Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that Partner/Spouse and I move around a bit, and the time has come again. Partner/Spouse has an amazing career opportunity, but it’s on the other side of the country. We have just a few weeks to pack up, move, and get settled. So the blog is going on hiatus until the first of October. We’re moving to an area we already know, where we already have friends and family, where we are already comfortable. Even our dogs know the area, except the puppy, and he’s so goofy he’ll be happy anywhere.
So, in the spirit of food and fun, I’m leaving you for the time being with this set of food funnies.
See you in October!
It’s the dog days of summer. Heat is up; humidity is up; people are panting and dogs are trying not to move at all. In my part of the country, and in many other parts, clouds start building up into huge threatening storm clouds. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, the clouds actually release some rain on us, but usually it fades away be early evening. The air feels thick and going outside is a decision not made lightly.
I was sitting with some friends the other night enjoying the a/c and realizing that while the cloud build up was pretty spectacular, there was no storm in it. I mentioned the dog days of summer and we got to telling dog stories, and for some reason, they all involved food, of some kind, whether dog food or people food (which is really dog food but only after people are done with it.)
The first weekend that we had our first rescued dog, Sporty, we went typically nuts and bought a billion toys, twenty pounds of dog food, and a chew toy that was veggie based. We let him wander around our apartment to get his bearings, sitting on furniture, cuddling in laps, the normal dog stuff. I tossed the chew toy to him and we figured it would last several days. Fifteen minutes later, we couldn’t find it. He’d chewed it and swallowed it. So we just laughed it off and forgot about it. The next day we decided to do the yuppie/puppy thing so we took him to the park to walk him on the leash and get him used to other dogs, that kind of thing. We’re walking along the path when he decides it’s time to squat and take care of business. We watched as this gigantic was of nuclear green toxic waste was expelled from his butt. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. We were freaking, wondering what vet would be open on Sunday, and what could have caused it. Suddenly, we both remembered the green veggie chew toy. We bought no more of those.
Sporty was very very fond of paper towels. He didn’t just shred them. He ate them. I was constantly taking them away from him, or doing everything I could to keep them away from him. He always found them somehow. Most of the time, they didn’t present a problem. Once in a while, I’d have to give him an assist. Good thing I have a strong stomach. One time, I got home a little after my regular time. It was a drizzly, rainy kind of day in Virginia. Neither one of us wanted to be outside, but he hadn’t had a chance to go for several hours so it was necessary. Normally, when it rained, Sporty would just get outside, go, and be done. This particular time, he was taking his time, soaking us both. Finally, he squatted and pooped out an entire wad of paper towels. You could still see the design on the paper. I usually picked up after him, but this time I left the paper towel where it was. A year later, it was still there, and you could still recognize the design.
My first cocker spaniel was named Shasta and she was a crazy little dog. She was the only dog I ever had who would not overeat. I could put food in her bowl and she’d eat what she wanted, leave the rest, and go back for a mouthful when she felt like it. One time, my ex-wife and I noticed that while we were eating in front of the TV, Shasta would scamper into the kitchen, grab a mouthful of kibble, bring it into the living room where we were and drop it on the floor. Then she would proceed to eat it slowly. The only time she did this was when we were eating. She was trying to join us for supper! When she was a puppy and the water dish would be empty, she’d pick it up and carry it to the nearest person and drop it on their foot. Then she’d sit and wait patiently for the person to fill it and put it back so she could get a drink.
My current dogs are all strange little critters. Every meal time is an experience. They’ve gotten very finicky in their eating habits. The puppy eats anything and everything. He scours the floor constantly looking for anything that’s been dropped, or blown inside by the winds. He eats plants outside, and bugs inside. He chases flies, dust bunnies, anything he thinks will fill his stomach. He’s learned to not disturb the other dogs when they have their noses in their food. He won’t eat his dinner until he’s sure that the other dogs don’t have something better than he does. But the other dogs tend to be finicky, too. Jack is like Shasta in that he will eat only when he’s hungry. He’s not overweight, and is a svelte bundle of muscle and fur. But he doesn’t like to eat when the others are watching him. So I have to turn him so he can’t see the other dogs. Dusty, well, Dusty is chubby and wants to eat all the time. He suddenly won’t eat out of a bowl, or a plate. he wants to eat off the floor. I’ll fix a bowl of dog food, add a little chicken or beef, set it down, and he’ll circle the bowl like it’s going to bite him. Doesn’t matter which bowl I give him. He sniffs and looks at me then stands there looking at his bowl. He might take a tentative bite or two, but he doesn’t really eat until it gets poured on the floor. Then he eats everything on the floor, licks the floor, licks his bowl, checks Jack’s bowl, then looks at the puppy eating before he wanders away.
