Sunday, December 31, 2006

update, day 9

First of all, many, many thanks to you all for your encouragement and suggestions. It is so wonderful to know that my little guy is being prayed for and cared about, all across the country.

From now on, my posts about Simba's recovery will be a bit more sparse, because progress is expected to be very sloooowwww. In about 8 months, we'll know what his final condition is going to be.

The good news today is that I'm seeing more tail action! This morning when I asked him if he wanted to go out, he got excited and wagged his tail quite a bit as he waited for me to get bundled up to take him out. He looks almost like his old self when he does that ... if his wagging doesn't destabilize him so he has to sit down suddenly.

Yesterday, we were sitting together upstairs, me working away at my desk, him sitting at the head of the stairs. He often sleeps there; his bed is just steps away so usually he's in it sleeping, or on the floor at the head of the stairs sleeping. He's 11 years old, you know, so sleeping occupies a very high percentage of his time even under normal circumstances.

So, the Huz was sitting at the end of the dining room table that's visible from the head of the stairs (open floor plan house), and for some reason Simba decided to go downstairs. I had thought that the fact the stairs are polished wood would deter him. I could understand why he felt he could manage the stairs to the basement, which are carpeted, but wooden stairs? Going down?

I called out, "Simba! No! Stay!" which was the wrong thing to do. He turned his head to look at me and tried to stop, but ended up sliding butt-first down the stairs as I watched helplessly. The Huz jumped up and grabbed him as he neared the bottom and carried him up the stairs to me. Oh. My. Gosh. I was so upset, concerned, worried. Hovering, asking, examining, crying.

Simba, on the other hand, was fine. And now there are pillows on the first step at the top of the stairs. Which didn't prevent him from contemplating going down them again later in the evening, but he's a good dog and went and laid down when I warned him "no."

Tonight, we're going to leave him at home alone for the first time since the incident. He will be quarantined on the first floor, with boxes at the bottom of the stairs up, and door closed to the basement stairs. Door to spare bedroom closed, check. Sofa cushions upended diagonally so he can't jump up there, check. Doggie bed on the nice carpet under the dining room table, check. Food & water, check. Rawhide chewie available, check. Go out to do his business just before leaving, check.

Despite best efforts, worry, check.

Friday, December 29, 2006

update, day 7

This is an update on the health of our courageous little dog who suffered a spinal cord injury. If you'd like to follow the story sequentially, start here. To see beautiful photos of him before the incident, go here.

Perhaps the most challenging thing about having Simba on the injured list, beyond the wistfulness of watching him as he is now and remembering him as he was, is that he doesn't know what he's not supposed to do.

This morning, I had to warn him to stop as he made as if to jump off the bed again. I took him outside to do his "business" and had to hurry to catch him before he attempted jumping up on the deck, which is higher than his head. The one time he beat me to it, a few days ago, he got his top half onto the deck and hung there, looking at me like, "Why aren't my legs working?" while I hurried to him and worried about what that posture was doing to his spinal cord.

Before I went down to the basement to put some wood on the fire in our wood/oil combination furnace (fabulous invention, that), I tried to Simba-proof the ground floor. I blocked the way to the upstairs stairs with cardboard boxes, turned all the couch cushions up diagonally so he wouldn't try to jump up there, and shut the door to the basement nearly all the way, just leaving it open a crack so he would be able to hear that I wasn't going out into the garage and leaving him. A few minutes later, I heard him coming down the stairs. Aargh! I ran to try to stop him, and he was frightened and started back up the stairs. Double aargh! "It's OK, Simba, it's OK, stay, buddy."

How many times in his life have I wished that he understood English, so I could just say, "If you run out in the street you could be killed, and it's not necessary to guard me from the Huz when he hugs me, and in winter only go about half as far as you want to because you still need to get yourself back before you freeze, and of COURSE if you eat snow while you're out there you're going to end up shivering like a maniac, and not all buzzy insects are bees so you can just ignore them, and please just give a bark when you get to the back door so I'll notice you're there," not to mention all the mundane things I could tell him, like, "I'll be back in fifteen minutes, just have a nap and you'll never even notice I'm gone."

How much more do I wish I could tell him that he's going to continue to improve, but he needs to avoid motions that put a lot of torque on his back for a couple of more weeks. Just a couple more weeks, buddy. I won't be carrying you like a baby forever. And if you take it easy now, you just may be able to chase squirrels again someday.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

update, day 6

This is an update on the health of our courageous little dog who suffered a spinal cord injury. If you'd like to follow the story sequentially, start here. To see beautiful photos of him before the incident, go here.

Hello, everyone, I apologize for not giving you news of Simba sooner. We returned from our family visit the day after Christmas, and then yesterday morning I made a followup appointment with the vet for the afternoon, so I wanted to wait till I heard what he had to say before giving you an update. Here it is.

Yesterday marked five days after the accident. Every day, we've seen some small improvement in his ability to get around. At first his left leg was strongest; his right seemed totally dead, then he was putting weight on it but was dragging it, and then he began planting his right foot a little bit with each step. At first he only dragged his hind end, then he stood up, then he took a few steps, and now he can walk a fair distance before sitting down (although there's a fair bit of listing to one side, and if he doesn't keep moving, his hind end will eventually pull itself over onto the ground). When he stands still, for instance to sniff the wind, he braces himself with his left leg and after a while doesn't seem to notice that his hips are leaning, until they drag him into a sitting position. At first his sweet puffy tail was totally being dragged, then he was able to lift it out of the way a little bit when he needed to, and then we saw it go above half mast. Today I left him with the Huz for the first time since the accident to do some much-needed grocery shopping. When I returned, I saw a few honest-to-goodness tail wags, and for the first time saw it curve over his back a little bit. It did my heart such good!

He totally wants to do stairs and jump down from things, and he mustn't. Two nights ago in the middle of the night he jumped off our bed, which is pretty tall, and CLUNKed down onto the wood floor. Scared me spitless, but he picked himself up and was ready to go outside. Sometimes he gets up on his hind legs as if he wants to jump up onto the couch but hasn't the strength. Often he makes to jump off the couch; I have to watch him closely if he's sitting up there with me and I absolutely do not put him up there by himself any more. Yesterday when we returned from the vet, he got ahead of me and started up the carpeted stairs from the basement to the ground floor. He was halfway up the stairs before I could stop him. He's game, this little dog!

The vet believes he's going to have some permanent impairment but can't say how much. The fact that he's still impaired 5 days later indicates that some of the nerve cells have died so the messages aren't getting from his brain to his legs. Nerve cells can regrow, but there's no guarantee that they will. Their growth rate is usually about 1 millimeter per day, or about an inch per month. Based on where he shows sensitivity to touch on his spine, he has six to eight inches of damaged nerves, so in truth we won't know his final state for six months to a year.

But you know what? If he never gets any better than the way he is now, he's still my sweet little dog. He still loves me with all his heart, as I do him, and he is still happiest when I'm with him. He still enjoys getting his little dog bone treats, and trots them crookedly down the hallway to eat them on the one rug he's allowed to leave crumbs on. He's excited to see me, excited to see his dog dish filled, pleased to go outside, and content to sleep his days away when I'm busy. He's eating and drinking now, and he doesn't need surgery, and he doesn't have to be put to sleep, and I know I don't have to tell you how very relieved and grateful I am for every bit of him that's come back from the brink, but most especially for that last bit of good news.

