Sunday, November 27, 2011

Blackberry Confessions

Up until the moment that the young woman scanned the package of blackberries she hadn't said a word to me, not even the standard, "Did you find everything you needed?"  Looking down at the dark, indigo berries she said, "I used to love blackberries, but now I don't."  Which invited the query: "Why is that?"  "Because of all the seeds."  Pause.  "And because of my grandmother.  The only time she wasn't evil was when we were picking blackberries together."  I wasn't expecting quite that answer, but I murmured in what I hoped was a comforting way and said brightly, "Did your grandmother make anything with the blackberries?"  "We ate some while we picked and then she'd make cobbler."  Sounded decent enough to me and I said so, then I self-consciously fussed around tucking bags into the cart and being inordinately interested in the credit card scanner.

A woman about my age apologized as she slid into the window seat next to my aisle seat and as she stowed her purse under the seat she asked me if I was headed home or leaving home.  She wore cowboy boots and lots of silver.  When I asked where she was headed - just a routine, polite query - the floodgates opened.  I learned that she'd recently been dumped by her boyfriend; she hadn't seen it coming at all, and tears began to fall as she spoke about it.  He had apparently taken the coward's tried and true route: it's-not-you-it's-me.  She could get no deeper explanation from him.  Everything had been right about him except that in the four years they dated he'd never once picked up a tab or treated at dinner.  He hadn't asked her to move into his house.  To add to it all, her sister had died recently and suddenly of cancer. 

I don't feel as if I have the kind of countenance and demeanor that invites the sharing of personal information by total strangers.  But at the check-out line at the grocery, I hear a lot about weight problems and diets, lousy ex-boyfriends and rotten bosses or lazy co-workers.  And on planes, when forearms and thighs are just a little too close to the person next to you, all kinds of personal stuff comes out.  I guess there is safety in unburdening one's heart to a complete stranger.  Or maybe there is a kind of comfort in reaching out, making a connection in a world that can feel cold and impersonal.  Have I done it?  Said too much to someone without even knowing or asking their name?  Certainly not...And then it occurs to me: I'm a blogger.  


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Movies with Mom

Though sometimes I didn't think so, I was lucky to be the youngest of four.  Yes, I suffered the "slings and arrows" of teasing and having food stolen off of my plate by older siblings because I was "little," but I also benefited from the experiences of my siblings and from having built-in playmates and companions.  Sharing a small bathroom was tough, but it taught me something about compromise and cleanliness.  At least I think it did.

But being the youngest meant that eventually - as my siblings grew up and spent more time with friends or doing other activities - they needed my parents' attention less and less. I was there to soak it all up.  One way that manifested itself was in movies. 

Mayfield Road Theater, Little Italy, Cleveland, OH
Photo from cinematreasures.org
Usually it was me and both parents who headed out after dinner to see the latest films, but on nights that my dad was away traveling, mom and I would often plan something special. After a quick dinner out, we'd drive to one of the revival movie houses in Cleveland - the Cedar-Lee or perhaps the cinema at Case Western Reserve University.  Mom picked the classics; movies that she had loved and remembered fondly. 

Close on the heels of having finished the epic book, Gone With the Wind, we drove down to Cleveland, fortified ourselves with popcorn and candy and tucked into the worn magenta velvet seats at the Mayfield Theater in Little Italy to watch the four-hour film on the big screen.  What a beautiful sight: the costumes and characters, the plantation houses, the raging fire in Atlanta - - and Vivien Leigh.  She embodied Scarlett and I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.  I can still smell the buttery-popcorn aroma as mom and I walked around the lobby getting the kinks out during the intermission. 

Then there was The Red Shoes.  Another tortured romantic drama that didn't end so well.  This was during the height of my Mikhail Baryshnikov obsession so a ballet-themed movie was perfectly suited to a moody, besotted teenager.  I remember the vivid, garish colors of the film - and wondering why the doomed heroine didn't ditch her wafty, whining boyfriend and just happily dance herself to death with those magical red shoes!

