A Plethora of Preggos & Chicken Banana Pudding Soup

I’m sorry, I know alliteration is the red headed step child of blog titles, but I couldn’t resist — It’s finally become apparent that Penelope wasn’t just being moody and picky and even more Princess-y than usual. She’s actually pregnant.

Which means — yay! Two sets of stinky bum, puppy breath, sock chewing little darlings to terrorize the old timers.

The downside, of course, is that if Paris is actually pregnant, too, I could be in for some fun times. Fun as in ‘no sleep, no eat, never leave the house again, clean up more dirty newspapers than should be humanly possible without losing your mind’ fun.

So far, though, she doesn’t look pregnant. She’s not getting all milky moo cow looking, she’s not gaining any weight (more than she usually carries on chunky physique, that is), and her baboon butt has disappeared. None of that bodes well for puppies, although to be quite honest it does bode well for my chances of ever getting any sleep after Labour Day weekend rolls around.

Both Tula and Penelope went off their food slightly, but Tula got her appetite back in about 48 hours. Of course, 48 hours is practically a hunger strike for Tula, but it was still worrisome. Penelope, who usually sucks down food like a vacuum cleaner on steroids, has been more stubborn about it. My usual raw mix wasn’t cutting it, and neither was lean chicken breast, ground beef and rice, or anything else we tried. Just as I was starting to get worried, I remembered we had a leftover box of Honest Kitchen ‘Embark’ in the freezer. I figured it was worth a try, and mixed her up a bowl.

Now, if you’ve never fed it before, Honest Kitchen has a sort of steep learning curve. It’s raw, but it’s been dehydrated, so initially it looks like a box of upscale chicken soup mix (if soup mix commonly had grass clippings and banana chips mixed into it).

Banana chip on top - and the yellow lumps are chicken
Dry Embark – Banana Chip on top. The yellow lumps are chicken

You mix it with water, and it turns into a sort of slurry. Leave it sit for a while to re hydrate, and eventually it looks like.. well, like grass clipping, banana chip, chicken pudding soup.


Re Hydrated raw dog food
Re hydrated Embark – yummy!

But here’s the thing – after a week of refusing to eat more than two bites of food at a time, Penelope took one sniff of the bowl of green pudding, and sucked it back like it was the most awesome thing she’d ever tasted. She hasn’t let up since. Oh, and it gives them tiny little non smelly poops, which is an added bonus.

I’d always liked it in the past for weaning puppies, but now — big convert over here. Penelope gives Honest Kitchen two big, pregnant thumbs up.

Speaking of which, here’s a photo taken this morning of her chunkiness. Sorry for the bad stack, but it was starting to drizzle, and a grape can only hold a dog’s attention for so long.

Pregnant Penelope at four weeks and change

My dogs eat better than I do…

Raw Sweet Potatoes

This morning I whiled away an idle Sunday morning grinding and chopping vegetables and fruits for my dogs.

I pre baked sweet potatoes and squash. I diced Dandelion greens and Colt’s Foot (most of which I gathered from my ill tended yard and gardens, I’m ashamed to admit, but at least it’s a cheap and chemical free source of food). I chopped melon, ground it, and drained it in a colander. I put twenty pounds of carrots through my long suffering food grinder. I cored and cubed apples. I mashed bananas. I crushed garlic cloves. I seeded and chopped summer squash and zucchini and cucumber.

Then I mixed it all up, added fresh, organic cider vinegar, and packed it into my freezer.

Next week, I’ll pick up my fresh order of turkey necks, hearts and livers, and 40 pounds of lean ground, grass fed beef. I’ll stop and pick up two dozen free range eggs, two cartons of organic, pro-biotic yogurt, a carton of unsulphured molasses, some nutritional yeast, and six cans of water packed jack mackerel (to go along with the three whole salmons I have in the freezer, that will get poached tomorrow night).

Then I’ll spend another whole day chopping, grinding, mixing, weighing, batching and freezing. No one ever said feeding dogs raw was easy…

Oh, and what did I eat this morning? Two cups of coffee and a caramel rice cake.

