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Tell me about Etsy. January 6, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, Uncategorized.
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Silence Dogood here. Money continues to be tight here at Hawk’s Haven in 2012, and I’ve been thinking of trying to sell some of my work to raise a little much-needed cash. Naturally, Etsy springs to mind, since it allows people to set up “shops” and sell handmade items on its site. I know at least two bloggers who have Etsy shops, but I don’t really know anything about Etsy, except for a staggering statistic I read that over 400,000 people sell on the site. 400,000! Would that be every crafter in America?!  

Anyway, I’m hoping that some of you who have experience selling on Etsy can help me out. Is the site hard to use? (Remember, you’re speaking to a techno-moron here, a genuine Luddite.) Is it difficult to set up a virtual shop on Etsy? Is the shop format flexible? Can you actually make any money, or is it more for raising enough cash to support your own favorite crafts/collectibles habit? How much of a hassle is it to deal with the payment process? And what about the whole legal/tax/small business aspect?

Anything you could tell me would be much appreciated!

             ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

The vegetarian freezer. November 16, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Most folks stock the freezer compartment of their fridges with various meats and convenience foods. But what if you’re a vegetarian? What would you put in your freezer? 

Since our friend Ben and I were just forced to buy a new refrigerator after discovering that our ancient, bought-used workhorse had breathed its last and couldn’t be resuscitated, I’ve been busy restocking the freezer. Here’s what I consider essential:

* Fruit juice. I keep orange juice, cranberry juice, and Five Alive (a citrus-juice mix) on hand at all times. I wish they made frozen grapefruit juice, too!

* Frozen veggies: spinach, shoepeg corn, lima beans, edamame, okra, artichokes. Plus basic dish-enhancers like mushrooms, diced sweet and cooking onions, and red and green bell pepper strips. Convenient when you need ’em and can’t find fresh (or get to the store).

* Frozen fruit: sliced peaches, blueberries, raspberries, sour and sweet cherries, sliced mango. I’m lucky to live within easy driving distance of Echo Hill Country Store, a Mennonite establishment that grows and freezes its own fruits and veggies, the freshest I’ve even seen. I also keep frozen shredded unsweetened coconut, great in curries and dressed-up rice dishes.

* Tempeh. Admittedly not something I use often, but a slab or two in the freezer means that I can add body and protein to a stir-fry, chili, or a sandwich if I want to.

* Veggie egg rolls. Thank God for the frozen food section of my local Weis Markets! They sell excellent house-branded frozen vegetable egg rolls, the only ones I’ve ever found. Crackly-crisp egg rolls with super-hot Chinese mustard and sweet sauce definitely kick-start a homemade Chinese meal.

* Cheese ravioli. Mini- or full-size, these are great to have on hand as a variation on classic spaghetti. I make big batches of rich, luscious homemade spaghetti sauce, and there are only so many times you (or at least OFB) can eat spaghetti. Topping frozen ravioli with homemade sauce makes a whole new dish without the effort of making lasagna.

* Pierogis. Our friend Rob is the real pierogi fiend, but I’ve noticed that his enthusiasm has started to rub off on OFB, so I figured I’d get a couple of boxes of Mrs. T’s to have on hand just in case. (One box of potato, spinach and feta cheese, and one classic potato and onion seemed to cover all bases.)

* Indian appetizers. We love Indian food, and I make curries, dal, rice dishes and the like from scratch. But I appreciate some help in the appetizer department, so I load up on frozen pakoras, samosas, patra leaf roulades, and various special breads. (I also buy fresh-made garlic naan.) We’re lucky to have a well-stocked Indian grocery, Rice & Spice, in nearby Emmaus, PA, but you can buy pakoras at any well-stocked grocery. 

* Sweet potato fries. We love these, and buying them frozen lets us bake up a tray at a moment’s notice. Mind you, we also love roasting sliced sweet potatoes with olive oil, cracked black pepper, Trocomare (a hot herb/salt mix) and dried Italian herbs like oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme—yum!!!—or simply baking whole sweet potatoes and serving them with butter, salt and cracked black pepper. But it’s nice to know you have a bag of fries in reserve.

* Piecrusts. I’m happy to make OFB a pecan pie, sour cherry pie, or banana cream pie, but am definitely not happy messing up my kitchen and grossing myself out making homemade piecrust. (Those who love mushing chopped-up bits of butter into flour with your bare hands, more power to you.) But I recently discovered that most ready-made piecrusts are made with lard, a definite no-no if you’re vegetarian like me. Thanks goodness for Mrs. Smith’s! Her piecrusts are vegetarian-friendly, and have found favor with both OFB and our black German shepherd, Shiloh. 

* Ice cream. I’m a whipped-cream person myself, but OFB enjoys ice cream on his pie or with his cake or cobbler, so I try to keep our favorite, Ben & Jerry’s vanilla, on hand at all times. 

Obviously, the freezer is a convenience item, at least as far as I’m concerned. It makes ice, and it preserves staples that everyone might need to enhance and simplify their cooking efforts. Besides the ice for OFB’s martinis, the things I really use from our freezer tend to be the veggie eggrolls and Indian appetizers and the lima beans and okra. Not to mention the shredded coconut. But it’s great to have the other items stocked and ready should the need arise.  

What’s in your freezer?

               ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

The salty shores of Seneca Lake. October 14, 2011

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood love salt. But we weren’t expecting to find it on our first trip to the Finger Lakes in New York State last weekend. As we took a 45-minute tour of the deepest of the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake, on a beautiful ca. 1934 cruise ship, the Stroller IV, salt was the last thing on our minds.

Turns out, we should have upped our mental salinity quotient. The stunningly clear, cobalt-blue waters of Seneca Lake are freshwater-fed, from deep springs throughout the lake, and there’s nary a trace of salt to be seen in those amazing deep blue waters. But hundreds of feet below the lake, a huge crescent-shaped salt deposit stretches from Pennsylvania into Ontario and supplies most of the salt consumed in the U.S.

Our knowledgeable First Mate and guide, Daniel, pointed out two salt refineries on the shores of Seneca Lake, one owned by US Salt and discovered in 1882, the other owned by Cargill Salt. He explained that they extract the salt by pumping steam into deep wells, bring the salt to the surface as brine (saline solution), then dehydrate it in giant four-storey cylinders until only the salt crystals remain. Steam stacks were busy at both plants as we cruised past.

Daniel also shared a secret few people realize: Whatever brand of salt you buy in the store, iodized or not, is almost certainly going to come from one of these two plants. US Salt alone produces over 200 brands, as well as salt blocks for livestock and wildlife, road salt, water conditioning salt, and salt for fertilizers. So next time you’re in the market for some table salt, buy either the gourmet kinds (sea salt, RealSalt, Himalayan salt, etc.) or go for the generic box and save a few cents over store brands.

But where did all this salt come from, anyway? According to Daniel, 300 million years ago, there was a giant inland sea covering the area. When it dried up due to (ahem) global warming, only the salt (and some excellent fossils) remained. Daniel said the salt deposit under Seneca Lake alone was enough to supply the entire world with salt for 600 years.

