My life with Noofs

Tales and musings from a Newf mom

Thanksgiving

This is a stream-of-consciousness post. Sitting in front of the computer after returning from a turkey-day food-fest at a friend’s house in Fayetteville, I felt I needed to post something about what this day means to me. It’s not going to be a laundry list of items I’m thankful for, and to clarify, I am extremely thankful for what I have (friends, family, a job, a roof over my head and my pets, to name a few). Rather, this is a blathering on of what’s in my head right now.

Thanksgiving has a whole new meaning for me now. Deeper and much more profound. It started with a phone call.

I placed a call to a friend of mine who had recently lost her husband. I have known Nelson and Cheri since the mid-90s from an online bulletin board. Older than me by several years, but we never did have that “child-parent” thing going on. We just accepted the age difference as one might accept that one person wears glasses and the other contact lenses. In other words, it didn’t make a whit of difference.

In the years that followed, we visited each other (they lived in Chicago at the time; I lived in Seattle), kept in touch via email, phone and, more recently, Facebook. They sent me Christmas cards; I sent them Hanukkah cards. We bragged about our “fur kids.” Our friendship was easily as close and honest and real as any that began in more traditional ways. A little more than 5 years ago, they retired from their public service roles in a government department, and moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. In that time, I moved to Florida (I no longer live there, having tried to adapt – I simply could not), then to North Carolina, where I live now.

Nelson and Cheri had what some people would describe as the perfect marriage. That isn’t to say that they didn’t have their fair share of challenges, but that they were always devoted to one another. They were each other’s best friend. After two failed marriages, I envied the hell out of that. I wanted that rock-solid pair bond. And I loved Nels and Cheri all the more for what they had.

The last time I saw them was during my move to Florida, where I drove through Texas, making a small detour to spend a day with them. They met my boy Merlin; I met their little guy, an adorable cockapoo named Ozzie. We had a great time. I didn’t realize that it would have been the last time I would see Nelson.

This past year, Nelson had started having some health problems. Trips to the doctor became rather frequent, but I never became worried. Several years ago, Cheri had breast cancer. They caught it early, so she dodged that particular bullet. I had it in my head that Nelson, too, would emerge relatively unscathed.

Trips to the doctor became stays in the hospital. First a few days, then a few weeks. Then, in August, things got really bad, and his hospital stays became prolonged. A little more than a week ago, he died.

I spent the days after hearing of Nelson’s passing in a kind of fog – not quite believing that it was real; but knowing in my heart that it was. I spent my workdays hiding out in my cubicle alternating between relative calm and wracking sobs.

I am desperately trying to come to terms with the guilt from not visiting them in that five-plus year time frame. Guilt for not being in touch more often. For not telling them that I love them more often.

There was nothing I could do about the fact that Nels was gone. The only thing I could do was call Cheri.

We talked for nearly an hour and a half. Sometimes crying with each other; sometimes laughing about the funny things in our lives; sometimes reminiscing about events over the years.

The call ended with a pact. Cheri pointed out that since we’re both now single women, we should get together – just us girls. Next Thanksgiving, we will meet at location roughly halfway between us and spend a few days just enjoying each other’s company.

And being thankful for each other.

Al fresco® is dressed to impress

I have loved al fresco® all natural chicken sausages and meat balls since I was first introduced to it in April. It’s healthy and low in fat, but high in flavor. Its versatility is such that I have not had the same meal twice since. From salads to soups, from every day to special occasion, the options are apparently endless. Case in point, I have spent this month making meals with al fresco sausages and meatballs, and each time, I came away very impressed.

So, I was challenged to create my own personal recipe using this wonderful product. I racked my head – they already have dozens of recipes for fast and easy weeknight meals. I make a half recipe (it’s just me in the house), but have plenty left over for lunches. I have several recipes of my own device, so thought about incorporating al fresco into one of them. But, after careful consideration (and the desire to impress a charming gentleman I’ve been seeing recently), I decided to go out on a limb and create something I haven’t made before – paella!

A dish of paella

For a twist on the traditional, paella with al fresco® all natural chicken sausage.

I have always loved paella from the restaurants I have visited, and after looking at a few recipes, I decided that while paella is not an easy dish to prepare, it was fairly simple. I could do it – and replace the traditional sausage with al fresco® all natural chicken sausage. I had intended to use the smoked andouille chicken sausage, but alas, I could not find it in any store in my area. I opted to use the sweet Italian. While it was not my first choice, it was still a very good one. Come to think of it, I can’t imagine a “bad” choice from all of the wonderful choices from al fresco®!

