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What’s your favorite romantic movie? February 14, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. With Valentine’s Day upon us, I can’t help but think of all the great romantic films—films that celebrate love, be it love lost (“Gone with the Wind,” “Casablanca,” “Gladiator,” “Titanic”), love lost and regained (Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” “Jane Eyre,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “The Return of Martin Guerre”), love unexpectedly discovered (“Pride and Prejudice,” “The Crying Game,” “Stage Beauty,” “Avatar,” “Somewhere in Time”), or simply love enduring (the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Tony Hillerman triad, the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency films).

But, much as I love these films, my favorite is none of them. It’s an incredibly obscure film, set, like Jane Austen’s work, in the Regency Period in England, after King George III was deemed too mad to rule and before he died so that his son, the Prince Regent, could take the throne as king.But unlike Jane Austen’s novels, this film was based on a true story, about a housemaid with a wonderful, exotic imagination who created a new life for herself and in the process even met and danced with the Prince himself, bowled over upper-class British society, and ultimately got away with it.

The film, “Princess Caraboo,” stars Phoebe Cates as the maid/princess, her real-life husband, Kevin Kline, in a marvelous role as the supercilious Greek butler to a wealthy family, and Stephen Rea (whose moving performance lit up “The Crying Game”) as the dogged journalist who falls in love, not with the princess, but with the maid who created her. Strong supporting performances, including Jim Broadbent and John Lithgow, incredible sets and costuming, and the richness of the story weave a magic spell that I find completely captivating.

If you enjoy nuanced romance, Jane Austen, the Regency Period, or simply fine acting, I hope you’re able to find “Princess Caraboo.” I was able to get it on DVD, so I haven’t checked to see if it’s on Netflix and etc. Good luck! It’s worth looking for.

What are your favorite romance films?

Happy Valentine’s Day,


A flower for Valentine’s Day. February 15, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. On Valentine’s Day, I was walking our beloved black German shepherd Shiloh in the backyard for a much-needed bathroom break when I saw a flash of yellow. OMG! It was a winter aconite bloom. Winter aconites grow low to the ground, where their golden, buttercup-yellow flowers bloom amid palmlike foliage. But why was it blooming in February?

Winter aconites, with snowdrops and hellebores, are the first flowers of spring here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. But as with flowers enthusiastically described as blue or black that are actually purple, winter aconites are early spring, not winter, bloomers misnamed by overeager gardeners or marketers. However, this is February. We still have snow on the ground. And here was this bright gold aconite flower, truly living up to its name!

Much as I fear the effects of global warming, my own heart was warmed by this one. It seemed like a Valentine’s Day present to me, to OFB, to Shiloh, and to our home. I hope all of you had surprising and wonderful Valentine’s gifts as well!

‘Til next time,


My funny valentine. February 14, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I exchanged Valentine’s gifts and cards this morning: for him, a board game, German Shepherdopoly (our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, also signed his card); for me, a copy of Tony Bourdain’s latest collection of kitchen-themed essays, Medium Raw. We were both not just pleased with our own gifts but eager to read/play the other’s, so I’d rank this as a successful Valentine’s Day.

All was not bliss, however, and not just because OFB forgot to clean the litterbox (as I recently discovered). We’d decided to postpone our Valentine dinner until Thursday, when we’ll go to Wild Rice, a favorite Japanese/Chinese/Thai restaurant. Tonight we’re going to celebrate with our Friday Night Supper Club friends.

I’d made a batch of my luscious spaghetti sauce this weekend (you can search for the recipe by typing “spaghetti sauce” in our search bar at upper right) and had plenty left over, so I volunteered to make and bring lasagna* and a yummy loaf of bread; our friends would provide salad and wine.

Not exactly stress-inducing, right? Wrong. Suddenly two extra guests were added to the list, bringing the total to seven. And unlike so many dishes—soups, sauces, chili, stir-fries, you name it—lasagna won’t expand to feed additional mouths.

In a normal home, this wouldn’t be a problem: You’d just make either a bigger pan of lasagna or two pans. But ours is not a normal home. We have a vintage Caloric (yes, that really is its unfortunate name) gas stove, and its oven stopped working several years ago. I’m convinced that all it needs is a good cleaning, but finding someone who can still work on Caloric stoves is difficult and finding the money to pay them, or replace the venerable and much-loved stove with even a used model (it’s extra-wide), is impossible. As a stop-gap, we bought a countertop convection/toaster oven, which is usually ample for me and OFB. It is not ample enough, however, for either a large pan or two pans of lasagna. I’ve had to restrict my baking, roasting, broiling and etc. to pans, trays and the like that would fit into the toaster oven.

