Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dog Day Afternoon

If you can picture Ted Nugent with shortish, Krusty-the-Clown hair, you've got a vision of the guy I was seated across at a worn picnic table in the middle of Florida farm land.
Let's call him Ted, and say we're at his Own Private Idaho animal sanctuary. I'm not sure how accurate it is for him to call his flea-infested place a sanctuary, since the animals are probably looking around scratching themselves and wondering "what fresh Hell is this?" but nevermind.
The puppy I was there to meet was as cute as his picture, which I'd found on Petfinder. A real mutt, with leanings toward Beagle and either Terrier or Springer Spaniel. He seemed a pretty mellow dog for being 14 weeks old, but I guess that's understandable, considering he'd been picked up from the pound and brought here. Cast off.
I'd arrived with a check made out to the (cough) sanctuary, and upon seeing the dog and determining that he was not a Pit Bull, I was ready to take him home.
Two of the boys were with me: Wyatt and Cooper, and boy was I glad to have Wyatt along, because I really trust his judgment. Wyatt had not cared for Boo Bear the Pit Bull, and he was right: Boo Bear wasn't a wise choice for us.
But he liked this dog, and so we all agreed on the go-ahead. "Do you like him?" I asked the boys.
Unanimous yes vote.
Ted was telling me that his wife had given the pup a flea bath that morning.
"Does he have fleas?" I asked.
He picked up the dog and looked at its belly.
"Yep," he announced. "He's got a couple."
After having me sign some papers that the dog would always be returned to him if for any reason in the future we could not keep it, and lecturing me on some of the finer points of dog care, Ted gave the dog a tablet that is supposed to kill fleas. And soon we were all on our way home.
This little dog surely seemed to have gotten off to a rough start in life. The story -- and there's always a story with a rescue dog, whether it's bullshit or not -- is that he was an "owner surrender" because the owner, a breeder (riiight) did not want him because he was not a purebred. The breeder's dog had escaped and gotten impregnated by who-knows-what (Terrier, Springer Spaniel, not Pit Bull). Alright, I guess that's possible if the mother was a Beagle, because they do tend to wander, but we'll never know. Ted said this puppy was picked up from a high-kill pound inland, and that's about all I knew yesterday.
When I got home, I took him directly into the shower. He was so stinky, there's no way I would have not given him a bath. I lathered him up, and quickly discovered that he was covered with fleas. They looked like brown sesame seeds, and it was like they just kept appearing. I went through at least three lather-rinse-repeat cycles, and just kept cleaning the poor dog and watching the fleas go down the drain. He was such a good sport. I mean, it's not really pleasant for any dog to get a shower, but he didn't complain or fight me. He's got a nice, gentle disposition. It occurred to me that maybe the showering-bonding with me scared the crap out of him and he was afraid to move, but no, no, he continued to be nice to me and all the family members & neighbors he met later that afternoon.
This morning, I would also learn that he had hookworms and tapeworms. Let me tell you that this is something you never want to see, ever. The horror! The horror! Had I thought of it, I should have pounded a big glass of Scotch after picking up that poop.
I took him to the vet and got him a serious dose of de-worming medication; flea medication (go Frontline!); and had his nails trimmed. The flea pill Ted had given him was, according to the vet, more like a preventative, and we needed the hard chemicals.
After our OCD sanitation program, we went home, went for a walk, ate, and played outside by the pool. He didn't swim with us, and that's fine -- I think he had enough to absorb (both physically and mentally).

He's a good little dog, and everybody likes him. He follows me around and is learning how to "sit" for a treat.
We don't have a name for him yet, but we're all working on it. I look at his fuzzy face and think, "How could anyone not want you?" but I guess that his misfortune was my good fortune, because I really think he's going to be one of those dogs that you never forget.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A very nice honor

