Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Over the past few years there have been a number of articles written about the health benefits of owning a pet. It has been shown that owning a pet will lower your blood pressure, encourage you to exercise and improve your psychological health. Pets have positive impacts on our lives. Pets certified as companion animals are brought into senior care facilities and certain hospital wards for visits with residents and patients. I also know a number of senior care facilities that have permanent cats, dogs, birds and or fish living there. They bring much joy to the residents.

I read an article today in the Science daily on the topic of human-animal interaction. I was amazed to read about the number of research institutes that are looking at this subject matter. At the end of October there is an international conference in Kansas City that will highlight research that has been done on the ways animals benefit people of all ages. This conference will bring together international experts working in areas including human-animal interaction, health and veterinary medicine. I imagine that some of the support for this conference and others comes from pet food companies as the pet industry is huge business in North America. Just using US statistics, pets are found in 60 percent of American homes. I can guess that the statistics are similar for Canada. Some other noteworthy points that I found in this Science Daily article was that Eunice Shriver Kennedy, who recently passed away, has a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development named after her. This Institute has sponsored workshops on the benefits of human-animal interaction in childhood. The other interesting point from this article was some research done on seniors. A study was done comparing the activity levels of seniors who were matched with shelter dogs versus another group of seniors matched with a human buddy. The aim was to walk on an outdoor trail for an hour a day for five days a week. The results found an improvement of 28 percent in seniors who walked with dogs versus the four percent improvement in seniors who walked with a human buddy. The improvement was seen in walking capabilities. Why did the seniors improve more walking with a dog? It is because us humans can rationalize in many different ways reasons for not walking on a particular day - we are tired, it is hot, I am lazy and so on. So the lesson in this is if you want to improve your activity levels - get a dog who needs a daily walk! I can relate to this very well. Having a dog forces me to walk on those days that I would rather not go out and walk.

Dogs and cats have almost always been a part of my life. I couldn't imagine not having them as part of my life. There is a saying that I like and you may have read it already in one of my postings. Dogs may not be your whole life but they make your life whole.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Come fall, I make soup every weekend. This ritual continues until summertime. I make enough to last the week to eat for lunches. This afternoon I made borscht soup. I used some of the vegetables that I have picked from my own garden. Borscht soup is a staple of eastern and central European countries. Borscht was introduced into North America by way of Russian, Polish and Ukrainian immigrants. I scanned a number of internet sites related to borscht recipes and I counted 13 different nationalities and their version of borscht soup. Borscht can be eaten hot or cold; some recipes include beets while others don't; some recipes include cabbage; and, some recipes use a beef or chicken stock.

I didn't follow an exact recipe for the borscht but based it on previous recipes I have made and advice from a girlfriend who made it several times this summer using garden produce. I decided to make a borscht without beets. Adding sauerkraut to borscht is new for me, I used to add lemon juice to give it a bit of zing.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
3 stalks of celery, chopped
5 carrots, chopped
3 small potatoes, chopped
2 parsnips, chopped
1/3 head of cabbage, chopped
1 cup sauerkraut
5 tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
12 cups water
4 tsp low salt chicken bouillon
pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, on medium heat, saute the onions and minced garlic in the olive oil. After a few minutes add the celery and continue sauteing for a few more minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, parsnips and cabbage. Saute for a few minutes and if the vegetables are sticking, add a bit of water. Add the water, chicken bouillon, tomatoes, pepper and sauerkraut. Turn the heat to high and once it starts to boil, turn the heat down to simmer. If the soup is too thick, add a bit more water. Cook for about 90 minutes and towards the end, add the chopped dill. If it needs a bit more zing, add more sauerkraut. Bon appetite.

Friday, September 25, 2009


There was an interesting article in the Globe and Mail on September 24, 2009 about a woman named Lisa Sayer who donated one of her kidneys. It is an article worth reading. She decided to donate one of her kidneys to a complete stranger. No money was exchanged except that travel and out of pocket expenses were covered. Donating a kidney to a complete stranger, without one of your family members receiving a kidney in exchange, is called in the medical field, a non-directed altruistic donor. Lisa's donation created a chain of events, a domino effect where four people got new kidneys. On a single day, four different operating rooms, across Canada, were involved in kidney transplants. The newspaper article provides a number of statistics including these facts: 35,000 Canadians have kidney disease, 4,000 people are on the wait list for a kidney from a deceased person and of the 1,200 kidney donations from last year, 40% were from living donors.

There are other donations that living donors make besides kidneys. People donate blood, plasma and bone marrow. I know people that donate blood and plasma on a routine basis and people who have donated one of their kidneys to family members but I have not yet met someone who donated one of their kidneys for purely altruistic purposes.

