My mother was not a great cook. I think she would happily cop to that. She made spaghetti, burnt steak, and stuck underseasoned chicken breasts in the oven until they turned rubbery. Her mother was not a great cook either. She was Irish, so I guess that was part of her legacy to boil everything until it fell apart and all the taste seeped out, or so she claimed.
However, her father was French, so she inherited a different type of culinary genius: boy could she bake. If I had to choose one of the two to excel in, it’s pastry chef every time. Banana bread. Cranberry muffins. Christmas sugar cookies with just the right frosting:cookie ratio. And her New England birthright, the whoopie pie.
Every Christmas, she would bake piles of these little crack blobs and send them to every corner of the States, where otherwise mild-mannered humans would turn into ravenous wolves and tear into them until nothing was left but a small pile of chocolate crumbs and the satisfied groans of bellies bloated with marshmallow creme. And when my kids were older, they took my place up at the counter to learn the great tradition of cookie decorating:
They weren’t bakery perfect, but that’s what made them fun.
Mom would also on occasion bake macaroons, those pasty, blobby coconut things that stick to your teeth and cling to the insides of your esophagus like phlegm. I was not a fan. But one fateful day I wandered into a French bakery and admired the little pastel rows of goodness and light known as French macarons, and everything changed. I picked up a rose flavored one and a lavender one, and I was hooked.
By MachineKeebler (talk).MachineKeebler at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons
Before they became wildly popular a year or two ago, they were nearly impossible to find, and I decided that the easiest thing to do would be just to learn how to make them myself. Mom was on board too, ready to add a new treat to her repertoire.
Unfortunately, macarons are known as one of the granddaddies of pastry making, a confection as temperamental as an 80s hair band vocalist. Beat the meringue too long? Ruined. Not long enough? Ruined. Also able to ruin them: temperature too high, too low, overmixing, undermixing, high humidity, Mercury in retrograde, wrong rack in oven, playing country music while baking, etc, etc.
It only made me more determined to unlock their secrets, so last year I procured a cookbook, 5 bags of almond flour, and spent an afternoon in the kitchen with my mother ruining macarons.
After 3 or so batches, we were able to get a cookie sheet out of the oven with at least half of them edible, and we considered this a great success.
“Next year,” she said, “We’ll have this down.”
We never did get to practice together after that.
So a couple of weeks ago, with this echoing in my mind, I realized I needed to finish what we started and make some damn macarons. They are not like making a batch of chocolate chip cookies where you screw it up a little, meh, still fine.
Macarons are an event. You need to prepare. You need to think about things. You need to time everything just so, knowing the difference between firm meringue and soft, how many folds it takes before the stiff batter melts into pipable lava, make sure to bang the tray on the counter a few times, you need to rest the cookie before you bake it so you get those little crusty feet. Getting it right is like finding the keyhole into the Misty Mountain, a perfect meeting of all the right tiny details.
And even when you do all of this right, they still get messed up. Sometimes they slant to the left like a manhole askew, sometimes the foot sticks to the pan and all you get is the top half, or they’re overdone and crunchy all the way through. Piles wind up in the trash. And every once in a while you hit the jackpot and get a perfectly done shell, and then- then, it’s magic. Crunchy and chewy and delicate and unlike any other thing out there, and you think to yourself, I have reached nirvana.
Manic Pixie Baker
I went into manic baking mode this week. Between the 3 dozen macarons I took to a cookie exchange (and lost the contest to a BROWNIE, what the heck is that about?), the teacher gifts, the ones my husband wants to bring into work, I can’t keep them in the fridge before they get carted out. Biscoff gingerbread. Pistachio. Cherry cordial. Eggnog. Nutella. I was a macaron machine.
I could have just gone and bought them, I suppose, or picked one of any thousands of easier cookies to make. But there is something special about giving someone a perfectly tied teensy box of macarons that makes a recipient light up- even when the cookies are imperfect, which most of them are. Because you are basically presenting a box that says, “I wasted 40 hours of my life swearing at a bowl of egg whites in order to bring you this,” and when the person squees in delight, you realize it’s not a waste after all.
