Post # 65 Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2012 at 10:27 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 65 Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween and Happy New Year!  I’ve always looked on Halloween as the celebration of candy.  It’s one of those times of the year when the food defines the feast.  It’s all about candy, and getting as much as you can.  Kids go from door to door begging and amassing vast quantities of the stuff.  Adults have parties and indulge in child-like behaviors for a night.  Halloween has been celebrated all over the world in various forms for many years dating back at least to the time of Robert Burns (mid 1700s) and Shakespeare (late 1500s).

The phrase “Trick or Treat” and the custom of going door to door begging for candy define the Halloween tradition here in America.  The begging started in the late 1800s, and the phrase probably originated in the western states in the early 1900s before making its way east.  The costumes add anonymity and date back to celtic days.  Trick or Treating was a scattered, localized event, but after WWII, it became a national craze.  Many traditions and customs and myths grew from it.

First, when the custom started of going from door to door asking for treat, candy was seldom part of the offer.  Usually, people offered fruit that was plentiful at the time of year, mostly apples, and baked goods such as cookies or cupcakes.  Popcorn was also a traditional treat and was dressed in many ways, but the popularity of the popcorn ball made it a regular treat.  Popped corn was added to a sweet boiled syrup, or boiled sugar and formed by hand into balls and allowed to harden.  The salty and sweet treat was a big hit.

Gradually, convenience and safety concerns overtook the homemade quality of the celebration and individually wrapped candy became the treat of choice.  The icons of the celebration became those images that scared us most.  Witches, ghosts, monsters abounded at this time of year.  It was partly because it was getting dark earlier and clouds riding across the moon showed images of flying creatures, but also because the natural night creatures like bats and owls were out earlier to catch their prey.  From the safety of their indoor fireplaces, people love to be scared and Halloween serves that purpose wonderfully.

The legends of Halloween, old and new, seem logical enough to be based in fact, but seldom are.  One of the safety concerns about the treats at this time are that nefarious people put razorblades in apples for children to bite into.  No reported case of this happening ever took place in the U.S.  In the sixties when drugs were prevalent and the national conscious became aware of the danger, the rumor was that some candy was laced with acid, or LSD, or some other type of drug.  This might have been true for the drug user/seller to pass the drug from supplier to user in an innocent looking manner, but never happened to children at Halloween.  Can you imagine any drug user/seller giving away such an expensive commodity to a child?

But, there are real safety concerns with the treats that are handed out.  Kids have food allergies.  Homemade treats aren’t subject to health standards.  Even the candy industries have taken a hit.  Today, you mostly see the major chocolate manufacturers putting their treats in small serving sizes to hand out.  When I was kid and did my begging door to door, you got a lot of different kinds of candy.   I remember that chocolate was rare and highly sought after.  If you got a small box of milk duds (chocolate covered caramel balls) you had scored!  We had piles of jawbreakers, candy corn, peanut butter taffy, salt water taffy, dumdums, sweetarts, bubble gum, lifesavers, candy pumpkins, tootsie rolls, tootsie pops, sugar daddies, sugar babies, peach stones, jujubes, boxes of dots, pixie stix, licorice in all shapes and sizes, candy stix, hard candy in every flavor and color imaginable, gum drops, lemon drops, caramels, and once in a while M&Ms.  And I mean literally piles of the stuff.  There was enough candy to keep Willie Wonka happy for weeks!  Every kid had a veritable candy store in a bag!  It was easy to be generous at first, but as the candy dwindled, hoarding began.  I don’t think I ever had a piece of Halloween candy left by Thanksgiving.

My least favorite candy (and it still is today) is candy corn.  This was a sweet confection with no discernible flavor except sugar in the shape of a kernel of corn and dyed in the colors of Halloween.  When I was kid, thankfully it could only be found at Halloween.  Now, it can be had at any time of the year.

