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Ben Picks Ten: Finger-friendly desserts. June 6, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben’s beloved Mama was renowned for her fabulous and awe-inspiring desserts, but she was equally known for only making them on state occasions: birthdays and holidays. The rest of the time, the closest she came to making dessert for us kids was to break open a box of Duncan Hines Double Fudge Brownie Mix, adding an egg, water, and the famous packet of liquid chocolate that came in the box (thus “double fudge”) and popping the resulting mix in the oven.

Our friend Ben loved these soft, chewy, fudgy brownies with their crackly tops, and they pretty much spoiled me for every other kind, be they never so handmade from never so pricey, exclusive, artisanal ingredients. So my ears perked up this morning when Silence Dogood was clipping coupons and said “Ben, there’s a coupon here for Duncan Hines brownie mixes. Do you want me to clip it and see if they still make that brownie mix you loved?”

Hell, yes. I’d kill for some Duncan Hines Double Fudge Brownies! But this of course started me and Silence off on a discussion of our all-time favorite finger-friendly desserts. We’ll save “real” desserts for another post, but here are ten (plus one, of course) cookies, brownies, bars and the like that we simply love. We invite you to vote for your favorites, and please let us know which ones we’re missing: 

* Duncan Hines Double Fudge Brownies. As noted, these soft, gooey, chocolatey brownies can’t be beat as far as I’m concerned. I hope the mix is still out there somewhere and moms are still making it for their kids!

* Blond brownies. Yummy butterscotch brownies with chocolate chips are so rich and luscious. In this case (unless they’re cut in 1-inch cubes), bet you can’t eat more than one! But no worries, that leaves more for later.

* Lemon bars. Silence’s absolute fave. She says “It’s like lemon meringue pie with a way better crust and no yucky meringue.” All righty then.

* Shortbread. Oh, yum. Our favorite is toffee shortbread, but pecan shortbread and candied ginger shortbread are close seconds. This rich, buttery cookie cannot be beat.

* Crescent/wedding/etc. cookies. As far as we know, there are way too many alternative names for these delicious cookies. Basically, they feature a rich, buttery dough with crumbled pecans or other nuts that are shaped into balls, crescents, or what-have-you and dusted with powdered sugar.

* Pecan tassies. Our friend Ben and Silence never encountered these until we moved to Pennsylvania, and we still have no clue how the name “tassies” came about. But these are like delicious micro-pecan pie bites. And we do love us some pecan pie! Tassies have the huge advantage of being finger-friendly foods; you can just pop a tassie into your mouth, no fuss, no muss, rather than struggling with a gooey, sticky, drippy slice of pecan pie.

* Kiffles. This is another treat we first encountered in scenic PA, but boy is it a good one. Buttery, flaky pastry surrounding a fruit filling like apricot or a honey-nut filling and shaped into finger-friendly rolls. Do I really have to say anything else?!

* Chocolate chip-oatmeal-toffee cookies. Our friend Ben’s experience of choclate chip cookies growing up was of horrid dust-dry packaged versions, so when I encountered Silence’s incredibly rich, delicious, chewy homemade version, it was love at first bite.

* Peanut butter cookies. Oops, almost forgot these. But if a peanut butter cookie is homemade and has that luscious chewy texture rather than being dry and crumbly, I’ll happily take two anytime. Preferably with a side of soft vanilla ice cream. 

* Ultimate oatmeal cookies. Not those gross, boring, dry oatmeal cookies that give oatmeal a bad name. (Silence points out that the dry ones are good for dipping in hot tea, but I think that’s revolting.) The ones I love are rich and chewy, with dried cranberries, white chocolate chips, golden raisins, and pecan pieces. Now that our friend Ben thinks about it, I’d probably rather eat these than any dessert on earth, and that would be even without the white chocolate. Thank heavens Silence will make them for me when I’m craving them!

Plus the bonus:

* Baklava. Our friend Ben can’t really count this incredibly delicious dessert as a finger-friendly treat because of the gooey honey that saturates it. (And if you try to keep the goo off your fingers by cutting them and using a fork, the flaky phyllo layers scatter in all directions. I still haven’t figured out the right way to eat them.) In fact, if a piece of baklava is dry enough to pick up, it doesn’t have enough of the honey syrup to suit me. But I’m including it because it’s served in finger-food sizes and, hey, it’s just so good.

