Saturday, November 7, 2009

Autumn Pictures

My husband's tortilla soup was made with some of the last vegetables from our garden. He made the green salsa on top from scratch with some particularly beautiful tomatillos from a friend's garden.

Some of our last tomatoes were already drooping toward the ground when this photo was taken in late October.

But we were still harvesting a few tomatoes at the beginning of November, which almost never happens in Portland.

The street we live on is still all decked out in autumn leaves.

Baking with James Peterson

James Peterson is the author of a series of cookbooks on single themes, such as Splendid Soups, Fish and Shellfish, and Vegetables. Each book is much like the others in quality: thorough, extremely helpful, beautiful to look at, and incredibly reliable. I'm understating the case, however, and if you don't believe me you should check out his long string of awards from the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals for additional testimony to the excellence of his work.

His latest book, Baking is no exception. I've cooked just one recipe out of it so far, the apricot quick bread. He suggests replacements for the apricots, and I went with dried cherries and pecans. The bread produced has a bit drier and has more integrity than many quick bread recipes, so it slices well and holds up a little better. Oh, and of course it's absolutely delicious. This combination of cherries and nuts photographs (see below) a little like its notorious cousin the fruitcake, so you might need to take my assessment on faith until you can try out this recipe for yourself.

I'm looking forward to replacing my library copy of this excellent book with a copy of my very own.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Miracle Wheels

My dog Muttley has mobility issues. Due to a combination of hip displasia and some neurological problems, her left rear leg has become unreliable. She can walk on it, but only on some surfaces and only for a few steps.

When she was younger she was incredibly energetic, a terror to anyone who knocked on our door, and the scourge of smaller animals. So it's been particularly difficult for her to put up with our efforts to help her around. And by "difficult" I mean that she thinks we're incredibly annoying, not nearly reliable enough, and hopelessly slow. For our part, both my husband and I were exhausted with the effort.

Enter Walkin' Wheels, a wheelchair designed for disabled pets. It took us about a week to get Muttley to use hers, but the training effort paid off, and now she loves her wheels and relies on them. Every day her walks become a little longer. But don't take my word for it: just check out this video of her returning from a walk through our neighborhood. She's starting to get a little tired, but some of her enthusiasm still shows:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Raspberry Crepes for Breakfast

Freshly picked raspberries

Some very kind friends recently gave us some raspberry bushes. We thought it was a single bush, but turns out they gave us several. We mistakenly planted them all in one little space, but miraculously the bushes nevertheless keep producing berries. They produced an earlier crop during regular raspberry season, and now they've produced another bunch of unexpected and so therefore doubly appreciated berries.

I picked the bunch you see just above and put them in a crepe for breakfast. I still had some whipped cream left from the banana nutella crepes, so I put that in too, making it delicious and probably too sweet for breakfast. But somehow I soldiered on and ate them anyway.

Raspberry crepes

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rose City Rollers Number 3 in the West

We had a great time watching the Rose City Rollers all-star team, the Wheels of Justice, compete with Duke City's Munecas Muertas this Saturday night in Portland. Above you see Miss Behavin' carrying the flag for the singing of the Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of the game in which Portland defeated the New Mexico team 154 to 69. RCR particularly dominated the ring in the first half.

Watching the Wheels of Justice defense made it easy to see how these women pushed their way to number three in the regional rankings. I'm acquainted with many of the best blockers from their usual roles as jammers on other Rose City Rollers teams, so I was surprised at how well they came together to form a tight defensive network. Typically, one or two blockers would move to freeze out Duke City, Duke City would get around one or both, only to be instantly confronted with another Rose City Roller who appeared as if from nowhere. In the first half, Duke City could barely get their talented jammers through to score even a few points.

Of course the Rose City jammers were excellent too, particularly Scratcher in the Eye, from our favorite team the Heartless Heathers, Rhea DeRange, and White Flight. Below you see the two jammers lined up for the game's first jam. That's Kamikaze Kim from Duke City in the green, and Rhea DeRange from Rose City in the black and purple.

Banana Nutella Crepes

Dessert expert Gale Gand's new cookbook, "Gale Gand's Brunch!: 100 Fantastic Recipes for the Weekend's Best Meal" is so good that I should return it to the library as soon as possible, before I'm tempted to cook again.

Now I don't want to mislead you. In spite of Chef Gand's expertise with sugar, this is a brunch book, and many of the recipes are not sweet. However, the recipe I chose to make this weekend, the banana nutella crepes, are so full of sugary, chocolaty goodness that I served them as an after-dinner dessert. I also made the nutella, a blend of roasted hazelnuts and chocolate, from scratch, using another recipe in the book.

You can see the consequences below. You'll want to put a less nutella and more bananas and whipped cream on your crepe, and certainly make them thinner. In fact, that's the way I made the rest of the batch, but this particular crepe looked best in the picture, probably because the eye always wants more nutella than the stomach can reasonably be expected to digest.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pancake Breakfast

Multi-grain Pancakes

I got this excellent recipe for multi-grain pancakes out of Pam Anderson's recent cookbook The Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight and Eating Great. The pancakes have a mix of all-purpose flour, cornmeal, oatmeal, and whole wheat flour yet manage to taste so good I could eat them every day. I do wonder, however, how I'm supposed to lose weight eating food that tastes this good, even if it is good for me. But I am counting on these excellent pancakes to save my arteries (note that the butter in the picture is faux) from my sudden obsession with omelets.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Omelet Evolution II

A big improvement over my last omelet, this actually tasted like a real French omelet. Sporting a delicate texture on the outside, it was somewhat creamy inside. I achieved the improvement by turning the heat down slightly and stirring in a spiral fashion from the outside toward the middle. The spiral stir made it so that the middle, which is the last part to cook through, is stirred last, and I think that's how Jacques does it (time to study the video again).

You can see the only problems in this picture: it stuck to the pan, and the process of working it loose made it a little ragged. Very likely I overcompensated for the excess of butter last time by not using enough this time, and that caused the sticking.

However, while my omelet skills seem to be improving, I have to work to make sure that my health doesn't take off in the opposite direction. As I attempt to improve, I've vowed to eat omelets only once a week and ideally no more than twice. Once I've become practiced enough to create a good-looking omelet without added ingredients, I also plan to fill them with copious amounts of vegetables. I hope these precautions prove adequate, but I'll alert you if my weight or my blood cholesterol suddenly spike upward.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Diet for Canine Cushings: natural vs. commercial pet food

If your dog has Cushings, there are several sources for dietary information on the Internet recommending that you abandon commercial dog food in favor of home prepared meals. I'm writing this because I want other pet owners to know that while this can work very well for your pet, under certain circumstances you need to stick to commercial pet food.

At the time we discovered that our dog Muttley has Cushings, we switched her over to home-prepared pet food. I tried to follow the advice from in particular, since they seem to be the only authoritative source that also manages to explain the bias of their information:

"The only dietary recommendations I can find are in Small Animal Clinical Nutrition III by Morris, et. al. It says to feed a high protein, low fiber, low fat, low purine diet. It suggests that it is important not to oversupplement calcium. It is also important to make sure potassium levels are adequate and that sodium is not restricted in any way if mitotane (o'p'DDD) is being used to treat the hyperadrenocorticism. Also, it is important not to restrict water intake, as you might imagine. Feeding Hill's i/d diet is one way to meet the requirements for these things. One of the book's authors is the son of the veterinarian who founded Hill's, so there may be a little bias in the recommendations, at least as to the recommended diet."

As per their advice, I stuck as strictly as possible to low-purine, high-protein foods when preparing her meals, and the results were fairly immediate and impressive. Muttley was more alert, and more importantly her thirst and subsequent urination problems were reduced to a manageable level. Since we were in the process of waiting for a complete diagnosis (adrenal vs. pituitary Cushings) and then for a prescription for trilostane which is only available in our area through the mail, we were lucky that the home-made food worked so well. In the meantime, needless to say, she loved that food, and so did our other dogs.

However, Muttley, like many Cushings sufferers, is an older dog, and her health is delicate. We've found out through trial and error that the home-made food causes harmful side effects. She's had several bouts with both diarrhea and constipation, which can be very problematic for any senior animal, but which proved especially difficult for her, given her mobility problems. I'm sure there must be some way to give her exactly the amount of fiber she needs naturally. However, I didn't realize that by attempting to adjust the amount to suit her - and I tried a couple of times to get it right - I was essentially treating her as a lab experiment, and she's in no shape for that.

The solution was to put her back on straight kibble, to which I add some chicken stock (either strained home-made chicken stock or low-fat, low-sodium canned chicken stock) for flavor. We did, however, switch from the less costly Purina One to Natural Choice, Large Breed Adult, from Nutro. It seems to be worth the high price, because it returned Muttley to normal in about one day. And we know it's the Natural Choice that made the difference because of my failed attempts to make the home-made food work for her; each time, the return to kibble fixed the problem.

In general, home-prepared dog food is probably more nutritious, and if you've got the time to prepare it and a dog who responds well to it, I would recommend it over manufactured dog food any day. But if your dog is older, in fragile health, or under treatment for Cushings, and you find that home-prepared foods are causing her digestive or intestinal problems, you should feed her instead the best manufactured kibble you can find. Remember that dog food manufacturers do have the scientific knowledge to supply all your dogs minimal nutritional requirements and provide them with the correct level of fiber, and that can make all the difference.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Visit to the Portland Zoo

Hippos, lounging and eating.

Steller sea lion

Weaver bird caught in some glare

A goat tolerating the petting zoo

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Omelet Evolution

Inspired by watching Jacques Pepin make omelets, my breakfast today was a two-egg omelet filled with a slice of Tillamook medium cheddar cheese, as shown above (the picture features a surprise guest appearance by my thumb).

At the beginning of the lesson, Jacques tells us that a restaurant often tests prospective chefs by asking them to cook an omelet. By Jacques' standards I did not get the job; but the good news for the aspiring omelet maker is that even a flawed, imperfect omelet can be delicious.

This was not my first omelet, but viewing the Pepin video was enough to improve my technique immediately. To remove the omelet from the pan, he first peels it away from the edges, folds it half way over, and then folds the other half on top like an envelope. I had been attempting to fold the omelet exactly in half before removing it, and that's definitely more difficult. I had also been using an all-American egg-flipping spatula for the job, as though I were making fried eggs. Jacques on the other hand uses a fork, which is more maneuverable. Since he's cooking with what appears to be a non-stick fry-pan, the fork made my husband wince repeatedly as we watched Jacques rapidly stir and manipulate the eggs, bringing the tines into frequent contact with the pan. My substitute, a heat-resistant narrow rubber spatula, will probably keep peace in the family and is a huge improvement on my old utensil.

The biggest visible flaw in today's effort is that it's supposed to be a French classic but is browned like a country omelette. I used too much butter and I left the omelet in the pan too long after I folded it, causing the browning. You can also see that the eggs aren't uniform (see those white bits, especially toward the front of the plate?), so maybe I'll use a whisk to beat them next time. It's also difficult to know when to stop stirring the eggs and when to fold them without a great deal more experience.

Of course I'll need to make more omelets before I can even approximate Jacques' perfect technique. I think I can persevere, however, as long as I get to eat the practice results.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Devil Cat

No, this isn't Devil Cat. This is Rocco, who was forced to hide out behind our furnace for several hours, waiting to make sure that Devil Cat was really in custody and no longer stalking her and her litter mate, Jasmine.

This is Devil Cat. Doesn't she look sweet? But don't be fooled, because in real life she's experiencing her second bout with possession. Normally the sweetest of cats, she'll suddenly decide that she must maim or kill anything else living in her domain. You'll think I mean the normal type of fighting that breaks out between house cats, but I'm talking more the type of fight-to-the-death territorial aggression that happens between rival male cougars in the wild.

She came down with a new mess o' demons this last Monday. Since then we've had to keep her garrisoned in the downstairs bathroom by herself, until such a time as a successful exorcism can take place. Last time this happened it took several weeks, and yes, I do periodically let her out to test her just in case she's suddenly decided to let the other cats live. No luck so far, and I feel bad about it, but I feel worse when the cats are made to bleed and suffer. And that includes Spook, because Rocco and Jasmine do put up a fight.

Ice Cream Sandwiches

I made these homemade chocolate ice cream sandwiches with vanilla ice cream filling for my husband's birthday. Normally he asks for chocolate cherry roulade, a rolled chocolate cake filled with cream and cherries, but I was happy to hear he wanted to try something different this year.

They're very easy to make, although time consuming since you have to chill everything between steps, but the results make them well worth the effort. It would be difficult to exaggerate the difference between a store-bought ice cream sandwich and the homemade version. The texture of the homemade cookie is somewhat crisp yet soft inside, and the ice cream just seeps into it to soften it a little more. Store-bought sandwiches by contrast have the consistency of a thin layer of wet cake.

The photos of the cookies did not turn out nearly as well, and I picked out the picture above as the best of the bad (it's a little better if you click on it and enlarge it, so that you can at least get some idea of the cookie's texture from its appearance). Since we ate the sandwiches at night after dinner, I attempted to photograph them at the same time. Since early morning and early evening light glares directly through the windows, I think it might wipe out some of the the contrast in a picture. Of course, using a white plate as the background for vanilla ice cream probably didn't help. It seems easier to get a good picture at about mid-morning, probably because the sun's overhead and helps to diffuse the light. At any rate, I'm trying to get some help so that I can understand how to take food pictures more easily and reliably in the future.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

March photos, part II: Dale Chihuly in Tacoma

Dale Chihuly is a native of Tacoma, Washington and the success of his career has helped to make the Northwest famous for glass art. It comes as no surprise then to find his works all over the Museum of Glass and all over downtown Tacoma. In fact, Chihuly and the Museum of Glass were joint partners in building the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a pedestrian overpass that links the Museum, which sits above an inlet of Pudget Sound, to old downtown Tacoma.

Approaching the bridge, you would first notice the two enormous Chihuly-made towers of blue rock-candy crystal. The two-tone gray snowcone you see rising in the background is the Museum of Glass building.

What looks like a gray metal bookcase, partly hiding the Museum of Glass building, is one of a few structures on the bridge that contain Chihuly sculptures. This photo shows one of the divisions within such a display case, containing a glass cupid perched atop a green base. Notice that the background of the case is translucent, and if you stare hard enough you can just make out the freeway below the bridge.

Walking under parts of structures on the bridge is like being under the ocean floor and looking up to see the creatures on the bottom - that is, if all the living things on the ocean floor were turned to glass.

Just across the bridge is old downtown Tacoma, including the Union Station building, now a courthouse, which contains yet more glass art by Chihuly. Twisted glass snakes squirm around on the chandelier he created for the Rotunda.

These orange glass bats decorate the second floor window of the Station. You can also see the Bridge of Glass through the window.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

March photos, part I: Kids Design Glass

These sculptures from Tacoma's Museum of Glass come from their Kids Design Glass program, and are some of my favorite works in the place. Kids designed them, and then the team of glass artists from the museum built them as glass sculptures. Take a look: they're further proof of how creative kids can be before they grow up and become dull adults like you and me.

This first fearsome monster is "Chupacabra Way (the goat succer)", designed by Morgan Thomas. The chupacabra, in case you didn't know, is a type of livestock vampire sited in places like Puerto Rico, Texas, and Maine (why Maine?). And if I ever get any goats (non-metaphorically speaking), I'm sure I'll be keeping a closer eye on them in the future.

At the other end of the spectrum from monsters we have superheros, such as Bacon Boy here. In addition to being a special hero for my husband ("bacon makes everything better!"), Bacon Boy's superpowers include Meat Vision, and "the ability to shoot bacon bits and grease from his arms, and sausage and corn dogs from his eyes". He was designed by Austin Winters, who also designed Bacon Boy's evil arch-nemesis Fry Guy.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Because I admire cookbooks and blogs with excellent food photography, I long to use the new camera to create my own. Below is one of my early attempts. They're sugar cookies with a faint taste of almond, and while the photography will need work, I like the cookies just the way they are. They were made for Valentine's Day, and I gave some of them to friends and kept a few for us. But unless those friends can control themselve around cookies lots better than I can, they're gone already.

Valentine Sugar Cookies

Truck Stop Cinnamon Rolls

Big Fat Cinnamon Roll

I found the recipe for these great cinnamon rolls in the cookbook Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

I highly recommend this cookbook, and all cookbooks by Alford and Duguid. Even if each cookbook did not contain outstanding recipes collected from all around the world, I would recommend them for the photography alone. Home Baking, like every Alford & Duguid cookbook, would suffice as a coffee table book even if you never used it to actually bake. However, I wouldn't recommend the book to a first-time baker, because of the complexity of many of the recipes and because I've found some mistakes.

This recipe, for instance, contained a small error. If you use their proportions you will need to roll out your dough in two batches and you will create a couple of cookie sheets full of gigantic cinnamon rolls, not the single tray-full of twelve the authors describe. I halved the recipe to begin with because of the huge proportions, and not only was I lucky to squeeze all my rolls onto one large baking sheet, but, as you can see, each roll is the size of a large grapefruit. Cinnamon rolls don't get much bigger than this, even at truck stops.

I also made a mistake when I rolled the dough out. I always try very hard not to use unnecessary flour, which can toughen bread, but I went too far this time. As a result, the dough stuck to the board when I went to roll them up. If you've ever tried to make such a huge piece of dough covered in damp sugar and cinnamon into a jelly-shape roll you can appreciate that you don't need the extra level of difficulty caused by sticky dough. As a result, the rolls don't have the perfect spirals you see in the commercial version. But that's the great thing about baking. Even imperfect products can be delicious, and these were.

Next time, however, I might quarter the recipe or cut the rolls smaller. I found that a single cinnamon roll made for an almost too-filling breakfast.

Some of our more Elusive Pets

Spook Gives Rocco the Boot

Of course it would be nice to show pictures of each of my animals, but some are more difficult to photograph than others. Above you see our cat, attention-junkie Spook, nosing our gray cat Rocco aside. Spook, whenever possible, would rather not relinquish any human attention or camera time to another cat.

On the other hand, Jasmine, our calico cat, is very affectionate. In the following picture she's glad to have me pet her and photograph her, as long as it's okay for her to embed her claws in my hand:

Love Jasmine-Style

And finally Mr. Bear, below, would prefer to nap. He's got nothing against photography, he just wishes I would make an appointment with his secretary first.

Bear's Nap, Rudely Interrupted

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Helping the Economy One Splurge at a Time

This Christmas, in an attempt to help out our sadly beaten-down economy, we bought ourselves two big presents we could almost afford: a camera and season roller-derby tickets. Both will make their presence felt on this blog. We're using the camera to produce a never-ending series of pet pictures, and, as for the tickets, I'm eager to tell you about roller derby here in Portland Oregon.

But first the pets. I've put up a picture of Muttley, our Shepherd mix, previously. Since Muttley is only one of six pets, we'd better get started posting those pictures. Below is our St. Bernard, Bruno.

Bruno strikes a pose

And here is our lovely cat, Spookworth.


Aren't these gorgeous animals well worth the price of a camera? We think so, but maybe I'll also write down some of the techniques we've been using to save money. That's a central topic of interest for us these days as we attempt to recover our equilibrium after our splurge and continue to work on our long-term goal of paying off our credit debt.