I went shopping at my favorite purveyor of spices for the best smoked Spanish paprika and finest saffron. I nearly balked at doing paella, simply because of the purchase of so dear a spice as saffron, but I decided that while I was going out on a limb, I was going to go all out, too! The best Turkish bay leaf was on my list, as well as some fresh and spicy red pepper flakes.

I did not adhere to any one recipe, basically making this my very own. I decided to call my dish (Almost) traditional paella. Everything about it is traditional, except for the sausage. However, that did not take away from the end result in the slightest. As a matter of fact, I liked the lighter taste from the al fresco® all natural chicken sausage than with the high fat pork and beef sausage in the restaurants I visited.

It only took about an hour from start to finish. Not a weeknight dish, but it’s such an impressive dish and according to my gentleman friend, amazing! This is one recipe that will be a regular player in this house when I want to impress!

I sincerely hope you try it and let me know what you think!

ALLRECIPES DISCLAIMER

I am an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador (a voluntary position) and am not compensated for my work with Allrecipes.com. Products received from any advertisers are only used for experience-based reviews on My life with Noofs. The reviews, content and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the blog author (Danielle Bingham) and are not reflected by Allrecipes.com, its advertisers or any other entity.

Danielle Bingham:

Reblogging this post by request with the added pictures.

Originally posted on My life with Noofs:

About once a month or so, I cook for my dogs. I make up a batch of my canned-style dog food as a mix in to their store-bought super premium dry kibble. It adds a bit of flavor, some extra nutrients and makes it easy to mix meds and supplements into their food, if necessary.

For years, I used high-quality store-bought canned food for convenience. I’ve seen the price rising upwards, and finally put my foot down when the brands of choice pushed $3 per can! After looking at the ingredients, I thought to myself, “Heck, I can make this stuff,” so into the kitchen I went.

Before listing the recipe, I want to make very clear that this food is not designed to be a replacement for regular kibble – or whatever the bulk of your dog’s diet is. It’s meant as a wholesome mix-in that at the most…

View original 1,214 more words

A visit home

The Puget Sound area is my adopted home. I wasn’t born or raised there. I moved to the area in November of 1992, after living in the Southwest (Tucson and later San Diego) for 13 or so years. After 15 years, I left in October of 2007. The reasons why I left my “home” were really quite simple. While I adore Washington State in the spring, summer and fall, the winters weighed heavily on my psyche. The darkening skies, the lack of any color beyond shades of gray for five to six months at a time was getting to me. After 14 of those winters, I began in August to dread the coming clouds and drizzle.

I moved to Florida and over the course of four years tried getting along down there. The worst part was, the economy had just tanked when I arrived, and so I put a lot of effort into looking for work. I was gainfully employed about half the time. I ended up in North Carolina because it was similar to Washington, but sunnier. I’ll have been here two years come January. While I love NC, Washington will always be the place I call home.

I got the chance to go home, courtesy of Allrecipes.com. They invited all the Allrecipes Allstars (affectionately referred to as Allrecipeeps) to celebrate their 15thanniversary at their headquarters in Seattle. What an honor! I had been a member of AR for a number of years, but I didn’t even know that they started as a modest cookie recipe exchange site in 1997. My, how they have grown! Early in my membership, I remember wishing that I could work there. Had I pursued that wish, I might not have left Seattle.

Pike Place Market

Home, sweet home

I still shake my head at the reality of it all. What a brilliant, generous and lovely thing this company did for us all. But, for me, the effect was profound. I had wanted to go back home for a visit for some time. I still kept in touch with many of my friends, and missed them terribly. The opportunity that AR presented to me was seen as an incredible stroke of luck – as if I won the lottery.

The details of the trip, in my opinion, are not as important as my feelings about it: The preparation, the flight, the anticipation of seeing friends after an almost six-year separation. I’d flown into and out of SeaTac airport many times. I was comforted knowing that I remembered almost everything about it. Driving in from the airport to my friend’s house, where I would stay the first and last nights there, I didn’t need much in the way of GPS guidance. The memories of places I had lived, worked and played came flooding in a torrent, putting a stupid grin on my face and tears in my eyes.

While there, we were busy with Allrecipes celebrations, for which I am so grateful. I got to see how they operate here, and met some absolutely wonderful people – those who worked there and those who I had been interacting with for several months, but hadn’t met. People who had become my friends on Facebook and AR greeted me as if we had known each other for years.

Walking down the streets of Seattle, and remembering where things were and noting what was no longer there was such a treat. I walked through Pike Place Market with one goal on my mind: Buy a salmon from Pike Place Seafood and watch them throw my fish. I even took a video of it, but sadly, it got lost somehow.