One of mom's more interesting choices was La Strada, a Fellini film (which meant nothing to me at the time).  I struggled a bit at first with the subtitles, but found myself completely drawn into the bizarre and tragic flavor of the film.  It haunted me for days afterwards.

How would these films hold up today?  GWTW remains one of the few movies that has aged well and also lives up to the complexity and flavor of the book.  The Red Shoes and La Strada would probably not stand up to second viewings, but it doesn't matter.  I don't need to see them again.  What was and what remains priceless was having that one-on-one time with my mom, finding out a little something about her and imagining what she might have been like as a girl my age.  Maybe she had been just like me.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Other than posting my weekly BesTEAM Feature, Dough, Dirt & Dye is taking a brief sabbatical so I can spend time with family.  But my vegan recipe blog, An Unrefined Vegan, will continue to publish delicious and healthy plant-based recipes during that time.  The above is a sneak-peak at a scrumptious and easy vanilla creme pie (with a thin layer of dark chocolate sandwiched between the toasted-pecan crust and the custard; not to mention a chunk of pecan bark tucked into the top), the recipe for which will be appearing on An Unrefined Vegan within the next couple of days.  Please check it out.

There's still plenty to read here on Triple D, however.  You might enjoy my short short story, starring a Tilt-A-Whirl; details of a morning walk discovering Bones and Shells with my dog, Ike; or an early, earthy entry called Homemade Dirt.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Some Thoughts About Dirt

The other night the sky was clear and star-strewn, the moon waning but still nearly full and low and bright just above the dark line of trees.  A streak of moonlight shifted and glittered along the surface of the pond and long, cool-colored shadows lay down past tree and fence and barn.  A strong breeze blew from the south, balmy as a late spring day and with the same sense of expectancy and possibility.  With it came the moist and cool smells of earth.  The odor of the earth respiring.  The same dirt furrowed by gophers, churned by cows' hooves and dug and turned with shovels by us humans to house and nourish our kale and turnips, tomatoes and sunflowers and bee balm.

We filled our lungs with the rich smell, displacing, we imagined, whatever bad and sour and unhealthy may formerly have been residing there.  The incongruous smell of spring on the cusp of winter.



Friday, November 18, 2011

Grief Management

I'm a planner.  My workout clothes are set out the night before, as are everything we will need for breakfast in the morning.  I plan out the week with long to-do lists and jot down notes on calendars.  I typically start packing one or two weeks before leaving for a trip.  Any spontaneous acts are carefully thought out prior to execution.  This has worked pretty well for me and for the most part, I feel in control of most aspects of my life.

With one glaring exception.  How does one plan - emotionally - for the death of a friend or loved one?  Up until recently thoughts of this kind have not intruded upon the placid rhythm of my life.  I've yet to have experience with the death of a close family member.  But, the past year has been a rocky one for both my family and myself and for several of my dear friends.  Two of my friends have recently lost parents.  Kin and kind have been marred by serious illness.  A member of my own family came alarmingly close to losing his life and the battle is not yet over.

Yes, there are things to do: understand the wishes of those close to us, write up wills or requests, get the Power of Attorney and Advanced Care Directive in order - and there is some kind of comfort in accomplishing these "administrative" tasks, if only because it takes ones mind off of the wrenching, emotional aspect of the passing of someone we hold dear.

If only there were a way to mitigate the crush of sorrow.  Maybe, like taking a tiny sip of poison each day in the hopes of gaining immunity from its deadly effects, one could bear a small dose of grief everyday so that by the time the crisis comes, one isn't overwhelmed by the black and bleak weight of loss.  If only that kind of planning were possible.  I'm afraid even if it that small act was performed devotedly - taking that tiny, bitter dose every day - that it would never diminish the flood that comes after losing a loved one.  It is proper, really.  The heavier the sorrow, the deeper the love; the harder the loss, the sweeter the impact that loved one had on life.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Today's Dough: Pain de Campagne

Country bread.  Crisp crust, airy bubbles amidst the soft, almost-sourdough-flavored interior.  Typically made with a portion of whole grain flour; my type of bread.  Unfortunately, I couldn't buy bread like this in my town even if my life depended on it - so that means making my own. 

