Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve, 2010

Driving through North Carolina, the Harvest Season is a very real thing. The cotton is being picked, the other fields are empty, and many are already being winterized. In my own family, harvesting the fields is a little less familiar. I've never spent a day in a field, much less a hard day in one. I've never depended on such a day in the field to put food on the table. For my family, harvest season is less about the crops in the field.

Tomorrow, families and friends all across the country will gather to celebrate this season. For some of them, the crops from the field are still just as much a part of the celebration as they have been for hundreds of years in this country.
For the rest of us, this holiday, Thanksgiving, is less about the crops in the fields, and more about the successes of the year behind us.

I read this quote today:

Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving - H.U. Westermayer

I think that is the true meaning of Thanksgiving. The true successes of a life, and of a year, never come easily. Sometimes intense heat in a field, or intense scrutiny in an office. There are disappointments, and even failures along the way, and we acknowledge them on all of those other days. We acknowledge them, and we address them, and we do our best to get past them. Then we set aside this day, this single day, to not notice them. This day is not about them, this day is about our successes.

Tomorrow we give thanks for the fortune and the bounty of a table with our loved ones. Whether your bounty is in food or in laughter, in love or in numbers, we celebrate together. Its been a year of hard work, and we have succeeded.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Taking the plunge & Transition - Prey model

Its certainly been no secret that I've wanted better food for my dogs. I've been researching it off and on for years, and especially since deciding that we want to start showing dogs in the future.
Well we finally took the plunge 12 days ago into what is called "Prey Model" raw feeding.
The idea here is that Dogs are naturally carnivores, and therefore we should feed them as such.

I won't get into the details, but I will provide links for more information, should you be interested.
Calculator to determine how much/what to feed.
Anyway - here's the results of almost two weeks of raw feeding:

We started them out on dark-meat chicken quarters, with skin removed. The skin/fat is pretty hard to digest if they're not used to it, and its already a big change, so I removed it. They were admittedly confused by the new meal, and it took a while for them to get the hang of it, but once they did - they loved it.

Day 3 we had a bit of a mishap overnight. I think I left too much skin on the chicken, and someone had some tummy trouble upstairs. I made sure afterwards to be more careful - and things have gone well.

Day 8, I added a heart & gizzards to the regular meal. While this was received eagerly, it did seem to cause some digestive upset because I didn't provide any bone to counteract the amount of protein/phosphorous. (in other words, it wasn't a balanced meal)

Day 11 - We've noticed that they look thin, but this is likely because i've been removing the skin from the chicken, which in turn removes a lot of calories. I've begun (slowly) adding the skin back in, and they seem to be handling it fairly well, and will hopefully regain some of the lost weight.
I've also noticed Boston being more playful in the daytime.
Everyone seems to smell less like a dog, and the backyard is surprizingly clean.
I'm not thrilled with their coat texture at the moment, but from what I understand this is a normal "detox" situation, and they often shed some rough unpleasant fur while they're getting bad stuff out of their bodies, and that it will go away as the diet gets more established. They may also need the oils from the chicken skin they haven't been getting until now.

Their meals do not currently include organ meat, which will increase their nutrient and caloric intake considerably.

This week - I'm hoping to add ground beef to the menu - but need to stock up on bones to balance it out. Ground beef is fattier and higher calories, as well as being better for Boston's heart condition, so i'm excited to see those improvements.

We were also brought some "offal" from a local hunter, and are very appreciative. Shane is going hunting this weekend, so hoping that goes well too!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Beverly's Birthday Hootfest!

Date of Event: 10-16-2010

So Beverly likes owls, and when I got selected to plan her birthday party, I wanted to incorporate that. I knew I'd seen some fun ideas in the past, and was excited to play along.

The first thing I made was fieldmouse truffles. Owls eat mice in the wild, so although it was a little bit morbid, I knew she'd appreciate it the cuteness, and would find it humorous.

1 pkg of chocolate sandwich cookies - pulverized into powder.
1 pkg softened cream cheese.
1/2 pkg of chocolate chips (semisweet)
1 pkg sliced almonds
a few round sprinkles - I would have preffered dragees, but couldn't find any of the colors I wanted, so regular sprinkles had to do.

-Mix the cookie crumbs and cream cheese together to form a thick paste.
-Take spoonfulls at a time and roll them into a ball with your hands. food gloves would probably be a good idea for this step.
-put all the balls onto a sheet pan or platter and into the fridge
-after an hour or so, put them all into a ziploc bag and back into the fridge.
-Then melt chocolate chips. I use the microwave for this. Just heat for 30 seconds at a time until the chips start getting soft, then 15 seconds at a time, stirring between each set.
Even after all of the chips are melted, you want to continue to heat & stir because it will still be too thick to really do what you want.
- drop the cookie balls into the chocolate, roll them around and lift them out with a fork, draining the excess chocolate off before setting them down. I just put them back onto a sheet pan, but if I had thought of it, I would have used a cooling rack, so the excess chocolate could have continued draining.
-while the chocolate is still wet, poke in 2 halves of an almond slice for ears, and 2 black/blue/purple sprinkles for eyes, and one pink sprinkle for a nose.

Then stick them all in the fridge to solidify.
Finished product:

Notice these also have a little bit of pink icing on them. I used pink royal icing at first - hoping I could make a nose with it, but it was just too soft, and became a big pink spot. When I decided to do sprinkle noses instead, it actually turned out looking pretty good even with the pink spot.. gave it a little more character.

