Wednesday 12 October 2011

Sugarless Blackberry Jelly - the Update

A while back I posted about trying to find the perfect sugarless jelly recipe. I had come across Pomona Pectin, a product that says it will set jams and jellies without the need for sugar. I promised to report back once I'd tried it out, so here it is. I apologize as it's been a while, but I wanted to test a couple of batches and get a number of opinions. Luckily most people won't say no to a request to eat some jelly.

The Verdict:
The Pomona Pectin worked just like they said it would. It was easy, pretty unfiddly and there were no failed settings (like Ive had with pectin-sugar combinations).
The texture was pretty good. I thought it was maybe a wee bit gelatin-like, but people told me I was being too picky and thought it was the same as jellies set with sugar.
Taste? Freaking delicious. It was fresh, intense and tart, just like blackberries straight from the bush. It was tart even to my sugar deprived taste buds (since being off sugar, things taste a lot sweeter to me than to people on the typical Western Diet) but the tasters said that once they got it on their usual whatever-they-normally-put-jelly-on vehicle, that the tartness didn't matter.

So, as promised, here's how to make sugarless blackberry jelly.

Make the juice: 
Pick blackberries, 75% perfectly ripe, 25% slightly under ripe.
I found that the juice from the perfectly ripe blackberries was a little boring and the jelly didn't have the full blackberry flavour I was looking for. You may beg to differ.

Gently wash and pick over the berries then put them in a large pot. Pour in just enough water that the berries don't stick to the bottom of the pot. Place them on the stove at medium high until they come to a boil, then turn the heat down and allow them to simmer for about 20 minutes or until the berries are falling apart. I usually use a potato masher to help break up the berries.

Once the berries are mushy, pour the contents of the pot into a cheesecloth bag and hang over a large bowl to collect the blackberry juice. Let drip for several hours. You can freeze the juice for later jelly making if you wish or proceed to making jelly now.

Make the jelly:
Remember you can scale this recipe to any amount of juice you have as the Pomona Pectin is not finicky about amounts. Make up calcium water as described in the Pomona Pectin instructions. Clean and sterilize your jars, lids and rings.

To a large pot add:
  • 7.5cups blackberry juice
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
bring to a boil then turn heat down and allow to fast simmer for about 5 minutes. This is to further concentrate the blackberry flavour and add some sterilization. 

Add 7 teaspoons Pomona Pectin to 3/4 cup boiling water and blend well. I used an immersion blender for about 1 minute but the instructions say to use a blender on High. It made a very thick gel which made me a bit concerned but it turned out just fine.


Add 7 teaspoons calcium water to the juice and bring back to the boil. Add the pectin-water mixture and stir well. Return to the boil, then remove from heat and spoon off froth and bubbles. Ladle into clean, sterilized jars. Process in a hot water bath for 5-10 minutes. This made 6 one-cup jars.

Because this jelly has no sugar, it is more prone to bacterial and fungal growth. Ensure the jars have sealed; place any that haven't in the fridge and eat right away. They also advise you should eat low sugar jellies and jams within 3 months of jarring.

Now the only question is what to eat it with? For us primals, heap it on some sharp Manchego cheese, use it as a filling for paleo thumbprint cookies, or make some paleo bread to spread it over.

Enjoy!

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Fall makes me S.A.D. Two things that help, a lot.

Its Vancouver, its October, so its raining again today. I know Im not alone in  feeling the effects of shorter days, darker days. We're not quite there yet but I absolutely hate waking up in the deep dark. My alarm jerks me up out of deep sleep and I feel like a little kid again, cranky and unbelieving that it can be almost 7 am and yet so horribly like the middle of the night. It sets me up for a bad day.

I'm very sensitive to the quality of light, and the grey days and thin sunshine of fall and winter do little to help elevate my mood. I sometimes have to struggle not to just curl up on the couch with a blanket, something warm in a mug and watch Coronation Street all day. Don't get me wrong, I think that's a lovely thing to do once in a while, but when I feel like that most days, its easy to sink into something near depression. I don't want to just get though winter, longing for solstice, I want to feel better than that.

To make things worse, I don't want to go to bed at night. I feel like Ive been cheated out of my day, so I tend to be up late playing on the computer, or catching up on a show. Not a good thing for promoting sleep. There is a complex interaction between full spectrum light, receptors on your retina and regulation of sleep hormones in your brain. New information is being discovered all the time, but for now, one of the things we do know is that blue light suppresses melatonin secretion so that we stay alert. That's great when we need to stay awake but my (our) tendency to sit in front of blue light emitting gadgets in the evening can disrupt our sleep hormone cycles. Blue light is emitted by TV screens, computer monitors, smart phone screens and even blue numbers on your digital clock.

