Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Strange Bedfellows

     When I get tired of MSNBC in the background, NPR gets louder. The other day, the discussion was about a new book, The Science of Good Cooking by Bridget Lancaster and Jack Bishop. Although my multitasking was in gear—I think I was doing some research about selling our webcast about service dogs on the net, or maybe I was driving—see, multitasking doesn’t pay, it robs you of your memory, but I did hear a few words.


They were discussing anchovies, that hidden ingredient that really can remain under cover. No, I’m not like my husband. I don’t add anchovies to my pizza. I don’t open a can of anchovies and spread the contents all over my salad unless it’s named after Julius C. I don’t eat sandwiches of cream cheese and anchovies like my mother used to sneak into my school lunches.
But, my go to and very quick pasta dinner is a take off on Marcella Hazan’s broccoli with anchovies. It’s really quick if you use the pre-cut broccoli from Costco. The bag is always hidden in my vegetable crisper. Trouble is that sometimes it hides too well and gets smelly and slimy. I keep telling myself that it pays to shop at Costco even if some of the stuff goes into the trash because it’s such a bargain. The smelly broccoli, however, has to go into the garbage disposal or right outside or the whole refrigerator can smell.
The super simple pasta recipe, no it’s not a recipe because I have never measured anything is: in a wok or frying pan (big, deep one), stir fry the broccoli cut into pieces in olive oil until it’s partially cooked, add a lump of butter, a can or two of anchovies with the oil, some pepper (no salt), and a generous splash of white wine. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until it’s al dente, throw it into the hot vegetable mixture and add the best parmesan cheese you can find. I knew I was on to something when my 9 year-old granddaughter asked for a second portion of the leftovers. When I made the green and white pasta dish for my daughter and her friends, I buffered the effect with an alternate red and white one. There were no green and white leftovers and no one guessed what was on the broccoli.

So the discussion about anchovies from The Science of Good Cooking didn’t even catch me by surprise. The suggestion was to add anchovies to beef stew to add a savory quality. So, when I found some interesting looking beef at Target, I decided to give it a try. Of course, I march to my own drummer, so it was pot roast and ended up being a take-off on Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon. All my recipes seem to be “take-offs” because I refuse to return to the supermarket once I return with my ingredients and never make a list.
I used the really thick pieces of chuck browned in walnut oil then removed from the pan (I use an electric frying pan because I don’t like to clean up my stove top, a shiny black thing, what a mistake.) In the same pan went 8 big carrots, peeled and cut up, a head of garlic, cloves smashed and peeled, about 24 Brussels sprouts, cut in half, 4 stalks of celery, about 12 small red potatoes, cut in half, and a can of anchovies with the olive oil. When everything was lightly browned, the meat rejoined the mixture and in went a half bottle of red wine. The whole thing simmered for about 2 hours and was pronounced a winner by my super critical husband. He’ll eat anything, even help me clean up, doesn’t mind eggs or a BLT for dinner, but tells me when he hates my slimy roast chicken.
Thank you, Bridget Lancaster and Jack Bishop, for your anchovy idea. But, and this is a very BIG BUT, I’m certain that neither of you ever experienced a migraine headache.
The rest of the discussion had me wanting to throw things at the radio. It went on to tout their belief that there is nothing wrong with MSG, the kind added to food or the kind that is found in some foods. If I had either of their phone numbers, I’d call them a 3 AM when I am awakened and my always sympathetic husband asks what I’d eaten. 90% of the time I can trace the middle of the night monster to something hidden among the ingredients in my food. I hope there weren’t too many migraine sufferers who listened to the proclamations in the book and took them as the gospel because there was a lot of interesting information, but about MSG—NO!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Pay it Forward


