Life is a macaron

My mother was not a great cook. I think she would happily cop to that. She made spaghetti, burnt steak, and stuck underseasoned chicken breasts in the oven until they turned rubbery. Her mother was not a great cook either. She was Irish, so I guess that was part of her legacy to boil everything until it fell apart and all the taste seeped out, or so she claimed.

However, her father was French, so she inherited a different type of culinary genius: boy could she bake. If I had to choose one of the two to excel in, it’s pastry chef every time. Banana bread. Cranberry muffins. Christmas sugar cookies with just the right frosting:cookie ratio. And her New England birthright, the whoopie pie.

Whoopiepies1

Every Christmas, she would bake piles of these little crack blobs and send them to every corner of the States, where otherwise mild-mannered humans would turn into ravenous wolves and tear into them until nothing was left but a small pile of chocolate crumbs and the satisfied groans of bellies bloated with marshmallow creme. And when my kids were older, they took my place up at the counter to learn the great tradition of cookie decorating:

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They weren’t bakery perfect, but that’s what made them fun.

Mom would also on occasion bake macaroons, those pasty, blobby coconut things that stick to your teeth and cling to the insides of your esophagus like phlegm. I was not a fan. But one fateful day I wandered into a French bakery and admired the little pastel rows of goodness and light known as French macarons, and everything changed. I picked up a rose flavored one and a lavender one, and I was hooked.

By MachineKeebler (talk).MachineKeebler at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

By MachineKeebler (talk).MachineKeebler at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

Before they became wildly popular a year or two ago, they were nearly impossible to find, and I decided that the easiest thing to do would be just to learn how to make them myself. Mom was on board too, ready to add a new treat to her repertoire.

Unfortunately, macarons are known as one of the granddaddies of pastry making, a confection as temperamental as an 80s hair band vocalist. Beat the meringue too long? Ruined. Not long enough? Ruined. Also able to ruin them: temperature too high, too low, overmixing, undermixing, high humidity, Mercury in retrograde, wrong rack in oven, playing country music while baking, etc, etc.

It only made me more determined to unlock their secrets, so last year I procured a cookbook, 5 bags of almond flour, and spent an afternoon in the kitchen with my mother ruining macarons.

After 3 or so batches, we were able to get a cookie sheet out of the oven with at least half of them edible, and we considered this a great success.

“Next year,” she said, “We’ll have this down.”

We never did get to practice together after that.

So a couple of weeks ago, with this echoing in my mind, I realized I needed to finish what we started and make some damn macarons. They are not like making a batch of chocolate chip cookies where you screw it up a little, meh, still fine.

Macarons are an event. You need to prepare. You need to think about things. You need to time everything just so, knowing the difference between firm meringue and soft, how many folds it takes before the stiff batter melts into pipable lava, make sure to bang the tray on the counter a few times,  you need to rest the cookie before you bake it so you get those little crusty feet. Getting it right is like finding the keyhole into the Misty Mountain, a perfect meeting of all the right tiny details.

And even when you do all of this right, they still get messed up. Sometimes they slant to the left like a manhole askew, sometimes the foot sticks to the pan and all you get is the top half, or they’re overdone and crunchy all the way through. Piles wind up in the trash. And every once in a while you hit the jackpot and get a perfectly done shell, and then- then, it’s magic. Crunchy and chewy and delicate and unlike any other thing out there, and you think to yourself, I have reached nirvana.

Manic Pixie Baker

I went into manic baking mode this week. Between the 3 dozen macarons I took to a cookie exchange (and lost the contest to a BROWNIE, what the heck is that about?), the teacher gifts, the ones my husband wants to bring into work, I can’t keep them in the fridge before they get carted out. Biscoff gingerbread. Pistachio. Cherry cordial. Eggnog. Nutella. I was a macaron machine.

I could have just gone and bought them, I suppose, or picked one of any thousands of easier cookies to make. But there is something special about giving someone a perfectly tied teensy box of macarons that makes a recipient light up- even when the cookies are imperfect, which most of them are. Because you are basically presenting a box that says, “I wasted 40 hours of my life swearing at a bowl of egg whites in order to bring you this,” and when the person squees in delight, you realize it’s not a waste after all.

In the hours I spent in meditative contemplation over a tray of almond meal, it really started to sink in as to why I felt such a need to get it right, to fulfill this promise to my mom that I would nail this cookie in a manner befitting my birthright. Whether or not they came out perfectly was completely beside the point, an added bonus but not necessary.