So... Im disrupting my sleep hormones, not getting enough sleep, and feeling horrible from waking up in the dark. I do the things you are supposed to do, go to the gym, be social, eat well, take my Vitamin D, but still feel pretty down through much of the winter. But, happily,  I found a couple of things last year that helped a lot to get me to sleep and to make me wake up happy.


The first was to install a free program on my computers called F.lux. You tell the program where in the world you live and what kind of room lighting you have (halogen or fluorescent). At sunset, f.lux automatically cuts down on the amount of blue light your monitor emits and matches your ambient light. At sunrise, it makes the screen daylight-bright again. So now I can play on the computer and not worry that it's going to make it hard to go to sleep.

The second and now most deeply appreciated thing I did was to buy a Philips wake-up light. Also known as a dawn simulator, its a lamp that sits on my bedside table and gradually emits brighter and brighter light over a period of 15-30 minutes (you choose). The increasing light level brings me to a lighter and lighter phase of sleep and I wake up, usually before its even at its brightest, feeling awake and happy.

They aren't cheap but, for me, totally worth it. I got the Philips because a friend had had one for a few years and recommended it, and because it got the highest ratings, but there are lots of wake-up lights out there. I got mine from Amazon.ca (Canadian, eh) but they are also available on Amazon.com. (Clicking the Amazon link will take you directly to the Philips Wake-Up Light Plus - my model - on each site).

I know I sound like a paid advertisement for this thing, but the first night I used it I couldn't believe what I was feeling the next morning. I woke up with the feeling that it was a sunny summer day out there. A year later, I still get fooled into that happy state.


If you have that "it's too dark to get up" feeling, do yourself a favour and get one of these; you will never regret it. To wake up happy is a beautiful thing.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Trying to live just a wee bit better

Hey, it's Marcus here. About time I gave Teresa a little break from her prolific postings.

Just got in from a great run. It is early evening, early September. A light wind is blowing, the sky turning a pale crimson orange in the west, the North Shore Mountains are tinted with a warm orange tone from the setting sun. While I navigated the quiet tree-lined East Vancouver streets the smells of a few BBQs caught my attention. Was that steak? Think so. Burgers a block later. My stomach then reminded me that I was indeed ready for a meal. A beautiful end to an enjoyable summer's day. The last several days have been fantastic. Lots of sun and warmth after a summer that was looking like it was going to give this year a pass. Certainly better late than never. However, I can't help but feel a tinge of melancholy as I have thoughts of the approaching fall and winter just around the corner...>>sigh<<



Yes, my run was great. A few days ago was my first run in... jeeesh... half a year? A little bit pathetic. I don't really know what comes over me that puts me through these extended exercise hiatuses (hiatii?). This is a pattern for me that has been around for as long as I can recall. I have a runner's build (long-legged, slim-ish) and in the recent past have not really had that much difficulty getting up to a 10K run after just a few times out. However, as I get a bit older (working on my 45th year now...whoa!) I notice that the effort to get to that level is just a bit more than I remember. My weight is exactly the same as it was 20 years ago but I often feel much heavier as I clomp along the road/path/track, and breathe just a little harder. Is it possible that I am not immortal after all? Doh, bummer! I think it is time for me to really start focusing much more on my health than I ever have before. I have had the luxury of having a body type that really hasn't been too picky about what I put in it and in what quantities. However, I'm sure that those days are numbered. And besides, something internal to me is just chirping up a little louder than I ever recall hearing it, saying, "Dude, you're getting older and your free pass is coming to an end. Time to work a little bit if you want to keep enjoying your life for the long haul". I am starting to listen.

Teresa's focus on the primal diet has been quite enlightening for me. Mark Sisson has written an excellent book on it and writes about it daily on his blog. I don't fully comprehend the dietary science behind it yet, but there is apparently some value to a food regime that consists mainly of grass-fed pasture raised meats, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils. While it does limit one's choices for a meal, Teresa is able to produce delicious dishes without too much head scratching. Better living requires better eating, and that is something I think I need to spend more effort on.

On the exercise front, I am close to joining the local Crossfit gym, a strength and physical conditioning workout regime. Teresa has been a practitioner for the last 3 years and it has changed her life. She is stronger and has more energy than she ever had before. Personally, I see it as an opportunity to maintain consistency in my exercise frequency, hopefully helping me put to an end the "6-month workout break" trend of the past 20 years. These cross-fitters seem to develop a strong bond with each other that helps to inspire and encourage. I am hopeful that such a camaraderie-in-the-trenches environment will keep me on the fitness track.

