Appreciation for things in the past and easy weeknight Greek salmon

The beauty of hindsight is 20/20.

Growing up, one of my dad’s friends/work associates was a fisherman. He was a big man, probably 6’6″ or so. He spoke many languages (read: 6 or 7) including Japanese and German. The knowledge of many languages came in handy when selling his catch on the public docks. He would show up at our door, often unannounced, with a garbage bag of surplus whatever he had caught. Sometimes he brought shrimp, other times it was sockeye salmon. At the time, I didn’t eat either of these things and would retch inwardly at the sight and smell of these “gifts”. The polite me would say thank you as a well raised child will do.

I have memories of my mom canning salmon for what seemed like forever. Boiling and peeling shrimp consumed entire weekends. There was one salmon that was so big, it took my mom, older brother and myself to hold the body still while my dad used, possibly, a hacksaw to cut off the head. We placed that behemoth on the empty kitchen table, covered the entire floor and table in newspaper to catch the gore and had some family time beheading the beast. Scales were flying in every direction. The cats were sharking all around the kitchen trying to claim a prize.

Flash forward many years and the knowledge of the health benefits of wild caught fatty fish. Oh and the appreciation for well prepared seafood. Living on the west coast, seafood is readily available here. Want to be a real hunter/gatherer? You can be at the water, go out in your wee boat, throw in a line and if luck is smiling on you, catch your dinner all in an afternoon.

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Hot weather means I don’t want the oven on for extended periods of time. I don’t want to heat the house any more than I have to. Hello broiler!

Easy Greek salmon:

  • 1 side fillet of salmon, approximately 1 pound, cut into 4-6 servings
  • 1 tablespoon ghee
  • 2 tablespoons Greek salad dressing

Cover a rimmed cookie sheet in foil. (easy clean up here) Grease the foil with the ghee in the area you will be placing the salmon fillets.

Place oven rack to the highest position and set the broiler on high.

Cook the salmon for approximately 8-10 minutes. Remove and baste with the Greek salad dressing. Return the fish to the broiler for another 2 minutes. Test for doneness.

Serve this with a big chunky salad drizzled in the same dressing.

Wasn’t that easy? You seriously can’t use the “I don’t have time” excuse to whip this up for dinner. Start to finish takes around 20-30 minutes and that includes cleaning up.

 

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Saying farewell to sweet Fudge

Caring for another creature can and should humble you.

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Sweet Fudge arrived on our street one day. No collar or tags. No readable tattoo in her ear or microchip under her skin. Her ears bore battle scars as did her nose. Her fluffy coat was full of tangles and matted knots that any dreadlocked Rastafarian would envy. (Yes, I know that was profiling, but you get the picture right?)

We asked around the neighbourhood if anyone know who she belonged to. No one knew anything about her. We took her to our vet and learned her tattoo was unreadable. We learned her approximate age and weight. And that she was deaf. Totally deaf as post. We brought her home and had to make a few plans. We informed the neighbours she was deaf and that she wouldn’t hear cars approaching on the street, so could they all please be more aware of her on the road.

We built wooden houses, insulated them and filled them with soft bedding for her to sleep on. Her house was decorated at Christmas and Hallowe’en to match our house. You could hear Fudge snoring when she was asleep inside her cozy abode. My weekly Spud delivery guy was always happy to see her.

She became fiercely protective of our property. Dogs were tolerated as they walked on the road, but if one dared step a toe onto our grass or driveway. . . well, Fudge went into Guard-cat mode. The Chocolate Lab went home with a sliced nose. The Golden Retriever went home with a matching slice. One small white fluffy dog, perhaps a Bichon Frise, decided to come to the front door one Saturday morning and sample Fudge’s breakfast. That little dog made noises no animal could make voluntarily. This fluffy white pup went home pink and red. Fudge let him know whose food he dared eat and it was a lesson not ever forgotten.

We spent hours brushing her coat daily. It was common to find twigs and dead bugs caught up in the fluffiest of her underpinnings. She tolerated the daily removal of assorted bricabrac from her fur. Her personal best, was a branch of a rosebush, complete with a spiderweb and a dead worm all firmly woven into her back leg fuzzy bits.