This recipe comes from master baker, Peter Reinhart and takes some prior planning as it involves a pre-ferment and an overnight rest in the refrigerator.  No big deal.  The nice thing is, once you mix up the pre-ferment, you can leave it in the refrigerator for a few days until you have time to mess with it - and the flavor only gets better.  I made a couple of baguettes and few large rolls with one batch, so a little work goes a long way - and the finished product freezes beautifully.  Maybe not so unfortunate after all. 

Pre-ferment, resting.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Early Thanks

Enjoying the scenery - and each others company - post run.
One year ago today, around 8 in the morning, my brother was wheeled into an operating room for brain surgery to remove a large, malignant tumor.  My sister and I watched, filled with fear, apprehension, hope and love, as his team of surgeons pushed the cart, and him, away from us.  The next several hours were spent in the waiting room, eyes wandering to the clock too often, thoughts never straying far from what was happening in the operating room.  There were other families there, other crises, other fears and hopes - but we could've been all alone in the corner of that room.

This month has been full of painful memories, but as Thanksgiving approaches, I can't help but be filled with gratitude that my brother is alive for another year, another holiday.  My heartfelt thanks to the skilled surgeon and his team, as well as the team of doctors and nurses who continue to care for my brother.

Monday, November 14, 2011

New Greeting Card: Teddy Bear

I first started working on this teddy bear design back in April and lost the thread somewhere along the way.  I put it aside and recently brought it back out, determined to finish it, so that I could include it with the cards I'm taking with me to Tulsa for a meeting with a boutique-owner.  I wanted to have another baby- and child-themed card to show him.

Teddy bears get me to thinking about many things; my own childhood, especially.  What child did not or does not have at least one cuddly bear for comfort?  Truth be told I preferred my stuffed "Elly" - a large, soft gray elephant the perfect size and cushion for hugging - to bears.  Elly is definitely worse for the wear, but I still have him.  I do cherish one particular teddy bear, however.  His name is, cleverly enough, Beary and originally he was my eldest brother's toy.  The bear is nearly pristine which tells me my brother was never one for clinging to stuffed animals.  It's about 10" high with tufted light brown fur, padded paws and he wears a rather worried expression on his face.  I took Beary to college with me and he sat on my bed, guarding my dorm room.

You can find Teddy Bear and lots of other unique, hand-painted cards at my shop, Empty on the Inside.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Memory of Baked Goods Past

Just around the corner to the entrance of Roger's Grocery store, past the cashiers and the customer service desk, were the big, shining glass cases that housed tall cakes covered in thick frosting, mounds of cookies and rugulach; deep, dark brownies, pecan rolls, crumbly coffee cakes and loaves of perfectly baked bread: Hough's Bakery.  It was the first place one naturally pushed their cart and the first place my mom would stop during any trip to the market.  It was both heaven and hell for a child with a raging sweet tooth.

Photo Courtesy of ClevelandHistorical.org
On a good day (and there were many), mom would order up two of Hough's sugar cookies and the woman behind the counter would reach into the case with a small piece of wax paper and place the cookies in the distinctive white bag with blue Hough's logo.  The bag was a mere formality, for we tucked into the cookies immediately.  They were about 5" in diameter and a half inch thick and sprinkled liberally with thick sugar crystals that fell off as you bit into the crunchy, buttery cookie.  I could never make mine last long enough.

My favorite item by far, however, was the cinnamon coffee cake.  I can still taste it: a dense, buttery cake layered with pillowy cinnamon-sugar nearly as thick as the cake itself.  The corner pieces were coveted because they hosted more of the topping. 

Then there was the white cake.  My mom's and brother's favorite.  Nothing fancy, just a beautiful snowy-white cake coated with white frosting.  The flavor was subtle but it invited one to take bite after bite until one's plate was, sadly, empty. 

Luckily for us kids, mom turned out top-notch chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cakes and brownies but her claim to fame (at least in the small world of our house) were her pies.  I loved to watch (and "help") her mix and roll the dough - using Fluffo, a lemon-colored shortening that, though it contained no butter, imparted a buttery flavor to the crust.  Mom would cut up the scraps, top them with cinnamon and sugar and bake them up for us kids.  Every time she made a crust she would declare it a disaster, but the results were always tender and flaky.  The perfect complement to cinnamon-y apples, or juicy raspberries or the traditional Thanksgiving Day pumpkin.  

