Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rescue-less Rangers

Ever since adopting this guy,


my dear husband and I have each grown big, round, fluffy, soft spots for animals, which you can read about here and here.  We over-eagerly shout “cows!” whenever we see them grazing in fields off the highway; we catch and release spiders we find inside our house; and we denounce businesses with “no pets allowed” signs as being “speciest.”

We also try to rescue animals we find in need.  Except all the animals we’ve tried to help don’t actually need rescuing.  Oops.  

Incident 1:  Returning from running errands, Ian, Teddy, and I are driving down a busy, under-construction four-lane road in town when we spot a little brown Daschund happily trotting down the sidewalk.  We make an immediate turn into the nearest neighborhood and walk back to find the lost weiner dog before he wanders into traffic.  Ian searches in the grasses and bushes on the side of the busy road.  I opt to look in the neighborhood side street, where I hear a dog behind a fence barking at Teddy, who’s poking his head out of the car window to watch me look over bushes and under parked cars.  With treats in my pockets and loose towels prepped for the car ride, I circle the street and eventually reach the home of the dog barking at Teddy.  Peering through the slats in the wooden fence, I can see that the source of the barking is a little brown Daschund. Looks like someone needs a better fence.

Incident 2:  We’re visiting a quaint little South Carolina town while on vacation with Ian’s family when we see a beautiful clay-colored dog wandering the main street.  We keep an eye on him while we zig-zag through a few antique shops lining the sidewalks, just to make sure he doesn’t belong to one of the many visitors in town.  After a half an hour of shopping, we’re assured he has no owner, so we attempt a dog rescue before being seated for lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Without our standard dog-treat lure, we’re left to hope that Teddy’s recall words will work for this random dog as well.  So we walk towards the lost pup and shout “Puppy, puppy!” while moving backwards.  He runs away.  Rescue fail.  We drop our heads and walk to meet the rest of the family for lunch.  The hostess overhears us saying, “We tried to call him to us, but...” and responds “Oh don’t worry about him!  That’s Red - he’s the town dog.” Town dog? I didn't realize that we had traveled to Mayberry circa 1956.

Incident 3:  I wake up to Ian standing over me in the bed with an orange tabby cat in his arms.  In my sleepy stupor, I have to remind myself that we don’t own a cat.  “I found him outside!” Ian says proudly.  I bolt out of bed and put Teddy in his crate to cool his over-enthusiastic welcome for the lost kitty.  We put the little cat on the ground of our bedroom to let him explore his new abodes, while I mentally panic that this random animal might stinky pee on our floor somewhere.  We are sans litterbox, after all.  I snap out of my concern to realize that this fluffly little Cheeto is wearing a collar that identifies him as “Abbedale.”  Cute name.  And beneath the cute name is a phone number!  Ian calls and leaves a message on a company’s voicemail.  Weird.  As we wait for a return phone call, we’re forced to entertain the idea of adopting him in case no one calls back.  Abbedale sure is cute, and kitty litter doesn’t cost that much, we think to ourselves.  Plus, Teddy would like the company...  Before we look up how much FreshStep costs, Ian’s phone rings, and it’s the return phone call:  “Oh, that’s Abbedale.  He likes to wander into your neighborhood.  You can just put him back outside.”  So we did.  And now the three of us reminisce about the day we owned a cat for an hour.

If ever the universe tried to communicate with someone, I think it’s trying to tell us it might be time to consider adding a new furry member to our little family.  Because as well-intentioned as we have been in these animal rescue attempts, we just can’t ignore the thousands of homeless animals waiting for their forever homes in rescue organizations all around us.  So maybe it’s time for us to stop looking on the side of the street for lost animals and start looking where they really are: shelters.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Oodles of 'Doodles: Molasses Vanilla

When I made my first batch of snickerdoodles a few days ago, I had a bunch of the tasty cinnamon-sugar topping leftover.  In the spirit of holiday indulgence, instead of throwing the topping away I made an entirely new batch of cookies.  

A day later, I found myself rumaging through the pantry pulling out the panoply of ingredients needed for these snickerdoodles.  I looked at one particularly dark bottle, turned to Ian and said, "I'm a little concerned you won't like these cookies because they have blackstrap molasses in them."  Ian responded astutely: "Um, molasses is in barbecue sauce, so of course I'll like them!"

He did.

These cookies taste like the love child of a traditional snickerdoodle and a ginger snap.   I might even try a 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger next time I make these.  Which will probably be tomorrow.

Molasses Vanilla Snickerdoodles

    1/3 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 cup sugar or vanilla sugar
    1/2 cup canola oil
    1/4 cup molasses
    3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon nondairy milk 
    1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. On a large plate, preferably with high sides or a rim around the edges, mix the topping together (sugar and cinnamon) and set aside.

