Saturday, October 1, 2022

Homemade Dog Treats, Toys, and Shampoo

 

 

 

When we adopted a one year old chocolate lab in early summer, both animal shelters that we visited told us that they were so full that they could not accept another animal until adoptions clear space.  I read that this is true across the country.  Part of the reason is that so many people adopted pets when they were isolated by municipal Covid measures.  Later, some people had to go back to work, leaving an anxious dog alone to tear up the house or yard.  Another reason may be that the rapid rise of inflation has increased the costs of both human and pet supplies. 

One amelioration of the latter issue is that many foods, hygiene supplies, and toys can be made, cheaply, quickly, and easily, from scratch.  Below are a few that I make for our dog, Buddy.

DOG TREATS

Dogs go through packages of dog treats fast, and they can be pricey.  But they are SO EASY to whip up at home from common ingredients and MANY websites offer great recipes. Just search for home made dog treats.  I have made several dog treats.  The simplest is:

1 cup flour (any kind)

½ cup peanut butter

Enough hot water to make a firm dough

Knead, flatten, and cut into preferred shapes and sizes. 

Cook at 350 degrees.  The duration depends on the thickness of your biscuits and how hard and shelf stable you want them to be.  For example, ones that are ½ inch thick and cooked for 20 minutes will have a brownie-like texture.  Thinner and 45 minutes yields a harder product.

I vary the recipe by adding salmon oil, oatmeal, pumpkin puree,  chopped dates, toasted barley.  The latter three provide fiber/roughage.

One great idea (again, for roughage) is to slowly dry (in an oven or dehydrator) a sweet potato or yam that has been cut into thin rings.  When the tuber is leathery hard, string it on a leather strand, like a necklace, for the dog to chew.

DOG SHAMPOO

The dog shampoo I make is very similar to the people shampoo that I also make, with castile soap, water, a bit of vinegar and a drop or two of essential oil.  I do not use nearly as much of the last ingredient for the dog as I do for us, since his nose is so much more sensitive.  After I brush him, I dip a cloth into the shampoo and rub it into his hair, with special attention to the insides of his back legs, that can have been splashed with urine.  I have read that once a month is about the right frequency.

 

DOG TOOTHPASTE

My son kindly sent me some purchased dog toothpaste and several plastic finger “brushes.”  My dog enjoys the almost daily ritual when I rub the nubby finger over his teeth and gums.  When I finish this tube, I will make my own.  Of the internet sources I have read, I have found that some ingredients used by people (including us) like baking powder and hydrogen peroxide are NOT appropriate for dogs since they do not spit out the residue as we do.  Coconut oil (which we use for oil pulling) IS OK for dogs, as are aloe vera and olive oil as bases.  Look up homemade dog toothpaste.

 

DOG TOYS

Our 5 acre woodsy property on a lake offer a variety of outdoor entertainments for a dog who likes to run, grab sticks, and play in the water.  But how will be entertain him during our long Alaska winters, particularly during snow and rain storms and deep cold when we are not too enthusiastic about spending much time outside?

All dog owners know how fast their pets can tear through purchased toys.  Even Kong toys, which cost $15 + and are marketed as tough and long lasting, remained intact for less than a day with Buddy, although the sad remnants remained play worthy, longer. 

The internet offers lots of creative ideas for homemade toys. I have tried several to good effect and concocted some others:

·         I save food grade plastic containers, like peanut butter and popcorn jars.  First he rolls and sniffs, licks, plays with them.  Once he crunches the side of the container into an hourglass shape, I shove a dog treat into the lower portion.  He enjoys the mental stimulation of figuring out how to get to the treat. 

·         I tie string, rope, or paracord from the spiral staircase, looped through a dead tennis ball, rubber toys, or a pierced plastic jar.  The thinner strings he breaks and then plays with that.  The paracord lasts longest before he bites through it to release the toy. 

·         Cardboard toilet paper rolls or small cardboard containers taped shut with a treat inside.  At first he played very gently with these, but now they last about a minute.  Still, sometimes that is all the distraction one needs to redirect behavior.

·         Three rags or old socks wrapped around dog treats or peanuts and then tied, one inside another entertain him for about 20 minutes.  