I didn't have to be at home to partake of delicious baked goods.  My best friend's mom, Mrs. P made raspberry jam from berries picked from their own garden.  The smells in the kitchen during preserving day were sweet, sticky, juicy-red summer.  Mrs. P baked up something called Victorian sandwich and I asked for the recipe a few times, but never was able to get my hands on it.  Between two layers of vanilla cake (baked in a 9"x13" pan) Mrs. P spread a generous slick of her raspberry jam.  She served it to us along with a big glass of Ovaltine.

Mrs. P passed away a couple of years ago; mom doesn't bake much anymore and Hough's Bakery is no longer - but grateful Clevelanders can still get baked goods made from Hough's old recipes at a shop on Lakeshore Boulevard.  And...I no longer indulge in baked goods made with butter, eggs or refined flours, but my memory is good enough that I can recall the tastes and textures of those childhood treats.  I wouldn't trade in those memories for anything. 

(Debbi at Our Home to Yours and Lynette at Sweet Posy Dreams got me thinking about cheesecake and chocolate and brownies and baked goods in general, so thanks to them for the inspiration for this post, though it's got my sweet tooth all abuzz.  I enjoyed my flour-sugar-chocolate-butter journey down memory lane.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Small Town Myth

I’m victim to a nostalgia of my own making, fueled most likely by untrustworthy childhood memories and nurtured by stories written by people with their own untrustworthy memories.  It’s the town of porch swings and pies cooling on windowsills; of twilights filled with fireflies and hearing in the distance a woman call a child into the house followed a few seconds later by the squeak and slam of a screen door.  It’s a town that each Fourth of July or Memorial Day adorns the street lamps with American flags; that has a Town Hall built of rough-hewn sandstone that sits solidly and silently guarding the grassy square and the white gazebo decked with giant baskets dripping with flowers.  There’s an ice cream shop, a diner offering real “home-cooking,” a notions store and a post office that’s been there as long as anyone can remember. 

I’ve driven through and past hundreds of these towns.  As a family we spent a lot of time on the road and dad was prone to taking blue highways and back country roads that zigged erratically in every direction.  The single main street (often called Main) that from vast fields of corn suddenly sprouted a neat row of houses and a wide sidewalk pushed tectonically here and there by the roots of the old maples and oaks that lined them.  Old iron fences, painted black, decorative but unreliable guardians of neat lawns.  The houses gave way to brick buildings, each with a block of sandstone at the top boasting the year they were built.  In another block one is back to houses and after a half mile, deep into cornfields again.

I grew up in a small town, and although it has a town square with a gazebo, it isn’t an inviting place.  Two of the four corners of its two main streets have gas stations on them.  Fast food restaurants line the roads; there is no sidewalk anywhere.  This is not to say there is nothing good about living in a small town – I prefer it to living in a large city – but does my impossible ideal exist? 

After many years living in major metropolitan areas, I again live at the outskirts of a small town. To say it lacks charm is like saying the Hunchback of Notre Dame had a minor back problem.  The main street has more boarded up buildings than functioning stores.  The barber at the barbershop where I used to get my hair cut (he’s since gone out of business) would tell me stories of police corruption and drug trafficking.  As he told it, our town is as corrupt as the Chicago mayor’s office (pick your century).  There is nothing for teenagers – or anyone else – to do; no movie theater, no video store, no bowling alley nor mall.  The park is under-utilized. Work is scarce and if you’re looking for amenities or good restaurants, keep heading west until you hit Oklahoma City.  One or two of the town’s buildings wear the charm of the distant past, but they’re marred by neglect, flaking murals or fire damage.  Meth is a serious problem.  Cold medicine was tempting enough to inspire a recent break-in at the local Walmart. 