This article in the Globe and Mail makes one think about what would you do. I have filled out my donation card and carry it in my wallet outlining my wishes to donate whatever body parts are deemed worthy for transplant into others. If I was faced with the decision to donate a kidney or bone marrow to my DH or sibling, I could do it. I would want them to have a better life if they needed one of my two healthy kidneys or needed some of my bone marrow. But I could not donate one of my kidneys for purely altruistic reasons to an unknown stranger. It takes a special person to be willing to take that step. Lisa Sayer is a special person.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I cook salmon and sweet potato often, though not necessarily at the same meal. Over this past week I tried out two new recipes which I will definitely make again. I usually buy fresh salmon or steelhead trout which tastes quite similar to salmon. I cook both of them in the same fashion. My old stand-by recipe for salmon is to spread dijon mustard over the fillet followed by drizzling maple syrup and then either bake it in the oven or grill it on the barbecue. I tried this new marinade for salmon and it is as follows:

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
juice of one lemon
1/2 tsp of grated ginger
2 tbsp honey or maple syrup
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves or 1 tsp dried basil leaves
1 tbsp finely chopped shallots
2 to 3 pound salmon fillet

In a small bowl mix together all of the ingredients except the salmon. Pour over the salmon and let it marinate while the oven is preheated (350 degrees) or the barbecue heats up. It should marinate for at least 20 minutes. Depending on the thickness of the fillet, it should take about 20 minutes to cook.

I like sweet potato and use it in a variety of ways including making fries, in soup, in stews or mashed. I came across a recipe for sweet potatoes latkes or what is also called pancakes and made it tonight. I served the latkes with applesauce and that combination was really good. Some people might also want to use sour cream as a topping. The first batch I made in the teflon coated electric frying pan was without any oil or Pam and the latkes didn't brown nicely nor stay together as well. I added some canola oil when I started to cook the second batch and they were more crispier and didn't fall apart.

2 small sweet potatoes or 1 large, peeled and shredded
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon brown sugar or splenda
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves or nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
vegetable oil for frying
1. If the shredded sweet potatoes are very moist, place them in a colander and squeeze the potatoes to release as much liquid as possible. Let the potatoes sit to release more liquid, then squeeze again.
2. In a large bowl, combine sweet potatoes, eggs, brown sugar, flour, cloves or nutmeg and cinnamon; mix well.
3. Heat oil in large heavy skillet.
4. Form mixture into pancake size cakes, and fry in hot oil. Flip cakes after 2 to 3 minutes (when bottom is browned) and brown other side. Serve with applesauce or sour cream.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Before this summer I never cooked much with black beans. After I made one or two recipes using black beans, I started to take note of different recipes that I came across that used black beans. I have been using dried black beans and cooking them before adding them to the recipe versus buying canned beans. Canned beans are much easier and faster but I think I get a better bean when I make them from scratch and canned beans do have a much higher salt content.

I made the following recipe this past weekend. I found the recipe on and made a few adjustments. It contains quinoa, some vegetables, black beans and spices. It is a bit like a vegetable stew. You can improvise and add different vegetables. You can eat the stew either cold or hot. I have been eating this stew slightly warmed up in the microwave for lunches.

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
OR 1 1/2 cups of dried black beans
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
If using dried beans, soak beans overnight and cook the following day.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic, and saute until lightly browned. Add the carrots and celery and cook for several minutes.
Mix quinoa into the saucepan and cover with vegetable or chicken broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes,
Stir frozen corn into the saucepan, and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the black beans and cilantro.

Monday, September 14, 2009


I love cookies, especially good quality chocolate chip cookies. They are at the top of my food list choices. Chocolate chip cookies and ice cream probably enjoy equal status on the top ten list of foods I would take if stranded on a desert island. I happened to visit one of the blog sites that I have on my blog roll called Framed. On this site was a picture of great looking cookies and a link to get more background on the picture. The author of this blog site described how she made these wonderful cookies and how she followed the recipe with no changes or alterations. This recipe requires you to let the dough chill for 24 hours. I have never heard of chilling cookie dough for this length of time. There is science involved as we are talking about food chemistry and the mixing of different ingredients and let the flavours and chemical changes happen. My cookie dough usually goes from the mixing bowl to the cookie sheet with a bit of taste testing.

Well I just had to do some investigating and eventually ended up reading an article in the New York Times dated July 9, 2008. The article provides background information on the art of making chocolate chip cookies. Ruth Graves Wakefield invented the chocolate chip cookie in the 1930's. She owned the Toll House Inn which was located in Whitman, Mass, about 23 miles south of Boston. The article strongly recommends that the cookie dough needs to chill for at least 24 hours as this makes them more flavourful. Also using good chocolate with at least 60% cocoa is also important.

