Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Reunion with Ella's Pup, Vivian

Last evening, Ella, the 10-year-old beagle we adopted in March, was reunited with one of her pups, 5-month-old Vivian, and with Karin, Ella's former foster mom. For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, last January, Ella had a litter of four puppies. All five dogs were surrendered to the county shelter by their owner when the pups were only 3 days old. 

Karin, a volunteer at the shelter, took Ella and her puppies home to foster them until the pups were weaned. We adopted Ella because we already have older dogs in the house, and there's a soft spot in my heart for older dogs who need homes. Karin ended up adopting Vivian, and Karin's friend adopted another of the pups. The remaining two were adopted out as well. With the exception of Vivian, all the pups are light golden brown in color with bits of white. We don't know what the father was, but he was apparently quite larger than Ella. Vivian, at 5 months, is already as big as her mama!

It was obvious that Ella recognized Vivian by the way she paid close attention to her. When Vivian whined, Ella perked up and checked on her. It was very sweet. Like her mom, Vivian loves to have her belly rubbed, and will quickly roll onto her back to make it easy for you.

Here's my husband, Paul, holding Vivian in our backyard. According to Karin, she is very cuddly and shares many of the same personality traits as Ella. She's precious, and I know she will grow up to be an awesome dog.

On a related note, here's another neat story I wanted to share. On Memorial Day, Paul and I went to a large farmers' market in a neighboring city. As we entered, we noticed a man walking an adorable puppy. We both commented on how cute it was. Later, on the other side of the market, we ran into the same man and his puppy. As we petted her, I asked what kind of dog she was and where they had gotten her. He said she was a Golden Retriever/beagle mix and they had adopted her from the shelter in the county we live in, though they live in a different county.

As we chatted, his wife walked up. I mentioned that all three of our dogs had come from the same county shelter, and the latest addition was a 10-year-old beagle who had had puppies in January. The wife looked at me and said their pup had been born in January and that her mother was a beagle. Knowing there had been two purebred beagles with puppies at the shelter at the same time, I asked if she knew the mama's name. She said it was Bella (Ella's former name). I turned to my husband and shrieked, "Paul, Paul, this is one of Ella's puppies!"

We were all in disbelief, but it was true. It was Rita (now called Roux), one of Ella's pups. What are the odds we'd all meet at a sprawling farmers' market that isn't close to either of our homes and then strike up a conversation that would lead to this discovery? If it weren't for my chatty nature, we might have just petted the puppy and walked off. I truly believe this connection was meant to be. I'm just sorry I didn't have my camera with me that day. I would love to have a photo of her.

Paul and I are thrilled to know that another of Ella's puppies is being loved and well cared for by such nice people who clearly love dogs. Plus, they live on a lake, so Roux will have a very happy life indeed.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Stunning White Peonies

I wish I could say these stunning white peonies came from our garden, but they did not. They came from the garden of a coworker friend of mine. When I spied this arrangement on her desk, I stopped dead in my tracks. At first I thought they weren't real, they looked so perfect. There were a few tightly closed buds too, which are now beginning to open, as you can see in the photos. On Friday, as she left work to go out of town, she asked if I'd like to take the peonies home to enjoy over Memorial Day weekend. Would I ever! There's nothing like gorgeous flowers to lift the spirit. Don't these flowers just make you smile?

I hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. As we enjoy the holiday, let's keep in our hearts and minds all those who died while serving our country in the U.S. Armed Forces. Their service and sacrifice are deeply appreciated, and they are not forgotten.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Clean Slate

photo: Crate & Barrel
photo: Crate & Barrel

Have you seen Crate & Barrel's new line called Clean Slate? I've never seen such a beautiful catalog of utilitarian products! The photography makes their cleaning and storage products look almost sexy. They make me want to pull out my rubber gloves and get to work! I mean, no one really enjoys cleaning, right? But Crate and Barrel sure knows how to make housework look stylish.

When I received the Clean Slate catalog in the mail, I was instantly smitten. I had to restrain myself when placing an order (and there was free shipping!). I could have bought one of everything, especially the beautiful German Redecker brushes, above. How cute is that hedgehog crumb brush!