The coolest thing all the dogs do is after they’re done, they come over with their tails wagging to say thank you. Or maybe they’re just checking to see if I’ve got more for them.
This week has been a fairly hectic week. Lots going on. After last week’s post on depression, I got a lot requests to write for other blogs about my own experiences which was fun. I also got a huge outpouring of support from all over, and my thanks go to everyone for that. In the midst of all that, I rewrote the beginning of my novel and have been working on a new outline for it based on input from a friend who took the project on to help me make it better.
But the big news is that Partner/Spouse went to the doctor for some routine tests, etc. They determined that he is pre-diabetic. He has some follow-ups scheduled before they decide it’s for real, but we’ve decided to work on the assumption that he is. So we’re reshaping our eating habits.
Everyone in my dad’s family except for my dad has the disease, so I have a predilection for it. So far, I’ve been lucky that it hasn’t hit me. My younger brother wasn’t so lucky and came perilously close to cashing in his chips. If his wonderful wife had not been there, and recognized what was going on, he would not be here. Because of all this, and previous brushes with the disease, it’s one that I’m pretty familiar with. It’s one that can almost completely managed through diet, except in its most severe forms. Because of that, I’ve always tried to cook and eat as healthy as possible.
Being pre-diabetic explains a lot of partner/spouse’s various symptoms and ills. Using this as the starting point to lead even healthier lives, I went through all the cookbooks I’ve got, and pulled out four specifically for diabetes. Then we went to the bookstore today, and got one on nutrition and meal planning specifically for diabetics. I’m refreshing my knowledge and recreating my recipes for my standbys based on the current needs.
So! What does that mean for the blog and for both of you readers?
I’m going to be sharing the knowledge as I get it, and the changes in recipes. If anyone has any hints or suggestions, please don’t hesitate! I know we’re not the only people facing this. I’m planning to share the successes and failures, in both the food changes and lifestyle changes (no, not THAT lifestyle.)
Today, I made diabetic cookies! Chocolate Chip cookies, at that. I pulled the recipe from the 1001 Recipes for Diabetics. And guess what? The recipe is basically the same recipe I’ve been using all along. So I looked a little closer, and while there are some very minor differences (less salt, less baking soda) the primary difference is portion size. Instead of making cookies by the Tablespoon, these were made by the teaspoon. There were a heck of a lot more cookies, but they were appreciably smaller.
So I worked a little of my kitchen wisdom on them and made them slightly healthier. But only slightly. I added raw sunflower seeds, a few sesame seeds, a tablespoon of bran. So there’s twice the amount of protein, and some water soluble fiber to help with the cholesterol added to your system.
That’s what I want to concentrate on, really, is reinventing (remember that word?) the daily recipes so they are healthier. Most of them are fairly healthy to begin with, but we have to tweak to get us over the edge.
In the meantime, enjoy.
We’ve all heard the old saying, when life hands you lemons make lemonade. I prefer the one that says when life hands you lemons, freeze them and throw them at people. A long time ago, we lived in an area where agriculture was one of the main industries, and citrus was one of the primary crops. We became intimate with the growing season of the trees, the harvesting of the fruit, the varieties and subtleties of flavor in those varieties. When I moved to Virginia, I went to the store one time and was totally flummoxed when I had to actually pay for a tangerine.
In the past few years, I rediscovered the flavors of cooking with citrus. To me the most versatile is the lemon.
Tossing some fresh lemon zest, or juice, into almost any recipe with kick the flavors up a few notches. Mix olive oil, lemon juice, fresh garlic, and fresh oregano together and you have a salad dressing/marinade that’s killer. But there are loads of other things lemon can do.
For instance, if you like to dehydrate foods, lemon can turn into a bunch of different things. Slice the yellow zest in wide strips with a vegetable peeler and dry it out. From there, you can boil it in sugar, let it dry and you have candied lemon peel that can be used as a garnish or a snack.
