Friday, August 31, 2012

Low(er) fat garlic macaroni and cheese

I have a macaroni and cheese recipe that I love, but it's very high in fat, very laborious and very expensive (it calls for five cheeses, all very pricey), and I only make it once in a blue moon...hum, don't we have a blue moon tonight?  Anyway...

It was time for something other than the boxed stuff, and something not so high in fat.  Oh, and it needed to be easy and quick...and creamy.  A bit of a tall order.

I decided to adapt my enchilada cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese, and it turned out very well.  If you're looking for something other than the boxed stuff, and something a little better for you, too, you might give this one a try.  It was very easy, very quick, and quite tasty.  The sauce came together in the time it took for the pasta water to boil, and the noodles to cook.


I imagine it would be really nice with a sharp white cheddar, but I used what I had on hand, which happened to be the ol' stand-by in this house, Tillamook mild cheddar.

For a printable version of this recipe, click here.  (Located at Google docs).

Ingredients:

8 ounces dried macaroni pasta
1-1/2 cups skim milk (you can use 1%, 2% or whole milk, but for the lower fat version, use skim)
2 tablespoons flour
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 ounces shredded cheddar

Directions:

Set a large saucepan to boil, and begin cooking pasta according to package directions.

In a small bowl, combine milk, flour, garlic, kosher salt and Dijon mustard, and whisk until flour is well incorporated.  Add mixture to a small saucepan, and cook over medium heat until bubbling and thickened, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, add shredded cheddar and stir until cheese melts.

Drain cooked pasta, toss with cheese sauce, and let stand, covered, for 2-3 minutes, until cheese sauce sets.

Toss, plate, garnish (I used chives from my garden, which were a nice add), and serve.

(If I were making this for children, I might pass on the mustard, and perhaps the garlic, as well.  I think it might take them too far from what they find familiar.  Then again, if you have a child with an advanced palate, it might be worth leaving the recipe as is).
Nutritional information/serving: 258 calories, 3.4g fat, 49mg cholesterol, 227mg sodium, 39.1g carbohydrates, 16.9g protein.

Ty, August 31, 2012, morning update

First and foremost, thank you, everyone, for your continued prayers and support.  I am out of words to sufficiently express my gratitude, but please know that my appreciation is immense.

I have some slivers of progress to report, and while some things are a bit worse, a few things have improved.  A long conversation with Dr. Karen yesterday gave me framework for where we are within the progression/treatment of the disease, and while I didn't love everything she had to say, there is value in knowledge, and I gained a fair bit yesterday.

The good:
  • Last night Ty had a good rest.  He was not up and down, panting and pacing, like he had been the night before.  This meant I slept, too, and I sure needed it.
  • Late yesterday afternoon the panting was a bit less, and he had extended periods of breathing through his nasal passages that were clear, and free of gurgling and whistling.
  • There are no new mouth lesions in the last 24 hours, which is the best news I have to report this morning.  There is no question any halt in progression is a very good sign, and we are holding onto the 'good' in that.
  • His spirits are up, though I see that he is not his usual self, the happy dog is still will us.  This tells me he wants to fight on.
  • NO eye discharge in 24 hours!
  • No blood in the stool in the last 24 hours.  He has had very good stools through it all, and while we did see some blood day before yesterday, it appears to have been a 'one off' thing.
The bad:
  • Nasal passages are a bit more clogged this morning, but I could *almost* put this on the 'good' list, because I *think* the clogged passages might be the formation of more solid discharge vs. oozing, which might indicate some healing of the lesions.  I'm really guessing here, but this is my take (hope?).
  • A slight recession of his eyes.  While very slight, it draws the inner lid up a bit.  I understand this can be a product of the medications vs. the disease, but until I better understand what's going on, I'm putting this on the 'bad' list, though it may not be a precursor of anything bad, but rather part of the process.
  • He is slow to respond to the medications, which indicates the disease has a pretty significant head-start.
  • He is occasionally refusing to jump up on the sofa, into the car or up on the bed, and appears to have a bit of rear-end weakness.  I'm not sure what to think of this, and it could be a by-product of many things.  For now, I'm not forming any opinions, just making observations.

My call with Dr. Karen yesterday was informative, and sobering.  She told us that some dogs start to respond to treatment right away, and others take a bit of time.  She prefers to have medications on board for a full 6-8 days before drawing any conclusion, but at that time expects to see stabilization, at a minimum, and preferably progress.  The current symptom re-emergence put us about 4 days behind the 8-ball, so we have some catching up to do, and she noted that yesterday

Because Ty's system is so suppressed by the medications, Dr. Karen put him on Baytril yesterday, and he had his first dose last night.  He had been through a course of Cephalexin, which we finished a few days ago, but concerned about secondary infection, she chose to put him on the Baytril.  I'm past the point of challenging her.  The goal is to stop the progression of the disease, and keep any secondary infections at bay.  We can re-build him when he stabilizes, but if he doesn't stabilize, all the re-building in the world won't amount to a hill of beans, and his situation is precarious right now.

Dr. Karen inferred that his prospects would not look good if we could not stop the disease progression in the next 4-5 days.  Dr. Leslie, Ty's homeopathic vet, inferred the same thing.  In her words, "this is an aggressive auto-immune disease...we are walking a fine line, with few options."

Both Dr. Karen and Dr. Leslie are in agreement with one another.  This does help, in some way, as I don't question an 'either/or' strategy.  They both see the current path as the right one, which takes some of the guess work out for me.

Yesterday was a hard day, and I cried a lot.  Talking to Dr. Karen, while sobering, in terms of what we are facing, was informative, and gives me something to work within.  I think that helps.

As an aside, I have gotten several private emails from folks who are following Ty's story because they are facing auto-immune challenges with their own dog, and they report the updates give them some hope, and a connection to someone facing the same thing with a beloved dog.  For me, that's enough to keep it up.

Thank you, again, for all the support.  It helps...a lot.  I thank you.  Cliff thanks you, and I know Ty would thank you, too, if he had the words.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ty, August 30, 2012, morning update

He had a very restless night, until about 3am, when he finally seemed to settle down a bit.  Sleep has been punctuated with periods of panting, sneezing, and a lot of nasal gurgling.

48 hours ago, a small crack popped up on his nose leather.  This morning is it much more pronounced, with a lesion seen within the nasal cavity...



These are the kinds of lesions seen throughout his mouth, as well, though I did not open his mouth to shoot photos.  It clearly bothers him.

I'm concerned about the very small cracks beginning to form on the more clear nostril, as I believe that is the only clear passage for air, aside from panting, that he has.

We are on day three on 80 mg. of Prednisone/day, as well as 25 mg. of Azathioprine/day.

In the last 30-40 minutes I can hear a rasp from him when he's panting, and his bark has taken on a raspy-ness, as well.  I know the larynx can be affected, as well, and I suspect that has happened.

I will fight as long as you tell me you want to keep fighting, baby boy.  I won't give up on you.  If you no longer wish to fight on, I trust you will tell me.  Until then, we march on...I love you, with all my heart.  I think it goes without saying that I will never be ready to lose you, but I love you too much to push you to fight if you decide you are no longer able.  I am listening...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ty, August 29, 2012, afternoon update

It has been 24 hours of changes, and not for the better.  I feel like we had a grip on him until 4 days ago, and now I feel like he is in a free fall.

Everything is worse, and today we have blood in the stool.  The roof of his mouth looks like someone took a razor blade to it, and the discharge from his nose and eyes is significantly worse.  We tried to drain his nose mid-day with a bulb syringe, but I don't know that it helped much.  He seemed more agitated afterward.

