Those of you who have been on My Middle-earth for awhile may remember that Bandoras was one of the first news reporters. There is much more to Mr. Bandoras, however, than a love of table-top gaming and a penchant for showing up in the chat room during the radio shows and making clever remarks. This is a man, folks, who is living the hobbit lifestyle more and more each day, from the top of his curly head to the soles of his (size 15w, US!) feet. Recently, Bandoras (also known as James) graciously agreed to sit down on Skype with me for awhile and answer my questions about how a suburbanite became a true lover of the simple life.
Bandoras: My wife and I were looking for a house about 5 years back and found a very good deal on one that was out in a very, very rural area. The town has 200 people in it, at most. We’re 20 miles from a grocery store. I was very reluctant at first, but it was important to my wife because her parents already owned the house next door and she wanted to be close to family – so I relented.
At first, I fought against living this life. I was raised in a very suburban environment. If pipes burst, you called a plumber. If hardwood floors needed to be done, you called the carpenter. That was just how I thought things were done.
Oloriel: Right. That’s pretty typical American life these days.
Oloriel: Okay so there you are, living in the middle of nowhere with your wife’s family.
Bandoras: But my in-laws are very independent minded people and wanted my wife and I to be able to take care of ourselves. So we bought this 100 year old house on a river in the middle of nowhere. It had almost no modern updates. The electrical wiring was still from the 1920s, for example.
Bandoras: My in-laws said “Alright, if you guys want to improve the house, here’s the deal: You do the work, we buy the supplies.” Very, very generous. So, the first thing my wife wanted to do was put hardwood floors in because of the Depression Era lead-based paint.
My father in law said, “Alright.” He showed up the next day with several thousand dollars in wood, an air compressor and a flooring gun. He showed me how to do one room, and left me to my devices. I didn’t really know which end of a hammer to hold when it started. Now, I can lay hardwood floors, hang drywall, repair plumbing. I’m still not real good at painting – but… well… no one’s perfect.
Oloriel: Still, that’s nothing to scoff at – especially the plumbing. I’ve heard some nasty plumbing stories!
Bandoras: Basic plumbing is SO EASY. It’s all a mind game. Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know.
Oloriel: So your father-in-law taught you all of this?
Bandoras: He’s a retired linguist. To keep his roommate from cheating off of his college notes he used to write them in Russian characters, but in Sindarin language structure.
Oloriel: I don’t even know what to say to that. So if he was a linguist, how did he learn everything he taught you?
Bandoras: He learned it himself. He studied books and applied what books said. He’s very methodical and detail oriented. Two things which I am not. I’m very “seat of your pants”. Also, big difference: He’s dedicated, I’m lazy. And he jokes with me: “You’re Young Man. One day, you will know these things and you will be “Middle-Aged Man”.
Oloriel: He sounds awesome.
Bandoras: Everything grew from that. We wanted to avoid the ridiculous taxes on tobacco, so we started growing our own.
Oloriel: Sweet! How do you smoke it?
Bandoras: In a pipe, silly! (Or in a cigarette, in my wife’s case.)
Oloriel: I’m sure she rolls her own.
Bandoras: Yes, she does. It’s really very simple though – you grow it like anything else. Then you hang it to dry for a few months. It turns a lovely golden color. Then you can shred it, or even crumble it. Pack it in a pipe and smoke it.
(Here, he demonstrated the crumbling of the delicious, home-grown leaf. Then we got to talking about other earthly pleasures, like mead…and honey… and bees.)
Oloriel: Okay, so, bees. They scare me.
Bandoras: The bee keeping… I’m not sure how that came about to be honest. My father-in-law and mother-in-law decided they wanted to keep bees as a hobby about 9 months ago. So, some time thereafter, we got bee boxes and bees. Initially, I was phobic of the bees. My attitude was “Anything you have to wear a hazmat suit for and blow smoke on to get near, I don’t want any part of.”
Oloriel: (dons hazmat suit and seals all openings with duct tape)
Bandoras: But, my wife was talking one day and she said one word that changed my mind: “Mead.”
