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Cast your vote: Tony Bourdain or Paula Deen. August 23, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. There’s a food fight going on between celebrity chefs/TV icons Anthony Bourdain (author of cookbooks, travel/food books, and tell-alls, including the bestseller Kitchen Confidential, former chef at Brasserie Les Halles in New York City, host of the Travel Channel’s hit show “No Reservations”) and Paula Deen (chef/owner of the Lady & Sons in Savannah, GA, author of bestselling cookbooks and a tear-jerking bio, It Ain’t All About the Cookin’, and supposedly the most beloved chef on television, combining the appeal of Oprah and the latter-day Liz Taylor).

Bourdain is perhaps best known for not sparing the expletives in his tell-it-like- I-see-it commentary. But Paula is no genteel Southern flower, either. So when Tony called her “the most dangerous person in America” (“Plus, her food sucks”) and accused her deep-fried, high-fat cuisine of contributing to America’s obesity epidemic, she fired right back, telling him to “get a life” and asking if someone had peed in his breakfast cereal.

I have to give Paula props on this one, much as I love Tony. Now that he’s given up cigarettes, cocaine, heroin and etc., I’m not sure how he manages to remain so thin (ADHD, bipolar disorder, a rigorous exercise routine?!), but his on-screen diet of endless fatty pig parts and alcohol would hardly contribute to anybody’s health. Most people who took his food regime as an example would weigh 5,000 pounds and be courting diabetes, heart disease, and God only knows what else. He’s certainly not the one to point a finger at the queen of deep-fat frying.

But I digress. Returning this post to its true point, my question for all of you is this: If you could have Paula Deen or Tony Bourdain prepare a meal for you, then sit down and enjoy it with you and talk to you about whatever you wanted to discuss, who would you want to eat with? I know my choice. I want to know your choice. Please let me know! 

          ‘Til next time,



Beatles or Stones? August 17, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood had once again dragooned our friend Ben into watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s travel/food show, “No Reservations.” Why Silence, a passionate vegetarian, is so obsessed with this show, which seems to focus entirely on killing and eating meat, I can’t say. Whole episodes pass in which not a single vegetable is consumed. The show’s host loudly and constantly abuses and despises vegetarians. I can only conclude that one of Silence’s life goals is to cook for Tony and force him, not to convert to vegetarianism, but to recant as far as his antipathy to all things vegetable is concerned. 

At any rate, this episode was a bit different from the others we’ve seen in the series in that Tony interviews four “contestants” at the start of the show to determine where he’ll go next (in the event, to Saudi Arabia). At one point, interviewing a musician who’s trying to lure him to Buffalo, NY, Tony asks: “Beatles or Stones?” When the musician answers “Beatles,” it seems to seal his fate as a non-contender.

This of course set our friend Ben and Silence off bigtime. If Tony Bourdain had asked us this question, the answer would have been an unhesitating “Zeppelin.” We despise the Beatles’ hokey, self-indulgent ballads. Our friend Ben almost committed murder when taking acoustic guitar lessons after the instructor announced that the lessons would be based on the Beatles’ thump-thump playbook. (Silence does acknowledge that George Harrison became pretty cool once he managed to escape from the band.)

As for the Stones, our friend Ben simply found them discordant, loud, and boring (the latter trait shared with the Beatles), but Silence was totally revolted: “Vile, vulgar, ugly, and gross! Who would find that attractive?!” The Stones don’t give us no satisfaction, for sure.

Give us Led Zeppelin any day. Great music, great drama, no sappy, sentimental whining or pathetic pseudo-macho posturing disguised as music. Zeppelin was genuinely sexy. And it made genuinely fabulous music, thanks in large part to musical genius and founder Jimmy Page. If there’s another song from the entire rock era that can even approach “Stairway to Heaven,” we’d like to know what it is.

So, Tony, take your Beatles and Stones and eat them. Then listen to some real music. And think about expanding that famous “no reservations” attitude to include some vegetarian fare. It’s not brown, boring “health food” any more. And you don’t have to apologize* for killing a baby camel or trembling, terrified armadillo to enjoy it.