And yet my dream persists.  I can’t imagine I will stop seeking in one way or another the idyllic small town. I’ll probably drive through many more that look like it during my lifetime.  The perfect small town is the place just out of grasp, always somewhere else; in the next state or just down the road. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

High and Tight

It's never good to hear the person cutting your hair say, "Oh wow.  That doesn't look right."  Especially when the person cutting your hair is your life partner, your soul mate and the person with whom you spend nearly every waking and sleeping hour.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, I used to go every six weeks to a nice salon in Dupont Circle.  I'd chat with my "regular" gal for an hour or so and then walk out the door with various products and about one hundred dollars lighter.  Finding a replacement stylist near our rural home proved impossible - though I did go to a barber a few times.  He did a decent job for $8, but I came out smelling like an ashtray and let's just say his chair-side manner was a little lacking.



So Kel was pressed into tonsorial duties.  Not having any experience cutting hair stopped neither him nor me.  How hard could it be anyway?  And since I like my hair very short, it seemed like one couldn't go too far wrong.  And he's consistently done a great job.  The only problem has been - it takes too long.  So this time around we decided to employ an electric razor with one of those comb attachments so that it really would be, you know, fool-proof.  There's no doubt that the razor makes quick work even with my mop of curls, but the comb attachment was deceptive.  Apparently it allowed more hair to be cut than either one of us anticipated, leaving me with less hair than prior haircuts.  I don't think Kel wanted me to find a mirror after he was done.



But I didn't run screaming from the image that greeted me in the mirror.  It's GI Jane, sure, and I can kind of see my scalp shining under there a little bit, but the shorter the better in the sense that there is no maintenance beyond washing it.  No bedhead, no hathead.  I will admit that when Kel first started up the razor and I could see thick tufts of hair falling to the ground, I did feel uncomfortably like a new recruit getting a high and tight for the first time.

(On Veterans Day and every day, I offer my sincerest thanks and gratitude to the men and women who wear and have worn a U.S. military uniform; those who make huge personal sacrifices every day, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice to protect and serve.  I am especially indebted to those who watched over me during my brief time in Iraq.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Greeting Card: Four Candy Canes

Peppermint-flavored candies have never been my thing.  I've always leaned towards the chocolate side of sweets and unless the mint was surrounded by a thick layer of the dark stuff, I left the candies in the bowl.  On the other hand, mint and Noel kind of go hand-in-hand; candy canes are an icon of the holiday and it wouldn't have been Christmas morning without at least one candy cane tucked into my stocking.

You can find my new card, Four Candy Canes, at my Etsy shop, Empty on the Inside - along with lots of other cards for Christmas and all the other days and holidays of the year.  And through November 14, all of my cards are 10% off.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Today's Dough: 100% Whole Wheat No-Knead

Before
Another ridiculously easy and healthy bread from the no-knead bread book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. 

I veganized and further "unrefined" this by replacing the vegetable oil with unsweetened applesauce, used soy milk instead of dairy milk and replaced the honey with agave nectar.  It bakes up with a hint of sweetness; moist and tender on the inside with a crunchy, crispy crust.

If you'd like to give this a try, you can find and follow the recipe at my vegan recipe site, An Unrefined Vegan.

After

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ghost-proof

Over the years it has become clear to me that the deceased have nothing to say to me.  Not that I've especially courted encounters with the supernatural.  There have been the 12 or maybe 15 visits to the Lilydale Assembly near Cassadaga, NY: the strolls through the Pet Cemetery and over to the Forest Temple and Inspiration Stump; the slow browse through the Fox family artifacts and automatic writing samples at the museum, and then, of course, joining the also-curious and the solace-seeking at one of the daily spiritualist meetings.  I've been to many of these sessions and time after time as I sit waiting, eager and open for a message from beyond to come to me, I am passed over again and again. Even as friends and family members are called by spirits - Kel was once chosen twice in one meeting to receive messages from his father - I am warmed not even by the smallest flicker from the spiritualists.  It is as if to the spirit world, I do not exist.

Looking back maybe I've always had a certain immunity.  As a child I played the "Bloody Mary" game in the darkened school bathroom, but instead of having my eyes torn from my head or seeing the terrible visage of Mary herself in the mirror, the only reflection was that of my own face distorted in the dim light.