Her favourite place to sleep was with her head under the Azalea bushes.img_1092

One summer, a young man came to our door selling book subscriptions to pay for his Theology and Religious studies. He was distracted by Fudge with her head hidden under the bush. He kept looking at me and looking back at Fudge. Finally he said “Mum, I think there is something wrong with your cat. She didn’t look at me when I spoke to her.” I assured him she was fine. “No, mum, you don’t understand, she isn’t moving when I talk to her.” I explained she was deaf and then touched her side. She brought her head up so quickly, she knocked flowers to the dusty flowerbed. I told him how Fudge came to live with us and how it isn’t my place to turn my back on a creature in need. She may have been a Queen in a former life and it was my job to care for her now. He stopped his speech about religion and shook my hand and thanked me. His eyes were wet and he bent down to nuzzle Fudge before going on his way.

Over the years, we noticed her fluffy coat was getting more and more tangled. She seemed unable to keep herself well groomed. There often were bathroom cling-ons stuck in her fur. We had to help clean these from her coat. From time to time, we needed to wash these southern parts with warm water to remove the dried matter. She was less tolerant of our brushing sessions. We opted to get her a haircut. A Lion-trim to be more precise. Well, that was revealing to say the least.

Upon her haircut, we noticed she was thin. Really thin. We asked for a check up. Her blood work came back revealing she had kidney disease. The vet gave us many scenarios we could explore. She said Fudge could last anywhere from weeks to maybe a few months with a diet change etc. There were also some far more involved options too, if we wanted to investigate those. We chose a food change. We told all the neighbours she was on a new diet and to please not feed her anything. Fudge was known for seeing what was for dinner at the other houses on the street.

She didn’t care for the food switch. We tried every brand, every formulation of food that was designed for kidney issues in cats. She turned her scarred nose up at every single offering. So, now what? Quality or quantity? Give in and let her eat what she wanted or feed her what she didn’t want, and therefore left untouched?

We moved her bed into the garage, installed a space heater for her and fed her what she wanted. She ate happily. Then, one day, she had the look in her eyes.

I’m done.

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We brought her and her litterbox upstairs and made her a spot to sleep on the bed. Fudge no longer had the sweet smell of happy kitty. She was instantly sour and acrid. Her fur, once soft and luxurious to brush, was cold and greasy feeling. We called the vet in the morning.

They accommodated us first thing. The vet explained they would try to find a vein, but in the state she was in, it may be difficult. She wrapped Fudge in a blanket and took her to the back. They emerged a few minutes later, the vet smiling with relief as they were able to find one. (the alternative is to apparently go directly into the heart and not pleasant for family to watch) We held her fuzzy hand as she slipped away. She seemed to smile as she left us.

We miss sweet Fudge more than she can ever know.

Growing up on KD

Who ate this stuff? Who still eats this stuff?

C’mon, hands up. We’re all friends here. No one will judge you.

Confession time. I used to eat 2 boxes of the stuff, BY MYSELF, because I could. I’d eat right out of the pot I cooked it in, no less. I’d make the stuff, grab the salt shaker and plop myself on the couch in front of the tv and mindlessly shovel it in, stopping only to resalt the next layer. I’d eat until it was all gone, even if I felt full at about the halfway point, because, well, noodles and cheese. Oh and salt. Lots of that. As if the 80’s pantry ubiquitous blue box didn’t already have a stupid amount of sodium in it already.

The first time I made it, I recall, I read the instructions on the side of the box to the letter. I dutifully measured the amount of water I set to boil. I measured out the salt, milk, butter (it most likely was margarine that went into it way back then!) and timed how long the pasta cooked. Sometimes, the noodles were a little firmer than I preferred, but I was going by the directions and I wasn’t about to stray. I recall my brother snickering that if I had to read how to make KD, then there was NO hope of me getting married and being able to cook for my family. I always rationalized that the man I was going to marry would have to be able to cook then, wouldn’t he?

I have vague, fond memories of certain foods that, with my rose-coloured memory glasses, were divine. KD, being one of those things I thought I missed. Quitting gluten to heal my gut and save my skin forced me to say good-bye to KD among other things. When I had to eat all things gluten-y to rule out Celiac disease, I bought a box of the stuff. This time though, I winged the water to cook the pasta, used barely a drizzle of milk (because I wanted thick, cheesy sauce) and used butter, baby. One forkful later. . .  yuck. What was the big deal over this stuff? Even though they claim the ingredients on the box have changed from when I was downing it as a teen, (they have removed the Yellow #5 now) there are still a few sketchy items in my book.

The heart pines for what it is denied however.

I have learned to improvise.

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This is my version of KD now. The only thing non-conventional is the Bragg’s nutritional yeast. That stuff packs the cheesy flavour and the yams and red palm oil round out that beautiful colour. Yeah, my photography still requires some work and staging, but, the roughness shows that this is real, easy and tasty stuff I’m sending your way. Feel free to serve it fancily, with all the garnish, but I would rather be eating than fussing with props.