In the hours I spent in meditative contemplation over a tray of almond meal, it really started to sink in as to why I felt such a need to get it right, to fulfill this promise to my mom that I would nail this cookie in a manner befitting my birthright. Whether or not they came out perfectly was completely beside the point, an added bonus but not necessary.
They are, simply put, a confectionary metaphor for life itself. They’re never going to be perfect. There’s always going to be one more way you can make them better. It takes time and effort and patience to get to the end and it still may not be what you wanted, but oh, even then, it was worth it.
What you bring to the party, and what you give to others from your own heart and hands- it is worth it. Never stop giving.
As you probably know, I have a bit of a complicated relationship with the PTA moms. Not moms in general, mind you, just the small subset of Pinterest loving, glue-gun wielding domestic lifestyle experts whose expectations I can never, despite my best efforts, seem to live up to. It doesn’t matter what school we’re at, it happens every time. First it was the art project/pooper scooper incident in kindergarten. Then it was the Have a Very Agro Valentine’s Day episode. And now it’s crudite, crudite that torments the soul.
It started simply enough: an email asking for volunteers to bring in food items for the teachers this conference week. I looked on the sign up sheet and put my name next to crudite: veggies and dip. Easy, I thought, a quick run to the grocery store for some carrot sticks and dip and done.
I forgot where I was.
(Not two weeks ago, I found myself in the midst of a malestrom for the fifth grade Halloween party when all the room moms got together and asked the parents to bring in food. I asked my class parents to bring in pretzels and fruit. The other moms showed up with cookies shaped like rotting fingers with almond nails and jelly blood, and eyeball eggs with veins hand-painted on with food dye. My pretzels were shoved under the table.)
So now, a few minutes after signing up for the veggie tray, I received an email instructing me to be creative! which is always concerning. To illustrate her point, the organizer included this helpful photo:
As to what our vegetables should aspire to be.
Now at this point a normal person would laugh and say, “OK, lady,” and bring in a tray from Costco, but unfortunately I still have the sin of pride to contend with on a regular basis, so I instead spent the afternoon standing in line at the grocery store watching YouTube videos of Martha Stewart blanching asparagus. Three hours of cursing later, with piles of peeled burnt chestnuts and carrot shavings dripping out of my hair like Jackson Pollock on a bender, I came up with this:
This is the dogged tenacity that makes people like me get through vet school even when all indicators point to the “why?” factor. We can’t explain it. We just have to.
I shared this with my friends, and they all got a good laugh out of how silly it was, and then later in the day my friend in Ohio sent me a link and said, “See? You’re not alone.” It was a photo of some artfully arranged food items a group of mothers had arranged for their teachers.
It was, upon further inspection, a photo from my very school from earlier in the day. It had already made the Pinterest rounds and ended up in Ohio, where my friend saw it and sent it to me as an example of Moms Gone Styled. I scrolled through it, looking for my contribution.
Notably lacking? The crudite. They were apparently so lackluster as to have not even rated a Facebook photo, and when I returned to pick up the dish I found they had been shoved in the corner in order to make way for some gluten free turkey wraps with hand-whisked dressings in, of course, Mason jars.
At this point, even a not quite normal person would just give up, which is theoretically what I should do, but it’s become clear to me I live in a parallel universe where I am destined to almost-quite get it, over and over and over, but not get it entirely. This is why I am a veterinarian, the almost-quites of the medical field.
So you know what? I’m embracing it. This afternoon I decided to go on a Pinterest binge and make a little Pinterest and dog-friendly crudite platter my way. Hope you enjoy it.
A bright autumn day, full of promise and gently whispered secrets amongst best of friends, calls for sustenance.
Lovingly hand-extruded kibble, with ingredients sourced from local artisans in an organic human-grade facility in Portland by men with bushy beards. In a Mason jar.
