Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Mocha's Traumatic Episode

I know it's been a long time since I've written anything here. It's been pretty hectic around our house for the last couple of months. But today I have a story to share. I just can't help myself. It's gross, so be prepared. But it's FUNNY-gross. 

This is my sweet little Mocha dude. Today's story is all about him. Well, a little about me and Lex, but mostly about Mocha.

Mocha had a minor surgery last week and has been wearing The Cone of Shame, to keep him from licking his sutures. He has been pretty slow about learning to maneuver through the house without ramming into walls or choking himself on the couch cushions when he tries to jump up on them and catches the edge of the collar.

So today Lex and I had an appointment that lasted most of the day. When we returned we were greeted by a funky odor and a very excited Sassy, but no Mocha. I assumed he was lounging on our bed, 'cause he's been spending a lot of time there lately.

As we walked further into the room, I saw that Sassy had pooped next to the dining room table. (She occasionally has accidents when we are gone for too long.) I figured that was the nasty smell, so I held my breath and cleaned it up and went to dump it in the toilet. As I approached the bathroom, I peeked in the bedroom and didn't see Mocha on the bed, which kind-of surprised me. 

I turned around and noticed that the bathroom door was closed most of the way. At the same moment, Lex was walking up behind me, also looking for Mocha. We glanced warily at each other and I reached over to open the door and immediately gagged as the most noxious stench I've ever smelled hit me straight in the face. 

There sat Mocha in The Cone of Shame, which had a small smudge of poop on it. He had something I can only describe as a horrified expression on his face. There was a gigantic pile of squished dog poop on the rug in front of the vanity where he was sitting. As I opened the door, he came tearing out past me, poop dangling from his butt and pieces of it flying off his paws in all directions.

Horrified, we managed to corner him and Lex put him out the back door while we attempted to clean up the spatter in the hallway. Then she attended to cleaning his rear-end while I ventured back into the bathroom. Stepping in the doorway, I found poopy paw marks all around the toilet, a splattering of it on the front of the toilet as well as on the back of the door and another smudge in a single, straight line - obviously from the collar - on the bathmat that hangs on the ledge of the tub.

I swear to all the gods there are that I have NEVER in my life smelled anything so disgusting. Seriously, I have changed a lot of baby diapers in my lifetime and absolutely nothing has compared to this. 

Mocha & The Cone of Shame in the (now-clean) bathroom

Saturday, September 8, 2012

My Spice Box for Making Chai

I am in love with spiced chai. It's the thing I most often order from coffee shops, though it's usually too sweet and not spicy enough for me. At Starbucks, I've learned that I need to order it with non-fat milk so the spices are not overpowered.

At home, it's been a comfort drink for a couple of years. I started with a recipe from Indian Cooking Made Easy by Jan Purser and Ajoy Joshi.  It was pretty good but wasn't exactly the taste I was looking for. After trying multiple recipes I found on the net, I've come up with my own combination of spices that taste just right for me. These spices are always on hand in my pantry so I can just throw some together whenever the urge arises. Unfortunately, that means there are a bunch of chai-specific spices piled up in the cabinet and I have to dig them all out whenever it's time to make another batch.

Aarti Sequeira (of the show "Aarti Party" on Food Network) introduced me to the idea of a masala dabba, which is basically a round tin container with several smaller tins inside of it for holding different spices. There is usually a tiny spoon included in the dabba that is about the measure of a "dash". These small tins are intended for powdered spices so they are nowhere near big enough to hold the whole spices I use for chai. So with a masala dabba in mind, I set off in search of something that would work for me.

At Home Goods, I found a really cute box that looks kind of like an old steamer trunk. It measures about 8"x8" and stands about 4" tall.

The top of the box reads: "Live life passionately, Laugh until your belly hurts, Love unconditionally"

Then, at Cost Plus World Market (my absolutely most favorite store), I found eight little glass canisters that stand about three inches tall and have the clasp to hold them closed. I filled them with my chai spices, hand-labeled them, and stuck them in the box. Imagine my surprise when I found that there was exactly enough room to put the box of tea in with them! I cannot tell you how excited I am about this whole project!!