Next came the "appetizer course" which consisted of an owl-shaped cheese ball (with sliced almonds for the feathers) and owl hummus (with pesto eyes and various veggie details)

Super cute!

For the main course - we had pizza!

Then, for desert we ate the field mice with Owl Cake!

All in all an awesome birthday!

Pinky Mice & Other Expiements...

So a couple days ago i (finally) convinced my husband to take the raw plunge,

and I've been "testing" the waters a little bit with the dogs.
We used to own a snake that ate pinky mice, and although the snake has been gone
for a while, we still have several packages of pinky mice in the freezer. So I
thought I'd make use of them.
Our 2 GSDs are used to catching and crunching an ice cube from the freezer every
time we open it. So, I just tossed them a frozen mouse instead. It was eagerly
consumed like it was nothing new. The Great Dane, however, spit it right back
out like it was an alien.
So then I thought maybe if it wasn't so cold he'd be more open to it. So I
thought the mouse out, and gave it to him. He took it, but was clearly uncertain
what he should do once it reached his mouth.
Then, he punctured it's abdomen and I assume whatever unpleasantries might be in
a mouse gut, promptly got in my dogs mouth. He spit it out immediately, and
started foaming and drooling to get the mess out.
He wont try mouse anymore.

However, I also have some venison meat in the freezer, so I thawed a pound or so
of that. it's small steaks probably no more than a couple ounces each. I put
them the GD's bowl, and he immediately started licking.. and licking.. and
licking.. I tried to praise and encourage, but it took forever before he finally
picked one up, and plopped it down onto my kitchen floor, sniffed it, and
returned to licking what was in his bowl.
Eventually, when all of the steaks had been plopped on the floor, he picked them
up one at the time and began to slowly eat them. I witnessed for the first time
what I've read about dogs not knowing how to chew their food, because it was
obvious he couldn't quite get the hang of it. Fortunately he's a big dog with a
big throat, and they were fairly small pieces, so he was able to scarf them
down, however ungracefully. Except the last piece, which he chewed a few times
and returned to the floor, then lost interest. I gave up on him and split it
between the other dogs who are apparently way less picky.

Anyway - We're not going to start the raw diet for another week, for multiple
reasons I won't get into here, but I'm definitely glad we decided to start with
the chicken quarters, as clearly at least one dog needs some chewing lessons.
The mice are getting dumped occasionally a few at a time into the cat bowl, and that seems to be going well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Basic Dog Food Recipe preface:

My opinion on dog food is no secret, but its certainly not widely accepted either. I can only hope that somewhere out in the internet world, someone will decide to hear me out, and give this recipe a try, or at least be open minded enough to try to improve their dog's nutrition.

Before you get the recipe, there's some basic background that you need to know.
For starters, although we consider them carnivores, the domesticated dog should by slightly more omnivorous than their wild counterparts, the wolf.
Why? Consider this: in the wild, wolves are opportunistic hunters and scavengers. They will often survive by hunting small game, such as rabbits, or by "cleaning up" the leftovers of some other animal's dinner, or by picking the weak from a herd of large game, particularly if one is isolated, injured, or ill.
Now that sounds fairly carnivorous to me, and it is, but theres two factors usually left unmentioned; Variety, and Source.

Variety is about the range of food in the diet. While there may be a favorite, or a most common meal, a wolf will often have multiple protein sources. Perhaps rabbit one day, goose the next, perhaps deer after that. Part of being in the wild means there is very little regularity, and therefore a significant variety in the diet. When comparing this to the domesticated dog's diet, there is a single source. In fact, most people stick to a particular brand of dog food. But different protein sources have different vitamin and mineral content, and so by sticking to one variety of dog food, you're sticking to one level of vitamin/minerals.
To be fair, chicken is usually a pretty well-balanced option.

Which brings us to Source. Wild wolves, with the exception of an occasional raid on a human neighborhood, eat wild animals. Wild animals also enjoy the benefits of variety in their diet. Therefore the wolves eat the wild animals that have grown up eating a variety of things and the wild version of, for example, a rabbit, would have significantly improved nutritional quality compared to a captive rabbit that gets fed rabbit chow. In addition, the source of the prey determined physical fitness, which effects it's fat level. This is where the chicken that was a decent option for Variety becomes a less desirable one. The chicken commonly used to make dog food is pretty much always the bottom of the barrel. commercially raised with less than ideal nutrition, then processed and poor enough quality that the FDA or USDA won't approve it for human consumption. Thus, while the free range garden fed chicken might have been an excellent option for dog food.. the actual chicken that gets used to make the dog food is far from ideal.

To offset this effect, we can utilize a number of countermeasures. First, we can vary the proteins we feed our dogs. Second, we can identify better sources for that protein.

Please don't misunderstand, unless you have a truly impressive grocery store, you're not going to be able to call them and recommend that they find a better source for their in-house brand of dog food.  The only way to really do this is to stop using the poorly sourced dog foods.

So you can switch to a better dog food, but "more expensive" does not always equal "better".. and beyond that, the best quality dog food in the world isn't worth much at all when your dog has an allergy to one of the ingredients.

To start, you'll have to do some research, but, fortunately, a lot of it has been done for you already by scientists and breeders alike. This website is a great start, and any good breeder will tell you to stick to the "premium" dog foods, and most show breeders will tell you to stick to 5 and 6 star foods only.

Which brings me to a new subject:
"I'm not planning on showing my dog, He's just a yard dog, so I don't have to feed him this fancy mess"
This sentence makes me cringe. But, for now, suffice it to say, yes you do. I'll save the rant for another day.

