Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Something old is new again

Dracula Pen
Vials containing sand from Whitby, and
Silver Sand and earth from the
Carpathian Mountain Region of Romania
near Count Dracula's home.
So, I got this in the post today.

A pen, you say?

Who cares, you say?

What if I were to tell you that this pen has connections to Vlad Țepeș...

Vlad Drăculea...

Vlad the Impaler...

Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia...


Well, it's all true, and I have a certificate of authenticity to prove it!

Signed by the Reverend Canon David W. Smith, Rector of St Mary's Parish Church in Whitby and Ruswarp, England.

 The timber used to craft this unique pen is reclaimed from the old church after renovations, and has been certified that the timber felled for the church dates back to the 17th century.
It's real, and I can prove it.

OK, so Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, was alive in the 15th century, but Bram Stoker's Dracula had slightly more recent ties to the church with his creation of Count Dracula, in his work Dracula, published in 1897.

The box contained a great little booklet with history about St Mary's and the connection to Count Dracula of Bram Stoker fame.

It includes some photos and some interesting narrative. I think just as interesting are the vials of earth and sand included in this nifty box.
Why have they done this?

 Well, based on the story, the ship, The Demeter, sailing from Varna to Whitby was full of silver sand for ballast, and several coffins filled with 'mould', or earth.

Whitby, being a coastal community, would have sandy beaches.

So a bit of sand from both countries and Bulgarian earth to represent what was in the coffins.

From Chapter 7:

9 August -- The sequel to the strange arrival of the derelict in the storm last night is almost more startling than the thing itself. It turns out that the schooner is Russian from Varna, and is called the Demeter. She is almost entirely in ballast of silver sand, with only a small amount of cargo, a number of great wooden boxes filled with mould.

From Chapter 8:

For a moment or two I could see nothing, as the shadow of a cloud obscured St Mary’s Church and all around it.

Then as the cloud passed I could see the ruins of the Abbey coming into view; and as the edge of a narrow band of light as sharp as a sword-cut moved along, the church and the churchyard because gradually visible.

Whatever my expectation was, it was not disappointed, for there, on our favourite seat, the silver light of the moon struck a half reclining figure, snowy white.

The coming of the cloud was too quick for me to see much, for shadow shut down on light almost immediately; but it seemed to me as though something dark stood behind the seat where the white figure shone, and bent over it. What it was, whether man or beast, I could not tell…

Of course, now I want to reread Bram Stoker's Dracula (a free read these days).

How cool would it be to visit Bran Castle (you've got to see this video with the volume up!)?!

And I've only to drive down to Dublin City to see the house at 30 Kildare Street where Stoker lived while writing Dracula.

For anyone interested in buying one of these one of a kind hand crafted pens (they also do ballpoint), just contact York and Beyond, who also sell pens with historic timber from Yorkminster Abbey, and timber felled on the Bronte estate.

From the lid of the presentation box - hand etched and smoked.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Playing with my 'new' Canon Powershot SX60 HS.

Birds are a great challenge because they dart around so quickly. I'm learning that to get a good bird shot, I need to practice hand stabilization...and to use anything nearby as a support when a tripod isn't readily available.

Here are a few I snapped recently. These are some of funner images. What do you think?

Blackbird on his tippy toes to get the apply goodness

Blackbird caught swallowing

Blackbird tongue, licking the apple from his beak

Blackbird looking pleased with himself at his sweet treat

Baby Wagtail, having a rest on the top of  stone wall

Baby Wagtail -- "What's down there?"

Adult male wagtail came down to feed his baby
Jackdaw -- "You thought you could keep me out!"

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Recipe: Heart Shaped Dog Cookies

As many people know, our Daisie went through a rough patch last year. We don't know exactly what triggered her illness or why it happened, but between August and December 2014, it was evident there was something serious going on. Antibiotics weren't working, and she went through long episodes of not eating...she went from 54.5kg (about 54 pounds...a little generous for a Border Collie) down to around 18kg (about 39.5 pounds. She lost about 28% of her original weight!

By December, we sought a second opinion...almost too late, as we nearly lost Daisie on 28 December. By that time, she'd dropped down to 15kg (about 33 pounds). After extensive testing, it was determined she had developed IBD, the chronic form of IBS. She was put on IV therapy after her collapse on the 28th, then prescribed steroids for inflammation and Zantac for stomach upset. She was finally eating steamed chicken breast and pasta, and when her weight came back up, we then needed to change her onto regular dog food.