They are, simply put, a confectionary metaphor for life itself. They’re never going to be perfect. There’s always going to be one more way you can make them better. It takes time and effort and patience to get to the end and it still may not be what you wanted, but oh, even then, it was worth it.

macaron

What you bring to the party, and what you give to others from your own heart and hands- it is worth it. Never stop giving.

 

Pawcurious: With Veterinarian and Author Dr. V

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Macho Dog

He looks fierce, doesn’t he?  As for the hole in one ear and the chunk out of the other one, perhaps he was used as a fighting dog in the past.  Totally illegal, of course, and despicable. He was peering over a wrought iron fence in Gorbio village.
RIVIERA DOGS

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Pet Food Recall: MARS Petcare Nutro Chewy Treats Apple 4 oz.

MARS Petcare has issued a voluntary recall of its Nutro Chewy Treats Apple 4 oz.  The recall information is below.  It was found at PetSmart.

Dear Valued PetSmart® Customer,

MARS Petcare has issued a voluntary recall of the following Nutro dog treat due to potential mold.

 

Product Description

 

PetSmart SKU

 

Product UPC

 

Impacted Lot Codes

Nutro CHEWY TREATS APPLE 4OZ

5229600

7910511344

Lots codes beginning with ‘4 50’, ‘5 02’, ‘5 03’, OR ‘5 05’ (regardless of best by date).

 

The Lot Codes are located on the bottom of the bag under the Best By date as shown below:

 

 

Please stop feeding this product to your pet and bring any remaining Nutro 4 oz. Apple Chewy Treats affected by this recall to your nearest PetSmart for a full refund. PetSmart sells a wide variety of treats from many brands, and our associates can help you find the right item for you and your pet.

If you have questions about this voluntary recall, please contact Nutro Customer Service at 1-800-833-5330.


PetsitUSA Blog

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Still Growing

The little man has been doing great.  The girls haven’t corrupted him into being a barker yet, and hopefully it will stay that way.  He’s still just so easy – he’s happy and easy and content.  Coulee is playing with him regularly now and the house has been quite chaotic because of it.  But it’s nice to see them all having fun together.

We’ve started doing off leash walks these past few days.  He’s been fantastic.  He stays nearby and comes running at full speeds when you call.  He loves to watch the geese when they fly overhead.

Poor dude managed to get Cherry Eye last week.  We’ll be getting it fixed on Dec 16 – we felt waiting until his neuter was just too long.  His brother Oliver (aka Kermit) also got it and he’s unfortunately got it in his second eye too.  We are hoping that Summit’s second eye goes before the 16th if it is going to! I’ve been editing it out of most of his pictures because frankly I’d rather not remember him like that.  It’s isn’t too gross, but it isn’t flattering either.  He is great at taking his eye drops which is great because we are doing them 4 times a day.

I still need to get a decent family photo but we’ve been practicing…

The girls are doing well. Lacey’s recovered from her surgery and all the stitches have finally fallen out.  Her hair almost covers the scar and I’m sure once it is full length you’ll never know.

Crazy Coulee and Little Lacey

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NJ Vet, Dr. Lisa Aumiller, is 1 of 20 nominees for America’s Favorite Vet through the American Veterinary Medical Association, AVMA…

Dr. Lisa Aumiller of HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service 

in Mt.  afv blogLaurel, NJ, has been nominated for America’s Favorite Vet.  She’s the only vet from New Jersey, and I’m hoping to help her bring the title home!

The winner becomes the spokesperson on behalf of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, AVMF, which is the charitable arm of the American Veterinary Medical Association, AVMA. This is not a paid position!  And there is not a vet I know more qualified and dedicated, and would wholeheartedly represent the betterment of care for animals, promote advocacy, and inspire fundraising more than Dr. Lisa Aumiller!

She is a mobile vet and is known for visiting sick pets past 11 pm, starting her schedule earlier than planned, and arriving in the worst snowstorms to make sure her patients are seen. Additionally, Dr. Lisa has two hospital facilities if parents prefer to bring their pets for traditional vet visits.

Her practice focuses on integrative care and wellness, and with the latest technology, she is able to perform cold laser therapy, acupuncture, x-rays, ultrasound, and the like, for pets in the comfort of their own homes!