Yowie zowie! Please pass the salt. And if you’re ever in the gorgeous Watkins Glen area, our friend Ben and Silence recommend a cruise on the Stroller IV (www.senecaharborstation.com or call 607-535-4541). It’s fun, educational, and gorgeous. Cruises leave every hour from May 14 through October 16, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the price can’t be beat: $12.75 for adults, $6 for kids under 12, and kids under 3 free; tax is included. If a sailing ship is more your speed, check out a voyage on the schooner True Love ((www.schoonerexcursions.com).

Eat like an American. October 6, 2011

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A Native American, that is. Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, a friend forwarded an e-mail from Professor Devon A. Mihesuah of the American Indian Health and Diet Project that I found most intriguing. Because Dr. Mihesuah says it best and provides great links, including to her own wonderful website, I’ll quote her letter here in full:
 
“In March 2012, Professor Martin Reinhardt, Anishinaabe Ojibway and
Assistant Professor of Native American Studies at Northern Michigan
University, along with a cohort of students and colleagues, will
embark on a challenging quest: to eat only pre-contact Anishinaabe
Ojibway foods for one year. By next spring, Martin and his colleagues
will have planned this adventure for 12 months. You can access his
Decolonizing Diet Project (DDP) blog here:
http://decolonizingdietproject.blogspot.com/
 
“In honor and support of the Decolonizing Diet Project, the American
Indian Health and Diet Project http://www.aihd.ku.edu/  invites all
interested parties to join in the mini-challenge of eating only
pre-contact foods during the first week of November. As you know,
November is Native American Heritage Month.
 
“During this week, participants in the mini-challenge can focus on one
tribe or, because some foods may be expensive, out of season,
contaminated, endangered, or not available, you may choose to eat only
one or two indigenous meals per day or perhaps widen meal
possibilities by choosing any foods indigenous to the Western
Hemisphere.
 
“The American Indian Health and Diet Project contains some recipes that
feature only ingredients that are indigenous to this hemisphere. There
are many more, of course, so I have also created the Mini-Diet
Challenge: A Week of Eating Indigenous Foods blog at
http://weekofeatingindigneousfoods.blogspot.com/ where you can chime
in about what you plan to eat.
 
“’Traditional’ for these projects means pre-contact foods. No beef,
mutton, goat, chicken, pork, eggs, milk, butter, cream, wheat flour
(no fry bread), rye, barley, okra, black-eyed peas, or any other ‘Old
World’ foods that a lot of us have lovingly incorporated into our
diets and tribal cultures. No processed foods even if the base is corn
or potatoes (that is, fried chips; ones you bake or dry yourself are
ok). Drinks consist of water, herb tea and beverages you may know how
to make, such as mescal and pulque. Chocolate candy is not on the list
unless it is unsweetened or sweetened with honey (of the Melipona
bee–honey bees are indigenous to Europe), fruit, stevia, camas or
agave. The diet may take a bit of planning!
 
“There are many foods to choose from. My site (a work in progress)
lists and defines many of them:
Please consider taking part in this activity. The goals of this
mini-challenge are to lend support to Martin’s Decolonizing Diet
Project, to familiarize ourselves with the varied, healthy and tasty
foods that have sustained countless indigenous peoples, and to spark
new ideas for healthy living.”
 
                            Devon Abbott Mihesuah
 
Silence chiming in again here. I think this sounds like a lot of fun! If you include all the Americas rather than just the U.S. or North America, your food choices broaden out considerably to include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, corn, amaranth, quinoa, bananas, mangoes, and many more. A Thanksgiving feast built around indigenous ingredients could include oysters, winter squash or pumpkin soup, turkey stuffed with wild rice dressing (or salmon if you’d prefer it), cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, corn or cornpone or corncakes, baked or pureed winter squash or pumpkin (if you didn’t serve the soup) or, of course, pumpkin pie (with a cornmeal or amaranth crust).
 
No Native American tribes were (or are) vegetarian, so I’m not sure I could get enough protein using solely indigenous foods to manage. But it wouldn’t kill me to try for a week! At any rate, I plan to look into it. If you’re intrigued, too, here are a few resources from my cookbook shelves to get you started:
 
Enduring Harvests: Native American Foods and Festivals for Every Season (E. Barrie Kavasch, Globe Pequot, 1995). This wonderful book is divided into monthly chapters, so it’s fun and easy to follow in any season. It’s a treasure-trove of lore, festivals, sound cooking tips, as colorful recipes like Rattlesnake Salsa (named for one of its chiles, no actual rattlesnakes needed) and Alligator-Crawfish Jambalaya (which does in fact contain alligator meat), as well as many yummy everyday recipes like Buttermilk Green Chili Cornbread Stuffing, Alaskan Salmon Cakes, Huevos Rancheros, Breakfast Hush Puppies, Buffalo Burgers with Wild Mushrooms and Onions, Spicy Cornmeal-Fried Catfish, and Aztec Chocolate Nut Fudge. Note that Ms. Kavasch does not limit herself to indigenous foods in her recipes. But don’t let that stop you from finding a copy! 
 
Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods (Gary Paul Nabhan, ed., Chelsea Green, 2008). This fabulous, richly photographed book is more of a regional food history with recipes than a cookbook, and not all of the foods included began as indigenous, though the varieties highlighted in the book were locally developed, and many are now in danger of vanishing in the wake of our Monsanto-like obsession with reducing diversity in favor of nationwide shipping and shelf life, not to mention a plasticized cosmetic appeal. (Thank God for the resurgence of heirloom plants and heritage livestock breeds!) The book is divided into chapters by “ecogastronomic regions,” such as Moose Nation, Acorn Nation, Clambake Nation, and Pinyon Nut Nation. Foods within each region are showcased, and a recipe is offered for each featured food, along with a wealth of history not just about it but about the occasions when it’s prepared and the foods it’s eaten with. You may never actually make Pit-Roasted Plains Pronghorn or Moose and Waldoboro Green Neck Rutabaga Stew, but you certainly could make and enjoy Santa Maria Pinquito Bean Salad, Seneca-Mohawk Hulled Hominy Corn Soup, Maple Baked Yellow-Eye Beans, Hoppin’ John, Pawpaw Custard, Choctaw Persimmon Pudding, or Roast Narragansett Turkey with Jerusalem Artichokes, even if you have to substitute locally available foods for the specific breeds or cultivars that are recommended. Great reading, too!
 
Southwest Indian Cookbook (Marcia Keegan, Clear Light Publishers, 1987). This is another lavishly photographed, loving tribute to the life, lore, and cuisine of Native Americans, in this case the Navajo and the people of the Pueblos. Plenty of appetizing options here, from Summer Squash Soup, Zuni Corn Soup, and Pinon and Mint Soup through San Ildefonso Salsa (with bacon!), Zuni Succotash, Green Tomato Stew, Chili Squash, Corn and Pumpkin Stew, Green Chili Fry, and Hopi Corn Stew with Blue Corn Meal Dumplings to Juniper Lamb Stew, Pueblo Fish Fry, Navajo Kneel Down Bread, Wild Sage Bread, and Fry Bread Pudding. This one doesn’t limit its ingredients to indigenous foods, either.
 