I feel very fortunate about my health. But like all things in this world, you can't dodge entropy.




I'm going to do my best to slow it down by caring for myself more so than I ever have before. Here hoping I can stick to it! Kind of foolish not to...

Cheers,
Marcus

P.S. I came across this video yesterday. Has nothing to do with anything in this blog post, but I like it. Hopefully you will, too.






Love Tap from Mike Goode on Vimeo.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

My Dog, My Hero

As soon as I knew Blue was going to be a big dog, I knew he was going to be a blood donor.

Blue is an excellent donor. I'm so proud of him, as it is another incredible feat for him to be a reactive dog, yet so willing to donate blood. You can read about Blue's troubled childhood and his reactivity here.

Dogs sometimes need blood transfusions just like people. They get diseases which destroy their red blood cells, or they can have clotting problems, or they can lose a lot of blood from trauma like getting hit by a car. Because of this, veterinarians often need blood transfusions in a hurry and a blood bank is the best way to make sure there is always blood available when it's needed. Luckily for Vancouver area dogs, Vancouver has its own doggy blood bank, Vancouver Animal Blood Services or VABS.
Blue's blood donor card

Dogs have blood types, just like people, and they also have a Universal Donor blood type, just like people. When we tested Blue, I was very excited to learn that he has the universal blood type, as that meant he could donate to any other dog. He is such a big dog, I knew that he would have lots of blood to give and that he could save a lot of lives.
Nicole and Dr. Klassen examine Blue

Dogs need to be at least a year old before they can donate so I had a lot of time to teach Blue about the things he would need to do. We made games out of pretending that he was donating, like asking him to give a paw and to lie down and stretch his neck out. Each time he played the game of donation, he got the best treats (canned food and steak are his favourites!) and lots and lots of praise from myself and all his friends at VABS.

Nicole takes Blue's blood pressure
When he was a baby, we started with doing a few things for just a few minutes at a time. As he got older and more confident, we gradually added more of the things he would need to do and for longer times. Because of the heavenly treats and praise, Blue very quickly decided this was a very fun and exciting thing to do, and he looked forward to the game of donation. By the time he was old enough for a real donation, he was a pro at the whole thing. He even started training us as to how he thought it should be done!

Blue donates approximately every 3 months. When its time, Dr. Klassen calls to set up a donation appointment around his agility schedule. They are very accommodating at VABS! After taking a history from me to ensure he has been healthy, he is given a little sedation to relax him. Its just enough to make him a little less bouncy and makes him very happy.

After the sedation has had a chance to work, Blue comes into the donation room, jumps up onto the table and lies down on his side - all by himself. In this relaxed position, he gets a full physical examination from Dr. Klassen. A small blood sample is taken from his leg to make sure his red blood cell count is normal. Most dogs would have this done before getting on the table but Blue wants to get on the table as fast as possible, so we let him. This is one of the ways he has trained us and is probably because when he was a puppy, the most delicious treats came when he was on the table. We put a bandana over his eyes to shut out the bright lights and this relaxes him even further.


Once he passes the examination and the blood sample is read as normal, the veterinary technician shaves a little bit of hair over his jugular vein (which is where the needle will go). She thoroughly cleans his skin, tests the equipment one last time, and then puts the needle into his jugular vein. It's a big needle, the same size as used in human donations. Sometimes Blue flinches a little as the needle goes into the skin but often he doesn't seem to feel it at all.




When the needle is in his vein, the blood starts flowing into the collection bags. The donation team uses a vacuum pump which pulls the blood into the collection bags faster than it would flow out by gravity. Blue is a big dog so his blood flows quickly and he reaches his donation amount of 450 mls in just a few minutes.


The VABS team take the needle out and hold a sterile pressure bandage over his jugular for about 10 minutes. Once they are sure that the bleeding has stopped, the pressure bandage is removed. They gently wash off the cleaning soap, in case it might irritate his skin, and put a bit of ointment on the shaved area, again, just in case his skin might be mildly irritated.

After that, Blue sits up and is given the motherload of all treats, a whole can of food. He inhales this in about 30 seconds flat and then looks around hopefully for more. We help him off the table and then he strolls to his bed and relaxes until its time to go home. Its all over and done with in under an hour.