That’s it for us. Now how about you? Have we left off your faves, or are they in our list? Let us know!

Ben Picks Ten: Christmas Carols December 14, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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What are your favorite Christmas carols? If you could only pick ten, what would they be? Our friend Ben was pondering this last night as Silence Dogood and I listened to some of our large assortment of beloved Christmas CDs. Deciding to rise to the challenge, I’ve compiled my top ten here, in no particular order. Feel free to take me to task for leaving out your favorites!

1. Gabriel’s Message. Perhaps Silence and our friend Ben fell so hard for this because, not being English, we’d never heard it until we heard Sting perform it on a CD of unfortunately dubious origin. But what a stunning account of the Annunciation! You can hear an older Sting sing it on his “If on a Winter’s Night…” CD (missing an octave or so, but still compelling), or Charlotte Church’s gorgeous version on her “Dream a Dream” CD.

2. The Little Drummer Boy. Call us sentimentalists, but we never tire of listening to our many versions of this. Our friend Ben suspects that Silence has never yet heard it without shedding a few tears.

3. Silent Night. The first song Silence ever performed solo before a group. Even lovelier in French. We once attended a performance where the audience was invited to sing along in any language they chose, and we heard many a voice raised in the original German as well as English and our French. We know of no other Christmas song that succeeds so well in capturing the Gospel of Luke’s account. 

4. Adeste Fidelis (O Come All Ye Faithful). Squeak and squawk though one might on the high passages, who can resist lifting up their voices when this majestic hymn is sung? 

5. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. We love this hearty injunction to ‘let nothing us dismay.’ It seems to bring Scrooge and company, blazing fireplaces, and opulent Victorian Christmas scenes into our living room, warming us with its Christmas cheer. 

6. Joy to the World. In the season of joy, this glorious call to proclaim the birth of Christ is irresistible. Another hymn that’s not easy to sing, but we always sing it, anyway. 

7. The Cherry Tree Carol. We love this simple early English carol about Joseph’s all-too-human reaction when he discovers that his fiancee is carrying someone else’s child, and how he discovers Whose child it is.

8. The Huron Carol (‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime). We were enchanted by this Native American version of the Nativity the first time we heard Rob Yoder, who has a magnificent voice, sing it on the “An Evening of Christmas Music with Daybreak and Friends” CD. Ellen Reid of the Crash Test Dummies also sings a lovely version on their “Jingle All the Way…” CD. We trust our Canadian friends won’t be surprised by its inclusion.

9. Once in Royal David’s City. Our friend Ben has always loved this traditional British carol, set in “a lowly cattle shed.” And Silence and I also love Ian Anderson’s modernization of it on “The Jethro Tull Christmas Album” CD.

10. Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel. Okay, technically, this is an Advent rather than a Christmas hymn. But it’s so stirring, such a perfect prelude to the Christmas season, I can’t imagine making a list without it.

And the bonus:

11. Angels We Have Heard on High. Musicians through the ages have given their very best to Christmas music, which is why a list like this is so hard to narrow down. And here is yet another breathtaking paean to the birth of Christ that makes the heart soar, even as we falter when trying to hit the high notes on the “Glorias.” But of course it doesn’t stop us.

Obviously, this list omits many of our favorite hymns and carols, such as the lovely “Coventry Carol (Lully Lullay),” “Carol of the Bells,” “O Holy Night,” “What Child Is This,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “The First Noel,” “Good King Wenceslaus,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and, of course, the gorgeous “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and beloved “Ave Maria.” But our friend Ben could only pick ten (plus one)! Maybe I’ll post about those next Christmas, since there happen to be ten of them.

You’ll note that many of our all-time sentimental favorites are missing, for the same reason. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are especially partial to “White Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (especially Josh Groban’s interpretation on his “Noel” CD), and “Silver Bells.”

Honorable mention must also go to some original modern songs of surpassing loveliness, including Ian Anderson’s “Ring Out Solstice Bells” from “The Jethro Tull Christmas Album,”  Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven/Mary’s Song” from her “Home for Christmas” CD, and Emily Cole’s “Sound of the Tambourine” from “An Evening of Christmas Music with Daybreak and Friends.”  And of course the raucous and wonderful “Soul Cake” on Sting’s “If on a Winter’s Night…” CD.

