Soapbox Moment: Doggedly Determined

It’s been a while since I blogged, but something happened yesterday that made me want to have a outlet for expressing my opinion so here I am! Here is a little background just for reference. I have three dogs, all of which I adopted, because I can’t stand the idea of supporting puppy mills or some poor, unwanted dog sitting in a cold cage because of an irresponsible owner. I adopted Coal, a lab-shepherd mix, from the Stillwater Human Society in Oklahoma. I was a Freshman in college and feeling home and dog sick, so I decided the best way to remedy that situation would be to get myself a new dog. I like to call him the best bad decision I ever made. He followed me all through college, long trips home, and the transition into my professional life. Joey, my 75-pound beagle mix (I know, right?!), was part of a litter of puppies that I fostered late into my sophomore that my boyfriend decided to adopt. So obviously, he is mine now too. Clark Kent, a blue-tick coon hound, was aptly named after we found him a year ago in the backyard of our new rental house as a six-week old puppy with a tummy full of worms, flea bites and without an ounce of fat on him. I had grand intentions of finding him another home, (I mean three dogs? Who does that?!) but after weeks of rehabilitating him, he was no one else’s but mine. 

I love taking all of my dogs to the local dog park, they get so excited and I enjoy seeing them happy. It is not easy to wrangle three large dogs all at once, so I worked out a system. I typically get Joey out of the car first and then once he is in the park, I go back to the car for Coal and Clark. This all takes about three minutes and it is about the same process to get them all back in the car after they are done playing. Last night we did our typical dog-park dance and they were all having a great time. After about 45 minutes it was starting to get dark and most of the other owners were starting to leave. It was just me, my dogs and one other owner. I leashed Coal and Clark, then called out to Joey. He had just gotten a hold of a soccer ball (his favorite) and didn’t want to come. I took Coal and Clark to the car and came back for Joey. I got him on the leash and I noticed the other owner staring at me. I motioned to Joey, smiled and said, “My problem child.” His eye brows lifted and he said, “I thought he was being abandoned.” I replied that I simply couldn’t walk them all at the same time and began my way to the car with Joey, feeling suddenly sad that that idea had even occurred to someone. 

Now, here is where I get on my exceptionally large soapbox. When you decide to take responsibility for a dog, you have made a agreement to care for that dog for the remainder of its life, even if that means finding it a new home if the worst should happen. You should never, under any circumstances abandon or abuse your animal. They trust you with everything that they are and care for you like the closest family member you will ever have. The idea that you could get a dog, keep it for a few years and then get tired of it, just makes me want to shake people. They have emotions, they can feel pain and they know loss. If you give them love, they will give you every ounce of themselves. People have so much in their lives, but our animals only have us and then people continually treat them like they are nothing, disposable. They deserve the very best that we can give and if you can’t follow through with that promise, don’t bring a dog into your life. 

A few months back, my dogs got out of my backyard and both Joey and Coal were hit by a truck. Joey’s tail was a little mangled but he was otherwise alright. Coal got the worst of it and was lucky enough to be transported to the OSU Veterinary School, minutes after he was hit, by a passing vet student (before I even knew what happened). When I got to the hospital, he wasn’t doing well and had very low chances. The vet on-duty asked me several times if I was sure I wanted them to continue trying to help him. I just couldn’t give up on him without knowing the full extent of his injuries. It turns out I was right to hold out hope, his internal injuries weren’t as bad as originally thought and once the shock had passed he started to get better. He had to be in the ICU to two weeks, most of that time in an oxygen chamber. I visited him as much as they would let me and I thought about him constantly. He is back home with me now, with no signs of his trauma other than a couple bald spots from scars. Everyday I am thankful for him and I have never regretted my decision to save his life because that is the promise I made to him the day I took him home from the shelter. 

dogs

I Bake Everything…Seriously

I recently decided to go on a health kick and I am challenging myself to still cook with my favorite foods but cut down on the fat. The best thing I have come up with so far is to bake absolutely everything. Baking cuts down on the amount of oils used and  it is pretty hands off. Just the other day, I was faced with the temptation to saute some zucchini. Now, sauteing isn’t that bad for you but I find that I use much more oil when I am actively cooking something. So, I pulled out my baking sheet, turned on the oven and threw the zucchini in there instead. It was amazing! I seriously will never eat zucchini any other way ever again. Here is exactly what I used:

2 Large Zucchinis (cut into large pieces)

2 Green Onions (roughly chopped)

2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

Pinch of Salt

Pinch of Pepper

2 Garlic Cloves

1/2 Tablespoon of Italian Seasoning

I literally threw all of the ingredients onto a baking sheet and mixed them around a bit. I cooked the zucchini at 380 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. I pretty much just waited until parts of them looked a little brown. It was really easy and honestly some of the best zucchini I have ever had.

Tip: This zucchini goes great with some quinoa and a small salad!

P.S. If you are looking at this…hi Ron.

Quick Product Review- Starbucks Verismo

This Christmas I received a Verismo from my brother. It was kind of a guilt present because he didn’t make it to my college graduation, but I appreciate it all the same. My entire family has a coffee addiction and I love anyone that enables me in that addiction. Anyway, I love this thing. It is so awesome when I am in a hurry trying to get out of the house and since I can’t make it a day without a cup of coffee, this has made my life so much easier. A lot of people really like the Keurigs, but I’m a bit of a coffee snob and I like my Starbucks. Plus, I think the Kuerig takes up more room in the kitchen.

My only issue with the Verismo is that there aren’t that many different kinds of pods. If you want to make a mocha or something, you will have to buy a separate syrup and add it yourself. I guess that isn’t really that big of a deal. It does make you feel a little left out though when you go into Bed, Bath and Beyond and Kuerig has an entire corner of the store dedicated to all it’s different kinds of pods and the Verismo just has a shelf. But I guess that is because the Verismo is newer and I need to give them a chance to come up with other pods. Besides, I have tried a lot of the different Keurig pods and honestly, I would rather have a cafe latte from the Verismo than a flavored coffee from the Keurig.

I would also like to say that I am not getting paid to say any of this. I really just love this product.

Side Note- Seems like a lot of your comments have been going into my spam folder. I have no idea why, but I will be sure to check that folder and respond to you!

Men and the Kitchen

This week I have been staying with my boyfriend, Jay, up in Oklahoma. Since I graduated, we have been trying the long distance thing. It hasn’t exactly been easy, but I think we will come out of it OK. Anyway, staying with him has been a bit of an adventure. In typical guy fashion, he has barely any kitchen supplies and what he does have, mostly go toward making some sort of meat (aka George Foreman Grill, meat tenderizer, the oddest wok I have ever seen). He does not even have a cookie sheet! Contrary to popular belief, (i.e. my boyfriend) just because something is called a cookie sheet, does not mean that is its only use.

But I am not one to give up on baking very easily. So in order to cook something that requires an oven, I have resorted to making a  pan out of foil. Now this technique does work, but it requires four hands to get it into the oven without everything ending up on the floor. On the plus side though, foil doesn’t really get hot in the oven and you can pick it up without using an oven mitt. While foil is a good temporary solution, it would get kind of expensive to do this every single time. Luckily, because of my phenomenal persuasive powers, I convinced him to buy a cookie sheet.  I used it last night to roast some asparagus; it was amazing.

Now I just need to work on getting him a better cutting board, more knives and real cups. I just remembered that Jay reads my blog sometimes…I hope he doesn’t get mad about this…then again maybe he will take my advice.

Almond Tarts

I absolutely love these! This is an old French recipe that my grandmother taught me when I was a kid. All you need is…

10 oz Slivered Almonds

8 oz Sugar

4 Egg Whites

About 1 Teaspoon of Almond Extract or Essence

Strawberry Jam

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

First, in a food processor, finely grind 8 ounces of the slivered almonds.

almonds

ground almonds 2

Then, in a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.

egg whites

After that, fold the almonds, sugar and almond extract into the egg whites. While doing this, be careful not to deflate the egg whites.

almond mixture

Set this mixture aside for a little while while you roll out the sweet shortcrust pastry. It is best to do this on a solid, floured surface. You will want to put flour on your hands and rolling pin too, in order to keep the pastry from sticking. Take a softball size amount of dough and roll it until it is about 1/4 of an inch thick.

rolled dough

Then, using a 2-3 inch in diameter pastry stamp,stamp out your pastry rounds.

cut dough

Continue this until you have used all the pastry. Remember to re-flour in between rolling out dough.

pastry circles

Place each pastry circle into a tart pan.

tart rounds

Then, place about a teaspoon of strawberry jam in the bottom of each tart.

strawberry jam

After that, spoon about two tablespoons of the almond mixture into each tart. Make sure you cover up all of the strawberry jam with the almond mixture.

unbaked almond tarts 2

Use the remaining almond slivers to decorate the top of the tarts.

CU unbaked

Bake at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes. This recipe should make around 4 dozen tarts. When they are done, they will look like this. Enjoy!

almond tarts in pan

cooling almond tarts

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

I have been using this recipe since before I can remember. It originally came from one of my mom’s old English cook books but I have gotten to the point now that I have it memorized. It’s pretty simple for a pastry and tastes delicious and buttery. I works best with tarts and pies, but if I’m feeling really lazy I just make little twists and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on them and bake.  All you need is…

16 oz All Purpose Flour

Pinch of Salt

2 egg yolks

4 oz Butter (Room temperature)

4 oz Shortening (Lard works too)

4-6 Tablespoons of Water

This recipe will make about four dozen tarts or two pie crusts. It is really easy to half and can be frozen.

In a large bowl, sift the flour and the salt together. Then, cut the butter and the shortening into the flour mixture. Use your hands to mix the fat and flour mixture together until you get something resembling a bread crumb consistency.

Shortcrust pastry step one

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and four tablespoons of water together. Then add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and use your hand to knead the dough until it is combined. Make sure that you don’t over work the dough because that can make the pastry very hard when it is baked. When you are done, if should look something like this.

shortcrust balls

inside of short crust pastry

The pastry should be refrigerated at least 30 minutes before it is rolled out. I usually bake it at around 375-400 degrees Fahrenheit until it is golden brown. Good luck!

Hint: This stuff tastes really good raw, just don’t eat too much of it!

Not so Simple

Today, as I was drinking coffee in my kitchen, talking to my mom and our friend Yolanda, she said something that really made me think. She said that even if all you are eating is a piece of bread and a coffee, it can be the most delicious thing in the world if you are with the right company.

After thinking about it, I find that I have to agree with her. Food just tastes better when you are with other people who are enjoying it with you. I love to bake and cook, but I often don’t feel like my job is done until I have shared my cooking accomplishment with another person. It’s almost like it didn’t happen if no one else was around to eat it. I get a small thrill when I see a friend bite into a cookie that I spent my time on. I am excited when I see a slow smile spread across their face or hear a delighted, “This is so good.”

Food has a way of connecting people that is like no other. Growing up, the kitchen was the place that we would all gather, each of us doing our part to make a great meal. In a world where work and projects are never ending, a good meal is something you can start and finish all in one day, and receive immediate benefits.

Food should never be used as something to simply fill an empty belly, it should be an experience. Each meal should be enjoyed and talked about. Now I know that we don’t always have time to make an elaborate meal, but even simple foods can complex. Like Yolanda said, even a simple piece of bread has the potential to be the best thing you have ever tasted.