I copied the recipe from the New York Times on making these cookies. One of these weekends I will make this recipe.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Published: July 9, 2008 New York Times

Adapted from Jacques Torres

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour

1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao

Sea salt.

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop six 3.5 - ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I am reading an interesting book by Stanley Coren called "How to Speak Dog". The book is about dog communication and how dogs communicate with each other, how they understand messages that humans send to them and for humans to understand and translate what their dogs are communicating. The book has a chapter dealing with facial expressions. Dr. Coren describes how humans communicate with their faces and how dogs communicate with their facial expressions.

We all know that we communicate a great deal with our faces. We show a broad range of emotions. We read each others facial expressions to pick up on nuances, to detect whether what we are hearing from the other person is really what they are feeling. Everyone knows at least one person who has a great poker face and can hide their emotions and not show much through their facial expressions. I can think of card players, negotiators, enforcement, military and other professions who work at not showing emotions through facial expressions. The chapter in this book says that people who are trained to look for deceptions and people who are naturally good at reading people's faces, read the whole face, including the eyes. It is possible to tell if a person is using a false smile because a person using a false smile just uses muscles in the lower face which only affects the shape of the mouth. A true smile involves muscles higher up in the face and are in a sense 'cheek pullers'. The eyes are narrowed in a true smile while a false smile only turns up the corner of the eyes.

Dogs are more limited in the range of using their lower facial muscles and don't use their mouths or facial expressions to tell lies. Their muzzle is also constructed differently than our mouth and thereby has limited restrictions on the possible number of expressions. This book points out that almost all vertebrate animals, except humans, have a muzzle. For example, cats, dogs, cows, pigs, alligators, bears and deer all have a projecting mouth which forms their muzzle. Their muzzle is a basic survival tool as they have to be able to grab, gnaw, nip or seize food. We don't need a muzzle as we have hands which we use to bring food directly to our mouth. Who would have thought this???

A dog's mouth does give information about anger, dominance, aggression, fear, attention, interest or relaxation. The chapter on facial expression describes in length reading mouth shape including how the tongue hangs, the way teeth are shown and associated head positions. I know I will never remember all of the different dog expressions and what they mean especially when I am out with my dog on a walk and we meet other dogs. It is an art to read people's facial and body expressions, reading dogs requires even more expertise. For now I will rely on the wagging tail, the position of my dog's ears and whether his hackles are up. I must go now and read my dog's face while he is lounging in his lazy boy chair.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Each year we plant a number of cucumber plants with the anticipation that we will get a fair number of cucumbers to eat. The cucumber plants are each surrounded by a circular trellis to allow the plant to climb up so that they grow up instead of on the ground. I find we need less garden space growing cucumbers this way.

We have been picking and eating cucumbers for the past month. I have been eating a cucumber almost every day. For the past number of summers I have made ice cream pail pickles It is a really easy recipe and you need, depending on their size, about six to eight cucumbers. Once you make the recipe, it takes about five days for the cucumbers sitting in the brine to start to taste like pickles. This recipe in essence makes what some people call bread and butter pickles. The picture I have included here is a batch I made tonight. The cucumbers will sink down over the next day or two and will be covered by the brine. The pickles last all winter in the fridge. After a month or so, I transfer the pickles and brine to large pickling jars as jars are easier to handle and store in the fridge.

Ice Cream Pail Pickles
4 cups sugar
2 tsp pickling salt
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp mustard seed
2 cups vinegar
1 small onion sliced
1 small sweet pepper sliced or chopped
1 large ice cream pail with lid
  1. Fill an ice cream pail with thinly sliced cucumbers and layer onions and sweet pepper as you fill the pail with sliced cucumbers. I pack the ice cream pail with sliced cucumbers.
  2. To make the brine, mix the sugar, spices and vinegar in a bowl. Mix well.
  3. Pour the brine over the pickles in the pail. As you are pouring the brine, keep stirring it in order to prevent the sugar from settling on the bottom of the mixing bowl.
  4. Cover the pail with the lid and place in the fridge. Within a week you have pickles.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Over this past year I have read several articles and books on the subject of eating food grown organically or locally: eating fast food or slow food; the cost of food and other related topics. I thought this subject is one to think about as it is harvest time on farms and in backyard gardens across Canada and the U.S. I took the above picture the other day of cherry tomatoes ripening on the vine in my backyard. Besides ice cream which is one of my favorite foods to eat, eating tomatoes from my garden is on my top ten list. Actually, anything I grow in my garden is on the list. It helps that I grow only things that I like to eat. One can ask yourself, what is different between store bought tomatoes and home grown tomatoes? Simply the taste and texture; the acidity taste, the smell, the juiciness and the pure joy of picking a cherry tomato off the vine and popping it into your mouth.