So, we'll continue to care for him as best we can, tapering him off the steroids and pain meds and watching to see if that causes any problems. We'll barricade him from the stairs for another couple of weeks, and then cautiously let him start to try them. We'll love him and encourage him with excited exclamations and pick him up to carry him to the parts of the yard he can manage, standing out in the cold all bundled up because we want him to have a much time as he wants outside the house. In a few days, I'm going to try taking him on short walks; the vet says dogs are naturals at giving themselves physical therapy and walking is a good thing as long as we pay attention when he says he's done. And we'll continue to pray, and if you are so inclined, we would be grateful for you to do the same as he comes to mind. Please drop us a line if you do so. Your prayers and caring are so precious to us these days.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

update, day 3

The short version is: the news is good. Here's the long version.

Yesterday, I skipped his 5pm pain meds in hopes he would perk up and want to eat something. He did perk up, but food was still of no interest. I was cooking dinner and talking on the phone with a friend who cares about Simba when the Huz called out to me to look at him. There he was, standing up on all four legs, just briefly before he plopped back down. I've noticed before that I left him in one position and came back and found him in another, but I had assumed that he had dragged himself. This was the first time I've let myself hope he might recover from this incident.

Because he hadn't been taking much in the way of liquids, I didn't try to take him out in the cold, wet darkness last night to see if he wanted to potty. I was a little concerned about that, but he's always had a bladder of iron, going incredibly long hours without peeing, and really, he'd had maybe 3 ounces of liquid all day, and all of that under protest.

I got up at 4:30 this morning to give him his anti-inflammatory meds, and noticed that his tummy was very hard and he seemed uncomfortable. When I asked him if he wanted to go outside, he immediately started hauling himself up on his front legs and moving toward the edge of the bed. I had to lunge for him to keep him from falling off the edge. So, up, get on a robe & slippers, and out we went. I carried him over to the edge of the yard because this little guy is very good about not making messes in the yard itself. I put him down & steadied him, thinking he would try to go right there in the grass. Imagine my shock and delight and amazement and tears when he began walking toward the forest! It was a grotesque gait, lots of leaning and adjusting, but didn't he just use both legs to get himself into the leafy forest bottom and proceed to pee for a long, long time! He couldn't keep his leg lifted, but he stood there like a rock till he was done, then turned toward me as tears streamed down my face and walked over to where I stood and sat down at my feet, tired. Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. I carried him back into the house and decided the Huz needed to hear about this, so carried Simba into the spare bedroom. Poor Huz, he had heard my sobbing and was about to have a heart attack thinking something terrible had happened. So, we both rejoiced and I went upstairs with Simba and had dreams about him moving around almost normally.

This morning he still won't eat, but twice he got up and walked from one spot to another. I spoke to an on-call vet and she said small distances with lots of rest between is OK. She suggested we buy him some canned cat food, a variety of flavors. Turns out cat food has more protein and fat in it than dog food, so he can get more nutrition in small amounts. It also can cause diarrhea, but since he's only 12 pounds normally and probably losing some of that, we need to take the chance. She also told me how to tell if he's getting dehydrated, and I did the tests immediately and he's doing OK with that.

So, it might be weeks or even months before we know to what extent he's going to recover from this, but the outlook appears to be quite positive for at least a partial recovery!

As you can tell by my request for prayers, I do believe in God. Last night as I was thanking him for Simba's gradual healing, I was reminded of how very often He has answered prayers for Simba. Back in the days when I was his dogsitter rather than his owner, and he was new to our property, he would occasionally get so far into the forest that I had no clue where he was. I would worry about him and call him and get no response whatsoever. Looking out the upstairs windows to try to see further up the hill and not seeing him, I would pray that he not be lost or hurt and that God would send him home because I didn't want to have to tell Pete that I'd lost his little dog. And, I'm not exaggerating, with a minute I would see him come bulleting down that hill toward me, happy as can be. And I would say to him, "You don't know it, little guy, but you've been touched by the hand of God." This happened twice, that I can remember.

I think God's touching him again, right where he needs it. (To those of you who are skeptical that God cares about animals, read the book of Jonah closely.)

P.S. We've decided it's safe to travel with him, so I'll be away tonight and tomorrow. I'll post another update as soon as I can. Thank you again for your concern and prayers! It is so wonderful to have friends, both near and far, to share life's important events with.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

update, day 2

Thank you so much for your comforting comments. I've heard others say that the support of the blogging world has been so meaningful to them, but I've never had such need of it as today and I must say, even though I've never met most of you, it really does mean a lot to me that you're reading and caring and praying.

Simba's left leg is a little stronger today. He can bear weight on it, although not without help because his right leg is still pretty useless. But he hasn't lost sensation, so all this is good news. The vet said if we're going to see any improvement, it will start during the first 24 hours, and if he does recover fully it will happen slowly. We may be in that situation; too early to tell.

He's very groggy, though, from the pain meds, and he's refusing food and water. He hasn't had a drink or anything to eat since yesterday morning, and he's not eliminating anything either. This morning the vet suggested that I withhold his pain meds, which are making him drowsy and also can upset his stomach, and see if he perks up and eats anything. He had them at 5 this morning, though, and they're 12-hour meds, so it won't be till this evening that we might see some improvement. Meantime I've found a little water bottle that I can use to squirt some low-sodium chicken broth into his mouth, and he will swallow if I do that although he doesn't like it when I do. And the vet said to try putting some peanut butter on the roof of his mouth so he'll lick and swallow that.

So, here's my sick little guy, ears down, eyes at half mast, nearly immobile in his bed. I considered not taking his picture, since he doesn't like it. But I want some pictures of him in these times, either as a memento if I lose him, or just as a remembrance if he recovers.

Please keep praying. Thank you so much.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

please pray for simba

This morning Simba suffered a spinal cord injury as he was chasing a squirrel. His hind quarters have been paralyzed ever since. The vet gave him a steroid shot to reduce swelling of the spinal cord, and a pain shot, and now we're hourly checking his hind feet for a pain response. So far, so good, we squeeze his little toe and he tells us he can feel it. If he stops feeling the pinch, it means nerve cells are dying and he will need emergency surgery. Please pray for him. It is breaking my heart to see him like this.

The rest of the story

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

caption not-contest #6 recap

As usual, we had some very fun entries in the caption not-contest last week.

Lynne thought Simba was feeling imperious: "Hey! Put down the camera and let me in! This isn't powdered sugar I'm sitting on, you know."

Elle gave her Simba a slightly sarcastic tone, "Yes, I want you to open the door. I left my opposable thumbs with the snowman."

Faith-in-Capitalism thought Simba was suffering from the dread stuck-lip syndrome:

(1st photo)
*snuffle, pppttthhhbbbbttt, snort, puh-puh-puh*

(2nd photo)
My lips are still stuck.

Ilsa exercised vicariously (her favorite way), with:

"and now for the neck exercises, up and back, now, and one, and two, and one and two! feel the burn!"