If you’re really patient (and proficient with the peeler) you can slice the peel off in one long spiral. Dry it and candy it and it turns into an amazing garnish for anything.
Take a lemon and slice it thinly across. Cut different angles to get different shapes. Poke a small hole in the rind of the lemon slice and dry them completely. The pith will turn glass-like, but the slice will still maintain the slight aroma of lemon.
Thread a short piece of string through the hole and place the dried slices around the house as decorations. You can also use these to decorate a holiday tree, create a centerpiece for a table, make a holiday wreath, whatever you like.
You can add various colors, sizes, and shapes by using other citrus fruit and other sizes of the same fruits to mix up the look and add variety.
If you use a microplane to pull the zest off the lemon and dry it out, you can easily turn it into a powder. That powder can then be used anytime you need zest. It won’t have exactly the same pop, but it will provide a subtlety that will enhance almost anything. Add to drinks, plain water, whatever. Kept in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer and it will keep for nearly ever.
Don’t forget to freeze the juice from all this zesting. A standard ice cube tray will handle the juice from about four medium to large lemons. Ever wonder the correct way to juice a lemon? It’s really easy with the right stuff.
First of all, you want to juice into a fine mesh sieve to keep all the seeds and junk out. The sieve should be balanced over a non-reactive bowl. For instance, no aluminum! Plastic, ceramic, etc. will work fine. To get the most juice out of any citrus fruit, there are two schools of thought. First, though, the fruit has to be at room temperature. Then you can either put it in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, or you can roll it vigorously against a flat service. What both of these do is break the membranes to release the juices. Then slice the lemon in half. Some people use muscle power and squeeze like crazy. Others use a mechanical device of some kind. I’ve gone through all the different juicers and here’s my favorite.
You poke the pointy end into the fruit and start twisting while squeezing with the hand that’s holding the fruit. It cleans everything out of the fruit. Once all the lemons have been juice, use a rubber spatula to clean off the juicer into the sieve, then press the pulp and seeds in the sieve to release extra juices. When you’re done, you’ll have a small amount of fibrous pulp and some seeds in the sieve, and a boatload of juice in the bowl.
Freshest Homemade Lemonade:
- 3/4 – 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice (4-6 lemons)
- 3 -4 cups cold water
Heat water and sugar together over low heat until sugar is dissolved completely. Zest one lemon, slice another, juice all lemons until you have one cup (strained as described above.) Remove sugar syrup some heat and add lemon juice and zest. Pour into large pitched and add cold water to taste, minimum of three cups, but four if needed. Add lemon slices and chill pitcher until ready to serve. Good stuff!
Lemons can also be a fun kind of garnish, too. Get a small plastic storage container and fill with one inch of purified water. Freeze until solid. Place a thick lemon slice on top and cover with water, but not enough to float the lemon. Freeze until solid. Add more water to an inch over the lemon. Freeze solid. Unmold and store in plastic freezer bag until use. Float in a punch bowl or pitcher to give drinks a festive look.
A long time ago, I used to live in a small trailer park in my home town located in the middle of the orange groves. The owners were family friends and treated me like family. One day, I had gone to the office to collect my mail and the oldest granddaughter was there watching the front sales area where fresh fruit and juices were sold. She was eating some fruit and offered me some.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s a white grapefruit, one of the first from our new trees.”
“Oh, no thanks. Grapefruit is the only citrus I don’t like. I don’t like the flavor at all.”
“Really? This one’s really sweet.” She handed me a section so I popped it into my mouth.
It was lemon! Pure lemon! Unadulterated, straight off the tree, no rind or zest, LEMON! I gagged, choked, swallowed, and managed to get the thing down my throat and out of my mouth. She laughed through the whole thing.
But I still like lemons.
Today’s post is not about food. By now, everyone has heard of the death of Robin Williams. He suffered from depression which led to an addictive personality. He chose to end his life on Monday, the 11th. A lot has been said about depression in the past few days, and I hope more will be said in the upcoming days. Most people are talking about how said it is that he couldn’t reach out for help. Some are saying how sad that he felt the need to end his life. A few are talking about how cowardly it was for him to take his life, that he didn’t die of a disease but by choice. I’d like to share something I’ve only told a few people before.