Cyndie's Spiced Chai

2 quarts water
3 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon loose leaf black tea (or 10 tea bags)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3 or 4 slices of candied ginger
6 whole green cardamom pods, cracked
2 cinnamon sticks
8 to 10 whole cloves
about 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
5 or 6 peppercorns
4 whole star anise pods

Make a sachet from cheesecloth or a flour-sack type kitchen towel to hold tea and all of the spices.* Place sachet in a 2-quart container and fill with water. Allow to steep in the fridge for 12-18 hours before removing the sachet.

The tea will be quite strong, so you will likely want to dilute it with either water or milk. I use 1 Cup of liquid to 1 Cup of milk in a large tumbler full of ice.

Sweeten to your liking and enjoy!

*I recently bought a mesh ball tea diffuser that looks like it will work.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

My Tastebuds Are in Heaven!

Wuotan's mother is staying with us for a few days so we had a fancy home-cooked dinner last night and, oh my goodness, it was so delicious! It was one of those meals where every bite makes you close your eyes and groan in food ecstasy. It was a simple combination of mustard-wine marinated pork loin chops and olive oil-rosemary roasted vegetables.

Today, after being out for most of the afternoon, we returned to the house and as I opened the front door the scent of last night's dinner wafted out and actually made me smile as the memory of those creamy, earthy flavors washed over me.

The recipe for the pork is based on one I found on (see link at the end of this post), where the original poster states it came from a newspaper so I'm not sure where it really originated. As always, I've made my own adjustments.

Heavenly Mustard-Sherry Pork

6 thick-cut pork loin chops
2 tablespoons dry mustard powder
1/4 cup minced garlic
1/4 cup Dijon-style mustard
1/3 cup cream sherry
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground grains of paradise (or black pepper)
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, tightly packed

In a shallow casserole dish, place the pork chops in a single layer. Sprinkle about a half teaspoon of mustard powder over each chop, flip the meat over and sprinkle another half teaspoon on the other side of each chop. Spread a generous amount of minced garlic to coat the tops of each of the chops.

In a medium bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and pour over the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least six hours, flipping the meat about halfway through so both sides get the effect of the marinade.

The next day, remove the meat from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature (about 1/2 hour).

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450 F. When oven has reached the desired temperature, place the whole casserole in oven, uncovered, and cook for about 30-35 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 165-170 F. As the meat roasts, baste it occasionally with the juices.

Cooking in the marinade will keep the meat from getting dried out and the hot pan juices make a wonderful sauce to spoon over the meat when it is served.

Roasted Vegetable Medley

3 large carrots
3 medium-sized red beets
3 medium-sized russet potatoes
3 medium-sized red onions
1/2 butternut squash
1 head of garlic, minced
olive oil to taste
coarse salt to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste
dried rosemary to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Cut the carrots, beets, potatoes, onions and squash into 1" cubes to guarantee even cooking times. Place the vegetables in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and add minced garlic, salt, pepper and rosemary. Toss the veggies in the oil until well-coated.

Place the roasting pan on the bottom rack in the oven and cook for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. Vegetables are done when they can be pierced easily with a fork.

Note #1:  My apologies for the lack of photos. I will try to be better about posting pictures for my recipes going forward.

Note #2:  I actually put the meat and the vegetables in the oven at 400 until the veggies were done, then removed them and turned the oven up to 450, cooking until the meat reached the desired temperature.

Note #3:  Here is a link to the original pork recipe:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Take the Long Way Home

My partner, Wuotan, and I had a fun girls' day out with her mother today. After catching a morning showing of Hope Springs, the three of us wandered around town checking out antique stores. While ogling beautiful furniture, drooling over very old books, and parading around in a big, floppy hat, I managed to find a gorgeous glazed porcelain pig that I just had to buy.