American Indian Corn: 150 Ways to Cook and Prepare It (Charles J. Murphy, The Knickerbocker Press, 1917). I just had to mention this old treasure from my cookbook collection. It was first published in 1890 to try to interest Europeans in actually eating corn and corn-based dishes rather than viewing it exclusively as livestock feed. In 1917, with World War I upon us and the need to ship all available wheat to Europe to feed the troops, it was republished with the recipes updated and many new recipes added by Jeannette Young Norton, author of Mrs. Norton’s Cook-Book, in an attempt to encourage Americans to substitute cornmeal for wheat flour. Today’s cooks may not go for the Corn Prune Mold, Corn Tutti Frutti, Corn Royal Sandwiches, Pop-Corn Pudding, and other delights offered in the book, but it’s a wonderful piece of history with lots to say about corn from its origins to 1917. Needless to say, it isn’t limited to indigenous ingredients, either.
 
Corn: Meals & More (Olwen Woodier, Storey Communications, 1987). Unlike the previous book, this one features a slew of recipes you’ll actually love, including international favorites like polenta, quiche, popovers, frittatas, and strata, plus special dishes like Rumanian Mamaliga and Argentine Puchero. There’s plenty of corn history mixed in as well. Again, not limited to indigenous ingredients.
 
Pumpkin Lovers Cook Book (Betty B. Gabbert, ed., Golden West Publishers, 1992). Everything pumpkin, this modest cookbook includes fun pumpkin facts and a “Pumpkin Events Sampler” of pumpkin festivals across the country. (It notes that the heaviest pumpkin in 2002’s weigh-offs weighed 1,337.6 pounds. Yowie zowie!)
 
Growing and Cooking Beans (John E. Withee, Yankee, 1980). Beans are one of the “Three Sisters” of Native American cooking (with corn and squash/pumpkins), and this is the bean bible. Mr. Withee presents extensive growing and harvesting information along with a cornucopia of bean dishes.
 
The Bean Harvest Cookbook (Ashley Miller, The Taunton Press, 1997). The author of this comprehensive, beautifully photographed book is a former Moosewood chef, and the mouthwatering fare she presents here reflects that. Reding through this book prompts an “I want to make that now!” response to every dish. Sound growing, harvesting, and storing information, plus bean history, round out the presentation.
 
Cowboy Cocktails (Grady Spears & Brigit L. Binns, Ten Speed Press, 2000). If cooking makes you thirsty, or you’d like a little liquid refreshment with your meals, this book will definitely give you plenty of options: 60 Southwest-themed drinks plus a chapter of recipes to eat with them.
 
Eager to stretch your definition of “indigenous” South of the Border? There are so many great cookbooks to help you, including all of Diana Kennedy’s books. Here are six to get you started. I’ll say upfront that none of them limit their recipes to indigenous ingredients, either, so I don’t have to say it every time.
 
Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of a Life with Frida Kahlo (Guadalupe Rivera and Marie-Pierre Colle, Clarkson Potter Publishers, 1994) is the most magnificent, stunningly gorgeous book of Mexican cooking I have ever seen. The photographs, stories by Diego Rivera’s daughter, and recipes bring Mexico to beautiful, vivid, luscious life. If I were stranded on a deserted island and could only take five cookbooks, this would be one of them.
 
Food from My Heart: Cuisines of Mexico Remembered and Reimagined (Zarela Martinez, Macmillan, 1992). This warm, welcoming book is sure to become an instant favorite. Like Frida’s Fiestas, it offers no shortcuts, so you’d best be prepared for some serious kitchen time or save it for special occasions. But it’s sure to inspire you to try new things and be more creative in your own cooking, and the wealth of recipes is amazing.
 
The El Paso Chile Company’s Texas Border Cookbook: Home Cooking from Rio Grande Country (W. Park Kerr, Norma Kerr, and Michael McLaughlin, William Morrow and Company, 1992). Lots of fun and fiery recipes from both sides of the Border. Check out their Southwestern Thanksgiving Feast.
 
All right!!! Finally, three vegetarian-friendly cookbooks that celebrate Southwestern and Mexican food, Meatless Mexican Home Cooking: Traditional Recipes That Celebrate the Regional Flavors of Mexico (Nancy Zaslavsky, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997), Vegetarian Southwest: Recipes from the Region’s Favorite Restaurants (Lon Walters, Northland Publishing, 1998), and Chili! Mouth-Watering Meatless Recipes (Robert Oser, Book Publishing Company, 1999). For fellow vegetarians who despair about the lard, mutton, and the like that seem to constantly turn up in Southwest and Native recipes, these books are a lifeline.
 
I want to close this post with one of my favorite books, again by Gary Paul Nabhan. This one is all about indigenous foods, and chronicles the MacArthur award-winning (sorry, our friend Ben) author’s  attempts to eat for a year using 90% foods indigenous to a 250-mile radius arond his Arizona home. It’s Coming Home to Eat: The Politics of Local Food (W.W. Norton & Co., 2009). For anyone who’d like to take up the indigenous foods weeklong challenge, much less anyone who’d like to try for a year of indigenous eating, this book is essential.
 
Want to give it a go? If you do decide to try it, please let us know how you’re doing and what you’re eating!
 
                      ‘Til next time,
 
                                   Silence
 
  

We’ll pass on the pie, thanks. October 5, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I, coming from the land of cobblers, have never been huge fans of pie, unless, of course, you mean pecan, chess, banana cream pie, or chocolate icebox pie. We’ve managed to expand our enthusiasm over the years to embrace sour cherry pie, coconut custard pie, rhubarb pie, and that yummy brownie-and-bourbon-based concoction that usually goes by something like Kentucky Derby pie. But we really don’t consider ourselves pie people, and seldom have more than one or two slices of pie in any given year. (Unless, of course, some generous soul presents us with one of the above.)

There is one notable exception, however: caramel apple pie. Made with Granny Smith apples in a shortbread crust and loaded with buttery caramel, this is one dessert to live for. (We hesitate to suggest that any dessert is worth dying for.) Fortunately, alert retailers and restaurants have noticed that a few million people besides me and our friend Ben are addicted to this pie, so you often see it turn up on restaurant menus and in bakeries. To my knowledge, it doesn’t really cost more than a good cheesecake.

So sticker shock set in in a big way when I opened the latest copy of the Stonewall Kitchen catalogue this morning and saw that you could buy a “caramel apple granny pie” from them for only $72.95 plus $10 shipping plus (in our case, living as we do in scenic PA) 6% sales tax on both the pie and the shipping. Correct me if I’m wrong, but my calculator says this adds up to $87.93 for a pie that serves 7 normal people or 14 skimpy eaters, the number suggested by Stonewall Kitchen (who show photos of the tiny 14-person serving, dwarfed by the fork).

Just to be clear, I love Stonewall Kitchen (www.stonewallkitchen.com). It makes great foods, and we’ve enjoyed them here at Hawk’s Haven for many years. I’ve requested gifts from the Stonewall Kitchen catalogue on many occasions. But a $90 pie?!! Spare me, please.