Yup, it’s true – my dogs eat better than I do. Maybe I should just eat their food – after all, it’s not like this is commercial dog food, with its long list of scary and nauseating ingredients. I know where every ingredient I feed my dogs came from, and with the exception of the canned fish, all of it is as organic and chemical free as I can possibly buy. There’s no mystery animal parts, no chemical preservatives, no greasy fats sprayed on top of it it.

Of course, if you ask the AVMA, or the pet food industry, I’m a bad dog owner. I don’t care about my dog’s health, since I’m willing to risk their very existence by feeding them this home made swill of mine. I’m not a professional, you see – not like the folks over at Menu Foods, for example, or the American Veterinary Association.

According to all of them, people like me are conducting poorly planned science experiments on our dogs, feeding them this, feeding them that, and none of it ‘complete and balanced’, those buzzwords of the commercial dog food manufacturers.

In spite of this, I’ve managed to muddle through almost twelve years of raw feeding, with some experimentation here and there and some changed recipes. I’ve gone from using pre made mixes, to feeding whole raw parts (that didn’t work so well on most of my dogs – too much food bolting and choking), and now to my home made raw stew.

The basics are pretty simple, really –

50% or so turkey necks and fish with bones (salmon, sardines and mackerel, primarily)
5% liver, kidney, giblets (organ meats)
5% heart
25% muscle meat (beef, sometimes mutton or pork)
10% ground vegetables, fruit and greens
the rest is a mix of eggs, dairy, nutritional yeast, molasses, yogurt and cider vinegar

We also feed leftovers from our meals – scrambled eggs, roast meat and chicken, pastas, salad, etc.

Somehow, in spite of the fact that we’re breaking all the ‘rules’ given to us by the big pet food companies on how we’re supposed to be feeding our dogs, myself and the rest of the raw feeding world are managing to raise healthy, disease free dogs and cats, with no melting bones or salmonella poisoning or other horrific complications.

Bear that in mind, the next time you read some scare tactic inducing piece of big brother comissioned reporting on the ‘risks’ of raw food for your pets.

Weird food, tripey goodness, and cheese with a bonus

I’ve been idly following a mailing list thread which has, in the time honored way of all the very best discussion topics, morphed from the initial subject (dog food) into something completely different (What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten, or wouldn’t eat, or freak out when thinking about?).

It started with the basics – lumpy oatmeal – and it was all downhill from there to Haggis, blood pudding and Goat’s Head Soup (that one was mine, and yes, I’ve eaten AND enjoyed it, although the random floating eyeball sort of freaked me out, but not as much as the jawbone still with teeth in it. Biting something that can bite me back gives me Rod Serling-esque nightmares best analyzed through long sessions on a couch with a paid mental health professional).

A while later, I was chatting with a friend of mine who’s a food writer, and mentioned our on line discussion of weird food. She, who routinely pan fries herself some brains for a Sunday breakfast and first introduced me to the wonders of the Asian Pacific Mall food court, scoffed at our paltry definitions of weird, and sent me this email –

Haggis isn’t weird, you twit. Casu Frazigu is weird. Balut is weird. For real weird, try to eat one of every item on this list, I dare you –

OK, well, no. No thank you. There’s dog meat on that list, and while I am an adventurous eater, I draw the line at foods I want to put on my lap and pet, and that includes at least a few people I know, and all of the dogs and cats. Umm, scratch the part about petting the people, but keep in the part about not eating them.

I think I’d probably try some Casu Frazigu, just so that I could say I’d done it. Here’s a description of this tasty Italian cheese, from an article in the Los Angeles Times –

[Canadian food scientist Massimo] Marcone is one of the world’s leading experts on foods that make most people go yuck! He recently wrote a book on the subject. One thing that really gets his glands salivating is casu frazigu cheese, which is packed with so many live maggots that it’s not only disgusting, the Italian government outlawed it.

“The rotten cheese has millions of live maggots in it, and it’s very highly prized all through Italy,” Marcone said. “It sells under the counter for about $100 a pound. As you’re carrying your bag with the cheese in it, you can actually hear the maggots hitting the side of the bag.

“People eat the cheese and maggots altogether. There’s nothing in there that can cause harm.”

Casu Frazigue cheeseYummy!

It’s two great tastes, that taste great together, with the added bonus of sound effects. I’m imagining it’s similar to the effect you get inside your head when you’re eating pop rocks.