Now back to the task at hand.
The best way to know for a fact that you're providing variety from a good source is to make your dogs food yourself. In fact, many show dog owners feed a "BARF (Bones And Raw Food) diet", and I would strongly reccomend that as well. Again, the "why" will be saved for another post.

So, we've finally reached the point.
Dog food needs to be better. Your dog deserves better. If you want something done right, do it yourself.
Every dog is different, and this recipe should be tweaked according to your dogs breed, activity level, and specific health requirements. If you'd like to see how to tweak this recipe for your dog, feel free to contact me and i'd be happy to work with you to figure it out.

Basic Dog Food Recipe:
3 parts Whole, Raw Bone-in chicken thighs
1 part Vegetables

Mix and Serve.

Yes. That's it.

It's really that easy.

Then, you vary according to what's in season, what's on sale, and what your dog needs. In deer season, throw in some venison. Went fishing? Throw in some fish. Chickens laid extra eggs? Soft boil them, then throw them in. Zucchini on sale? go for it. Having turkey for thanksgiving? That bag full of yuckies is perfect for the dogs.
It's that simple, and it's still better than dog food.

Of course, you'll want to read up on the foods you can't feed your dog, but it's a relatively short list.

Before you go feeding this every day, please be aware than just like a human, changes in diet can lead to tummy trouble. Particularly since this is raw food, your dog has likely never had raw food before, and therefore lacks the enzymes required to digest it. The result is a very unhappy pup, and probably an unhappy owner. You can add some of these enzymes back into the diet in the form of supplements.
The Great Dane Lady is a great resource for picking out supplements and you can find her here:

Even with supplements, there will be a transition period, especially if you feed grocery store dry food now. I would strongly reccommend gradually switching to a super-premium dry dog food, then using that exclusively, then gradually switching to the homemade diet. The entire switch should take a month or so, depending on the dog.
Still, I volunteered to create a recipe, and while most variations on the ratio above will suffice, a recipe it is not.
So, bearing in mind that the dog I make this for is significantly larger than most, this is my recipe, I encourage you to make smaller batches.

6 Raw, Bone in, Skin on Chicken Thighs
1 Raw chicken back with livers attached
1 cup green beans par-boiled
1 cup chopped cooked carrots
2 soft boiled eggs, still in shell.

mixed with the following to make a gravy:
1 can Low sodium chicken broth,
a pinch each of rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley
1/4cup frozen, thawed blueberries
1/4 cup plain yogurt
4 dog multivatamins, crushed.

This recipe is based off of what I had in the fridge at the time, and what I was planning to eat for dinner that night. Being the frugal not-quite-housewife that I am, I like to buy whole chickens, and cut them up for meals, especially when they're on sale. I also like to stock up on thighs and legs because we prefer dark meat, and it's also pretty cheap on sale. I think I got these thighs for 69cents/lb..
The rosemary, thyme, oregano, and parsley are all herbs from my own garden, and each have health benefits, especially parsley. Green beans and carrots are pretty much the easiest veggies to find, and pretty cheap too, so I try to keep them on hand as much as possible. The 4 multivitamins is actually the recommended dose for my huge dog, so please dont feed that to yours because you'll probably make him sick with vitamin toxicity.

You'll notice there are no grains in my recipe, and that's because i'm pretty strongly against them. The only reason to feed a dog grains is to keep costs low, which is not a good enough reason for me, especially when the largest portion of the recipe is only 69c/lb. In the winter, and for some cases, i would recommend adding peeled potatos or pasta to the mix, but in general, why bother?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Back to Reality

Well wedding has passed, and it went wonderfully! I can't wait to get some pictures up of the best party i've ever planned!

Now though, I'm back to work, and back to reality.

What's next on the horizon? My sister's 17th Birthday Party!
Although the details are staying a surprize, it's an Owl themed party. That will be October 16th.

Then of course, it's time for the Annual Halloween Bash! We do this kinda potluck style, and provide recipes for any guests that want to pitch in for themed food. Some of last year's delights were roasted slugs, caterpillar salad, mini mummies, Bat ears & Salsa, and so on! I can't wait to see what everybody comes up with this time around!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Just wanted to stop in and chat because I haven't in quite a while. Not usually a good thing right after starting something.. but after losing my job last month, I've been very busy trying to find a new job, and trying to get wedding stuff done (Today marks 2 weeks til the big day!)

I promise I'll update once things return to normal.. We've got a lot going on! Looking forward to catching up!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Dog Food Pyramid doesn't exist.

Finding a good Homemade recipe for dog food is something I've looked into quite a bit since becoming a dog owner. As part of my perspective that nutrition is the future of preventative medicine and the key to efficiency in the home, nutrition for my dogs becomes increasingly more important.

Boston's recent diagnosis of heart disease and immenent heart failure has reinvigorated my search for something better. While the disease is not caused by insufficient diet, a better diet can help keep the symptoms at bay.

In the past, my main goal when searching for dog food is to find something as close as possible to what a dog would eat in nature. Finding ingredients with real words that I recognize is step 1.
Heart disease has forced me to take it a step further.

One of the side effects/ symptoms/ signs of heard disease is Pulmonary Adema. More commonly known as fluid in the lungs, it's caused by the heart not pumping efficiently enough to clear out the lungs. You may have also heard the term "Congestive Heart Failure", and the word "Congestive" refers to the "Congestion" in the lungs or heart (sometimes in other places, too).