He remains upbeat, and happy, if not just a little restless.  His mouth very obviously hurts him, but his spirits are strong.

I'm scared...really, really scared.  I love him so.  It hurts me, in a way I never imagined was possible, to watch this disease take such a horrible toll on him.  I don't think I have ever felt so helpless.

 

I love you, Ty, with every fiber of my being.  Please get well, baby.  If only love could restore your health.  We have a lot of that, you and me...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ty, August 28, 2012, afternoon update

It has not been a good three days for Ty.  Following his visit on Friday, when he looked and felt so great, he started a fairly punctuated down-turn.  A new eruption of all the symptoms I thought we had gotten on top of, or were getting on top of.

The rancid breath is back, mouth sores are rampant, and painful, a lot of face pawing, green discharge from the eyes, and milky discharge from his nose.  The only thing we haven't seen is a renewal of eruptions on his face, and I'm thankful for at least that much.

In spite of it, he seems fairly happy, and upbeat.  He went to work with Cliff this afternoon, which is one of his most favorite things to do.

After a chat with both vets, and with a lump in my throat, I agreed to increase the Prednisone, again, from 40 mg./day to 80 mg./day.  At this point, if we don't get on top of this outbreak, we will lose him to it, and I still see a happy, functioning dog, albeit one that's in some discomfort, so I'm going to keep fighting for him.

It goes without saying that we need more prayers...

Next week we had a bit of a vacation planned.  With the dryer repair on Friday, which turned out to be about three times the expense we had expected, and Ty's new meds, I think we will be sticking close to home, with one exception.  He loves the beach.  Come hell, or high water, we are going to take him to the beach, so he can chase waves and eat sand until his heart's content.

DIY Greenhouse

Now that I have successfully made my own compost, and have determined I have some gardening aptitude, it's time for a greenhouse.

A word about my compost.  It's freaking fabulous!  I can't wait to use it next year.  Who knew, taking something 'free' (grass clippings and woody debris, including shredded paper), would turn into a rich, beautiful soil, teaming with all things good.  I can hardly wait to use it next year in my vegetable starts!  I will definitely be making more next year...a LOT more!

Back to my greenhouse...

A cursory search for greenhouses and kits returned some rather costly options, making it less viable for us.  Several less expensive options were also available ($200-$300), but very flimsy.  The reviews weren't all that great, either, and who am I kidding, that's still a LOT of money.  Perhaps in another life, when money flowed more freely through our economy, I might feel differently, but every penny is precious around here.  We don't spend them lightly.

Aside from the joy of growing one's own food, this project has a cost savings purpose.  By growing our own produce, and canning what we don't eat in the summer, for use in the winter, we will be taking a pretty big chunk out of our grocery bill.  We already feed the occupants of this house for about $30/week, but this will help even more, and while I have discovered a love of gardening, this project is more about cost savings, than anything else.  The more we can extend the growing season, the more we can produce.  The greenhouse will enable that!

We live where snow is a part of life.  Any structure would need to take a bit of a snow load, and anything without a rigid roof won't cut it.  Most less expensive options didn't look as though they would take rain, much less snow.

Sunday, while we were doing errands, we talked about building our own greenhouse, from the ground up, but a full blown building project wasn't really something we wanted to commit to.  Surely there was a way to re-purpose something, and do so on the cheap.  We also wanted something we could disassemble, and move, if the need ever arose.

I stumbled upon a Google link with photos of a dog run that someone had wrapped with plastic sheeting, and reported good success using as a make shift greenhouse.  The dog run they had used was just 4' tall, which wouldn't work for us, but it sparked an idea.  I figured if I scoured CL ads, I might find something we could use (just the framework, provided it had roof supports), and I was right.  We found a 6'H x 8'L x 5'W kennel.  As luck would have it, the chain link up front was pretty damaged, which made for a great negotiating point.  We would be taking it off, anyway, so damaged wasn't a problem, and if it helped us get it cheaper, all the better.  The seller also just wanted it gone.  Such a great combination when searching CL for a deal!  The result?  CHEAP!

Oh, and the seller's measurements were a little off, too, as I just discovered.  It's actually 10' long vs. 8', so another two feet to work with.  So cool!


Cliff removed the damaged chain link yesterday afternoon, and we are left with the framework, which was what we wanted.  What a deal!  We will be adding the fiberglass panels next week.  I will be scouring CL for shelving supplies in the coming weeks.  We just need to be ready to go come February/March, so I have plenty of time to scavenge the 'free stuff' on CL and the Nickel Ads.  Here's hoping I can find everything else for free, or pretty close to it!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ty, August 27, 2012, morning update

Every time I post a good update, it seems it's followed up with a decline in Ty's condition.  Perhaps this is just the progression and treatment of this disease.  It makes me hesitant to post the good updates.  Perhaps I am jinxing him...


He had such a great day Friday, and into Saturday morning, then he started to paw at his face.  This, I have learned, is not a good sign.  While his spirits have not diminished, there are new sores in his mouth, and the discharge from his eyes just will not stop.

Last week we went from 20 mg./day of Prednisolone (a variation of Prednisone), to 40 mg.  For me, this was not a happy change.  And, of course, it has not stopped the progression of the disease.  Now the conventional vet wants to go from 40 mg. to 80 mg.!  When I used to take Prednisone for my asthma, I took 30 mg./day, at the highest dose.  And my conventional vet is murmuring 80 mg./day for my dog, who weighs a fraction of what I weigh?  When is it time to just say "enough is enough", and let things falls where they fall?

I do not want to give up on my dog, but when is the treatment worse than the disease?

Through it all, he has remained the happiest, sweetest boy...never resenting anything we had had to do to, and for him.  Always greets the vet with joy, and a snuggle.  Always agreeable, no matter what they do to him.

I'm not looking forward to my chat with the conventional vet today.  I don't know what to do.

I could just take the Prednisone plunge, or hold off, and hope the Chinese herbal therapy kicks in...the 'blood heat'.  The homeopathic vet suggested it would take at least 14 days for that to kick start healing.  Do I drag this out another 14 days (well, 11 now)?  Another 11 days of up/down?  Another 11 days of pain and discomfort for my dog?

This is so horribly difficult.  What a bitch of a disease.  I hate the words "auto-immune".  If I never have to hear them again, it will be too soon.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lemon lavender shortbread

The last time I saw my eldest niece, she made an assortment of shortbread cookies, ranging from sweet to savory.  Beautiful shortbread, with some very interesting combinations.  One that stood out, and was definitely my favorite, as well as my husband's, was her lemon lavender cookie.  Light, fragrant and beautiful to look at, it was the essence of summer, and her shortbread recipe was just a 'melt in your mouth' experience.

As I looked at the lavender in my garden, I thought of my niece's cookies, and decided it was time to give them a 'go'.

Mine turned out really well, though very different from my niece's...I owe my cookie to her.  Her beautiful cookies inspired my own version.


I did not have my niece's recipe, but I do have a favorite shortbread recipe, so I just needed to get an idea of quantities of both the lemon, as well as the lavender.  In my search, I found one lemon lavender shortbread cookie recipe after another...literally hundreds of them.  Okay, good, but the trouble was finding a quantity of lavender that would make it obvious they were cookies to be eaten vs. bars of soap to wash with.  Too much lavender would make one wonder.  Unfortunately, quantities were all over the map.

