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Great cheese, great fudge, great cause. September 21, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. Now that our friend Ben and I have placed our order, OFB has agreed to let me post about Gethsemani Farms’ delicious cheeses. The Trappist monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani, just a few miles from my mother’s birthplace in rural Kentucky, support themselves and their mission by making cheese, fudge, and fruitcake. (You may have heard of one of their monks, Brother Louis, better known as the writer Thomas Merton.)

My parents loved the monks’ cheeses and ordered them every year; their favorite was the aged cheese, which resembles a fine Port du Salut, not suprising since the original group of monks came to Kentucky from France in 1848. Aged “monks’ cheese,” as we called it, was a bit strong for us kids, so our parents got to enjoy it all by themselves. But we loved the mild version and the fudge, and when the monks introduced pesto cheese a few years ago, our friend Ben and I became addicts.

OFB and I simply adore the monks’ bourbon fudge, both classic chocolate pecan and butter walnut. They’re the closest to homemade we’ve ever tasted. (And both our mamas made some mean fudge.) They’re so addictive, we only order them as a treat at Christmas, and of course order them, cheese, and fruitcake as Christmas gifts.

Fruitcake: love it or hate it. It’s either “When’s Christmas coming so I can have some fruitcake?” or “Get even, give fruitcake.” OFB and I fall in the latter category, so we can’t tell you how good the monks’ fruitcake is. But our fruitcake-loving friend Rob and my father both thought it was the best ever (after, of course, my mother’s), and The Wall Street Journal agrees. We order Rob a Gethsemani fruitcake for Christmas every year, and when he’s devoured the last crumb, we start hearing the lamentations (partly as a joke but mostly because he’d really like a second fruitcake). So if you’re a fruitcake fanatic, check it out!

To get back to why I’m just now telling you about the monks’ offerings, last year, for the first time, they offered four new cheeses: Ambrose, the young, buttery cheese that is the basis for their mild, aged, smoky and pesto cheeses, and three herbed varieties of Ambrose, Spicy Italian, Herbs de Provence and Garlic and Chives. We placed an order and were wowed, but when we tried to reorder, they were sold out. Gack!

Apparently, the monks have taken note of the huge success of Ambrose and its herbed varieties, and their latest catalog offers the four cheeses and various cheese, fudge and fruitcake combinations. I immediately ordered three each of the 6-ounce wedges of each cheese, since I didn’t want to run out this year! OFB is already drooling. We’ll order fudge for ourselves and fudge, cheese and fruitcake as Christmas presents when the season draws closer, but for now, our stash of Ambrose and herbed cheeses is secure. Hooray!

We feel great about buying cheese, fudge and gifts from the monks, since we’re not only supporting them, but they use the profits from their products to support the local community, especially the poor and less fortunate. And that of course brings me back to the beloved place of my childhood, spending time with my grandparents just miles from Gethsemani, the happiest time of my entire childhood. How wonderful to be able to eat delicious treats and also give back.

Check them out at http://www.gethsemanifarms.org, or just Google http://www.monks.org and you’ll get to their website. Order, eat, enjoy, and know that you’re supporting a great cause! And make sure you get some of that Ambrose and the herbed cheeses before they’re gone.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Christmas gifts that count. December 10, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, pets, wit and wisdom.
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‘Tis the season to be giving. Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I like to make our Christmas gifts count, to give things that have value beyond the gift itself. It makes us feel better about spending all that money on presents if we know they’ll not only please the recipients but support a cause we believe in.

There are several ways to do this. You could, of course, make a donation in each recipient’s name; the person will typically receive a gift card from the orgnization. OFB’s Aunt Betty likes to gift people with donations to Heifer International (last year, she appropriately donated a chicken in our name). There’s also a vegetarian/vegan-friendly version of Heifer International called Plants-4-Hunger (A Well-Fed World, www.AWFW.org). Or you could donate to the Humane Society or animal shelter of your choice, or the Southwest Indian Foundation, or you name it.