Mac n not-cheese:

  • 2 smalls yams (the orange fleshed ones)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock (homemade is best)
  • 3/4 cup Bragg’s nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/3 cup red palm oil
  • 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk (more depending on sauce thickness preferences)
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound dry gluten free elbow macaroni (I used Tinkyada)

Peel and chop the yams into approximately 1″ cubes. Add minced garlic and boil until fork tender. Using either a hand-stick blender (immersion), regular blender or food processor, blend the drained potatoes, stock, nutritional yeast and palm oil. Slowly add the coconut milk until you get the consistency you want for your pasta. You want the sauce to be smooth, no tell-tale yam lumps in case you are trying to sneak the sauce past someone who may not be on board with eating a potato-based “cheese” sauce. Add chili powder, salt and peeper to taste.

Cook the pasta to your desired level of al dente. Some folks I know like their noodles overcooked to the point they break apart and other folks like a chewier noodle. To each their own.

You can either toss the pasta and the sauce together and dig in right away or. . . throw it into a buttered casserole dish and bake it in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350. If you are going to bake it in the oven, I’d make the sauce a little runnier and to allow for absorption while baking.

Another reason I’m not a dog person

You remember Sasha? The Lhasa Apso my grandparents owned? The one who ate my Hershey bar and all of it’s wrappings yet lived to tell another tale? Well, she gave me another reason not to think too fondly of her.

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Sasha used to go to the groomer on a regular basis for a wash, ear clean, nail clip, trim, whatever it is they do there and topped off with ridiculous ribbons and at a healthy price. The upside of her day at the doggy spa meant she wasn’t in the house. A fact the cats and I enjoyed immensely.

This one particular Saturday, I was volunteered to play chauffeur for Sasha. It was decided I was to drop her off at the groomers and then take my grandparents around to do their weekly shopping at Safeway, the green grocer, liquor store and then up to the mall. I didn’t object to the shopping rounds as we would often stop for fries and a milkshake. As a teenager, that’s a decent bribe.

I rounded the dog up and headed to the car with her in my arms. We didn’t have a travel crate for her so she just sat on the seat. As we drove to the groomer she kept stealing glances at me from the corner of her eye. This should’ve tipped me off that something was up. She only ever looked at me to growl when no one was around.

Luck was on our side as there was a parking space right in front of the door to the groomers. I parked the car, shut off the engine and got out. As I walked around to the passenger side to get Sasha, she started jumping up and down excitedly. I thought that meant she was happy to be going to her doggy spa. When I opened the passenger side door, Sasha jumped away from me. No, she didn’t jump out of the car and into the parking lot. She jumped to the driver’s seat.

I tried coaxing her back over so I could pick her up and get her inside. Her appointment time was about to begin. I’m a punctuality nut. I’d rather sit for 20 minutes than be 5 minutes late.

Sasha stayed where she was despite my efforts. Her eyes locked on me and I swear she said f*#k you. She squatted and pissed in my seat. Not just a little tinkle either. She flooded my car seat. Yes, she had been pee before we left. I made sure of that. She found a second bladder and emptied it in my car. Needless to say I wanted to scream. But I was in public and right in front if the groomers so I remained quiet.

I was so mad! It took every ounce of restraint I had not to wring her neck. I shut the passenger door and walked back to the driver’s side. This back and forth nonsense went on for several minutes. She was playing a game of pig-in-the-middle with me and I was losing.She jumped back to the dry seat. I’m pretty sure it was entertaining to anyone watching. Thankfully this was pre-Internet, cell phone and YouTube, otherwise, I’m sure this would’ve gone viral.I reached in and picked her up.  I was clenching my teeth together so tightly I think I cracked a filling. We went into the groomers and I gently sat Sasha down on the counter. “What are we doing for little Sasha today?” the groomer asked ever so sweetly. This was a sweet woman who obviously loved her job. You could see how much she adored dogs by the way she cared for them.

“Drown her for all I care,” I replied (I was mad, remember?). The woman looked as if I throat-punched her. She clutched Sasha close to her bosom and gasped. I explained about the pee and asked for some paper towels or something to absorb the mess. She said no, thst she wouldnt help me and said someone else could pick Sasha up at 4:00. She said ‘someone’, not ‘you’. She picked Sasha up and whisked her away from the evil person who wished the dog to be drowned.