As with Congestive Heart Failure in humans, one of the primary dietary concerns is the amount sodium the patient eats. For Boston, the cardiologist recommended less than .25% dry matter. (I think i'm gonna do another blog post in the not-too-distant future about food label terminology, but for now, just focus on the number)

So I excitedly went to my local pet food retail center. I was on a mission armed with one of my favorite weapons, a number! I love a number because its easy to tell when it's right or wrong. I hate it when a vet gives me terms like "lethargic" because I can't measure it, and I can't tell if my dog is lethargic or just a lazy couch potato like every other great dane i've ever heard about. But I can tell when a number is less than or greater than .25!

Except that sodium content is not listed on the ingredient list of dog foods. Awesome.

So I did what I had to do, and found the 1-800 number on the bottom of the bag, and called to find out sodium content.

Boston is also allergic to rice, so the dry bagged dog food options are limited already, which was probably a good thing because otherwise I would have had to call every 1-800 number in the store. Instead, I was able to skip quite a few that I knew from previous investigations did not have a rice-free formula. I ended up calling 10 companies.
Of those, 2 had low sodium rice-free options, neither of which were sold in my particular location.
Fantastic. Reason number 759 I hate living in a small town.

I had to buy something, the dogs have to eat, so I went with the same dog food I normally buy, high sodium and all. But I got home and started my search for a homemade recipe again.

Every time I search for  dog food recipes online, I just get mad. There is an emmense void of understanding about canine nutrition, and the internet proves that tenfold.  If you do a search for "canine nutritional requirements", one of the first results is a website that says how awful it is to give your dog bones and specifically says "cooked or uncooked" bones are bad. Then on the SAME page is a link for a BARF recipe (stands for Bones And Raw Food), of which a primary ingredient is raw animal bones. It's just one example of the internet as a whole.

The truth is, we just don't know that much about canine nutrition, and there is no official guideline for dogs like there is for humans. I think it sucks, but it's the truth, and just like always, we have to do the best we can.

I've been invited to guest-post my resulting recipe on a friend's blog, and hope to have it up for the Reckless Culinarian by next weekend. The recipe won't be perfect, and I'll do my best to identify the areas for improvement, so that hopefully if you know of , or can find a better solution, you can make it happen.

The meal is something that will look very similar to one you might cook for yourself.  A main entree, vegetables, and a "filler". The term filler getsa bad rap, and most of the time when it comes to dog food, it probably should.  But we all use filler in our diets, and in fact it is an important part of our nutritional requirements. You know this as your pasta, your bread, your rice, or your potato dish. It's the inexpensive part of the meal that makes the more expensive parts be enough to fill you up. The only thing that really changes to make it a dog food recipe, is the ratio of these different categories. Although, if you eat like a lot of Americans, you might not be changing the ratio at all.

So why can I make dog food out of "people" food, but I'm so against feeding dogs leftovers?
Most of it is preparation. When I cook food for my family of two, I pan sear in oil, I saute in oil, I fry in oil. None of that is acceptable for dog food.
I also add onion, butter, season with garlic and salt.. sometimes I take shortcuts with premade sauces or seasoning which are loaded with more salt and hidden sugar, not to mention more ingredients that are toxic for dogs.
But the gist of it is, if you eat steamed foods, and don't add fats and oils, and don't season with salt, and don't eat anything that is toxic to dogs, then I have no problem with you sharing your leftovers with your dog, in fact, I highly recommend it, because you probably will be doing fido a favor. Do your homework first, of course, but afterwards, go for it.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to my recipe unvealing on The Reckless Culinarian, and hope you'll at least consider it for your dog!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Economics - Home style.

On Monday of this week, I got laid off. It isn't exactly the greatest situation, but I can't say I'm not a little bit releived. I've been pretty unsatisfied in my position for quite a while, and I know it had to happen eventually. I was just hoping to at least get past the wedding first.

But life doesn't usually ask for my opinion before happening, so here we are.
I've spent some time looking through internet job boards, asking friends and family for job leads, and trying to find out what my next step is. Yesterday (Friday) I had an interview with a company about 30 minutes from home. The position would be a longer commute than my last job, and the pay is not competitive, but it's the first interview I got, so I figured I should give it the old college try. As often happens in an interview, they went through my resume to find out likes/dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. I have to say it was the most fun interview that I've ever had. Maybe I'm getting better at interviews, or maybe there just wasn't so much pressure, given that I wasn't (and still am not) so sure it's worth it. For whatever reason, I was very comfortable and had no problem opening up to the man doing the interview (my potential future supervisor).

When we got to the bottom of the resume, in the "hobbies and interests" category, he read aloud "Nutrition for Disease prevention in Humans and Canines" and was obviously somewhat puzzled, and somewhat intrigued. That's when I got excited. He asked how that had anything to do with my desirability as a candidate for employment. My response? "It's all about Efficiency, and I think Nutrition is the future of Home Economics, and Efficiency is the ultimate goal."

See my education in economics is all about efficiency. I joke that I got my degree in frugality, and there are some who have said that I'm a penny pincher. I won't argue with them, I am a penny pincher, but I don't think that's a bad thing. It's all about efficiency and "bang for your buck" so to speak.

So what does nutrition have to do with efficiency and Economics? Well, lets start with a history lesson..

I'd like to start first with Home Economics the dreaded "Home Ec" class.
It's been a long time since I took a "Home Ec" class, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't actually called "Home Ec" because the public school system I grew up in was a little silly that way, and probably paid millions of dollars to find a less oppresive name. But the gist of it is still the same. You spend a few days baking cupcakes and cleaning things with baking soda, and you get an A. Well, that's all I remember anyway.. I may have missed a few classes, though. I think mine was combined with woodworking class to make it more gender-neutral. Whatever. I told you it was a long time ago.

