Tuesday, January 27, 2009

There have been complaints.

Just a word in hopes of exonerating myself on a point from that last entry: Kasha the semi-puppy is not evil. My use of the moniker, "evil puppy," was merely an effort to empathize with her wary cousins of canine and feline derivation, both of whom have been known to describe her as such in moments of frustration. Everybody loves Kasha. This is a fact.

Carry on.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Metabo" part 1: The Ballad of Lucy the Dog

Lucy the Dog is, arguably, the most beloved creature on the planet. This is a simple fact, and you cannot possibly argue otherwise: If you're warm-blooded, capable of rational thought, and not an evil cat or guerilla bunny, you love Lucy. Even if you've never met Lucy, you love Lucy.

Or so my dad would have everyone believe, which is probably how poor Lucy wound up in her recent predicament.

See, in her heyday, Lucy was a solid mass of muscles, with the razor instincts of her (assumedly) pitbull father and the going-and-going-and-going joy-powered body and brain of her labrador mother. She had been painstakingly trained to treat every situation as a possible game, and go tearing through the house barking wildly whenever she got excited. She spent her days sprawled across the living room couch, gazing out the window and snapping into Aggression whenever she saw a possible threat make its way across our property. (Possible threats include large men, other dogs of all sizes, Girl Scouts, squirrels, and toddlers. ESPECIALLY toddlers.) No small animal in the backyard was safe, as we learned the hard way almost every summer.

And, Lucy the Beloved enjoyed treats of all caliber, from carrot sticks to peanut butter; sampled every mass-market brand that could fit into our already overflowing closet; learned to expect her bright-red Kong every night, the horn of plenty, that spilled forth all of her favorites. No problem. Like I said, she was solid muscle. Like I said, that was her heyday.

Lucy has since slipped into her golden years, and she's not the same doggy-dog as she once was. In her lifetime, she's survived lime disease, attacks from other dogs, botched home manicures that left her goose-stepping about in socks, and a certain temperamental teenage girl accidentally (she swears it was an accident and she felt horrible and lost sleep for real FORGIVE HER) slamming the door on her tail. Lucy shrugged off these peripheral attacks, ultimately; there was far too much fun to be had to sit around and bemoan a virus or an ouchy. Alas, our Lu couldn't escape from her genetics, as we discovered a few summers ago when she bounded off after a rabbit in the middle of her walk, then limped home - and never stopped limping.

It was a congenital condition. One of her back knees was shot, and the other was soon to follow. After a summer spent lying down, she finally needed an operation - a stressful experience for anyone, especially a very pack-oriented dog - and that carried another few months of recovery time. Even after her gait steadied out, she was never quite as spirited, growing easily fatigued and increasingly irritable around unfamiliar visitors, such as my older brother's iron-skinned (and -headed) eterna-puppy. She gained weight. A lot of weight. That's what continued to stand out, the weight gain. We tried putting her on a diet, limiting her treats to the occasional carrot stick and weaning her off the wet dog food that had crept into her bowl during her extended convalescence. She got walked every morning (a necessity, seeing as she had begun suffering from incontinence, on top of everything), yet the weight kept piling on. And then the seizures started.

I never saw this first hand (thank god - I'd have panicked), but during what remained of her walks, if she strained herself at all - pulling at her spiked collar toward another dog, for example - she'd occasionally collapse, phase out, and drool for a few minutes. The second time this happened, my parents brought her to the vet and got some tests done. There, they learned two things:

1. Lucy had gained twenty pounds. Granted, she's a large dog, 70 pounds in tip-top condition, but come on, and this was while she was on a diet.

2. Lucy had metabolic syndrome. This was probably responsible for the seizures, and was definitely beckoning additional pounds.

Metabolic syndrome, incidentally, can be treated with a pill, which has become a regular part of Lucy's regimen. Astoundingly, within days, the old Lu began creeping back into those old bones. Her energy spiked, and her mood improved. She struggled less to keep up with Kasha the Evil Puppy, and required less recovery time. She lost weight, a LOT of weight, 9 pounds at her last weigh-in.

But, see... metabolic syndrome. As soon as I heard that, I laughed. Guffawed. In relief, mind, but mostly for another reason. Trust me, you'll laugh too.

You will. Next time. When I explain.

(Meaning, "To be continued." In case you missed that.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009


That does it. I'm baking again.

There were actually two inspirations here - one was a cheap cookbook, and the other a giveaway. But, since I've only loaded the pictures for one...