I decided to start small.  I figured a little less would be better than a little too much.  As it turned out, a "little less" was exactly right.  This is a beautiful, fragrant flower.  A little goes a long, long way.

I also chose to add my lemon in the form of a glaze of fresh lemon juice and powdered sugar.  It turned out to be the perfect way to add it, and it made for a truly beautiful, 'finished off' looking cookie.

It really matters not what shortbread recipe you use, and if you have a favorite, don't be afraid to use it, just add 1-2 teaspoons of dried lavender to the flour and sugar before you process in the butter.  In mine, the lavender was almost turned to powder in the food processor.  At first I was disappointed that I couldn't see the bigger flowers throughout the dough, but after tasting the cookies, I'm glad it turned out the way it did...I think it released the flavor a a little better.


I used a brownie pan I bought on sale at Walmart a number of years ago.  It was perfect for these cookies, and I didn't have to roll out and cut shapes.  Just press dough into the pan, press the 'cutter' into the dough, and bake.  Worked like a charm.




I prefer shortbread recipes that call for either powdered sugar or ultrafine sugar.  I'm not a fan of those that call for regular, granulated sugar, but to each his own.  This is why I say use the shortbread recipe of your choosing.  My only tip is use good butter.  Shortbread is flour, sugar and butter, with butter lending the most powerful taste and texture.  Cheap butter will work, but if you want a truly buttery, melt in your mouth shortbread cookie, use really good butter.

The cookies turned out perfectly baked, and the pan gave me the shapes without the mess.  This pan has a removable bottom, as well, just like a tart pan, so the entire tray of cookies lifts right out.


After the cookies cool completely, make your glaze  The glaze is simple.  About 2 cups of powdered sugar, and enough fresh lemon juice to smooth it out and be spreadable, without being too runny.  Start with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, then add just a little at a time until it's smooth.  It's easy to go from not quite enough liquid, to way too much, so go in small additions.  Once the consistency is right, spread it on your cookies.  Right after spreading the glaze, top with some lemon zest.  Let it set for just a couple of minutes, then add the dried lavender buds.

I think I used a total of about 12 cents' worth of lavender I picked up in the bulk section of my local market.  The butter will be your biggest expense in these cookies, but for a really beautiful cookie, bursting with flavor, these were pretty cheap to make.

After trying these, my husband said, "you better eat what you want, because I won't be stopping to let you catch up!"

Friday, August 24, 2012

Ty, August 24, 2012, mid-day update

Today was the day we were set to see the homeopathic vet, and our appointment was at 9:15.  Ty had a great night, and he was a happy camper this morning.  He also loves to go anywhere, and loves people, even the vet, so this had the makings of a great outing for him, and it was.


The new mouth sores looked vastly improved this morning, as well, and I'm sure that contributed to him feeling much more jaunty.  You just can't keep a happy dog down, and Ty has the market cornered on 'happy'.

He had his acupuncture and chiropractic adjustment, and the vet and I discussed all the goings-on over the past several weeks.  We talked about a lot of things, including the possibility that his back issues are related to his auto-immune disease, and perhaps were even a pre-cursor.  Certainly the face pawing he had demonstrated in earnest when the outbreak was at its peak was not new, though never to that extent.

Interestingly enough, the very occasional face pawing started about the same time the back troubles started...about two years ago.  Also, this was the last time he had a rabies vaccination (required by law).

I'm a believer that vaccination is a trigger of many issues in our canine friends, and isn't it interesting that his back troubles, as well as very occasional face pawing, started right about the time of his last vaccination.  Coincidence?  Of course, I never noticed anything else, aside from those two issues, and, as time went on, the back troubles got worse, as did the face pawing, until, several weeks ago, we saw the outbreak of Pemphigus.  Just a few interesting things to consider.

Among other things, Dr. Leslie talked about the Chinese medicine view on auto-immune disease, which is a 'blood heat' issue.  What this entails, I'm not sure, but as she talked, things struck me.  She asked, "does he seek warmth or cool?"  Well, he always seeks cool, and he is, and always has been, my biggest panter - first to start, last to stop.  I have always felt his cooling mechanism is a little off, or perhaps a little lower functioning is a more appropriate description.  It didn't occur to me he might have run a littler 'hotter' because an auto-immune response was possibly brewing.

She gave us a Chinese herb called 'blood heat', and is taking him off two of the institutional medications.  This is great!  I have so wanted to see a reduction of the narcotic cocktail he is required to take, and this is a huge step toward that end.

As for Ty's outlook, and general disposition?  He was elated to have an outing.  He gave out kisses, and tail wags, just as he always does.  He sure has a fast growing fan club.

I also wanted to add a note about breath.  For about the last two years, off and on, Ty's breath has gone from a little rancid, to 'OMG, I think I'm going to faint, it's so bad' breath.  For a raw fed dog, rancid breath is not generally an issue.  I find it interesting that the breath issue is improving, as we treat him for the Pemphigus.  Perhaps another sign something was off?  Certainly something I won't ignore in the future.

Today I feel lifted, with new knowledge, and a dog who is acting very much like his old self.  Nothing can put a smile in my heart faster than seeing my special boy happy, and loving life.  Today we are celebrating.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Artisan bread...not as easy as it seems

Bread making is a lesson in following directions, and artisan bread is NO exception, as my artisan bread trials would soon highlight.

I feel pretty good about my bread making skills.  I can turn out some beautiful loaves of bread, for sandwiches, toast, and all manner of other things, but those pretty, round loaves of artisan bread, with their crunchy, crusty outside, and airy inside, have been calling.  With little more than ingredients, desire, and a recipe, I was ready to roll...or so I thought.

Forgetting the most important rule in bread making, which is following directions, I deviated from the recipe.  As I looked at the gooey mass of dough that seemed too sticky to do a darned thing with, I proceeded to add flour, and a lot of it.  It became very easy to work with, but in adding that flour, I sealed my bread's fate.  It never rose.

My darling husband ate it, and smiled all the while, but to me, it might as well have been as dense and flavorless as my new quarry (baking) tiles.  What did I do wrong?  Adding what seemed about double the flour called for in the recipe, as I would learn, was the beginning of the end for my bread.  I would later discover the trick to artisan bread was maintaining moisture.  Well, I sure took care of that, didn't I?  Zapped all possible moisture with the addition of my flour.

I tried again.  The dough from this recipe can be refrigerated, and small bits can be pulled from it, and risen/baked as desired, for up to two weeks.  I decided I would try baking one loaf right after I finished making the dough and I would keep the other half of the dough in the refrigerator for 24 hours and bake it the following day.  I'd read something on a French site about prefermentation, and wondered if this refrigeration time might be what they were referring to, but it was not easy to decipher what was written on that site, so I quickly forgot about it.

This loaf was far better, but still flat.  It rose out vs. up, resembling a flat bread vs. the round loaf I was going for.  I had followed the recipe, to the letter.  Darn it.  Well, if this bread can be made by others, then I know I can do it, too.

Clearly this was going to take a little more effort, both in actually making the bread, and in looking at some videos detailing the process, as well.  In the videos I found I learned about a little something called 'shaping', and it appears to be the holy grail of a beautifully risen loaf of artisan bread.  Actually, I think they call these loafs  'boules', but I'm not sure if that's how we refer to the bread before, or after baking.

This afternoon I pulled the second half of the dough out of the refrigerator, and I was ready to roll.  I had watched several videos on 'shaping', and feeling this was where I'd been deficient, I went forth confidently.