You would think that donating a whole unit of blood would slow him down for a few days, but often I don't notice one iota of difference. It may be because he is such a big dog (have I said that before?), or perhaps its because he knows how to pace himself. His sister, The Insane Dog, is smaller and she doesn't know the meaning of pacing. She also donates, and the next day it's almost comical when she starts off zooming around like she always does, and then an expression of something like confusion comes over her as she realizes she is a wee bit more tired than usual.

At the time that I write this, Blue has just donated for the 12th time. That's 48 bags of blood and plasma that have gone to other dogs in need. He will be able to donate for a couple more years but the blood bank is always in need of more donors like Blue and The Insane Dog.
My Hero!

If you have a lovely, calm, young, medium to large sized dog, your dog may also be able to be a blood donor. Contact your family veterinarian to ask about blood donation programs in your area. If you are from the Vancouver area you can visit the Vancouver Animal Blood Services website at http://www.animaler.com/blood-donor-program to see if your dog fits the requirements to be a donor.

Maybe your dog will be a blood donor hero too.

Monday 29 August 2011

Primal spaghetti squash "salad" with feta and cranberries

This recipe is an unabashed attempt to duplicate a spaghetti squash side that I had at a little café the other day.

I was starving, which usually doesn't bode well for a primal forager in my 'hood. The best I can usually do is sashimi, which is great, but expensive. Happily, I came across this dish and jumped at it as it seemed amazingly primal. It looked gorgeous and tasted even more delicious than looked.

I'm pretty happy with my version of it. I'd be happy to take it to or serve it at a dinner party. Its lime-vinegar dressing makes it refreshing on a hot summer night.


This made a lot of salad, but it was so good, Marcus and I ate it in 2 meals. Feel free to scale as you wish.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium sized spaghetti squash
  • 1/4 cup cold pressed olive oil 
  • 1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 150 grams goat feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened, dried cranberries
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • juice of 1/2 - 1 lime
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Wash the squashes, pierce in several spots with a knife, and cook both in the microwave on High for 10-15 minutes. Turn once or twice while cooking as they tend to get soft at the spot they sit on. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the squash and the power of your microwave. For 2 squashes, I'd recommend checking at 10 minutes; in about 7 minutes for one. The squash should be soft when you press it. It can be overcooked and then you will have mush instead of strings so err on the side of caution. It will continue to cook a little more once you take it out of the microwave. If its still undercooked you can microwave it again once out of its shell.

Once you are happy that it is cooked, let the squash cool a little, then cut in half and scoop out and discard the seeds. With a fork, and gently scrape out the strands. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Put squash in a large, non reactive (glass) bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss gently until thoroughly mixed. Taste and adjust ingredients and seasonings to your own preference.

We had it with whole barbequed salmon but I think it would also be great with some seasoned, grilled chicken breast.

Got a favourite spaghetti squash recipe? Please share!

Sunday 21 August 2011

WWGD - What Would Grok Do?

The blackberries are just starting to ripen. My walk with the dogs now includes bringing a bucket and, as Marcus observed,  gear fit for the zombie apocalypse. The fire ants are horrible this year so I've had to resort to close fitting pants over boots with the cuffs taped to the boots to prevent stings. The berries are gorgeous however, so I'm not going to let the ants or the brambles stand in my way.

Blackberry season makes me feel like gathering and preserving like no other time of year. I find myself quite introspective on the walks back to the car, thinking about what it was like for our early ancestors and wondering about this sort of soundless, unconscious urge to gather and store food.

Perhaps because of me noticing this urge in myself, I think about what moves us as humans. Not as modern societal human, but what moves us instinctively. Or maybe it's the reverse. Maybe because I increasingly think about how humans "should" eat and move, like how we did when we were hunting and gathering to live, then I'm more aware of these urges within myself. It makes me think about how we really are creatures of our ancestral environment even though we feel so far removed from it now.

For example, I find it fascinating that fructose (the sugar found in fruits and berries) interferes in several ways with leptin (a satiety hormone) and also with insulin. This means that eating fructose means we don't feel as full as fast, so we eat more and gain body fat. Berries and fruits in the wild often ripen in late summer and early fall. As they ripen, the sugar (fructose) content rises and makes them more delicious to eat. It makes sense that we developed this response to fructose as it would trigger us to put on fat in preparation for colder temperatures and reduced food supplies. Developing a response to available fructose would have been a great design for ancestral humans, especially those in temperate climates.