As I flew home, I reflected on my experiences in Seattle. I didn’t get to do all the things I wanted to, or see all my wonderful friends, but it was enough to help me feel the connection with my home again. And, it put the thought in my head that the winters in Washington weren’t so bad, after all.

Maybe I’ll consider a move back.

ALLRECIPES DISCLAIMER

I am an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador (a voluntary position) and am not compensated for my work with Allrecipes.com. Products received from any advertisers are only used for experience-based reviews on My life with Noofs. The reviews, content and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the blog author (Danielle Bingham) and are not reflected by Allrecipes.com, its advertisers or any other entity.

Fate is a funny thing

Ok, I need to fess up:

I’ve rescued a little kitten. David discovered it (a “her,” I think) a little over a week before we broke up. She’d been living underneath the house. No mother or siblings were discovered. She was hunting bugs in the evening, and trying her level best. But we could tell that she was starving – you could see the prominent ribs beneath her dark fur when you shone a light on her.

David wanted to feed her; I balked. The last thing I wanted to do was to take care of a tiny (and I do mean *tiny* – she might have been 5-6 weeks old) kitten. A whole slew of responsibilities comes with a stray kitten of that age: The feeding; the potential for spreading disease in the house; the fleas and other parasites; the vet bill – the list goes on. David was insistent. “We can just put some food and water down for it. We don’t have to adopt it.” What he didn’t realize is my own philosophy: If you take the responsibility for feeding an animal, you also take the responsibility for all aspects of its life. There are exceptions of course (wild critters), but with a domesticated animal that should be loved and cared for, I could not deny helping it as much as I could once I decided to feed it.

And so it goes. We put out food for her. She was cautious, but eventually came to expect the handouts. After David and I broke up, I had thought that I needed to find a rescue org to take her. A few calls, and I discovered that they were full up (kitten season means tons of rescues). I knew I had to do this on my own.

I had been feeding her every evening – she was so ravenous that she gulped down her food (I gave her some of my homemade dog food, which does well for cats, too, along with some of the dry cat food I have for Barnie and Miles). I was worried that she might choke, but I could also see that she was improving. I made plans to rescue (capture) her.

She quickly became used to my presence while she ate. I stood closer to the food and water each evening. Moving slowly, I sidled closer until she hissed and moved away from her food – that was her tolerance level. Then, I would leave her to her food in peace. Gradually, she accepted my presence, then allowed my hand to be near. Then, one evening, she boldly head-bumped my hand! That led to more petting and interaction, which she was also starving for.

Tiny black kitten outdoors

Pre-rescue. Not looking too bad here, but we’d been feeding her for almost a week.

The plan was set. I could *not* risk exposing the other animals to anything she might be carrying, so I cleared the 2nd bathroom of all that I needed, and set up litter box, food, water, toys and a place for her to sleep. The sink was filled with tepid water and Dawn dishwashing liquid (great for killing fleas, since she was too small for Capstar) and I laid two flea combs nearby. I put the dogs in their crates and made sure the other cats were out of the way. I donned a pair of work gloves, and went outside with the expected food (she had actually been waiting for me at the stairs of the porch). As she was eating and purring loudly, I stroked her fur with my gloved hand, then quickly snatched her by the scruff of her neck, placed her in the small carrier I prepared, then whisked her into the house and to the bathroom.

She hardly protested at all – didn’t even fight me. I realized that she might be worse off than I thought. What kitten who never interacted with a human wouldn’t fight? I held her with my gloved hands and went to work, coming the fleas out of her coat, and drowning them in the sudsy water. Then, I bathed her, trying to get the fleas I missed. She protested with quiet meows, but did not fight. This worried me. I scrubbed her, rinsed her off, then wrapped her in a large towel to dry her off.

I could feel her little body trembling – from fear, from being dunked in water – but she was also purring. This is also a fear response, but she had also purred quite loudly while eating, so I took this as a good sign. I kept her warm while I dried her fur, which didn’t take long.

She has a very dark fur. At first, I thought it was black, and it still might be, but I detected a bit of rich, chocolate brown around her face in the light. Could be a kitten thing, but dark brown kitties are rare, so it would be nice if that was her color.

I cuddled and petted her and made soothing sounds. She shaking stopped, but the purring did not. I set her down to eat, which she did with abandon. I left the bathroom and closed the door with the light on. Later that evening, I checked on her. She was crouched on the floor, perhaps not realizing the bed I made for her with placing a soft towel in the carrier and taking the door off. She hissed quietly as I entered. I sat on the toilet and picked her up. She did not fight, but she did look better. I saw that she ate well, while I cuddled her and she began to purr. I then put her in the litter box to see how she would react. She crouched in it, nothing more. I decided to fight that battle another time, so I left her alone for the night, shutting the door after turning off the light.

