Posts tagged ‘food’

Is that a weed?

The only thing I hate worse than weeding is herbicides.  I love my garden. I love the way it looks. I love the way it smells. I love the way it tastes.  I love the idea of growing my own food. And of using something other than generic labor and water intensive ornamentals in the landscape.

What I don’t love is the work it takes to keep my garden in magazine cover condition. So I don’t.

I’m a lazy gardener and I take shortcuts. I plant most of my beds very intensively. More plants means less space for weeds.  I let spreading viny plants like pumpkins and other cucurbits take over much of the garden in late summer. They conveniently crowd out weeds when I get tired of pulling and hoeing them.

I mulch. I do what I can to water plants directly instead of watering the whole garden (though in a place like Minnesota where we get regular rain I’m not sure this makes a real difference). I pull handfuls buckets of weeds and feed them to the chickens.

But sometimes it makes more sense to call a freaking truce.

So when this mullein plant sprouted in an out of the way corner of the rock garden I let it go. Baby mullein plants are fairly easy to control and the fragrant spikes of the mature plants provide a nice contrast to the pumpkin, tomato and lily plants in this area.

I let wild field violets fill in the border next to the anchos. They crowd out just about everything else and contrast nicely with the oxeye sunflowers thriving next to the drain spout. Wild violets, being much more invasive, are not allowed to gain a foothold anywhere.

Another common ‘weed’ I tolerate is purslane. Purslane, colloquially known as little hogweed, is an annual succulent that’s been grown as a leafy vegetable for centuries. Purslane doesn’t just add a hearty crunch to your salad – the leaves contain more omega 3 fatty acids than any other land plant. Add beneficial quantities vitamins A, C, B, magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, cyanins and xanthins and you’re crazy to toss this pretty little invader in the compost heap.

Purslane may be invasive but it’s shallow-rooted and requires little water or nutrients. Given its relatively innocuous nature there has been some interest in using it as a living mulch. Because I think the plant is both attractive and quite tasty I’ve decided to give the living mulch thing a shot. I’m going to experiment with letting it go in the places it sprouts to evaluate how good it is at crowding out other more problematic weeds.

What does one do with a surfeit of purslane? Today I made purslane potato salad. I took a dozen or so golfball-sized redskin potatoes, half a large sweet onion, 3/4 Cup of purslane leaves, 2 ribs of celery and a handful of fresh dill leaves and dressed them with a nice homemade lemon vinaigrette. It was delicious.

And no, I’m not going to provide detailed directions. This is salad people, not rocket science!

The stems and extra leaves were pureed with tomatoes (also from the garden) and added to tonight’s dog food. Nom nom!

June 30, 2010 at 11:10 pm 13 comments

Got Eggs?

Poor lonely little blog. I’ve been away so long I wonder if there’s anybody out there?

With weeks of fine spring weather and a fully functional right arm, I’ve been spending lots of time gardening, hiking, working dogs and focusing on other non-computer projects. Most of the garden is in and spring cleaning is mostly done, so I hope to get back to regular blogging this week.

Along with gardening and other chores I’ve also been doing a lot of cooking, which leads to this morning’s non-dog-related post.

With summer weather and almost 16 hours of daylight, each of the girls has been laying an egg almost every day. This means that we’re getting about four dozen eggs a week – a lot more than we typically use and consequently I’ve been looking for ways to use them up. With a bit of experimentation, I came up with a winner this week – Freezer French Toast. It’s simple to make, the recipe uses up a dozen eggs, it stores well – and the results are delicious.

Freezer French Toast

*   Two loaves of day-old bread (raisin bread is best if you can get it)
. (save the bags the bread came in)
*   A dozen medium to large eggs
*   1/2 Cup milk
*   1/2 Cup maple syrup
*   1 teaspoon vanilla extract
*   2 teaspoons cinnamon
*   1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
*   Oil of your choice (I used bacon fat)

Mix all ingredients except bread in a flat-bottomed container large enough to set a slice of bread in.

Heat a large fry pan or griddle – the bigger the better, as you’re making a large batch. I used a griddle set at 350F.

Oil griddle, dip slices of bread in batter to coat both sides and fry about 3 minutes on each side or until browned.

Cool slices on a rack. This is perhaps the most important step in the process because if you cool them on paper towels or a plate, they’ll get soggy and icky. Leave the slices on the rack (I used the shelves from my oven, they worked just fine) until they’ve cooled to room temperature. Then spread them out in a single layer on cookie sheets and put them in the freezer. In about four hours they should be frozen solid. Put the frozen slices back into the bread bags, close them up and store in the freezer.

To prepare, turn your toaster up high and pop them in. With the raisins, cinnamon and syrup in the recipe – these were great as finger food fresh out of the toaster with nothing on them at all. They were absolutely scrumptious covered in applesauce.

