Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Brave New Fungus

Daughter Number Three's recent post about chicken nuggets sharing ingredients with silly putty got me thinking about processed chicken food. Or, as is more common in our house, chickenless food.

My family is quite fond of Quorn™ products. Dave and Boy#1 are vegetarian so real chicken is out for them. But the meaty texture and reasonable taste promotes Quorn™ products to the plates of the rest of the family as well.

They have a pleasing enough salty processed flavor and are usually doused in condiments or slathered in pesto -- so who's to argue? I have had to pleasure of the being under the table when someone loses control of their nuggets. I have to say, they work for me.

But what exactly IS Quorn™? The Quorn™ website says:

"Mycoprotein is the ingredient common to all Quorn™ products. It’s a meat-free form of high quality protein. Mycoprotein is made by adding oxygen, nitrogen, glucose and minerals to a fungus called Fusarium venenatum."

Uhh...OK...but what is Quorn™?

"Fusarium venenatum, the principal ingredient of Mycoprotien is an ascomycota, one of the largest groups within the fungi family, which also includes truffles and morels. It is one of a genus of filamentous fungi, meaning it is comprised of a web of finely spun strands (hyphae)." Quorn™ is a fungus... that grows in the woods? And is harvested by quaint farmers and their trusty pigs.

Think again. Mycoprotein is grown in vats. It is the stuff of Brave New World.

Quorn™ helpfully explains the whole "product process":

"Mycoprotein is made in 40 metre high fermenters which run continuously for five weeks at a time.The fermenter is sterilised and filled with a water and glucose solution. Then a batch of fusarium venenatum, the fungi at the heart of Mycoprotein, is introduced.

Once the organism has started to grow a continuous feed of nutrients, including potassium, magnesium and phosphate as well as trace elements, are added to the solution. The pH balance, temperature, nutrient concentration and oxygen are all constantly adjusted in order to achieve the optimum growth rate.

The organism and nutrients combine to form Mycoprotein solids and these are removed continuously from the fermenter after an average residence time of five to six hours. Once removed the Mycoprotein is heated to 65°C to breakdown the nucleic acid. Water is then removed in centrifuges, leaving the Mycoprotein looking rather like pastry dough.

The Mycoprotein is then mixed with a little free range egg and seasoning to help bind the mix. It is then steam cooked for about 30 minutes and then chilled, before being chopped into pieces or mince.

The product is then frozen. This is a crucial step in the process because the ice crystals help to push the fibres together, creating bundles that give Mycoprotein its meat-like texture.

The pieces and mince are then sold under the Quorn™ brand and also in wide array of products ranging from escalopes to ready meals, deli slices to sausages."

Need a visual?

Crystal clear?

Some folks say they get sick from Mycoprotein -- that we are being tricked by corporations into eating mold. There is a call for Quorn™ to be banned. People object to food grown in vats. I admit even I can't get excited about of acres of meat protein being grown as in M.T. Anderson's Feed. But lab=bad/homegrown=good is pretty simplistic.

And the whole fear and loathing of "processed foods" is pretty silly when you consider all the things people consume that have been lovingly processed for centuries. How about beer, wine, and cheese? Think about tofu. Or stinky tofu.  People eat lutefisk, chicha, and century eggs. Check out these ten disgusting delicacies. They make fungus seem pretty palatable.

I really do wish that scientists could come up with new, good answers to food sources.  Ones that never ever involve eating dogs (I hear some folks do!) and ruining all the good dog park land. 

I am not going to go all Monsanto on you -- but wouldn't it be great if there were safe, affordable, healthy, tasty meat substitutes that actually tempted folks to back off on the flesh-eater thing? I will always be a carnivore at heart but even I could supplement if it helped the global balance.

So, ever wonder why is Quorn™ called Quorn™? My family has debated this many a time and comes up with nothing worth noting. (Wouldn't you love to come to dinner at our house!) It sounds more like a faux corn product than anything.

Actually, it is the name of a village in England (now called Quorndon) which formed part of the original manufacturer's trade name. What a mundane answer for a strange food. You don't need a diagram for that!

Cats are Dumb as a Box of Hair, Reason #347

Monday, June 28, 2010

This Much Fun Being Happy

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sour Cherry Freezer Jam

The sour cherries are truly amazing this year. 