·         We bought bags of golf balls, tennis balls, and what look like croquet balls at thrift shops for very little money. Buddy strips the shell off the golf ball in an hour, shreds the tennis ball in two hours, and peels the skin off a baseball in about two hours, after which he unravels the tightly wrapped yarn over several days.   

·         Of course he loves sticks and slim logs and we have lots of those.   

 

I think I derive as much enjoyment from creating these supplies as he does from utilizing them. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

How to Pressure Can Foods for Long Term Storage

HISTORY

(The historical information is adapted from www.thecharmedkitchen.com)

The first known pressure cooker was invented in 1679, believe it or not, by Denis Papin, a French physicist and mathematician. His invention was a large cast iron pot with a lockable lid that raised the boiling point of water.  At this higher temperature, bones softened and meat cooked in quick time. It was promoted as a “digester” because it cooked food so quickly. Sadly, it was difficult to control the pressure and explosions were common. Eventually he added a valve to release extra pressure.


In 1795, Napoleon Bonaparte offered a reward for whomever could develop a safe, reliable food preservation method for his constantly traveling army. Nicholas Appert took on the challenge, and about 15 years later introduced a method that involved heat-processing food in glass jars reinforced with wire and sealed with wax.

The next breakthrough with tin cans occurred in or around 1810.  Englishman Peter Durand sealed food in “unbreakable” tin cans… but the can opener was not invented until 48 years later! Before that cans were opened with hammer and chisels! The first commercial canning establishment in the U.S. was started in 1912 by Thomas Kensett.

It wasn’t until Louis Pasteur was able to demonstrate how the growth of microorganisms causes food to spoil that people understood WHY canning methods preserved edible food.

At the time of the U.S. Civil War glass food preservation jars with metal clamps and replaceable rubber rings had been invented. These jars are still available today, although they are no longer recommended for canning, just for storing dry goods.

In 1858, John Mason invented a glass jar with a screw-on thread molded into its top, and a lid with a rubber seal. Most canning jars are still referred to as Mason jars.

Meanwhile in the late 1800’s, William Charles Ball and his brothers got into the food preservation jar business and began buying up smaller companies. They quickly became leaders in the industry. Ball jars are today one of the most widely used jars for canning (and their cookbooks are wonderful – LE).

HOW TO

I regard pressure canning as an essential skill for anyone wanting to increase self-sufficiency and resilience.  Power outage from a tornado, hurricane, flood?  A huge harvest from the garden, hunting, or fishing?  Can’t get to a supermarket during a week-long blizzard or after surgery?  Enjoy the convenience of meat, cheese, vegetables and fruits you pressure canned in advance!


If someone has never seen the equipment, it may be hard to imagine how this works, especially since the process requires some specialized equipment.   For one thing, as conveyed above, you do not use cans!  ???  The containers are tempered glass mason jars with metal, two part lids – a flat disk and a round lipped sleeve that fits over the disk and screws around the top of the jar.  The pressure canner is a specialty kitchen item, not a normal pot. It is super heavy duty steel, designed with a unique lid. The top locks in place with six screwable locks and three L shaped brackets and has a steam valve like a mini chimney that you top with a round, metal regulator.  Covering the steam vent with the regulator enables the temperature within to rise and remain above the boiling point (usually 240 degrees for my canning), thus killing most bacteria over the designated duration of cooking.  We bought the All American brand for about $275 in a size that fits 7 quart jars at a time. 

After processing, the cook lets the hot water and steam pressure cool before lifting the lid to pull the jars out of the hot water bath and set them on an appropriate surface to cool.  The temperature difference between the interior and exterior of the jars causes pressure by which the disk tops suck inward (concave), thus creating an air tight seal to protect the food within.  When you want to consume the food, months or years later, you break the seal with a gentle twisting movement on the edge of the disk, with a fork or other utensil.

EXAMPLE of METHOD and TIMING

This week, I canned 21 jars of brassica (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) leaves.   

1.   1.  First I assemble the equipment in the kitchen.  I fill the pressure canner with water high enough to fill and barely top 7 quart jars (they are about 8 inches tall).  I lay the disk lids on top of the jars.  As the water heats, it cleans the containers and tempers the glass for the boiling temperatures ahead.  On another burner, I heat water in a large pot to blanch the leaves.  (Blanching is quickly boiling the vegetables to turn bright green, then plunging them in a nearby large bowl of cold water to stop the cooking.)  On the counter, I place a big bowl full of cold water, a smaller empty bowl, a sharp knife, long tongs, a soup ladle, a sieve, and a special canning tool that looks like short tongs but with a circular clamp, to lift the round jars in and out of the hot water.