This blog was started on a lark one night, because I was looking for something to do, and I thought it would be fun.
It has been fun. It's also been a great outlet for me to rant, rave, drone, and post pics of things that are often pretty random. I like the format a lot, and it's been a journal for me, oftentimes the only right place for me to voice my feelings on topics that are important to me, as well as simple things that are funny to me.
I'm not the best cook or baker, nor consistent in those arenas, and I appreciate all the love and support I get from my friends who are food bloggers. If the Food Blogging world were an Upstairs/Downstairs saga, I guess I'd be the character continually traipsing up and down the back stairs, from the nursery to the wine cellar.
Therefore, I was really touched and honored when Eva, of Tea for One, a blog I adore, passed on to me an "Excellent" blog award. I would like to thank Eva for her thoughtfulness, which I very much appreciate. It made me feel really good to hear that someone appreciates The Chambermaid!
Eva, who is naturally a cool person but also gets bonus points for her Transylvanian and Swedish links, has earned another star in my book. Unfortunately, I was too tired to find out the exact details of the award, and couldn't figure out how to post the bold, black EXCELLENT! stamp signifying that I'd been awarded. In my pursuit of the "good enough" in life, I stumbled upon this image of Mr. Burns, who likes to rub his hands together and say "Excellent!" -- sometimes followed by "Smithers, release the hounds!" but we'll leave that part out here.

If I were to pass this award on to another blogger, it would be to the amazing Sarah, who never fails to entertain, educate, and amuse me with her Excellent! blog, Sarah Cooks, and also deserves a special place in food blogging history for her impressive project Sarah Discovers How to Eat. Keep an eye on her, she is doing great things.
Thank you very much, Eva, for your kindness!

Monday, April 21, 2008

A saboteur in our midst

Wyatt's Science class held a bake sale at school in honor of Earth Day, with the proceeds to be donated to a Florida state park. Wyatt and I decided to make cupcakes for the event. I eschewed the red velvet cake (which I thought might be popular with the kids) for a golden sponge cake mix, so as not to taint the little bodies of hopeful children with too much red dye.

I made cream cheese icing, as usual (it is my favorite), and got out all my pretty sprinkles and decorations. Leaning toward a Spring-like theme, I topped the cupcakes with pastel-colored flowers & butterflies, pink & blue sparkly sugars, and silver and gold hearts.

They were so attractive that the boys were begging to eat them, and so I decided to hold a Pre-Sale, like Nordstrom. The boys lined up in the kitchen and handed over money from their piggy banks.

I wasn't quite sure what the going rate was, or what the school was going to charge for the cupcakes, but ended up with $9.50, which was completely arbitrary, but I thought pretty good for four.

My work finished, I retired to my bedroom with a book, and soon fell asleep. My jarring awakening came in the form of Cooper, his face popping up at the side of my bed. Focusing my eyes, I slowly realized that his mouth & cheeks were covered with cream cheese frosting.
I raced downstairs to the kitchen and my fears were confirmed: Cooper had sullied almost all of the cupcakes.
My beauties! My beauties!
He'd plucked off all of the silver and gold hearts, licked the icing away, and nibbled the tops off of almost all the cupcakes.
Austalians, did you hear my scream?

There were five untouched -- only because they were on a plate located high out of his reach.
The little perp knew he was going to have to deal with the Wrath of Mom, so he hid. Not very well. Weasel.

I broke the news to Wyatt, and we briefly toyed with the idea of selling the cupcakes at half-price, but in the end, he just took in the five good ones. In the end, they sold for 25 cents each.
Me: Twenty-five cents??
Wyatt: Or maybe 50 cents.
Me: That's all?
I guess I was charging Manhattan prices, while his Science class was charging Dust Bowl prices. I'm glad they made some money, even though it may not be quite enough to contribute a wee sapling to a state park. But at those prices, I couldn't feel too bad about Cooper eating the lion's share of our product. I won't let him know that, however. Penance will be extracted from his widdle college fund, at NY pre-sale prices.
Momma needs a new pair of shoes. (Earth shoes, of course.)

Anna's tag: top 10 food pics

Anna tagged me to post 10 food pics, and whatever Anna wants, Anna gets! I went through my archives and selected my favorites. Thanks, Anna, for thinking of me.

1. Lasagne. I feel like I can always rely on my lasagne to turn out, taste good, and be overall satisfying.

2. Chocolate cake. This was Cooper's cake for his first birthday. I love how massive it looks, and I decorated it with the precious gold buttons. There's nothing better than chocolate cake.

3. Italian hummus & pita wedges. One of my favorite appetizers. It's Giada's recipe from Everyday Italian, and the dip is made from cannellini beans instead of the traditional garbanzos. The pita wedges are sprinkled with dried oregano. Altogether delicious, and pretty healthy.