Big deal, you might think, just make two pans. But I only have one pan that would work for lasagna. It would be a huge pain to have to cook two pans one at a time anyway. And then there’s the issue of the ingredients. My homemade spaghetti sauce is rich, thick, chunky, incredible. But what if I don’t have enough for two pans? Will some diners get a luscious piece of lasagna made of premium sauce, and others get a boring serving made with store-bought? Aaaarrgghhh!!!

So of course I was roaming the house screaming and wringing my hands over this, much to poor OFB’s dismay. (I’m sure he would have loved to say “And happy Valentine’s Day to you, too!” but fortunately he resisted.) And I need to buy birthday presents for a good friend I’m seeing tomorrow and for our neighbor, whose birthday happens to fall on Valentine’s Day. Pressure!!! The day already seems far too short, and of course, the money far too tight.

I decided to focus instead—for a minute or two, anyway—on the pleasant, stress-free prospect of our Thursday supper at Wild Rice. OFB has a bag of clothes to give to Goodwill, which is just down from the restaurant, so I wanted to remind him to be sure to bring it.

Wait—Goodwill! Last time we went over there, I’d found a square Corning casserole dish and top that I knew would fit in our toaster oven, yet be big enough to make a good-size lasagna. I’d snapped it up, but hadn’t yet used it and had forgotten about it. Whoa, problem solved! Surely I can get eight squares of lasagna out of that dish without having to even try to make a second one. And one lucky person can have seconds!

What a relief. Looks like Valentine’s Day is going to be a success after all.

Wishing each and every one of you lots of love and joy today and every day!

               ‘Til next time,


* I’ve been struggling with the lasagna/lasagne issue for several years, but have finally come up with a solution that satisfies me. In Italian, in this case, “a” indicates singular and “e” indicates plural. There are several pieces of lasagna pasta used to make the dish, so the pasta would be lasagne. But there is only one dish: lasagna.

A homemade Valentine’s Day. February 14, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day on a super-tight budget? I think the best way is not to ignore it (nooooo!!!), not to get or do something cheap (echhh!!!), but to make a wonderful occasion out of it at home.

Here at Hawk’s Haven, Valentine’s Day unofficially began yesterday morning when I made brunch for our friend Ben with huevos rancheros, my famous refried beans, hot tortillas, tons of toppings, and margaritas. Yum! But I was still undecided about what to serve today, Valentine’s Day, for supper. Should I make a heart-shaped pizza? How about a delicious Indian feast? A simple Middle Eastern meal with falafel patties, pita, hummus, tzatziki sauce, and a big Greek salad? Yow.

Fortunately, by the time OFB and I went grocery shopping yesterday afternoon, an idea had begun to shape up. OFB had requested a Sunday supper of baked sweet potatoes, a spicy brown basmati rice/red lentil pilaf, broccoli, and a big, crunchy salad. I made sure I made extra rice/lentil pilaf, and I picked up what we needed for an unforgettable Valentine’s Day meal, pretending, of course, that I was just shopping as usual so OFB would have a luscious surprise when he gets home tonight.

This morning, I made a big valentine for our friend Ben. Say what? Yes, I made it. I’d bought red contruction paper and a sheet of gorgeous handmade paper shot through with gold leaf at our local art store. So I cut a heart out of the handmade paper, put the sheet of handmade paper over the red construction paper, gluing it with a glue stick, so the cutout part formed a big, red heart, then cut out a silhouette of our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, and glued it on one side of the heart. I wrote a message in the heart space, then put my valentine on Ben’s side of our kitchen table along with the gifts I’d bought him: a small bag of one of his favorite treats, a heart-shaped cookie, and a “devil duck” to add to our rubber duck collection. (A very long story; suffice it to say that the devil duck was red for Valentine’s Day.) 

Tonight, I’ll bring our Valentine’s Day dinner together. I’m a vegetarian, so our dinner will be quite different from the array of lobster, scallops, raw oysters, prime rib, caviar, and the like that grace so many Valentine’s tables. Instead, this is my menu: stuffed peppers, mashed potatoes with winter squash, sauteed spinach, and a huge, crunchy salad. I’ll also make two of OFB’s favorites, roasted garlic bread (courtesy of our friend Delilah) and jalapeno poppers (another OFB fave) as appetizers. I myself will skip those, since I couldn’t begin to eat them and food, but the 6’4″ OFB will have no problem. And I bought a bottle of Chambourcin from a local winery to serve with the meal. Yum!