Determined to see what others were selling this pie for, I turned to Amazon and Google. No dice. The caramel apple pies and caramel apple cheesecakes I found online bore zero resemblance to the Stonewall Kitchen caramel apple pie, which is the restaurant classic. Grrrr. Oh, well, I was headed into town anyway; surely my local grocery would have one in their bakery section or (shudder) in the frozen desserts aisle. Nope.

Yikes! I hate not having data to back me up. But surely this pie wouldn’t be such a restaurant staple if it cost that much to make! Of course, I’m sure the Stonewall Kitchen version is simply luscious. But the day when I spend $90 for a pie, when that money would keep me and our friend Ben in groceries or treat us to three couples dinners out, will see subzero temperatures in Hell. OFB loves my sauteed caramelized apples served warm over vanilla ice cream, and the total cost is less than $5 for  two. Now, that’s more like it.

                ‘Til next time,

                               Silence

Doughnuts vs. breakfast: Which costs less? September 29, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I love the music of Bill Miller, award-winning Native American flute-player, guitarist, and songwriter. I was listening to one of my favorites, a poignant song called “Faith of a Child” (the version I have is on his CD “The Red Road”). It’s about a very poor young woman with a menial job and a one-room apartment in a paper mill town. To bring home just how poor she is, he sings “Her brown hands are folded as she bows her head to pray/Over doughnuts and some coffee she made up yesterday.”

The picture of this girl in her single room expressing gratitude for some stale coffee and doughnuts is very powerful, and it and the song are lodged in my memory. So I guess it wasn’t that surprising that it came to mind as our friend Ben and I were splurging on a diner breakfast this morning after a rather harrowing doctor’s appointment, and I was looking at all the coffee and doughnuts going by.

“Ben, which do you think are more expensive, doughnuts or eggs?”

OFB tore his eyes away from his two-plate breakfast long enough to say, “Why doughnuts, of course. A dozen doughnuts must cost at least $4, maybe even $6.”

Hmmm. Refraining from asking how OFB, not the world’s most fervent grocery shopper, happened to know so much about the price of doughnuts, I instead announced, “Ben, let’s stop at the grocery on our way home!”

OFB’s eyes practically stood out on stalks as he stared from me to the (extremely scanty) remains of his breakfast. That look said louder than words that anyone who could even bear to think about food after a breakfast like this must be insane at best.

But by now I was on a mission from God, so I again refrained from pointing out that not everyone at the table had managed to consume two fried eggs, two pieces of bacon, two sausage links, a slice of pork roll, a fat slice of French toast, a giant pancake, a mountain of hash browns, plus half my Swiss cheese-mushroom omelette and both my pieces of rye toast. (My hash browns went home for the chickens.) Plus four cups of coffee. I even refrained from calling for a stretcher, but just barely.

Bearing in mind that we were discussing a girl who was living on coffee and doughnuts, I headed to the lowest-priced of the groceries in this area to do my comparison shopping. (No doubt the prices would be even lower at a discount grocery.) Shock surprise, OFB elected to remain in the car while I conducted my research. but in fairness, I have to say that he at least appeared to still be conscious.

First, those doughnuts. A dozen doughnuts cost between $3 and $4.50. Obviously, this girl would have gone for the $3 box. Bill Miller says she was eating “doughnuts” plural, so let’s assume she had two for her breakfast. If you math geniuses out there are following along, this will tell you that, not counting the stale coffee, her breakfast cost her 50 cents.

I next proceeded to the dairy aisle to price eggs. A dozen medium eggs cost 99 cents. That works out to 8.25 cents an egg. So if she ate two eggs instead of two doughnuts, it would cost her 16.5 cents.

But, though it packs a lot of protein and nutrients, that’s not a very tasty breakfast, is it? So I looked to my left at the cheeses, and saw that I could buy an 8-ounce block of cheese—Cheddar, Swiss, pepper Jack, muenster, you name it—for $1.67. Grating an ounce of cheese on those eggs would add 21 cents to the total.

What about some toast to balance out those eggs? Not just any toast, either—it couldn’t be a fancy brand, but it ought to be whole wheat or multigrain for maximum nutrition. I found big loaves of both 100% whole wheat and 12-grain for, again, $1.67 a loaf. I don’t know how many slices are in a loaf—it looked like a hundred—but to be safe, let’s say 50. If our poor girl had two slices with her eggs, it would cost her an additional 14 cents, and would really help fill her up plus add lots of good fiber.

Okay, that adds up to 51.5 cents, a little over our total. But what if, instead of the cheese, our girl decided to saute some veggies and then break her eggs into the pan on top of them? Heading to the produce section, I carefully weighed, then priced, a small onion (18 cents), medium-large red-skinned potato (40 cents), and a small red bell pepper (74 cents). Actually, the better buy on red peppers was a really big package of pre-sliced peppers for $1.45, three times as much by weight as the single pepper but with no waste in the form of core and stem, so at least as four-five times as much usable pepper for twice the price. We’ll take that one, thanks. And let’s add an 8-ounce box of button mushrooms for $1.67. (This store appears to love 3 for 5 sales.) 

Back in the apartment, let’s say she sautes a third of her onion (6 cents), saving the rest for more breakfasts and/or suppers. She dices half her potato (20 cents) and four strips of bell pepper from the big package (about 23 cents), then slices two mushrooms and tosses them in (again, about 23 cents).

Oops, we’ve done it again: Eggs, toast and veggies would come to $1.02, a bit over twice the cost of her doughnuts. But think what she’d be getting in exchange in terms of nutrition and flavor! And of course, if she just made her eggs with the sauteed onion and one veggie, say, mushrooms or bell pepper, she could drop that cost down to 59 cents for a yummy, nourishing breakfast.

Let’s take this a little further, and assume she’s bought all this stuff. If she sautees up a batch of veggies one evening—everything but the potato, and puts them in the fridge, she could have her 59-cent breakfast. Then for lunch, she could make two slices of toast, then add a topping of sauteed veggies and split that ounce of grated cheese over the two before running them under the broiler of her battered Goodwill-issue toaster oven. The total cost for a filling, flavorful lunch would come to about 87 cents. If she’d like to make a grilled cheese-and-veggie sandwich instead of the openfaced ones, she could add an extra ounce of cheese to bring the grand total to $1.08.

What about supper? She could boil, bake, mash, or roast her potato, and eat it topped with grated cheese and veggies for about $1.13. Or have it with grated cheese and a side of raw pepper strips for about 76 cents. If she had rice, she could make a big plate of fried rice with sauteed veggies and an egg stirred in at the end for between $1 and $1.50.

Boiled eggs and toast for another day’s breakfast? At last, 40.5 cents, less than the cost of two doughnuts! The extra 8.5 cents could pay for a teensy smear of butter for that toast.

Are these the healthiest meals you could possibly eat? Of course not. (Look ma, no salad, no fruit!) Would you find them boring? Probably. Would you have to restock, at least on the eggs, cheese, and veggies, before week’s end? Absolutely. The bread and rice would probably be the sole survivors. But given a choice between doughnuts and stale coffee and this menu, I’d go for this one in a heartbeat. Being poor needn’t mean eating poor!