2.   2.  Then I go out to the gardens to harvest enough leaves to fill 7 + quarts (about 15 leaves per jar or about 100 leaves total).  This pleasant task takes me about 30 minutes.    

3.   3.  Upon returning, my prep works takes about an hour.  I fill one sink full of cool water, rinse the leaves in the other and then lay them in the bath.  I gather 8 leaves, roll them up like a green log, cut crosswise into sushi sized pieces, and then long wise, resulting in rectangular confetti of leaves.  Any long or thick stems or spines, I snap off and drop in the empty bowl. Every time I amass 24 or 32 leaves, I blanch them for maybe 10 – 20 seconds.  Then I fish the leaves out with the sieve and dump them into the pot of cool water to stop the cooking. 

4.   4.  During the next set of 24 – 32 leaves I chop, I blanch the stems and spines, which, being thicker, take more time – often a minute.

5.   5.  Some people flavor the vegetables with herbs, onions, etc at this point, but I prefer to store mine plain, so I can be more spontaneous when I eventually prepare meals.   I pull out a hot jar from the pot, empty the water, and with the long tongs, fill the jar with the blanched and cooled leaves or stems, pressing down occasionally to fit more.  Then I ladle hot blanch water over the leaves, poking with the tongs to open up any air pockets.  Every canned food recipe has a suggested airspace at the top, such as half an inch.  When I have left overfilled jars in an unheated outbuilding in winter, the liquid expanded and cracked the jars.  So I carefully assess the space at the top.  I wipe the top edge of the jar with a clean towel and then place the lid and ring on, finger tight, not tighter, for reasons that relate to the cooking process and subsequent self-sealing. 

6.       The science and safety of canning, as well as recipes, are well explained in Bell’s Book of Canning, which is sort of the “Bible” of canning. 

7.   6.  When all 7 jars are immersed in the simmering water bath, with about 1 inch of water covering the lids, I lock on the lid, crank up the heat, and watch until steam vents out of the top for several minutes.  Then I place the regulator on top and set the timer.

8.     Acidic foods, like berries, tomatoes, and citrus are processed very quickly (15 -20 minutes for quart jars).  Non-acidic foods, like meats, tubers, and other fruits and vegetables take MUCH longer, such as 90 minutes for quart jars of leafy greens. 

9.  7. It also takes another 60 – 90 minutes for the water and steam in the pot to cool down enough to remove the regulator and then the lid. So when I can vegetables or bear meat, I can only process two batches in a day.  During berry harvesting season, I can process more sets… if I want to spend all day at it.  Otherwise, I pop the berries in gallon bags in the freezer to deal with during inclement weather. 

108.  I place the hot jars on the stone surface that surrounds our wood stove.  I can see the liquid still bubbling/boiling through the glass. I leave them there overnight, hearing “pings” when internal pressure seals the jars when the lids go concave.

119.  The next morning, I test each jar’s seal by poking the lids gently with a finger.  Those that sealed are firm and do not lift free of the jar.  Those that did not seal for some reason (like a bit of food on the lip of the jar, or a dented lid) wiggle and lift easily.  The sealed ones go on the pantry shelf, labelled with contents and date.  The unsealed ones go in the freezer or refrigerator to consume sooner or to can again with a different lid.

During the summer, of course, we gather fresh vegetables for salads and side dishes each day.  But since brassicas grow so easily here, our winter rice, stews, stir fries, and other dishes often feature a hefty portion of brassica leaves for color, nutrients, and roughage.   We generally open one quart per week.  By the end of summer, I will have canned more than 100 jars of summer fruits and vegetables (and hopefully, bear meat) to enjoy through the winter and into next year. 

Yes, this takes a long time, especially if a reader is able to order foods on line, delivered to the door.  On the other hand, I enjoy a sense of pride in each mouthful.  I not only grew this food from tiny seeds, I also preserved it for my family’s consumption in a tasty dish.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Dry Summer Food Production: Good for veggies, bad for berries

Wet and dry summers have inverse impacts on our vegetable and berry harvests.  Past experience reinforces the importance of planting/harvesting/storing more than we can eat in a single year. 