The dough that had spent 24 hours in the refrigerator was ridiculously gooey, and sticky.  How in the world was it going to keep from dropping into a pancake on my baking tiles after I shaped it?  Okay, "no questions of the recipe, Leslie, just follow the directions," I told myself, only adding my newly acquired 'shaping' knowledge, which was not included in the recipe I was using, aside from a note about 'stretching and tucking' the dough.  Clearly that was the 'shaping' bit, but not until I watched a couple of videos, did I grasp the concept.

I felt pretty good about my shaping, and what I ended up with looked really, really good, so I set it out to rise.  Once risen, into the oven we went, but I immediately realized I'd forgotten two steps.  I forgot to make my slashes, so right after I put the bread into the oven, I had to open the door, and quickly add a couple of hasty slashes.  I would have liked to make three, larger slashes, but better two small ones than none at all.  I'd also forgotten to dust the top with flour...what a rookie!

None the less, I prevailed, and turned out a beautiful loaf of artisan bread, or should I say a 'boule'?



I'm quite certain I would have a more even rise if I'd cut better slashes, and it would have been really pretty with the dusting of flour, but I'm pretty confident it will still be good.

The outside is very crunchy and crusty, and it is very light (in terms of it's weight).  When I tap on it, it has that artisan bread sound to it...kind of hollow.  I'm quite certain it will have all those big, beautiful holes I was hoping for, and I expect to find them when I slice it a little later.

I'm really happy to have some leftover tomato soup in my refrigerator...grilled cheese on artisan bread, anyone?  I'm sure my 'chef' friends will snicker at my plans to turn my artisan bread into lowly grilled cheese sandwiches, but I'm a grilled cheese fan.  This bread should make those sandwiches even better than they would otherwise be.

Ala Cuisine!!




Happy birthday, Jet!

It is so hard to believe he is 13.  Where the heck has all the time gone?

I see the signs of age, and I know he's not my bouncing puppy any longer, but he will always be my special boy.  The love of furry dog life, and every day he's here, is a day I cherish as a fine and wonderful gift.

I love you, Jet...with every fiber of my being.  We have been many places, you and I.  Thank you for every experience.  They have all made me a better person than I would have otherwise been.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ty, August 22, 2012, mid-day update

It's time for another Ty update.  I had said I would not start up posts again until our appointment with the homeopathic vet, which is this Friday.  Unfortunately, there have been changes that I feel compelled to document, thus an update now vs. after Friday's appointment.

I felt we were on the road to remission with Ty.  He was bouncy, happy, feeling much better and generally moving an the right direction.  A couple of days ago, things turned back toward where we were vs. where we wanted to go.

Despite high dose prednisone, and a host of other medications, the mouth sores have started to come back, as well as the runny eyes.  Today I noticed some discomfort again at the water bowl.  However, for me, the very worst part is the loss of his happy spirit...again.

Two days ago we agreed to double the prednisone dose, which was a very difficult decision.  48 hours later, there is no visible improvement.

This is not the update I wanted to be making at this point in the process, obviously.  I feel very useless in the process, and it hurts my heart horribly to see him affected with this disease.

I still have hope for remission, and he is not as bad as he was when we started, but we are no where near where we had gotten, which was to a place of some relief, and a heck of a lot of joy.

Quarry tiles

I've often considered a baking stone, or baking tiles for my oven.  Because I love to make bread, it just seemed something that would be inevitable, but every time I looked at them, I just couldn't justify the expense.  $40 may not seem like a lot, but if the results weren't measurably different, it's $40 down the drain, and I'm not a fan of money down the drain.

 

Today I did a search for 'DIY baking stone', and wouldn't you know it, someone had already found the cheap alternative.

Enter the unglazed quarry tile.  Six baking tiles for $40, plus shipping, or six unglazed quarry tiles (essentially the same thing), for $7.48, and a trip to the local flooring outlet.  It was a no brainer, but before I decided to buy them, I decided to see what my 'go-to' bread bloggers had to say, and I found that I am behind the 8-ball here.  Apparently, anyone that bakes bread, especially of the artisan variety, has been using these unglazed quarry tiles for some time now.  Those who have used both report no difference in results between the quarry tiles and the more expensive baking tiles sold online, and in most specialty baking shops.

That was all I needed.  Off I went, and for less than $8 I had my long 'hoped for' baking tiles, well, quarry tiles, but if the results are the same, I don't care what they're called.

I so love a deal...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Boysenberry pies

A few weeks ago we picked berries over in the valley, and froze them.  We've used them in smoothies, but so far that's about it.  This morning I thought it might be time for some pie.  I was going to make one pie, then thought better of it, and made several individual pies.  We froze all but three, which we baked right away.  I had one, and 'he who shall remain nameless' had two.  =)

These are individual servings.  If I'm going to bake anything, I want it at its best, and that means fresh from the oven, warm, and the 'individual pie servings' approach fit very well.



Ingredients:

Any crust recipe you prefer, or store bought, if you want to make one larger pie.
5 cups frozen berries (use any you like, and adjust sugar according to the berry sweetness)
1/2 cup sugar (I like a bit of tartness in my berry pies)
1/3 cup flour
Butter

Directions:

In a small bowl, set your berries out to thaw.  Once thawed, add the sugar and flour, and stir to combine, mashing up the berries a little as you go.
Roll out your pie dough, and using any small plate, or bowl, shape 6" circles (or as close as you can get).  My bowl had a good edge for cutting through the crust, but if you don't have that, just use a knife to cut around the edge of the bowl or plate you choose as your form.

You should end up with about a dozen circles of dough.

Divide up the filling among your dough circles, and place the filling in the middle of each circle, and top with a thin butter slice, about 1/8" thick.

Lightly moisten edges of dough with water, fold over, and press lightly with your fingers.  Finish sealing with a press from a fork, all the way around the sealed edge.  To keep dough from sticking to your fork, dip in flour following each depression.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Place pies on a parchment lined baking sheet, and apply an egg wash.  Place in the oven, and immediately reduce heat to 375 degrees.  Pies are done when they are golden brown.

Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes, then plate and garnish as you wish.  Powdered sugar is pretty, and adds just a touch of sweetness to the crust.  Vanilla ice cream is a nice add, as well, or a sprig of mint.

Apricot glazed chicken

"Quick and easy...and delicious."  Those words go together well for those who lead and live a very hectic life, but still would like to eat well.

I love to come up with dishes that are relatively fast, and easy.  I remember when I worked for a billion dollar company, and put in some long hours.  I came home so tired, cooking was the last thing on my mind.  Anything that was quick, was usually at the top of my list, but one can only eat so much processed food, and take-out...enter my apricot glazed chicken.



When it comes to grilling chicken, give me boneless, skinless chicken thighs over breasts, any day of the week.  I have yet to make an exceptionally moist and tender grilled chicken breast.  Thighs are much more forgiving, and are packed with a lot more flavor.  They are also usually cheaper, and that is a big point in their favor.

Ingredients:

3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry (I've also used pork chops with this glaze)
12 ounce jar of apricot jam (I can my own, but you can buy it, too) or orange marmalade
Fresh rosemary, about 3-4 sprigs, chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Directions:

To a small bowl, add the jam and chopped rosemary.  Whisk until well combined.  If it's too thick, add a teaspoon of water at a time until it smooths out.  It should be the consistency of runny jam.  The kind that will drip off the edge of your morning toast.

Pour marinade into a Ziploc bag, and add the chicken, tossing it around to coat each piece.  Allow to marinate overnight, or all day prior to grilling.  Whatever works in your schedule.

