April 25, 2016

Our dog has liver failure

I've tried to write this post for months, but am always stopped by a wave of sadness, or a dislike of sharing bad news, or all of the above plus the last time I tried, a ghastly black spider speeded across my desk. (A poisonous hobo spider, I think!) But with so many animal lovers out there, and so many people knowledgeable about animal health, maybe someone can offer advice — or sympathy.

Callie is our beloved little rescue dog whom we adopted three-and-a-half years ago when she was about two. We connected on petfinder.com. She's the sweetest, gentlest dog we've ever had. Her mission when we go for a walk, besides peeing and pooping as much as possible, is to befriend every dog and person she sees. Although she's willing to calmly walk on by if friendship isn't in the cards, she's so cute that strangers are often drawn to her and want to share her affection.

About seven months ago, she stopped eating, started throwing up, lost weight and was lethargic. After a series of tests, we were referred to a specialty clinic, with a diagnoses of liver disease.The new vet said Callie had liver failure. She had an ultrasound, a liver biopsy and blood tests, but it wasn't certain if she was suffering from a congenital condition, a chronic disease or a liver insult — a toxic event triggering a liver failure response. Other diseases were also ruled out. A toxic insult could be something like eating a poisonous mushroom or insect she found outside. She prefers to stay near us when outside, and rarely goes out by herself, so it seemed unlikely she ate something toxic at our house, but it's possible she could have gotten into something at the house where we occasionally board her. We don't know.

She was put on a great number of medications because her health was so precarious, and I had to make myself a chart to keep track of her drugs and dosages. She was on steroids for a time, which made her a little crazy. She had to wear diapers. Her fur got very thin and started to fall out in clumps. I had to get food into her because she had lost so much weight, and our pantry looked like a specialty pet food store, with so many choices with which to tempt her. She rejected everything, even home-cooked offerings. I became a human feeding tube, sticking food down her throat. Finally, she started to eat small amounts on her own, and slowly started to gain back the weight she had lost. Her blood work gradually started improving, and we were so happy. She was put on a liver-specific prescription diet, and many of her medications were discontinued until only the liver support meds were left. Her hair grew back and she looked healthy and happy again.

Her March blood work results were so good, her veterinarian was surprised but happy, and scheduled more blood tests for the end of April to further check her progress. Unfortunately, the most recent results indicate severe liver issues and the vet wants to do a new ultrasound to see how extensive Callie's liver damage is. I won't go into all the medical details, but we are heartbroken and confused. She looks and acts perfectly fine, but her blood tests indicate her liver is failing.

If we do another ultrasound, which we probably will, we may know more about her chances for survival, but at this point it doesn't look especially great. The other piece of this depressing scenario is the unbelievable, shocking cost of veterinary care. If I could go back in time, I would definitely sign up for pet insurance.

I'm giving Callie all the love, kisses, pets and walks I can, for as long as I can, and trying to remain optimistic.

April 18, 2016

Kuali Foods amaranth snack bars

photo credit:

I received three boxes of a new snack food — Kuali snack bars — to taste, and tell my readers about. The creator of the bars, Raquel, had been trying to create a healthy snack bar her picky kids would enjoy eating, when she developed the Kuali bars. This is what Raquel says on her Web site:

"Hi, I’m Raquel and I’ve always been focused upon good nutrition and overall health, but managing these two focuses has been far from easy whilst trying to lead a busy working life. I’m also one of the many (many) parents throughout the world who has faced the all-too common problem of tiny picky eaters who refuse to eat anything that looks remotely healthy.

Overcoming these two challenges is where the story of Kuali begins, and it would be the superfood seed Amaranth that would be the amazing answer to both – providing for a food that my whole family enjoyed and indulged in." 

photo credit:

According to the Kuali Web site, "This ancient, cultivated crop [amaranth] originates from Mesoamerica, and the use of Amaranth dates all the way back to the time of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayas, who each considered Amaranth as a vital staple food. Not only was this food vital for the health of these ancient peoples, but it was even used within religious ceremonies.

Amaranth seeds have a super high protein content, within which the bioavailability of protein reaches 78% (which in layman’s terms means that it’s a perfect food for absorbing protein and benefiting from all the health benefits that comes along with it)."

Each box contains six bars.

I have a couple of sample bags of amaranth seeds languishing in my pantry, and I was curious to see what bars made from the tiny seeds would taste like. I received three boxes of bars —  amaranth snack bars with chia and quinoa, amaranth snack bars with cocoa, and amaranth snack bars with cranberries. All three had a similar flavor, and were pretty sweet. The cocoa bar had only a slight hint of cocoa. I liked the taste but I wanted to get other people's opinions, too, especially the opinions of my picky grandchildren, aged eight and three.

Miss E approves.

Both children loved the bars, as did their mom. The bars are vegan, and gluten-free with no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners, however, they are made in a factory which also processes peanuts, oats, wheat, soy, almonds, coconut and sesame. They are made in Mexico.

Although the bars are made with 'super grains,' I would categorize them as a snack. You can look at the nutrition label (similar for all three flavors except the cranberry bar has one gram of protein, two grams of fiber and 10 grams of sugar) to see exactly what they offer. They are tasty, sweet, crunchy and chewy, and perfect for when you just need a little something sweet, but healthy. The more I eat them, the more I like them. What do you think? Would you buy these based on the ingredient/nutrition label? What do you look for in a snack bar?