 After staring at my computer screen from 5 AM until 5 PM yesterday and being visited at 3 AM by my worst enemy, the nasty migraine, I started to ask myself "Why?". My husband has been warning me for years that the computer screen is one of my enemies, in addition to MSG, lack of sleep, not eating enough, tannins, wine, beer, and on and on, all conspiring to attack me in the middle of the night.
I’ve been able to give up the long list when I’m not too lazy to read labels, but the computer screen is part of my life. So I guess I’d better just take breaks. The only problem has been that my idea of a break is to read a book on my Kindle, oops, another screen. Will I ever learn?
So why are we doing this, working feverishly trying to educate, to get the word out about how much service dogs can change lives? Liz, my daughter and partner in crime says she remembers my telling her when she was very little that with a brain like hers, she’d better contribute to society. So she ended up in research, and dragged me along to help her put her very complex ideas into words. Her mind works so fast that sometimes I think I might be one of the few people who can disentangle her thoughts. 
So we’ve been working together for what seems like forever. In fact forever isn’t really an exaggeration. When she wrote a book while in graduate school, we sent the chapters back and forth from the west to the east coasts via FEDEX. Email is really much more affordable and efficient. 
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the culture of paying it forward. About two years ago we had a flat tire on I-95 in the middle of the night. Someone stopped and changed it for us, wouldn’t accept any help from my husband, who was perfectly capable of changing it himself, and wouldn’t accept anything except a thank you.
Last Saturday we took a ride on our motor scooter and turned down a deserted road leading to Everglades National Park. A few miles off the main road we found a service van that had gotten stuck in the mud while trying to turn around. Some park rangers had stopped, but they didn’t have a clue as to how to free him from the mud. So, remembering the experience we had in Mexico when a bunch of workers came out of the fields and pushed our motor home out of a ditch, we told the useless rangers how to free the van and helped them push it out.
When we returned 20 minutes later, the van and the driver were still on the side of the road. So we helped him change his flat tire and sent him on his way. The entire episode took about three hours out of our afternoon, but, at the end of the day, my husband said to me “We had a great adventure.” 
Money really isn’t everything. If more people paid it forward, perhaps our country wouldn’t be so divided. We won’t make much from our service dog work. We’re trying to cover our expenses and pay for our time (It’s been 2 people, 2 years so far, at no pay.), but we will show people that they can improve their quality of life.
The webcast has been approved for continuing education credits for nurses. We’ve begun to work with the VA and will adapt it for others in the medical community. that we’ve spent the last eight months perfecting has finally been   Together we’ll all be able to help people who really need it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Let Our Game Begin


This is my 10 year old granddaughter's dog for all of us. The ear is for the autistic community, the eye is the same color as hers, the tongue looks like our Mikey dog, and the rest is just to make us happy. For the past 2 years my daughter Liz (Dr. Elisabeth Gruskin) and I have been working on our service dog project. We’ve been telling Sarah about everything the dogs can do and she’s been our biggest fan. Now she has to decide, will she be a veterinarian, an artist, or a beautician? Isn’t it nice to be 10?
We started this journey when Liz, who had been doing medical research on some very intense topics, met someone with a major facility to train service dogs. She had just started to work on service dogs for MS patients and Liz was fascinated. I was really excited because, after working with Liz on her grant proposals and papers for the past 20 years with very little interest in the content, I finally found a topic I could read for meaning, not just for sentence structure and punctuation.
The more we traveled  the country from service dog provider to meetings with the medical community to Multiple Sclerosis organizations, the more we realized how much these remarkable dogs could change the quality of life for so many. Service dogs can help people with way more than MS, ranging from PTSD to autism, from cancer to diabetes, from visual to physical handicaps, but awareness is sorely lacking.
Rather than pursue our original path, that of structured research, we concluded that we could make a more immediate difference with education. So we’ve been all over the place. Our websites and Facebook pages have opened eyes and started people talking. When someone called me to tell me that because of our website, he was about to get a service dog for his debilitating MS, I realized that we could accomplish something.
We have just completed Service Dogs 101, an Internet seminar to educate the medical community. We’ll go on to focus on spreading the word to the military community and medical insurers.  Hopefully, next time you see a service dog, you’ll understand what went into the training of the dog, how hard the dog and the human have had to work to form a team, and how much the dog has been helping its human partner.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mangoes over Miami (or Eat Your Heart Out, America)