I've stayed in creaky and old hotels and certainly (as Stephen King knows) if there are haunted places, hotels must be writhing with roving spirits.  I even read The Shining while alone in a hotel room and felt nary a tremor of the gauzy filament that separates the living from the dead.  I wasn't reading the book to provoke, it was simply that that was what I was reading at the time.  Maybe I was safe because I was not staying in Room 217...

My own childhood home must have housed at least one ghost.  It was a century home and a woman died in her bed during a fire, approximately where my sister and I shared a bedroom.  Yet any footsteps, moans, cries or poltergeisting went unregistered to my senses.  I slept like a log most nights.  True, I have entered buildings and rooms that seemed heavy with something vaguely sinister or menacing - and the urge to be somewhere else and quickly was strong - but beyond that, I have gone unmolested by restless beings through these 45 years.

The closest I came, and maybe it explains why I am ghost-proof, was during a game played with my siblings and cousins in the basement of their house.  I don't know how many of us were in the closed, darkened room - maybe 10, maybe more.  One of my cousins lay prone on the ground with six others of us kneeling around him.  Each person had two fingers of each hand lightly pressed under and along the perimeter of his body and we all chanted: "stiff as a board, light as a feather" over and over again.  My job was to turn on the light and open the door in case things went, well, in case things went as they were expected.

 For a while our chanting went unheeded.  A soft, gray light filtered in from a small window near the ceiling and in the dim light our eyes and thoughts were all focused on my cousin.  And then a strange thing happened.  The body of my cousin rose slightly - and in the gloom of that basement room with all of us watching, the collective realization hit us.  We had somehow raised his body not with the paltry power of children's fingertips, but by some other force for which we had no name or explanation.  That's when we all screamed.  My cousin's body dropped with a thud to the floor.  The light did not get turned on, but you can be sure I was first out the door.

From that day, perhaps, with that brief glimpse into the cold unknown and of power unharnessed, I closed myself off from the possibilities, from the grasping reach of entities from other times and other planes.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Mockingbird Returns

Long before the two humans moved into his domain he was patrolling and guarding the trees and pastures and singing his various calls and melodies from the very top of the pear tree or the utility pole near the barn.  He sang to warn other male mockingbirds to stay away and he sang to attract females to the bounty and beauty of his home.  Sometimes one of the humans would imitate his tune or try to suggest other sounds, but he just ignored them and continued with his hawk and jay and chickadee imitations.

One cold winter morning the first year of their arrival one of the humans came out of the house carrying a small plate with jewel-bright pieces of fruit on it.  From his tree top he watched as she held the plate up towards him, then placed it down on the ground, all the while singing, "maaaa-ckingbird, maaaa-ckingbird."  As soon as her back was turned and the door to the house closed behind her, he flew down to the ground close to the plate and swiveled his head to assess her offering.  He hopped closer and with a discerning eye, picked the juiciest pieces of cut-up grapes and blueberries.  After sampling several tidbits, he flew into the holly bush to clean his bill.  By the end of the day, the plate was empty.

Every morning throughout the winter and into early spring the humans came out and placed the plate on the ground.  Some days the mockingbird was quite bold and let the humans come close.  Some days he didn't come out until after they'd gone back inside the house.  On mornings when she was particularly slow, he chirped impatiently and flew back and forth in front of the window to let her know he was ready to eat.

When each summer came he had other concerns and other sources of food and the plate of fruit went untouched.  The humans watched year after year as he courted females and started a family.  Some years snakes made off with the eggs or raccoons found the nests and ate the chicks.  The mockingbird would sometimes have to build two or three nests before a family could be raised.  He never gave up.

On three separate occasions the humans were sure that the mockingbird had met a sad fate: small piles of mockingbird feathers were found in the grass and they mourned the loss of their friend, but each year he reappeared.  For four autumns now - including this very one - as the mornings get colder and the days shorter, the mockingbird has returned to sing from the tops of the trees and to receive his daily plate of fresh fruit, lovingly cut-up by the humans who live in his domain.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Weight of Loving A Dog

We didn't choose to be dog owners. Ike just found us when he wandered out of the woods one day.  But now that we are, I realize that it's probably a good thing that we didn't have children.  I couldn't handle the stress.  They would have grown up coddled and fussed and protected - and probably resentful towards us about it for the remainder of their lives.  Or they'd still be living with us into their 40s...