I’ve battled depression my whole life. I’ve never been professionally treated for it; I’ve never taken drugs for it, unless you count chocolate; I’ve never had therapy for it apart from long talks with sympathetic friends about other subjects. Oddly, I also have an optimistic personality and with everything I’ve experienced and read, I manage my depression pretty well. But every day I have to decide if today is a day that I beat the dragon or the dragon beats me.
Depression isn’t something that makes sense. It’s not a physical disease, but it can make you hurt physically. It’s not strictly an emotional disease although it can reduce you to tears in no time flat. It’s not completely a mental disease, but it will capture your brain in a spiral that sucks your soul down.
I once spent several months forcing myself to get out of bed each day. All the best advice said tomorrow will be better, so I’d wait until 12:01 and say, “Well, it’s tomorrow, and it’s not any better.” Then I’d go to sleep in despair.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I weighed in at about 130 pounds while standing just shy of 6 ft. I wasn’t eating enough because eating just seemed pointless. I would eat only when others were watching me so they wouldn’t know how much I was hurting.
I once wrote a poem I titled “The Color of Loneliness.” To me, it was indigo, dark and impenetrable.
That’s the deal with depression. It makes you fell completely helpless. It makes you feel weak. It makes you feel empty. It makes you feel like the entire universe is empty, there is no joy. It makes you feel “not good enough.” It doesn’t matter what you know about yourself, or what others tell you about yourself. The dragon is always there telling you nothing is worth it. The pain of depression can be overwhelming. It can engulf you so that all you can see is the dragon and nothing else.
I was going through my ultra religious phase at the time and learning that as far as God was concerned, I was worthless. Even the lesson “But I love you anyway” got twisted by the dragon to mean the exact opposite of what was intended. I would huddle in my bedroom for hours at a time just shaking in despair until some obligation would force me to get up and get out. I put on my social mask and played like everything was perfect in my life, despite the fact that I was broken in ways I thought no one could understand. Even those people who came close to suspecting were put off by my “You don’t understand.”
Every time I bought myself something new, whether it was a book or a shirt or a boxed pizza kit, the dragon was always there whispering I didn’t deserve it.
Finally, one day, I decided it was time to end the pain. I don’t remember how I was going to do it. I tried to get what small affairs I had in order. There wasn’t much. I was still young, barely in my twenties, so I had no appreciable debt. I had even fewer belongings. Really, all I had to do was decide the date and time, and write the note.
Death, as such, has never scared me. I’ve always believed that life is terminal; you’re not going to get out of it alive. But the manner of death has always bothered me because I don’t like pain. Who does? Apart from the Marquis de Sade?
So, it came time to write the note. And that’s where I stopped. How in hell could I explain this to anyone so they’d understand and not be upset? I couldn’t. I tried for days and was left with nothing. And for the first time in my life, I felt hope. I felt the dragon go silent. I started wondering why it was so hard to write that goodbye note, and the only answer I could come up with was that I was here for a reason. I just had to find that reason.
I still battle the dragon every day, but I’m happy, or fortunate, to say that most days I win. Once in a great while, the dragon takes hold, but I’m a little wiser to his antics now and can usually shake him off.
Millions of people suffer from depression, clinical or otherwise. There are thousands of groups in our communities, online or physical, designed to help every facet of society. One that means the most to me is The Semicolon Project.
The semicolon is a grammatical device that looks like a comma beneath a period. It connects two sentence clauses into one sentence. It can also act as a comma separator in lists where the items are longer than single word. It means that the author chose not to end the sentence. I draw one on my left wrist (I’m right handed, so . . . . ) periodically to remind myself that I chose not to end the sentence, and to help others not to end their sentences.
Ending your sentence, or giving in to the dragon, is not an act of despair or cowardice. I’ll never attempt to judge another’s pain or their decision regarding it. I’ll mourn the loss. I’ll continue teaching and reaching out. I’ll do what I can to make this place better until I get to the other place. I simply pray and hope they’re in a better place.
To Robin William, if you know what I’m saying, you gave us laughter, and fun, and tears, and moments of gasping joy. Thank you and please be at rest. Your dragon is gone.
With heartfelt gratitude and immeasurable delight, I say again: