Friday, June 6, 2014

Taking care of Elvis.

My buddy Elvis, the dog, not the dead singer dude, is visiting for a few days while his mom and dad get some needed rest and relaxation. Elvis is a two-year-old male Doberman, a fabulous dog, no doubt, but a giant ball of energy who thinks the Earth spins just so he can chase a ball, or a frisbee, or a scent. I have become accustomed to my quiet life with Willow, an eleven-year-old, self-retired, set-in-her-and-my-ways female Boxer. Does she love Elvis? Yes. Does she like him? Sometimes. He, in return, chases her about, offering unrequited love and kisses, on any part of her she will allow. It is a sad, but oft repeated love story. We've all been on one end or the other. Elvis, however, is undaunted by her snubbing, her dog-eye-rolling, her feigning sleep while he pokes her with his Dobernose. Since his arrival, he has decided I am more fun, and he has become my four-legged black shadow. Not the kind of shadow that follows, but more the kind that walks in front, spinning around every second or so to see which way we are going next so he can effectively block any path, at any time, and be left out of nothing. He is hysterical. I had forgotten the sheer joy and laughter having a Doberman in the house could bring, having become accustomed to my Boxer, who has become a pretty serious chick in the past two or three years (she really never was one of those silly Boxers, but she did have her moments) and who now knows me so well, there aren't too many surprises. For either of us, I suppose, as she usually appears so stoic about everything, I never know if she's just a bored girl or the most well-exposed dog that nothing can shock her any longer. Don't get me wrong, she still makes me laugh, especially when I crack a good joke at her expense. I know she's laughing inside, where no one can see.

But having Elvis here reminds me of the silliness and neediness of the Doberman breed, it's eerie how each dog can be so similar and yet so different. Molly has been gone for almost 9 years, and yet he makes me feel like a little part of her is right here, even though he is hardly like her at all. This morning, he woke me with a loud "RWWWAAAAGH" out his window, he had heard the neighbor let her dog out. It was 5:30 in the morning. I told him to lie down and go to sleep, which he did, and I made a mental note to close his window from now on.  But I chuckled a little. One bark, classic Molly.

Tonight as I was making his dinner he watched intently, sitting where I put him for 10 minutes straight as I mixed, chopped and read my "Elvis Care" instructions over and over to make sure I was doing it right. Then he sat there even longer until I gave the command "Eat." (First I tried to fool him with rhyming words, but apparently he's already been tortured in this way, because he wasn't biting. I did the same thing with Molly, and was always shocked she knew "cookie" but ignored "mookie, bookie, frookie, rookie" etc." Willow does not have this skill.)

Elvis eats a raw diet. Delicious raw meat. And veggies. And fruit. His meals are meat patties, blueberries, yogurt, a fruit of my choosing, or a sweet potato added in. For lunch, he has some all-meat kibble and an egg (with shell) or sardines. He is the picture of health, black shiny fur over tight, quivering dog-muscles. He can jump 6 feet into the air to catch a frisbee 15 times in a row (tonight, anyway.) While he was waiting out his "rest time" after dinner, we sat out back by the pool, and I turned to find him dismantling my wood pile, giant branch by giant branch. I stopped him, but not before having a good laugh. Not many dogs think a 10 foot branch is a good plaything.

While the three of us were doing our independent activities after dinner, blogging for me, sleeping for Willow and patrolling for demons for Elvis, he spotted a bunny in the front yard. He barked loudly, like perhaps this bunny was a big giant, murderous bunny, ALA Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Run away! My usually unenthused, non-bunny barking Willow sat up, took notice and jumped into her bunny-warning pose. And barked. The two of them barking at the bunny made me laugh- they finally found something they could do together.

Preparing my own meal tonight, I didn't put him in a sit, or send him out of the kitchen as I know I should have. I know I will probably hear about that, and I won't do it again, but tonight, it was a sweet reminder of the stealthy Doberman each time he stuck his nose in my hand as I dropped it to my side, forgetting he was there, and remembering another time, when Molly would do the same and I would have to wash my hands a bazillion times before my meal was done. I counted 17. It was awesome.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Whole30. Zero hour.

Today starts my new adventure of Whole30. It's a challenge to eat clean, unprocessed, unrefined, fresh, any sweetener-less, grain free, legume free, dairy free and um, gulp, alcohol free, food and beverage for 30 days.  Hence the word challenge. Since wine is a food group in my world, only slightly bigger than the cheese food group that sustains me on most days, this should be wildly entertaining, or possibly, dangerous for anyone who has to interact with me as I abstain. But, it's a challenge, and I will accept it gladly for better health. (How long can one actually live on wine and cheese, anyway?) I do wish, however, that I had a champion, like the Mountain, or maybe the Hound to accept my favor and carry it into battle as I sit on the sidelines, munching cheese and crackers, sipping a nice sav blanc, watching to see what happens....

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Gratitude Jar.

On January 1, 2013, at the behest of my optimistic friend, Amy, we started Gratitude Jars. These personally decorated jars would hold little scraps of paper on which we would scribble the good moments of 2013, and then on January 1, 2014, we would open them and read them, reflecting back on the year with contemplative joy. Sounds great, right? Of course, right! Amy got busy in her typical Amy fashion, creating a masterpiece of a jar, with rhinestones and tags and fufanklers and wuzzles. See?

Amy fashioned a shrine of sorts, with her magical crystal ball, a reclining cherub and a photo of her beloved mother. And of course, a lovely work of art in the backdrop from what I'm sure is one of her friends with fabulous taste. Filled with colorful bits of paper, seriously, you could pay big bucks for this thing at Pier One. Here's mine, a more utilitarian version, shall we say?

Semi-filled with out-dated business cards and still sporting some wax from the many candles that have dripped in there, it is less than fancy. It's counterpart puts to it to shame, actually. But that's ok! It's what's inside, right? Let's take a look in and see what inspired me to put pen to paper, fold and chuck into the austere Gratitude Jar this year..... (I will only be posting the G-rated items, for all you concerned parents out there, I know this is great bedtime story fodder...) 

Jan 8- "Was inadvertently exposed to active TB. Did not get it." Yes, that's a real plus right there. Go me! Go auto-imune system! 2013 rocks so far!

Jan. 11- "Bought a guitar!" Yes, yes I did. And one day, I will actually play it....

Feb. 5- "Mumford and Sons!" This needs no clarification. 

Feb. 14- "Sang 'House of the Rising Sun' at Mama Mia's with the guitarist. NOT KARAOKE." Well, that was a moment for sure. It wasn't videoed or recorded in any fashion, so you'll have to take my word for it. There was applause. 

Feb 21- "Winter Book Club"- yes, in an effort to have more cerebral undertakings in my free time, I started a book club. Why, well, because it's fun to have HOMEWORK, that's why....

Feb 25- "Did not step in puke today." Really? I blocked this episode out, but I'm sure it's true. Soooo glad I wrote it down, for reflection's sake. 

March 21- "Elaine is here!!!" Best visit from my dear friend from Alabama. We had a hoot. 

March 30- "Easter eggs with Lisa, Dan and Charlie." I think that's a blog post somewhere. It was colorful. And Willow was a champ. Beat the whippersnapper to the frisbee. 

April 11- "Made scallops, oatmeal and syrup edible. TOGETHER." Ha, take that, CHOPPED. 

May 2- "Did not murder today." I will spare you the details. But this was a real accomplishment. 

May 19- "Polenta Sunday." While I did not need to call the cops, it was a wild party. I just decided to make it an annual event, this second. 

June 1- "F-ing yard sale is f-ing over." Oh, that f-ing yard sale. Work for days and days, make 92 bucks selling stuff out of the house just because I could. Guy looking for an iron- you got a deal, dude! And I'm wrinkly. 

June 2- OFF TO NC WITH AMY. It says, in little letters underneath, "Best time EVER." It was incredible and I have a whole calendar to prove it. 

June 16- "Learning to live with less." Ah, an interesting positive lesson in a bad thing? For sure. 

June 22- "Saw Grace and told her I loved her." Saying good-bye is hard, but it's worse if you are unable to do it. 

July 28- "hummingbird." 

August 2- "Shot guns with Cousin Ron." Ah, yes. That was insane. "Say hello to my little friend." BLAM.  

August 10- "Helped install a ceiling- got to use NAIL GUN!" (August was the month of shooting things.)

August 15- It's actually illegible. If I had to guess, I think it says, "No more inkwells." 

Undated- but it was late August- "Sleepover with Elvis!" LOVE having a Dobermann around the place!!

September 6- "Boat ride on the Susquehanna!!" I love a boat ride. It was a great vacation overall. Lots of quality time with both Mom and Dad- and I participated in a photography challenge called Shootember which re-ignited my love for taking photos. Here's my favorite. 

September 20- Just the date, no comment. Sometimes just letting time pass is an achievement.

October 26- "Mike!!!!!" Let's just say there is no one more important than the designated driver, and the smart friends who insist you have one for Halloween parties. CHER and Diana Nyad are forever grateful. 

And that was it. Not really as epic as I would have liked, but I fully blame my lack of commitment to the task, and as of this January 1, things are a little different. My gratitude jar is appropriately adorned, it's already full of notes and special moments. It's next to my daily affirmation bowl, and my favorite cookbook. Positive energy abounds. Happy 2014, all. Hoping it's a good one. 

Cauliflower Mulligatawny

Friday, November 15, 2013

Knock knock. Who's there? Pho. Pho who? Pho you!

A craving for noodles and broth made me hunt down a recipe for that famed Vietnamese soup, pho. Asian cuisine and I have been doing a perilous dance for a few years now and I step on its toes constantly. While I wish I had the finesse and sensibility to create authentic Asian dishes, they always elude me just a bit. I'm not sure if it's the balance of sweet/salt/sour/bitter/emame or the total lack of experience,  but I never feel they are quite up to snuff. But why stop trying? I have a small following for my Thai fried rice (thank-you, ladies!) and I still think that my cellophane noodle dumplings are pretty awesome, but for the most part, my Chinese/Thai/Japanese/Vietnamese attempts have been sort of mediocre. So sure, let's try one  more!

The first step, as always, was research. The Vietnamese cookbook was helpful as far as ingredients, but it completely assumed I was a smart Vietnamese person who had been cooking at Vietnamese gramma's ( I don't have one of those) knee since I was a young kid. Some of the techniques completely escaped me.  So, off to YouTube I went. I was appalled. APPALLED. I watched exactly 4 videos on pho-making. Um. Hey. I don't want to add granulated bullion and MSG pho powder and WHAT?? I'll say one thing about my cooking. It is not filled with crap. I am pretty sure that Vietnamese gramma would not be adding powdered chemicals to her pho. I knew I sure wasn't going to. I went back to the book.

The recipe for Pho Ga (chicken pho) was pretty straightforward. Take some ginger, burn it over an open flame. Yup. Really. Then do the same with two onions, skin on. Burn 'em, wreck 'em. This gives pho the smoky base that authentic pho-eaters are used to. (I was excited about becoming one of those.)

After cooling the ginger and onion, it is peeled and set aside with cilantro, fish sauce, turbinado sugar, anise, coriander, black pepper, cloves.  A whole chicken was also involved. There was some cleaver work with the chicken, so I put June to work. The chicken had to be boiled for 15 minutes and then dumped out into a "clean sink" - I swear, every recipe said something about the clean sink procedure- and washed to remove the impurities. The pot also needed a quick wash, and then it was returned to the stove with a fresh fill of water and all the ingredients.  Soon the kitchen smelled like pho-heaven.

While the stock cooked, the rice noodles were prepared. I am a mad lover of the rice noodle. It's versatile, takes the flavor of what you add to it and can be prepared in advance. They can be found in many forms, I chose two. Rice stick is terribly thin and long- feel free to cut them with a knife or scissors after softening them in water. Personally, I like the challenge of getting them from the bowl to me without dropping- but I'm odd. I also had some linguini-type, and I cooked those as well. They took longer so I did them separately. (I always make too much when I have company over. Bad habit I can't seem to break.)

Once the stock was cooked and strained, and the chicken pulled off the carcass, it was time to assemble the garnishes. Mung bean sprouts, serrano chilies, mint leaves, Thai basil, scallion, and lime wedges. I also added baby corn because it's adorable and I love adorable food. Each garnish should be in bowls for guests (or you) to add as they like. Sriracha and hoisin bowls are also common for dipping the hot meat. Did I really just say that?

Each pho bowl gets a handful of noodles, and the hot stock is ladled over. Chicken is added, and then each pho-eater gets to garnish their own bowls. The hot stock and the cool garnishes are a wonderful contrast- and the stock has a smokey-licoricy, rich flavor that makes you dip in over and over. It's pho-nomenal. See what I did there?