And Barbara, knowing full well Simba's disdain for stardom, adds:

(1st photo)
"Alright, where is she? Hey, I'm sitting on snow, my butt is cold, where are you? I hope she;s not getting that camera again..... "

(2nd photo)
"Oh there you are.....taking more pictures of me (again). I know it's hard to resist but .... *Flash* OK you got your picture, now let me in!"

Thanks, everyone, for joining in the fun, you guys are awesome! Sorry it's taken me a while to get this thing up. On top of the busyness of the season, I've just entered into a contract to do quite a bit of work for a client (hurray!), so you can expect to see fewer posts from me over the next few months ... although I do hope to keep up with my regular Cloudy Mondays and Wordless Wednesdays at least. Hope to see you here!

more pictures of Simba

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Sunday, December 17, 2006

meringue cookies

The Huz and I started our marriage with the idealistic view that we would share chores equally, and that whatever chore needed doing would be done by whoever was available and able to do it. In other words, gender wasn't going to determine OUR roles, nosiree!

But, of course, the heavy lifting really needed to be done by the Huz, and his interest in cooking was just about nil but I enjoyed it, so things started to shift and settle a bit. When we were both working full time, at the same workplace no less, we ate out most weeknights, and quite a bit of our weekend meals as well. And our deal was, if one person cooked a meal, the other did the cleanup. It was a fair deal, and one we mostly lived by. Not particularly onerous, because if either one of us didn't care to shoulder our portion of the deal ... out to eat we went. No problem.

But gradually over the years, things shifted and settled more. He did the outdoors work, I did the indoors work. He took out the garbage, I did the grocery shopping. He grew the food, I grew the flowers. And before we knew it, we had a nearly perfect traditional division of labor. It's really pretty funny.

But there's one way in which our roles are reversed of the traditional, firmly and apparently permanently: he's the chocolate lover in the family. The only dessert that will tempt him away from chocolate is a creme brulee/caramel, with the occasional exceptional fruit pie or vanilla ice cream ... but even the ice cream usually has chocolate sauce on it!

As for me, give me a sugary treat nearly every time. I love jawbreakers, plain sugar cubes, sugar cookies, and, yup, meringues. I do make the occasional chocolate detour, usually to something that includes salty peanuts. But my heart's just not in it in the same way the Huz's is.

I discovered meringue cookies when I saw a package of these beauties from Miss Meringue at our local cooperative food store. At about 8 or 9 calories per cookie, they're a dieter's dream, IF you're the sort of person who can stop at just a few. I had to stop buying them, though, because I couldn't stop myself eating a 5-oz tub of these light & lovelies in two sittings (or less)!

(That's my solution to all my addictions: they're not allowed in my house. If we receive them as gifts, they go to work with The Huz. If I make something that I realize is likely to be impossible for me to resist, it goes to work with The Huz. Fortunately, we no longer share a workplace! I don't know what I'll do if he ever retires. Perhaps by then I'll have matured enough to have some will power!)

Anyway, when I was looking for something yummy to put in Christmas treat bags this year, I decided to try my hand at meringues. And lo, they were good, and I ended up taking them to parties, too (along with the pictured incredible chocolate Soho Globs, which I will find time to blog very soon, work and holiday schedule permitting).

Not having made them before, of course I set about searching the web to learn the scoop, and I found a wonderful article at Because the article is so comprehensive, I will just link to it here, and add a few comments. Please go read The Article now!

Are we back? Then here's what I learned that I can add. As you've just read, the basic approach is to whip up the meringues, put them on a baking sheet, and bake them very slowly, with several hours more drying time at the end. I discovered that you can extend the baking time slightly to cut down on the drying time quite a bit. I had these largish meringues and baked them for an extra half hour, so that rather than leaving them overnight I could just leave them for about four additional hours of drying at the end.

I also discovered that the larger size is not great for eating out of hand, because the cookies are so crumbly. My second batch was made bite-size. I added a bit of pink food coloring to the second batch when I was about halfway through pressing them out onto the baking sheet, so I had a lovely combination of pink ones and white ones. I'm sorry I don't have a picture of that batch.

And, finally, feel free to place your meringues cheek-to-jowl, as long as they're not actually touching. They don't spread, and it doesn't increase the drying time as far as I can tell.

Making these meringues was simple, but amazing pleasurable. Following the directions carefully, you end up with the most beautiful, glossy mixture to put into your pastry bag for piping. It was a pleasure to watch it develop in my mixing dish. I don't know, there was just something so beautiful and pure about it. And with only three ingredients, any kitchen except one resembling the Huz's bachelor kitchen will most likely have the ingredients on hand. It takes time, but not a heck of a lot of effort. Give it a try and let me know if you enjoyed the process too! (Not to mention enjoying the end result, which looks as if you worked a lot harder than you actually did!)

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

creamy mints

I'm making a variety of items for a treat bag to drop in stockings on Christmas eve, and am I ever having fun! The bags will have an old favorite, honeyed walnuts, one purchased item (espresso coffee beans), and a couple of new recipes. This is one of them. It's so easy, so delicious, and fun to put together besides. I made the pink ones today, in wintergreen flavor, and also plan to make some pretty green ones in peppermint.
3 oz cream cheese, softened
½ tsp flavoring (wintergreen, peppermint, or something adventurous?)
food coloring if desired
~3 cups powdered sugar
granulated sugar

Mix the cream cheese, the flavoring, and the food coloring. Gradually add the powdered sugar until you've achieved a texture similar to a pie crust, perhaps even a bit drier. (see picture)

Pinch off a piece the appropriate size for your candy mold, roll it into a ball, and roll it in the granulated sugar. Press into the mold (press firmly if your mold has ridges like the ones above do) and then immediately unmold onto a flat surface covered with waxed paper or parchment.

(You can also just pinch, roll into a ball, roll in the granulated sugar, and press flat into a disk shape if you don't want to buy the candy molds ... but they're really inexpensive and don't they make the candies look pretty?)

You can sprinkle some granulated sugar on the paper if you'd like a little extra sugar on the bottom, but it's not necessary to prevent sticking. Allow the mints to dry for several hours; you can also put them, uncovered, in the refrigerator to dry and firm up. Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.
I looked all over town for wintergreen flavoring, and was about to give up when I spotted it in the King Arthur Flour store. That surprised me, because they don't have it in their online catalog. So now we know that if we want something cooking related and we don't see it in their catalog, we should call them up and inquire. They're legendary for their service, so I'm pretty sure they would ship you something from their retail store.

I've gotten most of my shopping done, but I'm still looking for stocking stuffer ideas. What are you planning to put in your loved ones' stockings? How's your shopping coming?

broccoli christmas trees, anyone?

I recently signed up to bring a dessert to a Christmas party, so when I saw the recipe for making a veggie platter look like a Christmas tree using broccoli as the tree and lots of cut little veggie cutouts for its decorations, I foolishly passed it by. Now I've agreed to switch to bringing an appetizer, and I cannot find the recipe anywhere! Help!

wordless wednesday

Hey, dog lovers! This Sunday night, we can expect to see lots of canine hijinks over at Weekend Dog Blogging at Sweetnick's place. Head on over for head shots, tummy shots, jump shots and what nots!

Follow the links in the sidebar to lots more wordless wednesdays. This is #26!

more pictures of Simba

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Geek. Dork. Nerd.