When ready to cook, fire up your grill.  Remove chicken from the bag, reserving any remaining marinade.  Grill your chicken until fully cooked, transfer to a large plate, and tent with foil.

Place the remaining marinade into a small saucepan, add the tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and over medium heat, simmer until bubbly and slightly thickened.  About 3-4 minutes.

Slice chicken, plate and drizzle with just a bit of the glaze.

I served mine with lemon and rosemary orzo, which was leftover from another meal.  I found the recipe here, and I highly recommend it.

What I love most about this recipe is that the chicken and the glaze re-heat beautifully in the microwave, so don't be afraid to load up.  A few minutes in the kitchen, and you have more than one meal.

Tomato soup

As I move along, developing my cooking skills (and photography skills!), I reflect back on some of the early recipes I posted, and think, "gee, I can improve on that one."  I suspect I will always feel that way, and in some cases I have been tempted to take some recipes down altogether, but if I think back to how I felt when I posted the earlier recipes, I felt they were good enough to share, at that time, so even though I'm sure I could improve on them now, they show a definite progression in my own skills, and there is value in that.  So, for now, they stay.

Yesterday I had a desire to use some of the banana peppers that I've been growing, and were weighing down my plant.  I also wanted to play around with orzo a bit more, as it's now the 'go to' ingredient.  This happens to me when I discover a new way to use a well loved ingredient, or I find myself using an ingredient for the first time.

As I scoured the web for ideas, I stumbled upon a vegetable and orzo soup using a canned tomato soup as the base.  Hum...I wasn't thrilled with the idea of a canned tomato soup as a base for my beautiful vegetables, so I decided I would make a tomato soup, with a few extra surprises.  I can do this, I thought.

I ditched the orzo, and set out to make a truly special tomato soup.


I plucked some banana peppers from my plant, and I was ready to begin.  A note about banana peppers.  If they grow where you live, give them a try.  Mine grow like crazy, don't need anything special, other than some sun, and they are sweet, and delicious.  I grew my plant in a bucket with a hole drilled in the bottom, and they have been happy campers all summer.  Want them really sweet?  Let them get red.

 
Sadly, my own tomatoes are still a ways off from readiness, so I had to use store bought for this soup, and that was a bit of a disappointment, but the flavors in this recipe are so bright and bold, it really wasn't a problem.  You can bet I will use my own tomatoes when they are ready, which should be soon.

For a printable version of this recipe, click here.  (Located at Google docs).

Ingredients:

3 lbs. tomatoes, thick sliced (or halved, if they are a smaller variety, like Roma)
1 large white onion, thick sliced (about 1" slices)
1 jalapeƱo, halved lengthwise, seeds removed
6 banana peppers (or 2-3 bell peppers), halved, seeds removed
5-6 cloves garlic, skins removed
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used chicken stock, and I would do it again)
1-2 sprigs oregano
1-2 sprigs basil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Sour cream
Fresh chives

Directions:

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Lay tomato slices, onion slices, peppers and garlic on a large baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.


Roast in the pre-heated oven 45-50 minutes, or until well roasted, or until edges of vegetables begin to char, and they take on a bit of a shriveled appearance.

Remove from the oven, and transfer to a large stock pot. Add stock, oregano and basil, and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about 20 minutes.  A note about the herbs, you don't need to chop them, as they will break up during the blending step, but either way works.  Next time I won't bother, I will just toss the sprigs right into the pot with the vegetables and stock.


When the onions are very soft, using your immersion blender, blend to desired consistency, chunky or smooth...totally up to you.

Add paprika and brown sugar and continue simmering another 20 minutes.  Adjust seasonings (salt/pepper). I added a bit of fresh ground black pepper, and a few more pinches of salt.  It didn't need much.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and garnish with fresh chives.


I made this soup as a side for grilled cheese sandwiches, but it was the star.  The sandwiches were just a side show, though on their own, they really were very good, but I'm not sure they would out shine the soup even if they'd been dipped in gold dust.


This soup was incredibly delicious.  I intend to make/can more of it so we can enjoy it throughout the winter.

I hope you try this one, especially if you have some fresh tomatoes in your garden, or can get some at your local farmer's market.  It really is delicious.  This from a girl who was never a big tomato soup fan.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ty, August 15, 2012, morning update

I'm so, so pleased to report some pretty significant progress since yesterday's update.

We have improvement in all areas.  Sores on his face continue to dry up and are getting smaller and smaller.  The mouth sores are remnants of their prior, angry selves, getting smaller and smaller, and clearly causing Ty no further mouth pain.

The eye 'goo' we saw yesterday has passed.  I'm not sure what that was all about, but I'm quite happy to see it take leave.

For the last two nights, he has slept very fitfully, and woken up very, very happy and spunky.

Last evening it was warm, but the wading pool was calling, and Ty, ever the water lover, didn't miss his chance.  In short order, he was drenched, tip to toe, 'diving' for his favorite toy, beating Kindle to it, over and over...and beating her to any toy is no small feat!!

He romped, and played.  He barked and yipped with joy.  So much of the dog I know and love was back.  Can I have an 'amen'?!

I have so much appreciation for every prayer, every well wish, every healing, and all the love expressed, by so many who care.  I just have no words to tell you how much it all means to me.  'Thank you' seems so small, but please know that, for me, and for Ty, those two words carry the weight of my gratitude, which is immense.

Next week starts our work with the homeopathic vet, who will be tasked with building and boosting Ty's immune system, making him stronger than ever.

Love to all.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ty, August 14, 2012, morning update

Yesterday Ty had a pretty good day, with one exception.  He was draining some 'goo' from his eyes.  We had to clean them twice yesterday.  Yesterday morning it was very clear, and almost like a glaze over the eyes, with a little pooling at the bottom.  Yesterday afternoon it was a little thicker.

 

This morning we did not see any 'goo', so perhaps it was just a one day thing...none the less, it was noteworthy, for the purpose of documentation.  I hope I never need to refer to these updates again, but if/when I do, I will be really glad I kept the diary.

I think it goes without saying that I'd like to see cessation of these symptoms, but I don't think that's going to start in earnest until we get him off the Pred., and onto Dr. Griffith's homeopathic care regime.

There are no new sores, and his mouth sores continue to look better and better.  This morning he was a little more sassy, and bouncy.  Seems like he is feeling much better.  With the Pred. now dosed with food, his stomach seems far more settled, and no more vomiting.  His stools look good, too.

All in all, he seems to be doing well, and moving in the right direction.  I'm praying for, and looking forward to, more of the same.  Good boy, Ty!  If love could heal you completely, you would be the healthiest dog on the face of the planet.  =)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Olympics...

I'm always kind of sad when the Olympics are over.  Watching all the athletes shoot for the moon, and the range of emotions that follow, is just fascinating.  It's one hell of a human experience.  I always enjoy the highlight reels after the actual games are over, too.

I think London did a great job hosting the games.  The venues all looked interesting, the setting was great, and it was great fun to see William, Kate and Harry appear at so many events, cheering, and enjoying the experience.

Of the two games: summer and winter, I'm a fan of the summer games.  Probably because Americans do well at the summer games...more so than winter, and it's fun when your home country excels, and makes several appearances on the podium.

For me, three Americans that really stood out were Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin and David Boudia.  They just captured my heart.  All three of them.  Not because of their achievements in their respective sports, but because they seemed to embody the best of America's youth.