Last year was so rainy that our berry harvests (all types) were HUGE, in both fruit size and quantity.  We gathered close to six gallons of raspberries, alone.  However, slugs liked the wet conditions, too.  They invaded the vegetable gardens, chewed leaves to lace and invaded every nook and cranny of broccoli and cauliflower heads.  GROSS!  Root crops and greenhouse plants were spared, but all the time and effort to seed, transplant, and care for scores of leafy veggies … yielded a few measly winter weeks of those vegetable dishes. 

 

This hot, dry summer is very different.  Some veggies and herbs bolted (flowered) early, after which they degrade, but others look hale and hardy, especially old reliables like potatoes and brassicas (cabbage, etc).  On the other hand,, the brassica buttoned, which I had never even heard of, which is when they fail to set heads,, or grow only tiny ones.  so I am harvesting the leaves to can for winter or summer side dishes.


Every afternoon, I gather leaves and flowers for the evening salad.  The last two weeks featured leaves of beets, lettuce, carrots, chives, turnips, radish, and mustard, and the pretty, pink, yellow, and white flowers of the last four. I make a tasty dip with carrot greens, too.

Unfortunately, the berry production in this weather is PUNY, in both size and number.  Last year, high bush cranberries numbered 15 – 25 on a strand.  This year:  3 – 5 tiny hard ones.  Prior years we had to net our six haskap bushes to deter birds.  This year, they barely visit.  Similar reductions are clear in currants, gooseberries, and haskaps.  Only the saskatoons and raspberries seem to have the same number of berries, but they will likely be smaller fruit.

Winter weather affects food production, too.  Two perennials, lovage (tastes like celery) and sorrel (a citrusy leafy green) did not overwinter, to my dismay.  They had been so robust for several years that I did not seed any others.  I miss them both and will have to start over next year.  Perhaps it was the very cold temperatures in November with no insulating snow cover.  Even the heavy mulching of those gardens with birch leaves was apparently inadequate.

One edible weed I like so much that I actually let it proliferate in my raised bed gardens.  It is called lamb’s quarter.  This plant favors disturbed soil, like gardens a⅝nd roadsides.  I use it, raw or cooked, in the same way I prepare spinach – in dips, salads, and sautéed dishes.  Lamb’s quarter leaves and very young stalks have a gentle, almost nutty flavor.  For tonight, I made a dip with mayo, sour cream, garlic, parmesan, and the leaves.  Earlier in the week, I added the plants to a stir fry with rice noodles and chicken.  Last week I sautéed the greens with garlic, lemon, and butter.  Yum.   

 Anyone living in a remote location or otherwise seeking to increase self-sufficiency is wise to learn how to identify, harvest, and utilize wild, edible plants.  Where I live, I do not have to worry about pesticides or pollution.  I harvest a number of other wild plants too, for food and teas, but I don’t let fireweed, dandelions, or ferns grow in the gardens.    

The convenience of a supermarket is marvelous in its selection and logistics, but I have learned to expand my varieties of food modestly, through growing and foraging.


Sunday, July 3, 2022

Captain Buddy, Our Kayaking Dog

Three weeks ago, we adopted a young dog (perhaps a year old) from the Palmer pound.  He is mostly a chocolate lab, with some other antecedents mixed in.  We named him Buddy.  As one friend said, “Our place must be dog heaven.”   I hope it will be.

Buddy on bow
Buddy on bow

Our priorities for selection were:

  • Big enough to not be eagle bait
  • Small enough to fit in our Piper PA 20 plane and our small log cabin
  • Neither  yippy nor a big hair shedder
  • Trainable, given the chickens, bear, and moose in the vicinity
  • Likes water

 

Other than his killing two chickens the first day, things are going OK as we get to know each other.

Kayaking with him is fun for all three of us.

Every afternoon, we all clamber into the blue, tandem kayak.  Early on, Buddy stands on the bow, looking like a canine version of “Master and Commander.” 