I also picked up a few really cool, old books:

  • Tour of the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (copyright info page is missing, so not sure of publish date, but it's in really good condition otherwise and I'm excited to have it)
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (2nd printing, 1927 - in excellent condition)
  • North to the Orient by Anne Morrow Lindburgh (9th printing, 1935)
  • Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott (1926)
  • Little Minister by J.M. Barrie (publish date unknown)

With all of the exploring done, we stopped for lunch and then retired to Mom's house to relax and chat for a while before Wuotan and I left for the long drive home. Instead of the straight shot up the freeway, which takes about an hour and a half, we decided to take the scenic route home and meandered through the hills and valleys at a leisurely pace, finally arriving home about 3 hours later.

Our traveling adventure took us through several different types of habitat. First, we hit the flat farmlands where we stopped for a few minutes to watch a family of Burrowing Owls who hid on the far side of a berm but popped their little heads up once in a while so we could see that there were at least three of them - one adult, whose large yellow eyes stared us down for quite a while, and two youngsters who still had a bit of baby-fluff on the tops of their heads. Then we headed out through some wooded areas where we saw several coveys of California Quail running across the road or up the hillside with their little topknots bobbing like crazy. Elsewhere, there were a few rafters/gangs/gobbles of Wild Turkeys (those are all three acceptable terms for a "flock" of turkeys) and a few deer - a doe with her fawn, who was still growing out of her spots, and, further down the road, a gorgeous buck with pretty nice-sized antlers. The last critter we saw before returning to suburbia was a lone coyote prowling on a hillside. He stopped and scratched his ear lazily before trotting up into the dried brush where his reddish-brown and grey coat blended in so well that he all but disappeared from view.

It is so wonderful to have a partner who appreciates the beauty of nature and who enjoys accompanying me on these little forays into places off the beaten path!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

We are quickly coming up on the two-year anniversary of my eldest brother's death. These last few days I have been missing Carl, who lost his battle with cancer. I'm happy that he's not suffering here anymore, but I don't think the sadness of losing a loved one ever really goes away. I just keep reminding myself that he's somewhere hanging out with Dad, who died 12 years ago, and Gramma, who passed 6 years ago, and they are probably having a grand time together. I also know that someday I will see them again.

Today I got to thinking about what items I would choose if I could "take it with me when I go." Here's what I came up with:

  • Carl's guitar so he could play me something fun and upbeat.
  • Dad's banjo so he could play along with Carl. The two of them used to sit down and play together often and the rest of us would sing along. 
  • Dancing shoes for Gramma. She was a spry little lady and would go out dancing with her boyfriend even into her 70s.
  • A cherry-red '65 convertible Mustang for me to take all of them for a joy-ride.

Wow! I feel cheerier already. I think I'll go turn on some old-time music, close my eyes and dance with my Dad.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Cyndie's Cherry-Basil Limeade

I never would have thought of combining cherries and basil for anything, but I came across a recipe last year that changed my mind. The original was for Cherry-Basil Soda but, really, it's a recipe for a simple syrup that you mix with club soda. I ended up making the syrup and adding it to some limeade that I made and everyone that tried it loved it.

A couple of notes:
1. The original calls for real sugar. I can't eat much sugar so I've substituted Splenda Baking Blend, which measures 1/2 Cup to each 1 Cup of sugar. I didn't use pure Splenda because I find that it doesn't work so well for macerating fruit. If you choose to use pure Splenda, remember that it measures 1 Cup for 1 Cup of sugar.
2. The syrup needs to sit overnight, at least 8 hours but longer is better, for the fruit to completely macerate and soak up the basil flavor.