So, there’s our friend Ben’s list. (And yes, I cheated by sticking all that other stuff on at the end. But watcha gonna do?! There are just too many good ones.) Your turn to share your lists!

Ben Picks Ten: Great Food Gifts November 12, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben loves food. And I love to get food as a gift. Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home I share with Silence Dogood in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, is not exactly a palace or, God forbid, a McMansion. Being enthusiastic collectors, we’ve filled about every square inch with stuff. We don’t need gifts that will clutter our living space even more—we’re doing a fine job of that for ourselves, thank you. But food—especially our favorite indulgences that are hard to justify splurging on ourselves—is a great and very welcome gift. We love it, we eat it, no clutter! It’s a win-win for us.

So today, I’d like to share ten (plus, of course, one) of our all-time favorite food treats. Silence already posted about great condiments, from fruity green organic olive oil to Wickles hot sweet pickles, in her post “Great gifts for people who like to cook (and eat).” I suggest that you check that post out for wonderful gift ideas for cooks. For my list, I’ve chosen food treats that we consider decadent delights, and that you can order online no matter where you live. (You can often also find them locally.) Our friend Ben suggests that you print out the list and send it to friends, family, and Santa with your picks circled in red. Can’t wait ’til the holidays? Hey, you can always “preview” a few by ordering them for yourself!

Every one of these food treats has been personally sampled by yours truly (many times) and qualifies for a One-Ben Award in the “absolutely fabulous gift foods” category. (For once, Silence even agrees.) So order and enjoy with confidence! And if I’ve omitted your favorites, feel free to let me know. I’ll add them to our Christmas Hints List! Without more ado…

1. Chocolate Bourbon Fudge with Pecans. Nobody made fudge like my mama, but these days, we’ve found a fabulous substitute in this luscious fudge from the monks of the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky (www.monks.org). The texture is just as it should be, rich and sugary, not gummy or syrupy, and the flavor is all natural and all authentic. Mama didn’t put bourbon or pecans in her fudge, but I know she’d have approved. Christmas would not be Christmas around here without a box of this marvelous fudge.

2. Sugarplums. While we’re on the subject of sweet treats, our friend Ben and Silence were intrigued last year to discover that one of our favorite catalogues, The Vermont Country Store (www.vermontcountrystore.com), was offering sugarplums in their Christmas catalogue. Having grown up with annual readings of “The Night Before Christmas,” where “The children were nestled all snug in their beds,/While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads,” and having never had a clue as to what the heck sugarplums were, we were thrilled to find an answer. Are these really authentic sugarplums? We don’t know. But we ordered them for ourselves and for gifts last year, and these pretty, sizeable candies made from “luscious plum compote and wonderfully rich, dark chocolate” were a hit with everyone. (Our neighbors actually wandered over last month to ask where we had gotten them, a sure sign if there ever was one.) The Vermont Country Store also offers vintage candies, including another of our friend Ben’s favorites, GooGoo Clusters Supremes. Made in my native Nashville, these gooey treats include marshmallow cream, caramel, and pecans in milk chocolate. They are totally addictive. As the ad says, “Go for a GooGoo, it’s good!”

3. Basil Pesto. Leaving sweets behind for a second, our friend Ben would like to recommend another favorite, Stonewall Kitchen’s Basil Pesto (www.stonewallkitchen.com). Silence and I enjoy pesto on pizza and pasta, but we often find pestos, even many homemade versions (sorry, people), to be bitter, oily, and/or overpowering. Stonewall Kitchen’s is the best we’ve ever had. It’s a perfect balance of flavor and texture. Delicious! Try spreading a spoonful over mushroom caps and grilling them as an accompaniment to steak or Pasta Alfredo, too. Our friend Ben will admit that I could eat this right out of the jar (but I don’t—Silence would kill me). Yum!!!

4. Honey Roasted Cashews. Silence and our friend Ben love nuts, but not all nuts were created equal. Spare us the mealy Brazil nuts, the oily peanuts, the bitter walnuts, please. But bring on the cashews. We love cashews salted and roasted, and would be delighted to receive them as gifts as well. But for a real indulgence, give us honey roasted cashews. Our friend Cole introduced us to his favorite source of cashews and all nuts, Nuts Online (www.nutsonline.com). You’ll find every kind of nut at this site, including (ahem) dark- and milk-chocolate covered nuts, as well as dried fruit and other temptations, all for very reasonable prices. By the way, we also love hazelnuts and almonds, in case you happen to be thinking of us.