Amish funeral… potatoes?! September 27, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. I’ve heard often about Amish funeral pie, a raisin pie (not unlike mincemeat) that is popular at post-funeral gatherings because it can be left out unrefrigerated (a good thing, since many Amish don’t have access to propane refrigerators, much less electricity) after cooking, and keeps very well. But I was bemused when a reader came onto our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, seeking a recipe for Amish funeral potatoes.

I didn’t think the reader was confusing potatoes for pie (though they may have been confusing the Amish and Mormons, as we’ll see). I was determined to get to the bottom of this.

My first cast came up empty. The Amish Cook at Home, a beautiful, personable cookbook by Lovina Eicher with Kevin Williams (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2008), didn’t even have a potato recipe, much less a recipe for funeral potatoes. What, no potato recipes?! I was disconcerted but undaunted. Ten more cookbooks quickly joined The Amish Cook on my table.

Two well-known authors of Amish-themed romances, Beverly Lewis and Wanda E. Brunstetter, have each written cookbooks. Alas, The Beverly Lewis Amish Heritage Cookbook (Bethany House, 2004) had no funeral potatoes, though it did have a pretty appealing recipe for Scalloped Potatoes with Cheese Sauce.  I was no luckier with Wanda Brunstetter’s Amish Friends Cookbook (Barbour Publishing, 2007), which has recipes for Scalloped Potatoes and for Pork Chops and Potato Sausage Pie, but nary a sign of funeral potatoes.

Hmmm. Perhaps there’d be a recipe for funeral potatoes in a Mennonite cookbook, Mennonites being another Plain sect and the elder spiritual brothers of the Amish. Hefting the massive Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets by Esther H. Shank (Herald Press, 1987), I saw something that might be promising: a recipe for Quick Company Potatoes. That sounded appropriate for a funeral! But if someone served me this conglomeration of frozen hash browns with cans of cream of potato and cream of celery soup, I’d be tempted to join the deceased. Surely no reader could be looking for that!

Next, I pulled down the 1983 edition of the Koch Buch: A Collection of Pennsylvania German Recipes from the Kutztown Pa. Senior Neighborhood Center. Little Kutztown is just 10 minutes from my house, and the Amish are part of the group known as the Pennsylvania Dutch (actually Deitsch, their dialect for Deutsch, German). Maybe folks who were senior citizens in the ’80s would remember funeral potatoes.

Wrong again. There were recipes for Potato Filling and for Boiled Cabbage and Potato Filling (the creator of this version suggested also mixing in some applesauce!). But filling, a mashed potato/dressing hybrid comprised of variations on mashed potatoes with bread and seasonings, is so ubiquitous throughout Pennsylvania Dutch Country that it would hardly have gained the additional name of funeral potatoes, I reasoned.

All righty then, I still had The Kutztown Area Historical Society 1892-1992 Commemorative Cookbook, as plump as the Koch Buch was slim. This one had some delicious-looking potato recipes, including Potato Pie and Swiss Fried Potatoes, as well as another version of the hash-browns-and-canned-soup glop, I mean, casserole. Could a potato pie feature at a funeral, a savory version of Amish funeral pie?

Next up: Boyertown Area Cookery (Boyertown Historical Society, 2nd ed. 1985), from another nearby community. This one had Grandmother’s Creamed Potatoes, Potato Drops, Sour Potatoes, Potato Filling (3 versions), and Leftover Mashed Potato Cakes.

This book also contained two intriguing insights into Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine: “When frying cooked potatoes break up pie crust and stir it into the sliced potatoes and fry right along with the potatoes.” (Waste not, want not for this thrifty, pie-loving people.) And “Many Dutch housewives pour milk on vegetables before turning them into a serving dish and sending them to the table, often to the point that the vegetables float. No thickening is added but generally a glob of butter is put to it.”

Moving on to a cookbook from another local sect with the wonderful name of Schwenkfelders, I peeked into The Palm Schwenkfelder Church Cookbook. (Palm is the name of the town, and yes, we’re still in Pennsylvania, not Florida. Go figure.) This one also had a selection of potato dishes, including Potatoes au Gratin, Baked Sliced Potatoes, Potato Pie, Herb Potatoes, Gourmet Potatoes, Creamy Potato-Carrot Casserole, and two variations on potato cakes, Cornflaked Potatoes and Sauerkraut Potato Cakes or Patties.

And it had five—count them, five—variations on the dreaded hash brown/canned soup casserole, including one the contributor claimed was from Texas and three that were topped with cornflakes. Oh, surely not! One contributor noted that this dish was “Standard fare at Easter dinner.” No doubt if the Easter bunny catches sight of it, he’ll dive back down his rabbit hole and we’ll have six more weeks of winter.

It was time to delve into a little regional culinary history, so next up was The Landis Valley Cookbook: Pennsylvania German Foods and Traditions (Landis Valley Museum, Stackpole Books, 2nd. ed., 2009). This beautifully photographed and fascinating book devotes an entire chapter to funerals! Surely I could finally find the answer.

They had this to say about funeral dinners: “Food items were needed that would keep well and could be easily served. Certain foods came to be associated with funerals because they were served so often on these occasions. For example, raisin pie became known as funeral pie. Dried foods and pickles were common fare before modern methods of preserving, so they frequently appeared at funeral meals… The meals included cold meats, bread and butter, dried peaches, stewed prunes, pickles, and schmieres such as apple butter. Also, pies, rusks (rolls), cheese, and sometimes mashed potatoes and stewed chicken were served.”

The book gives an actual menu from a 1914 Pennsylvania German funeral which includes no potatoes, but does feature 100 cigars and 2 sticks of chalk. (I’m still trying to figure out what the chalk was for.) It also gives recipes for the classic raisin funeral pie and Potato White Bread, as well as homemade butter to eat on it.

Last but by no means least, I reached for two books by the great food historian of the Pennsylvania Dutch, William Woys Weaver, Sauerkraut Yankees: Pennsylvania Dutch Food & Folkways (Stackpole Books, 2nd. ed., 2002) and the extraordinarily beautiful, atmospheric Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking (Abbeville Press, 1993). Would the mystery be resolved now?

Sauerkraut Yankees mentions that cakes and vast quantities of, ahem, liquid refreshment were served at Pennsylvania Dutch funerals (though no alcohol was served at Amish funerals, I hasten to add!), but gives no hint as to the dishes served at the meal itself. However, Will Weaver has this to say about the Pa. Dutch funeral tradition: “By the mid-nineteenth century, it was not unusual for some funeral dinners to exceed 1,000 guests, particularly if the deceased had been a well-to-do farmer or a respected figure in the community… The great funeral banquet was something that the Pennsylvania Dutch looked forward to all their lives.” Yowie zowie. 

Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking sadly provides no references to funerals whatever, and includes no funeral-themed recipes, not even for one for funeral (raisin) pie. I was at the end of my in-house resources. It was time for a chat with my good friend Google. And that’s where the Mormons come in.