Are you going to watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” tonight?  That shows what Halloween once was for kids, and what people are striving for it to become again.  In this age of a coming zombie apocolypse, watching Snoopy fight the Red Baron might be a more pleasant way to spend an evening.

Halloween is a lot of fun, and a not too serious time of year to celebrate, dress up, cut loose, and eat candy.  It’s another way to blow off steam after the harvest and prepare for the very serious business of surviving the winter.  But mostly, it’s fun.  I’ll leave you now with a Halloween invocation:

And a little scare:

Enjoy your candy!

Post # 64 Happy New Year!

October 29, 2012 at 2:08 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 64 Happy New Year!

We’re just a few days away from All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween.  In the spirituality that I choose to follow, this day is known as Samhain.  It’s pronounced several different ways depending on where you’re from.  I pronounce it Sow-enn.  It’s a celtic term and it designates one of the major days on the calendar.  It marks the beginning of the year.

This is the time of the final harvests.  Nuts and fruits, gourds and squash, these are abundant at this time of year.  Days are noticeably shorter, and moments that were filled with sunshine and warmth are now noted by darkness and cold.  Animals that aren’t thinking about hibernating are starting to show their winter colors.  Metabolisms are changing, even for us, as we start to prepare for the darker times.  Houses seems brighter and more attractive; bonfires are larger and scarier; even weather is a little more dramatic.

This is the time of the earth colors.  Leaves are resplendent in golds, reds, organges, yellows, but they all turn a dusky brown when they fall to the ground.  The leaves which were once so vibrant and green are now starting the other time of their cycle as they die and fall and doing so protect the tree.  The fallen leaves become a natural mulch and help keep cold and frost away from the roots.  Eventually they break down and provide nourishment to the tree.

This time of year, as the season changes, we can see the dark more clearly, and seem to be able to see the things in the dark more clearly.  Images of ghost, ghouls, and monsters are more readily seen and believed.  Naked branches in the moonlight and shadow become fingers reaching for us as though ready to grab our souls given the chance.  At this time of year, everyone loves a good scary story.

We’ve already entered the time of waning daylight, but it’s more pronounced now.  The actual shortening of the day can be seen.  We can start marking the days until warmth appears again and everything that seems dead now renews itself in bright sparkling green.

Apples are a fruit with a secret.  They are harvested at this time, and the freshest apples are the ones you pick yourself.  When I was much younger, we used to drive to Vermont every fall and pick three bushels of apples to keep on the back porch all winter.  Nature’s refrigerator kept them from spoiling until the very end of winter.  The secret of the apple is in the slicing.  Cut it from top to bottom and you can see the vague shape of a heart or woman’s womb.  Cut it across and you can see a five pointed star.  Candied apples were often given as treats at this time of year in less suspicious times.

Pumpkins are everywhere now.  It’s hard to go into a store, or drive past a corner without seeing pumpkins of various sizes for sale.  The pumpkin’s big appeal is hollowing it out and carving various shapes in its thick hull.  Set a light in the center and it shines out creating an image in the pumpkin that can be scary, funny, or delightful, whatever you intend.  The pumpkin itself can be eaten in many ways and is always delicious.  Pumpkin soup is one of my favorites.  Thick and hearty, it stays with you keeping you warm on a cold night.

In celebration of the new year, on ritual I perform as this time is the wish ceremony.  Some people wait until Yule, or the winter solstice since that’s closest to the calendar new year.  I prefer Samhain for various reasons.  Light a fire.  It doesn’t have to be a big fire.  You can choose whatever method of creating the fire you choose.  While the fire is burning, take a small piece of paper of any color you like and concentrate on the spirituality of the Universe.  Allow your consciousness to expand beyond yourself until you can feel the stars moving around you.  Think about what it is that you most want and write that on the paper.  When the time seems right to you, fold the paper tightly and place it in the fire.  As the paper is consumed by the flame, allow your consciousness to return to its normal perception.  Say goodbye to the stars knowing that your communing with them is not the last.  Once the fire has burned out, select the choicest piece of wood that isn’t consumed and save it for the next year’s fire.