I will call the vet tomorrow to make an appointment to have her checked out this weekend. I’ll also bathe her again, to be sure I’ve gotten rid of *all* of the fleas (they’re sneaky little bastards).

Her arrival just before my breakup with Dave was serendipitous, and my focus on caring for her has helped me to forget the pain of my relationship. It’s almost as if I were handed a reward for ending it. Perhaps at some point I will explain what happened between David and I. But not now.

Now, I need to think of a name to give her.  I have thought of a few:

  • Eartha Kitten – love this one!
  • Dolce – because she is so sweet
  • Mika – I love the name
  • Merlo – saw this name and liked it
  • Cinder – I like this one, too
  • Tosca – I have two pets with names that start with “B”; two whose names start with “M” and one that starts with “T” – need to even it out, I think.
  • Bella – she will be a beautiful adult, I think. She seems to have a little Oriental in her – slightly pointed face, long legs and body.
  • Luna – I first saw her when the moon was out; don’t remember which phase
  • Salem – uh, black cat?

Feel free to chime in – any ideas on a name?

Dog Food Day

About once a month or so, I cook for my dogs. I make up a batch of my canned-style dog food as a mix in to their store-bought super premium dry kibble. It adds a bit of flavor, some extra nutrients and makes it easy to mix meds and supplements into their food, if necessary.

For years, I used high-quality store-bought canned food for convenience. I’ve seen the price rising upwards, and finally put my foot down when the brands of choice pushed $3 per can! After looking at the ingredients, I thought to myself, “Heck, I can make this stuff,” so into the kitchen I went.

Before listing the recipe, I want to make very clear that this food is not designed to be a replacement for regular kibble – or whatever the bulk of your dog’s diet is. It’s meant as a wholesome mix-in that at the most will add a few extra nutrients and at the worst will do nothing.

Chicken is the main source of protein in my recipe, so if your dog is allergic to it, try another protein source. We eat a lot of chicken in this house, so often get bone-in chicken breasts on sale. When cooking for our food, I debone the breasts, leaving a generous portion of meat on the bone. I stock them in a plastic baggie in the freezer until I have a pound or so of these bones to make my broth, which is added into the food (NOT the bones; just the broth from them). If you can’t or don’t want to do that, it’s fine – it’s just another way to add flavor and nutrients to the dog food. You can do this with raw bones or those that have already been cooked.

I use whatever cut is on sale at the moment. Sometimes, we get bone-in breasts for just .99 per pound; I’ve seen leg quarters as cheap as .39 per pound, but more often, it’s around .60 or .70 per pound. Sometimes, I can get a whole chicken for less than $3.50. Buy bone-in to get the most benefit of flavor and nutrients and you’ll pay less.

The downside is, without question, the prep. I won’t kid you – it’s a pain. But, the absolute upside to this is that the food is full of good, wholesome ingredients that YOU choose, and costs infinitely less than what you could ever get of premium store-bought canned food.

A food processor is probably required equipment here. I process each component separately into a finely chopped consistency, then mix it together in a big tub. The result is a multi-colored mixture, not a paste. You could try chopping it all up by hand, but I don’t recommend it.

With that said, here is the recipe. As you can see, the components can be adjusted quite a bit:

Chicken and Veggies Canned-Style Dog Food Mix-In

3-4 lbs raw chicken pieces

1 lb chicken gizzards and/or hearts

2-4 cloves garlic, chopped*

1 to 1-1/2 cup brown rice

½ – 1 cup olive oil (you may use canola or other healthy oil)

4 hard-boiled eggs, cooled and shelled

1-2 cups each of frozen carrots, peas, green beans and broccoli. You can use fresh, but need to par boil or steam them a little first. This is for maximum nutrient absorption.

Preparation:

Place the chicken parts, bones and pieces in a large stockpot. I don’t have a big one, so use two Dutch ovens. Add the chopped garlic. Add water up to the level of the meat and heat to a steady boil. Turn down the heat to maintain the boil. Cook until done, about one hour.

When cooked thoroughly, turn off the heat, remove the pieces and allow them to cool for deboning and processing. Reserve half the broth for adding to the mixture if needed or to use as your own stock. If you can, put the broth in the refrigerator to coagulate the fat, for easy skimming. An option is to remove skin and fat before boiling.