The problem is that modern fruits and berries are bred to be much sweeter than they were in the wild, and they are available all year 'round. If the theory holds true, then by eating large amounts of fruit, we are basically continually telling our bodies that winter is coming and we need to get fat. Just another contributor to the prevalence of obesity we see these days.

There are many more examples like this, and as I mull on them during my walks, my thinking always comes back to: "What would Grok do?" What would our ancestors have had available, how would they have gotten it, how much would have been available and what would the nutritional content have been? For me, I find this is a great guide as to how I should eat, exercise and even sleep (although sleeping like Grok really isn't possible with a real world work schedule, at least not yet).

Maybe fructose is one of many subtle signals, along with shortening day length, changing quality of light and warmth of the sun, which triggers me to gather and put aside food for the coming winter. Whatever it is, I know that friends and family are happy with my little urges, as they benefit with jars of jelly and jam, perhaps tarter than they are used to, but delicious none the less.

Anyone else get the urge to preserve this time of year? Any other paleo or primals notice this effect? Please share!

If you want to know more about primal living, or ancestral philosophy of eating and living (some people also call it the caveman diet), Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple wrote a great book called The Primal Blueprint. Pick it up  for a compelling overview of how to combine evolutionary biology with modern living. Then perhaps, like me, you will give it a try and be prone to fits of philosophical musings. Oh, and also feel better than you ever have before.

Monday 15 August 2011

Perfect Primal Mayonnaise

***UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE***
After much trial and error,  I think Ive perfected the stick blender method. Stick (immersion) blender mayonnaise is super easy, fast, and almost infallible. If you own a stick blender, here's my recipe. If you don't own a stick blender and you love mayonnaise, get one! For those that want to "stick" with the beater method, read on.

I love me some mayonnaise, but Marcus REALLY loves him some mayonnaise.

However, I shudder every time I think about what is in the Hellman's I still love. Even worse is the Hellman's made with canola oil and marketed as heart healthy. There are so many things wrong with that declaration that I don't know even where to start. How can any oil that is subjected to high heat, degumming, deorderizing, and bleaching be good for you? Whatever heart healthy Omega-3s there were in the beginning have long since been oxidized out of existence. What's left is proinflammatory trans-fat. Healthy? Ha! Besides, there is more and more evidence that shows the whole heart disease-saturated fat link is non existent.

Okay, rant over.


But, we still love mayo. Which has sent me on the quest to make a perfect mayonnaise. Mayo is made from egg yolks (or even the whole egg), vinegar and/or lemon juice, and a lot of oil. Which oil to choose has been an interesting adventure. We want to choose an oil that is healthy, but also has the right taste and the right texture.

I tried with cold pressed extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), but the olive oil taste was overwhelming. Olive oil also makes it an interesting greenish colour which is neither here nor there except that it looks weird. Primal Kid refused to believe it was mayonnaise.

I next tried with coconut oil à la Mark's Daily Apple, but it solidified even at room temperature. It was pretty bland as well. I also tried with grapeseed oil, but it was boring too. Besides, its fatty acid profile isn't that spectacular either. I gave up on it for a while, but recently tried again and I think I've hit on a pretty darn good combo, if I do say so myself.

Anyone who has ever made mayonnaise knows that it can be finicky to make. It takes patience and cannot be rushed. If the stars aren't aligned properly it might not set. (*Update: apparently adding water to the yolks helps the emulsification process so I've added that to my recipe. I haven't had the mayo break since).

I use an electric mixer with the small bowl, but it could be made into a crossfit WOD by whisking by hand (I've never managed it) or you can use a blender.

Ingredients:
  • 2 pastured egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (optional)
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 1/2 cup cold pressed light or delicate tasting olive oil (If you can't find light olive oil which is cold pressed, use EVOO. Your may0 will be greener and taste more strongly of olive oil)
  • 1/4 cup avocado oil
  • 1/4 cup liquid (not warm) coconut oil 

All ingredients and equipment must be at room temperature.

Place egg yolks, salt, lemon juice, water, mustard and cayenne in the mixing bowl and beat until yolks are lighter coloured and creamy. If using a mixer, beat on low to medium speed, if a blender, use medium.

 Add 1/4 cup of oil to yolk mixture, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, in drops. It doesn't matter which kind of oil you add first - I usually mix all mine together in a small cup. This step is the most important; if the oil is added too fast it won't emulsify. If using a mixer, occasionally run a spatula around the edge of the bowl to make sure the oil is incorporated evenly.

Once the first 1/4 cup of oil is in and the mixture is thickening, you can relax a little and add the remaining oil a teaspoon at a time in a thin stream.