I'm a geek. When I say that, people rush to assure me that no, I am not, but I assure you, I'm proud of the fact. I love to write programs that make computers do things. When I was full-time employed at a local college, I was delighted that my office had more hardware in it than almost anyone else's. It was a virtual machine room. I am the very definition of a geek.

I am not, however, a nerd, which I think people sometimes confuse with geek and that explains why they experience surges of compassion and issue waves of reassurance when I declare my geekdom.

Tonight, though, I just may have acted like a dork.

Oh, all right, no "may have" about it. I acted like a dork. In public. Oh, yeah...

I made a late run to the local Price Chopper for a few items, enough to require a wheeled basket but not nearly enough to fill it. Price Chopper was deserted; 9:00 is a great time to go grocery shopping, as long as you don't require the attention of the people behind any of the counters other than checkout. I did have a nice chat with the produce man, who was replenishing the supply of eggplants depleted by a woman who came through just a few minutes before me and wiped them out. She told him she was making dinner for 150, a church dinner. Eggplant for 150? I hope she's prepared to find something to do with the leftovers, but what do I know? Maybe she has a fabulous recipe.

So, moving on from produce, I turned to go up the aisle toward the cough medicines, and went past someone who looked vaguely familiar. As I continued along, I realized where I had seen him. He had starred in our local professional theater's presentation of "I Am My Own Wife," a fascinating tale of a German transvestite who survived Nazi Germany. This actor played 30 different roles, switching seamlessly between them, totally convincingly. What a feat! He was truly amazing.

I believe he came here from New York City to play the role, so I was surprised to see him in the area a month after the show had closed. He was accompanied by another man of about the same age.

So, that's kind of cool, right? Running into an actor who, while not nationally famous, certainly did a wonderful, professional job during two weekends of shows locally. But I'm not one to approach people who don't know me, because I always think it would be so uncomfortable for them, that whole business about a one-way relationship where I saw and "knew" them but they have no clue who I am. When I used to deliver training campus-wide, I certainly was uncomfortable with my fame, such as it was. I would see a look of recognition on someone's face, and feel bad that I didn't remember them as they so obviously remembered me.

So I tried to behave as if I didn't realize who he was and went to get my cough syrup.

Now, the store is deserted, and they're playing Christmas songs, and I'm moving along the aisles, never seeing anyone else. So, who's going to mind if I start to whistle a little? I like to whistle. I'm pretty good at it. So, I'm whistling in counterpoint to the songs, and fooling around with little trills, kind of like those guys who do bird whistling songs on the radio, you know, really dorky. Really dorky.

And I look up and see Actor and Friend standing at the end of the aisle I'm in, grinning rather unkindly and pretending they're not laughing at this middle-aged woman bird-whistling her way down the aisles of the grocery store.



There's nothing for it but to just keep on doin' what I'm doin'. I finish up my shopping, not whistling as much because the next song isn't as counterpoint-able (really! that's why!) and check out, feeling kind of dejected, you know. I'm extra nice to the checkout clerk, wanting to demonstrate that I have social skills. As if anyone was watching.

And then, as I head out to the car, I get a grip. Yep, I'm a middle-aged, geeky, dorky, non-nerd. What can I tell ya? So get over it!

P.S. Still looking for a few more captions for my Caption Not-Contest #6!

cloudy monday #7

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

caption not-contest #6

It's been a while since we've had a caption not-contest for all you verbally creative type ... are you game for one? If so, leave a comment us all what Simba's thinking in these pictures. I know he'll appreciate your help getting his point across!

I'll do a recap later in the week.

Tonight I spent some time doing an index of Simba pictures, and added a link in my right sidebar called "Previous Simba photos." I know I will find it at least as useful as anyone else, as I'm forever following the trail of "wordless wednesdays" and other posts, trying to find a particular picture. I hope some of you who may be new to the blog will enjoy looking back at other shots of the little guy, too.
links to more simba pics

catching up

I despair of ever being able to take a picture that does justice to the beauty outside our windows on a sunny day after snow. It's so incredibly beautiful. But here's my best attempt, a goldfinch all puffed up against the cold. It's amazing that a little half-ounce bird can survive in temperatures like this. It's an intelligent design, indeed!

I feel as if I've been falling behind in my blogging, just posting pictures and brief comments and not really keeping you all "posted" on my cooking ventures. And there's a very good reason I'm feeling that way ... it's true! And today won't be the day to catch up, but that day is coming, my friends, it's coming. I want to tell you about a nutritionist I've been seeing and some thoughts about the eating changes coming from that. I've been planning some Christmas cooking and look forward to having some pictures to share, including of a new shrimp dish that will be featured regularly on our dinner table, it's so easy and yummy. I've signed up for a bread baking class December 18th, to see if I can erase my yeast bread insecurities; that will no doubt produce some fun posts. And I want to look back at the 5 food challenges meme that I joined way back at the start of the year, to see how I did with them, and perhaps think up some new ones for next year. Did you participate this year? How did you do?

So, that's what I'm planning to blog about soon. Meantime, take a look at these adorable little stocking stuffers: Egglings are available through Elsewares for only $8.95, with your choice of plant to water & grow. How cute is that?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

wordless wednesday

big red female pig with scalloped curvy earsFollow the links in the sidebar to lots more wordless wednesdays. This is #25!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


It was nice to wake up yesterday to a dusting of snow. It never looks more like powdered sugar than when it's like it is right now, just lightly dusted across the tops of the stone cupcakes and the fallen-leaf caketops.

Between the snow and the fact that the squirrels have finally returned to our yard (it must have been a banner year for nuts out in the forest, because we've seen nearly no squirrels under our birdfeeders since July, much to Simba's sorrow), Simba wanted to celebrate all day yesterday. He stood at the back door, watching all the activities and whipping his head around to stare at me intensely whenever he saw something that particularly called him outside. I must have let him out 14 times yesterday, and each time he darted across the deck and sailed off the end of it, landing and making an immediate course correction to try to catch a squirrel before it could make it up a tree or under the deck. He stayed outside for long periods, patrolling the yard for more rodents, not even noticing that the thermometer never made it up to 30. It always brings home what a thick dense coat he has when I look out there and see him sitting down on snow. The very image makes me shiver.

Today he hasn't had so much fun, because I've been feeling awful and in bed with a cold. Today he's been my comforter. Today the squirrels ate in peace. But tomorrow is another day ...

Monday, December 04, 2006

cloudy monday #6

As is so often the case with cloud photos, this one caught me completely by surprise. I was driving along and had to find a spot to pull over to I could catch this brilliance in a photo. I'm sure a pro could have gotten an even better shot, but I was just thankful that I had my camera in the car so I could preserve this memory with this one. As we head into winter, this memory of warmer days is a happy one.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

a favorite salad for the Fall Salad event

picture of spinach salad with hot bacon dressing and eggsIn the spring, we're thinking asparagus and fiddlehead ferns. In summer it's tomatoes and basil. And in the fall? Winter squash, or apples, or cold-hardy greens such as spinach. Although the weather we've had so far this fall can hardly be called cold. There are still perennials in my garden and here it is December in what we call The Frozen North! But that's neither here nor there ... (where on earth did that phrase come from, I wonder?)