I wanted to share this now since Samhain is only two days away and this gives you time to research and prepare anything special you might want to do for that night.

I’ll leave you now with a story from a visit to China I took several years ago.  I was holding a training session with a large group and made it a question and answer session.  We had a rousing two and a half hour session with a lot of questions being asked and most of them being answered.  We were nearing the end of the session and there were no more questions, so I said, “Come on.  This is your time.  You can ask me about anything.”  Of course, I meant anything about the job.  One young lady timidly raised her hand and asked, “Why does America have such a scary holiday as Halloween?”

Luckily, I knew the answer.

Post # 63 Safety Under Glass

October 26, 2012 at 10:01 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 63 Safety Under Glass

See what I did there?  It’s sort of play on words.  “Pheasant Under Glass” which is often referenced “high-class” dish ordered by the rich and elite becomes “Safety Under Glass” which is today’s food topic.  Get it?  Never mind.

Food storage is a subject near and dear to my heart.  Being able to buy food in bulk and store it safely for however long I’m going to need it is something I struggle with constantly.  Buying food in bulk is cheaper in the long run.  Also, cooking larger quantities and storing it for later use is more efficient.  It’s just as easy to make a gallons of soup as it is to make two servings.  Way back in the day, people didn’t have too many storage options.  It was common to buy what you were going to need for that day and the next but no more than that.  The most common food storage for the long-term was cans.  Even that could be problematic.  If one small spore of mold or bacteria got into the process, the contents could turn deadly.

With the arrival of modern refrigeration, food storage became easier to manage.  Ever wonder why we sometimes refer to it as an “ice box”?  Before modern refrigerants became accessible to consumers, the only way to keep foods cool was with ice.  Nearly every home had a box with a door on it that had a pan at the top and shelves below.  A large chunk of ice was placed in the pan and cooled the interior.  Of course, the ice melted and had to be replaced frequently.  There was a thriving business of ice men who drove wagons of ice around neighborhoods selling chunks of ice for the ice box.  Then science discovered ways to cool things without ice and in a closed system.  Ice boxes that actually used ice went away and modern refrigerators took their place.  The modern “fridge” has evolved and grown into the primary food storage system for most industrialized countries.

Freezing food is certainly convenient.  Nearly everything lends itself to being frozen.  But there are other ways to store food safely.  One of the wonders of the space age and modern chemistry is a neat substance called plastic wrap, or cling film.  Most spoilage of food takes place because it’s exposed to air and airborne contaminants.  Provide a barrier between food and air and you have a storage system!  Prior to the discovery of plastics, the barrier was paper that had been treated with wax, or else metal that had been milled so thin it came in rolled sheets.  Plastic replaced most of that.  I remember as a kid in grade school opening my lunch to find PBJ wrapped in wax paper.  The edges were always stale.  Wrapped in plastic, that never happens.

However, it’s not easy to wrap soup in plastic film.  Gets very messy!  So was born another industry, the plastic, airtight carton.  Originally, the primary maker was Tupperware.  How many people remember the commercial about burping your Tupperware?  Now you can find the stuff everywhere.  You can re-purpose empty margarine tubs.  You can re-use empty soup cartons when you order chinese takeaway.  The stuffs everywhere.  Some are better than others for being airtight and surviving either the microwave or dishwasher.  And there’s a whole new challenge of where to store all those #$%@#$ containers.  I clean out our fridge once a week and dispose of any leftovers that remain untouched or unidentifiable.  I often will open what I thought was a tub of butter only to find a single spoonful of something I can’t remember.

Plastic bags started out as relatively simple things.  Plastic envelopes that were sealed with twist ties.  The came an easy and fun folding method that let air in and kept nothing out.  Then someone invented a radical new system called a zip-lock.  Works great but can be difficult to use if it’s not created properly.  Some are color coded so you can see immediately if the zipper has caught.  Some use touch so you can tell as you’re zipping the back shut if it’s worked.  Some have extra tabs at the top that you pull and it does the zipping for you.  With a variety of sizes and thicknesses, these are among the handiest of the plastic storage device around.