I’ve always been interested in brewing, so I decided that if I wanted to brew the honey into mead, it was only fair that I get involved in the keeping of bees. It’s ridiculously simple, once the hive is going. My father-in-law got the hive going, and my wife does the upkeep. I’m learning now how to feed them, how to tend the comb and it’s all very simple. The bees really take care of themselves.
Oloriel: Have you been stung?
Bandoras: Yes, actually. I’m the only one in the family to be stung, ever. But I was probably 50 feet away and I was going around in the back yard bare-foot as usual and stepped on a dead one. So the bee didn’t really sting me, per se.
Oloriel: That’s some major irony.
Bandoras: Yeah, no kidding! But the bees, believe it or not, are fairly docile.
Oloriel: Is that because of the smoke?
Bandoras: Right now, being late winter/early spring, you DO NOT SCREW WITH THEM. Because they’re running on the last of their winter storage and are very protective. But most of the time, as long as you don’t go poking the Queen, they really aren’t bad. I’m not certain if it’s the smoke or not, but over all they’re very easy to work with. I regularly walk within a foot of the bee boxes (we have 2), and they could care less.
Oloriel: Okay so I see you have mead, so you must have gotten some honey.
Bandoras: No, not yet. I’ve got store-bought mead right now. You have to wait until after the hive’s first winter to harvest. BUT, you can harvest (get this…) up to FIFTY POUNDS of honey from one hive – that’s every year, too. We can store it, or use it, sell it. Local honey, because it’s made with local pollen, can help with allergies. And my mother in law has taken to baking her own bread, so I suspect there will be a bit of that going along with the honey. (Yum!)
We really live this very communal life as a family. On one side is my in-laws and on the other is my wife’s grand parents. I jokingly call the whole area “Brandy Hall.” Living on a river as one big family, like the Brandybucks.We’ll catch fish (sometimes crabs) and literally pull them out of the water and cook them right away.
The thing about My So-Called Hobbity Life, is it’s not like simplicity is somehow easier than any other life. I still have to go out in the morning and get firewood and make a fire to be warm, for example. Each choice in life style has it’s own ups and downs – but in choosing a “Hobbit’s Life”, I really understand why hobbits are so caring, and stout and can (as Tolkien says) endure.
Oloriel: It’s great that you’ve gotten to kind of experience a Tolkien ideal firsthand like this.
Bandoras: The whole hobbit thing… it came about through a kind of natural evolution. I stopped wearing shoes because I have huge (15w) feet, and don’t like to wear foot coverings. I started wearing braces and suspenders because I lost a lot of weight and suspenders are cheaper than belts and can be adjusted. I started growing tobacco for economic reasons.
Oloriel: 15w? You really are a hobbit! (And congrats on losing the weight.)
Bandoras: I’m 6′ 2″ and do not have furry feet. Too much Ent draught apparently makes your foot fur fall out!
So, I stopped wearing shoes and noticed how nice grass is between the toes. So I did it more and more. Soon, I started doing it as much as possible. People think I’m eccentric and when they see me in suspenders, smoking a pipe, with no shoes, the “Bilbo” jokes start. But I smile and take it as a point of pride.
Oloriel: Can I ask, did you lose the weight in part to the lifestyle change?
Bandoras: No. It was a purely medical issue. I was 350 lbs, 54-in waist, with serious sleep apnea. My sleeping heart beat was 95 beats a minute. They told me if I didn’t lose weight, I’d be dead before I was 35. They told me “Your wife will wake up one morning and find you dead in the bed next to her.” That was all I needed to hear. My wife is the absolute center of my world. She is my best friend and she has my heart. I would do anything for her. (As an aside, the first piece of jewellery I gave her was a One Ring replica and I have in the past written her Sindarin poetry.)
She keeps me strong, and sane and she makes life as beautiful as I could ever hope it to be. The one thing she won’t do, however, is let me name our yet unconvieced son Samwise. (We agreed on Samuel.)
Oloriel: You can always just call him Samwise then.