The photo makes it look rather like a typical cream cheese, unless you look more closely. Actually, maybe looking more closely isn’t such a good idea.

At any rate, you don’t have to worry about bumping into Casu Frazigu (also known as Casu Marzu, in some areas) in your local dairy case, as it’s apparently now banned.

From Wikipedia –

Several food safety issues have been raised with casu marzu:

  • Anecdotal reports of allergic reactions.
  • A risk of the decomposition advancing to a toxic state. (Folk wisdom in Sardinia holds that the presence of still-living larvae are an assurance that this has not yet happened.)
  • Risk of enteric myiasis: intestinal larval infection. Piophila casei larvae can pass through the stomach alive (human stomach acids do not usually kill them) and take up residency for some period of time in the intestines, where they can cause serious lesions as they attempt to bore through the intestinal walls. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and bloody diarrhea.[2]

Because of these health threats, or simply because it is considered a contaminated product, casu marzu cannot be legally sold in Italy. Within Sardinia, enforcement of the ban is sporadic and the cheese is available as a black market item, selling for about three times any other type of pecorino‘s price.

After a night of surfing weird people food, I find comfort in the fact that the ingredients in the food I feed my dogs don’t get much weirder than canned Mackerel. The next time I’m mentally complaining about mixing up a big bowl full of fish, yogurt, vegetable mash, kidneys and cow heart, I’m going to remind myself that it could be worse – someone could publish an article telling us that Maggot cheese is good for dogs.

That would make the whole tripe incident look like a dream come true.

By the way, the single most disturbing sentence in the entire thread that started this blog entry came in the form of this description of Old Country Buffet –

Think of  Cracker Barrel with creamed  herring

I am now indelibly scarred for life, and will have to force myself to make an immediate dinner reservation at  Eigensinn Farm, simply to recover from the trauma.

Honest Kitchen Dog Food Assesment

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I picked up some samples of Honest Kitchen dog food to try out on Ellie. I picked up a trial sized packet of each of the foods made by Honest Kitchen – Force, Embark, Preference and Thrive. The samples were kindly provided by the Canadian distributor of Honest Kitchen, Companion Dog Xpress, located right here in Durham, Ontario.

I decided to start with Thrive, their diet for dogs with sensitive stomachs. From the Honest Kitchen website:

Thrive is our gluten-free, low carbohydrate dog food. This diet was designed to cater to dogs of all life stages including adults, puppies, pregnancy and nursing. Thrive is ideal for sensitive dogs who need gluten-free dog food but with a little grain, to help maintain a healthy body weight.

My initial impression on opening the package was that it smelled strongly, but not unpleasantly, of kelp. The color reflected this – in appearance, Thrive looks something like finely ground grass clippings. This makes sense, when you realize that the fourth through seventh ingredients of Thrive are Spinach, Parsley, Organic Kelp, and Rosemary.

I followed the feeding recommendations, and mixed a cup of dry food with a cup and a half of lukewarm water. Roughly ten minutes later, the food was the consistency of thick soup. In hindsight, I think that the water to food ratio I followed was too high, especially when preparing it for a dog who has difficulty with differently textured foods.

EllieEllie took one look at the bowl of Thrive, and turned her back on it. After a few minutes, she deigned to sniff it warily, and lap up a few mouthfuls. The mournful expression she turned on me clearly said “Have you lost your mind? I’m not eating this.” And, sure enough, two mouthfuls were as much as she ate, and this in a dog who usually clamors for her food. Honest Kitchen will not be Ellie’s new food of choice, so we’re back to soaked kibble for now.

I split the bowl of Thrive into two portions, and fed it to Paris and Tula. They both inhaled it in less than a minute, and knocked the bowls around in an attempt to clean out every last particle of food. Apparently some dogs really like Thrive – but bear in mind that Tula and Paris are the most food motivated dogs I own, and would happily wood chips if given the opportunity.

The finely ground texture of Honest Kitchen’s food made me consider how suitable it might be for a weaning food.

I usually follow the same protocol when weaning our puppies: start them on rice pablum mixed with formula; move up to ground kibble mixed into the pablum; add raw at an increasing rate until the pups are eating raw only.