Recently, there’s been a trend to make food storage not only easier, but more decorative.  Go figure.  People want to display food as art.  In my kitchen, I have several matching tall plastic containers that hold sugar, AP flour, and bread flour.  I have to label them so I don’t confuse their contents.  I have a decorative glass jar with a metal hinge and lock for the lid that stores small pasta.  Whenever I have just a small amount of macaroni or some other bite-size pasta left in a box or bag, it goes into this jar to create a mixed pasta jar that looks nice.

My favorite old style storage jar is a huge heavy glass canister with a lid.  It holds my sandwich rolls when they’ve cooled down.  The lid is heavy and keeps air out.  It’s simple lines are old-fashioned and are reminiscent of an 1880s general store.  I can see at a glance how many rolls are left and if I need to make any.  I can tell how fresh they are, and can tell if they are starting to look a little dicey and need to be tossed.  For $12, it was a great investment.

Well, there you have it.  Some info on storing food and why.  Let me know if you have any questions and as always:

Enjoy!

Post # 62 “Give a Dog Another Bone . . . “

October 24, 2012 at 11:31 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 62 “Give a Dog Another Bone . . . “

Okay, here’s the continuation from the previous post.  But before I get started, I’d like to offer a short explanation about something.  A couple of readers have commented that the posts are too short.  If they were longer, I could add more detail about what I was posting about.  I try to keep the posts at around 1000 words for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is that it’s manageable.  The second reason is that I don’t want to bore my readers by being long-winded.  Things that might interest me to the point of writing several thousand words my bring my readers to tears trying to slog through everything to get to the nugget of information that’s actually useful.  One thousand words is about four double-spaced pages in the writing world.  It seems like enough.  If anyone has an opinion about shorter or longer, please let us know!  I’ll do my best to please everyone.  Now, on to the doggy post!

In the last post, I talked a lot about how what we feed our dogs can have a big impact on the quality of their lives.  Just like humans, dogs can have allergies and sensitivities to the things they eat, and the things they encounter in their daily lives.  My terrier, The Terror, seems to have an allergy to grass.  How in the heck to you keep a dog off the grass when your back yard is grass?  The answer is, you don’t.  So you try other things to help him out.  He gets two or three baby strength antihistamines with his meals every day to help control the itch, and he gets rubbed with an anti-itch lotion every evening.  He loves the lotion!  But it’s possible that it’s his diet that’s causing the reaction.  Puppy kibble is made up of specific nutrients from specific things to keep a puppy healthy and full of energy.  In a couple of months, he’ll be off the puppy chow.  I’m wondering if the itching will disappear then.

Occasionally, our dog will suffer from either sensitive stomach or diarrhea.  [side note:  I have a friend who has dogs but hates discussing poop or pee his dogs emit.  I finally said to him “You’ve been a pet owner far too long to be this squeamish when talking about a normal body function.  Get over it.”]  I watch the dogs very closely.  It’s easy to see in their demeanor and in their eyes when they’re uncomfortable or not feeling good.  So I change their diet.  I make up some bland rice and mix it about half and half with their ordinary dog food.  If that doesn’t clear up the symptoms, they go to straight rice for a day.  If that doesn’t clear up the symptoms, they go to the vet.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, rice will clear up whatever is going on in their gut.   I’m not saying don’t take them to the vet if you’re concerned.  I’m saying that for transient symptoms, diet can work wonders.

