simply too gorgeous to believe. We decided it was time to cash in our certificates and purchased one of each mix. When they arrived, we mixed the tulip and daffodil bulbs—incidentally, the fattest, healthiest bulbs we’ve ever seen—and planted them on both sides of the path leading from our parking square down to our front door.

What would come up? What would the flowers look like? Would they bloom at the same time? Would the daffs and tulips look good together, or would they clash? All winter long, we speculated. The answer is that yes, they are blooming at the same time, and yes, they look great together. No, we wouldn’t have chosen every single tulip and daffodil in the mixes, but then, we wouldn’t have known to choose others that are, as it turns out, our favorites.

The daffs are unquestionably a great investment. No animal or other pest eats daffodil bulbs, which are poisonous; no disease affects them; and they multiply year after year during their very long perennial lives. (Think peonies and 50-year spans.)

Tulips, on the other hand, are simply an indulgence. Even the longest-lived, so-called “perennial” tulips like the Darwin hybrids bloom for five years at best; bulbs like the ones we bought will be unlikely to bloom a second year, though they may send up foliage, teasing us with hopes of blooms that never come. Species tulips are, in fact, true perennials, but they’re the size of crocuses and, while colorful enough, bear no resemblance to what most of us think of as tulips.

So why did we buy this tulip mix, knowing that we’d probably only see blooms this spring? Well, we had a gift certificate. It cost no more than a lavish flower arrangement, but would last much longer. And, okay, we love tulips, but never splurge on them because the flowers are short-lived and the bulbs seldom produce a second bloom.

In short, I guess we were suffering from modern-day tulipomania. The original tulipomania struck the Netherlands, specifically Holland, in 1636. Tulips, which originated in Turkey, had been imported into Holland and found the climate to their liking. The colorful flowers became a big hit. And then, multicolored flowers with bold color combinations and exotic “flamed” petals (such as white blooms with red “flames” on the petals) began turning up in growers’ fields. Pandemonium ensued, and prices shot up.

The phenomenon became known as tulipomania, and it became famous as the first financial bubble. At its height, a single bulb of one of the rarest varieties, such as ‘The Viceroy’ or ‘Semper Augustus’, could cost more than ten times as much as a skilled craftsman made in a year, or as much as two tons of butter, 1,000 pounds of cheese, 4 fat oxen, 8 fat swine, 12 fat sheep, 2 hogsheads of wine, 4 tuns of beer, a bed, a suit of clothes, a silver drinking cup, 4 lasts of rye, and 2 lasts of wheat combined. For ONE bulb.

Who was paying these prices?!! Wealthy collectors and speculators. Tulipomania was fueled by a number of strange and rare phenomena colliding, creating mass hysteria and zero common sense. First, the 30 Years’ War had been raging throughout the Germanies and sucker-punching the Netherlands, leaving it weak and depleted. Next, the bubonic plague was raging through the Netherlands at the time, creating a carpe diem (“live for today”) attitude, be it a lust for beautiful bulbs or a love of wine, women and song. And finally, most bizarre of all, no bulbs were actually changing hands during these transactions. The Bitcoins of their day, tulip bulbs were bought and sold on the open market by speculators who had zero interest in planting or selling actual tulip bulbs, only in making a fast buck.

Tulipomania peaked in 1636, then crashed in February 1637, when nobody showed up at the weekly bulb auction in Haarlem. (And yes, New York was originally settled by the Dutch, which is why it has “Harlem.”) To add to the irony, even if everyone who’d been bidding on tulip bulbs had been an avid gardener or collector, they wouldn’t have realized that all those exotic color combinations and “flames” on the petals were caused by a virus, which weakened the bulbs and ensured that the tulip varieties couldn’t possibly be seed-propagated and would die out in a matter of two or three years.

Today’s tulips don’t have viruses, even if they do display gorgeous flames of color. But they’re still usually one-season wonders. Which is why we’re considering our stunning display a one-time event. Unless somebody gives us another gift certificate.

Don’t throw out spring bulbs! May 6, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
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Silence Dogood here. Each spring, our friend Ben and I enjoy celebrating the arrival of spring by bringing some pots of ‘Tete-a-Tete’ daffodils (the little bright yellow ones) and tulips into our home here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home we share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA.

After this horrible winter—nights here are still dipping well into the 30s—the cheerful faces of the blooming bulbs are especially appreciated. But eventually the blooms fade. What then? Do you compost your bulbs or try to save them?

We’re big fans of composting, but when it comes to bulbs, we always try to plant them. Our experience is that the ‘Tete-a-Tete’ daffodils always come back, though they may be shorter (and sometimes, a lot shorter) than when you bought them in pots. Year after year, your tiny investment in these delightful daffodils will pay off. Tulips, on the other hand, aren’t so reliable. Some will send up leaves but not bloom; some will simply disappear. We still plant them out and hope. And buy more tulips and daffodils to brighten our home every spring.

If you have tips for perennializing potted tulips, please let us know!

‘Til next time,

Silence