I wasn't as impressed with NBC's coverage of the events as I have been in year's past.  Too much of some sports, and not enough of others.  It was pretty clear the coverage was centric to American prowess vs. a broad coverage, regardless of who was expected to win.  I'd like to see a little less of some sports, and a little more of others.

My greatest let down during the games was the opening and closing ceremonies.  Some bits were good, but overall, they both left me feeling flat, and I didn't finish watching either.  I sat watching, thinking, "I don't get it", and that was how it went, for both ceremonies.  I know some folks really enjoyed them.

In the opening ceremonies, I did enjoy the bit where the Queen did a spot, jumping from the 'copter (yes, I know it wasn't really her!), and I did love McCartney, but so many other bits seemed disjointed and without flow or relevance.

The closing ceremonies seemed more a showcase of who didn't show up, than who did.  Where were the heavy hitters?  Sting, The Who, The Clash, The Stones, more of the guys from Pink Floyd, Phil Collins?  I mean, if you're going to showcase British music, showcase it.  It felt more like country fair entertainment than a showcase of the best Great Britain has to offer.  I did really like the spot on John Lennon (his face made from the puzzle pieces was really interesting), and I thought the Stomp bit was fun, but the singers in/on cars got old, and it all seemed a bit too disconnected from the spirit of the Olympics.

None the less, I realize they can't please everyone, and while I found some bits lacking, overall I thought it was a great 17 days, and I'm sure the next set of games will bring much more of the same...the human experience is, after all, one of extreme highs and extreme lows, and one can't appreciate one extreme without the other.

Good job, London!  Have a drink, and rest.  You deserve it.

Ty, August 13, 2012, morning update

Yesterday was a bit of an extreme day.  Woke up feeling hopeful, as Ty looked so much more perky, and all sores were starting to look more promising.  He ate well, eliminated as he should, and he didn't appear to be at all uncomfortable.

Mid-day, things took a decided turn for the worse.  He started vomiting, and not long after, threads of blood were coming up with everything else.  He was very lethargic, and very uncomfortable.

The vomiting continued off and on for several hours.  Got a call into the vet, and she suggested the high doses of Prednisone could absolutely be causing stomach upset, but she also suggested we bring him in, and have him looked at.  Truthfully, I'm sort of tired of the "bring him in so we can take a look at him and charge you $55, plus a Sunday fee, just to 'take a look'" suggestions.  If we are coming in, and spending the money, let's actually *do* something!  We decided to stay home vs. drag him to the vet for 'another look'.  While he had taken a bit of a turn, he was holding, and the vomiting had subsided.

After a few hours, I went back to some things I know.  I gave him a bit of Greek yogurt (boy, am I ever glad we have this on hand almost all the time!), because I knew his gut needed the 'good' bacteria boost, and we gave him some Prevacid.

I also did a little research on Prednisone dosing.  The first thing that popped up was "do not give on an empty stomach."  Well, isn't that interesting?  Not something the vet told us when it was originally prescribed.  The reasons stated for not dosing on an empty stomach included Ty's very symptoms.  This reminds me of the time I spent over $500 at this very vet on Jet, over several months, because he would have intermittent stomach upset.  They neglected to tell me that his Soloxine needed to be administered on an empty stomach.

I think this vet needs some hand-outs re: timing on dosing on their meds.

Ty started to look a bit more perky by evening, but it was time for the Pred. dose.  I was concerned...

We proceeded with dosing, *with* food.  For the balance of the evening, he appeared to be doing well.  This morning, he is doing well.  No more vomiting, at least not for now.  He remains perky, and settled.  He will get more Greek yogurt this morning, as well as another dose of Prevacid.

Is it time to see our favorite homeopathic vet?  Dr. Griffith, we need you...Ty needs you.  That visit won't come soon enough.

Now, does anyone need ribbon work?  I could use a few orders to cover the vet bills.  It's getting a little scary around here...Kindle's back, Ty's back, Jet's dental, and Ty's Pemphigus Vulgaris.  It's been a hell of a year for vet bills.  Ready to be done.

Mostly, though, I'm ready for my special boy to feel better, and get past this horrible disease.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ty, August 12, 2012, mid-day update

It has been a good 24 hours.  Other than one bloody discharge from the nose, progress has been very steady.  I suspect the bloody discharge was a product of some fairly heavy sneezing he did just prior to the discharge, rather than the signaling of a problem.  The nose was full of lesions, and I imagine the sneezing dislodged some portion of a crusted/old lesion in the nasal cavity.  The discharge was very small, and was over very quickly.

His spirits are returning to the dog we know and love.  His eyes look just a bit better, and while he has several long periods of rest, which is somewhat uncommon, they are not populated with any kind of agitation or discomfort.

Last night he took a nice little turn toward the better, and that continues today, as well.  Still not where he needs to be, but I feel we are firmly on the right path, and look forward to our visit with the homeopathic vet once this course of Prednisone is over.

Drinking water no longer causes him discomfort that we can see, and he is now well over 24 hours without face pawing.

It's a good day, a good report, and we are buoyed, for sure, by the recent progress.

Thank you, again, for all the prayers, well wishes, and incredible flood of terrific suggestions.  There simply are no words to express our gratitude for the sheer outpouring of love and support.  I have received a small flurry of new Facebook friend requests from folks who have heard Ty's story, and want to help, others who have come out of the woodwork to help.  Friends of friends offering suggestions, services, and all manner of kindness and caring.  Truly, truly, an amazing family of dog people.  Ty is so very lucky, and we are so very humble.  Thank you, thank you, thank you...Lynnzie, wherever you are, Ty sends kisses and love.

Footnote, 1:23pm:
Ty just vomited up his stomach contents in a rather large pile.  Poor baby.  Need to add that to the list to talk to the vet about tomorrow when she calls.  Could be the antibiotic?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ty, August 11, 2012, evening update

Today has been a day of progress.  From just a couple of days ago, thinking we might be losing him due to his pain, we are seeing glimmers of the old dog again.  It's clear the pain is greatly reduced.  He actually brought the ball back once tonight, when Kindle over-ran it.  He was so happy with himself, and it made me so happy to see.

He also did a pass along the fence, just to let the neighbor dog know he was still on patrol.  I never thought I would see the day where a little fence fighting was a welcome relief.

The sores are slow to heal, and they aren't pretty to look at, but I don't care. He looks much more settled, and much more like the dog I knew before the outbreak.

He is still licking his mouth a lot, and that tells me it's still uncomfortable, but I haven't seen any face pawing today, and only a couple of spells of nasal rattling, with very little nasal discharge.

All in all, I'm feeling so much more hopeful, so thankful for answered prayers, and for a group of friends more generous than I ever imagined.  We are so blessed.  Thank you, everyone!

Ty's story...the history

Moving my posts about Ty from Facebook to the blog.  I want a place to capture it, and find it, should I need to refer to it going forward.  Below is a summation of where we have been with him, and where we are.  Further updates will be added as independent entries.  This is the history.  Scroll to the bottom to start at the beginning.

Before the Pemphigus Vulgaris outbreak, doing what he does best.

August 11, 2012:
Wake up to some welcome improvements.  Still a long way to go, but I note Ty is drinking water from the bowl without wincing, the nasal rattling is greatly reduced, and he looks a little brighter.  No face pawing yet this morning.  I feel hope.  For the first time in five days, I can smile, and feel that we might pull him through it and into remission.

August 10, 2012:
Talk to the homeopathic vet, and bring her up to speed.  Ty will see her at the end of the month.  The goal is to get on top of, and force the active outbreak into remission, then wean him off the institutional medications, and onto an immune boosting cocktail of Chinese herbs, and other natural modalities.  She prescribes Vitamin E, Milk Thistle and Sam-E in the meantime.