It’s that time again. You can tell by my nail polish. No French manicure for me. Only dark colors because I’m too lazy to wear gloves when I handle my beloved mangoes.
I can’t tell a lie, I have been having fun with magnetic polish, the kind that you can turn into stripes with a magnet. It’s not as easy as they say. It belongs in the file labeled “If it were easy, everyone would do it,” but, after about 10 tries, I finally got the hang of it. Today my nails are kind of green with silver stripes. My husband hates them, but, as the little girl with the pacifier said when approached “Does it hurt you?”
I still have a freezer with leftovers from two years ago, still good for chutney and freezes, but this is the year of the ice cream. Back to the mangoes. Marianne, our original tree, the one we bought at Home Depot seven years ago when she was so small that we had to surround her with chairs lest she be run over by a lawnmower, has had a banner year. Last year, not so much, but I guess she needed a rest.
In our family we have the no sugarno artificial sweetener problem. Artificial sweetener gives me migraines and my husband has had to swear off sugar so it was time to do some experimenting with my old theory about ice milk vs. ice cream. Look at the calorie count of ice milk. It may be lower in fat, but it’s not so low in calories because it contains more sugar. The extra butterfat on your tongue tastes sweet.
So here I was, up to my elbows in mango juice with only skim milk in the house. We don't use anything but skim milk because even 1% doesn’t work for cappuccino. Don’t know why, but it’s true in every cappuccino maker from the high pressure steam one to my current favorite that looks like a French press, but has a stem that reaches the bottom of the container.
Time to enlist my Vita Mix—the $450 blender that's my second favorite machine, after the Cuisinart. No it may sound like it's for making healthy stuff, but I use it for mayonnaise, freezes, and ice cream. I had to add butterfat to the mango ice cream, so I made it with skim milk and a hunk of sweet butter (No, I don’t cook with margarine, only use butter or olive oil or my new favorite, grape seed oil.)
The mango/milk/butter with a pinch of salt made the most amazing ice cream. Too bad I didn’t have my old ice cream maker, so I had to set my timer and take the mixture out of the freezer to stir it every hour until it froze. It would have been less grainy if I had an ice cream maker, but it was fine as long as I let it melt a bit before I served it.
Then came the next trial: what to do with the very large container of very large strawberries that I bought at Costco. No, they’re not from Florida, ours aren’t as good as the ones from California, but we can’t have it all. The strawberry ice cream is more like sherbet, but it’s almost as good as the mango stuff, if you like strawberries.
Where do my pets fit into all this? Mikey loves mangoes. Wesley is still thinking about it, but the parrots start to shriek the minute the fruit comes through the front door. They like to chew on the seeds and remove the last bits of orange flesh from the skin. I know they would all like the ice cream, but milk products are on the “not good for dogs” list, so they’ll have to settle for what comes off the kitchen counter.
Fortunately, the dogs haven’t figured out that they should fight the squirrels for the mangoes on the ground.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Too Much Oatmeal and a Dirty Dog



There I sat with a little fluffy mostly white and very dirty, after only a week, dog. Another bath with flea shampoo was out of the question. Ditto for human shampoo, even baby shampoo.

If shampoo is too harsh for my own curly mane (the no-poo credo of those of us with our love/hate or rather hate/love relationship with our curls), surely must be for Wesley’s, I presumed. But that wasn’t the real reason. The PH of dogs isn’t the same as that of humans so we can’t share shampoo.

Although Wesley and I could have walked to our local Pet Supermarket, 5 AM, when his dirty coat was really annoying me was 4 hours too early, so I decided to search the net. 

Bingo. One recipe called for oatmeal, a way to start to use up the huge tub of quick oats I bought before I discovered the virtues of the 20 minute kind. The recipe called for equal quantities of pulverized oatmeal and baking soda mixed with glycerin and water. No glycerin in my kitchen, but I found aloe listed in another recipe. There’s glycerin in the aloe that I’ve had for ages so I figured I couldn’t go far wrong.

So, Wesley’s shampoo consisted of a cup of ground oatmeal, a cup of baking soda, a cup of aloe vera gel, and a cup of water, all mixed up in my Vita Mix, but it could have been done in any food processor if the oatmeal were first pulverized in a coffee grinder. 

Wesley looks clean, smells clean, isn’t scratching thanks to the oatmeal, and I have a bottle of dog shampoo that I think I’ll store in the refrigerator. Why, I don’t know, but I don’t think I want it to get green, slimy or moldy.