Googling “Amish funeral potatoes,” I was instead taken to a number of links for Mormon funeral potatoes, including a blog called Simply Simmer (http://simplysimmer.blogspot.com/) with a recipe for Creamy Funeral Potatoes in an April 23, 2011 post. The post says this: “Named ‘Funeral Potatoes’ for commonly being served as a side dish at traditional Mormon post-funeral family dinners… Many of my Amish relatives make a variation of this…” And sure enough, there’s the casserole recipe, with frozen hash browns, Velveeta, and canned cream of mushroom soup. 

Chowhound’s (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/) Home Cooking board also has a thread on Mormon Funeral Potatoes, with tons of recollections of Utah-raised Mormons enjoying them at funerals, plus a number of reader-contributed variations and a suggestion to find the basic recipe on the Ore-Ida website. And yes, it’s the same hash-brown/canned soup/cornflake, ah, creation.

Oh, dear. I’m sure by now you’re expecting a recipe, but if you want to make that, you’ll have to go to the Ore-Ida website, Chowhound, or Simply Simmer. I will give you a recipe, though, for something that I think would go well at a funeral dinner. It’s the Potato Pie recipe from The Kutztown Area Historical Society 1892-1992 Commemorative Cookbook, contributed by Arlene Wendell. As you’ll see, it’s actually a crustless quiche, and since quiche is good served either hot or at room temperature, it should hold up well on the funeral table. And hey, it does include (actual) potatoes!

                Potato Pie 

6 large eggs

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3 cups diced, cooked potatoes

6 ounces grated Swiss cheese

4 ounces diced ham

1/2 cup diced green peppers

1/2 cup milk

Generously butter a 9-inch pie plate. In a large bowl whisk eggs, onion, salt and pepper. Add potatoes, cheese, ham, peppers, and milk. Stir to blend. Pour into prepared dish. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until set. Cut into wedges. Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie.

All righty then. If I were making it, I think I’d use a quiche-friendly piecrust, up the onion, omit the ham, and use a yellow rather than green bell pepper. Maybe add a smidge of nutmeg or powdered fennel or basil to enhance the Swiss cheese and potatoes. But that’s just me. At least try it without the crust first! And I hope it’s a very, very long time before any of us have to eat any of these funeral foods in the setting for which they’re intended!

                ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

Are you a Luddite? September 22, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, and no, a Luddite isn’t a member of some obscure religious sect. It’s a person like me or our friend Ben who’s technologically inept and perfectly happy with that. Never been on Facebook? Don’t tweet? Never seen a YouTube video? Refuse to Skype? Keep a cellphone only for emergency breakdowns, and can’t remember too clearly how to use it if the car does break down? No worries.

I place a very high value on my time and privacy. If I go online, it’s to check and respond to e-mails, blog, research, check the news, and write (and/or edit). I figure that’s enough of my time spent online, and it’s many hours every day. I don’t want to waste even more time with Facebook, Twitter, and the like. I love peace and quiet, and resent any loud, abrupt intrusions into that stillness. I even have the sound turned off on my computer, and refuse to listen to radio, much less TV, so I’m not subjected to a constant barrage of high-volume ad pitching.

People who interrupt whatever they’re doing—even talking to other people—to frantically answer their phones or an incoming text are incomprehensible (and incomprehensibly rude) to me. My feeling is, if someone wants to reach me and I’m not immediately available, they can e-mail or leave a voice message and I’ll get back to them at my convenience. If whatever they have to say isn’t important enough to warrant leaving a message, it’s not important, period.

However. OFB and I don’t watch TV, we don’t even get TV reception here in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. I would not want to waste my time plunked in front of a TV screen, but I realize that TV, celebrity, and trendiness are the great unifying factors of our society. I may never have heard Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, but I feel I ought to at least have heard of them, so I don’t seem like an alien when I go out in public. (Friends pitch in on this, too, subjecting—I mean, exposing—me to everything from Adam Lambert to Lil’ Wayne. Me, I prefer Kelly Clarkson and 50 Cent, but I digress.)

My Yahoo home page helps out here, too, with its endless barrage of celebrity coverage. OFB and I love movies and watch them regularly via Netflix (again, putting us in control of what we choose to see), so I’m familiar with a lot of the stars who regularly feature in the headlines. If I’ve never heard of them, I tend to assume they must be on TV.

But there’s another effortless way to trend-spot and stay current that a colleague put me onto years ago: DailyCandy (www.dailycandy.com). The folks at DailyCandy tirelessly search for what’s hot, and what should soon be hot, nationally and locally, and you can subscribe to get regular e-mail updates from them. They’ll clue you in to the hot designers, restaurants, artists, spas, vintage clothing stores, cocktails, vacation getaways, yoga classes, you name it. If it’s something you can buy, DailyCandy is on it. I get regular e-mails from them covering the national scene and Philadelphia, the city nearest me, and I try to read them faithfully, though the likelihood of my ever taking advantage of anything they recommend is right up there with an asteroid hitting the earth.

Today’s communication from DailyCandy, however, reminded me of exactly how much of a Luddite I actually was. The e-mail heading was “Make Gift Cards Obsolete.” Well, I spend a fair amount of time and money selecting ever-more-expensive greeting cards for friends and family for birthdays and holidays, and, I’m humiliated to report, assumed “gift cards” meant “greeting cards,” so of course I opened the e-mail to see what DailyCandy had to say on the topic.

Oops. “Gift cards.” Those plastic cards to restaurants and stores you see in racks at the grocery. I’ve never gotten or given one, so they’re peripheral to me, but that’s no excuse for not cluing in on the headline. (And no, I don’t either send or read e-cards, in case you’re wondering. I actually write messages on cards I mail out, and try to make sure the messages say something worth reading.)

Oh, well. Having opened the e-mail, I figured I might as well read it. And oh, boy. It was like a snapshot of the modern, anti-Luddite lifestyle. To access this next-generation, stylish gift-card alternative, Giftly (www.begiftly.com), the giver goes to the site, customizes all the options, and sends the Giftly via Facebook. The recipient redeems the Giftly by clicking a button on her smartphone, and is reimbursed for her purchase via PayPal. (Disclaimer: There are other options as well, should you choose not to use any of the above.)

Facebook. Smartphones. PayPal. A Luddite nightmare all wrapped up in one short paragraph. Not that I’m dissing Giftly itself: It’s customized and beats the hell out of a generic plastic gift card. And, as the DailyCandy notes, unlike a gift card, a Giftly never expires. For most, Giftly sounds like a really great option.

But for Luddites like me, it still doesn’t feel right, even if I was supremely comfortable owning and using all the tech toys required to access it. I want to choose gifts for the people I want to give gifts to. (Otherwise, why not just hand them a check? God knows, we all could use one!)

I want to patronize local businesses and boost community well-being. I want to go into each shop, chat with each proprietor, and ask the person who made each piece of pottery or jewelry or herb blend or quilt or carving, or grew each beautiful plant or vegetable, or made each loaf of bread or wheel of cheese or bottle of wine, or selected each book or antique, all about it. I want to see it, feel it, smell it. If it feels right, if it makes me feel happy thinking about the person I intend it for opening the package and seeing it, hooray. Another joyful, community-enhancing, hands-on transaction.