5. Pecans. Oh, my. Our friend Ben and Silence grew up in the South, where the pecan is king. We pity you poor Northerners who grew up eating walnuts instead. Walnuts definitely have their place in savory dishes—pastas, stuffings, breads, salads (we especially love black walnuts in hearty winter salads, paired with frisee, roasted beets, and feta cheese or flaked Parmesan). But their oily-bitter taste is not well suited, in our opinion, to snacking and sweet treats. Give us pecan pie, pecans in our fudge and brownies, pecan logs, and sugared pecans, please. Pecans in our sweet breads, cakes, candies, and cookies. You can buy your pecans from Nuts Online, or get them direct from a grower like Pearson Farm (www.pearsonfarm.com). 

6. Citrus. Yeah, yeah, you can go to the store and get oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and the like. But our friend Ben says: Do you?! If you don’t eat your vitamin C regularly for breakfast (don’t drink it—high sugar and no fiber does a body no good), ask for an indulgent gift of citrus. If you’re not paying for it, you can enjoy the premium citrus without comparing it to grocery-store prices. Our friend Ben’s Great-Aunt Ethel gave gifts of citrus to all of us every year, and our Aunt Peggy has taken up the beloved custom. Both placed their orders with Pittman & Davis (www.pittmananddavis.com), and our friend Ben and Silence look forward to their ruby grapefruit and navel oranges every Christmas.

7. Ginger Babies. Say what? No, we’re not talking about tiny gingerbread men here. Our friend Ben’s father loves crystallized ginger, and our friend Ben inherited the habit from him. So I was thrilled when Silence, who adores the King Arthur Flour catalogue (www.kingarthurflour.com), discovered that they’re offering crystallized ginger in tiny gingerbread-men cutout shapes. A great gift for my father, who’ll enjoy them like candy right from the jar, or as decorative toppings for icing on cupcakes, carrot cake, apple pie, cheesecake, or other wintertime treats.

8. Glaceed Apricots. Our friend Ben loves these rich, honey-dripping Australian treats dipped in dark chocolate, while Silence likes ’em straight up. Either way, given their price, they’re not something you’re likely to eat on a daily or weekly basis, or (in our case) buy for yourself at all. Which makes them all the more appreciated as gifts. One source for these decadent delights is Williams-Sonoma (www.williams-sonoma.com), but our friend Ben also stumbled on an interesting site that apparently formerly carried glaceed apricots: JR Mushrooms & Specialties (www.jrmushroomsandspecialties.com). Check them out if you love mushrooms, truffles, and the like. 

9. Colorful, Flavorful Popcorn. Our friend Ben and Silence tend to regard the Lehman’s Non-Electric catalog (www.lehmans.com) as a great source of cooking implements rather than foods. Silence loves their canning equipment (get their Beginner’s Home Canning Kit for someone just starting out, or add some stocking stuffers to the experienced canner’s stocking from their wonderful canning helpers). Other useful kitchen tools include their ingenious Natural Peanut Butter Mixer and one of our friend Ben’s favorites, Our Best Nutcracker (trust me, it really works, even on thick-shelled nuts). But once cold weather hits, Silence and I get out our popcorn popper and start thinking about hot cider and buttered popcorn, and once again, Lehman’s comes to the rescue. No stale, flavorless popcorn there! You can buy bags of Yoder’s Amish popcorn (large, succulent yellow kernels grown locally since 1936) or Ladyfinger popcorn (a tender, delicious heirloom variety), or splurge on their Amish Country Popcorn Sampler, which includes bags of medium white, red, extra-large caramel type, rainbow blend, blue, medium yellow, baby yellow, and baby white popcorn. Our friend Ben says: Please get an extra box for me!

