Friday, September 17, 2010

Sweet!

As of Monday, I will no longer be among the ranks of the unemployed.

Not that I've been without a job for that long, mind you. Not long enough to hear the wolf scratching at the door, but definitely long enough to get antsy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

If at first you don't succeed

One of the main reasons I'm still feeding my cats kibble is because there is small but noticable improvement in their teeth health when they eat their special 'oral care' kibble.

That is, until they went on a diet two months ago. They now think their two small rations a day is akin to torture by slow starvation; they scarf it down like inmates in a North Korean prison. I just noticed yesterday that this involves not actually chewing the damn stuff. Hence, defeating the only positive reason to feed kibble aside from convenience.

So, time to try yet again to home make the cats' food. It was probably only a matter of time, anyway, but this was the last straw. I'm going to try harder this time. And of course everyone says switching off kibble will help with the losing weight anyway (and reduce the risk of diabetes, and increase fluid consumption, etc, etc).

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Yep

Goodreads is incredibly addicting.

This, and this and this again

Via Smartdogs: "Let them eat meat - but farm it properly"

The author of this article, an outspoken vegan, is refreshing in his honesty and willingness to admit to changing his mind on a topic he obviously feels passionate about. I, too, feel passionate about this topic, and I quibble with him only about this bit: "...the ethical case against eating animal produce once seemed clear..." Perhaps to you, sir. But for me and my family, who have had the privilege to get most of our animal products from wild game and local, well-treated and humanely slaughtered happy farm animals, the statistics (made-up or not) on factory farmed meat didn't really didn't really hold much sway.

And curses, I now have yet another book to add to my already absurdly long reading list.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Here, have a 9/11 anniversary essay

Not mine. Writing about 9/11 is beyond me. But it seems like this anniversary especially needs some kind of acknowledgment. Summer's End.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm writing this because it's what Lucy would do

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The discussion about good science- vs. bad science-based dog training over at Retrieverman's got me thinking.

We're (and I mean me, too) constantly talking about dogs as if they were not just descended from wild wolves thousands of years ago, but as if each and every puppy emerges into this world with some kind of species memory of what it's like to be a wolf. I'm not talking instinct; many pet owners and trainers act as if each dog has a literal memory of everything a wild wolf is and they way they're supposed to act. And what's more, it's like we think all dogs long for that imaginary state of wolfness in a conscience way.

How many times have you looked at a content dog and said something along the lines of, "oh look, she's happy because she's with her pack."

When my dog barks out the window, we say, "oh look, she's warning her pack of danger!"

When dogs play, we constantly evaluate their technique, and the meaning behind every move: "Oh, Dot sure was the dominant bitch, there."

Puppies don't just play, they 'play fight'. When dogs dig, they're either 'digging a den' or 'hunting'.

I'm not trying to argue these things aren't accurate. Most are to varying degrees. But you don't see humans constantly comparing ourselves to our ancestors of thousands of years ago, or to our wild cousins. It does pop up a lot in our culture (nearly everyone knows basically what 'fight or flight' instinct means, for example), but we don't burden ourselves nearly as much with ancestral baggage as we do our dogs (probably partly because many of us, even if we don't outright disbelieve in evolution, like to pretend we're above its influence).

When my husband makes the bed, I rarely say "Aw, how cute, you're building your nest for the night so we can be safe from predators". When I'm preparing to cross the street, I (usually) don't try to find analogies in the 'natural' world ("is the speeding car a predator trying to kill me, or a mindless hazard like a falling tree?") I certainly don't use those analogies to make a decision about when it's safe to cross. I'm not constantly thinking, "what would Australopithecus do in this situation?"

So these sorts of ideas are based in fact (unless you're basing your philosophy of dog behavior on old, outdated misinformation about wolves, of course, then you're really just making sh*t up) . But I guess my question is, why the rhetoric? Why the CONSTANT need to compare our dogs to wolves? They may be very closely related genetically, but their lives and social structures and expectations are very different. We call them dogs to differentiate them from their wild cousins for good reason. Although there is a lot of grey area around the edges, most people know a dog vs. wolf when they see one. Why constantly load each and every twitch of the tail, and flicker of the eye with that wolf-baggage. Why can't we just let them be dogs?

Or better yet, individuals.

Some individual dogs would be perfectly happy hunting their food in a pack and living outdoors 24/7. Others, if let feral, would prefer scrounging human garbage dumps. Many dogs wouldn't make it a week without humans. Some dogs prefer the company of humans, and indeed seem to understand them better than other dogs, some only thrive when other dogs are around. Some dogs respond strongly to food, others to affectionate touch. Some can't stand eye contact with a human, some could stare in your eyes all day. Some dogs bark at everything, some never bark at all. Some dogs grow to 100lbs, have erect ears and a shedding coat; others never reach 10 lbs, have floppy ears and a snout so foreshortened they can't chew or breathe properly.

With all the flexibility in physical form and personality that dogs show, why would people try to constantly fit dogs into a sort of generic Wolf-with-capital-W stand-in.