* Not that we’d expect a meat-eater to apologize for eating meat, but for whatever reason, Tony does so fairly often on the shows if the animal is killed on-air before being prepared and served, especially if it’s inherently appealing.

Questions for Anthony Bourdain. February 3, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. For a fan of Anthony Bourdain, host of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations,” author and chef, surely a dream come true would be the news that Mr. Bourdain was turning up in your vicinity, or at least reasonably close. Such was my good luck when I heard that Tony would be appearing at the State Theatre in Easton, a mere hour from here, on February 11.

Better still, our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, was sponsoring a contest for free tickets to see Tony at the State Theatre. The contest winner would get two front-row tickets plus dinner at an Easton restaurant of note, and the runner-up would receive two tickets to the show. Not being one to sign up for contests in general, I went online and signed up for this one. And, I have to assume, now that February has arrived, my usual luck attended me and I didn’t win.

Well, heartaches, nothin’ but heartaches, in the immortal words of my friend Edith. (Though I suspect our friend Ben is probably still wiping his brow in relief.) But then, yesterday, Morning Call food editor Diane Stoneback interviewed the famous chef prior to his visit in an article called “Chef’s tongue can be sharp as a knife” (head to www.themorningcall.com to read it). OFB, perhaps to make amends for his ill-disguised delight that we wouldn’t be going to the actual talk, brought me the section of the paper specially.

The part of the article that really caught my attention (besides, of course, the giant photo of the very easy-on-the-eyes chef himself) was that Tony will apparently be taking questions from the audience at the end of his talk. He’s asked that people please not ask him “What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?” or how he stays so thin. (I’m convinced it’s because he eats one appreciative bite of each dish for the camera, then lets the crew finish the dish. But maybe he just has a fast metabolism.)

Instead, Tony told Diane, “I’d much rather be surprised by difficult, awkward or embarrassing questions than keep answering those questions again and again.” What an irresistible challenge! For those lucky folks who have $39.50 to $49.50 to pony up per ticket, live close enough to get to the State Theatre in Easton (www.statetheatre.com, 610-252-3132), and are free at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 11, it’s time to start making your list.

But not going isn’t about to stop me from making up my own list of questions! I don’t know if they’d be awkward or embarrassing—hopefully not!—but they’d certainly be difficult if Tony took them seriously. Here goes:

* What’s the deal with you and vegetarians?! I get that you feel a great chef must be prepared to sample every food the world offers, without prejudgement,  in order to prepare the finest food. I don’t have a problem with that outlook, I just wish you’d extend it to vegetarian food. Come eat a meal at my house before you issue another blanket condemnation!

* If you had reached the final episode of “No Reservations,” where would you go to shoot it? I myself would like to see you at home in your own kitchen, shopping for and preparing a meal for family and friends, including some of the folks you’d gone adventuring with on earlier episodes.

* What chefs do you respect most? I know you think highly of Mario Batali and his family, but who else? If you had to go back to school, who would you want as the ideal set of chef-teachers?

* Who do you consider the greatest chef of all time, and why?

* If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a chef? And if not, what?

* What’s your idea of the perfect meal?

* Is there a dish you absolutely love that you’ve never been able to make or make well?

* If you had to eat one regional cuisine for the rest of your life, drawn from anywhere in the world, what would it be?

* If you could go back to one place in the world and live there, where would it be?

* What do you see yourself doing with the rest of your life?

Gee, I guess that’s about enough to ask anyone! Maybe I’ll go back over them and consider my own answers to at least a few of the questions. The answers might give me some ideas! And on February 11, I hope the audience asks Tony some great, provocative questions when they get the chance. And I hope Diane Stoneback is in the audience to share his answers with us!

          ‘Til next time,


How sweet. December 16, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Alert readers will have noticed that I have a thing about Anthony Bourdain, the bad boy chef-turned-TV-travel-adventurer. Our friend Ben has certainly noticed. And far from pitching a fit, OFB recently asked if I’d like for him to get us tickets for a February appearance by Tony Bourdain at the Easton, PA State Theater as a Christmas present for me. He was genuinely shocked when I said no.