But Home Economics is not "how to bake cupcakes". I'm pretty sure you can read instructions for that on the back of any betty crocker box in the grocery store. To know what Home Economics is, one must know what Economics is.
The leyman's terms definition is "the study of how to distribute limited resources." and the goal is maximum efficiency. So, Home Economics is "the study of how to distribute limited resournces in the home for maximum efficiency"
Well I think anyone can undersand limited resources. Whether you're talking about your paycheck or the number of hours in a day, or eyes in the back of your head, or hands to get things done, there just never seems to be enough of them. You have limited resources, and you have to decide how what to do with them. Sometimes that means you pay the electricity bill instead of going out for caviar. Sometimes that means sending your child to daycare instead of not getting paid for a day. You have to figure out the balance.

The original Home Economists were housewives. In a time when women weren't allowed education, or careers, their job was making their husband's paycheck support the household. Even now, there are some traditional families that will tell you the Husband's role is to bring home the money, and the Wife's role is to budget it and make it work. Some people may consider that sort of perspective to be sexist, but the fact remains that the perspective exists. Obviously these days there are some situations where the roles are reversed, and there are increasingly more house-husbands. Especially now than women are allowed into higher education and therefore more profitable jobs, in many cases even if the family still supports those traditional ideas, the most efficient use of the Wife's time is to work, because she brings in more money by working than she could save by not working.
There are other situations where people don't agree with the traditional gender-roles, but the mother still stays home with the kids. This is especially practical when the Wife?mom does not have profitable enough skills to offset the cost of child care. Around here, child care costs about $155/week for a mediocre daycare fascility. That's over $600 a month. If a mother were to go to work, she'd have to make at least $8,000 a year totally devoted to child care to be financially practical. That's in addition to whatever gas, insurance, additional dry cleaning bills, eating lunches out because there's no kitchen at work, so on and so forth, that she will suddenly be paying because she decided to go to work.  If she makes $100k/year, it's probably still worth it for her to go to work. If she makes minimum wage, it's probably not.

So for the sake of continuity, we'll use the story of a house wife. If that's offensive to you, pretend I'm using the term house husband, and maybe you'll get over it.
According to the traditional role, the housewife must take her husbands paycheck and use it to pay the mortgage, pay the utilities, pay the grocery bill, and keep him in an appropriate condition to maintain his job, (like doing his laundry, or ironing his uniform). All of that is pretty straight forward, and we all have to do it to some extent. But back when home economics got it's start, there was a little more to it.

Joan Jacobs Brumberg, (Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow and Professor, Cornell University College of Human Ecology and author of The Body Project: an Intimate History of American Girls.) said "Home Economists in early 20th century America had a major role in the Progressive Era, the development of the welfare state, the triumph of modern hygiene and scientific medicine, the application of scientific research in a number of industries, and the popularization of important research on child development, family health, and family economics."

The things that stand out the most to me in that statement are hygiene, medicine, development, and health. See, people tend to forget that brushing your teeth is a fairly new concept. Or that throwing your poo out the window was the norm all too recently. To housewives only a few centuries ago, Home Economics was not only about getting the bills paid, but it was about survival. Women had to decide at some point in history that it was more important for their children to brush their teeth and wash their hands. Which means they had to decide that it was "worth it" to spend the family's paycheck on toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap.

Sometimes it wasn't, or at least they didn't think it was. But over time both toothbrushing and handwashing have become the norm. It became for efficient to brush teeth now, than to deal with the pain/agony/expense of a cavity later.. or if you didn't fix the cavity, to deal with the heart disease that is a proven result. Of course, now there are too many diseases to name that we can get from not washing our hands enough, but when we didn't know what they were, it was up to housewives to decide if it was worth preventing.
Although not everyone individually, but certainly housewives and therefore society as a whole, has eventually determined that these ailments are definitely worth preventing. Housewives brought it home. It's more efficient to wash your hands now, than to pay for medical care, or to deal with the emotional cost of death in the family. I like to think of hygeine as the beginnings of preventative medicine.
Fortunately, we've gotten a little further along in terms of general hygeine, so it's not as much of a concern for all but the families with the most limited resources, and even then, there are "shortcuts" to hygeine that still make it the more efficient option (Thank goodness for Baking soda!) Still, I think there's a lot of room for improvement in terms of preventative healthcare in the home, and I believe nutrition is the riches source of potential improvement.

The example I like to use is Sally and the baby. Sally has a baby that cries, and she has figured out that when the baby cries, she can give it broccoli, and the baby stops crying while he eats the broccoli. Sally goes to the store, and sees that carrots are $1/lb and that broccoli is $1/lb. But the baby doesn't stop crying when he eats carrots, only when he eats broccoli.  So, naturally, Sally buys the broccoli.
Now what if instead of broccoli, we call it brownies. The baby stops crying when he eats a brownie, and not when he eats a carrot. Will she buy the brownie? Maybe, but it will be a much more calculated decision because unless she lives under a rock, she knows that a child cannot survive on brownies, and she knows there's serious health risks involved in giving her child brownies every time he cries. She may decide that the baby gets one brownie a day, if he eats all of his carrots. For her, that is the point of efficiency. But the truth is, she's just eyeballing it. She doesn't know the actual long term cost of a brownie per day, and neither do I, and so there's no way either of us could guess in a million years how many servings of carrots "cancels out" the negative effects of a brownie.. if it cancels out anything at all. We just make the best guess we can.