See, I went to a party the other day, a "sayonara" party for a friend who's going back to Germany within the week. The group of friends that we share is extremely diverse, ethnically speaking - of eleven participants, two (he and I) were of European origin (in my case, a fourth generation American Jew); two were Korean; and the remaining members were all Japanese, though at least two of them had studied within the continent of Australia for extended periods. It's a fun bunch, but the basic point is that the party was decidedly "Japanese," and that generally means either "all-you-can-eat" and "all-you-can-drink," with everybody dipping into the same dishes, or - as this one was, and as I happen to vastly prefer - buffet-style.

To be specific, it was at an "Organic Farm Restaurant" called "Moku-Moku," which specializes in fresh, homemade dishes, many vegetarian, all from seasonal ingredients, all extremely healthy. Oh boy. Please don't ask how many "second helpings" in which I partook, but the whole thing filled a comfort quota that's been neglected in my body for some time, and that goes beyond warm, delicious food. The people present were just fun - non-judgmental, inclusive, unconcerned about nationality or language, resulting in flowing conversations that had more to do with life and the present than futile scrapes at cultural barriers that might not even exist. Refreshing, rejuvenating, satisfying in all ways.

(Can you tell that perceived barriers are something that contributes to my stress? Yeah, you're smart like that.)

But, anyways, I wasn't talking about fitting in and finding my way in an unfamiliar environment. I was talking about food! And, for whatever reason, "Moku-Moku" had a big basket by their front counter, full of little bags, full of a grayish powder, with the sort of sign that seems to glitter and flash neon green lights, even when it's jotted on a piece of scrap paper, as this one was:

"Help yourself."

Everyone was trickling towards and away from the cashier, paying for dinner, chatting, waiting. I grabbed a few sheets of paper, one with recipes, the other two putting a name and information to the mystery ingredient - it was definitely food, something called "kome nuka" (米ぬか). I had seen it before, and knew that it could be made to make a certain type of pickle, but had never bothered to look into it; could this be an impetus to find out? One of the papers, after all, had instructions for making "nukazuke" (ぬか漬け), detailing the pickling process, and it seemed simple enough. Everyone started to leave, and I joined them, walking away, leaving the dust for another day when I knew what it was, what I could do with it, when I wouldn't waste it.

And then I remembered that it was free.

And I ran back for it.


So what was it? Squinting at the sheets of information that I had gathered, and ultimately deferring to Wikipedia, I at last discovered: it was rice bran! (BRAN. Not brains. Why must we all default to the assumption of typos? If I use this much overture to introduce a little baggy full of America's original superfood, I think consumption of brain-matter, or anything that claimed a similar name, would merit a novel at least.) So that would explain all of the health claims. Very nice. Unfortunately, my squinting had also determined that the pickling wasn't of the overnight variety, and would in fact involve several weeks of daily interaction with a bucket of brownish sludge. As tempting as this project seemed, the fact is that I'm slowly killing a basil plant with indifference right now. No, I needed something instant. I needed to consult my favorite Japanese recipe website, Cookpad for anything that I could throw together with zero effort, using ingredients that were gathering dust in my fridge.

Which is how I wound up making miso-bran cookies.


The process - simple. Mix the bran powder, some miso, some sugar (I used brown. Because I can!), some water; roll it out; cut, poke, bake. The appearance was pleasant, not unlike graham crackers. The texture was lovely, unbelievably soft and moist and just a bit crumbly.

The taste, well, opinions diverge.

At first, I thought it was... interesting. Yeasty, a bit sweet, with a strong... something. Hard to judge. Love it or hate it. On the other hand, my neighbor took a bite, made a face, and politely excused herself to go spit it out. She just doesn't like kome-nuka, she explained. Nothing personal. And a day later, my roommate braved the cookies that I introduced as "kind of bad," and announced them to be quite tasty indeed - upon hearing which, I took another, and had to agree. They definitely benefit from aging. That just doesn't seem right with baked goods, but it was true. The yeast in the miso must have something to do with them mellowing over time.

Anyways. There's nothing traditional about these cookies. They probably don't even deserve to be called cookies (health crackers?). But they deserve some time. And with half a bag of bran left... maybe I should just go the expected route this time and make muffins. Or something.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A momentous occasion.

Happy Strawberry Day!

Because... it's January 5th?

Um. 1/5?

And, see, in Japanese, 1 is pronounced, "ichi," and 5 is "go."

Which makes it, you know... "ichi-go." Right?

Okay. And in Japanese, "ichigo" (苺) is "strawberry."

Get it? Get it?!

This is all according to my "Holiday a Day" calendar. At least half of them seem to be less actual holidays than similarly crafted puns. Expect to be reminded in the event of writer's block.