10. Native American Specialties. Our friend Ben knows this is stretching the point, but I can’t narrow our favorites in this category down to just one. Silence and I love the Southwest Indian Foundation’s catalogue (www.southwestindian.com), with all its amazing, locally produced treats. Like Lehman’s, it has local popcorn (in this case, Hopi Blue Popcorn), and like Pearson Farm and Nuts Online, it has pecans (you can buy chocolate, cinnamon praline, spicy chile, yogurt, and sweet & hot pecans, separately or in a gift assortment). But your options aren’t limited to those favorites. Southwest Indian Foundation offers an assortment of pistachio treats (including pistachio brittle and baklava as well as bags of nuts), salsas and hot sauces, Anasazi beans and Cliff Dweller Bean Soup Mix, Native American teas, and specialties like Pinon Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies, Indian Fry Bread Mix and Desert Blossom Honey, Hopi Blue Corn Pancake Mix and Prickly Pear Syrup, and Jalapeno Cornbread Mix and Jalapeno Pepper Jelly. If you know any fans of the Southwest or Native American Culture, this is a great site for gifts.

As always, our friend Ben has a bonus in my “Ben Picks Ten” category (not even counting the GooGoo Clusters):

11. Potato of the Month. In the age of orchid and other exotica of the month clubs, giving someone a potato sampler may seem ludicrous. But the lucky recipients won’t think it’s a joke if you’re giving them the Maine Potato Sampler of the Month from Wood Prairie Farm (www.woodprairie.com). This organic family farm offers an incredible assortment of the very best potato varieties, all grown by them, with three varieties in each month’s gift box, along with directions on how to use them (some are best for baking, others for frying, boiling, or potato salad) and Wood Prairie’s own potato recipe booklet. Know any potato-loving gardeners (does our friend Ben come to mind)? Get them one of Wood Prairie’s amazing seed potato samplers so they can grow their own, including the Red, White and All-Blue Seed Potato Collection and the Organic Potato Blossom Festival.

Ben Picks Ten: Things I’d Like to Be September 12, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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“What I’d like to be when I grow up” is such a fun game to play when you’re a kid. Our friend Ben thinks it still is. (Of course, some of us are more grown up than others.) So today, I’d like to give you ten (plus one, of course) things I think it would be really fun to be.

Note that defining criterion: fun. Maybe somebody thinks being a lawyer or a stockbroker or a titan of industry would be fun, but our friend Ben is not among them, so you won’t find the usual professions in this list. Our friend Ben loves life, so anything that increases the chances of my being separated from it, such as being a general, mountain climber, or explorer, is definitely out. Much as I admire Sir Richard Francis Burton, battling venomous snakes and insects, scorching deserts and tropical swamps, exotic diseases and ravening beasts is not for me. It’s enough excitement for our friend Ben to battle tomato hornworms, powdery mildew, slugs, and the occasional raccoon in the garden.

Ditto for that often-touted position, king of the world. Being king of the world, or any king, pharaoh, emperor, or what-have-you sounds like way too much work and no fun at all to our friend Ben. And there are always too many rivals lining up for the throne, with a cup of poisoned wine in one hand and a dagger in the other. World domination? Ugh.

Mind you, there are things that our friend Ben thinks would be a lot of fun that didn’t make the list, either. Winning the lottery, receiving a Nobel Prize (or two), and getting a MacArthur Fellowship spring to mind. Our friend Ben would be only too happy to receive any or all of the above. But these are things one gets, not things one is. Of course, you could always up the ante by putting, say, “Nobel prize-winning…” in front of any of the things that did make my list. Speaking of which, let’s get to it:

1. Paleontologist. Because fossils are so cool. Our friend Ben’s earliest memory is of sitting in my parents’ driveway in my diaper, separating out the crinoid fossils from the gravel. If we had that kind of gravel here at Hawk’s Haven, you can bet our friend Ben would be sitting out there today. Our friend Ben’s favorite fossils are trilobites, which are even cooler now that the actual paleontologists have found out that they were all bristly. I’m saving up for a super-bristly one.

2. Archaeologist. Our friend Ben actually almost became an archaeologist. I’d been fascinated by archaeology and the discovery of lost civilizations throughout my childhood, and had spent innumerable hours reading about the discovery of Mayan temples and the palace at Knossos and the city of Troy. I spent the summer after my sophomore year studying archaeology in England and participating in a dig at the Roman city of Verulamium, present-day St. Albans. Fortunately, it dawned on me just in time that archaeology was really just glorified grave-robbing. But I still love the idea of treasures in the earth, whether they’re geodes or onions or cities of gold.