The best Home Economists are the ones that always try to make better guesses on maximum efficiency in their home.
While I am not a mother, and with the exception of my recent change in career status and my upcoming nuptuals, I am not a housewife, I still believe the Home Economist in any home (whether it be the traditional kind or not) is the harbinger of efficiency in the home. It is up to her (or him, or them) to balance the budget, but also to prevent any situations that would jeapordize the status quo.Granted, there is more to the equation than any one person can handle, but that's why housewives get mad when you say they don't work, cuz they do, and they do a lot. The closest thing I have that can relate to being a mother, is caring for my dogs.

I look at "Nutrition for Disease Prevention in Humans and Canines" in the same light as Sally and the baby. I beleive it's cheaper to prevent a disease than to treat it, or deal with the ramifications later. But I don't just mean that it's cheaper in terms of budget. It's also a lot less stress. Ask anyone who has to give their dog (or child) regular insulin shots. It's a lot to deal with.
There are plenty of fantastic dog foods on the market that cost an arm and a leg, and some that cost your first born child. But are they efficient? My household budget plays a role in that efficiency equation too, and it's hard to justify spending more on dog food than we spend on people food. But then, we could eat better too. To really figure out the point of efficiency, I'd have to know the exact risk of each different potential health problem, and how each ingredient combination would improve or worsen that risk. It could be done. Somebody, somewhere, may have already done the math, but the trick is just to do the best you can with that you've got, and always be open to improvement.
Whether it's dog food or frozen dinners, there's pro's and con's to anything you can buy. Either it's lacking in something, has too much of something (probably calories and sodium at least!) or it's just too much money, or maybe some combination thereof. Hopefully I can utilize this blog to help you improve efficiency in your home. Or at least help you guess a little better!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Mad Hatter Tea Party!

 As anyone who follows me on Facebook knows, I spent last weekend preparing for, and enjoying, Kristina's baby shower. Specifically, I was in charge of the menu.
Kristina is the first of my oldest group of friends to have a baby, so to say we're excited is an understatement. I am SO glad I got to be a part of it!

The surprize theme of the party was "Mad Hatter Tea Party", and the room was decked out in crooked art on the walls, teacups everywhere, fun colors and more than I can remember to add to the charm. It looked perfect!

For my part, I had hoped to get some photos, but unfortunately I was a little side tracked and never took pictures of the food. So, I'll just have to do my best to describe it:


Mad Hats - These were mini Black Olive & Gorgonzola quiches. I struggled a little with the execution of these. First, I was hoping to use biscuit layers as a bottom of the hat, and then put the quiche on top to become the hats. When it came down to it, there just wasn't enough time to make that happen. so as a plan B, I put a little biscuit dough on top of each quiche as I baked it. This didn't really have the effect I was going for, and so finally, I just added flour to the quiche mixture and made free-standing quiche muffins. They worked just fine - Third time's the charm! If I had to do it again, I would probably tone down the black olives. Although they were quite tasty, the moisture from the black olives kept the quiche a little soggier than I would have liked.

Pocket Watch Bruchetta - These were a big hit, and incredibly easy to make.Essentially, take a couple cans of quartered artichoke, puree, add in 1 egg, & 1/4 to 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese. I don't know the exact measurement of the cheese, because I eyeballed it.  Anyway, that whole mixture went into a gallon ziplock bag. Then, it gets piped onto those little french bread toast slices (the round medallions you can find in the bakery section of almost any grocery store).
Then, on top, 2 strips of zucchini peel chiffonade to make the clock "hands".
Set them in the broiler for a few minutes, and done!  These were a big hit!

Bread and Butterflies - For the bread portion of this, I made 2 types of scones. Cranberry Orange Scones were very simple, and in my opinion could have used more flavor. If I were to make these again, I probably would have added sugar to the dough, and maybe some orange juice. But, they were great with the toppings i'll discuss later.
Cheddar Garlic Scones were the beginner version of a cheddar-herb biscuit you'll find at a large seafood restaurant chain. These were quite tasty!
I actually rolled all of the scone dough, cut it, and then froze it, and baked some of it on the spot at the party location. This worked out really well, so the guests had freshly baked scones, and I had leftover frozen scones to bake whenever I had a hankering! I tried the Cheddar Garlic scones later with some butter brushed on and shredded cheddar cheese  on top. Deelish!
Butterflies - These were just butter pats in the shape of butterflies. I was hoping to find butterfly shaped candy molds that I could chill softened butter in to create these butterflies. In the end, I had to roll softened butter in a small layer, and cut it like a cookie with a butterfly shaped fondant cutter. THen, I stuck them in the freezer to keep their shape. I made WAY too much of this, and I also put too much of it out too early, and it ended up sticking together and becoming a buttery butterfly mess. It got the point across though!

Yesterday Jam, Tomorrow Jam, but Never today!
The first two were smuckers jams from the jar, put into little bowls with "Yesterday" and "Tomorrow" labels.
The last was in a similar bowl with "Never", and was, as might be indicated, NOT jam. It was actually greek yogurt with fig preserves and is HEAVENLY.
Greek yogurt, for those that don't know, is strained. This makes it thick and creamy, even when it's fat content is lowered. I am not a fan of American-style yogurt, especially the fat free variety. To me it tastes too fat free. Greek yogurt does not, and has twice the protein of American yogurt.
Fig preserves are a relatively new addition to my small-town grocery store, but I know they're readily available at home. A magical jar full of flavor that is not unlike honey or apple butter.
So the two ingredients on their own are pretty tasty, but when combined, WOW.