Since I've blogged quite a bit about apples and butternut squash lately, I thought I would share with you today a favorite recipe for a spinach salad. It is descriptively called "Wilted Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing." When it's cold outside, I'm not usually drawn to green salads nearly as much as in the heat of summer. But with this salad, the bit of wilting and warmth from the dressing is just the thing to make you want to eat greens.

I cannot for the life of me remember where I found the recipe. But, no matter, I'm sure I've modified it beyond recognition since finding it!

I've tripled this recipe for a crowd, and served it on individual plates, with half a sliced egg and a sprinkle of bacon crumbles on top. It's a beautiful presentation that draws appreciative comments from its intended audience, and there are very few plates that come back with any salad on them when the dishes are cleared.

This is one of those dishes that comes together quickly, so it's best to have the ingredients on hand and ready to go before you start it. In particular, you want to make the dressing all in one fell swoop so it's sizzling and aromatic and ready to pour on the spinach immediately.

Speaking of aromatic, you see the step where you add the vinegar? Don't stand with your head over the skillet. It's quite potent!

So, without further ado (I'm full of medieval references today), here's the recipe for

Wilted Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

Serves 4-6
6 oz baby spinach
3 T cider vinegar
1 T sugar
¼ tsp ground black pepper
pinch salt
10 oz (about 8 slices) thick-cut bacon
½ medium red onion, chopped medium (about 1/2 cup)
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1/2 tsp)
3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered lengthwise or sliced crosswise
  • Put the bacon in the freezer for a half hour. Remove it and thinly slice it crosswise. (I often just pull it frozen from the freezer, slice it, and throw it in the frying pan. If you have thawed bacon and don't have time for freezing it, I recommend frying it in slices and then crumbling rather than trying to cut it while it's soft.)
  • Place the spinach in a large bowl.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, sugar, pepper and salt until the sugar dissolves.
  • Fry the bacon in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate.
  • Pour the bacon fat into a bowl, then return 3 tablespoons bacon fat to the skillet. Add the onion to the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened, about 3 minutes.
  • Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.
  • Add the vinegar mixture, then remove the skillet from the heat.
  • Working quickly, scrape the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits. Gradually pour the hot dressing over the spinach while tossing it. It helps to have a second pair of hands here, but if you don't, then pour some, toss, pour some more, toss, etc. The spinach should end up slightly wilted.
  • Divide the salad among individual plates, sprinkle the bacon and arrange the egg quarters over each, and serve immediately.
A big "thanks" goes to Gabriella over at My Life As A Reluctant Housewife for sparking my post about this favorite dish. She's hosting a Fall Salads event this week. If you have a recipe for a fall salad that you'd like to share, blog about it and send it to her by tomorrow, following the event rules which can be found here. If you'd like to see what others have come up with for fall salads, be sure to drop by her site mid-week to catch the roundup.

And, since my blogging has been so sparse and promises to continue to be so for a while, I think I'll have to make this post do double-duty as my entry in Cate's ARF 5-a-day event this week. Please drop by Sweetnicks Tuesday night to see the many other creative recipes focusing on anti-oxidant-rich ingredients that will be featured in her roundup. And be sure to stick around to browse through her fun pictures of sweet Nick and Eli and all the cooking goodies she loves to scout out for us!

And now I'm off to lovingly wrap Christmas packages for mailing Monday to relatives in far-flung places. May your holiday season be as stressless as can be and focused on the Spirit of the season!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

wordless wednesday

Hey, dog lovers! This Sunday night, we can expect to see lots of canine hijinks over at Weekend Dog Blogging at Sweetnick's place. Head on over for head shots, tummy shots, jump shots and what nots!

Follow the links in the sidebar to lots more wordless wednesdays. This is #24!

Monday, November 27, 2006

cloudy monday #5

I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving holiday. The Huz and I flew to the heartland, as usual, to hang out with my extended family, overeat, laugh, and play a lot. The place where we were staying had not just a modem, but a very slow modem, so blogging was out of the question. But now that the holidays are over, I have lots of ideas for new posts so you simply MUST come back soon!

Meantime, isn't this a stunningly brooding scene?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

wordless wednesday

Hey, dog lovers! This Sunday night, we can expect to see lots of canine hijinks over at Wkend Dog Blogging at Sweetnick's place. Head on over for head shots, tummy shots, jump shots and what nots! Follow the links in the sidebar to lots more wordless wednesdays. This is #23!

Monday, November 20, 2006

cloudy monday #4


... or clouds?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"honeyed" walnuts (sugared walnuts)

A few months ago, I posted a recipe for a salad that I called "greens, gorgonzola, and sugared walnuts." Recently I've noticed quite a few hits on that page coming from search engines. Not that folks are looking for salad recipes, although a few are; no, mostly they're looking for those sweet nuts.

There are a lot of ways to make sweet nuts. Some of them leave the nuts coated with sugar crystals, like the recipe I just mentioned and pictured left. Some are sticky and buttery. Others are light, crunchy, and just slightly sweet. Any of them can be eaten "out of hand" or sprinkled on salads, ice cream, desserts, or even meat dishes, and as snacks go, there's much to be said for eating nuts instead of candy or greasy chips.

Some years back, I found this recipe for "honeyed" walnuts in my favorite Chinese cookbook, Susanna Foo's Chinese Cuisine. They fall into the third category of sweet nuts. They're not the least bit sticky, so they're great for eating with your fingers. Something about the cooking process seems to take some of the weight out of them, somehow; they seem lighter than regular walnuts. And, bonus: walnuts are good for you. Just read this ode to walnuts from The World's Healthiest Foods:
When it comes to their health benefits, walnuts definitely are not a hard nut to crack. This delicious nut is an excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, a special type of protective fat the body cannot manufacture. Walnuts' concentration of omega-3s (a quarter-cup provides 90.8% of the daily value for these essential fats) has many potential health benefits ranging from cardiovascular protection, to the promotion of better cognitive function, to anti-inflammatory benefits helpful in asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. In addition, walnuts contain an antioxidant compound called ellagic acid that supports the immune system and appears to have several anticancer properties.
These walnuts in particular don't end up with quite as much sugar on them as the other kinds. And now I'm thinking ... light and crunchy ... good for eating with your fingers ... wouldn't this be a nice gift to make for Christmas, piled into a tidy little plastic bag and then plopped into a sheer organza gift bag like this? Hmmm....

So, anyway, here's a recipe that makes 2 cups of the nuts, from Chinese Cuisine. Of course you can cut the recipe in half if you just want to try them. Don't be put off by the length of the recipe; it's really quite simple!

"Honeyed" Walnuts (Sugared Walnuts)
1 lb shelled walnut halves
1½ c sugar
~ 1½ c water
2 Tbsp corn oil
  • Wash the walnuts in lots of running water. Soak them for 10 to 15 minutes in water to cover; drain well.
  • Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the nuts and cook for 10 minutes, or until the water turns dark and the nuts are beige-white in color. Drain and rinse under cool water until the water runs clear; drain.
  • Bring the sugar and the 1½ c water to a boil in a medium pot over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the walnuts, reduce the heat to low, and stir well with a wooden spoon. Simmer the nuts in the syrup for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until they are well coated with the syrup. Add ¼ cup hot water if the syrup becomes too sticky. Turn off the heat and let the nuts cool in the syrup for another 10 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (I usually do this step at 300).
  • Strain off the excess syrup and toss the nuts with the oil. Spread the nuts on a large nonstick baking sheet.
  • Bake the nuts for 30 to 35 minutes (of course, at 300 it takes longer), stirring occasionally, or until they are crisp and dry. If they are not yet crisp, bake them a little longer.
The nuts can be stored in a tightly closed container at room temperature for 1 to 2 days, kept in the refrigerator for several weeks, or frozen in a sealed plastic bag for up to 3 months.