We end our afternoon in the garden of delights (it’s water friendly succulents! We’re eco friendly here in drought-parched SoCal) with hand-cut carrot bones from the local CSA, mint from the garden, words of wisdom from the dog sketched in canine-friendly peanut butter hand ground at Whole Foods. And of course, no pet garden of delights would be complete without the coup de grace:
nitrate free ham roses.
You saw it first here, folks. I’m waiting on sponsors for a YouTube tutorial but I think a ham bouquet is a lovely thing.
by Dr. V | Thursday | September 25, 2014 | Comments are off for this post
If you were awake at 7:50 this morning and happen to have been watching San Diego 6, you’d have seen me trying with varied success to get a very sweet and nervous Saint Bernard to eat some treats. You know what they say about pets and kids. But that’s OK, because Gabana was still a precious prop to our perhaps less entertaining but still very important topic, saving money on pet care. Here’s the tips I shared:
1. Don’t skimp on preventive care.
Pop quiz: what is more expensive-
Regular dental cleanings on healthy teeth once a year
One set of extractions on a majorly diseased mouth, complete with antibiotics and an echo to check out that heart murmur the bacteremia ended up causing over time.
I brought in some Minties as an example of a home care item you can use in between cleanings. Love them within caloric reason, but again- cleanings at the vet are just an important as cleanings at your dentist.
Early detection of problems like diabetes, kidney failure, and cancer results in lower vet bills, and more importantly, a healthier pet.
2. Ask for a written prescription
Yes, veterinarians often charge more for some meds than what you can get it for at Target or Wal-Mart. They pay more for them in the first place than the big pharmacies. The tradeoff is convenience, which is fine when you are getting one prescription but can add up if your pet needs regular medication. We all get that.
Ask for a written prescription. The veterinarian should provide one on request. Sometimes they will price match, too. The primary concern of our office is to make sure your pet gets the care they need, and the price of meds is often the difference between getting treated and going without.
3. Make your own treats
I’ve covered this extensively, from cupcakes to donuts and jerky, but making your own treats can save money and be a ton of fun as well as give you lots of control over ingredients. Making dog treats is how I got my kids interested in cooking.
Words cannot express my deep love for Fido’s Frosting from K9 Cakery, which is how I made the donuts above. If you recall, Kekoa like to eat this straight from the bag.
There’s only so much you can fit in a quick segment so I didn’t get to cover other topics like pet insurance, but we just spoke about that here a couple of weeks ago anyway. If you have any other tips that’s helped you save without losing out on quality care for your pet, I’m always up for ideas!
Let’s imagine, for a moment, that there is a serial killer loose in your town. One by one, he picks little kids off from the local playground, and it’s horrible and awful. The police are working around the clock, but the killer remains elusive.
But he only ever chooses his victims from that one playground.
You wouldn’t take your kids there, right? Even if *most* of the kids who play there end up ok, even if the police chief says, well, it might be OK now? Why take that chance, when there are plenty of safe alternatives?
The agency has repeatedly issued alerts to consumers about reports it has received concerning jerky pet treat-related illnesses involving 3,600 dogs and 10 cats in the U.S. since 2007. Approximately 580 of those pets have died.
Since 2007, guys. Keep in mind that the FDA is usually all over dog foods when there is potential human illness involved as well, but the wheels turn a little more slowly when there is no indication people are also getting sick. Regardless, I’m glad they are becoming involved- and the level in which they are asking for veterinarians and consumers to participate is much higher than I’ve seen before- but there’s no indication when we might have some answers.
There’s really only three things I’m reminding people of here:
1. It’s not just chicken
Everyone keeps focusing on chicken jerky as the culprit, but some sickened dogs have eaten duck, fruit, or sweet potato jerkies as well. Most of the treats have come from China (they aren’t saying it outright in the fact sheet, but we can read between the lines here.)