 This combination made a light coloured, velvety, perfectly textured, thick mayonnaise that passed Primal Kid inspection (EVOO makes it just slightly green; light olive oil makes it quite yellow). The coconut oil lightened the colour and the avocado oil added a depth and richness that was missing with just coconut oil.


If you like your mayo a little tangier you can add more lemon juice either at the beginning or the end.  This is also the time to add spices or herbs for a gourmet flavour.

Mexican night? Try lime juice instead of lemon and add chopped cilantro and chipotles at the end.
Sweet potato fries? Add roasted or crushed fresh garlic.
The possibilites are endless.

[Insert here Standard Legal Liability yadda-yadda about uncooked eggs, salmonella etc.]
Eat at your own risk. Refrigerate immediately and eat within 4 days. 

Got a favourite flavour? A great recipe? Please share!



Tuesday 9 August 2011

Agility with a reactive dog

Our dog, Blue, is a reactive dog. For those of you who already know what that means, I sympathize. For those that don't, it means your dog has a fear of something and reacts to it (usually) in what people perceive as an aggressive manner. Blue loves people but he reacts to other dogs getting in his space. Blue is a mastiff-lab cross, a rather large dog, so being reactive is not a Good Thing.

Blue had a hard childhood. Dumped in a park by his mother's owner just as he was born, he grew up without his momma to teach him confidence. Even as a baby, eyes not yet open, he already had food sensitivities and would cry in pain if his formula changed.

I socialized him like crazy, knowing that growing up without a mother was potentially going to have detrimental effects on him. I'd had a reactive adult dog before and was determined that because I got Blue as a puppy, I was not going to let that happen. I did everything I was supposed to. Puppy classes, consistent, positive, Ian Dunbar and Stanley Coren training, lots of people and dog play at the park, exposure to many different situations.

Unfortunately, at 5 months of age, play with other dogs became painful. Xrays showed that he had elbow and hip dysplasia. The next 4 months of his life were filled with multiple surgeries and recoveries to try to repair his painful joints. During this time he missed a vital socialization period. Despite missing this time to get to know other dogs, after he had healed from all the surgery all seemed to be well until he reached the age of social maturity, at about 18 months of age.

At social maturity brain chemistry changes. It was as if something had flipped in his brain and he started charging other dogs. He had learned as a puppy that other dogs caused pain when they tried to play with him. He now headed off their attempts to play with barking and growling. As this worked so well to make the other dog go away, the reactive behaviour quickly became ingrained and he would react faster and with each subsequent time. In his head, it made perfect sense. Although he had never bitten another dog, I was worried that it might happen.

It wasn't looking good for Blue. I saw him consigned to a life where he couldn't get enough exercise because he couldn't be off leash at the park or beach when other dogs were there, not being able to enjoy him as I was constantly on the watch for a situation where he might get into an encounter with another dog, him wearing a muzzle most of his life so no fetching sticks or balls, or even euthanasia.

Blue had taken puppy classes at DogSmart and I knew that they helped with behaviour problems. We met with Alice, DogSmart's director and CPDT-KA certified trainer who specializes in problem dog behaviour. Although in our initial consult it took Blue a full hour to settle down to chew a bone, Alice saw hope for Blue. She recommended we also consult with a veterinary behaviourist, as well as enrolling him in reactivate dog classes. She fitted him with a basket muzzle and Gentle Leader collar so he could pant and laugh but be safe around other dogs, suggested getting a D.A.P. collar and diffuser, and set about retraining me with some tough love. Alice thought he would be a candidate for medication to lower his stimulation level and the veterinary behaviourist agreed.

Over the next 8 months, with lots of hard work, Blue became a much better dog. The medication allowed him to be able to pay attention and he learned to look to me for cues as to what he should do, rather than making (bad) decisions on his own. The muzzle meant that I could relax around other dogs, allowing calm and positive retraining of behaviours. The  D.A.P. calmed him one step further. We took lots of classes with Alice and Blue learned he had a different choice than acting defensively. More and more he chose to turn away and avoid encounters.

One of the many classes I took him to was a tricks and games class. In the final class, the instructor put out a tunnel and some jumps to play with. Just once through the tunnel and it was like Blue suddenly realized what he was born to do, and that was agility. I'd never seen him so excited and happy. We enrolled him in agility classes with instructor Nicole and he has never looked back.