In the remaining broth, add the brown rice and cook under medium heat until done, 30-40 minutes. The result is a rather soupy consistency – you’ll be adding stuff to it, which will take up the rest of the moisture. Add more broth or water if needed.

Turn off the heat and add the frozen veggies. Mix them in well. They will cook through in the residual heat. Allow the mixture to cool. This will cause the rice to swell a bit.

If the mixture is too soupy, just add a tablespoon or two of potato flakes or cooked rice, if you have it on hand.

Debone the chicken; discard the bones safely (where the goggies can’t get at them). If you didn’t remove the skin before cooking, do so now. The skin contains too much animal fat, which could cause problems for the pooch. This is why we’re adding olive oil – it’s a healthier oil.

Processing:

Process each component separately, adding the olive oil as you process. The consistency should be finely textured (photos forthecoming). This includes the rice and veggies mixture, which increases nutrient absorption early in the dog’s digestive tract.

Hard-cooked eggs in food processor

Hard-cooked eggs are processed.

Cooked chicken in food processor.

The cooked chicken in the processor.

Cooked chicken giblets in food processor.

And the cooked giblets. You can process them with the chicken if you prefer.

Mix all of the components together in a large tub or bowl. Place in containers for freezing. Keep in the fridge only enough to last 3-4 days. I use the small, plastic containers with tight-fitting lids that we get when we order Chinese take-out. Thaw in the fridge or micro-thaw, if desired.

Processed ingredients in tub before mixing.

Add the processed ingredients in a tub and mix thoroughly.

Someone asked if the mixture could be canned, which would make traveling much easier. I agree, but can’t say whether the mixture will be good for that or not. If anyone tries it, I would be very interested in learning how, so please share your findings in the comments. :-)

Other options – adjust the amount of broth or water added to be sure that the consistency is correct:

  • 1 lb chicken livers (It will change the consistency of the food to something a bit creamier, but adds a lot of iron, fat and protein). Cook them with the chicken.
  • 1-2 cans salmon or mackerel (adds tons of protein, vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and adds flavor, but might be too smelly for some). No cooking necessary – just process and add to the mixture.
  • Blueberries, cranberries, etc. – for those who want to add extra antioxidants or acidity for dogs that have urinary problems. Not sure it will replace cranberry pills, but it can’t hurt. I don’t think it’s necessary to cook them, but process like the other ingredients.
  • Potatoes – if you want to go completely grain free, use potatoes, either sweet or regular. This addition will change the consistency of the food.

I strongly suggest that any vitamins, powders or other supplements are not added to the mixture as a whole. Add them in as you normally would right before feeding. There’s no telling what the extra heat or cold will do to the supplements. It might make them useless at best, toxic at worst.

*Note: Some folks are of the belief that garlic is bad for dogs. It is, after all, a relative of the onion, which is certainly harmful. However, I side with holistic vets, who say that dogs can tolerate moderate amounts of the stuff. It adds flavor and is said to help repel fleas. If you are dead-set against adding garlic, feel free to omit it. Don’t be a snot and send me hate mail because you disagree with me!

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ALLRECIPES DISCLAIMER

I am an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador (a voluntary position) and am not compensated for my work with Allrecipes.com. Products received from any advertisers are only used for experience-based reviews on My life with Noofs. The reviews, content and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the blog author (Danielle Bingham) and are not reflected by Allrecipes.com, its advertisers or any other entity.

How I discovered Allrecipes.com (and why I stayed)

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I can’t remember how I found Allrecipes.com, but I became a member in 2006, although it seems much longer than that. I say this because it’s been such a fixture in my life that I can’t imagine what I would do without it. Long before I joined Facebook or MySpace, I discovered within Allrecipes.com a social network that is very similar to any of those we have today.

I remember my first rating. It was for Salmon and Swiss Chard Quiche (more like a frittata, really, since it was crustless). It made nice use of some leftover salmon I had. I LOVE salmon AND frittatas – what a wonderful combination! After putting that review up, I noticed that others had rated my review as helpful. It’s not like I needed validation, but it was nice to see that others felt my opinion was worthwhile. No one likes to think that his or her opinion doesn’t count, you know?

I added a photo to a formerly faceless recipe for the first time in 2008: Elegant Zucchini and Tomatoes. At the time, I didn’t have the best camera, but at least it put a “face” to the recipe. Someone has since put a much nicer photo on it.

Those little actions seemed to encourage me to continue interacting with the website. After that, many more reviews and photos have ensued. I’ve made friends and learned so many new things.

Some months after I joined Allrecipes, a co-worker at the company we worked for left to work for Allrecipes. Man, was I jealous! I didn’t have enough confidence in my skills at the time to try to gain employment there (it was Allrecipes!), but in retrospect, I wish I had. Not long after that I had decided to leave WA (not necessarily a mistake, but suffice to say that I miss Seattle desperately). Perhaps if I had gotten a job there, I might still be in Seattle today. Ah, hindsight is 20-20, isn’t it?

To those who think that ratings don’t count, you should try Allrecipes.com. Honest and fair ratings by people who have already used the recipes provide vital insight for cooks who have not used it before. I can tell you that ratings with details on how they changed or would have changes a recipe influences not only whether I will try a given recipe, but what strategies, substitutions or other tactics might work just as well or better.

I did well with a regular membership, but wondered if I could make use of the features that a Supporting Membership added. That question was answered for me in December of 2011, when a friend recommended that I try out to be an Allrecipes Allstar. I was thrilled when I was chosen to join the somewhat small group of folks who love cooking and represent Allrecipes.com! With that, I got a free Supporting Membership. I won’t go into the benefits here, but let’s just say that if I had to pay for it, I would! Don’t tell anyone, though! ;-)

These last six years as an Allrecipes member have been enlightening, validating, enriching and lots of fun! If you haven’t joined Allrecipes yet, I heartily recommend that you at least sign up for the free membership. I think you’ll discover what I did and make Allrecipes.com your go-to place for creative cooking.

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ALLRECIPES DISCLAIMER

I am an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador (a voluntary position) and am not compensated for my work with Allrecipes.com. Products received from any advertisers are only used for experience-based reviews on My life with Noofs. The reviews, content and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the blog author (Danielle Bingham) and are not reflected by Allrecipes.com, its advertisers or any other entity.

A look on the buttery side of life

It had been a while since my last entry, and I am sorry for that. My life had taken a frenetic turn, the likes of which I hadn’t seen in some time. I’ll go into that later.

Times like these make me wish for a slower time. A time when things weren’t so hectic and full of “gotta dos.” A time when this kid had no bigger worry or item more important than waiting for Mom or Grandma to make something with lots of butter in it, so I could lick the wrapper. Yep, I was a butter wrapper licker and my habit started early. I loved the sweet-salty taste and creamy texture of real butter. If truth be told, I still will sneak a lick or two from the wrapper today.

I have loved butter all of my life. Not margarine, not buttery spread, butter-flavored sprinkles or spray. Butter. Real, full-fat, unadulterated, creamy, shamelessly high-calorie butter. There is something pure and nostalgic about using real butter in my recipes. Yes, my figure may suffer the consequences, but there is no substitute in my opinion. Sure, I have used an alternative from time to time, but the results are never as satisfying.

I remember when I was a kid in third grade class, the teacher brought us all around to look at this weird wooden contraption that she called a butter churn. She wanted us to get an appreciation of where our food came from and for the things that people long ago accomplished without benefit of the modern machinery used now to make instant successes of those foods we take for granted. She wanted each of us to try our hand at making some butter with the churn.

I was eager for my turn, thinking that it couldn’t be that difficult. The teacher poured in the cream and the salt into the churn. One by one, the students took turns churning away, appearing to be using little effort. Shortly, however, arms began to tire from the effort. I became a little anxious when my turn came.

At first, the churning seemed pretty easy. But it didn’t take long for me know I was in trouble. My young arms, although strong for my age, were straining under the repetitive task. With both hands, I pulled the handle up, and pushed the handle down. Up and down and up and down. The viscosity increased, forcing me to use more of my body to complete the job. I soon gave up and the next student took over with similar result.

At last, the teacher said that we’d done enough churning. She removed the freshly made butter, laid it on a cheesecloth and squeezed it until the liquid had been removed. She surprised us with some homemade bread she had made the night before, rewarding us with a lovely snack for our effort. We even got to take some of the butter home.

That day sticks out in my memory on a regular basis when I cook. When I am faced with a complex or time-consuming recipe, all I have to do is remind myself of that day in 3rd grade class, churning butter until I thought my arms would fall off. The reward was well worth it.

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ALLRECIPES DISCLAIMER

I am an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador (a voluntary position) and am not compensated for my work with Allrecipes.com. Products received from any advertisers are only used for experience-based reviews on My life with Noofs. The reviews, content and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the blog author (Danielle Bingham) and are not reflected by Allrecipes.com, its advertisers or any other entity.