Most of the time, when a dog has a diet sensitivity, it’s going to be to wheat or wheat products.  You’ll have to do some looking, but you can find dog food that’s made primarily from corn or rice.  Try the rice based foods first.  They tend to be more available and less expensive.  Try to get foods that have a good amount of protein, as well.  If you can’t find them, you can add protein to your dog’s diet by adding an egg or egg yolk to their food once or twice a week.  When my dogs get finicky (The Terror never gets finicky.  His biggest problem is getting the food down fast enough!) which they do fairly often, I scramble an egg so it’s still moist, split it in two for the two dogs, and mix it thoroughly into their food so they get egg flavor with every single piece of kibble.  They like that a lot!  Their little tail stubs are a blur from wagging so hard.

My dogs eat at about the same time every day.  This helps keep them regular in their pooping habits, and it tells me if they’re feeling okay.  If they devour their meal like they’re starving, it’s a good thing.  If they look like they want to eat, but can’t, then I know something is wrong.  I feed them a half cup of kibble at about 6am.  Then at noon, they get one or two dog biscuits.  At 5pm they get about 3/4 cup of kibble.  Finally at 9pm, they get one dog biscuit with a little dab of peanut butter on it.  The peanut butter gives them some extra protein and a little oil to help their skin.  The Terror gets his antihistamine at 5 and at 9.

Dog biscuits are highly flavored (to dogs that is) dry cookie-like things.  They can be purchased or they can be made at home.  The benefit of making them at home is that you can control the ingredients that are going into them.  If your dog has a food allergy, you can keep that ingredient out of the biscuit with no real harm to the biscuit or the dog.  They even have dog bone shaped cutters if you want to make them look like regular dog biscuits.  Just be aware that if you make them at home, they won’t have preservatives, etc. in them so they won’t last as long.  If you get into a routine in making them, you won’t have to make a lot each time so they won’t spoil.  I’ve included a basic recipe to the right, but you can add to and play around with it if you think your dog is getting bored.

Getting bored is the trick.  When a dog is a finicky eater, he’s really just bored with his diet.  I’d get bored if I ate the same damn thing every damn day at the same damn time.  So I try to mix it up a little for the pals.  After all, they really are worth it.

Enjoy!

Post # 61 “Give a Dog a Bone . . .”

October 22, 2012 at 12:30 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

First off, I goofed on the numbering sequence last Friday but it’s been corrected and the current numbering scheme is the right one.  Oooooops!  Now, on to the post!

“This old man, he played one, he played knick knack on my thumb, With a knick knack paddy whack give a dog a bone, this old man came rolling home!”

Guess what today’s post is about?  Feeding your dog!  Yup!  That’s right.  Feeding your dog.  I’m not talking about giving your pal table scraps (not a good idea ever), or making gourmet foods costing a ton of money.  I’m also not talking about reaching into a bag of kibble and putting into a bowl on the floor for your canine friend.  I’m talking about cooking for your dog in a way that meets his or her dietary needs which are basically the same as ours.  Oh!  From this point on, I will refer to your pet in the masculine gender.  My dogs are all males so it’s what I’m used to.  No disrespect intended but saying he/her or he/she all the time is awkward.

Okay, here’s the wrong way to feed your dog.  About a hundred years ago when I was in my late teens, we had a neighbor couple down the street.  They were retired and augmented their social security by selling food from one of those silver, flip side sandwich trucks.  For a while, I had the “enviable” job of cleaning it out every afternoon when they returned.  It was an okay job, and they paid me a lot to do it.  When I was finished, I would knock on their front door and have them inspect it to make certain that I hadn’t forgotten anything and to see if there was something else they wanted done.  Invariably, I would find the old lady sitting on the couch with either a beef roast or a cooked chicken.  She’d be shredding the thing with busy fingers while watching some talk show on the television.  I assumed she was prepping the food that they would selling the next day.  The old man would be lounging in his recliner in a t-shirt and undershorts with a beer.  One or the other would come out and inspect, then pay me.  Each of them would always give me extra with instructions not to tell the other that they were doing so.  One of the tasks that I would do each day was walk their dogs.  They had two of the fattest chihuahuas you ever saw.  Both dogs were white and they looked like overstuffed sausages with legs at each corners and a tail.  They were so fat they couldn’t open their eyes all the way.  The didn’t walk or run; they waddled from side to side.  I found out from my mom that the food I thought she was prepping for sale was given to the dogs!  Not just a small portion of it to be doled out through the week, but every bit of it that day.  Each dog got either half a chicken or half a roast!  I don’t know about you, but I’m a grown man six-foot tall weighing in at around 200 pounds and I can’t eat half a chicken.  But she thought she was doing right by the dogs and it wasn’t my place to say any different.  But not healthy for the dogs, hence their severe extra poundage.