Blue focussed on the agility course

Blue's reactivity has decreased dramatically. I gradually was able to wean him off the D.A.P. collar and basket muzzle as he became more and more focussed. He avoid dogs if at all possible and he never initiates an encounter. If another dog ignores his body language that says that he wants to be left alone and insists on being in his space, he will bark defensively and try to get away. Dogs being dogs, he has been attacked by a few dogs. In the few tussles that have inevitably resulted, he has never bitten another dog.

He has gotten better and better at agility the longer he works. He amazes me with how smart he is.  He tolerates other dogs amazingly well. Just over 3 years later, this reactive and unlikely agility dog is a Masters Agility Champion. The only thing that will stop him in the future will be arthritis in his joints, as in spirit, he would love to  do agility forever.

 He loves to go to class and trials.
I love that he wins me many colourful ribbons.


And we just love him.

Thank you, Alice for saving his life, and thank you, Nicole, for shaping a champion.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

How green is my reel mower? Let me count the ways...

I mowed the lawn today.

Marcus and I went away for the long weekend and the lawn was looking a little raggedy before we left. I'd been looking at it ruefully, knowing that it was going to be a beast when I got back, but not willing to put off the weekend for one single minute more.

It had been a glorious weekend and the corn had literally grown a foot while we were gone. So had the lawn, or so it seemed. Eyeing the out of control, sun drunk, extra long grass blades balefully, I pulled out the reel mower and prepared to do battle.

I love my reel mower.


After a full season of use, the blades are still razor sharp. The grass never stood a chance. It was a little more effort to push it through the extra long grass, but since I haven't been to the gym in a week, I figured it was the least I deserved. I was actually wondering how to make it into a crossfit workout. Make it a metcon by cutting the lawn via 21-15-9 lawnmower thrusters, lawnmower burpees, and lawnmower deadlifts? Maybe a grinder by cutting all the neighbours' lawns as well? But I digress.

My neighbour came out to comment (again) on how nice and quiet the mower was and to apologize that his (electric) was going to noise up the neighbourhood. As I was chatting with him and daydreaming about crossfits WODs, the Insane Dog jumped into my path and flung her ball right into the reel in a mad attempt to get me to throw it. No harm done, the ball stopped the reel immediately, and her attempt to cut her nose off while retrieving her ball was foiled. Reels are super safe to have around kids and dogs.


I thought about raking the extra long trimmings but decided instead to just go over them a couple more times. Who knew that a reel mower could actually be a mulching mower? I've found that by doing this, we use less water and I can help the dog pee-killed spots fill in a little.

Our mowers have all been (almost) free so we've never had one that quite suits the lawn. The first was a battery assisted Gardena that I got for a steal at a yard sale. It was fantastic but too big for our little space. It was heavy, but the assist made it almost pull itself along. It was older and so eventually the battery died. We elected not to replace the battery and got a Great States 18 inch model on points. Again, I love it for all the "reel" reasons, but its still too big for our yard. I wish we'd done all the research we've now done now on reel mowers, before we got a new one. If we'd only known then what we know now.... we would have got a much smaller model, maybe a 14 incher.

Do yourself a favour and get a reel mower, but get the one that's right for your lawn size, topography and grass type. Read what we wish we'd known before we bought, and you will be even happier with yours than we are with ours.

Here's the lowdown: Choose the Right Reel Mower for You.

So what are the ways?
  1. Super quiet
  2. Super safe
  3. A good little workout
  4. Mulches
  5. No emissions/environmentally friendly
  6. Inexpensive
  7. Low maintenance

What's not to love?

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Carnitas, Que Rico!

I have a friend who moved out of country to pursue higher education. I miss her for many reasons, not least because she is as much of a Mexican food purist and lover as I am. Recently, she said that she had a dream that she was eating my carnitas, and who can resist being able to make someone's dreams come true?
So.. we had Mexican potluck for her going away party. I made carnitas, and I promised myself I'd share the recipe with you. Its deliciously Paleo/Primal as well!

Carnitas is a heavenly Mexican dish which has as many variations as there are regions in Mexico. Meaning "little meats", the pork is cooked with low heat for a long time and then fried in its own fat so it is crispy and caramelized on the outside, and falling apart, melt-in-your-mouth-tender on the inside.

First of all, carnitas need time to prepare. Make sure you have a good 4 to 5 hours if you are making a large batch. They don't need a lot of attention until the last hour or so, but I like to put them on and then do things around the house and garden while they simmer.

Here's what you will need to feed 2 people with leftovers, or 4 people with nothing but crumbs left over. I always make more than I think I'll need because they are just so good, there are hardly ever leftovers. Feel free to scale upwards as needed. For the party, I started with just under 5kg of meat which happily fed 8 people with enough leftovers for Marcus to have second dinner and for lunches for us both.