The author, Michael Pollan, has written a number of books and articles about food. In his book "Omnivore's Dilemma" he writes about the politics, culture, perils and pleasures of eating. Mr. Pollan writes about the three principal food chains that sustain us - the industrial, the organic and the hunter-gatherer. He reminded me that every edible item in the supermarket, aside from salt and synthetic food additives begins with a particular plant growing in a specific patch of soil or in the sea, somewhere on earth. The book talks about the importance of corn in the american diet and it is quite scary to realize the significance of corn and its involvement in so many food items. At the end of the book, Mr. Pollan writes about the industrial prepared food we eat and how we don't know what we are eating, where it was grown, how it got to the store where we bought it and so on. I know we eat very differently than what our grandparents ate both in variety and complexity. But they knew far more about their food and its origins than us today.

The move towards buying healthier, fresher food produced locally versus buying organic food produced in another country is an interesting topic to debate. We have thought about organic food being more environmentally friendly but when you add on the transportation factor and the impact on the environment of long distance trucking are we further ahead? From a nutrition point of view, there is not enough research to show that organic foods are more nutritious than regular food. There is the debate on the level of pesticides used to grow regular fruits and vegetables and whether there is an accumulative impact on your system from consuming regular foods. I don't have those answers but I have come across a list from the U.S. on the top 10 worst vegetable and fruit offenders for pesticide use: apples, celery, cherries, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears, strawberries and sweet peppers.

A study done by a team of student researchers in the Department of Rural Economy at the University of Alberta showed that the greenhouse gas emitted when the organic food is transported from great distances is comparable to that of bringing the same amount of regular food grown conventionally to market and requiring less transportation. There is little difference in the cost to the environment. Reading this study makes me think twice about buying that clam shell package of organic baby greens grown in California.

If we are concerned about what we eat, where it is grown, how far it transported and wanting to support Canadian producers then we should try to buy food that is grown locally as best we can. Buy your produce and meat from local producers at the farmer's market or directly from the farm, ask your store to buy from Canadian farmers, have your own garden each year no matter how small or big the space you have and be sane in your food choices. I do try to buy sides of grass fed beef or bison from producers, chickens from the Hutterites and vegetables that I don't grow from local producers. I like the idea of the 100 mile diet but where I live I think that is an unrealistic and my circumference would need to include western Canada. Until next time.....

Friday, September 4, 2009


I made these brownies tonight while cooking supper. This is a quick recipe and doesn't require much fussing with the ingredients. Of course the DH and I sampled them after we finished eating supper. They are quite tasty and I will be making them again. The brownies are lower in fat as I used applesauce in the recipe. I also used splenda instead of sugar. To further reduce the calories you could substitute the two eggs with 1/2 cup of egg whites. Enjoy......
Better Brownies
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
3/4 cup splenda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x9 inch baking pan or use a non-stick pan.
In a medium bowl, mix together the oil, sugar, and vanilla. Beat in eggs. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; gradually stir into the egg mixture until well blended. Stir in walnuts, if desired. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the brownie begins to pull away from edges of pan. Let cool on a wire rack before cutting into squares.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I read an article recently about dogs and the relationships they have with their owners. David Blouin, a cultural sociologist at Indiana University South Bend, has said that the relationships between dogs and their owners fall into three categories. These categories are as follows: (1) dogs are highly valued and are considered close companions, like pseudo people; (2) people who generally value animals, not just as pets ; and (3) people who see dogs as animals being separate and less important than people, often using dogs for hunting and pest control and having them live outdoors. People living in rural areas are more likely to leave their animals outside. In other words, no couches, chairs or beds to lie on.

Well, I definitely do not fall into the third category as evidenced by this picture. For those three categories, I am more familar with people who fall into the first or third category. I know a number of people who own working dogs and these dogs have a role and a function on the farm/ranch. These dogs are good companions and have a job to do on the farm/ranch they live on. The last border collie I owned was a working cattle dog and lived outside. I got her when she was six years old as the owners wanted to retire her. She came to the city to retire!! This reminds of farmers who move into town once they sell their property. She had never been inside a house until she came to my home. Being a border collie, which is number one on the intelligence scale, she did not have any issues adapting to the good life. She nicely settled into enjoying her dog bed, assisting me in doing the routine weekend errands, helping me train for a marathon and several half marathons, and herding the house cats. Her former owners told me that she likely thought she had died and gone to heaven.

My relationship with my pets have always been highly valued and I have considered them close companions, members of my family. It is always interesting to compare notes with fellow dog owners and see how people are similar to you in the way dogs are intertwined in our lives. There is a saying "dogs may not be our whole life but they make our life whole". I can relate to that. Until next time......