There is definitely value in learning about dogs' and humans' evolutionary past. But I think it gets over-used as a philosophy. Much like evolutionary psychology. There's got to be a balance between seeing a dog as an individual, and as a Wolf . I think the best dog trainers understand this.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

DIY Haggis

My husband, who has Scottish ancestry and owns a kilt, claims to love the national dish of Scotland. Unfortunately, it's difficult to get authentic haggis in the US. When dad recently asked me to help him slaughter a lamb, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to procure some sheep guts and make this dish. Why waste a perfectly good pile of offal?

Play along with me (recipe adapted from here: http://www.gumbopages.com/food/scottish/haggis.html)

You will need:
1 sheep
1/2 large onion
2 cloves garlic
Spices (salt, pepper, parsley, whatever)
Whole ground oats
2 large turnips
3 large potatoes
1 glass Scotch whiskey

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First, obtain a sheep, or, in this case, technically a lamb, but you can see she's almost full grown. I recommend from a small local family farm. This particular farm is about as small and contains just about the happiest sheep you could find.

Next, procure from your sheep the stomach, heart, liver, and one lung.

The stomach is the most difficult part. First, separate it from the intestines. It will be packed full of steaming, half-fermented grass and the whole thing will likely fall out of the animal alarmingly fast, forcing you to catch it in your arms and cradle it like a babe if you don't want it to fall and explode on the ground. If you're wearing long sleeves, it will take several washes for the smell to come out. As quickly as you can (it'll be so heavy at this point that too much pressure on one spot will cause it to tear) cut a good sized hole at one end (if you can find an 'end' as it's a rather convoluted organ) and dump out the chewed-up grass. Turn it inside out and use a hose to spray out as much muck as you can. When it's mostly clean, it's ready to bring into the kitchen.

I recommend wearing rubber gloves when handling the stomach. Even when mostly clean, it gives off a stench like old man breath mixed with cabbage farts and it will cling to your skin tenetiously through a couple dozen hand washings. Learn from my mistakes.

Once in the kitchen, take the stomach to the sink and rinse it some more. As you rinse, use your fingers to peel off as much fat and membrane as you can. DO NOT let any of this crap go down your garbage disposal as it will make it smell like death for days afterward.

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Once you have the stomach as clean as you can make it, soak it in cold salt water over night (preferably in a sealed container so the smell doesn't spread - save that for the cooking part). If your spouse asks why there's a dirty dish rag in a tupperware of dirty water in the 'fridge, tell him it's a science experiment. That's not precisely a lie.

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Take the heart, liver and lung and chop finely (optional step: first rinse out some of the black, congealed blood and trim most of the greasy fat). I used a blender on 'chop' to get it about the consistency of ground meat. Plop this mess into a large skillet with half a diced onion and a couple cloves of diced garlic and some spices and about a cup of water or stock.

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Cook it until it's well browned and most of the liquid is gone. This will be the only point in the process that it will smell edible.

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Let cool a bit and then dump into a large mixing bowl. Add about a cup of uncooked whole oats and maybe some more spices like parsely or something. If it's too dry, add some stock or gravy.

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Mix it all together, and stuff it into the stomach loosely (the oats will swell as they cook, so leave room).

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If, like me, you tore an enormous hole in the stomach while cleaning it, sew it together with clean butcher's string. Poke a few holes in the stomach so it won't explode while cooking.

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Bring a pot of water to a boil. Open all the windows in your house, turn on a few fans. Put in the haggis, simmer for about three hours.

While that's cooking, (if you can stand to be in the kitchen with the smell) boil the turnips and potatoes and make (separate) mashes of each.

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When it's close to being done, tell your husband to get ready for dinner. And by 'get ready' I mean, put on a kilt, sit down, and pour some whiskey.

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Pull out the haggis, slice it open, and dump contents into a serving bowl. It looks like a loose meat loaf. I'm told you can eat the stomach (it's just tripe, after all). I, personally discarded it immediately.

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Apparently, you should serve haggis to the sounds of a bagpipe. We didn't have a bagpipe, or even a recording of one. So I put my dad on speaker phone and he played some Scottish fiddle tunes as I brought the tray to the table.

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Tom pronounced it 'delicious'. I don't know if that means I cooked it correctly or incorrectly.

Yes, I ate some. It's not bad. It's really just a type of sausage.

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Zelda also likes it. But she also likes cat poop, so that's not really an unbiased judgement on quality.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sunday is for mystery animal products!

Guess! What is this animal product, and why is it in my kitchen sink?

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Answer in a couple days! In more detail than you probably want!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A link between organic nuts and anti-vaccine nuts

I suspected it was there, but didn't seen clear evidence until now:

"Allowing one-time therapeutic antibiotics is “a slippery slope,” says Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, and would “undermine consumer confidence in organics. It’s the same position [I have] as on human vaccines. They are dangerous, and that’s why I didn’t vaccinate my kid.”

Yikes. Kindly tell the audience which school district your kid goes to so other parents can avoid it like the (heh) plague.

I wonder... if backlash against over-use of antibiotics and pesticides created the current National Organic Standard, I wonder what will be created in the backlash against this unreasonable 100% anti-antibiotics fiasco? My hope is an improved NOP. Pendulum, please swing a tad back toward the middle.

[hat tip to ERV]risk