When I say 'regular', I mean commercially prepared dog food. Both Daisie and Poppy had been eating according to BARF since they were practically weaned (BARF = bones and raw food...based on how dogs eat in the wild, and pre-WWII when commercial dry foods were invented) so dry food wasn't a regular thing for them. They only got it when they were in kennel because the kennel wasn't equipped for raw feeding. We fed a good quality dry food that was actually based on the BARF diet -- Burns dog food, developed by top vet John Burns in the UK) -- it's only cooked for convenience. At home, it was BARF all the time.

I mention this because now Daisie was meant to be going onto dry food permanently, so we opted for the one we knew and she liked -- Burns.

Well, Daisie stopped eating again. We tried a couple other good quality dry foods and she didn't get better. Then it was prescription food from Royal Canin...first one for sensitive stomach and then a hydrolized food. She got even worse on the latter. She was eating, but the diarrhea was so much worse than ever that no one was getting any sleep.
Note the label -- 0% grains

So, we put on our thinking caps and looked at her lifestyle up until she got sick, and what she was eating while sick and what it was all doing to her.

Then the light bulb moment.

BARF is a grain free diet. Both dogs had had very limited grain most of their lives. Only whatever brown rice was in the Burns for a short period of time while in kennel. Since August, Daisie had been on a lot of rice in various forms...various dry foods, and the traditional bland chicken and rice diet...which didn't go over very well.

So, we went looking for grain free commercial foods since she couldn't go back to raw. Not an easy task, since Ireland isn't noted for having a very eclectic human palette at the best of times. Forget about specialized dog food.

But low and behold, we found a great food in the PetStop pet store from a company called Acana out of Canada. It had just come in. The Wild Prairie food is 100% grain free, and the ingredients in the food are organic and sourced fresh locally to the factory.

Click the image to enlarge
to see the ingredients list
Needless to say, we were thrilled at such a find. And even happier when we got it home and Daisie gobbled it up like candy.

With IBS, you feed little and often, so we did that. We have a small cup that holds 50grams and fed her 4-5 of those a day on a regular schedule. For a normal weight Border Collie, she should get around 200g of food per day and we were breaking it up, and giving a few by hand a couple times a day as treats, since she couldn't have traditional dog cookies.

It wasn't long before we started seeing positive results. Hallelujah!

We recently took Daisie in for a weigh-in. I brought the ingredients list and the label from the Wild Prairie packaging with us. The vet happened to be between patients so took a minute to remark how great Daisie was looking, so we told her about our food change...off prescription food and onto Wild Prairie...and I gave her the packaging I'd brought.

Daisie weighed in at a respectable 19.6kg (about 43 pounds), and her IBD is coming under control. The vet is thrilled with the improvement, even if a bit annoyed that her treatment didn't work. Hey, whoever imagined a dog with a grain intolerance?!

Which leads me to the real reason for this post -- What kind of treats do you give a dog with a grain intolerance? Daisie can't have commercial dog cookies. They're all wheat based, some rice based...some mixed grain based. There's nothing out there. So, what's a pet owner to do?

I make my own!

This recipe is so easy with two basic ingredients, a child can make it...with supervision, of course!

• This recipe has four basic components...measure, grind, make, bake.

First -- Preheat your oven to about 300F, or about 150C, while you're preparing the cookies.

2 cups dog food, 1 cup/1 handful parsley

For this recipe, I'm using just three ingredients -- the third in an effort to help cut the noxious gas which is a result of IBD --

2 cups of Acana Wild Prairie (or 2 cups of your dog's grain free dry food) - (yes, you can use any dry dog food your dog is eating to make these cookies, but if your dog is on a special diet or has special dietary needs, use that dry food for this recipe)

1 cup+/1 generous hand full of fresh parsley* (leaves and stems)

1 cup tepid water

That's it!

Dump it in together

Next, you need to grind the ingredients together.

Dump your kibble and parsley into the large grinder cup, screw on the four blade attachment, and grind the ingredients until everything is a grainy consistency. You can tilt the grinder a few times to ensure the ingredients are mixing thoroughly.

When you're happy with the results, dump into a large bowl. Use a small spatula or a fork to lift and break up any clumps. Your ingredients having a soft, sandy consistency.
Magic Bullet/NutriBullet

NOTE: I use a Magic Bullet/NutriBullet grinder, but any large capacity grinder will do. Grinder NOT blender! Blenders are to blend. They're not strong enough to grind the hard kibble. You need something with sturdy, sharp blades, like a coffee grinder but larger. Seriously, Bullets are not expensive and they come with the attachments you need for this job.