What if the person you’re giving a gift to lives far away, or you have no clue what they’d like? If they live far away, that’s why God invented FedEx, UPS, and the postal service. If you don’t have any idea what they’d like, why on earth are you sending them a gift to begin with? I tell you, a check is always appreciated, especially in this economy. Or, say, a crisp new bill in a greeting card, be it a $5 or $100. Or maybe a Silver Eagle. But again, I digress.

Those who enjoy giving and receiving gift cards and are techno-competent, by all means click the link and check out Giftly (and subscribe to DailyCandy while you’re at it). But if you’re on our gift list, you’d better check your mailbox instead.

               ‘Til next time,

                               Silence

Mosquitoes and mushrooms. September 13, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. We’ve been having quite a late-summer experience here in scenic PA: our first-ever earthquake, followed in quick succession by seemingly endless drenchings from two hurricanes. Thanks, Mother Nature! We realize that you’re not too happy with the human species at the moment, given all the outrages we’ve been perpetrating on the rest of creation. But here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and I do our best to live responsibly and sustainably. Please don’t take it out on us!

Two results of this super-wet August/September weather are an out-of-control mosquito population and an amazing bloom of mushrooms in our yard. OFB and I can’t even take our black German shepherd Shiloh outside without all three of us becoming coated with mosquitoes. (I’ve neglected to mention the headlines about the notorious mosquito-borne West Nile virus turning up again in PA to OFB; we’ve got enough to deal with around here.) So far, at least, none of us have turned up with suspicious symptoms, and hopefully a week of dry weather coupled with nights in the mid-40s at week’s end will bring the hateful little wretches under some semblance of control.

As for the mushrooms, yesterday I noticed what appeared to be piles of downed branches covered with dried russet-orange leaves at the far side of the backyard. We’re always playing pick-up sticks here in our heavily wooded yard, but this struck me as a bit off, since OFB had been diligent about picking up the fallen limbs from the storms and there hadn’t been much in the way of wind lately. Oh well, I thought, taking Shiloh out for a bathroom break this afternoon, I’ll just pick these up and toss them in our fire pit.

Imagine my astonishment when I went over and saw huge, glorious mounds of russet-orange mushrooms! Visions of a mushroom feast danced in my head. But I knew I had to check into this before serving up a mound of sauteed mushrooms for supper. OFB’s great-great uncle had been poisoned and subsequently died after feasting on wild mushrooms at a very ritzy restaurant in 1890s Edwardian London; I had no interest in the two of us following in his ill-fated if illustrious footsteps.

Heading back to the house, I pulled Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide (David W. Fischer and Alan E. Bessette, University of Texas Press, 2004) off the shelf. Eureka! The first edible wild mushrooms described and shown were the delicious chanterelles. The cinnabar-red chanterelle, Cantharellus cinnabarinus, was described as reddish orange, less than 2 inches wide and high, and fruiting from midsummer through midfall in eastern North America. The flavor of chanterelles was described as rich, fruity, and aromatic, prized by gourmets in the same category as truffles. Yowie! I could hardly wait to get out there with my trusty Victorinox paring knife and a big bowl.  

However. In the “Similar Species” section was the poisonous Jack O’Lantern mushroom, Omphalotus illudens. Found throughout eastern North America and fruiting in clusters on deciduous stumps and buried wood from midsummer to late fall, it also has yellowish-orange to orange caps and matures at 2 to 7 inches wide.

Hmmmm. My mushrooms were definitely in clusters, and could very easily be growing on the large underground roots of our backyard maples. Time to head back outside for a definitive ID. Armed with my trusty book, I risked West Nile yet again, crawling face-first as close to the undersides of the mushrooms as I could manage. Well, they sure looked more like the cinnabar chanterelles. None were more than 2 inches wide, most much smaller. The caps attached to slender stalks, not the thick stalks shown for the Jacks. The gills forked at the edge of the caps, as described for cinnabars rather than Jacks. And the gills stopped where the caps met the stems, rather than continuing down the stems for a bit as in the photos of the Jacks.

So am I serving up a couple of plates for supper tonight? Alas, no. Such a coward. I feel like a total foraging failure, passing up this marvelous and unexpected bounty in our own backyard. But what if they really were Jacks after all? While they’re apparently not fatal, the extremely unpleasant and graphic symptoms described in the book, which can malinger for days, would do nothing to endear me to OFB, to say the least. It’s not a chance I want to take without the guidance of a mushroom expert.

Darn! Now I’m all fired up to take a mushroom ID class, since so many of our edible mushrooms are fruiting now. I have a whole crop of other mushrooms springing up beside my shiitake logs under our giant maple. Hmmmm…

Well, all righty then. Readers, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. If you don’t know your mushrooms or have an authority who can tell you good from bad, don’t eat them. Even the extremely distinctive morels have one poisonous lookalike relative. You don’t want to end up like OFB’s great-great uncle! And try to keep those doggone mosquitoes at bay.

           ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Bowers Chile Fest 2011. September 10, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, our friend Ben and I, along with our heat-loving friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders, his girlfriend Bridget, and our also-heat-loving friend, Rob, made the pilgrimage to scenic Bowers, PA for the 16th Annual Chile* Pepper Food Festival. (You can go, too: It’s still going on today from 9 to 6 at the Bill DeLong Memorial Park; get directions on their website, www.pepperfestival.com, or program your GPS to 233 Bowers Road, Bowers PA 19511. The Jalapeno Eating Contest is at 4 p.m.)

We—and the many vendors—were so relieved that, despite Hurricane Lee, the Chile Fest wasn’t rained out. Hooray! The park is pleasant and peaceful, with playground equipment for the kids, ample bathroom facilities, and a walking trail. Parking is also ample, for a $2 “donation,” and the festival itself is free, including free live music by The Acoustic Roadshow. The nearby (just a short walk up the road) Bowers Hotel offers plentiful food and drinks to refresh the hungry festival-goer, and just a bit farther down the road, you can tour James Weaver’s Meadow View Farm, either on your own or by horse-drawn wagon, and experience the hot pepper paradise that’s the reason Bowers has a chile pepper festival.

We have huge respect for Jim Weaver and his role in bringing hot peppers in their endless varieties and heirloom veggies in general—which you can also buy at Meadow View—to prominence in our area. And we love visiting the farm and buying the most flavorful, freshest-ever produce, not to mention Alma Weaver’s amazing jams, jellies, and pickles.

We also love the festival, even though OFB and I aren’t chileheads like Richard and Rob. That’s because there’s a lot more than heat going on at the festival. There are handcrafted clothes, jewelry, and other fun finds, tons of chile-themed items like aprons and tee-shirts, food and drink of all kinds (no alcohol, though, you’ll have to head up to the Bowers Hotel for that), and less-hot but super-flavorful options for comparative wimps like us.

Here are some of this year’s highlights:

We’d determined to try to wander through the festival booths first and scope everything out before actually buying anything, and were doing pretty well at this until we arrived at CaJohn’s Fiery Foods booth. They were not only selling sauces made from the world’s hottest chiles, Bhut Jalokia and Trinidad Scorpion, but giving away fabulous rooster-themed tee-shirts with every purchase over a certain relatively minimal amount (which I’ve stupidly forgotten).