Here is my adaptation to the recipe (see the link at the end of this note for the original):

Cherry-Basil Syrup
2 Cups pitted fresh cherries
1/2 Cup Splenda Baking Blend
Handful of whole fresh basil leaves 

1 Cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 10 limes)
1/2 Cup Splenda Baking Blend
1/2 Cup Cherry-Basil Syrup
Enough water to fill the rest of a 2-quart container
Sprig of basil for garnish

Setting up the syrup:
Combine the cherries, 1/2 Cup of the Splenda blend, and the handful of basil leaves in a large bowl. Stir (or toss with your hands if you don't mind getting them dirty) to completely coat the cherries and basil leaves with the sugar. (This is important so that they macerate well - the sugar will pull out the juices.) Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.

Making the syrup:
The next day, put the cherry mixture into a blender or food processor. There should be a beautiful syrup in the bottom of the bowl - be sure to include ALL of that yumminess in the blender. Blend until smooth then push the puree through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the cherry pulp. You now have cherry-basil syrup.

Making the limeade:
In a 2-quart pitcher, pour the fresh-squeezed lime juice, 1/2 Cup of the cherry-basil syrup, 1/2 Cup of Splenda Baking Blend and the sprig of basil. Stir to combine then add water to fill the pitcher. Pour into a tall glass of ice and enjoy! 

Additional Notes:
  1. You may need to adjust the amount of Splenda you use in the final step, depending on how sweet or tart you like your limeade.
  2. This syrup also tastes good in iced green tea. (I make iced mint green tea by putting 4 bags of green tea and a large sprig of fresh mint into a 2-quart pitcher of water and letting it sit in the fridge for several hours).
Here's the link to the original Cherry-Basil Syrup recipe: 

I'm considering trying some other fruit/herb combinations based on another website I found. Some of these might be good!

Strawberry & mint
Apricot & basil
Peach & basil
Raspberry & basil
Apricot & bay
Peach & bay
Apricot & lavender
Cranberry & lavender
Peach & lavender
Orange & mint
Cranberry & mint
Orange & rosemary
Apricot & sage
Cranberry & sage
Orange & tarragon
Orange & thyme
Cranberry & thyme
Peach & thyme

Here is the link where I found the Herb Pairing List:

Friday, August 3, 2012

What is True Love?

Around this time last year, a number of big changes occurred in my life. My marriage of nine years was falling apart and I was facing some very tough decisions about how to proceed with my life. A very good friend of mine, to whom who I will refer as Ninja, told me I needed to follow my heart and find the thing that made me happy. 

My happiness found me in the form of a friend I had not seen in several years. Spending time with this friend gave me a chance to look at my life from an outsider's view and see just how bad things had gotten.

One of the concepts I was trying to grasp was true love. True love and intimacy became the focus of my thoughts and I questioned just what those terms truly meant to me. The resulting answers were often painful and sometimes shocking because I had thought I had both of those things in my marriage, but it turns out that wasn't so.

I came to the conclusion that true love passes no judgement; it just IS. Things that have happened in the past remain in the past and have no bearing on the current situation other than to remind us of how we became the people we are now. Past experiences (things we've done, people we've known, etc.) shape us as we mature. We learn behaviors based on these experiences and use the learned behaviors to deal with other things down the road. 

I was always under the impression that true love is having someone who cares about you and dotes on you and tries to provide all the comforts you need, but once I awoke from the fog of confusion in which I was living, I saw that what I had was someone who needed to always take care of others, whether those others needed taking care of or not. That is not love. That is oppression.

Intimacy, as I see it, is both parties being fully honest with each other in all aspects of their lives. It's revealing themselves in depth to a point where the only way they can continue is in a state of unconditional love. It's feeling naked and vulnerable yet trusting each other completely. Looking back, I would say that you can't have intimacy if you don't have true love.

So my final conclusion was that a good relationship is comprised of unconditional love and intimacy. Honesty, compassion, trust - these are all encompassed in those two things. Without these, there is no respect, no honor, no dignity... no relationship to speak of.

I'm happy to say that the friend who helped to clarify my vision is also now my significant other. Ours is a relationship based entirely on honesty, compassion, love and trust.