My dogs are moderately overweight.  Part of that is the breed.  I love cocker spaniels.  I have ever since I saw “Lady and the Tramp” from Disney.  Jack is not overweight as he gets plenty of exercise with Buddy, our only non-spaniel.  He’s a Boston Terrier and we call him the Terror.  He’s still a puppy and has that boundless energy of youth.  Keeps Jack going so they both are trim.  Dusty, the other spaniel, just ignores them both and takes little exercise.  He’s overweight but it’s a good overweight.  He’s not unhealthy, just lazy.  But he had a very tough life before we got him so we tend to spoil him.   However, none of my dogs get table scraps, and none of my dogs get half a chicken, de-boned or otherwise.

Dogs are like people.  If they get overweight, it can lead to other discomforts and diseases.  Dogs are subject to cholesterol problems.  Dogs can be diabetic.  Dogs can get hypertension, and they can get liver or kidney diseases.  My dad used to say that it was a good thing to have a dog skip a meal once in a while.  I know it’s difficult, but it doesn’t kill them anymore than it would kill us to skip a meal once in a while.  I skip meals routinely.  Mostly breakfast.  I’m just not a morning eater.  Unless it’s donuts.

Dogs have the same basic nutritional requirements that we have, too.  They need to eat a well-balanced diet.  Their protein needs tend to be higher due to their more feral metabolism.  They need vegetables and starches same as we do.  People often think when they see a dog eating grass that he’s trying to throw up to clean himself out.  What he’s really doing is having a salad before dinner.  The reason they throw up is because they don’t know when to stop.  A dog will also eat the poop from another animal that’s high in vegetable matter.  My brother used to have a rabbit and he never had to clean under the cage because all the neighborhood dogs would fight over the rabbit pellets.  ‘Nuff said.

It’s common mythology that dogs eat bones and like them.  However, it’s not really good for them.  What they’re really doing is eating meat scraps, gristle, tendons, and bone marrow.   The actual bone matter is not good for them, especially if they’ve never eaten a bone before.  The bone can splinter no matter what kind it is and lodge in their throats or perforate their intestines.  Even if that doesn’t happen, the bone matter is indigestible and runs through them causing diarrhea which can be severe at times.

Dogs can also have allergies, some of them food based.  Same as humans, dogs can have allergies to wheat or gluten or any other grain or starch.  It can lead to itching and scratching, sometimes so severe it draws blood.  It can also lead to weight loss from an inability to digest.

I’ve had two dogs who loved to eat paper towels.  One was my second cocker spaniel, Sporty.   He was a rescue from a bad situation so I tended to spoil him a little.  But I couldn’t keep paper towels away from him.  Paper tissues were also fair game.  I remember one time when I was walking him, he squatted to poop and an entire paper towel came out.  It had gone through his entire intestinal tract intact.  I could still see the pattern on the paper towel!  Buddy, The Terror, also likes to eat paper towels.  One time I went into the backyard to check on him (he likes to lie in the sun since he has very little fur) and the yard looked like a snowstorm had hit.  There were bits of paper towel everywhere!

I’m going to end here, but I’ll continue with the next post.  I’ll discuss what you can feed your dog and how to cook for them if you’ve a mind to.

Enjoy!

BTW – The pics are:  Dusty,  Jack,  Buddy

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