May 31, 2010 at 8:42 am 10 comments

Old Saw New Science

A article recently published by William Marshall, Herman Hazewinkel, Dermot Mullen, Geert De Meyer, Katrien Baert and Stuart Carmichael (Marshall et al) in Veterinary Research Communications provides us with the not-so-startling news that weight loss causes a significant decrease in lameness in dogs suffering from osteoarthritis and other orthopedic problems.

Obesity and osteoarthritis are two of the most common health problems in dogs. The literature indicates that 20% of dogs suffer from osteoarthritis and 24–41% of all dogs are clinically obese. Marshall et al’s goal was to provide subjective and objective measures of the effect of weight loss alone on lameness in obese dogs with osteoarthritis.

Fourteen adult dogs of various large, medium and small breeds with clinical signs of lameness were included in the study. Intact and neutered dogs of both sexes participated, and all the dogs included in the study were clinically obese. The dogs ranged in age from 10 months to 13 years.

By the end of the 18-week study period the dogs had lost an average of almost 9% of their initial body weight and 82% of them showed decreased evidence of lameness.

Surprising news? Hardly. In a time when prescription diet pills for dogs are hot sellers, the idea that excess weight exacerbates joint problems is hardly controversial. The more interesting (and depressing) part of the story is the small number of dog owners that participated in the study. As Marshall et al. put it: “Stimulating and maintaining client interest in canine weight loss programs can be challenging and this hindered recruitment of cases.”

Fat is the new norm. I’m disturbed by the number of people who tell me they think my dogs are too thin. Apparently they’ve gotten so used to seeing fat dogs that a lean, fit dog looks weirdly out of place.

via ihasaHOTDOG

It’s a common misconception. A recent study conducted by Pfizer Animal Health found that while veterinarians believe that 47% of their canine patients are overweight or obese — only 17% of dog owners agree with them. Deep in denial, pet owners argue that their dog is big-boned, that he’s solid, and that he can’t possibly be fat because they feed him exactly what it says to on the package.  Or they say that it isn’t a problem because the dog is only a few pounds overweight. While being ten pounds overweight may not be a problem for you or your Saint Bernard – that same ten pounds represents 20% of a 50 pound dog’s weight and 50% of a 20 pound dog’s weight. That’s the difference between a healthy weight and morbid obesity!

Adding to the problem is that fact that veterinarians aren’t always comfortable telling people that their dogs are fat. Some pet owners feel insulted when they’re told that their pet is overweight and when the owner is obese too, discussing a weight problem can be uncomfortable for both parties. A recent study published by Nijland et al. that found a strong correlation between the body mass index of dog and its owner indicates that this is often the case.

So now there is some scientific basis to the old saying that “if your dog is fat, you aren’t getting enough exercise!”

March 24, 2010 at 4:54 pm 11 comments


In a delicious bit of irony – hot on the heels of HSUS’s promotion of their new organic, vegan dog food is the publication of a study out of Cranfield University that alleges that tofu does more damage to the environment than beef or lamb. According to the Telegraph (I couldn’t find the Cranfield article online):

But a study by Cranfield University, commissioned by WWF, the environmental group, found a substantial number of meat substitutes – such as soy, chickpeas and lentils – were more harmful to the environment because they were imported into Britain from overseas.

The study concluded: “A switch from beef and milk to highly refined livestock product analogues such as tofu could actually increase the quantity of arable land needed to supply the UK.”

The results showed that the amount of foreign land required to produce the substitute products – and the potential destruction of forests to make way for farmland – outweighed the negatives of rearing beef and lamb in the UK.

Tofu is killing the rain forests (and if I try to sneak it into her bowl, my decidedly non-vegan dog may kill me too…)

Humane Choice contains no animal proteins, protein comes from grains and soy beans; and the product is being produced in Uruguay from products grown in Uruguay. Six% of product sales will go to HSUS’s various “programs” – i.e. advertising, salaries, direct marketing and, of course, lobbying.

February 14, 2010 at 9:40 pm 13 comments

Feed the Need


Understanding the psychology underlying our pet feeding habits may help us stem the epidemic of pet obesity in America today.

Studies suggest that pets given unrestricted access to nutritionally complete diets will often self-regulate their food intake to maintain a healthy weight. So… if cats and dogs have an innate ability to self-regulate their food intake at healthy levels, why is there an epidemic of pet obesity?

A recent study proposes that in some cases our pets may manipulate us to control the type and quantity of food we offer them. A comment by David Hemming from Hand Picked And Carefully Sorted on this post pointed me to an article by Day, Kergoat and Kotrschal about some interesting factors that affect what we feed our pets. Day et al.’s thesis is unique in that it doesn’t consider our pets’ feeding habits as the result of a simple one-way process. They propose that our pets have the ability to manipulate what, when and how much we feed them.  Like most parts of social relationships – the way pets and pet owners relate to food and feeding rituals isn’t simple. 