3. Pope. Let’s face it, it would be fun to be the head of your own religion and be addressed as “your Holiness.” (“Vicar of Christ” has a certain ring, too.) Of course, our friend Ben doesn’t think it would be too much fun to be Pope these days—more like torture, probably. And there were plenty of other times when it wasn’t fun, either, such as during the reign of Henry the Eighth or during the Protestant Reformation. There was also the little problem of various rulers attempting to capture the Pope and/or the Vatican, a popular pastime among kings and emperors through the ages. But there were undeniably good times, too: the Renaissance springs to mind. It must have been amazing to have the greatest artists, architects, and composers of the day at your beck and call.

4. Artist. Speaking of which, our friend Ben envies anyone who can draw or paint exactly what he or she sees (in real life or in his or her head). Poetry, our friend Ben’s own talent, is an imprecise art at best: You create a work and hope that those who read or hear it are able to see what you saw. But with art, you can show them your vision unambiguously. Watercolors are a special favorite, and our friend Ben would love to have effortless skill with them.

5. Rock star. Yes, our friend Ben has the name of the band all picked out. Too bad I can’t sing, dance, or play an instrument, and especially not all at the same time.

6. Composer. While we’re on the subject of music, our friend Ben has always thought it would be fantastic to walk around like Bach or Mozart with glorious music filling my mind and pouring out of my hands. Our friend Ben is a poet, so I know the effortless ecstacy of pure creation, the gift of it, when you and your talent are single, not separate, one and the same. As Mr. Yeats puts it, “How can you tell the dancer from the dance?” When you look at what you’ve created and wonder where in you it came from, and you know, with awe, that you could not have been alone in that creation. I’m sure that natural athletes, the ones who don’t have to work at their particular skill but simply have it, are it, must feel like this, too, when they’re running or dancing or swimming or playing tennis or whatever it is they do, their gift. I would love to feel music that way.

7. Ping-pong champion. While we’re on the subject of sports, everybody has a favorite sport. Ping-pong (aka table tennis) is our friend Ben’s. Sadly, coordination is definitely not us, so you’ll never see our friend Ben in a ping-pong competition. I was never able to learn how to spin the ball, or counter an opponent’s spin. But games of aim are something I can do: hit the basket or the bull’s eye pretty much every time. Our friend Ben could send a ping-pong ball to any part of the table, have it touch down and ever so subtly slip off the edge, or hug the top of the net, then sidle down on the opponent’s side at the last possible second. Our friend Ben loves ping-pong because, unlike other sports I love, like horse racing and falconry, it doesn’t involve dominating another species. Yes, I would love to launch a falcon from my wrist, see it shoot up into the sky, and have it return to me, volleying down at warp speed only to pull up at the last second and settle gently on my arm. Yes, I would love to ride my own horse in race after race, breaking away from the field to win endless lengths ahead of all the rest. But I wouldn’t want to keep a falcon hooded and tied to its perch. I wouldn’t want to risk my horse’s life and limbs every time I raced him. Ping-pong is fun, and safe, and it still involves a show of skill. Now, if I could only learn to spin the ball…

8. Inventor. Our friend Ben loves to imagine the life of an inventor, with all kinds of games and gadgets and gizmos spinning around in your mind and taking shape in your hands. I often think of inventions myself, but since I’m completely mechanically inept, and not being a titan of industry, can’t command an army of folks who aren’t mechanically inept to flesh out my creations for me, I simply can’t get from A to B. My inventions are born and die within the space of my skull. But I admire all the folks whose inventions are born into the world and enrich our lives. While it’s true that many inventors have sold their wonderful creations to others for a comparative pittance, or have had to hand them over to the companies they work for and watch said companies become wealthy and powerful while they continue to slave away on their pitiful salaries, some lucky inventors have held on to their creations and reaped their just rewards. Rightly or wrongly, these are the ones whose names we all know: Edison and the lightbulb, Henry Ford and the Model T, Eli Whitney and the cotton gin, the Wright brothers and their airplane. But I like to think that all inventors enjoy tinkering so much that their work is its own reward, recognized or not.

9. Best-selling author. Our friend Ben is already an author, so I just have to get to the “best-selling” part. I can’t imagine a more delightful thing than writing novels for a living: doing something I love that brings enjoyment to others. Talk about fun!

10. Universal genius. Our friend Ben would love to be a towering genius like Ben Franklin or Leonardo da Vinci, totally engaged with life, interested in everything, excelling at everything. (We tend to picture Franklin as a portly old man, but in his younger days, he was a superb athlete on top of everything else.) The mind boggles. It’s interesting to our friend Ben that both these great men spent a good deal of their time and energy trying to make life better for the ordinary person. But it must have been a lonely life, living in a mind as far above those of the people who surrounded you as heaven is from earth. Still, our friend Ben thinks it would be worth it. 