These spreads were all served with crumpets, because I thought any good tea party should have crumpets. Although they were certainly used interchangeably with the scones.
In hindsight, I probably should have left the jams in jam-like jars. A lot of people steered away from the blobs in bowls, and probably because they didn't know what it was. I had labels on everything, but if people didn't have hands to move the labels to reading distance, then they wouldn't have known.

Wonderland swirls - These were just simple appetizer swirls that you can find at the grocery store freezer section. Just Thaw & Serve - a great way to save me some time. I think it's important to have something quick and easy like that with any menu. Just a simple way to keep the pressure off.

Croquet Mallets - These were checken skewers and mixed veggie skewers, with a side of tzatziki sauce. The skewers turned out just fine, and I had plenty of them (in fact, I had the leftovers twice for lunch the following week). I was not thrilled with the seasoning, and probably would have prefered just plain salt & pepper, instead of the greek seasoning I used. It was a little too bright for my taste, and I wanted something earthy. Especially since it was paired with Tzatziki sauce, which is a greek cucumber/yogurt sauce. This was actually my way of making use of the leftover container of greek yogurt from the "NEVER". It's the same sauce you'd have on a Gyro or greeek cucumber salad. I switched the traditional dill to mint, and probably will not do that again. Again, a little too bright in the flavor department, and just didn't provide the right depth of flavor when mixed with the skewers. Not bad for a first try though!

Rose Petals (painted red, of course) - This was just orreciette pasta, in a homemade red-pepper pesto. This was REALLY tasty when I tried it before the party.. but then I panicked, and was concerned that I wouldn't have enough, so I added another pound of pasta, but didn't have any more pesto. The result was that I simply didn't have enough sauce to go around in the end, and it was kinda bland. There was also LOTS leftover, which I donated to the hosts. If nothing else it'll make a decent side dish. Oh well, next time I'll know.

To drink, I made 2 different varieties of iced sweet tea.
Drink Me Red - Madagascar Vanilla Red Tea from Celestial seasonings. with about a 1&1/2 cups of sugar per gallon. This went FAST and I had less than a cup leftover at the end of the party. This was especially tasty with a little splash of vanilla rum or coconut milk.
Drink Me Green - Plain Green Tea, with less than 1 cup of sugar per gallon, and 1 lemon, sliced. I'm not a huge fan of green tea, but I think it should have been stronger... but I think that about every drink, haha.

Then I made punch, which was a HUGE hit. It was really simple also - I took Lipton Iced tea mix with peach flavor (its a canned powder in the tea section) and made it with half the recommended amount of water. then I froze it in bundt pan rings. When the party started, I set the frozen ring in the punch bowl, and poured ginger ale on top. This was actually an idea I got from a punch my mom makes at baby showers, only she uses lime sherbet instead of frozen tea. I think I prefer the taste of hers, but mine fit the theme better!

Last, but not least,
Rabbit Hole Cupcakes - I actually do know that we got some pictures of these, but I haven't seen them yet. They were just funfetti cupcakes, decorated to look like a field of grass with some bunnies jumping down a hole. There's no way I can describe them better than a photo, so just trust me til I get a pic up.

All in all, a pretty good feast!

Kristina had presents all over the place, lining an entire wall. She & baby were very well spoiled, and I got to see friends that I hadnt seen in years. It was a great day!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lord Boston Eber Jager - and living on credit

Boston "Boss" is almost 3 years old. He's a male, AKC registered Great Dane. He's black with white paws, white chest, white muzzle, and a little white tip on his whip-like tail. He came to us in March of 2009, severely underweight, food aggressive, dehydrated, with a urinary tract infection and a strong fear of sticks.
He was brought to us by a friend of a friend, who had an acquaintance that could no longer afford to feed him or her two other dogs (both Boxers).
First I'd like to digress by saying this is one ridiculously common situation that makes me mad as fire. These are not small breeds of dog. They are not light eaters, if that even exists in dogs. When you buy a puppy, it's going to grow into a dog. In fact, it only takes a year or so. PLAN AHEAD PEOPLE. That said, I'm glad this one decided to find the dogs new homes before much longer, because I wonder if the dogs could have survived. I know that one of the dogs didn't.
Boston is my second Dane, and I have always loved the breed, and even though we already had two dogs, I am honored that our friends thought we were the best forever home for him. Over the last year and half (almost) we have isolated his food allergies, brought him back up to a healthy weight, improved on the food aggression, and are slowly getting over the fear of sticks. We have had a few set backs. Namely, he has had several bouts of colitis, which are incredibly unpleasant to wake up to, but which we are beginning to recognize earlier symptoms of, and are learning how to nip in the bud. And he is still protective over food, only now instead of his own, he will growl when someone gets too close to my food, which I don't quite understand yet.
More importantly, Boston has become an integral part of our little multi-species family. For those of you unfamiliar with Great Danes, they are a very family-oriented breed. Our other dogs (German Shepherds) like to go play in our back yard for hours together. Boston, like most Danes, prefers to stay with his humans. He follows us inside, he follows us outside, he follows us to the kitchen, to the office, to the bedrooms, and sometimes even to the bathroom (which he doesn't fit in, by the way!). When we're doing errands around the house, he stays with us while we do it. When we're watching a movie on the couch, so is he. Danes are the epitome of companion animals, and should never be expected to behave otherwise, because they probably wont!
He has earned a very special place in our hearts, on our living room sofa, and in our home.