Given our obsession with chickens, OFB just had to have one of these fantastic tee-shirts! But let’s just say that buying enough of CaJohn’s products to get one wasn’t a problem. Richard and Rob were trying to out-macho each other sampling the hot-hot stuff, including the Fiery Foods Weekend Sauce that included Bhut Jalokias and came with its own protective sleeve with the motto “I Survived CaJohn’s Execution Execution.” Yikes.

I was fascinated by their Frostbite Hot Sauce, which is colorless and is meant to be added to drinks like margaritas and martinis. (“Heat up your cocktail.”) They were giving out samples of margarita mix with a splash of Frostbite, and it was just what the doctor ordered to cut the syrupy sweetness. Yum! OFB agreed, and we came away with our own supply in its own customized protective sleeves, plus a tee-shirt. If you can’t get to the festival, check them out at www.cajohns.com.

Oh, did I mention that there were tons of free samples everywhere? I know you’ll be shocked to hear that the guys all seemed to be competing to see who could wolf down the most samples. Even OFB was swept up in the excitement. And unfortunately, once we started buying we couldn’t seem to stop, since there were so many great, unique, artisanal products on offer.

Next up was Maui Preserved (“handcrafted and island grown”). This small-batch company, created by a chef couple, was simply irresistible. The founder’s parents were manning the booth, and I just about died trying to settle on what to buy, asking for advice every five seconds. (They had a three-for-$25 special, and narrowing the choices down to three was agony, I can tell you.) I finally settled on Green Chile Lime Marmalade, Pickled Green Mango Sauce, and Hot Star Hot Sauce (made from starfruit). But this barely scratches the surface of their fabulous selections. See for yourself at www.mauipreserved.com. If you enter the promo code SPICY, you’ll get 25% off your order (excluding shipping), if you order before 12/31/11. Go for it!

Next was what I considered the most gorgeous food item being sold at the festival, Fathead Peppers Gourmet Pepper Spread. Fathead Peppers also had several jarred stuffed chiles that OFB thought were fantastic, but we tried to exert control and restricted ourselves to a jar of the pepper spread, which contains such luscious stuff as hot cherry peppers, artichokes, Provolone cheese, red wine vinegar, garlic oil, and herbs and spices. I can’t wait to make OFB an omelette with some of this spread, and the proprietors rightly pointed out that it made a fantastic sandwich spread as well. I’m sure it would make a fabulous pasta sauce, too! Check it out at www.fatheadpeppers.net. Founder Mark Jesse Sr. reminds everyone to use the brine in the jars (as a marinade for chicken, salad dressing, pasta sauce, etc.) as well as the actual peppers.

We then arrived at the Miller’s Mustard Stand. I’m a sucker for artisanal mustards, but even I was stunned by OFB’s fanatic and immediate response to Miller’s, both straight up on a pretzel and mixed with cream cheese. Needless to say, we departed the booth with a jar of their Hot & Sweet Mustard, which notes that you can enjoy it on burgers, sausage, chicken, fish, poured over cream cheese, on sandwiches, pretzels, and over cheese and crackers.  Their description of the mustard as “highly addictive” was certainly true for OFB! Check it out at www.millersmustard.com.

Seeing a stand with tons of kinds of homemade pastas, I dragged OFB away from the mustards to Pappardelle’s Pasta (www.pappardellespasta.com). I wanted to buy a package of every kind, there were so many that sounded just fabulous, but ultimately (after asking to smell my favorites) settled on their Tunisian Harissa fettucine (definitely not something I’m likely to find at the local grocery!). Thank God they weren’t offering samples, or doubtless I’d have sampled myself silly.  

Then we encountered Chef Tim. Chef Tim Foods, LLC, doesn’t sound especially promising compared to many of the catchy names of the other foods. But after meeting Chef Tim Jutzi, we hastily revised our impression. Chef Tim’s Sweet Balsamic Vinaigrette became a must-buy item, and I’m just sorry we couldn’t afford a case. Unlike so many horrid, gummy commercial balsamic vinaigrettes, Chef Tim’s is the real thing: light, flavorful, healthful, delicious. No horrifying and/or disgusting adulterants. And Chef Tim had very strong views (with which I wholeheartedly concur) about how to keep and use his vinaigrette, summed up on his business card: “Shake, Shake, Shake, Don’t Refrigerate.” Yum!!! Check it out at www.ChefTimFoods.com.

I also succumbed to Rolling Hills Farm Garlic Vinegar. Rolling Hills was offering drinking samples of both their Garlic Vinegar and the honey version, and I noticed that pretty much everyone was declining the opportunity to sample them. Their mistake. Anyone who’s ever sampled really good balsamic vinegar knows that vinegar taken straight up can be delicious, not to mention incredibly good for you. Rolling Hills Farm’s vinegars are extremely delicious. Again, I’d have killed to be able to buy an entire case. You can order their vinegars from one of my all-time favorite sites, www.LocalHarvest.org, if you can’t make it to the festival.   

Then we discovered the Easton Salsa Company, practically next door in Easton, PA (www.EastonSalsa.com). Their salsas were so irresistible, I’d have bought all three if OFB hadn’t contained my enthusiasm. So I limited myself to their Pineapple Salski. (I refrained from mentioning to OFB that apparently their products are available at Healthy Alternatives in nearby Trexlertown, so I can satisfy my cravings anytime.)

Unfortunately for us, the festival closes down at 6 p.m., so we weren’t able to get back to some of our old favorites. I literally ran to the Meadow View Farm booth to buy a box of heirloom cherry tomatoes before everything was packed up. Thank heavens, we can get our favorite Alma Weaver hot pepper jams, like Blackberry-Czech Black and Apricot-Lemon Drop, plus all her other marvelous jams, jellies, and pickles, and various chile-infused vinegars and hot sauces made by family members, including Jim Weaver’s Dutchy Gun Powder powdered hot peppers, anytime, since we live about 20 minutes away.

But we’re still outraged that we missed stocking up on our longtime favorite Csigi sauces, Honnie T Sauce, Southwest Chile Supply products, The Happy Jalapeno Company’s yummy relishes, Green Kamikozees homemade hot green tomatoes (which OFB simply loved), and High River Sauces Rock & Roll Outlaws’ fabulous stuff (gotta love a guy who makes hot sauce inspired by Led Zeppelin and King Crimson, yeah!!!!).

So guess what? We’re going back today. I’ll be flaunting the beaded chile necklace I bought at the festival many years ago, and the red-hot chile pepper temporary “tattoo” I acquired just before the festival closed yesterday (a $1 spray-on). If you see me and our friend Ben (look for a short woman and a very tall guy), feel free to come on up and say hello. We’d love to meet you! But whether you attend the festival in person or simply check out all these marvelous products online, please do give them a look. You’ll be glad you did!

            ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

* The festival uses the spelling “chile,” referring to the hot peppers themselves, rather than “chili,” which is generally associated with the dish made with meat and/or beans and hot peppers.