Ty is still in pretty serious pain.  I start to ask myself the hard question...if I can't get this disease into remission, then what?  I can't force him to live a life of pain.

In the evening:
He seems a bit more restful, and I note a slight reduction in the frantic face pawing.  Drinking water is still quite painful, and the nasal rattling persists.

August 9, 2012:
Vet diagnoses Pemphigus Vulgaris, and my research journey begins.

Prednisone is administered at a rate of 1 mg./lb., with the promise of double that amount if he is not responsive within 48 hours.  Also administering Cephalexin, 500 mg./day.

In the evening:
A bloody discharge starts to ooze from his nasal cavities, and heavy crusting in/around his nose is noted.  A distinct rattling sound comes from his nose, which indicates to me that he can't breathe with his mouth closed, or if he can, it's very limited, and air is not passing freely.

August 8, 2012:
Ty is in the yard, and begins to frantically paw at his face.  He is in some fairly significant pain.  He takes a drink of water, and is clearly hurting badly.  I open his mouth, and it's fully of ulcers and open sores.  They were not present two days ago.  I call the vet, and we take him in that afternoon.  He is in pain.

On palpation, the vet notes several more mouth sores, all very inflamed, and very painful.  Also notes a thickening of the nasal discharge, which is now bloody, as well.  Another large sore on his face erupts just behind his mouth.  These sores appear under his chin, and to the left of his nose, as well.


Also noted is a small sore between his toes, on his left front paw, and other similar sores inside his left ear.

August 6, 2012:
He just can't stop pawing at his face, randomly, throughout the day.  Again, I check.  I see nothing.  I push on all the teeth, nothing moves, no tooth fractures, no bloody gums, nothing.  Note just a slight drip from his nose.

July 20, 2012:
Scabbing seems to have passed.  Hair loss is observed, but nothing else abnormal.  Pawing at face is fairly constant.  Still unable to see anything abnormal.

July 14, 2012:
A couple more small scabs are noted on Ty's face, just behind, and below his eye.  They eventually fall off, and the hair comes with them.  Similar to what we saw last month.  Now I'm thinking beyond something random, like a scratch, or altercation with one of the other dogs.

Shot taken August 11th.  These spots appeared July 14th,
so are fully healed in the photo.

First thought I have is Dermatomyositis.  He's been on some medication for his back, for several months, and his immune system is surely not at peak performance.  It's an open door, so is DM possible?  I have to think so.  I decide to watch it for a few days.

I reflect back to when he was about a year old.  A tiny spot on his nose leather turns gray, and smooth.  I remember doing some research back then, and Lupus was one thing that came up, over and over.  As I recall (it's been 9+ years ago), it went away fairly quickly, and I never really worried about it again.  From then on, he was always in superb coat, skin looked good.  No other issues.

July 10, 2012:
Cliff is in the yard with Ty, and calls me to come look at something.  Ty's anus is very inflamed, and he has an open sore that's oozing toward the bottom.  Call the vet, and take him in.  Vet reports his anal sacs are full.  She proceeds to express them, and sends us home with a topical steroid spray, and some antibiotics to administer.  After several days, the sore is greatly reduced, and he appears to be returning to his normal self.

He continues to paw at his face, and I'm still unable to find anything abnormal.

June 20, 2012:
A small sore appears on Ty's face, above his right eye.  Looks like someone snapped at him.  He's pawing at his face a lot, and his mouth, in particular.  Perhaps he scratched himself?  Checked his mouth, nothing unusual.  Teeth look good, gums look good.  Nothing abnormal noted.  Will watch him for a few days.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A small brisket 'victory'...

Yesterday we smoked a brisket.  It took several hours, even though it was a very small one (flat), and only 4 lbs.  None the less.  Not our first attempt at smoking a brisket, but the first time I think we really found some success.

I wasn't even going to shoot this one, as evidenced by the rather boring presentation.  I had plated it, and was sitting down to eat when my husband said, "aren't you going to shoot it?"  I looked over at my little table-top 'studio', and couldn't resist.  Had I planned on shooting it, I might have plated it with a bit more care.

 

Brisket is not a very tender cut of meat.  As a matter of fact, it's pretty damned tough.  Our first attempts at brisket were pretty sorry.  Words like "dry" and "tough" were really the best ones to describe our results in those first couple of attempts.

Saturday I did a little research on smoking brisket.  One site caught my attention, because the blogger started the post with "brisket isn't done until it's done".  And when is it done?  "When it's tender", proclaimed the blogger.  Okay, but at what point does that happen?  Well, according to this blogger, somewhere around 200-205 degrees (internal temperature).  Really?!  Hum, that sounded a little high.  But, with two failed briskets under our belts, it was time to test out the "low and slow, to a higher internal temperature" method.

We have an electric smoker, and it does not have a temperature gauge, nor a way in which to hold temperature, so while we did get a great result with the steps we took yesterday, there are a couple of things I will do differently next time.  However, on to the process and what we did.

I used my dry rub recipe to heavily coat the brisket, I then bagged it, and vacuumed sealed it.  I let it set in the fridge for several hours, to juice up, and absorb all those great flavors.

It was very hot yesterday, so keeping the smoker at about 225 degrees was not going to be a problem...good, since this is the temperature I was going for.  If I have one complaint about our smoker, it would be its ability to hold temperature.  When we purchased the smoker, we bought the cheapest one we could find.  I wasn't sure if smoking was for us, and before looking at a more expensive alternative, we went with the $59.00 Brinkman.  For $59.00, I can't really complain.  It has turned out some impressive smoked meats and fish, but it has its limitations, and for us, I have found the best days to use it are days when temperatures will reach at least 85 degrees.  At some point we will probably trade up, but this little smoker has a lot of life left in it, and given just a few limitations, it has worked very well for us.

Back to my brisket.  Once the smoker was loaded with wood chips, we were ready to roll.  I decided to smoke it in a disposable foil pan, keeping the juices in the pan, with the meat, vs. in the bottom of the smoker.

We kept the smoke going for about 3 hours, then just let the heat of the smoker slowly cook the meat.  At about 195 degrees, we decided to pull the meat off.  The blogger I'd been reading suggested at least 185 degrees, preferably 200-205.  We split the difference, and went with 195.  In hindsight, I would have gone to 200, or even 205, but as the sun was down over the house, the heat of the smoker was not keeping at a steady 225, and we pulled the meat.  It was still very good, and very juicy.  It was also very tender, but I can definitely see where another 10-15 degrees of internal temperature would have taken it from really good to 'over the top'!

As I understand it, getting the meat to 200, or even 205, breaks down all the connective tissue, leaving a really tender cut of meat.  I can completely see this, given our prior brisket attempts (cooked to lower temperatures), and the relative success of this one, cooked to 195.

Overall, I'm really pleased with our result.  The next brisket I will smoke for 3-4 hours, then transfer to the oven to finish, where I can control the temperature far better.  A pan of liquid added to the oven, with the brisket, will keep things moist, so I think I can improve on that, too.

A little time off...

Cliff put in for a week's vacation later in the summer.  I'm not really sure what we're going to do.  Likely spend a couple of days around the house, organizing, purging and just generally going through the annual "keep, toss or sell" process.