Instead of buying more than I needed, I ordered just a few items: a divided tote to use as a hamper, a Redecker rubber-bristled lint brush, and a bottle of Caldrea hand soap in sea salt neroli. When my package was delivered on a Saturday via FedEx, I was like a kid on Christmas morning. I am very pleased with the hamper and the lint brush, which is ideal for getting pet hair off clothing and upholstered furniture (so handy when you have three dogs!). At first I wasn't crazy about the smell of the hand soap, but it's growing on me. Plus, I like the pretty yellow pattern on the label (I'm a sucker for well-designed packaging).
While we're talking about cleaning, I have to mention a great product that anyone who has pets in the house should have on hand. Nature's Miracle uses "nature's enzymes" to remove organic stains and odors, including urine and throw-up. So far, I've had good success with this product. 

Urine odor can be especially hard to get out of a rug or carpet, and Nature's Miracle doesn't use perfume to cover up odors. When our oldest dog, Phoebe, was on chemotherapy, she developed a urinary condition which caused her to have a couple of accidents. Nature's Miracle worked well and removed all traces of odor. We were, however, left with a lighter colored stain on our natural fiber rug, so be sure to test the product on an inconspicuous area first.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Decadent (gluten-free) Pecan Brownies

These decadent, ultra-moist brownies use cornstarch instead of flour to give them structure. Cinnamon adds an exotic flavor, but you can omit it if you wish. If you don't like pecans, use walnuts or hazelnuts ... but I wouldn't recommend making these brownies without nuts. They help "break up" the gooeyness of the brownie.

Decadent Pecan Brownies

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter an 8" square baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2" overhang on all sides.

2) Whisk together 1/3 cup cornstarch, 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon fine salt. Set aside.

3) In a large, microwave-safe bowl, microwave 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (cut into pieces) and 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips in 30-second increments, stirring each time, until melted and smooth, about 2 minutes total. Stir in 3/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stir in 3 large eggs, one at a time, until combined. Add cornstarch mixture and stir vigorously until mixture is smooth and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup chopped pecans.

4) Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through (note: my toothpick came out clean, no crumbs). Let cool completely in pan on wire rack. Using paper overhang, lift brownies out of pan. Makes 16 squares. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days -- if they last that long!
From Everyday Food

Monday, May 6, 2013

Lunch Box Idea #3: Lentil Salad

Here is the third in my series of healthy lunch suggestions. After this I'm going to take a break from lunch ideas, at least for a while. What a delicious, healthy salad this is, and so easy to prepare! Just combine small brown lentils with celery, walnuts, feta, red grapes and a slightly sweet vinaigrette dressing. I simplified the recipe by using ready-to-eat lentils from Trader Joe's (featured here). 

A note for those who enjoy collecting kitchen ware: the green glass container above is a vintage refrigerator dish (there is a matching lid). I enjoy searching for these at antiques stores and fairs. I have another green dish that's rectangular (and quite heavy!) and a really pretty square dish in a deep teal color, which I've only seen once. I have many clear dishes as well, both round and square. This small green dish was just right for a lunch serving of lentil salad -- I like the way it made the celery stand out. It's the little things ....

Lentil Salad with Feta, Walnuts and Red Grapes

1) In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 2 teaspoons honey and 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. 

2) In a large bowl, combine 3 cups cooked brown lentils (or a 17.6 ounce package of cooked lentils from Trader Joe's), 3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts, 1-1/2 cups seedless red grapes, halved, and 1 celery stalk, sliced. Pour dressing over lentil mixture and stir to combine. Add 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese and toss gently. Enjoy!

Adapted from Everyday Food

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lunch Box Idea #2: Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

Whip up this tasty salad one evening and you'll have a healthy lunch to take to work the next day. The following recipe makes two servings.

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

Rinse and drain 1/2 cup canned chickpeas. In a bowl, combine them with 1 cup quartered grape tomatoes, and 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese. In a small bowl, combine 5 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, 1- 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. If you wish, add 2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice. Whisk dressing to combine and pour over the chickpea mixture; toss lightly. Serve with a rustic white or whole grain bread. Enjoy!
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