If this sounds pedestrian to you, I’d suggest that you think again. Check out my earlier post, “Ultimate winter mashed potatoes (plus)” in our search bar at upper right, to see the luscious recipe for mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and Butternut squash with Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses. It’s ranked in the all-time top five of my best dishes, according to OFB. I plan to stuff the peppers (red, for Valentine’s Day, of course) with the leftover spicy rice/lentil pilaf mixed with cottage cheese, shredded mozzarella, and Gorgonzola. I’ll saute the spinach lightly with olive oil, crushed garlic, red pepper flakes, and a splash of lemon juice. And our salad, always a favorite part of our meal, packed with Romaine lettuce, spring greens, frisee, arugula, escarole, scallions, diced yellow bell pepper, chopped tomato, artichoke hearts, radishes, olives, pepitas, cilantro, and shredded cheese, is really a meal in itself.  

Anyway. Served by candlelight, with cloth napkins and sweet music in the background—not to mention Shiloh demanding attention and affection as her due, as always—this should be a meal, and a Valentine’s Day, OFB and I will never forget. Maybe next year we can afford to go out for supper to our favorite high-end restaurant to celebrate the day. Maybe a bouquet of cut flowers or a blooming phalaenopsis orchid will make an appearance at Hawk’s Haven. But for our circumstances and this moment, I can’t imagine a lovelier celebration.

What are you doing for Valentine’s Day? 

            ‘Til next time,


Valentine’s Day: On the Cheap February 9, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Spencer Soper, whose “On the Cheap” column runs in our local paper, the Allentown, PA, Morning Call, has done it again. In his column this past Sunday, “Give your valentine the ‘cheapster test’,” Spencer suggests that you take your dear one out for pizza and beer. (You can read the article and even see a video about the “test” at www.mcall.com/onthecheap.)

The photo accompanying the article showed two slices of plain cheese pizza on a paper plate with plastic cups and a single 40-ounce bottle of beer. Spencer’s point was that, if your valentine enjoyed the date instead of complaining about how cheap you were, “you might just have a keeper.” 

What do I, Silence Dogood, think of all this? I’ve never been a box-of-candy-and-bling kind of girl. But I love an elegant meal out, a bottle (or two) of good wine, and a bouquet of flowers as much as the next woman. (For us, that would be at the Landis Store Hotel, the finest restaurant in easily a hundred-mile radius, www.landis-store.com/.) In a year with plenty of money coming in, I’d hope that our friend Ben would appear with those flowers and whisk me off for a lovely meal.

However, I also really love pizza, as does OFB. And this is definitely not a year with plenty of money coming in. But spending Valentine’s Day evening in a pizzeria is not my idea of a good time! So what I’d been planning to do for this Valentine’s Day takes Spencer’s idea one step further: I was going to make a pizza for supper with a big heart, outlined in red bell pepper strips, in the middle! (If I’m feeling really creative, maybe I’ll be able to make the arrow, too.) Of course the pizza would have plenty of other toppings—sweet onion, black olives, mushrooms, diced yellow or orange bell pepper, maybe even some artichoke hearts—but I’d leave some room around the heart outline so it would really show up. With a big, crunchy salad and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, we’ll have a great meal. And hopefully the “pizza heart” will amuse OFB!

Yes, making this pizza and salad and serving it with wine will certainly cost more than the $10-for-two price Spencer quotes for his pizza outing. It might even cost as much as $30. But being able to eat a delicious meal with candles and music, as opposed to chaos, chatter, and big-screen TV, is well worth the extra cost, in my opinion. Especially since we’ll have yummy leftover pizza and salad to enjoy at a second meal!

I didn’t do an extensive survey among my female friends to find out how they’d feel if the love of their life took them out for a pizza-and-beer date on Valentine’s Day, but I did ask Bridget, the longtime girlfriend of our friend and fellow blog contributor, Richard Saunders. She rolled her eyes. “At least that isn’t an option,” she said. “Richard’s idea of romance is to take me to some historical site like Valley Forge or Gettysburg. But at least he’ll take me to a historic inn for supper afterwards, and the food’s usually really good at those.” 