The ground ingredients should have a soft, sandy consistency

To the bowl, add about 1 cup of tepid water.

• If the water is too cold, the ingredients won't mix properly.

• If the water is too hot, the dry ingredients of the dog food will separate...meaning all the fats will come out and it will be gross. Trust me.

This is the fun part, and the part kids will really enjoy. Get your hands into the bowl and mix the water into the dry ingredients.

Mix well, making sure you get any tiny lumps incorporated. 1 cup of water should do you as long as you can press the mix together and it holds...somewhat like making pastry.

!!Water amounts vary between humid or dry areas
If the mixture doesn't hold together, add a tiny bit more water until it does. Add about a tablespoon at a time.

Turn the now damp contents onto a board or a clean worktop and press the ingredients together.

Once you have your 'dough ball' ready, you can either roll out the dough to an even, flat sheet and use cookie cutters to make your cookies, or shape them by hand. I prefer shaping by hand. My hands are already in the mixing bowl, so why not?!

Pinch off a small bit of the dough at a time and shape. Place directly on non-stick cookie sheets.

Make the cookies any size or shape you want. Consider your dog's size and weight. While these cookies are generously sized for this demonstration, I normally make them smaller and a little thinner. Aim for pastry thickness...1/8 inch or there abouts.

For this recipe, you should be able to get 36-48 quarter-size cookies, depending on thickness.

Space the cookies close together as they will not rise while baking.

The great thing about this recipe, especially for kids, is you can personalize your cookies. Here, I've added D for Daisie and P for Poppy, and also a couple smily faces for fun.

Be creative. Your dog may just see the treat, but you'll know they were made with love!

And if you ever make these to give away to friends and family as gifts for their special needs dogs, your creative designs will make a more heartfelt gift.

Don't forget that the cookies are
essentially dog food made into
shapes. The more cookies you
feed, the less dog food you need
too put in your dog's bowl at
meal time.

Once you've used up all of your dough and all the cookies are made, pop them in the oven for about 30 minutes.

NOTE: There was a second tray. This one tray wasn't the full recipe!

Take the baking time to clean up after yourself. Be sure to wash your hands well, as they will smell like dog food

After 30 minutes, turn the cookies over. Close the oven door and turn off the oven. Let the cookies cool as the oven cools, which will pull out any leftover moisture from the cookie.

When the cookies are cool, you can then put them into your dog's cookie jar and serve as normal.

• These cookies will NOT be hard like store-bought cookies. There is no flour as a binding agent, just the natural oils from the food, and a small bit of water.

• These cookies will also absorb any moisture in the air, so be sure your cookie jar is somewhat air tight.

So, here are my heart shaped dog cookies. What do you think?

* This is a very versatile recipe. You can --

• replace the parsley with mint if your dog has stankbreath

• mix a tablespoon of smooth peanut butter into your water for peanut buttery cookies (adjust the water if necessary)

• add a pinch of ground garlic to help as a natural defense against pests like fleas (not a 100% alternative but it will help)

• use strained chicken natural broth (simmer cooked bones in water for a couple hours, or a good quality store-bought broth...no salt added!) in place of water for a richer flavor (this is useful if your dog is on a senior food which often lacks flavor compared to normal adult foods)

• add in some finely chopped dried cranberries or dried dates for a sweeter cookie

Use your imagination, keeping your dog's dietary needs in mind at all times.

WARNING: You may find your dog(s) gathering at your feet while you're making these cookies. It's no harm to let your dog have some of the dough, as it's just ground up dog food with some water in it...there are no raw ingredients here. He/She will love it!

And here's Daisie, six months after we almost lost her. She still has IV tracks from her incident at Xmas which almost took her from us...as well as the bald belly from her scans. This is due to the steroids she's on. The hair will eventually grow back.

Look at that happy face. Her weight is good, she's happy, her coat is glossy, and her IBD is getting under control. And we're curbing the gas with the parsley, we're all happy about that! Life is good. We're not there yet, but things have made a significant improvement.

We're are so fortunate to still have Daisie with us. Had we 'let her go' last December, we would have lost out the last six months we've had with her. And who knows how many more years. With the heavy arthritis she's had since she was very young, she's defied all the odds.

The next challenge -- turning 13 on 4 July!

aka Independence Daisie, Daisie Dog, Daisie Dukes, Dook, Dooku,
Dookie, Dookster, Daisie Dingleberry, Daisie Dufuss, Crazy Daisie,
Lazy Daisie, Dunkin' Daisie, D-Dog, Snorkel Dog, Hairy Tuna...