4. Ice cream bombe! Mmm. My mom used to make Baked Alaska on special occasions, and this ice cream bombe is similar, but without the golden sponge cake base. I used strawberry ice cream and mango sorbet, topped with meringue (this step pictured) and then bronzed the meringue in the oven. It's fantastic.

5. A perfect meal. This was not made by me, but it qualifies as one of my best meals for a few reasons, and therefore deserves mention. I love staying in nice hotels, I love room service, and I love it when I eat a meal -- wherever -- that is perfect, no matter how simple it may be. This is a club sandwich & French fries, served up on a tray with an icy diet cola alongside. And little ketchup bottles. Bliss. From the Ambassador East in Chicago.

6. My Christmas morning cappuccino. Here is a picture that is worth a thousand words. Troy and I just celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary, and for nearly every morning of our years together, we've started each day with a cappuccino. Sometimes I make them, sometimes he makes them. He's much better at frothing the milk. This is what he delivered to me on Christmas morning, and it speaks volumes about his sense of humor, which is one of the things I adore about him. I love my cappuccino, and I love my husband more, and definitely consider myself very lucky to wake up to both every day.

7. B'stilla. I can't remember if I blogged about this creation or not, but it's worth waxing over. It's a Moroccan savory pie made with ground beef, fresh chopped herbs, spices, beaten eggs, and slivered almonds all baked up in a flaky phyllo dough. A real jewel. I followed Diana Henry's recipe from Crazy Water Pickled Lemons.

8. A perfect apple. Crisp, crunchy, sweet, tart. One of my favorite things to eat. I grew up near an apple orchard, and I feel a strong connection to the apple in any form. I will always go for the apple dessert on a menu over any chocolate concoction or creme brulee or other temptation.

9. Stinky, gooey cheese. I like to stop at my local cheese counter and chat with the women who work there, who are as enthusiastic about ripe cheeses as I am. Usually I select one like this, as well as a Roquefort. The ladies turned me on to these crackers, which are almost like communion wafers, very thin and delicate.

10. Frittata with potatoes & fresh herbs, and cucumber salad. This was a meal I made when I a.) couldn't think of what to make for dinner; and b.) didn't have much in the house. Rachel gave me the idea of the potato frittata, and I happened to have fresh dill & feta in the fridge, so it wound up tasting very Greek. The cucumber salad is something I grew up eating, having a German mother. But, again, the dill tweaks it a bit for a nod towards Greece (or Scandinavia, another of my obsessions). So here we have a plateful of food that reflects the people and tastes I love, and that is a large part of what cooking is all about for me.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Toby Tyler Day

One of the things I love about having children is that I get to relive some of the best parts of childhood (you're kind of forced to). This week, we went to the circus, which I seriously doubt I would do if I didn't have kids, which is not good. Every time I do something like this for or because of the kids, I leave with a heart uplifted.
It was great! Everyone was so happy and psyched to be there. There was a palpable excitement in the air and I couldn't stop thinking about the cliché of children wanting to run away and join the circus. Maybe that feeling never really goes away.
There were elephants, tigers, horses, dogs, and all of the costumes were sparkly and colorful. The performers definitely looked more interesting than most of my neighbors.
Now, it was a bit stinky because of the animals (presumably...although it could have been Cooper), and I'm sure that living out of a trailer and moving from town to town has it's disadvantages. However, it's hard to focus on that when you're watching a woman hanging from her hair a hundred feet off the ground, twirling like a top and releasing glitter into the air. Wow!
We ate popcorn and drank Sprite, which was a lot more fun than being in school.
The ringmaster was a woman, and she had very cool costumes.
Here she is with some high-kickin' ladies.

Has Cooper seen a scary clown?


The tigers. I was sort of hoping they would attack their fat tamer.

This man, whose name was Johnny, had a great array of dogs that he had rescued, over time, from local shelters. These dogs seemed to be having more fun than anyone, human or animal.

The family of acrobats who rode horses standing up. The horses pooped an awful lot, so the family had to do a lot of shoveling in between standing on the horses' backs, but they didn't seem to mind, it's just part of the job.

Griffin was a big fan of this hula-hoop girl.

The popcorn was excellent.

In the end, we did go home, but I know I spent a lot of time wondering about what it must be like to live under the big top. I'm glad I live in a town where circuses are still very much alive and part of the local culture. It's probably better than actually running away.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In a nutshell

La Georgina tagged me to describe myself in six words.
Okay, let me see...