So are the black walnuts which are now making it quite dangerous to lounge on our deck unless huddled under the umbrella... yelp!

We have a North Star cherry tree. This tree was developed by the University of Minnesota in 1950 so it likes our weather just fine -- especially this year's early spring and extra rain. North Star cherry trees are very hardy, fast growing, and they short enough that people can reach most of the fruit. 

Susan's folks had a sour cherry tree when she was little. She remembers her mom's freezer jam as tastier and zippier than anything you could get in the store. So she decided to give it a try. 

Finding a recipe for sour cherry freezer jam online proved perplexing. Mostly because the majority of freezer jam recipes are generic and meant for any berry --including the one the back of the pectin envelope. It seemed likely that sour cherries would require a different amount of sugar than say... strawberries. And the recipes varied from 4 cups fruit with 1-1/2 cups sugar to 1-1/2 cups fruit with 4 cups sugar. 

Also, cherries are juicier than berries -- and sour cherries are juicier than bing cherries. A lot of the recipes called for lemon juice. That seemed silly for sour cherries. But still, Susan wondered about the amount of pectin. She worried about altering recipes the first time out. Finally, she decided to just go for it. If the batch was too runny, it would taste awesome on yogurt or ice cream.

Sour cherries are usually ripe around the 4th of July in Minnesota. Obviously, they are pretty early this year as Susan baked up a tasty batch of Sour Cherry Almond Scones for Fathers' Day. She spent the next week eyeing the cherry tree... trying to decide when that sweet spot would occur between having perfectly ripe fruit and completely stripped boughs -- the fruit gobbled up by birds (and me.. heh heh heh). It wasn't a coincidence that an unscheduled Sunday was the decider. 

First, Susan needed a cherry pitter. Having fingers and thumbs, she could easily pop out the pits the old fashioned way. And she did that for the single cup of cherries needed for the scones. But four cups of cherries is beyond her attention span. Unless it meant there was a reason to buy a new toy... 

Oxo Good Grips Cherry PitterI always enjoy a walk to Ace Hardware so I came along with her and Boy #1. Our Ace  allows dogs and, even better, the clerks feed me biscuits -- the BIG ONES.

Susan was delighted to find Oxo makes a cherry pitter -- as Oxo designers seem to have re-designed just about every kitchen tool so that they actually work and for a fair price. 

Here is what four cups of cherries look like before they are pitted. Everyone says they are a beautiful red. They look Kong® gray to me! But they are plump and juicy...

Sour Cherry Freezer Jam
Susan included all the juice from pitting when she made the recipe below. She frowned at the pectin envelope which gave no guidance about juicy, sour cherries. She went ahead and increased the sugar by a cup from the 1-1/2 cups they recommended. It tastes very zippy but is looking reluctant to gel. Afterwards, she read enough to learn you don't mess with the proportions. But the great thing is: even if it doesn't set to a spreadable jam, it will be fabulous on yogurt or ice cream!

4 cups cherries
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 package Ball® No Cook Freezer Jam Fruit Pectin

Ball No Cook Freezer Jam Fruit Pectin
Pick, wash, dry, and pit enough cherries to end up with 4 cups after chopping. In large mixing bowl, macerate (chop) cherries, leaving hunks of fruit of desired size. A hand blender works well in short bursts -- be careful not to puree. 

Mix together sugar and pectin, add to cherries and stir for three minutes. 

Spoon into clean, dry freezer-safe jars (no curved shoulders) or plastic containers leaving room at the top for expansion when freezing (1/2 to 1 inch). Makes about 48 ounces. 

Let sit for thirty minutes. Freeze or refrigerate. 

Sour Cherry Freezer Jam in twelve 

Resources about freezer jam
Freezer Jam: A Baby Step to Canning by NPR's Stephanie Stiavetti

Kraft's Sure-Jell How to Make Freezer Jam which includes a chart about different fruits and sugar needs. But it does recommend 2 cups cherries to 4 cups sugar (which is about opposite of what Susan likes).

Ball's's Soft Spread's Problem Solver

Saturday, June 26, 2010

First Dibbs

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sour Cherry Almond Scones

Our sour cherry tree is really knocking itself out this year. Last year, there were maybe a dozen cherries worth considering. But this year there are plenty for my family, the blue jay family, the robin family and, most importantly, me.

