Saturday, May 19, 2007

Best Chicken Soup Ever (According to Brent)

Okay, so Brent is my husband. That might make you think his opinion doesn't count. Especially if he offered it while I was hovering nearby.

Well, make a pot and judge for yourself!

Chicken Soup

In a dutch oven (which is a large pot in case you never heard them called that) on medium heat:

A tablespoon of oil
2 chicken breasts cut into small cubes (chicken is easiest to cut when it's still mostly frozen, by the way so if you're not using fresh, don't thaw it out very much before you chop it up)

Cook stirring often until the bottom of the pot gets just a little brown.

With your mortar and pestle, grind together:

1 tablespoon summer savory
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp of Montreal Chicken or similar spice

Sprinkle the powdered results over the cooked chicken

Add:

6 - 8 cups of  boiling water
1 box chicken broth (or 2 extra cups water and 2 chicken oxo)
1 finely chopped onion OR 1 pkg of dry onion soup mix

1/2 cup quinoa (rinsed)
2/3 cup pearl barley (rinsed)
3 -4 stalks celery washed and chopped

When it all comes to a boil, turn down, cover and simmer on low heat for an hour or so.

Add:

1 parsnip finely sliced
5 medium carrots, chopped
2 - 3 medium potatoes, diced

Optional:
For a heartier soup, add half cup each of one or two of the following:
Chopped cauliflower
Cubed turnip
Chopped green cabbage
Chopped green beans
Fresh or frozen peas
Fresh or frozen kernel corn

Simmer for another hour.

Eat. Rejoice in the deliciousness!
And if you have the sniffles, get better!




Friday, May 18, 2007

Low Carb, Low Calorie, High Protein Muffins


Whether you're counting calories or carbs, or wanting a little more protein in your diet, this could be the muffin recipe you've been looking for.

Approximate counts for carbs, calories and protein are listed below, but you should check your own ingredients for 100% accuracy, as these numbers will vary slightly with different brands.

Don't get your beater out - you'll be mixing these up with a spoon.

In a medium mixing bowl mix:

1 1/2 cups all bran cereal. (not flakes)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil or melted butter
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter (**see nut free option below)

Let sit for a couple of minutes. Turn your oven on to 375 degrees.

You might as well get the muffin pan (large) ready now too - a touch of cooking spray or (and this works as well for a lot less) a tiny drop of vegetable oil, spread around with a basting brush. I don't recommend using cupcake papers, but parchment would be fine.

Now, add:

2/3 cup skim milk powder
2 tablespoons granulated Splenda or brown sugar substitute
1/4 cup flour (enriched white or whole wheat)
2 tsp baking powder

Divide this evenly in your prepared muffin pan and pop in the preheated oven for 15 - 18 minutes. The top will spring back to a light touch when done.

** Nut free option - replace peanut butter with 1 tsp cinnamon, or some orange zest or other flavouring, or just bake them plain.

And now -- the numbers!

Each muffin has approximately:

13 carbs
8 grams protein
120 calories

Peanut butter free version:

12 carbs
6.5 grams protein
90 calories

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cat Scratch Fever!



Yes, I said cat scratch fever. It's the only explanation I can think of to account for the decision we've made.

That being - to keep all of the cats. Yes, Mom Lily, and all four of her babies.

"We'll be known as the crazy cat people,"I told Brent.

"So?" he said, shrugging.

We'd gone over and over the subject. At any given moment you could find us firmly determined to keep one, two, four, none ... it had gone back and forth and around and around. In the end, it was Thragg who decided things for us.

Thragg is the firstborn, a black male with a tiny white tuft at his throat and a single white hair protruding from the middle of his back. He'd also become the runt of the litter after growing at a normal rate for the first five weeks. As he fell behind, the others tended to crowd him out -- he clearly wasn't getting his share of milk, and then Mommy decided that it was time to begin weaning.

To top that off, Thragg took sick, not once but a couple of times. By week six and in spite of our interventions, he was thin and fragile, while the others bounded about, their chubby bodies landing on him as they played. He headed for cover, seeking us out, wanting to be held and protected. And all the while, he got thinner and thinner. His eyes lost expression, his walk became a listless stagger.

It was quite apparent to us that we were losing the little guy. A milk substitute, complete with a pet nurser didn't tempt him. Private sessions we'd been orchestrating with Mommy were no longer working -- she refused to oblige. For several days we rose each morning suffused in dread. Each time, he made his way weakly along and sat at our feet in the most pathetic manner.

As our worry grew, we decided to take him to the local SPCA (from whence Lily had come) for a prognosis. Dreading the worst, Brent could hardly believe his ears when Cindy checked him over and declared, "Nothing wrong with this kitten! He's just a runt." She offered instructions on making gruel for him and showed us how to use the pet nurser more effectively.

It was a turning point. He began to pick up right away, and now, as he nears eight weeks, the tiny creature is rounding out and making gains steadily. Still less than half the size of two of his siblings (as you can see in the photo) the spark is back in his eyes and he's even engaging in a little play.