And the bonus:

11. Cartoonist. To be able to capture the human condition with the stroke of a pen! If only our friend Ben could draw. Imagine creating Dilbert or Calvin and Hobbes or The Far Side or Maxine, or being Booth or one of the wonderful political cartoonists. It’s a talent most of us don’t even see, enjoying the cartoons without ever thinking of their creators. Our friend Ben never wanted to be a professor, but I would get a huge kick out of this gift, the ability to teach with humor in a painless visual medium.

So what did the youthful Ben want to be when I grew up, you ask? A pioneer, of course, like my hero Daniel Boone, or a Victorian naturalist, amassing huge collections of eggs and fossils and butterflies and mercy knows what-all, or the greatest poet of the age, since I came into that talent early (by age two). All told, I didn’t stray too far from my grand childhood ideals, either: I’m still a naturalist and poet, and am still living out my pioneer fantasies here on my one-acre Eden with my plants and chickens. My adult reality may not have achieved the scope of my childhood dreams, but I’m here to tell you, it’s still a lot of fun. How about you?

Ben Picks Ten: Annoyances August 8, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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As our hero and blog mentor, the great Doctor Franklin, pointed out, the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Our friend Ben would like to add that they’re also the two greatest annoyances. But, let’s just say, I find that there are plenty more competing for the top ten slots. Those two aside, here are my top ten (plus one, of course)—at least, for today. Who knows what new aggravations tomorrow might bring to the top of the list?! Feel free to chime in with yours.

1. Stupid drivers. Our friend Ben’s top aggravation is the idiot who swings out directly in front of my car—even if there’s not another car behind me for miles—and then proceeds to crawl along at 5 mph. What are these morons thinking?!! GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. Every time this happens, at it does with depressing regularity, I wish I had a James Bond car that could leapfrog the idiot’s car, or better yet, superpowers so I could flip their car over into the nearest ditch. And there are other driver-related offenses. I’m thinking of getting that bumper sticker that says “Jesus wants you to use your turn signals.” So does our friend Ben. How hard could it be, a******?!! Drivers who attempt to drink and/or eat with one hand while smashing their cellphones to their ears with the other also fall into the most-annoying category. Whatever happened to the good old days, when all you had to worry about was drunk drivers, and you could avoid them by staying off the roads late at night?

2. The living dead. There is nothing as annoying (after stupid drivers) as having a crisis, of whatever kind, frantically calling the number that’s supposed to resolve the crisis, and being unable to get through to an actual person who could help you. Medical emergency? Just try to get through to your doctor, a nurse, or even a receptionist. Ha! No internet connection? The roof’s falling in? The crown just came off your tooth? Your power went out? The toilet’s broken, heating fuel seems to have run out, lawnmower handle snapped off, cat’s throwing up? Ha. Try to talk to someone—anyone. Yeah, right. What am I thinking? That these people are here to serve you, since you’re paying for their services? Doh!!!!

3. Screech alarms. Oh, God, I hate these. And I don’t care what they are—the car alarm malfunctioning yet again, the smoke alarm going off because someone put too much cheese on the pizza, the seat belt or cell phone or pager beeper sounding endlessly—you name it, I hate it. In fact, I hate all loud, sudden noises, from fireworks exploding to balloons popping, truck exhaust backfiring, motorcycles roaring, alarms and timers going off, you name it. This is unnecessary and annoying. Stop… making… that… noise.

4. Commercials. I hate having a movie, program, or radio music interrupted by commercials. One minute, you’re engrossed in music or a plot unfolding. The next, you’re hearing all about HOWTOGETRIDOFGASORACIDREFLUXORCONSTIPATION or some equally inappropriate topic at the top of the pitch man’s lungs and as fast as he can possibly say it. We say, keep your personal problems to yourself, please. Discuss them with your doctor. But don’t subject us to them on TV or radio or anywhere else, for that matter. Gross!!!!! We’ve abandoned TV and radio completely—and with considerable regret—because we can’t take the barrage of grossness or time-wasting stupidity any longer. Now we watch movies courtesy of Netflix, and listen to our CD collection at home and while we’re driving. We get exactly what we want to see or hear, with no vulgar interruptions. Whew.