2. The symptoms are diffuse
Not every dog has the same symptoms. Some have GI signs, some have liver issues, others have renal disease. There may be one cause but it is possible we are dealing with multiple contaminants, drugs, or toxins. Which is really frightening.
3. This is 100% entirely preventable
Now that we know it’s a problem, there’s an easy solution. Don’t feed jerky treats from China. They are not a necessary part of anyone’s daily nutrition. It won’t find the culprit, but it will keep your pet safe until they do. Here are some alternatives:
I haven’t been posting about Kekoa’s culinary adventures every day, but trust me, she has turned into a regular Anthony Bourdain. When I first said I was doing this Foodie Bucket List for her, my good friend Annette at Biscuits by Lambchop decided to do something very special for us, and I wanted to share it with you all:
It really meant a lot to both of us that you did that. Thank you Annette. 😀 And they smelled really good, too.
Well what do you know, it’s National Dog Week. I know August 26th is National Dog Day, that little factoid is emblazoned in my memory, but I didn’t realize that the fourth week of September is Dog Week and has been for 84 years. In a funny little coincidence, the mother is born on Dog Day and the daughter is born during Dog Week. Clearly this is in our blood. 🙂
I am so pleased that I will be spending the next two days in the company of animal lovers from around the world at the ACES International Conference in San Diego. I hope I bring back some fantastic stories. And in honor of the occasion, here’s 5 awesome ways you can celebrate this most auspicious of weeks.
1. Teach Your Dog a New Trick
No, it doesn’t have to be THIS fancy. Brody still doesn’t know ‘shake’.
2. Take some toys/blankets/food to your local shelter
They always need them! Happy pups are more adoptable, and giving them appropriate stimulation is a big part of that.
3. Foster a pup in need
This is a great way to help a pet without making the lifelong commitment to taking them into the fold (although many people do!) Many dogs that do poorly in a shelter environment blossom under the one on one advantages of living in a home, and foster parents can proudly know they have helped make a special pet that much more adoptable. Petfinder has a great article about fostering pets.
4. Make your dog a special treat
I made EIGHT special treats yesterday, not because I suddenly felt the need to spend seven hours in the kitchen but because I was filming a series of Pawcurious favorites for Pet World Insider. Brody and Koa reaped the benefits and will for the rest of the week. Bronuts and cupcakes and jerky and turbacons and oh, how they were happy.
Dr. V and Robert Semrow from Pet World Insider whip up a Dog Week Celebration Buffet.
5. Take your dog for a walk.
Isn’t it great that this one simple act is enough for your dog to be happy? But if you want to go extra fancy, you can celebrate National Dog Week and National Rollerskating Week (it’s that too!) at the same time and go rollerjoring. Oh, yeah. Seriously, you need to watch this person fly:
On second thought, helmetless = closed head injury waiting to happen. Maybe canicross would be a better choice.
Have you ever tried Gu when you’re out exercising? It’s like trying to swallow phlegm: pasty, sticky stuff that seals your esophagus shut with something that is supposed to be good for you. I don’t care for it (obviously.)
I think Brody feels the same way about biscuits. They’re fine for home, but if you’re out working up a sweat/pant/whatever, a dried out dessicated crunchy thing may not be the most appetizing choice. He doesn’t care for them. So I decided it was my goal for Be Kind to Animals Week to find a power bar or trail mix recipe that we could share. Pre made mixes won’t work: they’re either too salty, too sugary, or too packed with raisins and chocolate chips. Then, I found this recipe, and voila! a new treat was born.
The ingredients: It looks like a lot, but you don’t use much of any one thing.
1/3 c olive oil
1/4 c light brown sugar (I used sucanat)
1/2 c peanut butter
1 mashed banana
1 egg white
1 c whole wheat flour
1/8 c milled flax seed
1 3/4 c rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c assorted nuts, seeds, and fruits. I used pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, peanuts, coconut, mango, and banana chips. Remember to avoid chocolate, raisins, and macadamia nuts!