The objective of this paper is to review information that may provide a better understanding how owners are influenced by the feeding behaviour of their pets. The thesis of our review is that pets are able to influence both the type and quantity of food offered to them by their owners and that their degree of success will be determined by their owner’s personality and attitudes

It has been demonstrated that strong parallels exist in both animal–animal and infant–human dyads that offer insights into the social control of food intake in the pet–human dyad. In particular, it seems that begging behaviour and finicky eating habits may be powerful tools that pets could use to control ‘when’, ‘what’ and ‘how much’ they are fed. This has been described as a push–pull relationship where the personality of both the neonate and caregiver may exert an influence.

Push-Pull theory relates to a sort of relational inertia. Many problems in our relationships don’t start because we become attracted to new circumstances, they arise because we feel we are being pushed out of a comfortable, familiar situation.  Change is stressful, and when we perceive a potential threat to the status quo, we become insecure and needy. Our needy behavior can then push our partner out of their comfort zone and trigger a cascade of dysfunctional push-pull dynamics in the relationship.

In social alticial species, feeding rituals help establish and maintain social bonds. So when your grandmother urges you to have seconds (or thirds) you stuff yourself, even when you don’t want to.  We give food to those we care about as a show of affection. We accept food offered to acknowledge bonds shared with friends and family.  And while food itself doesn’t create social bonds – it’s an important part of the cement that holds many of them together. A bit of cement that can become unglued when push-pull dynamics arise.

I don’t find it surprising that some dogs elicit their owners’ over-feeding, I want to know why they do it?  Day et al. note in passing that push-pull relationships “may exert an influence” on our pets’ feeding and begging behavior. I suspect that for most obese pets (and their owners) push-pull dynamics are the root of the problem. Dysfunctional relationships feed this unhealthy behavior.

While some pets may be masters of manipulation, we humans certainly can’t lay all – or even most  – of the blame for the obesity epidemic on them. After all, we control the keys to the food cabinet and we’re supposed to be the ones with the big brains. Can we learn to engage those brains before we dispense food on cue?

July 22, 2009 at 5:27 am 4 comments

It’s COOL to Know Your Food

Over the last year we’ve worked harder to fill our larders with locally grown, locally raised – preferably organic foods.  During this little journey I’ve been unpleasantly surprised at how difficult it was to find out where the food I was buying came from. Country of origin labeling, or COOL, is a federally mandated program that will require most retailers to include information about where our foods came from on labels. 

Political foot-dragging meant that the program was 6 years in the making, but as of September 30, 2008 U.S. consumer will know just where their food originates.  Sort of…

From Scientific American:

The measure – backed by farmers eager to compete with foreign producers and food safety advocates – requires meat, poultry and produce to contain labels listing their country of origin.

… Notable exceptions to the requirement include products sold in butcher shops and fish markets — as well as in restaurants where disease outbreaks often originate, the Sacramento Bee wrote in a recent preview of the law.


What’s more, packers don’t have to be specific about where the meat consumers are buying came from, the Des Moines Register noted in a recent piece. Instead, they can list all the countries they bought from during a given period. “So in the store, ground beef could be labeled like this: ‘Product of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and/or Uruguay,'” the Register explained.

Hmmmm, does this mean that that bulk package of bargain bin burger will now come with a label that includes more unintelligible information than Dr. Bronner’s Soap?

According to yesterday’s Chicago Tribune:

Food safety groups have hailed COOL as a necessary step toward broader consumer education and buying choices. But now they complain that the Department of Agriculture has defined it as narrowly as possible.

For example, they say, the agency has defined a host of foods as “processed,” such as mixed frozen vegetables, which exempts them from the new law.

“When they finalized this rule, they bent over backward to make as few things be covered as possible,” said Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist with Consumers Union. “There are giant, giant loopholes in the law.”

One Mack-truck-sized loophole is the law’s definition of “processed.”  Again from the Trib:

“It’s considered processed if it’s combined with one other ingredient,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch, a non-profit consumer rights organization. “We think they’re being incredibly broad.”

O-Kay.  So, if I break down and buy that pre-marinated pork loin, does the marinade constitute processing and make the product exempt from labeling?  If the packing plant adds salt and pepper (or artificial coloring) to my steak – is it now an exempt, processed product?  I suspect I know the answer to this, and I expect that the number of products I’m willing to buy from the grocery store will decrease significantly soon. 

The issue becomes even more convoluted when one deals with imported meat:

Another controversy involves imported livestock. Under COOL, meat derived from cattle imported into the U.S. for immediate slaughter can bear a label that states it’s a product of its origin country and the United States, even though the animal was raised entirely outside the U.S.

So some parts of COOL are not so cool.  Still, the law seems to represent a step in the right direction, especially for those of us who want to know where our food comes from.  And according to a poll by Consumer Reports – 92% of Americans fall into that category.

Now if they’d just expand the program to include ALL human and pet foods….

September 14, 2008 at 4:42 pm 1 comment

Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste


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