This is my entry for Sweetnick's "ARF 5-a-day Tuesday." Stop by tomorrow night to see what other anti-oxidant-rich foods are showing up in folks' recipes!

i have an inner european?!? who knew?

Your Inner European is Spanish!

Energetic and lively.
You bring the party with you!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

on another note ...

... this is the first week in a long time that I've missed doing a Wordless Wednesday post. Or, more accurately, I did a COMPLETELY wordless Wednesday! I've been travelling a bit and then playing catch-up in between. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking with it! I have a post all queued up for next Wednesday, though, and even though I'll be away I'll try to post it on time this time. Just in time for Thanksgiving, and as you all know, I'm very Thankful for my little dawg.

no wonder i feel inadequate!

Even over a modem, this downloads fairly quickly. Watch it all the way till the end ...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Thursday, November 09, 2006

butternut squash and chocolate chips? oh, yeah.

I was inspired recently by Joe of Culinary in the Desert/Country to make a very large batch of (deep breath) "Chocolate Chip Butternut Squash Spice Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting" for, believe it or not, morning snacks at our church. I know, it's not technically a breakfast dish, but I figured anything cakelike in a big Pyrex baking dish qualified as a coffee cake, and my pals didn't disagree with me. Far from it.

Joe's recipe was my inspiration, but he made his with pumpkin. Great idea! I had squash. Thought I'd try it. It was bonzo. Gone in minutes, and I think I got more compliments from this than I usually get from my scones. Or at least an equal number. So let that be an indication to you!

So, here's my slightly-modified recipe for Joe's wonderful bars. Other than the squash substitution, the only other thing I changed was to add more chocolate chips. For breakfast the mini ones were fine; for a dessert I think I'd go for the bigger ones.

Go check Joe's blog, folks. He keeps insisting he's a beginner, but we know better. He makes some great stuff, and his pictures are getting really nice!

Chocolate Chip Butternut Squash Spice Bars with
Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes about 42 bars

1¾ c cooked, pureed butternut squash (I actually used the puree I had in the fridge, which had a little butter and salt in it ... no problem!)
1 c flavorless vegetable oil, such as canola
4 large eggs
1½ c granulated sugar
½ c light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 c all purpose flour
1 c whole-wheat pastry flour (I'm sure you could just use more white flour here)
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 c mini chocolate chips
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs, and sugars until combined.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves.
  • Toss in mini chocolate chips and stir to combine.
  • Add dry ingredients to the wet and stir until moistened.
  • Scoop batter into a 10 x 15" baking pan coated with nonstick spray.
  • Bake until the center springs back when lightly pressed in the center - about 25 to 30 minutes.
  • Remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 T butter, softened
2 tsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
4 c powdered sugar, sifted
¼ c chopped walnuts, toasted - optional
shaved chocolate, or more mini chocolate chips
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese, butter, milk and vanilla.
  • Slowly add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, and mix until smooth.
  • Frost bars and sprinkle half with walnuts and grate some chocolate over the other half if desired.
I don't know if anything this patently loaded with fat and carbs will be allowed into Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging, but I'm going to submit it and see what they say. It's got squash in it. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it! Head on over to What's For Lunch, Honey? Sunday night to see if I got in and to see all the other, much more proper veggie and herb recipes on view for Weekend Herb Blogging this week.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

wordless wednesday #22

Loose lips
Hey, dog lovers! This Sunday night, we can expect to see lots of canine hijinks over at Weekend Dog Blogging at Sweetnick's place. Head on over for head shots, tummy shots, jump shots and what nots!

Follow the links in the sidebar to lots more wordless wednesdays.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

warm comfort in a dish

Precious Mushy Apples

Think of mushy apples. Think of biting into one. You're anticipating a nice, crisp, juicy bite, and you get a mouthful of mushy, mealy, yucky apple. Ptheh! Do you finish eating it because you're a waste-not, want-not sort of a person, or do you immediately chuck it in your compost bucket/trash can/back yard? (This last one's not as far-fetched as you might think. There's a forest about 15 feet from our back door. We always figure there's some wild animal who will find a mushy apple quite appetizing.)

Now here's a third option: When life gives you mushy apples, make applesauce! It's so incredibly easy. And the smell! To walk in a house that has applesauce simmering on the stove is to experience immediate bliss. The Huz has sweet, comforting memories of his mother making applesauce and serving it warm. It's a shame I haven't made this for him before.

For this recipe, quantities are approximate. If you increase the number of apples, you don't need to increase the amount of liquid. Flavorings are yours to experiment with. And, by the way, your apples don't have to be mushy to make applesauce! And you don't have to peel the apples if you're serving it warm; they just add nice texture and color. If you're planning to store the applesauce in the fridge, though, it's probably best to go ahead and peel them.

Homemade Applesauce

8-10 medium apples, tart if you like tart applesauce
½ c liquid (apple juice, cider, water, other mild non-citrus juices)
1 or more small cinnamon sticks, to taste, or use ground cinnamon to taste

Peel (optional if serving warm), core, and chop your apples. If you like smooth applesauce, try to make the pieces all the same size. That's easy if you have a handy-dandy apple peeler/corer/slicer! Place all ingredients in an appropriately sized sauce pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes or so. That's it!
Our apples were quite tart, and I considered adding some sugar but consulted with The Huz first and ended up deciding not to. It's refreshing to have it tart, we thought. We imagined putting it, all tart and warm, on oatmeal or ice cream. Yum!

This batch sat on the stovetop on low for quite a long while, waiting for The Huz to come home (more truck issues, life with a 79 Ford is a bit of an adventure) and it was none the worse for it.

This is my entry for Sweetnick's ARF 5-a-day Tuesday. Stop by later tonight to see what other anti-oxidant-rich foods are showing up in folks' recipes!

Monday, November 06, 2006

a/s/c: a neglected gadget a la WCC #10

In one of the hard-to-reach upper cabinets of my kitchen sits my apple peeler/slicer/corer. Lonely most months of the year, during apple season it becomes a veritable whirling dervish of activity. It's a wonderfully efficient little machine. You won't mind making a mile-high apple pie if you use one of these to prepare your apples. You can use it to core and slice and peel, or you can pull back the peeling arm to just core and slice. If I could choose to just peel and not slice, it would be perfect, but as it is, it makes short work of slicing up mounds of apples.

I was inspired earlier this fall to try making apple chips, the fruit cousin to potato chips, by a post written by Stacey on Just Braise. I made just a few apples as an experiment, trying them just plain, with salt, and with cinnamon sugar, as Stacey suggest. I'm a salt-aholic, so I expected to love the salty ones. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that I actually preferred the plain ones over the ornamented ones. In fact, I scarfed down so many apple chips that I realized these things are a little dangerous: with all the water removed, they seem rather insubstantial. In one sitting, you could easily eat the equivalent of three or four apples' worth!