Last month, at a routine vet appointment for a booster shot, our Vet noticed a very irregular heartbeat in Boston. As a measure of precaution, she listened again a few minutes later. Still, she was very concerned. She referred us to the North Carolina Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), the same one I hope to be applying to in a few years, for a consultation.
The reason for the concern is a disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). The name literally means "enlargement of the heart". Essentially, there is some stress on the heart, and with giant breeds that could simply be that he's so big it's hard to pump the blood to all those far away places, and the heart attempts to compensate for the stress by growing larger. This will allow the heart to pump a larger volume of blood at a time, and this mechanism works incredibly well for a while, sometimes for years. The problem is, it's not supposed to have to work for years.
Being from an Economics background, I like to think of this like living on credit cards. If you have a good job and available credit, and you lose your job, you could, in theory, survive off of your credit cards for a few weeks with just the bare minimum purchases until you got back on your feet, and then you could pay those credit cards back down, and it would be like it never happened. But if the job hunt takes longer than a few weeks, and if your car suddenly craps out and you have to buy a new transmission in order to get to interviews, and so on and so forth... Well obviously your credit is not going to support you indefinitely, and even when you do eventually get some income, it's going to be incredibly difficult to pay down the balance.

At some point, there's no credit left, and depending on how finances were managed before the job loss, some people will be able to support themselves longer than others.
When you extrapolate this scenario in terms of an enlarged heart, knowing that Boston's most critical developmental & physical growth period was riddled with poor diet, limited exercise, and possible mistreatment, not to mention just general instability and not great genes to begin with, it's easy to assume that Boston would not be able to live on credit for a particularly long time.

So the bill collectors begin to call. This is when the first symptom might be noticed. That irregular heartbeat our Vet. heard. This is the sound of a valve not doing it's job or a wall getting loose. Something in the engine stops working properly, and starts getting in the way. The Vet likened it to the sound of shoes in the clothes dryer. When I got to hear it for myself, she was absolutely right.

I asked her if I could do anything in the mean time, or what symptoms I should look out for.I was instructed to keep his regular schedule exactly the same, and the only other thing to look out for is sudden collapse. After doing some additional reading on my own, I've discovered that in some dogs, they get pulmonary edema as a secondary issue because of the heart not pumping the blood efficiently through the lungs. This is basically fluid in the lungs that causes difficulty breathing, and prompts a pretty distinctive cough. It may or may not occur in DCM patients.

So we set up the appointment with CVM, and it's tomorrow, July 14th.
Boston will begin preparing tonight at 9:30, when we put away the food bowl for the 12 hours before consultation. Then, tomorrow we'll leave for Raleigh at 8:30am with the folder I keep his medical history in, as well as his pet insurance policy information (which I HIGHLY recommend, by the way!)
We should arrive at CVM at 9:30 and fill out a few forms, then go over his medical history (or as complete as possible) and get the basic physical, and they'll give me the walk-through of what the tests are like, and what they do, and why we need them.
The most common tests for this disease are a chest Xray, an EKC, and an Echocardiogram (Ultrasound). The Vet may choose to do one or all of these tests, or may have another test they would like to try also.
After about an hour of that, I'll be excused, and they'll take Boss back to get him ready.
5 - 7 hours later, I'll get a phone call informing me that I can come get him. I have the option of waiting in the lobby during that time, or leaving. I'll probably leave though because I'll need to get my mind off of it.
When I get there to pick him up, I'll spend another hour going over the tests, and discussing a plan of action with the Vet.

The truth of the matter is, even if it's not actually DCM, it is something that needs to be taken seriously. The strange rhythm is bad, and will need to be treated, either surgically or pharmaceutically, depending on the cause.

The reason I brought this up is because I believe that there is a real person to blame for this. Maybe one could argue it's several people to blame. Honestly, we are facing a very real and very devastating loss. Financially, we are facing huge expenses. We are facing these because of human irresponsibility.
To clarify, I acknowledge that organs fail, and that all creatures pass away, even my own. But the irresponsibility of humans in Boston's past have expedited the process.
His previous owner did so by being at best a generally bad owner, and at worst being a neglectful or abusive owner. I don't have proof of the latter, but have no doubt about the former.
His breeder did so by:
a) pairing 2 dogs to sell puppies, instead of doing lineage research to find out about the genetic health problems of the resulting litter. I don't know the breeder, and although I've only looked a little bit, I haven't been able to find her. It may be the that this is just an incredibly unfortunate coincidence, but the likelihood is quite small that this would happen to offspring so young, if the breeder had been more responsible.
b) by finding a truly horrible home for her puppy. A responsible breeder should find a stable environment for the puppies in a litter, and from what I know of Boston's owner (which is more than I will put on the internet), she hadn't been stable in quite a while. This breeder, and gajillions like her, is the reason rescue groups and animal shelters are overflowing. She is the reason PETA thinks the AKC is a evil company, which it's not (I'll save the rest of that rant for another time). She is the reason people think dog breeders are horrible neglectful animal mis-treaters.

There are good, honest, people in the world that truly want to build better breeds, myself included. Stronger, healthier dogs without genetic predispositions to life-threatening illnesses. Or even those that have a predisposition for survival and to thrive. They really do exist! Unfortunately they get overshadowed by those that are irresponsible and focused on making money. Or maybe they're focused on something else, I don't really know because I don't understand. Suffice it to say they are not focused on the dogs or on improving the breed.

Anyway, tonight and tomorrow are going to be a challenge. I already have rocks in my stomach and have lost my appetite. I'm so ready to get it over with, but so not looking forward to bad news. I'll be saying my prayers, crossing my fingers, and making sure my babydog gets a very tasty dinner tonight, and knows how much we love him. That's the best we can do for now.