We, however, like to both benefit a worthy cause and give the folks on our Christmas list something to enjoy. So we buy cheese, fudge and (gack) fruitcake (for those who insist they like it) from the monks of the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani in OFB’s mama’s native Kentucky. The monks make everything themselves, and sales of their food support the monastery (which happens to be the one where Thomas Merton lived and wrote).

We think their mild and pesto cheeses are delicious (the aged cheese is a bit strong for us, and we typically don’t go for smoked cheeses so we’ve never tried theirs). And their chocolate-pecan-bourbon and brown sugar-walnut-bourbon fudges are out of this world. (They have other flavors—plain chocolate, raspberry, lemon, and chocolate mint julep—but we haven’t tried them; why mess with perfection?) The monks make the only fudge I’ve ever tasted (apart from artisanal fudge) that actually tastes homemade, not gluey/plastic and artificial. Ugh!

My brother gifted me with the monks’ mild and pesto cheeses and chocolate-pecan-bourbon fudge for my birthday this year, and needless to say, OFB and I were ecstatic. (I, er, actually hid the fudge in the back of the fridge so we could enjoy it at Christmas; otherwise you-know-who would have wolfed it down in a week. Hope you’re not reading this, Ben!)

OFB and I fall in the “get even, give fruitcake” category—we never met a fruitcake we didn’t hate—but OFB’s father and brother love fruitcake, as does my father, so we dutifully send the monks’ award-winning fruitcake (along with some cheese and fudge to soothe our fruitcake-hating consciences) to them each year.

We suggest that you check out the monks’ offerings for yourself at www.monks.org. And if anybody has the nerve to try the monks’ aged cheese (my parents’ favorite, yow) or smoky cheese, please let us know what you think of them. And if you place an order, make sure you reserve some of that mild and pesto cheese and chocolate and brown sugar bourbon fudge for yourself. Hey, don’t you deserve a Christmas present?

                    ‘Til next time,

                                  Silence

Of bards and bourbon. July 15, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are getting ready to hit the road for our longest-ever summer vacation: two whole weeks! We’ll be leaving in just over a week, and there’s a lot to do between now and then; I’m (as always) on deadline, and Silence is teaching one of her popular classes. There are still presents and sunblock to be bought, a lawnmower to be fixed (*&%$#@!! broken handle), reservations to be made at our beloved Log Cabin Motor Court, and CSA produce to be picked up (we’re taking it with us in the cooler; Silence is planning to cook for the family). Our golden retriever, Molly, is going on her own vacation, staying with some of her favorite friends (ours, too) in the Poconos, so we’ll race up there to drop her shortly before hitting the road ourselves. Departure day will arrive before we know it!

This is going to be a very special trip: We’ll be visiting both families, in Nashville and North Carolina, where we’ll be spending a very happy week with Silence’s family in a beach house on the ocean at Emerald Isle. We’ll break the trip down at one of our favorite places, Staunton, Virginia, home of the famous Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant (Silence has their cookbook). While we’re on Emerald Isle, we’ll make lots of excursions to nearby charming and historic seaside towns, hunt (and shop) for shells, and, bearing the area’s piratical history (Blackbeard!) in mind, look for a bigger pirate flag for the backyard.

Then it’s goodbye, ocean, hello, Asheville! We’ve written of the delights of Asheville before (see Silence’s earlier post, “An Asheville idyll,” for more on “the city different”). We’re looking forward to the mountains, the Log Cabin Motor Court (let’s hope it’s cool enough at night for a fire), and the Appalachian Folk Art Museum, not to mention, gulp, the inevitable trip to Malaprop’s bookstore. Between the fabulous crafts shop at the Folk Art Museum and the bookstore, it’s a good thing we’re taking the car!

Next, it’s on through the almost unbearably beautiful Smokies (perhaps stopping again at the wonderful Tennessee museum, the Gray Fossil Museum; see my earlier post “Treasure in the earth” for more on this) and up to Nashville, our friend Ben’s hometown. My father has promised to take us to tour The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home, which I haven’t seen in years. And he’s been working hard renovating our own Colonial home, which I’m really looking forward to seeing again.