Feeling further inspired, I went to our local apple orchard and purchased a half bushel of apples (them's a lot of apples, folks!) for $15 and just went to town making loads of apple chips. They're easy. They're delicious. And with my trusty apple p/s/c, every slice was precisely the same size as the one before it, so they all dried up perfectly at the same time. It's nice to have such a healthy snack in the house. Now I just have to figure out how to eat only a reasonable amount at a sitting.

I continued on my quest for apple recipes, to use up all those apples. I was captured by the very next post of Stacey's (I **am** going to give you a recipe that didn't come from her, I promise!) for apple spice cake. This is no ordinary apple spice cake, people. Oh, my word. I tasted it warm, and it was fabulous. But most cakes are wonderful when warm, so an hour later I tried it again when it had cooled off. Still fabulous. When the Huz came home for dinner, we had a nice bit of apple cake for dessert, with a bit of whipped cream, and he readily agreed to take the rest to work for his lunches and to share. But he failed me. He cut it in half and left some here. So I tasted it again the next day, to see how it had held up over time. Yep, still good. And it was still good that night. And the next morning I had to insist that it be taken out of my house, because by then I knew I was no match for its siren call.

I also played around with some baked apple recipes, but either my apples aren't the right kind or I haven't found the right recipe yet. Does anyone have a baked apple recipe that you adore? I'd love to try it!

Later that week, at a weekend cooking gig, I used my trusty apple p/s/c to make the apple spice cake as a coffee cake for 20, adding even more apple chunks than the recipe calls for and sprinkling powdered sugar over the top. Needless to say, it was a hit. I also made my "easiest apple tart" for a side dish for breakfast the following day. (For whatever it's worth, the whole menu was: individual shirred eggs with cream and cheese, warm ham ribbons with shallots, english muffins, easiest apple tart, yogurt, and fruit salad.)

The apple tart is indeed easy, especially since I use a refrigerated pie crust to save time. (Not being a morning person, I've gotten pretty good at figuring out shortcuts so I can get up at the last possible minute!) You just slice the apples, toss them with a mixture of sugar, flour, ground cloves, and cinnamon, and then arrange them in concentric circles over the pie crust. When it comes out of the oven 45 minutes later, you brush melted apple jelly over the top, let it sit for a couple of minutes, and then carry it to the table.

It looks like a fancy french tart, without all the fuss, and because it's just a pie crust with some cooked apples on top of it, it's not unduly rich for breakfast. If there's any left over, I put the slices on individual plates with a salad fork, and put them on the buffet table with whatever scone or coffee cake or muffins have been cooked for morning snack. Next thing I know, the empty plates are next to the sink ready to be washed.

The other recipe that I made with apples that weekend was my Blushing Apple Cream Pie, but that story will have to wait for another post. Gotta hurry up and get this over to Breadchick, who has kindly offered to allow me to enter it in the Weekend Cookbook Challenge even though I'm past the deadline. (See all the other entries, too, at The Sour Dough, where Breadchick has ably hosted the WCC this month.) So come back in a few days and I'll share that fabulous recipe, too!

P.S. If you're considering buying your very own apple p/s/c, it pays to buy a good one. I got my first one as a gift, and it wasn't worth the time I spent on it trying to get it to work. If the apple wasn't perfectly round and perfectly crisp, it would just shred the peel or not peel at all. It was purchased from LL Bean. I saw this one when a friend brought it to my weekend cooking gigs. It's from Pampered Chef, and it's a keeper!

cloudy monday #2

Late October
As you can see, I pulled over to the side of the road (always nice when I remember to do that) to catch this confluence of layered puffy clouds, browning grass, rusty trees, and mountains. I figured I would edit out all the asphalt in the foreground, like the picture below.

But I discovered I loved the triangular slash of the road more than the purer beauty of the edited photo. For those of you who know/care about such things, which composition do you think is better, artistically speaking? I have no training in this stuff, so I'm sure my eye is pretty, um, uneducated!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

you speak WHUT?

Your Linguistic Profile:
55% General American English
25% Yankee
10% Upper Midwestern
0% Dixie
0% Midwestern

wordless wednesday (almost)

Heads are highly overrated
Hey, dog lovers! This Sunday night, we can expect to see lots of canine hijinks over at Weekend Dog Blogging at Sweetnick's place. Head on over for head shots, tummy shots, jump shots and what nots!

Follow the links in the sidebar to lots more wordless wednesdays. This is #21!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Even though Simba sternly rebuffed me the last time I broached the subject of a Halloween costume, this morning I just couldn't resist asking him again. Now, Simba has a very soft spot in his heart for grandmothers. They are soft, and gentle, and make sweet murmuring sounds when they see him. They sneak him little bits of food when I'm not looking, knowing full well that a grandmother has license to break rules that others must obey. When he rolls over on his back they ooo and ah over his tummy and simply cannot resist reaching for it. Yes, grandmothers are a special lot.

So when I showed him the babushka kerchief, and asked if I could take a picture of him in it, I could see the memories in his eyes. Look, you can almost see a grandmotherly figure in his right eye, right there, see?

He let me tie the kerchief on without complaint. He even consented to look right into the camera.

Simbabushka. It's probably exactly what his own dear grandmother looked like, don't you think?

Hey, dog lovers! This Sunday night, we can expect to see lots of canine hijinks over at Weekend Dog Blogging at Sweetnick's place. Head on over for head shots, tummy shots, jump shots and what nots!

Monday, October 30, 2006

cloudy monday #1

It seems as if most people around here dislike November, because it tends to be cloudy and thus gloomy. I've always liked it. November clouds seem magnificent to me, full of majesty and character, unlike most summer clouds.

This year, we've had November clouds in October. It's truly been a banner month for them. So I've decided to start a "cloudy monday" theme here on my blog. Each Monday, I'll post one of the photos I've taken of clouds. If you'd like to join in, just send me a link to your cloud pictures and I'll add them to mine the following Monday. If nobody else joins, well, that's OK. I just want to share these shots with you.

The picture above was taken Thursday. I parked on a quiet overpass on I-89 and took shot after shot of the changing clouds to the south of me. They seemed to be swirling: the ones to the left were clearly moving to the right, and the ones on the right were moving to the left. Somehow I happened upon them right in the middle of all this excitation.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

roasting and pureeing butternut squash

As I mentioned in my previous post, about half of our lovely harvest of butternut squash has turned into wrinkly scary-looking old squishes, just in time for Halloween. but not really a happy sight for someone who hoped to keep them in the cellar and eat them gradually throughout the winter! When I cut into them, they look OK, but it's hard to believe that they won't get progressively more wrinkly and at some point become inedible. So, I've spent the past couple of days roasting and pureeing about 10 squash.