How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

             ‘Til next time,


Valentine’s Day sinks to new lows. February 14, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was planning to write something uplifting about Valentine’s Day. Thanks to the advent of beautiful, inexpensive grocery-store bouquets (and Silence Dogood and I saw dozens of examples at our local grocery yesterday), I don’t know how anyone could object to a day that celebrates love with a little thoughtfulness.

However. After reading today’s words of wisdom from our favorite columnist, Spencer Soper, who writes the “On the Cheap” column for our local paper, the Allentown PA Morning Call, our friend Ben would be remiss not to share the gist of it with you. (You can read the column, “Give your special valentine a gift of thrift,” in its entirety and even see a how-to video at www.mcall.com/onthecheap. And you’ll get an extra thrifty tip as well.)

Apparently a fan had contacted Spencer with a story that was so good he couldn’t refuse to pass it on to his readers, as we are now at Poor Richard’s Almanac. She said that a good friend of hers didn’t have enough money to buy the guy she was dating the Valentine’s Day gift she really wanted to give him, which was to have a star named after him. But whatever she lacked in financial acumen she made up for in creativity, admittedly of a most peculiar kind. Did she cook him a wonderful dinner or knit him a scarf or make him a collage or give him a massage, or, say, bake the biggest, baddest chocolate cake, with tons of fresh whipped cream and some vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce on top, on record? (Not that that’s a hint or anything.)

No. Apparently this woman was the sort who, once she had an idea, never deviated from the general concept. Her idea had been to have a star named for her honey. She couldn’t afford it. So instead, she decided to pretend to have a pothole named after him in another state, made up a street name where the pothole was located, faked a certificate of authenticity, printed it out, and framed it. If you think you’re not reading that right, think again. This woman decided to pretend that she’d paid to have a pothole named for her boyfriend as a Valentine’s present. I’d have to say that’s sinking pretty low (depending, of course, on the depth of the pothole).

Spencer goes on to reveal that, as it turns out, her sweetie was not amused, even though he didn’t grasp that it was a joke. He thought it was a really stupid waste of money. However, the couple was apparently on the same mental wavelength, despite a slightly disparate sense of humor; their friend informed Spencer that they’ve now been married for 20 years. Our friend Ben can only hope that they refrained from producing offspring.

In passing, Spencer revealed that this year, “the typical couple will spend $63.34 on Valentine’s Day gifts for their significant other or spouse.” How did you do by comparison? Our friend Ben and Silence are pretty good about coming up with low-budget presents without sinking to the gag-gift level. (A pothole certificate would not have gone over too well with either of us.) We could have gone the practical route—Yaktrax for my boots to keep me from sliding on the ice, new winter boots for Silence (hey, February’s cold around here), and we both would have appreciated that—but this year, we opted for the enjoyable instead.

So, bookaholics that we are, we headed to our favorite used bookstore, Saucony Book Shop in scenic Kutztown, PA, and got each other three books each: cookbooks (of course) for Silence (I suspect you’ll be hearing more about them later) and history books for me. We were both ecstatic. And yes, in case that’s not romantic enough for you, there’ll be a bit more: I’ll treat Silence to a rare dinner out tonight (and a bouquet of those grocery-store flowers), and she’ll make me a wonderful dessert (uh, did someone say chocolate cake?!). But the books are the gifts we’ll turn to with pleasure again and again.      

Speaking of bouquets, let me close this Valentine’s Day post with a very happy ending. We were visiting our dear friend Huma and her wonderful 18-year-old twins, Rashu and Sasha, yesterday. (Of course we’d brought our beloved black German shepherd Shiloh, who adores Huma and the boys, along.)

As we were leaving, we saw that FedEx had dropped off what was obviously a box of long-stemmed roses at Huma’s door. They’d been correctly sent to her address, but unfortunately, were addressed to another name. As we left, Huma was heading back inside to try to solve the mystery. And this morning, there was very happy news via e-mail: There had, it turned out, only been one phone number with that last name in Huma’s directory. Calling it, she discovered that the house was just down the street, and that a distant son had sent those roses to his 93-year-old mother, who lived with her other son. The local son came by, picked up the flowers, and delivered them to his mom in time for Valentine’s Day.

Silence and I wish you and yours a joyful Valentine’s Day. May you get your heart’s desire and give your beloved his or hers! And most of all, may you remember that the perfect gift is the love that shows itself every day.