Some days I feel like a confirmed bachelor might, one who has just had a tiny baby handed over to him for safekeeping for a few hours.  What does a baby eat?  What does he do?  How do I change a diaper?  Why is he crying so much?  My family had a dog, Violet, when I was growing up, so it's not a complete mystery.  And we had more cats than I can count, but cats are independent - you don't need to walk a cat.  But mom did all of the heavy lifting.  I didn't have to worry about buying food, grooming or vet visits or caring for Violet's body when she died.

With Ike I worry that he's eating the right food, getting the proper amount of water and exercise - not too much, not too little.  Is that a slight limp or just my eyes playing tricks?  He has a skin problem that we can't seem to solve despite special shampoos, ointments and now corn- and wheat-free chow.  There's the heartworm pill to give him each month, the flea collar in the spring and summer and we must be ever vigilant for ticks that somehow thwart our  best efforts.  We've pulled burrs from out between his toes and scrubbed mud off of his nose.  Once we were certain he was choking on a captured gopher so we pulled it out of his mouth - much to his confusion and disappointment.  Through our inexperience he patiently tolerates our poking, prodding, washing and hugs.   

Yesterday we took Ike in to be neutered.  Kel and I have agonized over the decision for weeks, even though most everything one reads and hears encourages it.  He must be in pain and confused as to why and what happened.  Just like a parent would - our hearts break that we cannot make the hurt go away - or even explain to him what's happening.  In the long run we know it's the best thing for him.  The last thing we want is for him to sire unwanted offspring throughout the neighborhood - or to be lured by the siren song of the canine vixen across the road - and be hit by a car.

We are not the kind of pet-owners who confuse their little furry one with a bouncing bundle of a joy called a human baby.  Clearly Ike is a dog.  We do not dress him in clothes nor have him wear hats or call ourselves "mommy" and "daddy" - though I understand the appeal of all of those things.  (Ike has no shortage of nicknames, however.  He's known variously as: Nutter-Butter, Stink Bomb, Munchkin, Pumpkin, Ikester, Ikey and The Ikeman.)  But we also understand that Ike depends on us - just as human children depend on their parents - and either benefits or suffers from decisions we make on his behalf.  It's (with luck) a long-term commitment - and that's a heavy, scary and wondrous thing.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Today's Dough: Carrot Crackers

The first time I saw a recipe for crackers it was a very minor - yet important - revelation: you can make your own crackers??   Without all of the weird chemically stuff?  I then proceeded to forget all about making crackers until I came across this recipe for carrot-based ones in the current issue of VegNews.  Since swearing off of chips and crackers that contain added oil, we've been sorely missing crunchy things other than veggies to go with our dips and salsas.  These crackers were my first attempt and were a resounding success - they're delicious and addictive - and quite easy to make.  And you can count the number of ingredients on your fingers.

Carrot Crackers
Makes 30-35

1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
4 tbsp. flaxseed meal
1 tsp. salt
ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp. minced, fresh ginger
1/2-1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a food processor, grind sunflower seeds to a fine powder.  Add carrots, flaxseed meal, salt, pepper and ginger.  Pulse a few times to combine.  With processor running, add water in a thin stream.  You want a thick mixture that is just moist enough to spread and hold together.  Mine took less than half a cup to reach this consistency.

The dough.
Divide dough in half and spread to 1/4" thick on parchment-lined baking sheets.  With a knife or pizza cutter, score into shapes and bake for 40-60 minutes or until dry and crispy.

(I only had roasted, salted sunflower seeds so I used half the amount of salt called for in the original recipe.  These can be done in a dehydrator to keep them "raw."  I wish I had one, but alas, I do not.  Perhaps one will be under the Christmas tree this year.  The recipes says:  Set dehydrator at 115F and dry for 6 hours, then flip the dough over and dry for another 4 hours.)
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