1. Curious.
2. Impatient.
3. Loving.*
4. Obsessive.
5. Assertive
6. Thoughtful.

* "As long as it doesn't involve back-scratching," claims Troy.
(Perhaps because I'm impatient...)

I now tag Anna, Pistachio, Ilana, Sandy, Julie, and Mara.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Pink Menace

"I'm going to go kill them," he stated.
He turned and looked me square in the face.
"Stay there," he ordered, "because you don't have a weapon." I stared back at my four-year-old and said nothing. I was too tired to move.
"I'll handle them up!" he shouted, and bolted out of the bedroom.
'Handle them up?' I thought. Where does he get this stuff?
Moments later, he ran back into the room again at lightning speed, panting, "I got away. I wasn't powerful enough. I better climb up here." He shimmied up the bed post like a monkey up a tree.
We'd all just watched Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace, and my sons had divided into teams of good vs. evil.
We were, however, under seige by a different menace: conjunctivitis, a.k.a. "pink-eye," and I was weary after three days of battling, wiping down surfaces with disinfectant and constant hand-washing. As the scourge spread through our house, Harry and I were now out-numbered, four against two, the only healthy hold-outs. The main weapon at my disposal was a small bottle of prescription eye-drops, to be administered two drops per pink eye, three times a day, for 10 days.
Friends from the outside had buoyed me with messages of encouragement, but I was feeling more and more germaphobic as the hours ticked by.
"Hope this doesn't freak you out too much, but apparently Pink Eye is contracted from fecal matter touching the eyes," said Sarah.
Oh, it did freak me out, so I immediately Googled that bit of info, gleaned from "Knocked Up," in an attempt to reassure myself that there are lots of ways to get this highly contagious infection. I told myself that we had the viral type.
It was only 8:00 p.m., but I was on my bed, ready to tuck under the comforter for the night. Dosing four children with eye-drops is a challenge fit for a nimble Jedi. I sat on the bed and distracted myself from the situation by letting my thoughts drift to musings on how Darth Maul had managed to kill Qui-Gon Jinn, perhaps the greatest Jedi alive, even stronger than Master Yoda. It just didn't seem right.
My thoughts were interrupted by the clashing sound of three siths busting into the room with light sabers. Their eyes were pink.
I centered myself, calling upon The Force.
I'm gonna handle them up, I vowed.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

All hail Ellie Krieger!

I bought Ellie Krieger's cookbook, The Food You Crave, with interest. I'd tried and loved her green bean salad recipe. It's fantastic!
Krieger is a registered dietitian and nutritionist who takes a very healthy approach to cooking without sacrificing flavor and satisfaction. I've really come to admire her.
I like working in more super foods whenever I can, and want to eat healthfully, but can't abide by some of the more draconian cookbooks that suggest vegetarianisn and all whole foods; they just don't interest me. Nor do I happen to have a great sweet tooth, so I am not one to look for rich desserts or recipes that contain a lot of sugar.
Krieger's book strikes the perfect balance.
The Food You Crave contains recipes stocked with powerful nutrients from high-quality, fresh fruits and vegetables and low-fat protein sources. The dishes are flavor-packed through the use of spices and vinegars, and other ingredients like yogurt and buttermilk. It makes me feel good to know I'm getting a lot of nutritional bang for my buck, eating food that is loaded with anti-oxidants and yet tastes really good, not dull.

Every recipe includes nutritional values and what the foods are good for, like if something is an excellent source of calcium or vitamin A, for example.
In addition to the green bean salad, I've made the mustard-maple chicken, Asian-style three-bean salad, chocolate cherry-almond biscotti, triple chocolate cookies, and everything tastes delicious!
Beyond that, which is actually enough in and of itself, I really am pleased to read Krieger's philosophy that no foods should be forbidden, or off-limits; that such thinking only leads to feelings of deprivation and ensuant backlash. I heartily agree that it's better to have a smaller amount of a good-quality, real ingredient rather than more of its fake substitute, which usually tastes sub-par and may contain chemicals.
I'm looking forward to cooking more recipes from this book, and highly recommend it, if this sort of style appeals to you.
Krieger has a show called Healthy Appetite, on the Food Network. More information on her, her books, and access to recipes and videos can be found at the Food TV site.