Tuesday, November 30, 2010

RECIPE: Homemade Turkey Treats (for dogs)

A few months ago, the girls and I were at the vet's office with one of the dogs and I happened to see several copies of a dog/cat/horse treat cookbook sitting on the counter with a sign that announced that the proceeds from the sale of the cookbooks would go to the East Central Indiana Therapeutic Riding Center (find them here on Facebook.) I cannot resist a cookbook, unless it is one that promises me 1001 Ways to Cook Brussels Sprouts, so I bought a copy. Before we got back home, I'd already told Meelyn to head over to Marsh -- there were some supplies I needed to get. And that evening, I made two different kinds of dog treats for the pups. The recipes were really easy, contained ingredients that I already had on hand in the fridge or the pantry (except for the little jars of Gerber baby food strained meat) and were much cheaper than the treats we buy at the store.

I made a few modifications to this recipe and changed the name, but I hope that if you have a dog, a cat, a horse or all three, the simplicity of this recipe will motivate you to buy your own copy at Amazon and check out the rest of the goods.

TURKEY TREATS

INGREDIENTS:
2 2/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup powdered milk
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
2 jars baby food turkey
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together and knead for three minutes or so, until everything is mixed and clinging together. Using a bit of flour to keep things from sticking, roll the dough out one inch thick (for bigger treats) or 1/2 inch thick for smaller biscuits. You can use a bone-shaped cookie cutter if you're that kind of person -- I am -- or you can just use a pizza cutter to cut the treats however big you'd like to have them. [I used the pizza cutter to cut the biscuits in the picture above.]

Bake on an ungreased baking sheet for 20-25 minutes for thicker biscuits, maybe 18-22 minutes for thinner ones. Allow to cool before serving. Store treats in a plastic bag in the fridge - these aren't rock-hard dry treats, more like a chewy texture, and they'll mold if they're unrefrigerated. They have no preservatives in them to extend their shelf life, which can only be a good thing.

A word to the wise: Be prepared for people to make A LOT of fun of you for doing this, but phooey on them because your dogs will love these treats and they are really, really inexpensive to make.

A Will to watch



My favorite Shakespeare class ever, this one was. By the end of the eight week workshop, I'm usually ready to fling myself into a chair and lie there, panting. But this time, I miss the kids. They were a lot of fun. I loved hearing their comments and I loved answering their questions and I especially loved, when a split-second blip of Hamlet and Ophelia being INAPPROPRIATE with one another flashed onto the television screen, everyone immediately clapped their hands over their faces when I shrieked, "CLOSE YOUR EYES!!!" like we'd been rehearsing it since the first day of class. I told their mothers later it would have been funny if I hadn't been so mortified. Darn Kenneth Branagh and his use of flashback sequences to explain the back story!

Above are Ellen, Olivia, Joe and Bernadette, four of the twenty-five students who made my first semester workshop such a pleasure from the first class to the last. [And on the screen up there is Derek Jacobi as Claudius in Kenneth Branagh's 1996 production.]

Monday, November 29, 2010

Long tall Sally

I went to Aldi by myself today to do the grocery shopping, and by the time my cart was full, the check-out line was prodigiously long. I sighed as I got in the queue, trying to avoid slumping over and leaning my elbows on the handle of the cart, mindful of my mother's many lessons about good posture and the need to look and act like a lady even when you feel like a troll. There were two senior citizens in line in front of me, one a handsome and dapper gentleman with a ham in a shopping basket and the other a woman with pretty white hair. She was very tall - I silently measured myself against her as we were standing there and determined that I, at 5'3 inches tall, came approximately up to her shoulders.

The genial man turned around and saw her, his eyes widening and his mouth broadening in a big grin. "Well, my goodness!" he said in a jolly voice. "Did you play basketball in high school?"

The lady, who was half-turned toward me, smiled tolerantly and said, "Well, there wasn't a girls' basketball team back in my day, but I would have liked to."

He chuckled happily at that and then his eye fell on me, standing there looking pumpkin-shaped, as usual. "And you, young lady!" [I thanked him for that.] "What did you do in high school?"

"I was on the speech team," I answered wryly, and for some reason, that struck them both as terribly, terribly amusing and they both hooted and cackled and nudged each other saying things like "Speech team!!! Aahhhahahahaa!!" and "Did you ever?" and wiping tears of mirth from their eyes until I felt like rapping their ancient and withered heads together and saying a few things that I'm sure that Mr. Jim Robbins, my speech coach at New Castle Chrysler High School, would not have approved of for public discourse.

Blaming God

The news agencies are all a-buzz -- or maybe a-Twitter would be a better term -- about the online comment made by Stevie Johnson of the Buffalo Bills after he dropped a touchdown pass that could have meant a win for his team.

"I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!!" Stevie tweeted Our Lord severely from his iPad, presumably not on his knees. "YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO..."

I prefer to believe that Stevie meant this comment tongue-in-cheek, but there are a lot of people out there who have taken him seriously and are berating this poor kid up to threatening him with eternal damnation for being so cheeky. From the picture I saw accompanying the news article I read, Stevie looks like a mere child I mean, a young man in his twenties, so I can't be too hard on him because this is a lesson that a lot of oldsters I mean, adults twice Stevie's age have trouble learning.

For the most part, I blame modern American Christianity, which has devolved to a place where the term "Christian" is somehow seen as synonymous with "I am healthy, wealthy and too blessed to be stressed!!!" Which is a phrase that makes me search hurriedly for a small wastebasket every time I hear it, because yuuuuuck. What in the world does being blessed have to do with a lack of stress? Because let me tell you, some of the most blessed times of my life have been when stress levels were shooting straight through the top of the stress-o-meter. But the red-line stress levels weren't because God's care and concern weren't with me; it was more a lack of my own trust that things would work out, no matter what. (As it turns out, things did work out, which made me feel very chagrined and apologetic.)

At any rate, I can't see anywhere in the Bible through my own reading or through hearing it at church every Sunday where God owes us anything because we "praise [Him] 24/7," which I don't think is possible anyway, even for contemplative orders of nuns and monks. He offers us the gift of salvation through His grace and the merits of His sacrificial death on the cross, but owing us, like, a happy life free from pain, disappointment, sorrow? No, that's not right. That's like a teenager going up to his or her parents and saying, "You owe me a car because I've remembered to make my bed without being reminded for the past year."

After all, Jesus's Passion, the culmination of His three year ministry on earth, His raison d'etre -- reason for being -- was our salvation and that was accomplished through pain, disappointment and sorrow from Gethsemane to Calvary. There was no escaping it if He wanted to carry out the plan to save us from the wages of our sin, which was death. So He voluntarily chose to walk the road of sorrows and when He told us that if we wanted to be His followers, we'd have to take up our own crosses and follow Him? He meant that we were going to walk the same road in this life, but He promised it would be worth it once we gained heaven.

This earth is not the place where we'll perfection of body, soul and mind. In the book of Revelation, St. John wrote of seeing "the new heaven and the new earth" in chapter twenty-one. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away," the apostle wrote. "The one who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new."

So when we approach this life as a time and place of perfection, where God is our own personal genie who will grant us our wishes of perfect health, perfect prosperity and perfectly caught football passes, we're setting ourselves up for bitter disappointment of the sort that Stevie expressed in his tweet. "Look at all I do for you! You owe me, God!" A lot of times, I have found that this "owing" concept has a lot to do with "Scriptural Promises," which are random verses plucked out here and there and taken vigorously out of context, with no regard to surrounding passages or even the scope and sequence of the Bible as a whole. In that way lies danger, because when a person does that often enough, it happens that the resulting religion they cobble together for themselves bears no resemblance to actual Christianity in either the spiritual or historical sense. Instead, it becomes more akin to a New-Agey sort of gnosticism. It may feel good to believe this invented quasi-Christian philosophy -- after all, who wouldn't want to experience prosperity, perfect health and so many blessings raining down from heaven that stress just got knocked over flat on its back? -- but it doesn't have any basis in real Christianity.

Real Christianity is rugged. It is not for people who are so delicate, they can't deal with the concept of money troubles or illness, seeing those things as signs that one has somehow missed God's will because otherwise, things would be rosy. It takes some real character to be a good one, not that I'd know because I'm one of those who still, in my mid-forties, has to fight down the urge to flip the bird at people who cut me off in traffic. It takes courage to believe without seeing, to be kind to your enemies and to extend charity when none is extended to you. It takes a strong person to believe that thing might not be okay right now, in fact, things might be disastrous right now, but to rest in the promise that someday, maybe not in this life but in the next one, things will definitely be okay. It takes a lot of doing to read your Bible, attend to your prayers and do your duty to God as a grateful thank-you for the generous gift of His Son. Authentic Christianity takes some faith and some works and sometimes it comes so easy that you could swear you're drifting along, borne up by angel's wings, and sometimes it's so hard, you just want to chuck it all out.

But then there's that part of you that echoes St. Peter words in John 6: "To whom shall [I] go? You have the words of eternal life." I hope that Stevie will learn this lesson as he continues with his career in professional football, whether he catches passes sent his way or whether they drop like stones right at his feet. I hope I'll continue learning this lesson, taking the advice of the great saints who have gone before us - St. Therese and St. Theresa (who once grumpily said, "If this is the way You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few of them," a concept which I feel Stevie could heartily endorse.) St. Vincent de Paul and St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena and St. John Vianney. Every single one of those people went through a time of bitterness and sorrow, some of them died difficult deaths, but none of them threw up their hands and said, "This is not what I was promised in Your Word! I want a do-over! I want my money back! I want to speak to the manager!" They all persevered and they won out in the end. I'm sure they had their times of wondering what the heck was going on, because who doesn't? But they held on. We can learn from them. We should learn from them; they have so much to teach us about authentic faith and spirituality for Christians.

One of the things I like best about being Catholic is this picture: Life is like a steep uphill climb, rough terrain like one might find in the hills of Judea.The path is there right in front of you, but it's obvious that there's not going to be any kind of easy ascent. So there's Jesus right ahead of you, beckoning you onward with a friendly smile and a look of love in His eyes so deep and so true, you just know that He knows you're going to make it.

He carries a lantern to light the way so that you can see the particularly bad spots and not miss your footing. On one side of you is your guardian angel, on the other is the Blessed Mother. From time to time, you fall down on the path. Okay, make that many times. But each time, Jesus stops and waits as your angel and your heavenly mother haul you up by the elbows. They dust you off and get you back on your feet and Jesus sets the lantern down so that He can bind up your wounds. "There. Better now?" He asks, and then it is onward and upward again, no time to stop, no time to look back.

All along the way, there is encouragement and kindness. Your angel and your holy mother pray for you every step, adding their voices to yours as you talk to Him. "Jesus, I need help. I'm so tired," you say. "Yes, Jesus," says Mary, "She is so tired. He is so weary. Please give her refreshment. Please bless his life." Your angel chimes in, "Yes, please, Jesus, help her be strong. Help him not to grow weary in well-doing." Jesus listens to our questions, provides us with answers, hears our complaints and deals with our fears and our frailties, constantly challenging us to be better, be bigger, walk stronger, get tougher....all while having the tender, loving faith of a little child. In short, He is there every second, always ready to come to us with His arms outstretched, every time He hears a heart cry out to Him, in the ancient words of the daily prayer, "Deus in adjutorium meum intende; Domine ad adjuvandum me festina"

God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.

Stevie, you and I will keep on learning as we climb the path of salvation with Him, and as your Christian sister, I think the question I'd like to ask you if we could meet face to face right now is this: "What is He trying to get you to learn through that dropped pass? Could the lesson be that He is there with you whether you win or lose? Whether you look like a star or more like a burnt match? Since there is no humiliation that you experience that He hasn't experienced tenfold before you, could you be with Him in His time of need, share His pain and fear and humiliation this coming Holy Week? Could you give yourself completely not only to be known, but to know?"

I say it to myself, too.

The big chill commences

"Summer's lease hath all too short a date," Will wrote in Sonnet 18, and although I'm always glad to see the seasons change -- particularly from winter into spring -- I have to say that I don't mind that this summer is behind us. It was hot. And too long, because it pretty much just ended a couple of weeks ago, in my opinion. I'm inclined to be snappish with Mother Nature when the temperature climbs into the seventies in mid-November. It's supposed to be cold, I complain to the great outdoors. It is supposed to be rainy and windy so that we can feel COZY as we sit indoors with our books and our mugs of tea and our Ambient Fire DVDs (it makes me a little sad that when our house was built, fireplaces were considered hopelessly old-fashioned, with huge coal furnaces being all the rage.) I've had enough gasping in the heat to last me until, well, next summer.

So here it is, cold. Our old windows are surprisingly tight in this house, but my husband reinforces them with that tightly-stretched plastic - not a decorative look I'm particularly fond of, but truth be told, it's almost impossible to tell it's even there behind the blinds and the curtains. Our front door poses more of a problem when it comes to keeping drafts out because it is about 130 years old, is nine feet tall, has wavy glass as thin as tissue paper and a number of gaps between the door and the frame that range in size between "matchbook" and "cavernous." The fact that it is beautiful and makes my heart happy every time I look at it is the most important of all its attributes, in my opinion.

I stood shivering in front of the door one day, contemplating the ways it could be fixed so that all the winds of the world couldn't roar through in gusty drafts that caused the curtains covering the windows in the foyer to dance merrily around. My ideas were few: 1) Get a new front door, an idea I immediately rejected because I am emotionally involved with this front door, even if it does have all the wind-halting properties of a cheese grater; or 2) just leave it as it was and start wearing so many turtlenecks and sweaters, we'd be unable to bend our arms, which seemed unworkable, considering that I need the use of my bent arms to type, cook dinner and put on my makeup; or 3) go to Lowe's or Home Depot and get some of that sticky foam stuff you apply to the edge of the door to give it a tight seal. The very thought of committing such an act of desecration on our lovely door gave me sweaty palms, so after I washed my hands, I went to my husband.

"We need to do something about the front door," I said, standing in front of the television so that his view of whatever current football game was playing was obscured.

"By this 'we' you actually mean 'me,' right?" he responded, arching his neck back and forth to see around me. Because of the generous proportions of my figure, he was unable to do so.

"Yes," I admitted. "I mean you. But only because I can't think of what to do."

My husband flipped down the footstool of his recliner and stood up. "Luckily, I grew up poor, so I know exactly how to fix this kind of problem. Do you have any magazines you're done reading?"

I did. I went and got him a couple of old issues of Martha Stewart Living, which I thought was appropriate for the kind of task he was undertaking, and he spent the second half of his televised football game cutting, folding and taping. When he and the game were both done, he called me into the foyer to demonstrate his creation.

He held up several magazine pages, folded lengthwise and taped together to form one long piece about the width of a ruler. He'd actually made two, I found out shortly - one of which was stuck in the crack between the door and the jamb above the door's knob and lock, and one for below. "That's all it takes," he said, squatting back on his heels. "If we'll just be sure to keep this draft blocker across the bottom of the door, I think we'll find that it stays warmer in here. My mom used to make these things out of grocery bags when I was a kid," he added. "It always worked then and it's a nice, cheap fix."

"Cheap is good," I said gladly, pleased that I didn't have to do something aesthetically violent to my door.

And you know what? It works! In the back of the house, because our laundry room is so out of plumb, the door back there has some issues too, but it is a regular sized door, and when the wind's from the north, that door is low enough that we can stuff our artfully folded magazine page-and-grocery bag "door stuffers," as we call them, all around the edges, which makes the whole back half of the house warmer, in spite of the fact that the dogs feel that the sand-filled draft blocker that lies in front of the door is one of their special and most favorite playthings to drag around the house.

Speaking of the dogs, there are Dobby the minature pinscher and Zuzu the schnoodle up there on the couch in a rare moment of quiet, wrapped in a fuzzy fleece blankie and enjoying the fact that if a blanket should ever fail them, there's always a warm lap waiting.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

So WHO IS DRIVING THE BUS over at Blogger?

Because I have issues with these new "upgrades" that have been foisted on us all. First of all, the new format stinks because I can't just press my enter key to move the cursor down the page; the cursor won't move. Instead, I have to actually click the cursor into place, which is a very distracting thing to have to do when one is just going along, typing merrily away. It makes my typing....disjointed. There's no flow to it. And because I have the attention span of a gnat, I often forget what I was going to type next because I'm trying to click the cursor into place.

And then there's the matter of my pictures being eaten. What is happening to them? I noticed just down my main page that my photos of Dobby and my Second Nephew have both just disappeared into the ether. Why has this happened? It never happened before Blogger "upgraded" things! Now all of a sudden I have a post where the first sentence reads "I finally have a picture of our new dog" and THERE'S NO PICTURE!

Blogger, I have been here since 2007 and I've always liked it here, so I really wish you'd stop making WordPress look so good to me. AAAARRRRGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!

An InsomniMom poll: Does my daughter owe me $5

Today Aisling was upstairs getting ready for church and I was downstairs loading the dishwasher. She came clomping down to the kitchen in her high heels and said, "How does this outfit look?"

She was wearing a very cute black and white herringbone skirt with a black scoop-neck sweater with a white camisole underneath and black heels. So far, so good. Then I noticed that her legs were bare.

"You look fine, you just need to put on some hose," I said, turning back to the sink to rinse a plate.

"I don't have any hose," Aisling said. "They all got holey and I threw them away."

I turned to look at her. "Well, you can't go out with nothing on your legs! It's forty degrees out there! What about your black dress pants?"

"They're dirty."

"Then you're going to have to find another outfit because you're not going out like that," I said with finality, channeling my own mother through some means that has either conferred great wisdom upon me or totally creeped me out, I can't decide which.

Aisling, who often complains that she doesn't have a shred of clothing to wear, like, EVER, in spite of a rather large closet (for our house) that is crammed so tightly you'd be hard pressed to wedge a Q-tip in there, immediately set up a noisy protestation: "I DON'T HAVE ANOTHER OUTFIT! I'M LIKE THE LITTLE FREAKING MATCH GIRL! MAYBE I SHOULD JUST CUT UP MY BLANKET OFF MY BED AND SEW A DRESS OUT OF THAT, WOULD THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY??!!"

I heaved a sigh and gave her the Mommy Glare. "Go. Find another outfit. Now."

She turned persuasive, a talent that all teenage girls possess in one degree or another: One moment they're shrieking and their heads are flaming skulls shooting around the room and the next minute, they're calling you Mummy Sweetums and unicorns approach them to be petted and brushed and have ribbons tied around their tails. You just never know.

"Mummy sweetums, could you just hop in the van and drive down to Walgreen's and buy me some hose while I do my hair? Please, Mommy? Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease?"

I heaved another sigh, this one resigned. "Okay. I'll go. I'll be back in ten minutes."

She threw her arms around my neck. "Oh, you are the BEST MOMMY in the whole world! I'm so lucky to have such a wonderful mom!" and I swear, a dozen butterflies flew out of her ears.

I went to Walgreen's, found the aisle with the pantyhose display and spent a grumpy ten minutes trying to locate Aisling's size and the color she needed. She is about 5'5 and weighs about one hundred and five pounds and the size that fits her is in short supply. Of course, there were no pantyhose in her size in the brand that cost $1.88, nor in the brand that cost $2.49. The brand that had her size was priced at $4.98 and I blanched, knowing how Aisling is with hose: she jams her little feet with the sparkly purple toenails into their delicate fibers like she's putting on a pair of wellies and ordinarily, I would never allow her to be alone in a room with a pair of $5 panty hose, but it was either that or bare legs, so I bought them.

Upon returning home, I handed her the Walgreen's bag and said, "Please be very, very careful with those. They cost $5."

"Okay," she replied and went into the downstairs bathroom to put them on. A couple of minutes later, she came back to the foyer with her heavy coat, which she shrugged on as she leaned over to pick up her purse. Two seconds later and she was squealing, "Look what the buckle on my purse strap did! It totally ripped a hole in my new hose!"

Yep, there it was. A hole. About as big as a silver dollar and getting bigger by the second. I stood there with my mouth hanging open for an eye-blink and then I launched into a tirade that was so concise, so purposeful, so TO THE POINT that it was like I'd rehearsed it. The theme of my rant was I TOLD YOU JUST NOW TO BE VERY CAREFUL AND NOW LOOK AT THOSE HOSE! YOU OWE ME FIVE DOLLARS, YOUNG LADY!

"It was an accident!" she hollered.

"AND I'LL THANK YOU NOT TO RAISE YOUR VOICE AT ME!" I shouted back.

Meelyn, who had been watching this whole thing with one raised eyebrow, herded us out the door and into the van, where our argument continued nearly all the way to the church, I standing firm on my insistence that she pay me $5 and Aisling countering that the buckle on her purse strap just reaching out and GRABBING her new pantyhose? Could have happened to anyone.

So what do you think? Should she pay me $5 or should she not?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The way we're becoming

I realize that I've reached that point in my life where I have a lot of stuff. I do not need another gadget from The Pampered Chef. I have enough Longaberger baskets to carry six months' worth of supplies over to our soldiers in the middle east. There is not room for one more stick of furniture or decorative item in our house, unless I decide to get rid of something which I don't want to do because I like the stuff I have. Books are a problem around here because we have six bookcases that are all packed as full as they can get, which is why I am such an ardent supporter of our public library: for me to buy a book these days requires that it be one that I feel I simply can't live without and if I'm going to live with it, there's going to have to be a place on a shelf somewhere to squeeze it in. So I'm choosy.

However, there are some small pleasures in life that are transitory in nature, like slippers. Slippers can only be worn for so long before they become biohazards. Or else the dogs sneak off with them and hide them. Or they get to the point of being so tattered, the family protests whenever I prop my feet up on my favorite ottoman.

This is the case with my warm and fuzzy slippers, the bright blue ones that have kept my chilly feet so cozy warm for the past three....no, it must be four. Five? FIVE winters. Those slippers, I have been informed, are over. Done with. Finito. They are garbage-bound, never to be worn again. I protest feebly that they're just now broken in, so comfortable, so fitting of my feet...

Meelyn gave a disdainful sniff. "Next thing you know, you're going to be clutching those horrible things to your chest and petting them and calling them 'my preccccccciouuussss.'"

"They have to go," Aisling added firmly. "They look like roadkill."

In a lame attempt to defend my prec.....I mean, my SLIPPERS, I said, "They are blue and there has never been an animal that color before, so they don't look like roadkill. They're warm and furry and....."

"IN. THE. TRASH."

"Fine," I muttered. "I hope you're both happy when I catch pneumonia because my poor feet got so cold."

I'd been shuffling disconsolately around the house these past few days in a pair of Aisling's cast-off slippers - she got herself a new pair of clog-type slippers in grey knit, lined with shearling fleece -- when I realized that I could get a new pair of slippers for Christmas. What a great gift idea! Slippers are not something I'd ever really buy for myself because I am a big cheapo who would snitch some from my child's closet before I'd voluntarily spend money on indoor footwear, so, slippers!

I was terribly pleased with myself and called my husband's cell phone to tell him what Item #1 on my Christmas list was.

"Slippers," he said incredulously. "You want slippers?"

"Yes," I said excitedly. "Nice warm ones. Maybe with some of that fleecy stuff inside them. And an actual sole so that I can wear them out on the front porch to get the mail."

"Slippers?"

"Yes, comfy slippers."

"Not....perfume? No earrings? There's no hard cover book you'd like to have? None of the other stuff you usually want?"

"Nope. Slippers. That's my first request."

"Oh, geeez...."

"What's wrong?" I asked. "The girls can help you. They know just what kind I want. And I'd kind of like to have a new bathrobe to go with them." He groaned loudly. "WHAT? What is the problem? I thought you liked it when I gave you ideas for what I want for Christmas?"

"Oh, it's nothing....I guess. I just thought....I mean.....I figured that we were at least twenty years away from Christmas requests for.....slippers. And bathrobes, for pete's sake. I can't wrap my brain around the fact that you want a BATHROBE for Christmas."

"I like being warm," I said sulkily. "When you're OLD, after all, staying warm is more of an EFFORT." I pressed the button to end the call and went off to have a look at my droopy old burgundy polar fleece bathrobe, the one that can be buttoned right up to my chin so that the back of my neck doesn't get cold, because when that happens, it is hard to turn my head.

And that's when I truly realized that I have made the transition from a person who wanted cool gifts for Christmas into a person who prefers the practical. And warm. I am now officially old.

Friday, November 26, 2010

One of the cutest -- Flipped, the movie

If you've ever read Wendelin Van Draanen's celebrated young adult novel Flipped, you know what a sweet and funny book it is - a totally different thing than what you (if you're a mother) are possibly envisioning when I say "young adult novel," what with the barfy visions of Twilight dancing through your head.

I was excited to find out that Flipped -- a romantic comedy about first love and true love and what might be love but probably isn't -- has now been turned into a movie. And if you're looking for something that would be a pretty much universally appreciated gift for Christmas, this would be the movie, a great film for the family to watch together or for mothers and daughters to watch while curled up on the sofa with a big bowl of popcorn while the winter weather does whatever it plans to do outside.

Flipped is available on DVD and Blu-Ray at Amazon.com and Wal-Mart and other usual retailers. HIGHLY recommended!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oh, so delicious: THE Thanksgiving Dressing Recipe

Since Thanksgiving is next week, I thought I'd post my SUPER SECRET DRESSING RECIPE, so please do not tell a single soul about this, okay? It will be our little holiday secret, but if you'd like to pop over to my friend Amy's blog, Fourth Frog, you could give her a whispered thanks for sharing her granny-in-law's secret dressing recipe with me.

Here's the story about my Thanksgiving dressing: My grandmother and great-grandmother made the best turkey dressing, EVER. They tore up fresh bread and allowed it to get stale. They stirred in eggs. They liberally poured the turkey broth. THEY MELTED ONE HUNDRED POUNDS OF BUTTER. They seasoned and tasted and spooned it into baking dishes, because my family never eats in-the-bird stuffing. It was moist and steamy in the middle, brown on the top and crispy around the edges, so delicious it made grown men cry. With thankfulness.

Then both of them passed on, God rest their sweet souls, and in the way of families, we found out that the recipe for Thanksgiving dressing had gone on with them, along with the molasses cookie recipe we all loved so much. Dorie Greenspan solved the cookie dilemma a couple of years ago in Baking: From My Home to Yours, but the dressing recipe fell to me to sort out, whether by alchemy or kitchen wizardry or some other nefarious means. For quite a few years running, I met with success with reasonable facsimiles. But then I hit some kind of Dressing Wall and for four Thanksgivings in a row, I failed so miserably to come up a winning recipe, I practically had people vomiting into the shrubbery outside of Pat and Angie's house, where my family gathers to eat the holiday meal.

One year, I used a Martha Stewart recipe from her website and borrible exceeding were the results. Please note that I followed that recipe to the letter, so the problem was not with me. It was with the sixteen ribs of celery and two pounds of onions called for, which created a slimy mess that even the dogs refused to eat. No kidding.

Then there was the year when I decided that the dressing would be better if I baked it in the oven and then put it in the slow-cooker to keep warm. Bad mistake. Huge. All the edge-crispyness and brown-toppishness disappeared and the whole gorgeous pan of dressing dissolved into a brown mush which probably would have tasted okay, except that it looked like poop so no one would eat it. Including the dogs, who eat their own vomit.

There was nothing but sadness in my heart about my Thanksgiving dressing, especially since family members were beginning to flinch and gather in small groups, whispering furtively, as they saw me coming through the front door of Pat and Angie's house bearing a casserole dish. Then Amy came to my rescue and I used her granny-in-law's recipe last year with a few minor tweaks and my entire family surprised me by taking that first hesitant bite and then looking up at me with shining faces. "That's really GOOD!" they said, and for the first time in years, I took home an empty casserole dish. Score!

So just in case any of you readers have seemingly insurmountable problems with dressing (the Thanksgiving kind, not the mixing-stripes-with-plaids-and-polka dots kind), use these recipes. Your family will be amazed and astounded and you don't have to tell them the big secret, which is three words long: STOVE TOP STUFFING.

CORNBREAD DRESSING

Ingredients:
1 pound sage sausage, browned and chopped into small pieces
4 boxes Stove-Top Stuffing Cornbread mix
2 sticks butter
2 medium stalks celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
4 eggs, beaten
approximately 5 cups of chicken or turkey broth/stock

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a 9"x13" casserole dish. In a large mixing bowl, empty the four packets of Stove-Top Stuffing and set aside. In a small bowl, beat the eggs until well mixed. Melt the two sticks of butter in a small saucepan; simmer the celery and onion until both are translucent. Combine all ingredients with the contents of the STS packets in the large mixing bowl: about four cups of the broth, the eggs, the butter/celery/onion. Stir thoroughly to combine. Add more broth if mixture seems dry (it should be a bit wet; not VERY wet, but slightly wet.)

Empty the stuffing into the prepared casserole dish; cover with foil shiny side down and bake for thirty-five minutes. Remove foil and bake for twenty-five more minutes or until the top is slightly brown and crispy. Serve hot with slices of turkey and enough gravy to fill a bathtub.

CRANBERRY-WALNUT DRESSING
Ingredients:
4 boxes of chicken or turkey Stove Top Stuffing
2 sticks butter
2 medium stalks celery, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
2 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup dried cranberries
approximately five cups chicken or turkey broth

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a 9"x13" casserole dish. Empty the packets of Stove Top Stuffing into a large mixing bowl and add the cranberries and walnuts; set aside. Beat the eggs in a small bowl, set aside. Melt the butter in a small saucepan; add the sage, celery and onion and cook until translucent. Combine all ingredients in the large mixing bowl: stuffing packets/cranberries/walnuts, eggs, butter mixture. Add broth, stirring thoroughly to combine. The dressing should be a bit wet.

Turn out into buttered casserole dish, cover with foil (shiny side down) and bake in oven for 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake for twenty-five more minutes, or until the top is browned and crispy at the edges. Serve with great fanfare, because this is a truly lovely, delicious and festive-looking holiday dish.

OYSTER DRESSING (ew)
Ingredients:
1 box of chicken or turkey Stove Top Stuffing
1 egg
1/2 stick butter
1 small rib of celery, minced
1/2 medium onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 pint fresh oysters, minced, liquid strained and reserved in a small bowl
approximately 1 or 2 cups chicken or turkey broth

Directions:
Only if you have to, preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a small casserole plate (mine is about a six-inch diameter dish); set aside. If you're absolutely certain that you must, empty the STS packet into a medium mixing bowl. Reluctantly beat the egg and add to STS mixture. In firm denial of your nameless fear, melt the butter and add the pepper, celery and onion; cook until vegetables are translucent. With a sense of impending doom, add to STS mixture in bowl. Cringing in dread, add minced oysters and the strained liquid; stir. Add more chicken or turkey broth as needed until the stuffing is slightly wet.

Fighting back nausea, cover casserole dish with foil, shiny side down, and bake in the oven for twenty minutes; remove foil and bake for another twenty-five minutes, until stuffing is golden on top and slightly crispy around the edges. Serve hot with love for your relatives who actually eat that stuff. Sit slumped in a chair with a medicinal glass of brandy. Weep.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What a great idea! (Or is it?)

This morning I was watching my favorite morning show on television and a commercial came on that immediately caught my eye (and ear) because it was funny -- and making me smile before caffeine? Not easy -- but also because the business name was so cute: Smarty Had a Party.com. I was interested because you see that china plate and the silver flatware in that picture above? Well, it's not china and that's not silver. They're plastic. But apparently, they're a heavy-duty weighty AND DISPOSABLE plastic that can be tossed into a recycling bin and be done with.

Since my husband and I have two daughters who are getting older every day, I sometimes wonder about future weddings and if paying for them will have us sharing the dogs' kibble every morning for breakfast, so I have to say, I think this is a brilliant idea. Oh, sure, don't get me wrong: My preference would be to have a gorgeous, professionally catered reception EVENT WITH A CAPITAL E at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where the girls and I have spent so many happy hours over the last ten years, but check out those prices! At the museum, we be most likely be able to afford to buy every guest a Happy Meal with Chicken McNuggets and their choice of soft drink, which we could eat while furtively gathered in the museum's underground parking garage, which I don't think is quite de rigeur. So maybe we should consider a happy gathering in the parish hall, or maybe at the Knights of Columbus.

It sure would be a lot less expensive to get guestware from a place like Smarty Had a Party than it would be to rent the real thing. Maybe if one buys the plastic ware, a little more money could be put into the food? Or the champagne? Or the deejay? You would definitely not want a cut-rate deejay who would horrify the guests by playing the greatest hits of Barry Manilow, Air Supply and Debby Boone.

Or maybe it's all just dreadfully tacky? I don't know. What do you think?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Brand-new baby

Okay, I have pictures of our new dog, FINALLY. Blogger did some dubious "upgrades" the other day which left me with the inability to post images for the past three days, which is like GRRR. So here he is, our new shelter adoptee, Dobby the miniature pinscher. He was caught just at the very beginning of a large yawn -- he and Zuzu were lounging on Mee's big squooshy pillow, Zuzu flat on her back and Dobby stretched out on his side.

I have never been particularly drawn to miniature pinschers before because, well....they're hideously ugly. I mean, LOOK AT THAT FACE, if you dare. It could just about stop a clock. He's a tiny boy, only eleven pounds, which is what Zuzu weighs. But Zuzu is furry and curly and snuggly and Dobby is all skinny and wiry, with legs that look like #2 pencils and a pinkish nose that looks like an eraser. His eyes are beady and his ears are about three sizes too big for his head, but in spite of this appalling list of beauty flaws, his personality is all you could hope for in a dog.

Dobby is a sweet boy and makes the funniest little cooing sounds almost constantly. At first, these little sounds were very anxious,  which just wrung my heart. He also had a frightened, ill-at-ease look in his eyes the first few days we've had him. The people at the shelter told us that he'd had a hard life, born in a puppy mill and chosen by his first owner from a room swarming with puppies and mothers and strewn with spilled water and torn up newspapers and poop. Then the first owner took him home for a year, neglected to ever buy him a tag with his name and her phone number on it ($4 at Wal-Mart) or get his annual shots. Then he slipped out of her house and got lost in the city, was picked up as a stray and went to the shelter. He was there for a week and we saw him the day after Hershey died: I couldn't deal with the jangling loneliness of having only one dog in the house and the girls and I went there just to see what the process was for adopting a pet and to fill out an application.

Dobby was standing in a cage when we walked into the room at the shelter where the small dogs were housed. For a min pin, he was a handsome boy, the first chocolate-and-red miniature pinscher I'd ever seen. I thought they only came in the black style! He looked so forlorn, so utterly defeated, that I was immediately attracted to him, in spite of the fact that there was an adorable Yorkie mix in a cage not far from his. The Yorkie mix still had some spirit to him, though, and poor Dobby just stood there and looked at me with what I perceived was longing. I put my hand up to his cage to sniff, and after checking me out, he gave my palm a solemn bath with a long, pink tongue, closing his eyes as I put my finger through the bars of the crate to scratch his big ears.

Meelyn, Aisling and I had Zuzu with us, so we introduced them to one another in the shelter's parking lot. Zuzu's ears pricked up and she bounced around him like a rubber ball, sniffing him all over and then going down into the play bow to see if he'd like to play a game of chase. As it turned out, he did not. He was very diffident, looking at us all shyly, as if aware that his personal charms weren't centered on his looks. My heart was captured.

We adopted him three days later.

Once back at our house with the new baby, my first mission was to get him a collar and an ID tag, along with a sweater -- as it turns out, miniature pinschers have such sleek, tight coats, they can get chilly in cool weather and our house is not known for its sauna-like atmosphere. Leaving Dobby at home sitting in my husband's lap, the girls and I sailed off to Wal-Mart where we found him a dapper red collar and a couple of cozy sweaters. The sweaters, one in fall colors and the other a distinguished blue plaid, are just the funniest things I have ever seen on a dog. He looks like he could be a male dog-model for L.L. Bean. Very preppy, with the turtlenecks all folded over. I wish so much we could find him an Izod dog sweater. Maybe my husband wouldn't notice a couple of holes on the upper left side of his golf shirts....

It's taken Dobby all this past week to settle in, but he's doing very well, considering the traumatic circumstances of his recent history. He's very smart, learning his new name by Day Three and coming at a run when called. He's very affectionate, gazing at us all with beady eyes brimming over with devotion as he climbs into our laps. He and Zuzu have taken a liking to one another and are constantly whirling around the house, tumbling around as they grr and play-fight and wrestle with the toys and pull a plush bear back and forth between them. Then they flop down in a heap together to sleep. Zuzu has taught Dobby to come running whenever they hear someone in the kitchen opening the cabinet doors.

I don't think we could ever consider Dobby a substitute for Hershey. Hershey's loss is still too fresh in all our minds. But I do think that Dobby will make his own place in our family's history and that we'll love him like all our other pets. And he'll help comfort us with his funny ways and sweet affection as we say goodbye to the good dog who came before him by getting to know the new one we were lucky enough to find behind the bars of a cage at the animal shelter.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Retro

I saw this picture of George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn online the other day in a scene from Breakfast at Tiffany's (a truly sucky film, and anyone who has read Truman Capote's bittersweet little novella with undoubtedly agree with me) and I couldn't help but notice Audrey's oversized sunglasses, her streaky hair and her stylishly bumped up hair. Not to mention her basic black, although I'm not sure if you're allowed to smoke in bars in New York City anymore, you poor dears. Anyway, Breakfast at Tiffany's came out in 1961 (which was way before I was born), so here we are almost fifty years later sporting the exact same look. Kind of like that old French adage, "the more things change, the more they stay the same," only with more actual fran├žais.
  

This boy right here? TEN YEARS OLD.

We spent a very pleasant afternoon yesterday celebrating this boy's tenth birthday. I found out from Angie, my sister-in-law, that this child? He declines to have his name mentioned on Facebook, feeling that the internet is a gross invasion of his privacy. So I'm thinking that he probably wouldn't appreciate having his name mentioned here either, even though I've typed it here about a thousand times before. Shhh....let's just keep that between ourselves, okay? Whatever his name is, I can't believe he's already ten.

Anyway, the gift of choice for boys of this nameless child's age is something called "Beyblades," which seem to have something to do with spinning tops that compete by being spun together in a Beyblade Arena (our gift to Day....I mean, this kid) or alternately, a mixing bowl. Angie told us that since Beyblades have taken hold, she's had to go looking for all her mixing bowls down in the basement playroom at their house. Whichever top stops spinning first is the loser, and when I saw that there are about twenty different styles of spinning tops, a couple of different styles of launcher and other little doo-dads to make the Beyblade experience more delightful and invigorating, I am not exaggerating. I really enjoyed watching Pat and He Who Shall Not Be Named sitting on my parents' family room floor and engaging in a spirited competition that included a lot of trash-talking from the participants and encouraging noises from the spectators.

Happy birthday, Ten Year Old. Auntie loves you.

RECIPE: Spicy Snack Mix

A lot of people, me included, like to take little gifts of food to people at holiday time, whether the gift is a bottle of wine for a hostess, a festive package of Christmas cookies for the neighbors or a box of chocolates for the piano teacher. There's just something about a gift of food that seems very friendly and welcoming.
In my mind, it's even better to give gifts of homemade food because it can be made with love (which my family claims to be able to taste), and possibly put together much more cheaply than you could get it at the grocery or one of those little gourmet kiosks at the mall. The cost in dollars can be minimal -- unless you insist on making gifts with saffron imported from Spain or white truffles imported from France or if you soak your fruitcake in Courvoisier L'Esprit (approximately $6,800 per bottle) or something -- so your time is probably the most costly thing that goes into heartfelt homemade gifts.

But what if you have some weird friend who has no appreciation for Mexican Wedding Cookies or those peanut butter cookies with a Hershey's kiss in the center or candy canes and pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate? WHAT DO YOU DO WITH PARTY POOPERS LIKE THAT??

In my opinion, you stir up a batch of Party Snack Mix, line a cute tin you purchased at Dollar Tree with some parchment paper or plastic wrap and gift away, my friends. This Spicy Snack Mix recipe makes a very cute gift for those who don't have a sweet tooth (yes, I agree that they should probably be shunned by society, but just keep saying "peaceonearthgoodwilltowardsmen" and sooner or later you'll be able to hand them a tin of snack mix without thumping them on the head with it first.) It also makes a nice crunchy/salty snack for Sunday afternoon football or a nice little dish of nibbly something to set out at your party while guests are drinking their mulled cider, soda pop or beer. For some reason, this snack mix just doesn't seem to lend itself to a glass of wine. I think it must be too rustic, a little too hearty, for vino.

SPICY SNACK MIX

The beauty of this stuff is that you can throw just about any type of pretzel or other doo-dad from the snack aisle at the grocery (we like Bugles) and unsweetened cereal into this stuff and you have a winner. I've used roasted soy "nuts," sesame sticks, wheat or rice Chex cereals....make it your own! Here's what I used in the photograph above:

INGREDIENTS:
6 cups of Corn Chex
4 cups of Cheerios
4 cups of Bugles
3 cups of dry roasted peanuts (or mixed nuts if you want a more elegant snack mix)
2 cups of tiny twist pretzels
2 cups of colored goldfish crackers (I used the neon ones in the mix above and I don't think they're as cute)

two sticks of butter
2 tablespoons of Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning

(The nuts can be omitted; just substitute 3 cups of of something else.)

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat over to 250 degrees. Stir all the snacks and cereals together in a large -- and I mean LARGE -- roasting pan. Turkey-sized would be a wise choice, because you do not want to be stirring this stuff on an oven rack and having bits of it fall overboard into the bottom of your oven because your smoke detectors will be going off with wild abandon before you can say "Cheerios smell funny when they're burning."

In a two-cup Pyrex measuring cup or similar, melt two sticks of butter. When it is melted, stir the seasoning mix into it until thoroughly combined. Pour the butter/seasoning combination over the snacks and cereals in the roasting pan and stir. Place roasting pan in oven and set timer for fifteen minutes. At the end of fifteen minutes, stir the mixture carefully. Continue with the cooking/stirring for 45 more minutes. At the end of one hour, remove the roasting pan from the oven and allow the snack mix to cool completely. Sneak a little bowl for yourself and enjoy with a cold Diet Coke (my pref) or a cold beer. Scoop snack mix into lined tins and seal tightly. Any remaining snack mix can be stored for a week or so in an airtight container, but it probably won't last that long, truth be told.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

(What they teach us) Hershey, July 31, 2002 - October 27, 2010

It all happened too fast.

One moment, everything was fine and the girls and I were saying hello to Hershey, who was glad to see us as we came home from doing some shopping for Aisling's Halloween sleepover, which was coming up in a week. We'd been to Dollar Tree and Wal-Mart and a couple of other places and we were laden with bags; he came to the back door to greet us, tail wagging happily. He followed us into the dining room, where we flung our spoils on the table to begin sorting them out, and Meelyn dropped down on her knees so that she could be at his level to hug him.

Hershey was hugged at least a hundred times a day. He was just that kind of huggable, snuggly dog, always very tolerant of being kissed and cuddled, although there were occasions when he'd heave a heavy sigh if we got a little too lovey-dovey.

But this day was different. When Meelyn hugged him, Hershey cried out with an extended wail of pain that went on and on, his eyes frantically seeking me out, his body shaking. Meelyn jumped to her feet saying, "What did I do? Hershey, what did I do? Hershey, baby, it's all right..." and I just knew that things were not all right, they were definitely not okay.

Since it was late on a Friday afternoon, the vet's office was already closed.

Hershey finally stopped that howl of pain (and I wish I could quit hearing it, wish I could just erase that sound out of my memory) and came over to me. I felt his head and it seemed the same as normal, ran my hands over his neck and his chest. And found four lumps. Big lumps, the size of hard boiled eggs. Where had they come from, so suddenly? How could things like that appear so quickly on a dog that was petted so often? He began panting heavily and went to wearily sink down under the dining room table. He stretched out on his side and we all looked at him, then looked at one another.

"What was that all about?" Aisling whispered fearfully. "Something really hurt him.

"Is he going to be okay, Mom?" Meelyn asked, her lip trembling.

"I hope so," I said, and I began silently praying. "Please. Please please please please please..." was what it sounded like. Hershey's panting continued, heavy, heavy panting that sounded labored and almost painful. I sat in the dining room with him, one of us under the table, one of us at the desk (when I spoke to him, he'd cut his eyes up at me and thump his tail gamely on the floor), and I entered his symptoms "enlarged lymph glands + panting" into Google.

And came up with canine lymphoma.

Which is what the vet diagnosed after a blood test on the following Monday. She put his life expectancy at two to eight weeks, and the girls and I drove him home, crying. I called my husband and could hardly get the words out, and he stood in the parking lot of the car dealership where he works, and cried with us.

Hershey died two days later.

It was so unexpected, so fast, and to keep from coming totally unglued, I had to think hard about what a pet's death teaches us, and these are the things that I told my family as we sat tearfully in our living room on the day Hershey died, one week ago today.

1. Dogs teach us about unconditional love, how they love us even when the water dish is dry. Hershey used to grip his bowl in his teeth and bring it to me, dropping it on the floor by my feet and giving me a sorrowful look that seemed to indicate, "I'm sure through no fault of your own, this oversight has occurred and I'm equally sure that you'll get up RIGHT NOW and fill this bowl up with water. And two ice cubes. Please. Because I know you love me."

2. Dogs, with their limited life spans, teach us about the cycle of life. In one human lifetime, a really dedicated dog lover could keep company with maybe nine or ten dogs, even more than that if the house seems empty without at least two. They teach us that death comes and sometimes it is bitter, but somehow, in the midst of all that sadness, there's still some hope to cling on to. Will this be a help when we lose our human loved ones? Yes, I think so. Because we'll have the experience of knowing what it is to grieve, and recover from that grief finding that there are still things to laugh about, things to look forward to.

3. Dogs teach us to celebrate their short lives with the gift of more dogs. Even while we're still mourning Hershey, we can save another dog from being euthanized by going to our local animal shelter or animal rescue, and picking out a new pet that will become part of the history of our family. The shelters and rescues are so full right now, with pets dropped off because their owners can't afford to keep them, or because their owners have to move, perhaps to a place where they're not free to take a pet. As it happens, our household is jarringly empty with only one dog -- we all feel the absence of that second canine presence keenly -- and we can help with that.

There are so many more things Hershey taught us, most of all that you can have a little bitty head, a big, blocky body, beady eyes and a bulbous nose and still be the sweetest, handsomest, most loving Big Buddy (my husband's nickname for him) or Mommy's Angel Sugarboy (my nickname for him) ever seen.

Hershey, sweet darling boy, we'll love you always and you will be missed.

Thanks so much to my sweet sister-cousins Susie and Carol, who helped me over the roughest part, to my friends Catherine L., Katie W., Debbie J., Julie P. and Jerri K. who were so good at expressing their sympathy, and to my parents, who loved Hershey too.