I like sour cherries right off the tree -- pits and all. They are a bit tart. I would prefer them with peanut butter but no one's offering so...

My family -- and the neighbors over the fence, if they are lucky --  eat sour cherries in scones. The first batch appeared on Fathers' Day. Here's a good recipe with almonds. 

Sour Cherry Almond Scones

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

Mix and let sit until sweet enough, then drain juice:
1 cup sour cherries pitted, chopped
1/4 cup or more white sugar

In a large bowl, mix:
3 cups white flour (you can substitute 1 cup with whole wheat pastry flour)
2 -1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

With a pastry blender or fork, cut in:
1-1/2 sticks butter, softened

Add the drained cherries and 
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds (you can reserve some to sprinkle on the tops)

In a small bowl, whisk together:
2/3 c. buttermilk (reserve some to brush on the tops)
1 egg
1 Tablespoon lemon zest (optional but quite tasty)

Add wet ingredients to the large bowl of ingredients and stir until moistened.

You may need to add a little buttermilk or flour to make soft, shapeable but not sticky dough. Knead on a floured surface a few times. Cut into 12-24 pieces depending on the size you want and pat into scone shapes (triangles are nice).

Place on baking sheet (parchment paper is helpful). Brush with buttermilk, sprinkle with a little sugar and sliced almonds, if you like.

Bake until flaky and golden...8 to 15 minutes - depending on the size of scones you made. Best fresh. But the dog is happy to eat them stale.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Her Own Yard

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rock, Paper, Scissors...Ruined

I love watching people play Rock, Paper, Scissors. 

Some players choose randomly. Others stare intently at their opponents - trying to psych them out. Are they paper people? Rock types? Or do they favor scissors? 

Men supposedly favor rock -- as it is the forceful, powerful choice. So then who likes to cut? Or smother? Hmmm... There is a whole psychology to winning that some people have thought about a lot. But it is fun for rookies too.

Rock, Paper, Scissors is human competition at its best. Wrapped tightly in simple rules, it is a game in which everyone gets a pretty fair chance at winning. It is not just random chance. But having money, power, beauty or above average intelligence don't matter one whit. 

Well, maybe the intelligence helps. I am sure the Rock, Paper Scissors Society and the Rock, Paper, Scissors World Champions (usually Canadians) would say so.

Obviously, Rock, Paper, Scissors isn't a game for dogs. 

Rock, Rock, Rock gets dull pretty quickly.

My family is always on the lookout for new games to play. So, when I am bored, I troll Amazon looking for fun tabs to leave open in case they are interested (They think this is the work of is Boy #1!). They haven't given me a credit card yet, so that's the best I can do for them.

I wagged my tail when I came across this game for purchase for just $2.99. 

I thought, "Oh! Rock, Paper, Scissors! I love that game!" 

And then I thought, "Dice! I love dice! And look at all those sides on those cute little die! Sweet!!" (I do love dice. They are fun to chew and make Boy #1 and Boy #2 chase after me in a most amusing manner.)

But then it hit me. What a dumb idea. 

First of all, to take the game Rock, Paper, Scissors and make it something you have to buy is just plain ridiculous. The beauty of Rock, Paper, Scissors is that nearly every human on the planet comes equipped with the games pieces. (And, may I add, hands and fingers don't need WARNING: Choking Hazard - Small parts.)

And, really, the whole fun of the game is that you are trying to outwit your opponent by making a choice. It is isn't a random roll of the die that seals your fate. It is about trying to guess what the other guy is going to pick and then, in a split second, choose the one that allows you to squeeze, pinch or pound on your brother.

Those die do look tasty though.

Nails in the Coffin of Civilization

This is not my paw. 
The only adornment I allow on my claws 
is mud or racoon poo. 

But someone thought appliqué nail stickers 
would be a great addition to dog paws. 
And do I also detect polish? 

This truly is the Fall of Rome.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dyeing to Be Different

You may have caught the recent Associated Press article about dyeing dogs. That's right, some folks think that dogs don't come in enough variety - or just aren't as eye-catching as they could be. Plain dogs apparently don't garner enough attention for some owners when out and about.

This dye craze runs the gamut from rainbow colors to transforming your dog into a different animal altogether. I suppose real pandas, real tigers and real ninja turtles don't make great pets so they thought "let's make the dog do it." Sigh.