But “no” seemed the only sane answer. If Tony Bourdain suddenly showed up here at Hawk’s Haven, I’d be delighted to cook for him and see what he thought. I’d love to chat with him about his life in and out of cooking. But pay for the privilege of sitting in his presence? No way. Or sure, if OFB and I had unlimited resources. I’m sure it would be fun.

But right now, we’re struggling to pay for our Christmas presents on top of our usual bills. Adding a frivolous large expense right now would simply put us farther underwater. Instead, I can always order the next season of Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” series on Netflix. I’ll enjoy it, and we won’t be incurring an insane amount of debt for a transient pleasure. Maybe OFB can get me some lovely high-end olive oils and balsamic vinegars instead, something we’ll both enjoy for months and months as I prepare salads and meals. Or put that money towards occasional dinner nights out.

Tony, if you’re reading this, I really would love to host you. Otherwise, Ben, I can only say, how sweet. Thanks for surprising me with an offer of an expensive treat you knew only I would enjoy. That makes it even easier to say no, let’s save our money for something both of us can love.

             ‘Til next time,


What about that pizza crust? November 3, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The other night, our friend Ben and I watched Anthony Bourdain’s Pacific Northwest episode from his series “No Reservations.” (Thanks, Netflix!) We thought it was one of the better episodes, showcasing both the unique foodie/artisanal approach of Oregon and Washington State and Tony Bourdain’s entertaining persona and unending flow of bon mots.

But while OFB and I were enjoying the show, something struck me: There’s room for improvement in pizza crust creation. Say what? OFB and I are serious pizza fans. We like to go out for pizza and order it for takeout. We love homemade pizza. (OFB consistently praises my own-made pizza as “the best ever,” forgetting that our friends Delilah and Mary both make much better pizzas on their grills.) I love to improvise by spreading olive oil and/or pesto on the crust before adding tomato sauce, cheese, herbs, and toppings. But it never before occurred to me to consider adding things to the crust itself.

All this changed when I saw Tony Bourdain heading to a pizza parlor, something that, even loving pizza as I do, I’d never have expected, on-air at any rate. But this wasn’t just any pizza parlor. It was a restaurant owned by a chef who was determined to make the perfect pizza. He makes his dough by hand so the crust will be light, crispy, and crackly. (“Nobody does that!” said Tony about professional pizzerias and handmade, from-scratch pizza crusts.) He allows no more than three toppings on his pizzas. And he closes the restaurant once the dough for that day runs out. (“Don’t you care about making money?” “No! I care about making pizza.”)

Watching all this made me think. Why doesn’t anyone add ingredients, enhancements to the pizza crust? Olive oil and Italian herbs (rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme); Parmesan cheese; kalamata olives; sauteed onion and/or roasted garlic; roasted peppers or sundried tomatoes. Maybe a crust with lavender or minced truffles, pepitas or cumin seeds. The possibilities are endless.  I can imagine a luscious crust with a simple assortment of toppings, all working together for the ultimate goodness. Yum!!!

But I’ve never heard of anyone doing this. Do you? If so, what do you do? If not, what do you think of the idea? Please let me know!

          ‘Til next time,


No regrets. September 12, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Last night, I was watching the first season of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.” (Thanks, Netflix!) But the pun in the series title brought to mind a conversation I’d had recently with an old friend. We were talking about the things we wished we’d done in our lives. Both of us wished we had travelled more. Looking back at our lives, both of us wished we had made other choices at certain points.

But there was a huge difference between us, what I’d have called a defining difference: Yes, there are many things I’d like to have happened in my life that didn’t happen. There are plenty of things I’d do differently, given a chance to go back and revise (such as becoming a gerontologist instead of an editor). But I’m perfectly happy with my life right now: our friend Ben, our little cottage, our beloved pets, my work, my little car, our wonderful friends, all of it.

Maybe I’d have done things differently in hindsight. And maybe things would have turned out differently. But things have turned out wonderfully, miraculously well given the choices I actually made. I’m happy, content to greet every day exactly where I am. I enjoy the little things and the big things. The sight of a hummingbird visiting our rose-of-Sharon flowers or the sudden appearance of a writing assignment, seemingly falling from Heaven. A yummy curry or pasta I’ve just made or the inspiration for the next new novel.