The Flying Wizard Story (or, How I Got into Newfies in the First Place)

Flying Around the World (Photo Credit: vichie81)Many folks who aren’t familiar with the “Newfie” side of my life might see my Facebook or Allrecipes nickname and wonder to themselves, “What the heck is a ‘flying wizard’ anyway?” The moniker has a history, and it’s a rather simple one. However, there’s a bit of back-story:

I have loved Newfies all my life. Ever since reading about Nana in the classic tale of Peter Pan, I have harbored a secret desire to cuddle up to a huge furry giant of a dog with a loving personality. But, I didn’t get my first Newfie until 2006.

For several years, I had been dealing with anxiety issues stemming from a trauma I experienced in my early 20s. I had some success with a myriad of drugs, but being in crowded places seemed to cause the anxiety to creep through the medication. The doctor who had been treating my anxiety believed that a dog trained to deal with my episodes would help me cope, so I began my search. First, I researched dog breeds. I wanted a Newfie, but I wasn’t sure that it was the best breed for me and my issue. I needed a giant breed dog that had the natural ability to “tune-in” to my anxiety, be able to think for itself to solve a problem and be trained to react in a predictable way to those queues. I went through the list: Saint Bernard, Bernese Mountain Dog, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Mastiff, Irish Wolfhound—each one having many of the characteristics that I needed, though not all. I needed an all-in-one dog. My heart still wanted the Newfie, and after talking with breed experts, I discovered that they were very devoted to their person, sensitive enough to pick up on moods and can think their way out of a problem—in some interesting ways, according to some.

At first, I started with the shelters, hoping that I could find a young Newfie or Newf mix that fit my purpose. The rescue org I contacted tried their best to help, but was unable to get a pup young enough for me that could fit the bill. They also could not assure me that any Newf I got could perform what I needed or would grow to be healthy enough (most of their rescues are from bad breeding situations). The rescue coordinator suggested I try to find a pup from a reputable breeder.

Reputable breeders study pedigrees, test for inheritable diseases, ensure that the puppies they produce are as healthy as possible and work hard to place them in appropriate homes. They maintain contact with every puppy buyer and assist each one with knowledge in training, behavior and health issues. Buying a puppy from a breeder is a relationship spanning the life of the dog. Breeders and fanciers often compete in conformation shows (dog shows) and those who have breeds that were created for a purpose are often involved in competitions dedicated to showcasing the original purpose of the dog. Newfies are a working breed. Without going into a lot of detail, they have been bred to pull carts, carry heavy weights and rescue people who have fallen in the water. These dogs are bred to work alongside humans, and so have developed a utility and unique temperament that was perfect for what I needed.

I called breeders within two states of my area (Seattle, WA). While many of them were nice enough to talk to, most did not have pups on the ground at the time. At least two that I spoke to tended to insult other breeders (not a good sign). In expressing my frustration to the local rescue chair, she referred me to a local breeder who just happened to have pups on the ground just a few weeks old. After speaking with her on the phone (she answered one after another of my silly questions), I filled out the application and waited to see if she thought I would be a good match for one of her pups. Several days later, I was invited to come and meet her and the pups.

On my arrival, we sat down over some coffee while I explained my need. She listened intently, giving her opinion in her no-nonsense, practical way. I wanted a boy, as I felt I needed a dog with mass to be able to push its way through crowds. I also wanted a very confident dog—one that would not shy away from anything. I can’t say that the breeder and I hit it off as buddies right away, but I think we developed a kind of respect for one another—her for her knowledge of the breed and me for my knowledge of what I needed. She would watch as the puppies developed and would try to find one that had the personality and ability I required. I decided that this breeder would help me with what I needed, so wrote a check for a deposit and waited.

The breeder continued to answer whatever questions came up in my head (I’m sure she was thinking that I was a certifiable nut) via email over the weeks, and when the pups became old enough to undergo their heart checks (nine weeks), I eagerly awaited the breeder’s invitation to pick up my puppy. During this time, I went on name databases to find the perfect name. I didn’t really care about any registry—as long as I got a healthy, sound dog that I could train, that was good enough for me. I had it narrowed down to about a half-dozen names by the time I went to pick up my puppy.

The breeder told me that she had two boys that she felt were a good match for what I needed: Purple Boy and Banana Boy (named for the colors on their collars). I had my heart set on Banana Boy, because he was really sweet and I wanted to give him the nickname “Nanner.” I hadn’t thought much about Purple boy until I heard the breeder tell me that she thought he would be a better match. Both were outgoing, but Purple Boy was more confident and less startled by unfamiliar things. That was exactly what I needed. The breeder also informed me that she thought that this boy might be suitable for the show ring, and that if I decided to show him that she would handle him at no cost. That is another story for another time (How the Dog Show Bug Bit My Butt and Never Let Go).

Newfoundland Puppy "Purple Boy"

Purple Boy, aka Merlin at three weeks of age

I left with Purple Boy—equally enamored of him as I would have been with his yellow-collared littermate (actually, they were from different litters, about three days apart). As he sat on my lap on the way home, we gazed intently in each other’s eyes. At that moment, I felt that what I was experiencing was pure magic. The name “Merlin” came to me, and I never even considered the other names I so carefully plotted out for one second after that.

Weeks later, I was laboring over what name to put on his registration, and ran through my mind the story of how those two litters came to be, which I was told when I came to pick up Merlin:

Reputable breeders like Merlin’s, will go to great lengths to ensure that they produce healthy dogs that meet their exacting standards. This includes the shipping of semen. My breeder had two bitches (girl dogs) that were in season, and they had planned on shipping semen from two different males from a breeder on the East Coast. This semen is shipped fresh but cooled, which seems to be a popular way to do these long-distance breedings. Having said that, the semen must be shipped quickly—it has a very short lifespan and sperm cells will begin to die within 24 to 72 hours. For this reason, most breeders ship right away for overnight express delivery (by air). This time was no different. Problem was, the package containing the chilled fresh semen didn’t show up the next morning. A phone call determined that it had shipped to the wrong place. The package was reshipped, and again, it didn’t show up. Another wrong destination and now it was in the air again. By that time, the semen had been flying all over the country and was reaching the critical age of 72 hours, where massive die-off would occur. The next morning, the semen arrived, well past the 72-hour mark. Merlin’s breeder decided to give it a try anyway, and rushing her two girls to the vet, they did the artificial insemination. Amazingly enough, two litters of nine puppies each was produced, one of which was Merlin, my little Flying Wizard.

My life since that day has changed irrevocably. All because of a little black fluff ball with magic in his eyes.

Mission: Incomprehensible?

Heart shape made from spicesFebruary is the month for lovers, it is said. February also marks my second month of being an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador—a position that I embrace enthusiastically. After the assignments of January were checked off, I eagerly awaited February’s assignments with anticipation. The emails I receive from Allrecipes have a set of rules attached, so that when they come in, they show up front and center in my inbox.

I excitedly opened the email, and quickly scanned it to see what wonders it contained. At the top was the big and friendly Allrecipes Allstars logo, with a greeting below. As I quickly read the message, I noticed below another logo—for Fiber One®. My eyes stopped dead in their tracks. I cautiously continued, skepticism seeping into my brain. My first assignment involves the making of a recipe provided by Fiber One®–this one, to be exact. Okay—I can handle that. My second assignment is creating my own recipe using Fiber One® original bran cereal.

Whoa—not so sure about that one.

The good folks at Allrecipes and Fiber One® have kindly sent me two big 16.2 oz boxes of the cereal. This stuff isn’t cheap kiddie cereal, in case anyone has noticed. I priced it at around $4.50 a box at the local grocery store. (Tangent: I have a thing about buying good quality cereal as cheaply as possible. I mean it’s grain, for goshsakes! I will not buy any cereal when it’s at full price. Once it goes on sale, I will buy to my heart’s content—a recent experience will be another story for another time). So, I was very pleased to see two boxes arrive at my door today, gratis. I’ve never eaten Fiber One® original bran cereal, or ever in my life had anything that was even close to the 14 grams of fiber per serving this stuff has outside of fiber supplements.

The average American gets less than half of the fiber as he or she should. A diet high in fiber helps to manage one’s weight, normalizes the lower GI tract, lowers blood cholesterol and helps to regulate blood sugar. Fiber is a good thing. But, how can we get more in our bodies in a way that tastes great? Ah—that’s the challenge!

So, here I sit wondering what the heck I can make with Fiber One® original bran cereal. I’m told it can be anything from a dessert to an entrée and I can process the cereal in any way I want. I’m reaching out to you, dear readers, to help me devise a recipe in which I can use Fiber One® original bran cereal. Please use the comments form to send your ideas. Once I have an idea, I will create a recipe, then post it here, giving credit to the individual (or individuals) who gave me the inspiration.

Thanks, all! And remember: February is for hearts; fiber is for hearts, too. And healthy colons and blood sugar, and… well, I tried!

DISCLAIMER

I am an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador (a voluntary position) and am not compensated for my work with Allrecipes.com. Products received from any advertisers are only used for experience-based reviews on My life with Noofs. The reviews, content and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the blog author (Danielle Bingham) and are not reflected by Allrecipes.com, its advertisers or any other entity.Allrecipes Allstars badge

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