The bars were sent to me at no cost. I was not paid to review them. All opinions are my own.

April 13, 2016

Quick and easy vegan meals

Coconut and sesame crusted tofu with a side of brussels sprouts and cauliflower makes a nice lunch. The veggies were leftovers and the tofu cooked to order.

The potato was cooked in the microwave and the beans came from a can. You can season the beans any way you like. I used nutritional yeast, salt and pepper. Add a side salad and you're set.

We sure do seem to like brussels sprouts. Here are leftover roasted ones with carrots and cauliflower served beside pasta with soy curls.

When I need something fast and tasty I often turn to chickpea flour cakes. I seldom use a recipe, just add this and that. For example, I might use just chickpea flour, leavening and seasonings, or, I might start with 1/2 cup of chickpea flour, then add two tablespoons of hemp seeds, a tablespoon or two of millet flour (or buckwheat flour or ???), 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, smoked paprika, sage, oregano, salt and pepper. I mix it all together and add enough water to get the kind of batter I'm looking for — thicker for patties, thinner for pancakes. Organic local asparagus was cooked on the griddle next to the cakes for a tasty lunch.

On another day, a slightly different cake was served with broccoli.

I still love making tortillas and with all the herbs growing in the garden, it seemed like a good idea to enhance them by adding herbs to the dough — rosemary tortillas! These were made into tacos with chipotlé chili kidney beans and ginger-mustard cabbage slaw, and served with a side of rosemary-chive asparagus.Has anyone been making tortillas? It's really easy and so delicious. I highly recommend it! To learn more about homemade tortillas, check the links below.

homemade tortillas


more tortillas-tortilla press

April 05, 2016

Cooking for company

Four-layer polenta casserole.

Choosing dishes for a company dinner is, for me, a fine balance between creating delicious food, and not having to be stressed out with last minute cooking. I choose recipes that can be made ahead, and I do a lot of planning, so I know exactly what will go into each dish, and when it needs to be made. For example, the four-layer polenta casserole I served this past weekend only looks and tastes complicated — each part is super easy, and all but the last topping can be prepared ahead of time. And even that can be prepped ahead. The basic polenta recipe is from Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon. It's baked in the oven and requires almost no effort. I made a double recipe, and added extra water so my polenta would be soft and creamy, and stand up to being made ahead, spending time on the counter, and being baked again to cook the crema. I also added a small amount of nutritional yeast for extra flavor. While the polenta was baking, I made pine nut crema from Viva Vegan by Terry Hope Romero, and stashed it away in the fridge for later. For my take on a recipe inspired by spinach with pine nuts and raisins from Urban Vegan by Dynise Balcavage, I sliced mushrooms and washed spinach, then put them away until needed. I minced garlic and zested lemon. About 45 minutes before dinner, the crema was spread onto the polenta and the dish was placed back into the oven to bake until the crema was firm and lightly golden. At that point, about 3/4 of a jar of Trader Joe's organic no-salt marinara was spread on top of the crema. While the sauce heated in the oven, I sautéed the mushrooms with garlic, added the spinach, dried cranberries and lemon zest, (no pine nuts since they were already in the crema), then spread it over the top of the casserole and called everyone to dinner.

Red and green cabbage salad.

A salad of shredded red and green cabbage, shredded carrots and a boatload of greed onions, tossed with a dressing inspired by a recipe for gentrified coleslaw from Celebrate Vegan by Dynise Balcavage, had been made early in the day and allowed to marinate in the refrigerator. The salad completely disappeared, leading my husband to say it was exactly the right amount, but making me  worry I hadn't made enough. Do you think like my husband or like me?

Tourlou tourlou.

A Greek baked vegetable dish, tourlou tourlou (pronounced toodloo toodloo) is an easy side dish. Once all the veggies are cut, it just cooks itself in the oven. Layers of sliced potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic and tomato bake until the eggplant is creamy and the potatoes are soft. I used a five-quart enameled cast iron dutch oven to hold the veggies, which came to the top before they were baked. It was baked early, then reheated in the oven while the crema was firming up. The original recipe called for — take a deep breath — one cup of olive oil! That makes me kind of shudder. I'm not used to such a generous amount of oil in my food. I drizzled olive oil on the bottom of the pot, and over the top of the veggies, and it seemed perfect. The vegetables only get better the next day, by the way, if you have leftovers. You can find the recipe here.

We also had a platter of stuffed grape leaves bought from PCC co-op, and an excellent hors d'oeuvre of tapenade and rice crackers made by a guest.

Caramel apple tart.

For dessert I made an apple tart. The sponge crust had a layer of caramel under the apples, made from the recipe for caramel filling in homemade yolos from The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon. The apples are drizzled with bee-free honee.

One of our guests made wonderful chocolate pumpkin cupcakes, but unfortunately they didn't get photographed.

Because so much of the dinner was cooked leisurely earlier in the day, and because I kept the menu limited, I didn't feel stressed, and was able to enjoy my company. What do you do to minimize stress when cooking for a crowd?

fyi: The post contains Amazon links, both for you and for me. The links enable you to quickly see and learn more about the books or other items I referred to in the post. If you buy something from Amazon after following my links, it costs you nothing extra and I get a small sum. Very small.