The article didn't have many photos. But it wasn't hard to find examples these unfortunate animals.The wrongness of it all speaks for itself. But I suppose it is better than leaving your dog in a hot car.

All's fair in fashion. Ha ha ha. I really can't imagine how these cat owners pulled it off.  Cats won't work for treats. (Honestly, I suspect Photoshop in these examples.)

He looks pissed. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Service Dog

Susan and the boys are busy packing the car with aromatic camping gear. I was pretty excited. I love camping!

Then I was told that I have to stay home and keep Dave company. I will probably be pretty busy lying at Dave's feet and taking him on walks. So I probably won't do much posting this week. It's a rough job, but someone has to do it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pack Animals

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bringing Up Baby

Today was the last day of school for Boy #1 and Boy #2. There were lots of parents at pick-up today and some of them teary. "They grow up so fast!" people always say. Well, that is certainly true for our backyard baby robins!

Today, June 11

They certainly pack them in! 
I am impressed that four eggs produced four babies - 
just like the blue jays! 

The parents are much more low-key than the jays.  
The robins just beep in the trees and look ruffled 
when the ladder and camera comes out. 
No need for the batting helmet.

For a little perspective, here are the little guys 
on June 4 - just one week ago!

And here they were on May 24 - 
18 days ago.
They will fly the nest all too soon. 
And the backyard will be a lonelier place.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Very Tasteful Fashion

I don't wear clothes unless I have too. But this is very tasteful. 
Maybe I can convince my Susan to wear it to work. 

Dave is harder to dress. He likes what he likes. 
But I am pretty sure he likes tacos...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cruella Deville Accessory

Design Custom Phone Skins
"Upload your own dog, cat, or animal photo and create custom skins for your phone or laptop. The world's greatest protective skins."

This ad popped up on my Facebook page. It made me shudder. Only Cruella Deville would upload her own dog for such a purpose!!

Your Phone

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Keep It Short

Every leash law in the country that I have ever heard of requires a six foot leash. Not an eight foot leash - even though that would be much safer when hiking in the mountains.  Ever try to stay out from underfoot of a pair of hiking boots with a human scrabbling down behind you?

Observe: the six foot leash.

Six feet is the length of leash that allows a person to pull a dog back from danger or from being dangerous, if they are paying attention. Used responsibly, a six foot leash tells everyone around them that they won't get jumped on or have their butt sniffed -- which I have noticed is not popular with most people.

Two dogs meeting on six foot leashes know it is an even playing field. It may not go as smoothly as when we are both unleashed and can practice dog manners unfettered. But it is better than having one dog on a short leash while the other roams free or dorks around on an extra ten feet of string.

Six feet does not allow a dog to shoot off like a rocket thinking she isn't leashed  -- only to be yanked off her feet when she hits the end. That hurts!

And six feet leashes are made of wide, non-cutting webbing or leather that doesn't hurt like the dickens if it gets tangles around a limb or other body part. No one enjoys that.

Well, duh, you say. What leash would allow dogs to go crazy and jump on people, make dog meetings tense and threaten to dismember you if it gets wrapped around your ankle or finger?

Meet the retractable leash.

Up to sixteen feet of cord is available. Supposedly braked by your thumb. 

How does it work? As describes one such product:

"Once Fido is leashed up, the cord moves in and out freely with the release the trigger. Squeezing the brake trigger stops the cord again when the pooch is at a comfortable distance. The brake also locks (and unlocks) quickly with one hand to keep your canine cohort at the perfect distance thanks to a handy locking lever. When it's time to reign in* Spot, you just hold out your arm in the direction of your dog, pull the brake trigger and lower your arm to your side to pull him in, releasing the brake trigger and repeating this step until your dog it at the desired distance."

*Carmella's correction: the proper term is "rein in" - as in pull back on the reins -- not "reign in" which implies some sort of evangelical ministry goings on. 

I understand the whole point is to give Fido more room to roam. You believe, rightly so, that dogs deserve to be able to sniff and explore. And you would expect Miss Carmella to be jumping for joy at this concept. But even if retractable leashes weren't painful and dangerous - which they are (check out the horror stories at the Consumer Reports safety blog) -- retractable leashes are one of those products that serve the individual and not the pack.