My life is real, and my life is full, whatever its limitations. No, I’ve never owned a new car. I’ve never had a bestseller or a movie based on one of my books (yet, anway). I’ve never owned that fabulous old stone house and outbuildings that I dream of. I’ve never had disposable income. I’ve never gone to Morocco or Normandy. But I have had the joy and contentment of greeting each new and beautiful day, surrounded by people, pets, and things I love, doing what I love to do—writing.

And I have all the vast resources available to us moderns to virtually live the life of our dreams. Craving a trip to Morocco, but lacking the funds to make it happen? Buy old travel guides. Listen to “Marrakesh Express.” Check out DVDs. Get Moroccan Style. Buy Moroccan cookbooks, a tagine, Moroccan spices like ras al-hanout and harissa. See if, since you can’t go to Morocco, you can’t bring Morocco home to you, wherever home might be. 

My friend expressed a different, and to me, wildly distressing, viewpoint. I realized this when I belatedly gathered that she was misinterpreting my own comments on our present reality through the lens of her own misery.  She kept encouraging me, insisting, that it was not too  late to begin living the life of our dreams. That however pathetic our present circumstances, at any moment we could change them by following our ultimate goals. Our limitations would magically melt away, and we would become whatever we dreamed we would be.

Oh, no. True, maybe all of us might have had more sense in choosing a career if we’d given more thought to its consequences and benefits, or had a gazing ball (or at least a Magic Eight Ball) that let us see what the future held. Maybe we’d have chosen our various partners more wisely if we could have seen past looks and charisma to the values that mattered most to us, or ignored our parents’ disapproval and followed our hearts. Maybe we’d have decided to have kids or had more or fewer kids or not had kids; pursued a talent that most people (including our parents and teachers) strongly discouraged; lived where we wanted, not where our corporations sent us; opted for a more authentic lifestyle; understood who we were and been true to ourselves.

But, even in the face of my own oblivion and cluelessness, I somehow managed to end up doing a lot of the right things, even when family, friends and the world all said they were wrong. I can wake up each morning and face the day, my home, and my family with joy, not anxiety, frustration, or depression. OFB and I own our little cottage home and battered VW Golf outright; we live a very modest lifestyle, but it’s debt-free. Every day, we do what we love most: read, write, garden, cook, learn, play with our pets, connect with our friends and families. No, we haven’t won the lottery. Yes, I wish we’d win the lottery. But until that day arrives, we’re living, not waiting.

My own life tells me that “To thine own self be true” and “Know thyself; thou can’st not then be false to any man” are the two maxims that matter. Carpe diem: Seize the day. Live for today. Be kind, be generous, be wise, but most of all, be sure of who you are. Live each and every day so that, at the end of it, you may have no reservations, but you definitely have no regrets.

           ‘Til next time,


The kitchen waltz. March 8, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Sometimes, it takes a different perspective to get your thoughts in order.

I love to cook, and I’m even capable of making an elaborate multi-dish Indian meal and getting it all hot to the table. But generally speaking, I find that a main dish, a couple of sides, and a salad are about all I can handle and still make sure everything’s delicious, cooked exactly right, and served at the perfect temperature. True, my dishes may be a pretty far cry from typical family fare or some family-style cafeteria’s “meat and three,” but still. For one cook, one cranky old stove, no freezer space, no convenience foods, and no microwave, that’s pretty much the limit, unless you can make a few dishes like cranberry sauce or coleslaw or squash casserole in advance.

Now, we all have our priorities, and one of mine is temperature. I’d gladly omit a few dishes I know our friend Ben and I would enjoy if it means bringing the ones we do eat to the table at the ideal temperature. (And hey, how many dishes do two adults and one hopeful dog and parrot need at a given meal, anyway?!) As long as every dish I do serve contributes to the beauty and flavor of the meal, that’s the thing that matters. I can always make those other dishes another time, and I know OFB and I will anticipate and enjoy them every bit as much then.