You'd almost think this would be reason to keep him - maybe only him - but not the others. You'd be wrong. Believing we were losing Thragg showed us how precious each of these tiny creatures really are to us. We love each and every one of them.

And this is why they're staying.

That, and cat scratch fever.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Miss Lily Takes Over


Well, it's official. The cat stays.

I guess I knew, probably from the first second I picked her up and she rubbed her face against my cheek, that this wasn't going to be a short-term "foster care" deal. She was already sizing me up, figuring out my weaknesses, measuring my resolve... No wonder her little cat smile was so serene.

The big question that still remains is: what about the kittens. Brent (who is entirely smitten with Miss Lily) made a crack last week about keeping all of them. At least, I think it was a crack. There was a kind of weak laugh that went along with it but now that I think back, he couldn't quite meet my eye.

The babies, by the way, are hidden away at the moment. When they were two days old, I discovered that one of them was missing from the box we'd lined with blankets for the newborns and Mom. Searching frantically, I was relieved to be guided by its pathetic mewing and finally found it in a large drawer in the centre of our couch.

I took the poor thing back to Lily and gave her a stern talking-to about keeping the babies together etc. Half an hour later, she'd transferred a second kitten there. Another rescue, another lecture.

Brent took time out from his amusement to suggest that she might know what she was about and maybe I should let her do as she liked. So, I lined the drawer with a soft towel and backed off.

In short order, she'd moved her little brood to the drawer, where they remain in spite of the fact that their incredibly rapid growth has resulted in rather cramped living quarters. We are now allowed to see them and even touch them, but I've learned to leave the living arrangements up to Lily, and have not attempted to move them again. We have, however, created no less than four alternate places for them, for when she decides it's time.

As cute as the kittens are, and as likely as it is that they won't all be leaving here for new homes, it's really Lily who's won our hearts. Both affectionate and peculiar, she fits right in.

One of the odd things about her! I first noticed that she was, uh, not exactly sure-footed, the first time she stumbled all over my desk. Further evidence that she lacks the usual grace and balance found in cats has presented itself to us on a daily basis. She trips and slips and has even bonked her head on furniture.

But her lack of agility is only the beginning. However, I shall save more for another day. Perhaps with a picture of her with her babies.

For now, I have to go. There's a cat on my keyboard.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Arrival

One week ago, on Saturday, March 24th, I received a call from our local SPCA -- just days after registering for their fostering program.

"Can you foster a pregnant cat? She's ready to give birth in the next few days."

I promised to drop down and meet the mom-to-be. The idea of frollicking kittens appeals to me. Still, I know that there's a high risk involved. What if one of the kittens is just too cute to give back? We're not ready for another cat -- not long term. In fact, we firmly decided, after the death of our much-loved Tom (full name Thomas Uriah Sherrard) nearly two years ago that we wouldn't have another pet.

At the shelter, I meet a very small and very young female. She's been brought in as a stray and it sickens me to think that someone decided the last stage of pregnancy was the time to send her wandering alone on the streets. When the cage door is opened she comes right to me and allows me to pick her up. (Her fur is incredibly soft -- reminiscent of Tom, who charmed the ladies with his velvety coat.) She rubs my face with hers and purrs.

Half an hour later we arrived home and, after hiding and being coaxed out a few times she seems to settle in okay. Since she's come sans-name, Brent calls her Lily, short for Tiger Lily, in honour of her beautiful tiger-like markings. (This may make you think she's orange, but she's actually dark with some brown and white.)

Lily proves to be quite friendly and spends a lot of time cuddling. In fact, the next day she's laying across me, purring while I stroke her when an odd movement in her midsection catches my attention. I watch, certain I must be mistaken, but sure enough it happens again. She's having contractions. On me.

"Do you know that you're in labour?" I ask her. "Wouldn't you prefer some privacy?"

Apparently not. An hour or so later I shift her into a cat bed, which Brent has placed beside me on the couch. Lily insists on leaning out of it and putting her head on my knee. It's not until the first kitten begins to emerge that she pulls away, giving my stroking hand a gentle bite for my trouble.

Two hours later there are four kittens, wet, scrawny and thoroughly pathetic looking. Brent and I assure Lily that they're absolutely beautiful. One is entirely black, one has its mother's colours and two are white with some dark blotches.

From zero to five in twenty-four hours!

I think to myself that it should be interesting.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Welcome Friends


The wind is howling outside my window -- a south-east wind that's been blowing since yesterday. There's still plenty of snow on the ground, but it's the end of March -- and the promise of spring makes me indifferent to that. Besides, I like snow, although I admit in its current state it reminds me of a rose well past its bloom -- with brightness gone and shrivelling around the darkening edges.

I should be working on a story, or doing something constructive ... or, at the very least, performing some mundane task. (A relatively simple but accurate layout of my priorities!) Instead, I've decided to come here and make a little nest, a home for my thoughts, a place to record what matters. To me.
For today, this seems enough. A beginning - a toe dipped in the water. A journey with destinations unknown.

I'm very glad you've stopped by.
Valerie