Bandoras: EXACTLY. And the dog is named Pippin – he’s a lil yorkie/caern mix! He’s really friendly, loves everyone, always wants to go on adventures and is dumb as a brick – so it works.
(Finally, we talked a bit about Bandoras’ love for cooking… and he agreed to share not one, not two, but three recipes!)
Bandoras: I hated cooking at first. Started 3 fires. But now, oh! I do love to cook. Big, hearty, hobbity meals. And I LOVE mushrooms.
Oloriel: You should share a recipe!
Bandoras: I have one I call “Hobbit Hash”…
Following this you will find the two recipes that Bandoras has so kindly shared with all of us. But first, I want to close out this interview by saying that having someone like Bandoras in our community is an honor. His willingness to try new things, to learn, and to change, is inspiring, and so is his dedication to his wife. If you’ve got any questions or comments for Bandoras, look him up here on My Middle-earth and strike up a friendship! You won’t regret it, especially after trying some of his hobbit meals…
3 large white potatoes (Which will not be boiled or mashed, nor stuck in a stew)
1 large yellow onion 1 package of kielbasa, sausage, or turkey sausage (whatever you like!)
1/2 a stick of butter
12oz of fresh (never canned, yuck!) mushrooms (you can always add more. I recommend it highly.)
A large sprinkling of sage.
Get a big ol’ cast iron skillet and fire that bad boy up on a High heat. While it’s heating up, cut your potatoes, onion, mushrooms and sausage into small pieces. Keep each ingredient separate. By the time you’re done this, the skillet should be good and hot. Toss that half a stick of butter onto the skillet. As it melts spread it around so that the skillet gets a good buttery glaze. Now turn the stove down to somewhere between Medium and High.
Now, add your potatoes first. Toss them in and spread them evenly around in the pan. Cover the skillet, letting them simmer on Medium heat for a good 20 minutes. Then, add your onions. Cover and simmer on Medium heat again for ten minutes. Now, add the sliced mushrooms. Cover and simmer on medium heat for 5 minutes.
Now, get your Sage and season it up. I love sage and add it to everything, so season to your taste. After you’ve seasoned, add your meat. Turn the stove back up to a Medium-High heat. Stir the whole combination so it cooks evenly, and continue cooking until the meat is cooked through.
Once it’s done, toss it in a bowl and enjoy!
Turkey Bacon Perfection
Here’s a meal for when you’ve decided your arteries have had too easy a time. It’s over-the-top, gratuitous, and greasier than the axle of an Orcish Siege Engine, but damn it’s good.
Six Turkey Breasts (Boneless or not)
16oz of sliced bacon
2 packages of Ranch dip mix
OK. Pre-heat your oven to 375. While it’s preheating, take your turkey breasts and skin them. Throw the skin away. Once you’ve skinned them, lay them out on a baking pan. Next, sprinkle your ranch seasoning over the turkey breasts evenly. Now, carefully wrap each Turkey breast in several strips of bacon. It may take anywhere between two and four strips to wrap each turkey breast and you want to be careful not to spread your ranch seasoning too thin across each one. Once they’re wrapped and in the pan, the oven should be ready to go.
Toss those bad boys in for 65 minutes at 375 degrees. Pull ’em out and serve.
Serves: 2 – 3 Hobbits or Dwarves, 4 – 6 Men or Elves
PARTY TREE PUNCH
Another quick and easy recipe. Here’s a drink for when you can’t get a fine ale in your hands, or still want to be able to stumble back to the ol’ hobbit hole without a headache in the morning:
1 parts Ginger Ale
1 parts Fruit Punch
1/2 part Apple Juice
1/2 part Pear Juice
1/2 part White Grape Juice
Make as much as you need, from a glass to a punch-bowl full! You can add other fruit juices. I recommend against adding darker fruit juices, as they tend to overpower the other flavors. For an extra kick, add a sprinkle of cinnamon to a cup, or a stick of cinnamon to a larger serving.
Serves: Well, that depends on how much you make now doesn’t it?