I then feed the pups soaked kibble one meal per day, in an effort to ensure that any new owners who choose not to feed raw aren’t faced with overly fussy eaters. The whole process takes about two weeks.

The problem with ground kibble is that I’ve had pups who cough or choke on it. The texture is grainy, and doesn’t agree with a lot of puppies. Honest Kitchen is so finely ground that I decided to give it a try on Solo this morning. He’s been eating pablum mixed with formula for about a week now, and I had been planning to introduce ground kibble to his diet this weekend. I decided to try mixing in some Embark, instead.

The appearance of Embark was similar to that of Thrive, as was the smell, but it’s darker in color and smells less strongly of kelp. The ingredients in Embark are —

Hormone-free USDA turkey, organic flaxseed, potatoes, celery, spinach, carrots, coconut, apples, organic kelp, eggs, sesame seeds, bananas, cranberries and rosemary.

Solo eating pablum and EmbarkI mixed a teaspoon of Embark in with the tablespoon of pablum, added warm formula, and left the mixture to sit while I fed Solo his bottle. After about fifteen minutes, the mixture was slightly thicker than pablum on its own. It had tiny flecks of green, orange and brown in it, and a pleasant smell.

Solo seemed really enthused about trying it, and lapped up the entire dish, even licking it clean afterwards. It’s been a few hours since he ate, and there’s no sign of any stomach upsets or diahrrea.

I’ll keep feeding him the Embark this weekend, and if there are still no stomach upsets, I think I will officially consider it my second stage weaning food, replacing ground kibble. I like that it’s a raw food, that it’s not extruded (or even baked), and that it’s made with organic, hormone free meats.

It’s always nice to find a new food I feel comfortable feeding, and that the dogs seem to enjoy – even if I still can’t get Ellie to eat it.

Snowy Day Food Blogging

The weather here today is horrific — blowing snow obscures everything, it’s minus -7° celcius, and expected to drop to -15° , and I have no intentions of leaving the house if I can possibly help it. Unfortunately, Solo is out of goat’s milk, so I don’t really have much choice. Sucks to be a responsible pet owner, doesn’t it?

Thrive Dog FoodI have another reason for leaving the house today – I’m going to pick up some sample packs of Honest Kitchen dog food from our local distributor. He’s actually the Canada wide representative for Honest Kitchen – he just also happens to be located here in Durham, a town with a population of about twenty people. It really is a small world sometimes.

I’m going to try switching Ellie over to Honest Kitchen, in the hopes she’ll find the texture easier to eat. She has a hard time eating kibble, even if it has been soaked. Honest Kitchen is a dehydrated food, as opposed to a kibble. The basic ingredients have been dehydrated, and you then re-constitute them with water before feeding. This results in a food with a ‘pudding’ like texture.

Apparently, not all dogs like it, so I’ll start with just some samples and see how Ellie tolerates it.

As for Sean and I, we’re eating Jamaican food today. I’ve got oxtail stewing down in the slow cooker, and tonight I’ll fry some plantain, boil some yellow yam and Irish potato, and make a batch of coconut rice and peas. For dessert, we’re having fresh made banana fritters. Since I can’t get ethnic food out here, I’ve had to learn to make do with what we can cook here at home.

PhoNext week, we’re going to get together the ingredients to make Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup we ate at least once a week in Toronto.

Every block in our ethnic neighborhood had a decent Pho place on it, and I really miss being able to just drop in and grab a huge bowl filled with noodles, broth, seafood and bean sprouts. Sean likes his plain, but I love my Pho with a squeeze of lime and a dash of chili sauce.

Here’s a simple recipe for rice and peas —

Serves: 4-5

1 medium sized can red kidney beans
1 can coconut milk
2 cups of rice
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 table spoon oil
1 scotch bonnet pepper (whole, do not chop up)

Drain the liquid from the can of beans into a measuring cup and add the can of coconut milk and enough water to make four cups of liquid. Place liquids in a pot with beans, onions, garlic, thyme and oil, bring to a boil. Add rice and stir for a minute. Reduce heat to Medium-Low. Place scotch bonnet pepper on top of liquid and cover tightly for 30 minutes or until rice is cooked. Remove scotch bonnet pepper before serving.

This recipes can also be made using other peas.