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Patriotic pooch and cat. July 3, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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There are plenty of breeds developed right here in the USA, from coonhounds to sled dogs. But if our friend Ben had to pick just two breeds to celebrate this Fourth of July, they’d be the American foxhound and the Maine coon cat.

You see, the American foxhound was bred by the Father of Our Country himself, George Washington, in the 1770s and 1780s, using foxhounds imported from England and France. I guess our first president was as interested in animals as in agriculture. (Mount Vernon still has descendents of some of his favorite livestock breeds, including cattle and sheep, but alas, no American foxhounds, or at least, none that Silence Dogood and I saw on our last trip there.)

The American foxhound is recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), however, so it must still be out there, a long-legged, handsome breed. (Our friend Ben saw a recent photo of an entire pack, proving that they’re still alive and well.) But before you go rushing off to acquire one, bear in mind that, like all hounds, it was bred specifically to hunt. If you want one of General Washington’s hounds, you’d better be prepared to provide it with plenty of exercise.

Moving on to America’s most patriotic cat, the official State Cat of Maine, the Maine coon cat, is the obvious choice. These regal, gentle giants (think a majestic lynx and the personality of Hodor of “Game of Thrones” combined) have tufted ears, thick coats, and luxuriously furred paws, ideal for surviving the cold New England winters. They are also, in our friend Ben’s humble opinion, the most beautiful and affectionate of all cats, with their open, laid-back, loving, doglike personalities. (Full disclosure: We’ve been privileged to welcome five Maine coons into our home over the years, and would never even think of another breed.)

No one really knows how Maine coons came to be. Unlike American foxhounds, they weren’t bred, they simply turned up. As a result, numerous rumors have arisen over the years. One of the most popular was that Marie Antoinette, planning her escape from France before its citizens separated her head from her body, sent a ship ahead to Maine bearing her beloved cats, which subsequently went feral. Another is that Maine coons descended from cats on the Viking ships brought to America by Eric the Red.

The lack of knowledge of their origins makes the Maine coon even more All-American, since so many immigrants’ records and history were lost when they cast their lot and shipped out to the New World. But if you’re wondering about the breed’s name, the answer is easy: The original Maine coon cats’ coloring and enormous size reminded Mainers of raccoons. And like raccoons, Maine coons are drawn to water.

Now Maine coons are available in many colors, and they’re the ultimate lap cats. They love everybody (even dogs), have the most adorable tiny squeaky voices, despite their huge size—“Meep!”—purr like there was no tomorrow, and are perfectly happy as house cats. And, despite their often goofy, clownish antics, they’re really, really smart. (They had to be to survive the Maine climate, outside on their own, right?)

You might want to dispute my choice of breeds and say that the true All-Americans are the mutts, the cats and dogs who, like most of us, were forged in the melting pot that defines American freedom and have no distinct breed to call their own. Our friend Ben is not about to argue with that! Our shelters are overflowing with sad, discarded animals who need homes.

I can think of no more patriotic act on July Fourth than to bring one of these shelter dogs or cats home and give them their freedom with a loving, caring family. But—I cannot tell a lie—should you wish to follow our first and greatest President’s lead, or answer the call of American freedom and independence, the American foxhound and the Maine coon cat are, in my opinion, definitely the way to go.


The accidental eggsecution. March 5, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Did you know that King Louis XVI of France was sent to the guillotine (along with his wife, Marie Antoinette) because of an egg? Sixteen eggs, actually. After the Bastille fell and revolution swept through Paris and surrounds, Louis and his family were persuaded to flee France in the guise of ordinary citizens.

They had almost made it safely to the border when they stopped for the night at a farmhouse. The next morning, the farmwife asked Louis how many eggs he wanted in his omelette. You can bet this was a question he had never been called on to contemplate before! After thinking it over, he replied, “Sixteen.” The stupefied farmer and his wife realized that their guests were not in fact ordinary citizens and called in the authorities. Louis and his family were summarily hauled back to Paris, and the rest is history.

Now, before you start wondering how even a king could be so ignorant that he thought he could eat a sixteen-egg omelette, consider this: Back in Louis’ day, eggs were just a bit bigger than today’s Bantam eggs. Today’s extra-large, large, and medium eggs would have been pipe dreams. Today’s small eggs would have been considered enormous, lucky freaks of nature. Louis’ sixteen-egg omelette would probably have been the same size as a three- or four-egg omelette today. But unfortunately for him, a spell of intense global cooling had caused crop failures and meagre harvests throughout France for years. (It is now believed that this mini-Ice Age was the reason the peasants had no bread and in fact was the cause of the French Revolution.) Even farmers were tightening their belts, and there weren’t a lot of eggs to go ’round.

The concept of one person consuming a quantity of eggs that would have probably been stretched to feed a big family for days was about the equivalent of your breakfast guest’s demanding two jars of caviar, gold leaf, and diamond dust on his omelette, with a bottle or two of Chateau Lafitte Rothschild to wash it down, after you’d been laid off and hadn’t found work in a year, and your unemployment had run out six months before. Oh, and hadn’t you forgotten the filet mignon on the side?

Our friend Ben was contemplating all this—how an egg could bring down a dynasty—because this morning, Silence Dogood had shown me a recipe she’d found online for shirred duck eggs. Now, as it happens, our friend Ben has eaten duck eggs, because our friends Delilah and Chaz have a small flock of ducks. I’ll admit I was a bit dubious when they presented us with a carton. What if they were heavy and oily, with a gamey off-flavor? But, mercifully, my worries were groundless. They were perfectly delicious, and made great fried eggs, huevos rancheros, and (ahem) omelettes.

Thinking about duck eggs reminded our friend Ben of the current fad for quail eggs. A quail egg is so small it makes a bantam egg look enormous. (Poor Louis would have probably had to ask for three dozen to make a decent-sized omelette!) Quail, and their speckled eggs, are really cute. Our friend Ben’s grandfather used to hunt quail and present our family with the plump little birds every year, so I can confirm that they are delicious. But quail eggs? Is there anything that makes them different from hens’ eggs, except for their seemingly exotic nature and their tininess?

Friends, if you have actually eaten quail eggs, our friend Ben would like to hear from you. If quail eggs have some sort of superb flavor that sets them above and beyond ordinary eggs, I want to know. Because otherwise, I’m tempted to assume that it’s all about hype rather than substance, and that the only thing that keeps chefs who serve quail eggs from serving robins’ eggs is that it would be illegal. The unending joys of paying ten times as much to eat ten times less when it actually tastes the same!

Paying for rarity when there really is a difference is one thing. If you want truffles rather than mushrooms, you will not hear one word of discouragement from our friend Ben. (Or, Silence is urging me to add, on a less exalted note, if you want Greek or Mexican oregano, for example, rather than common oregano, or Korintje or Vietnamese cinnamon rather than generic. And on and on.) But for those who prize rarity for its own sake, our friend Ben can only say: Just remember what happened to Louis.