It would be feasible to roast and puree them without adding anything to them, especially if you're thinking of adding them to recipes such as this incredibly yummy soup. But I reasoned that I'd like the flexibility of scooping some out into a bowl to eat, or adding it to a recipe, so I went ahead and prepared it for the table by adding a little unsalted butter, skim milk, and salt. It's so yummy that way. I found myself completely unable to put it all in refrigerator containers. It's like frosting ... you just have to lick the bowl, and of course you have to not scrape the bowl very clean before doing so. :o)

When you cook this many of one item, you learn to be a bit more efficient. Most recipes will tell you to cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove the strings and seeds, and roast cut-side down on a greased baking sheet or dish. I've always hated that. They can be hard to cut, and then there's those darn strings and seeds to get out! A long time ago, I posted a request for recommendations on how to get rid of the durn things easily. I got no responses, so I either you guys all find it really easy and don't know what I'm fussing about, or you struggle with it too and have no answer. Since then, I read a tip somewhere that said using a grapefruit knife makes it easier. It makes sense, but I haven't tried that yet.

Anyway, yesterday I did the usual halve, seed, and roast bit with my squashes, cooled then a little, then scooped the flesh into the food processor. But I didn't like it that the flesh of the squashes had become brown and crusty where they touched the baking pan. So I decided to try roasting one of the squashes whole, to see how that would work. It was great! It took just a few extra minutes to roast, but the flesh was all soft, and --- best of all --- the seeds and strings were a snap to remove!

Pureed butternut squash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put as many squashes as you'd like on a baking sheet, preferably an insulated one, or a glass baking dish. (If you don't have an insulated baking sheet, try layering two baking sheets so the heat from below doesn't totally toast the squash on one side.) Put the baking sheet or dish in the oven, on a rack in the top or near-top position.

Start testing the squash after about 35 minutes, by piercing them with a skewer in the narrow part of the squash, but not near the stem. Try to get as close as possible to the wide, seedy end as possible; I've discovered that's the part that cooks through last. You want the squash to be absolutely soft and mushy. Overcooking is better than undercooking.

When they're done, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Being careful not to burn yourself, cut the squash in half crosswise at the very top of the seedy end. Then cut each of those sections in half lengthwise. This crosswise-then-lengthwise technique compensates for the softness of the cooked squash. If you cut it lengthwise and try to work with it that way, odds are the squash will collapse in half anyway, and that's much messier than cutting it.

Use a spoon to remove the seeds and strings. Be careful, because they're so soft you might be at risk for removing some of the cooked flesh, too.

Scoop the soft flesh into a food processor. Add a tablespoon or two of unsalted butter, and process till smooth, stopping once to scrape down the sides. With the processor running, add a little milk till it's the consistency you want. For a small squash, I used about two tablespoons. Also with the processor running, sprinkle salt to taste. I used a large pinch.
That's it! It's such a beautiful orange-sherbety color, and tastes so smooth and sweet. Butternut has such a wonderful, sweet, mellow flavor. It's not one of those things you have to acquire a taste for. I'd serve this to a baby and I bet it would be eaten all up! If you want to serve it to company, experiment with adding some of the classic pumpkin spices to it: nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice. But don't add too much. It's so good all by itself.

P.S. Tomorrow I plan to kick off a new weekly event. Please stop by to see what it will be!

P.P.S. This post qualifies for ARF 5-a-day! Hurray! Head on over to Sweetnick's for a roundup of anti-oxidant-rich foods and recipes this Tuesday night.

Friday, October 27, 2006

butternut squash, smoked sausage and corn soup

The fabulous Alysha over at The Savory Notebook recently blogged about this soup (that's her photo of it, used with her permission), just as I was posting my plea for butternut recipes. I was excited to try it, because the Huz and I are both nutso for sausages. I have lots of recipes using all kinds of sausage; in fact, may I please point you to a wonderful brand? McKenzie Country Classics bills itself as "Vermont's Original Purveyor of Specialty Meats." I don't know about that, but I do know that when I make gumbo, it's tastiest when I use their kielbasa.

But getting back to the soup: I hadn't intended to try it quite this soon. I just recently made my much-in-demand curried pumpkin soup with mushrooms, and the Huz had it for lunch three times this week. I wasn't sure he would want to eat pumpkin soup for lunch and then come home to butternut soup. But I discovered that some of the beautiful squish sitting on my windowsills are looking a little peaked. See how wrinkly this one is? I'm suspecting we left them out in too-cold weather so they got frostbitten, although I always thought butternuts could take a light frost and keep on tickin'. I guess I thought wrong!

So I cut into one to see if they would still be good. And they were! At least for now. But I probably need to use them up sooner rather than later. (Fortunately, fewer than half are like this. The rest will go into the cellar and be used gradually through the winter.) So I was off & running with this soup recipe of Alysha's.

As I said, I was very interested in trying it. The Huz was slightly less so. When confronted with unusual combinations of things, like squash and sausage, he can be a tad cautious. Not negative, exactly, but not exactly enthused either.

And that's all changed now.

Wowowow! Is this a yummy soup! I did make some adjustments, based on ingredient availability (I had no wild rice nor half-and-half) or preference. So, please take a look at Alysha's original recipe, and then come back and I'll tell you what I changed, in case you'd like to follow my crooked path.

Back already? My, we're speedy, aren't we? Did you even look at the recipe? I only ask because if you didn't, the rest of this will be gibberish to you and so I won't feel offended if you decide to stop reading right here. (Note added later: I decided to write up this recipe with my changes here. Below is a description of the changes I made, with my reasons.)

OK, so for those of you still with me, here's what I changed.
  • Since I didn't have any wild rice, I substituted basmati rice for the wild, and rather than putting it in the soup, I served it on the side. We scooped the rice into our bowls and poured the soup over. I was afraid otherwise it would get mushy. (Actually, I ate mine without the rice and it didn't seem like any sort of deprivation to me!)
  • I substituted evaporated milk for the half & half. I often do that for cream soups. It is far less likely to separate or curdle if the soup gets hot, and it has only 1 gram of fat per tablespoon as compared to 2 for half & half.
  • I used less broth. The total in the original recipe calls for 12 cups of chicken broth, and uses 4 to cook the wild rice. I used one 14-oz can of chicken broth for my basmati rice, one in the squash puree, and only two more in the soup, for a total of 8 cups.
  • I used 3½ pounds of squash, and rather than peeling and cubing it before cooking it, I halved it lengthwise, cooked it with the seeds still in it, and then scooped out the seeds and scooped out the squash right into the food processor. And I didn't have time to let it cool, so it went right into the food processor hot, and right into the stockpot hot too.
  • I used my secret pepper weapon: ground white pepper. It has such a nice, gentle pepper flavor that I can use lots of it without burning my palate. And it is less noticeable visually in light-colored food. I love white pepper! It's a bit softer than black peppercorns, though, so it doesn't grind nicely in my pepper grinder. I find I'm better off buying it already ground. So I substituted that for the freshly ground black pepper the recipe calls for.
  • Because I used regular kielbasa, I didn't use olive oil when sauteeing it, and I didn't add any salt during cooking until the whole soup had come together. Then I salted lightly, perhaps ½ teaspoon did it for me.
Alysha, thank you so much for the inspiration, and I hope you don't mind that I took a bit of a crooked path with your beautiful recipe! (I guess I'm like Kalyn, who says she can never make a recipe as it's written.) (Alysha comments that it's really Emeril's recipe.) (Ok, enough parenthetical remarks. The end!)