Now I had to contort myself in my seat for the drive home. I moved the seat as far back as it would go and perched on the edge. I could barely reach the pedals. I think I screamed the whole drive home.

I walked in the house and grabbed paper towels, a bucket with hot soapy water, a cloth and the blow dryer on an extension cord. It took a couple of hours to get it clean and get rid of the dog pee smell. There was no shopping done that day. The grandparents were going to have to make do with the provisions they had in the house for another day.

I found a large apple box in the garage, lined it with plastic and paper towels and took that with me to pick Sasha up at 4:00. I figured if she was going to use my car as a toilet again, she’d be the one sitting in it this time. The groomer was rather hesitant to release Sasha to me after my drowning comment earlier in the day.

We drove home without incident. Sasha did not care for the confines of the apple box. It was a deep box and Sasha was a short dog and therefore couldn’t see over the edge. The lid was not on and it had plenty of breathing holes on the sides so don’t get all worried thinking I was depriving her of oxygen. I’m not a monster. The drive home was 6 minutes if we hit a red light. Ten minutes after we were home, the groomer called the house to see if Sasha made it home safely. Really?! She told my grandmother about my comment and disposition when I dropped the dog off. She then went so far as to say that perhaps I wasn’t an animal lover and shouldn’t be left unsupervised with Sasha.

No one ever asked me to take the dog anywhere again.

 

It’s about loss

It’s been two years since Ernie left us but it still hurts just the same.

Meet Ernie. He had many variations on his name. Ernesto. Ernesto Valenzeulia. Ernst Q. Pussycat. Erniebernie.

Ernie in his backyard
Ernie in his backyard

Pets are really just hairy family members who speak a different language. They have their own agenda, especially cats. Maybe dogs do too, don’t know, never really owned one, except for co-habitting with Sasha the Lhasa Apso my grandparents owned, and well, as the posts about her explain, she and I did not see eye to eye.

Ernie arrived on the scene when he was a tiny wee kitten. He was smaller than the palm of a hand. He was too young to be away from his momma. Somehow, he arrived at the front door at the stand alone warehouse building that was located in a very non-developed part of town. He was brought home and taken to the vet for a check. We were sent home with formula and directions to clean his “little boy parts” . Ernie hadn’t been going to the bathroom and he was getting sick. If he didn’t go the the bathroom, we were going to lose him. We used a warm wet facecloth and cleaned him like a mother cat would. After an entire afternoon and the better part of an evening, he dribbled. Then, the flood gates opened, and Ernie went to the bathroom. We jumped for joy! He lapped at the formula from a dropper and learned to use a litter box. 

Ernie liked to inspect everything. A small renovation was being done in the apartment and Ernie was sitting in the sink inspecting the new tap. A new door was put in and Ernie sat atop the header in the doorway. Ernie also liked to garden. Chives were grown on the enclosed balcony and Ernie liked to nibble them. His onion breath was legendary.

Then came the move. While searching for a home to buy, Ernie was left in the apartment with regular daily visits for food, snuggles and litter box attendance. The time away from Ernie was 1 week. He developed Separation Anxiety and stopped eating and going to the bathroom. 

The move was completed with Ernie right in the middle of all the action. He made it clear he was not to excluded ever again. 

At 7 years of age, it was noticed that he was drinking a lot of water. A lot. So a trip to the vet in the new town. The diagnosis came. Diabetes. The vet told us some folks put their animals down with this diagnosis. This was not to be Ernie’s fate. Blood sugar testing was learned. Injections were learned. Food was changed. An emergency syrup syringe was kept ready. 

At 18 years of age Ernie developed arthritis in his shoulder. He was taken back to the same vet and his meds were adjusted to be in harmony with his insulin. He started to slow down a bit more each day. His meows began to change. He called to be carried down to his litter box. He announced he was ready to be carried upstairs to be with the family. Graduated steps were built to give him independence to get up on beds and chairs. 

At his routine check up, his blood work showed kidney problems and pancreatitis. He was now 19 1/2 years old. The vet said when the time came, he could come to the house so Ernie would not have an awful car ride as his final memory. With heavy hearts, the decision was made. After the New Year, Ernie’s expression said he was ready. The vet and an assistant came to the house, gave Ernie a sedative to relax him and he was helped to sleep. The vet carried Ernie, wrapped in his favourite blanket, away to be cremated. He sat with Ernie in his lap the ride to the clinic. 

They say losing a pet makes it easier to learn to deal with death. No. No, it doesn’t. it’s harder when you have to make the toughest decision.