1. Combine olive oil and brown sugar until well combined
2. Stir in peanut butter
3. Add in banana and egg white
4. Combine flour, flax, cinnamon, and baking powder. Add to mix.
5. Stir in oats
6. Stir in trail mix, blending well until dough sticks together.
7. Shape with your hands into flat, round 1-2 inch cookies. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven on greased cookie sheet or Silpat for 8 minutes.
Store in refrigerator for 2 weeks or freezer for up to 4 months! Bet they won’t last that long.
If you want to see the process in action- I filmed at the same time I was photographing it, and boy that gets complex!- here is the video. Added bonus, you get to see whether or not Brody and Koa liked them at the end.
Ah, the humble egg. Rarely does it figure so prominently in our culinary lexicon as it does at Eastertime. And as I’m working on a post about ways to fit the pets into your Sunday celebration, I decided it was only fitting that we do a little egg recipe in today’s Cooking with Koa segment.
If you’re going to have a bunch of people around who are going to try to be feeding your dog any one of a number of wildly inappropriate traditional Easter foods, it’s always wise to have a super special dog-only treat on hand to convince those wayward guests that you aren’t neglecting your pets and it really is OK to leave the Vienna sausages on the table. So in that vein, today we’re taking on devilled eggs, Koa style.
First, you need to boil your eggs. There are lots of ways to achieve this, some involving voodoo and pressure cookers and complicated heating algorithms, but I try to keep it simple. I do the ‘cover in cool water, bring to boil, and leave for 10 minutes’ approach. (more…)
I love making treats for the pets, almost as much as I love things that are easy to make. Sometimes I’m in a complicated mood, and sometimes I’m in a lazy mood. This month, I’m lazy.
As you know, I’ve started a torrid love affair with my dehydrator, using it to suck the water out of everything I can get my hands on in the house like a hydrophilic vampire. The chicken jerky treats went over very well, so I figured, hey, let’s make some Valentine’s Day treats while we’re at it where I don’t have to turn the oven on.
Sweet potatoes cut with a heart shaped cutter are as easy as it gets.
Though no one will blame you if you want to spice things up with a little bit of cinnamon. These are great not only because they’re easy, but in small bits they are relatively low-calorie and a veggie that is rarely allergenic.
Be still, my tangerine heart. One for you, one for me, sweet potatoes are super yummy.
Now, if you want to get fancy, and a little grosser, you can also continue experimenting with meat. I took some thinly sliced beef and cut it into little strips to evaluate its performance in the dehydrator.
But you know, it’s Valentine’s Day, so before you put it in to dry, you should arrange it in festive patterns by poking it into heart shapes.
OK, the resulting jerky hearts are not the most cosmetic of treats, looking more like actual dried out hearts than the adorable meaty love-nibbles I had in mind, but I can tell you of two dogs in the house who didn’t care that it looked like something you might find in a serial killer’s pantry. They loved the effort. And the meat.
Are you doing anything for your pet for Valentine’s Day?
It’s a big weekend for those of us who like to sit by the TV and eat. One, the AKC/Eukanuba show airs on Saturday, so I’ll be glued to the screen jumping up and down every time I spot myself on TV. And of course, the next day is that most festive of sports events, the Super Bowl.
It’s fair to say I am ambivalent at best about football, so the question here is not so much “Team Pats” versus “Team Giants” as it is “Team Game” versus “Team Commercials.” I for one, am of the latter persuasion. After all, there’s no dogs in the game, unless you somehow manage to convince your significant other that the Puppy Bowl is fine to watch at the same time.
But I don’t let that stop me from eating my way through the show. That’s the best part. And because I don’t want the dogs to feel left out of the junk food bacchanalia, and I’m afraid if I don’t have something for them someone will slip them some seven layer dip, I decided to create their very own Dog Nachos to get them through the day.
Nachos are not rocket science. There is no high level of culinary talent or expenditure required to create a plate of nachos. All you need is something crunchy, some sort of gooey meat substance, and a topping. Which works out perfectly, since I happened to have all three on hand: