Tuesday, February 24, 2015

For the Love of Dogs II

Once upon a time, I was a girl who did not want a dog. I could not for the life of me understand people who wanted fur-shedding, dirt-tracking animals in their homes. Sleeping with a dog?! Bizarre. And don't even get me started on people who spend thousands of dollars on surgery for their pets. Where are your priorities, people???

But then, I also did not want to be that wife whose husband never had a dog because she refused to allow one in the house. And Stephen wanted a dog.

We did our research, decided on a boxer, and foolishly went to Claremore, Oklahoma (birthplace of Will Rogers), to "just look." It only took a few puppy kisses on our sandaled toes to know that we were not "just looking," after all.

And so, eight and a half years ago, we welcomed our firstborn: a brown-haired, brown-eyed boxer named Sugar. We named her Sugar Ray, after Sugar Rays Leonard and Robinson, of course, but we quickly found that she was as sweet as her name.

I rode in the backseat with her on the way home, and Stephen slept on the floor next to her crate that night. When he left me alone with this fully-mobile yet not-potty-trained child the next day, I thought I might kill him when he got home, but Sugar quickly learned to go outside, and I let Stephen live.

Like all parents, we were in love. Was it aggravating when she took the toilet paper in her mouth and ran through the house with it? Yes, but we laughed about it later. Did we think she'd ever learn to stop eating tissues and q-tips from the trash can? No, but she did. (Come to think of it, maybe we should have put some more fiber in her diet.) And we were so proud to show our families and friends when she learned to ring a bell to let us know that it was time to go outside! 

Slowly, we became the idiots that I had judged. I bought a giant winter coat - partly because the Oklahoma winters were the fiercest this Georgia girl had ever seen, but mostly because I needed something warmer for my twice daily walks with our puppy, who needed the exercise...and so I could play with her in the snow.

A little more than a year later, our human babies were born. When we brought them home from the hospital, Sugar trembled in her crate as we'd never seen her do before. Maybe she knew that they were somehow part of us, yet somehow not, or maybe she knew her status as only child was about to change forever. But she learned to love those babies, was always gentle with them, and I only wish I'd snapped a picture of her with her paws up on their crib, looking in on them, before I sternly told her "NO," and she never did it again.

Four years later, our four-legged family member began functioning mostly on three legs. When she wasn't getting better, we took her to the vet and learned that she had torn her doggie ACL. Surgery. Okay. We were officially "those people."

Sugar fully recovered from her ACL repair, and I found myself doing other insane things like baking pumpkin dog biscuits for her to ease her tummy troubles. http://susanna-twintalk.blogspot.com/2013/02/for-love-of-dogs.html (I subsequently learned that she would eat a tablespoon of pureed pumpkin right out of the can. Much easier.) We search for dog-friendly hotels so we can take her on trips, spend more money all the time on healthier and healthier dog food, and insist on including her in family pictures.

But what made me know for sure that I had completely crossed to the other side was when we almost lost her this Christmas.

Her other ACL had torn, and deciding to draw the line at another surgery - after all, it had taken a full year for her to fully recuperate from the last one, and boxers only typically live 10-12 years - we chose to pass on a second surgery, give her an anti-inflammatory and some pain meds for a little while, let the tear heal on its own the best it could, and accept that she might always have a limp.

The thing was, though, that she had kidney disease...and we didn't know it. At my parents' house on Christmas Eve, a few days after starting the drugs, she started vomiting, and we woke up Christmas morning to find my parents' couch was soaking wet. (And started thinking we'd have to give my parents new carpet and a new sofa for Christmas. Thankfully, they understood - they once had a beagle that had eaten a brand-new bedspread at my grandparents' house.) After a few days of getting sicker, more lethargic, and refusing food, I took her to a vet near my parents' house, and we learned that she was in acute kidney failure, due to the anti-inflammatory drug we'd given her.

Because it was almost New Year's and vets' offices would not be keeping normal hours, we initially thought that the only way she'd survive would be if we took her to an emergency vet and put her on an I.V. around the clock for several days. $$$. Considering that we'd just decided against an expensive surgery, it seemed that we couldn't justify such extreme (and extremely expensive) measures. And I cried. Big time.

When Stephen called the vet to tell her that we didn't think we could do something like that, we got a glimmer of hope: We could take her to the vet's office for I.V. fluids while they were open, and then give her subcutaneous injections at home. It would cost less - and only had about a 25% chance of working - but we could give it a shot. And we needed to hurry back home to Knoxville to get it started.

We nursed our poor, pitiful, grown-up puppy for the next couple of weeks, and gradually, she got better. The first time that I came home from the grocery store, and she greeted me with her wiggly nub of a tail, I wept.

Almost a week ago, we cautiously put her on another drug to hopefully help with her continued urinary incontinence. (Another thing that I never thought I'd tolerate in a pet.) It seems to have helped, but yesterday, she started having diarrhea, and this morning, we got up at 4:45 to the sounds of her crate rattling because she'd had a rather nasty accident in there. (Crate-training continues to be an absolute God-send. It's always been her happy place, and we've been relieved to be able to close her in there more often lately with her recent potty troubles.) After Stephen and I got Sugar, her crate, and the surrounding area all cleaned up and had sat down with a cup of coffee before getting the girls up for school, I found tears falling from my eyes yet again. For someone who rarely cries, this dog has brought on a lot of tears lately. Was this a symptom of her kidneys shutting down again? Had we poisoned her with this new drug? Are we getting closer to losing her?

The vet doesn't think so. We didn't give her the incontinence med this morning, she seems to be a little better, and we'll see.

I may miss my mothers of multiples club meeting tonight, because I didn't get much sleep last night and am now one of "those people" who does ridiculous things and misses sleep and misses "more important things" for the love of dogs.

I can't help thinking of a student that I had about ten years ago, one of my favorites. Her dog died the week before our state standardized testing, and she missed two days of school. I tried really hard to be sympathetic, but what I was really thinking was, "Seriously? Two days? For a dog?"

Now I know. Yes. Seriously. I never thought I'd love a dog, but I do. And I have been absolutely heartbroken over the thought of losing her. Turns out that my precious student was not the one who needed a lesson on those two days of school that she missed after she lost her dog - I was. And boy, am I getting one. I might come up with a better closing, but I need to go and kiss my dog.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Beef and Cabbage Soup

My mom recently retired and has been flexing her kitchen muscles for the first time in...decades? It's not that we didn't eat well when I was growing up - we ate very well, thanks to dear ole Daddy, who LOVES to cook and does it extremely well. Seeing this as a pretty sweet deal, my mom did not argue when Daddy took the reins in the kitchen - when polyester bellbottoms and wide white belts were in style - and he's been the head chef ever since. Now that she's retired, though, my mom's been spending more time in the kitchen. And lucky me - I now have two parents sharing recipes with me.

One that she shared a few weeks ago is this cabbage soup recipe. I'm posting it because A) it will be easier for me to find it later, and 2) it's really yummy. We all liked it - even the kiddos. And Stephen liked it even better when he realized it wasn't supposed to be chili. (Ha!) Plus, it froze and re-heated well - a definite bonus in my book.

When I make this again, I'll take a photo and put it here!
Beef and Cabbage Soup

  • 1 T butter
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced (My mom's recipe didn't include this or the carrots, but I thought that if it had celery, squeezing in these two extra veggies would probably good, too.)
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 3/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 16 oz. can kidney beans, including liquid
  • 1 28 oz. can tomatoes, including liquid (I used fire-roasted tomatoes.)
  • 1 tomato can full of water
  • 1/2 head cabbage, chopped
  • 2 cubes of beef bouillon
(The recipe my mom gave me called for 4 cubes of beef bouillon, which I put in the pot, but then I looked at the jar to see what is actually IN beef bouillon...and it included MSG. I'd never been too worried about MSG before - I try to avoid it as much as the next gal, but I'm not obsessed about it - but I had just watched a documentary about how nasty that stuff is AND I had just had Chinese food about a week before, which instantly gave me a headache and made me feel desperately tired - probably because of the MSG. So I fished out two of the bouillon cubes, and it still tasted delicious. Next time, I'll look for a beef bouillon or beef base that does not contain MSG.)
  1. In a large pot, over medium heat, sauté celery, carrots, and onion in butter until onions are translucent, stirring often.
  2. Add ground beef and brown. Drain.
  3. Add all other ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Enjoy!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cookie Decorating Bliss

Mmmm… On Saturday, we baked my very favorite Christmas cookies—they’re buttery, not overly sweet, and have a light texture that just melts in your mouth. To see the recipe, click here.

Melt-in-your-Mouth Sugar Cookies

Which is just what I did to reference the recipe, and I saw that when I posted this a couple of years ago, it was in the wake of a cut-out Christmas cookie disaster. Since then, I have found much more user-friendly recipes and learned a few tricks for doing cut-out cookies, and the tradition has become not only a favorite of my now seven-year-olds, but a pleasure for me, as well.

Best Sugar Cookie RecipeFirst, my new go-to sugar cookie recipe: This one tastes delicious—buttery and sweet enough without frosting, but not so sweet with frosting that it makes your teeth hurt. Plus, it already calls for almond extract—one of my go-tos for making baked goods taste extra-special. {Always my number one priority in the kitchen—I have no use for pretty, but mediocre-tasting food.} I appreciate that this sugar cookie recipe does not require refrigerating before rolling and cutting—perfect for anxious cookie decorators—it rolls out nicely, and the dough keeps its shape well when baking. It did not yield a ton of cookies—maybe around two dozen large cut-outs—which is perfect if what you’re trying to accomplish is the experience of decorating Christmas cookies. If you want enough to share, you’ll want to double the recipe—especially if you have a large enough mixer to accommodate a double batch. One note—our cookie cutters are around 3-4”, and these cookies took quite a bit longer to bake than this recipe suggests. Another note—this dough is fairly stiff. If you don’t have a stand mixer, anticipate kneading by hand. http://www.inkatrinaskitchen.com/2011/12/best-sugar-cookie-recipe-and-kitchenaid_28.html

Tip: If you don’t have parchment paper, buy some. Use it for rolling out the dough, and sprinkle it generously with flour before putting the dough on it. Also, dust the top of the dough with flour to reduce its sticking to the rolling pin. Roll from the center-out, rather than back-and-forth across the dough, and the parchment paper won’t scoot around as much on the counter. {I’m considering buying one of those silicon mats for rolling out cookies and pie crusts and such, but until then, I’ll use parchment paper.} I’ve also become fond of lining cookie sheets with parchment paper—something people have been doing forever—to reduce sticking, and so I don’t have to clean cookie sheets. I don’t know why, but I loathe that particular clean-up chore.

To frost cookies, I like to use a thinned-out version of Wilton’s buttercream frosting recipe http://www.wilton.com/recipe/Buttercream-Icing  It doesn’t dry quite as hard as royal icing, but I think it tastes better. {I make mine with almond extract instead of vanilla, of course, and with water rather than milk. And I generally double the recipe when I'm baking a cake—that way, there's enough leftover to put in the freezer and save for things like cookie decorating.} Add extra water to it to get it thin, but not runny, and pipe it through a piping bag. {I like the 12” plastic piping bags that you can buy at Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, and Walmart, to name a few places.} Outline the cookie first, and then fill it in. There’s also premade cookie frosting that can be purchased at most grocery stores—not as tasty as homemade, but sometimes you have to put your sanity first. Let your cookies sit out all day or overnight to dry—they can wait that long to go in an airtight container and still taste perfectly wonderful.
Wilton also makes these super-handy premade frosting tubes that work with all of my Wilton icing tips—a product I just discovered last month when decorating the girls’ birthday cake. To get really rich colors, it takes so much food coloring…it’s just not worth the work when you can buy these instead. I like that these are in a "bag," so they have more of a piping bag feel than some other ready-made icing products, if you're used to that sort of thing. Plus, you can swap out the icing tips, which is something you can’t do when using traditional piping bags. I found these at Target.
The final key to cookie decorating bliss is to have seven-year-olds. There are several magical ages, and I’m finding that seven is one of them. The girls are finally old enough to be actually helpful in the kitchen {not the “You can help by watching” kind of helpful that my mom always asked to me to do as a kid—which I completely sympathize with, now that I am a mom. My personal opinion is that they don't learn much from "helping" in the kitchen when they're little, except maybe that flour all over the place is not good for Mommy's sanity, but I digress...} My babies are old enough now to pipe the frosting themselves, add sprinkles to the cookies more than to the floor, and be trusted not to sneeze on the cookies. Still, we ate these ourselves rather than sharing this particular batch of sweets with others—not so much because these weren’t worthy of sharing, but simply because we enjoyed them, ourselves.