In a medium to large bowl, combine all the flour, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to get everything incorporated nicely. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar and oil until thoroughly mixed. 

Stir in molasses, vanilla extract and nondairy milk. Mix these ingredients together, then slowly sift in the dry ingredients. Use your hands to get a dough to form. Avoid overworking the dough.

Take small portions of the dough and roll into walnut sized balls. You can make them bigger, if you so choose, but this size usually yields about 20 cookies. Gently press cookie between your palms and fingers to form little disks/patties.  Carefully pat cookie disks into cinnamon sugar topping mix. 

Place on prepared cookie sheets, sugar side up and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges turn a faint golden brown. For a softer cookie with a chewy edge, bake for about 10 minutes. Allow a few minutes for cookies to cool before removing from sheet pan, then transfer to wire cooling rack and allow to completely cool.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Oodles of 'Doodles: Mexican Hot Chocolate

'Tis the season for Christmas cookies, and I've been on a serious (vegan) snickerdoodle kick.  I've made two types of 'doodles in the past 48 hours (stay tuned for recipe #2 tomorrow).  I know it's the season of Giving, but I'm having trouble parting with these cookies because they're too tasty to share.

You know how you sometimes order the caesar salad at the restaurant because, even though you know it's not healthy, hey, it's a salad, so it can't be that bad.  Well, I've been telling myself that it's okay to have four of these cookies in a row because hey, there's cayenne pepper in them:
In addition to their high capsaicin content, cayenne peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin A, through its concentration of pro-vitamin A carotenoids including beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is not only a potent antioxidant in its own right, but can be converted in the body to vitamin A, a nutrient essential for the health of all epithelial tissues (the tissues that line all body cavities including the respiratory, gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts). Beta-carotene may therefore be helpful in reducing the symptoms of asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, its antioxidant activity make it useful in preventing the free radical damage that can lead to atherosclerosis, colon cancer, and diabetic complications, like nerve damage and heart disease.
 So enjoy the sweet and spicy taste of these "healthy" cookies.  (Wink, wink.)  

Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles

For the topping:
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the cookies:
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons almond milk (Or your preferred non-dairy milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon chocolate extract (or more vanilla extract if you have no chocolate)
1 2/3 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne (depending on your desired level of piquance)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Mix the topping ingredients together on a flat plate. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, use a fork to vigorously mix together oil,  sugar, syrup, and milk. Mix in extracts.
Sift in remaining ingredients, stirring as you add them. Once all ingredients are added mix until you’ve got a pliable dough.
Roll dough into walnut sized balls. Pat into the sugar topping to flatten into roughly 2 inch discs. Transfer to baking sheet, sugar side up, at least 2 inches apart (they do spread). This should be easy as the the bottom of the cookies should just stick to your fingers so you can just flip them over onto the baking sheet.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, they should be a bit spread and crackly on top. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Famous Fashions

Growing up I loved the TV show Full House.  I tuned in to TGIF on ABC religiously every week, just waiting to hear those magical intro lyrics, "Everywhere you look, everywhere is a heart (a heart), a hand to hold on to..." My mom taped every episode for me so I could re-live the Tanner Family's G-rated dramatics throughout the week.  I even had the Michelle doll that wore '90s-fabulous black denim jeans and a pink fringe shirt and repeated her famous lines when you squeezed her stomach: "You got it, dude" and "No way, Jose!"

So imagine my sheer childish exuberance when, during one Friday-night viewing session, I saw Miss Fabulous Michelle Tanner pushing her doll in the same pink baby buggy I had in my play room!  We like the same things, so we could be friends in real life!  I thought.  So went the reasoning of my 5-year old self.

You might think I've outgrown this cheap sense of popular self-validation by now.  That I'd react with less enthusiasm to seeing something I own being used by someone on TV.

Nope.  I've transitioned from toys to clothing - and it's only happened a few times - but whenever I've seen a piece of my clothing worn by someone on TV, I react like a stage mom seeing her fabric-daughter on the small screen for the first time.

My enthusiasm is a second cousin of the bigger sociological phenomenon of "Celebrity,"  which helps us understand why we're so fascinated with the Kardashian divorce drama and why no one can find a non-Kindle version of the Steve Jobs biography.  The evolutionary perspective on celebrity is an interesting one, as explained in this BBC article from 2003:
Evolutionary biologists say it is natural for humans to look up to individuals who receive attention because they have succeeded in a society. In prehistoric times, this would have meant respecting good hunters and elders. But as hunting is not now an essential skill and longevity is more widely achievable, these qualities are no longer revered.  Instead, we look to celebrities, whose fame and fortune we want to emulate.
So color me tickled when someone famous is emulating my fashion preferences.  Somewhere in the deep evolutionary parts of my brain, my fierce cavewoman self is patting herself on her oh-so-stylish back.

Most recently (and least impressively), I saw a favorite dress of mine in a - prepare yourself -  Christmastime Nissan commercial.  Even before I could question the influx of holiday car commercials by shouting to Ian, "Who buys someone a car for Christmas?!" I spied this happy girl in my Jessica Simpson-brand houndstooth dress.

See it?  There's my black-and-white dress paired with a trim candy apple cardigan and a cute side pony.  Why thank you, Nissan and your commercial wardrobe consultants, for the fashion tip!

But the Most Wonderful Sale of the Year Dress is such a D-List wardrobe celebrity.  Permit me to stretch my bragging muscles a little bit to present the Brangelina of my closet: my finger-less gloves.  

My mother-in-law brought me back a candy-striped woolen scarf and matching pair gloves, both made in Scotland, from her trip to England in 2009.  Soft, warm, and a quick way to brighten up my black winter coat, I loved my souvenir gift

But someone famous made me love them even more.  Now my fluffy sweaters, sequined tops, and 4-inch heels look wide-eyed in amazement at my fingerless gloves because a movie-stah wore them in a blockbuster last July:

Hermione & Harry in HP & the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1

Scene after winter scene in Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, Part 1, Emma Watson as Hermione Granger was wearing my made-in-the-UK fingerless gloves.  And I couldn't help but think, We like the same things, so we could be friends in real life!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thai Chili Pizza (aka the Cilantro Problem)

Some people think cilantro tastes like soap, but that is not that problem to which the above title is referring.  Nope, this is the Cilantro Problem:

On the upper right is the two teaspoons I needed for my cilantro-lime rice; on the left are the leafy leftovers.  I have no plans to open up a Mexican cantina in my future, so why would I ever need that much cilantro, Whole Foods?  I might as well wrap a ribbon around the stems and walk down the aisle again with an herb bouquet.

This Problema del Cilantro extends to all fresh herbs (bay leaves, anyone?) and menaces all my herb-garden-handicapped brethren.  But I charged forward against this recent cilantro invasion with an army of online recipe resources behind me.  My four star general turned out to be this recipe for Thai Chicken Pizza at, which I adapted it to make it veg-friendly.

1 whole Batch Of Your Favorite Pizza Dough
1/2 cups Sweet Asian Chili Sauce
1 whole Onion, Thinly Sliced
1/2 whole Zucchini, Thinly Sliced
1 teaspoon Red Chili Flakes
1/4 cups Chopped Peanuts
2 Tablespoons Fresh Cilantro

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F with a pizza stone in the oven. If you do not have a pizza stone, put a large baking sheet in the oven (make sure to use one that is large enough to house your dough).

Begin by adding some flour to your rolling surface. Take your dough that has already risen, and lightly knead it. Roll out the dough to about a 1/4 inch thick, or however your like the thickness of your crust.

Spread the Asian chili sauce on the surface of the dough. Not too thick, not too thin. Add the sliced onions and zucchini. Top with the red chili flakes.

Place the pizza into the oven on your cooking surface (stone or pan) and cook for about 15 minutes, keeping an eye on your crust and toppings so they do not burn. Every oven is different.

Once the pizza dough is golden around the edges, remove pizza from the oven.

Drizzle more of the Asian chili sauce over the top, top with the crushed peanuts and fresh cilantro.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Computer Smarts, Money Smarts

I’m not tech-savvy.  Comparatively of course: my parents and some of my more aged brethren think I’m Kevin Flynn in Tron because I can use Ticketmaster to purchase Pacers/Bulls preseason tickets online. I enjoy the praise because deep down I know that, when compared to my own generation, I’m pretty gosh darn average about technology.  

Often below average.  I can’t use PhotoShop; I don’t have a smartphone; and when my iPod Nano stopped working a few years ago, instead of trying to fix it / update my iTunes / buy a new one, I resigned myself to listening to 12 outdated Rascal Flatts songs in the order my iPod dictated.  (In my own defense: a. I didn’t want to spend lots of money on something I thought might break easily again, and b. I love me some Rascal Flatts.)

But I refuse to become technologically crippled like my mother, who has never once attempted to compose a simple text message to me.  I’d rather end up like my husband’s grandma, who, after Thanksgiving dinner, gave me detailed instructions on how to sell something on eBay.  

So I persevere in the face of my technological left-handedness, compensating for my ignorance with hard work and good ole’ fashion learnin’.  Thanks to some research on the Google Machine, I've been making some big technological strides lately. Here's a brief list of some of my e-commplishments in the past month:

  • I fixed my iPod and transferred iTunes from my old computer to a newer one,
  • I started using Google Reader to organize my favorite blogs,
  • I downloaded my first podcast: NPR’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me,
  • and I backed up this here blog by exporting the contents and saving the xml file to DropBox.

(Pats self on back.)

But the biggest technological step-in-the-right direction came from Facebook earlier this week when I saw this stray status update:  “ spoiled my Christmas present!”

Intrigued / hungry, I typed the web address into my browser expecting to see a collection of state quarters or a lovely box of the oh-so-delicious Andes mints.  It’s hard to beat those festive brown and green rectangles of tastiness, but what I found was better.
And here I thought I was cool using a Google Docs spreadsheet to organize our spending.  Pssshtt. makes spreadsheets look like Gordon Gecko’s brick-sized mobile phone.

I realize that my just-learned-how-to-take-a-screenshot self may be the last one to arrive to this party as well, and that maybe everyone’s already using this personal finance tool.  Nevertheless, I feel overwhelmed at this website’s coolness / helpfulness / ease of use, and I want to spread the word in case it’s new to you, too.  

Because what’s even more important than computer smarts?  Money smarts.  Tracking your spending might ruin Christmas presents, but it helps you save for them, too.  And momma wants a smartphone.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Nighttime Granola

Two packages of shredded coconut have been sitting by their lonesome on my gray kitchen counter since Sunday, looking sad next to the cheerful bananas. They've been staring me down every time I go to the sink to grab a glass of water, "Won't you please open us up and make the granola like you promised?"  I'm no promise-breaker, so I gave in to their tropical demands and made my first batch of homemade granola tonight.

Chalk up one more victory for homemade over store-bought.  My granola is so crisp and sweet that even the bulk bins at Whole Foods are waving their white flags of surrender.  Plus, it smells divine.  I just pulled it out of the oven an hour ago, and the warm scent of coconut and brown sugar is still hanging in the air, battling with the apple-cinnamon Glade candle for scent dominance of our apartment.  Granola wins.

Now if only I could transfer smell through the internet.  Work on it, Google. 

Almond Maple Granola

3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup blanched slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1 (14 oz) package coconut - shredded or flaked
  • 1/3 cup unsalted sunflower seeds (optional)
  • 6 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 6 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dried cranberries or raisins

  • Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Lightly grease a cookie sheet with sides or a cake pan.

  • In a large bowl, toss together the oats, almonds, wheat germ, coconut, and sunflower seeds. In a separate bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, brown sugar, oil, water and salt. Pour the liquid over the oat and nut mixture, and stir until evenly coated. Spread out on the prepared cookie sheet.

  • Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until evenly toasted. Mix in raisins. Cool, and store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Superstition Suspicion

Superstition is a belief in supernatural causality: that one event leads to the cause of another without any process in the physical world linking the two events.”

My father-in-law told me that bad things usually come in threes.  He used plane crashes to exemplify this theory, which did nothing to assuage my fear of flying.  Ever persuadable as I am, I’ve been hiding in my apartment avoiding black cats and mirrors because two bad things have happened to me in the past 48 hours.

First, I had a really rough phone conversation (read: argument) with a dear friend on Sunday night.  With lots of love comes lots of emotion, so the rare tear-fest is the price you pay for a great friendship.  

Then I got this little gem of a voicemail yesterday afternoon from my mom.  Read this with an higher-pitched, cheerful voice in your head to get the real impact:  

Hi Anne, it’s Mommy.  I called your Aunt earlier today to say goodbye, and she said she really loved seeing you and that she’ll see Teddy next time she visits when it’s not so messy out.  She is hoping to come back to town for Grandpa’s birthday this spring.

Listen, after your Zumba class today I was driving your dad to St. Vincent’s hospital because his blood pressure wasn’t right and his heart rate was off.  They’re doing an EKG and an X-ray to rule out cardiac things.  So we are in the emergency room right now and I knew you would want to know.  Love you.

Translation: Your dad had chest pains and being tested for a heart attack.  The succession of bad things had begun, and #2 slapped me in the face with the cold wet palm of Father Time.  

All is okay now.  He’s out of the ER and has to meet with his primary care physician and then maybe a cardiologist.  While he waits for a real diagnosis, I’ve ordered my conservative father to completely abstain from watching MSNBC to keep his stress levels down.  Consume all the O’Reilly you want.  Just no Matthews or Maddow.  

In the meantime, the ER visit haunts all of our minds, peppering doubt into our belief that he’s just fine.  And I’m left mulling in my superstition that a third and final misfortune will befall me this week, crossing my fingers that the Bad Luck Monster does not harm another member of my family.  

But I’m not feeling superstitious because of the legend of the threes.  Nope.  I’m looking over my shoulder and walking around ladders because something paranormal happened to me in between these two events, firmly establishing my superstitions and making me think that the first misfortune may have really been a blessing in disguise.  

You see, when I left my Zumba class at 1pm yesterday and plopped my sweaty self into my car, I started thinking about the argument I had had with my friend the night before.  I took out the phone to call Ian to ask what he wanted me to pick up for lunch before I drove back home.  I clicked the number on my phone, put it to my ear and heard the synchronous buzzing of the ringer on the other end.  Then I heard, “Hi Annie.”  But it wasn’t Ian.  I hadn’t dialed his number.  I had called my dad at the very moment he was being driven to the ER with chest pains.

Weird, right?

Of course, ever the optimist, my dad didn’t tell me about his health scare when I called because - as he told me later - he felt embarrassed and didn’t want to worry me.  So he told me he was at school.

But his cell phone never works in that concrete-bunker of a school, so I would never call him a 1pm.  And I’ve never confused his number for Ian’s.  And I almost never have such distracting fights with my friend.  

Yet, these never’s cancelled out to drop a dollop of luck in a steaming pot of misfortune.

So maybe bad things come in threes and maybe something metaphysical happened to me yesterday afternoon.  Or maybe it was all just a head-tilting coincidence.  I can’t be sure.  I’m just glad I called my dad when he needed me, and I think it’s more gratifying to have something/someone to thank for the good timing. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Loving My Son

Grab a box of tissues before you click on this link.  It will lead to you to the photos of a fallen Navy Seal’s Chocolate Lab mourning by his casket earlier this year.  Then there’s this one following the landslides in Brazil in January.  And don’t even get me started about the trailer for War Horse.  It looks like Homeward Bound on steroids.  With a John Williams score, I’m legitimately concerned that I might start the ugly cry when I see that in the theaters later this month.

I cannot talk about those photos or accurately describe the War Horse trailer to anyone.  Literally.  My throat tightens up and won’t let the words come out.  The would-be tears swelling behind my eyes paralyze my tongue instead.  The reason for my emotionality is keeping me company as I type these words:

I am so in love with my dog, Teddy.  Just like Navy Seal Tumlinson, I sometimes refer to my dog as “my son,” as I feel like I love him almost as much as parents must love their human children.  I certainly treat him like my child:  I sing him songs; I’ve switched his food three times to find one that doesn’t upset his tummy (we feed him this kind now); I buy him ice cream cones at Dairy Queen and McDonald’s; and I kiss his hairy, drooly face no less than ten times a day.  I love that dog so much that - and remember that my dog is a big, lethargic Newfoundland - I once started crying when I thought he might be sick because he was merely sleeping on the floor (like he always does).  At this point, I cry so easily thinking about Teddy that I could win an Academy Award.  

Teddy may be only a year old, but I’m already dreading the day we’ll have to say goodbye.  Unfortunately, Ian and I have been thinking of his health more critically in recent weeks because my friend’s dog - we’ll call him Rex - is sick.  When she took Rex in for his annual checkup a month ago, the vet found something that the rest of us already knew about her cute pooch: that he has a big heart.  An enlarged one to be exact, and he’s only one-year old, just like Ted.   While we wait for an official diagnosis, our knuckles are turning white from crossing our fingers so tightly, hoping for an okay outcome.  

At the suggestion of Rex’s caring owner, we just got Teddy something better than the fluffiest chew toy or peanut butter-est ice cream cone he could ever imagine.  Because I cry at any splinter of a thought of permanent separation from him; and because I would drain every checking / savings / retirement / sock drawer account I have to save his life, we purchased health insurance for Teddy today.  (Trupanion, per our vet’s suggestion.)

My dad once told me a Native American fable explaining the unique relationship between dogs and humans.  I didn’t really understand it before I adopted Teddy.  Now I understand it too well.  Just don’t ask me to read it out loud.

One day the Great Spirit placed Human apart from the animals.  The Great Spirit then began to open a huge chasm in the earth to make this separation permanent.  Dog looked at Human and then turned back to his animal friends.  The chasm grew wider.  Dog again looked at Human but again turned back to his animal friends.  The chasm grew wider still.  Finally, at the last possible moment before the chasm was too wide to jump, Dog took a mighty leap and forever joined with Human.  It is that way to this day.