1.4 kg (3lbs) pork shoulder aka pork butt
1 cup citrus juice - I use fresh squeezed orange but you can also use pomegranate, lemon or apple juice
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons garlic powder

Cut the pork into one by one by three inches strips. Do not trim any of that delicious fat. Add to a large, heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven; something that you are going to be ok taking a metal spatula to. Add the spices and rub into meat well. Add the orange juice and then enough water to just cover the pork.

Bring to a boil over high heat and then turn the heat right down to almost the lowest setting. You want it barely simmering. Allow to simmer gently, uncovered, for 2 hours (3 if making a double or triple batch). Do something around the house while the pork is simmering, but whatever you do, do not touch the pork during this time. Moving it around will cause the meat to fall apart and you will have pulled pork. While this is also delicious, its not what carnitas are about.

After 2 or 3 hours, turn the heat up to medium high, let all that water boil off and the fat to fully render. This will take between another 1/2 to 3/4 of an hour. When the liquid is gone, the pork strips will start frying in the rendered fat. Now comes the tricky part. You want to let the pork fry enough that all the outside gets caramelized but not burned, while handling it as little as possible so it doesn't fall apart too much.

I've tried 2 different methods to get that crispy outside without making pulled pork or overly blackened bits. If you have a big enough pot, you will be fine to just let the pieces fry on the bottom. You can take half the pork out (keep warm in the oven) and crisp it up in two batches. Turn the pieces with a metal spatula a couple of times, scraping the blackened bits up off the bottom as you turn. At this point, some of the meat is going to shred, but the different sized pieces add texture and flavour.

If you have a small pot, you may find that like me, in trying to crisp it, you move the pork around so much that the meat falls apart. I wasn't happy with how much it was shredding, so I pulled the pork out after one or 2 turns, piled it up loosely on a foil wrapped baking sheet, and shoved it under the broiler for a few minutes. It worked like a dream. Piling it up (rather than spreading it into a single layer) created different levels of caramelization and crispiness.

In Mexico, carnitas can be served as a dish by themselves or with tortillas or tacos. To keep them Paleo/Primal, use lettuce leaves in place of tortillas. Serve topped with home made salsa verde or roja, cilantro, finely chopped onions, avocado or guacamole, squeezes of lime, and be prepared to be adored by your friends.

Buen provecho!

Sunday 24 July 2011

Primal Blackberry Jelly

For those of you that don't know me, I try to eat as Primally as possible. More on that later.

Its almost blackberry season again. It looks like its going to be another great year, despite the basic lack of summer so far. Where I walk the dogs, unripe berries are hanging thick and heavy on the branches promising hours of fruitful picking while the dogs beg me to hurry up so I can throw the ball again. Its inspired me to use the blackberry juice I prepared and froze last year.

Since I don't (usually) eat sugar, I've been trying to figure out a way to make blackberry jelly without adding any - or very little - sugar. Jellies and jams are usually set with pectin which requires sugar and acid to make them gel. Store bought pectin requires quite exacting and insanely high amounts of sugar to get that nice jammy or jelly texture.

Marcus is quite happy with the traditional sweet taste of jams and jellies, but for me, I find the sweetness overpowering. I also find it takes me on a sugar roller coaster as it will prime my sugar addicted brain cells. I find myself prowling the house for about 3 days afterwards, opening and closing cupboards, and looking for something sweet that I know I shouldn't eat and will only perpetuate the cycle. Much easier to not start that cycle in the first place.

Pectin, as I've sadly found out, is quite unforgiving when you try to reduce the amount of sugar and last year I usually ended up with blackberry syrup. Great with ice-cream (for going-along-for-the-Primal-ride Marcus) but not so great for putting  it anywhere where you want it to stay. After many attempts, I've developed a healthy respect for the chemistry of making jellies.

I've made blackberry jam previously by just cooking it a very long time at low temperatures until it gelled but I found the end result didn't have that fresh blackberry taste I was looking for. Its really easy to overcook it and get an almost over-caramelized taste to it.

I recently discovered Pomona Pectin which uses calcium rather than sugar to gel. This stuff is so powerful, it will gel water if the calcium content is high enough! You don't have to use any sugar at all if you don't want to. It comes with calcium powder and pectin and is as easy to use as sugar-based pectins. It came in the mail a few days ago and I'm about to try my first batch.

Wish me luck!