There are plenty of products and behaviors that we all desire for "me and only me" - the rest of the world be darned. I am not talking about a tasty bone -- my ownership causes you no pain other than jealousy (seriously though, take a step back!).

I am talking about products and behaviors of the few that threaten the balance of happiness of the many. Boom boxes on the beach. A me-only pass for the sane lane. Public human nudity (not that I'd care). Reaching into to bulk bins to snack at the co-op or double-dipping your chips at a party (again, I personally wouldn't be bothered but I search for meaningful examples for you). Backyard fireworks lasting into November (just buy less next Fourth of July -- sheesh!). I could go on and on and so could you.

Who doesn't, deep down, want to be the only one allowed to disregard the rules while everyone else follows them? I'll bet you hate everyone else talking on their cell phones while they drive... but do you really pull over to answer yours? Really?

The fact of the matter is that a dog that is trained has no need for a retractable leash. We can trot alongside just fine on six feet. And you can stop and let us sniff when we feel like it (aHEM, Susan).

A retractable leash doesn't give dogs more exercise. You want to give Fido more exercise?  Get your tushie MOVING and put on some miles.  How about you drop that health club membership and devote the time and cardio rate to Fido?

You feel bad for the constraints of the six foot leash? Your dog doesn't want a few more feet of leash. She wants off, now and then. There are plenty of places to run off leash. And don't even get me started about the idiots who use retractable leashes at the dog park. I can't even SEE those darn cords when I bound up. OUCH!

And finally, let's talk about reining in your dog on a retractable leash. If you want to retract the leash, the tension on the leash has to be released for the spring to suck in the slack. There is no crank to reel it in. Fido has to stop while you walk forward or Fido must return to your side.

I don't think I am off my mark to generalize that people using retractable leashes aren't the type to have taught their pooch to heel on voice command. If there is a squirrel and Fido isn't trained, off he goes. There's no reining in happening. All you have is sixteen feet of razor sharp cord ripping to and fro. No doubt, personal injury lawyers love them.

So please, for the love of the human/dog pack and all the social mores that keep it peaceful and safe, lose the retractable leash. Or at the very least, use it when you are very, very alone. But at that point wouldn't you just let Fido run free? He might run away, you say? Get thee to obedience class!

Other post titles considered:
  • I Demand a Retraction!
  • It's Only Fun until Someone Loses an Leg
  • Stop! In the Name of Love - Before You Break Her Neck! 
  • A Six Foot Leash Beats Six Feet Under

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mystery Plant

Here is that mystery plant. Anyone know what it is?  Susan would sleep better at night if she knew. And she would plant more of them because they are awesome!!

The plant is almost as tall as a person. And it has been blooming non-stop for several weeks. The leaves show better in this photo. Susan could go take another picture if you want. When it stops raining...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bye Bye Birdie (Batch #1)

The baby blue jays left the nest this week. One minute they were popping out pin feathers and the next they were perched awkwardly in the cherry tree.

Their parents are running themselves ragged trying to keep them safe and fed in the big world. But I think all four made it out of childhood. Now the family will forage together until fall.

Even though it was a bit tedious getting dive-bombed whenever I wanted to lay in a patch of sunshine, I will miss the little guys. And I rather enjoyed Boy#1 donning the batting helmet to empty the trash, laughing hysterically as they assailed him.

Susan says she is happy to be allowed back in the sunny part of her garden. The garage roses are in full bloom. The white ones in the middle smell heavenly.

She waxes eloquent about the red ones (they look Kong®-gray to me).

KONG Classic Kong Dog Toy, Medium, Red

And the alley flowers are making a fine show of blues and purples. 


I hear people like to know flower names. The ones in the front are Spiderwort and they put on a show in the morning.  The vines on the trellises are Clematis Roguchi. After a few years, they do a fine job blocking our vista of the neighbor's trash cans.

Clematis Roguchi

Susan has no recollection of what these are. Does anyone know? They might be a native prairie flower. They are over five feet tall! I like these flowers because they make Susan happy every time she walks by it. And they are blue.

Remember these blue eggs? This was our robins' nest on May 24th.

Here are the little fellows on June 4th. 

So even though the blue jays are off at college, we still have company. I do think the robin parents are relieved that the jay family moved on. It is peaceful now.

Grow well, little ones!