Leaving Nashville, we’ll stop one more time before finding our way back to Hawk’s Haven, and it’s this stop that I want to talk about today: Bardstown, Kentucky, The Bourbon Capital of the World. Our friend Ben visited Bardstown many times while growing up—we passed through it frequently en route to my grandparents’ home in Springfield, a mere 18 miles away. I have the happiest memories of this town, connected as it is in my thoughts to my beloved Grandaddy and Grandma Simms. But even without the memories, Bardstown has a lot to offer.

Let’s start with that name. The town was named to honor Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, doubtless by some literature-loving town father, but our friend Ben grew up thinking it was “Bargetown,” which is how it’s pronounced locally, and was utterly humiliated to discover my mistake years later. But the Bard isn’t the town’s only famous connection. Legend has it that France’s dauphin, Louis Philippe, successfully fled France during the French Revolution and hung out at the historic Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, “the oldest western stagecoach stop in America.”

The Tavern, which is also an inn, preserves his rooms to this day, and you can still see the murals he supposedly painted on the walls, though they’re now pocked with a few bullet holes attributed to Jesse James. But was the famous guest really the heir to the French throne, some other French nobleman claiming the title to impress the locals, or even a French rogue attempting to pull one over on the citizenry of what was then the Western frontier? Je ne sais pas. But the legend and the murals are both good, and so is the legendary food at the Talbott Tavern: Silence and I may not stay there, but we’ll definitely eat there, and sample a slice or two of their wonderful chess pie. Famous real-life guests at the Tavern include Daniel Boone, General George Rogers Clark, and Abraham Lincoln and his family.

Another legendary figure who has a Bardstown connection is Stephen Foster, the composer of “My Old Kentucky Home,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Oh Susannah,” “Old Folks at Home,” “Camptown Races,” and other well-known songs. You can tour My Old Kentucky Home, where Foster was inspired to write his best-known song, and Silence and I probably will. We’ll keep you posted.

But there’s still more to Bardstown, and it begins with “b”—“b” as in “bourbon.” (And yes, bourbon also took its name from those French kings, the Bourbons, though their ghosts would hardly recognise the pronunciation.) Bardstown has more bourbon distilleries than any other place on earth. And the founders of those distilleries were pretty much all related to our friend Ben. I toured a distillery there as a child, and I can to this day recall the distinctive smell of sour mash that pervaded the air, recall looking in wonder at the huge vats of fermenting corn. Silence and I are looking forward to a distillery tour, though neither of us can manage to drink straight bourbon. (Our friend Ben was practically disowned by my Kentucky family when this became apparent at one long-ago family gathering. When the youthful Ben innocently asked for Sprite or Coke to mix with the bourbon, an appalled silence fell, followed by my Uncle Will F.’s concise judgment: “Waste of good whiskey!”) But no worries—we doubt that the distilleries will be giving out samples on the tour!

That’s still not all there is to Bardstown. Our friend Ben will clue you in by quoting the town’s official website, www.visitbardstown.com: “We’re strong in spirit… A Southern spirit that welcomes you home to one of The Best Small Towns in America. A religious spirit that’s appropriate to the home of the first diocese of the West. And a little spirit we call Bourbon. Our eclectic shops, cultural and historical heritage blend beautifully with that spirit. We’re home to My Old Kentucky Home and Stephen Foster—The Musical, vintage trains, and museums dedicated to the Civil War, railroads and Bourbon.”

What’s that bit about “the first diocese of the West”? Well, to quote again from the website, “In 1785, groups of Maryland Catholics began to journey west to the American Frontier and settled in Kentucky.” (These pioneers included our friend Ben’s Simms ancestors.) Not only did they establish the first Cathedral of the West, the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral, in 1816, but also a little place you might have heard of—at least if the name Thomas Merton rings a bell—the Cistercian Abbey of Gethsemani, founded in 1848, aka the Trappists. (Check out their website, www.monks.org; they make the best chocolate bourbon fudge going.)

Needless to say, we’re looking forward to visiting Bardstown, and the other stops on our itinerary. We’ll keep you posted from the road so you can share in our adventures!