We'd also like to spend a couple of days driving around, perhaps making our way to the coast.  And, of course, I'd like to stretch my photography wings a bit more.  Now that I'm more intimately familiar with all the major functions of my camera, it's time to seek some new subjects, and play around with longer exposures, different lighting challenges, etc.  Seems when I gather a better understanding of yet another function of my camera, I find a new level of detail in my shots, too, which is very exciting for me.  Now that I'm shooting on manual, I see what's truly available to me, in terms of my camera's capabilities, and the finer level of control is really nifty.  Truly, this is where photography really rings my bell: the technical aspect of shooting.

So, back to the point of this post...where to go on our little jaunt?  The Pacific Northwest is so pretty, it's rare we need to leave the area to see the best of nature.  We are very fortunate to live in such a beautiful place, and within just a few hours, one can see the brilliance of nature's bounty.  Everything is green and in full foliage.  Should be a fun time.

And, no trip with the dogs would be complete without a romp in water, somewhere.  I anticipate a few 'wet dog' shots in my future.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Homemade table-top photo booth

To the professional, I'm sure my small photo booth is nothing special, but I'm quite proud of it.

I got my daylight lamps through my electrical wholesaler husband (thanks, honey!), and the fixtures were deeply discounted at Lowe's.  Made the scrims out of 1" x 2" birch, and covered them with parchment paper, which proved a great diffuser in the experiment with the more crude scrims I made out of pizza boxes last week, so I decided to use them on my more permanent scrims seen here.

 

Thanks to a Facebook friend, who is a professional photographer, I stole the idea to use plexi glass as a base for a nice reflective affect.  I like it.  Couple of shots with the plexi over light blue poster board, the first one with all lights on.  The second one with the top scrim light off.  Better reflection with the top scrim light off.



This will be a fun place to shoot food photos, and it's convenient, set up right off my kitchen.

This booth will also give me some good practice, and ideas for a larger booth, which I'd like to put together at some point down the road.

I found three small remnants of fabric at Walmart that will make nice bases, as well, and add more texture to my shots.  Fun stuff.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Best photo I've shot so far...

A visitor to our garden yesterday.  He kept flying around, and landing on the stake in the pepper plant.  I went into the house, got the camera, and came out for a shot.  If I didn't know better, I would say he was posing.  I think I will call him "George", as in 'Clooney'.  He's cool, seems to know it, and didn't take a bad shot...much like Mr. Clooney.

I had the aperature a bit too wide, so had to darken it a couple shades, but this is how the camera saw him.  The sun was reflecting in just the right way, and coupled with the angle, gave his wings an almost 'glow' like quality.

Very proud of this little shot.  =)


Photography lessons...another step forward!

Today was photography education day...

After my lighting experiments from yesterday, I decided it was time to learn about white balance, and add the skill to my photography toolbox.  I'm really glad I did.  What a simple, but very effective adjustment.

Essentially it's just a matter of telling the camera where the white is, so when you shoot, it casts the color in the correct tone.  Two basic shots.  First one shot without white balance.  Second one with.  The first one has a yellow cast, which I don't care for.  Before I shot the second one, I told the camera where the white was, and it adjusted, removing the yellow cast.  Subtle, but to my eye, it makes a pretty big difference.  This is how they came out of the camera.



My other step forward today was in taking time to understand 'manual' mode on my camera.  When I first got my camera, I spent about 2 days on full 'auto'.  The shots were okay, but didn't wow me, so I then shifted to the presets.  I was pretty happy with those for a spell, but still wasn't getting what I wanted, so I spent a good bit of time learning about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc., and felt I was getting closer to what I had in my mind, but that 'M' setting was still calling my name.  So, equipped with some pedestrian knowledge of the basics, it was time to step off 'priority' settings, and into full 'manual'.  How freeing!  So much more fine control of the shots.  I'm not sure what I was afraid of before, but I'm not afraid any longer.  Groovy.  =)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Now and then...

I thought it would be interesting to look back at the first '10' ever scored by an Olympic gymnast.  The 'who' was Nadia Comaneci and she did it in 1976 at the Montreal games.  Things have changed a lot since then.  I can't say I find the performance particularly impressive, looking back from today, but I remember watching this when it happened, back in 1976, and as I recall, it was pretty special at the time.  I think the advancements in the sport are clearly evident, when you consider what today's young gymnasts are capable of.  A tribute, surely, to advancements in sports technology.



For comparison's sake, Gabby Douglas' bar performance, just a few days ago in London.



The complexity of the release elements, as well as the dismount, are so far advanced.  What makes one so much more special?  Likely the moment in time vs. anything else.

Take a look at the vault performances.  Nadia, 1976.



And McKayla Maroney's vault just a few days ago, helping to give the United States a team gold medal.  Again, quite the difference.  McKayla's fault was assessed .2667 deductions.  I'd sure like to know where those deductions were.  Of course, I'm not a gymnast, so have no eye for it, but even the commentators could not tell us where the deductions were.



I found it interesting to look back...

A homemade lightbox

Yesterday I made a rather crude light box out of pizza boxes and parchment paper.  Before I make something a bit larger, I wanted to experiment with some lighting affects, and my homemade light box was just what I needed to convince myself that a little additional, and controlled lighting, is a good thing.  I will address the issue of true back-drop color later, but for now, the results of my test.

First up, the egg.

No lights - this shows a truer color of the poster board.

Lit from both the right and the left.

Lit only from the right.


The egg was an interesting test subject, I thought.  White is not easy to photograph, and I'm still learning about that, but it was interesting to see how the white shell of the egg didn't photograph particularly 'white'.  None the less, I was pleased with the reduction in shadows when the lights were lit from both the right and the left.

Next up, a small tin of powder.

Lit from the right only.

Lit from both the right and the left.


Now my tin of powder with a back-drop change.  I used poster board for my back-drops.  In the above shots, I used a powder blue sheet of poster board.  In the following shots I used black.  I loved how the black played out. I found it fascinating to see just how much the lights affected the color of my powder blue poster board.

Lit from the right and the left, with black poster board as a back-drop.

Lit from the left only.

Lit from both the right and the left.


I had a lot of fun with my crude little light box, I loved seeing how the lights played a role in the various results I achieved.  It wasn't just the lights, it was the kind of light, the direction and the proximity.  In all the photos I can see that I need a lighting solution from both the front and from above, but it was still a fun exercise.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and learned a bit more about lighting, diffusing light, light direction, the affect of light on color, etc.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lighting and composition...time to 'up' my game

Nothing great, with few exceptions, is ever an accident.  It's usually the point where a lot of personal preparation intersects with opportunity, and the pairing can often be quite powerful.  I believe in this, and it propels me forward when I take on a new hobby, and photography and food are two of my current favorites. 

I've been doing a little study on food photography and food styling, and I think my focus on the lighting aspects of the different photos I have been studying might actually mean something positive...perhaps I'm starting to see the artistic aspect of lighting?

I'm not a professional chef, and I'm sure as hell not a professional photographer, but when I decide I want to learn something, I like to study it in great detail, thus my commitment to learning all I can about both of these hobbies.  Food can be just as artistic as photography, so the two pursuits seem to fit well for me.  I also love the technical aspects of both, of which there are many.

To date, I sort of close in on my food subjects, and 'fill the frame'.  This works to eliminate items in the background that might be unsightly, and can often minimize the affects caused by only passable lighting, but I sure would like to make better use of the surrounding space, as well.  In other words, I want the photos to be more than just the food on the plate.  I want the setting to enhance the food.  I think I can make that happen.  The question is "how little money can I spend, and accomplish the photo results I'm looking for?"  I will soon find out...more on this later.