Yesterday, for the first time, he felt calm enough to lie down on the bow, which we hope he will continue, but he spends most of the time striding back and forth over both humans and along the skinny gunwales, reaching for lily pads or nipping at circling flies and then falling into the water. We haul him back into the boat, whereupon he soaks us… repeatedly… as he shakes the apparently requisite three times.  We smell like wet dogs when we paddle home for dinner, enjoying a salubrious dip in the wood fired hot tub first.

Buddy supervising desk work

On these watery sojourns, we meander here and there, putting in at bogs and meadows where he jumps off like a commuter who knows his stop.  He chases birds and sniffs plants (and probably other animals urine).  When satisfied, he hops back on and we move to another favored spot, like shallow rocky points where he can walk in the water and shaded coves with live sweet gale branches with which he wrestles and water logged birch boughs that he tries to haul out of the lake.       

He is still very needy of human companionship, which we understand.  The Anchorage animal shelter volunteers said that they are at capacity because people are returning their pets. I have read that this is true nation-wide.  One reason frequently stated is the inflationary costs of human and dog food/supplies preceded by a high rate of adoptions during Covid shut downs.  Perhaps Buddy’s prior owner had to cut costs.  Perhaps after working from home for two years, he had to start leaving the dog alone every day and returned to a home destroyed by a distraught canine.  Whatever the reason may be, the dog was evidently not physically abused, but does have abandonment issues.  We are working to assure him that we are reliably here for him.

Buddy giving kisses
After that, we will need to train him to be comfortable in the plane…

Sunday, May 8, 2022

April: Wolf, Wolverine, Swans, and Geese

April is full of firsts, both for spring, and, this year, forever.

This was the first time in over a decade of living here full time, that we saw a wolf.  What a gorgeous creature.  He was alone, sitting on the lake ice across from our cabin, facing this way.  He appeared to occasionally lick a foreleg.  Eventually, he rose and limped north.  Had he fought with the alpha wolf and been kicked out of his pack?  I do not know.  But he kept looking backward as he walked.

Late in the month we saw for the first time the distinctively round, 3 inch prints of a wolverine.  His feet picked up the mud and dust under and around our cabin, so the tracks were very clear on the snow heading down to the lake, including five sharp claws where he ascended the snow pack. This proximity was a bit alarming because these animals have a very fierce reputation. 

Twice, the motion detector light on the chicken coop attracted Bryan’s attention.  Sure enough, he saw the bright eyes of a sleek, black marten probing for openings in the structure.  This is a good time of year for that, because as the snow melts and the ice loosens its grip on the soil, the buildings can shift, creating an opening in the chicken wire that connects the coop to the 4 x 10 foot covered run.  Needless to say, the hens did NOT want to venture out the next morning.

Speaking of hens, for the first time I did something that Bryan thought was the silliest thing ever.  I dragged thin spruce trunks into an 80 foot line between the coop and our back porch as a “chicken sidewalk.”


 

The girls love the sun and the dry space beneath our cabin, but they do not like the texture of snow, particularly soft pack.  Two intrepid explorers traversed the trees every day, enjoying the expanding open ground and initial grasses denied their less venturesome colleagues. 

Throughout the second half of the month, we greeted returning migrating birds.  Swans travel in mating pairs, and three sets rested on the frozen lake before winging north.  With their long necks and legs stretched forward and back, they look enormous.  One morning, we awoke to a large flock of geese resting on the ice.  Given how noisy they are in flight, I was surprised that we did not hear them land or take off.  Perhaps quietude is important when grounded.  Pairs of sand hill cranes, which are usually the first birds we see, finally showed up the last week of the month.  They, too, are noisy “talkers” with a distinctive cry for which we give them the moniker, “the clackers.”  These birds fly so low that I can see up close as they fly past the front window. 

By May 1, our property is still about 75-80% covered with snow, but increasing brown doughnuts of open ground expand around trees and buildings.  The weather was odd all April – still freezing at night but into the 40’s in the afternoons, so the snow was hard and easy to walk on in the morning, and then receding rapidly in the afternoons.  Already, several wild currant bushes sport their small, mauve flowers.  Even one of the haskap (honeyberry) bushes has two yellow flowers despite otherwise nude branches.  By May 5, the mature birch trees are covered with catkins and the younger ones are starting to leaf out.  Soon, surfaces will be coated in green pollen. 

 The ice on the lake is softening, but I spy no open water yet.  This is a long, slow breakup.