There are, of course, easy ways to get around these limitations. We love our Friday Night Supper Club gatherings, where everyone brings something, be it sparkling water or wine or just-picked veggies from the garden to eat as crudites or hot-from-the-oven bread or fruit pie or some yummy homemade applesauce for dessert. That gives me scope to make a main dish or two and a fantastic salad and know that the rest of the meal will take care of itself. Then there are the two-chef families, like our friends Delilah and Chaz, who have created a kitchen to accommodate both of them and coordinate their efforts to serve such flawless multicourse meals you’d think you’d inadvertently arrived at a four-star restaurant instead of their home.

Simple or elaborate, single-dish or multi-course, I’m always delighted as long as a) the food is good and b) it arrives at the table at its perfect temperature. If it’s elaborate but not good, for whatever reason, or if by the time it reaches me it’s too cold, I’d rather eat leftover pizza (heated to the right temperature, of course) and a salad. Ugh.

But coordinating the parade of dishes to the table so they reach your enthusiastic diners when the food’s all hot and perfectly done is no easy feat. (Keep this in mind if you took your mom’s dinners for granted back in the day.) I’ve seen fabulous meals that took days to prepare go down in flames because the cook simply couldn’t juggle all the dishes in such a way that they arrived at the table at the right time and at the perfect temperature. Talk about a heartache! 

So what’s the solution here? Must you be an acrobat as well as a chef? No. But you have to be a dancer.

This revelation occurred when our friend Ben and I watched one of my favorite movies, “Blow Dry,” and a new Netflix selection, “No Reservations,” back-to-back. (Poor OFB, he’s such a sweet guy.)

“Blow Dry” is a simply delicious film starring Alan Rickman and Natasha Richardson as hairdressers entering the British hairdressing championship, with a superb Bill Nighy and Rachel Griffiths in supporting roles. (The entire supporting cast was fantastic; if you watch it, check out the mayor.)

After enjoying the film, we watched the extra features on the DVD, which included interviews with the actors talking about how they’d had to attend a hairdressing crash course and watch a few real competitions so they could look authentic in the movie. Several, including one of my all-time heartthrobs, Alan Rickman (cover your ears, OFB), discussed how choreography as much as talent contributed to success in a competition where every second counted. One of them noted that he’d attended an actual hairdressing championship with the pro stylist who’d been adviser to the movie. Seeing a flashy hairdresser at work, he’d asked the pro if the guy would win. “Not a chance,” the pro replied. “What?!!” “See, he’s wearing shoes.” Turns out, barefoot hairdressing allows more precision and speed. The resulting film emphasized the importance of coordinating your routine and staying light on your feet, literally dancing around the styling chair.

The next night, our friend Ben and I watched “No Reservations,” a predictable romance involving two chefs. Since it was a chef-centric film, it had more restaurant-kitchen scenes than I’d seen since “Ratatouille.” And sitting there, bored with the plot, I guess my mind spun out and focused on the interplay between the staff in the kitchen. In its timing, its efficiency, its perfection, it was like a ballet. Nothing was wasted. Everyone knew his or her role and everyone performed it to the split second. Just like, just like… the hairdressing championships.

Thinking this over later, I saw the connection. Cooking is a dance. Even the simplest dish is a dance: a slow dance, a tango, a waltz. Seeing and overseeing every single step, orchestrating the music, assembling the dancers and making sure every one knows his or her steps perfectly, that every nuance is in place, is the role of the chef, the composer, the conductor, the ballet master. Oh, wow. It’s so true. A solo cook (OFB’s a darling about doing the dishes), I sing and dance and waltz around the kitchen and pantry preparing our meals. (And yes, I do cook barefoot except when it’s freezing.) Ella and Louis—whom I often have on as background music, there’s no way I could cook without music—have nothing on me. I sing along, waltzing from fridge to stove to pantry to mudroom to garden to cookbook shelf or recipe file and back, frantically assembling a world of disparate ingredients into a harmonious whole.

I’m not exactly coordinated, and though I love to sing, my vocals aren’t going to land me on “American Idol” anytime soon. But it’s true, it’s the rhythm and pace that makes or breaks any meal. (And the music that, in my view, makes or breaks any cook.) The kitchen waltz: Aaaaahhh, how romantic. And how ultimately delicious.

         ‘Til next time,