5. Billboards. Our friend Ben lives in a very beautiful area. Driving around looking at the gorgeous mountains, valleys, and rivers is a delight. Or it would be a delight, if the scenery weren’t obscured by endless billboards. I realize that folks, farmers especially, need ways to stretch their modest income to make ends meet, and that billboards—like cellphone towers—look like a source of free money. But oh, please! Couldn’t you all try to raise money by a different path—say, a “please prevent this billboard” campaign? Our friend Ben would be happy to contribute, and I’ll bet I wouldn’t be alone.

6. Late fees. Oh geez, it always seems like the credit card, electric, phone, cable, electric, and etc. etc. companies are out to get our friend Ben by slapping on late fees to their already exhorbitant bills, even if I pay them the day they’re supposedly due. Folks, listen up: Your original bills are about all any of us can handle. So cut us a break, please! Our friend Ben has a very simple solution to this situation: Please make all payments due the first of each month, rather than staggering them at compeletely unpredictable and easy-to-forget intervals. If we knew we had to pay all our bills on one easy-to-remember day, we could do it. Promise. No more missed payments, no more late fees. Is this rocket science? Hardly. So why don’t all the billing companies do it? Oh, wait, those late fees… free money for them! GRRRRRRRRRRRR.

7. Deadlines. Thinking about bill payment dates reminds our friend Ben of another hated annoyance, deadlines. Like many other professionals, from chefs to contractors, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are always working under deadlines. Get this in by this date, finish this by this date, write this by this date, edit by this date, proof this by this date. Literally thousands of deadlines later, we both feel if we never had to meet another deadline in our entire lives, it would be too soon. We fantasize about winning the lottery and never having to face another deadline. Really, we’re not lazy—we just love the idea of working on our own schedules rather than someone else’s.

8. Cartoon voices. OMG!!! Whatever made the creators of cartoons feel that they had to give their characters such unnatural, annoying, high-pitched voices that they’d shatter glass?!! Our friend Ben has always hated animated cartoons (with the exception of “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” and as opposed to newspaper cartoons, of course). It might be because my parents forced us to OD on Disney when we were kids. Actually, maybe this one should have been “Disney” rather than “Cartoon voices.” Please, puh-leez, don’t ever ever ever bring up Mickey Mouse or the Mouseketeers around our friend Ben. God have mercy!

9. Cold rolls. Okay, the poor rolls are standing in here for any food that’s served at the wrong temperature: cold or lukewarm entrees, sides, potatoes, pasta, pizza, etc.; too-warm whipped cream, ice cream, trifle, puddings, iced tea, salads, margaritas, and so on; any food, in fact, that’s served at less than its perfect temperature. Oh, yuck! Who wants to eat that?!! Sodden French fries; cold scrambled eggs; fossilized toast; tragically cold BLT or mac’n’cheese or… Food, every dish, has a temperature at which it is perfect, be it a salad or a curry or a pie or a simple cup of coffee. Please folks, let’s make an effort to serve and enjoy each dish at its peak. Too-cold food is annoying. Too-hot food is excruciating. Don’t do that to us!!!

10. Flimsy goods. You slip on a pair of flip-flops and they immediately break. Your new wine-bottle opener develops a fatal injury after a single use. Your earrings, CD, pen, lampshade, running shoes, food-storage container: zippo. You’ve spent good money on this stuff, and it’s let you down bigtime. GRRRRRRR!!!! Even if you stay out of Wal-Mart and the innumerable dollar stores, you’re bound to encounter shoddy goods. How annoying!!!

And the bonus:

11. Solicitations. If you have a problem and try to reach someone to find a solution, forget it: You’ll run up against the automated voice. But just try to avoid the endless calls begging for donations to this and that, or the other auto-calls that are trying to sell you something or otherwise get you to part with your hard-earned money: Oh yeah. Think you’re safe because you put your number on all those no-call lists? Ha ha ha haaaaa!!!! They don’t apply to “charities.” So when the Shriners or police or God-knows-what come calling, you’ll still be taking the call. This goes for door-to-door solicitations like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, too. Leave us alone, please! If we want you, we’ll find you.

Your turn now! I’m sure there’s a whole dictionary’s worth I haven’t listed…