Dr. Lisa personally speaks to parents, texts and emails them, yes, personally, from her cell phone if need be!  Do your pet parents have their vet’s cell phone number?  Do you?  I do… that’s right!  When she is the veterinarian of a furry baby in my care, I can reach out to her anytime.  What vet does this??? Dr. Lisa Aumiller of HousePaws Mobile Vet does  : ) 

She is also most charitable and benevolent with providing medical care to animals, working with over 40 rescues, and is so extremely giving of her time with outreach, raising awareness about wellness and nutrition, holding complimentary educational seminars for pet parents, pet sitters and professionals, free dental screenings and wellness events for pets in the community, and workshops for children.  She held a Martin Luther King, Jr. community service project bringing everyone together to bake healthy treats for homeless animals and a workshop making environmentally-friendly toys to donate to animals in shelters, and continuously sponsors similar events.  She brings live animals and education to children at schools, teaching respect and proper care of animals, provides extensive, complimentary medical care for animals in a makeover project for homeless dogs in a collaborative effort with groomers to facilitate adoptions, and does microchipping for donations, while the community chooses a different nonprofit charity to receive the donations each month.  And for years, Dr. Lisa has been writing an informative column for the county newspaper and answering parents’ questions.

Dr. Lisa’s positive and upbeat personality inspires the community to volunteer; families come together for fun days, pets are welcome and spend quality time with their parents, and everyone enjoys fundraising endeavors!  She’s currently sponsoring events to bring the first local dog park to Riverton, NJ, and strongly encourages pet-friendly social activities by hosting doggie dips for furry babies to enjoy a swim, Yappy Hours sipping Puptinis, and Pup and Me Yoga!

With her down-to-earth personality and philosophy of teamwork, you get to engage with Dr. Lisa and the incredibly friendly staff at HousePaws at the various events, not only when your pet is ill, so you connect on a personal level, feel much more comfortable and truly cared about in time of need!

Year round Dr. Lisa and HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service raise a tremendous amount of money for The Boo Tiki Fund, a non-profit charity where parents may apply for a grant for veterinary care to avoid having to put their beloved pet to sleep, to end suffering by improving their quality of life, even preventing a pet being relinquished to a shelter because a family cannot afford medical care.  And that’s even just a portion of what I’m aware!

My personal experience with Dr. Lisa Aumiller is that she never says no!!!  Her practice has been the main sponsor for South Jersey’s Annual Pet Wellness Symposium I organize and host, and she immediately said yes when asked if she was interested in becoming the certified vet for trainings when a Fido Bag is donated, another voluntary position!  For the past few years, Dr. Lisa has been providing first responders the necessary training to utilize pet-specific oxygen masks and Animal CPR / first aid so animals now have a chance to survive a fire or disaster.  I’ve also brought her animals from the street when other vets recommended euthanasia and she provided life-saving surgery, knowing I hadn’t even begun to raise donations yet.  Another animal I literally took from a cage at another vet’s office who they scheduled to be euthanized!  Dr. Lisa allowed him to live at her hospital until I found a home.  And who do you think took care of him on the weekends and evenings when the staff were off?  That’s right, Dr. Lisa Aumiller herself!  I’ve emailed, texted, called Dr. Lisa countless occasions regarding my personal pet as well as pets in my care in the evening, weekends, holidays, and she always took the time to answer my questions and ensure the pets received appropriate care.

I thank her every opportunity I get for always taking the time to help because not only did it benefit the animals in my care, but Dr. Lisa helped me to become a more educated and skilled pet sitter!

Too good to be true, right?  That’s what I thought when I first met her… But it continued and just gets better and better; hence, her earning the title of a “Veterinary Angel” with me as well as so many others!

Although you may not live in New Jersey, I highly recommend you vote for Dr. Lisa as there is no doubt she will inspire other  vets and set a precedence that being a veterinarian doesn’t stop at treating animals… it’s just the beginning!  Animals desperately need Dr. Lisa Aumiller’s voice as the AVMF’s spokesperson; she needs your vote to make it happen.  Again this is not a paid position, rather, an extension of a vet’s dedication to outreach and education!
HousePawsFinalJan2014
      Click here for the ballot to vote…  vote for Dr. Lisa Aumiller.   You may vote daily until Tuesday, Sept. 1st.  Animals need Dr. Lisa and HousePaws Mobile Vet… and she needs your votes to win!!!
        Learn more about America’s Favorite Vet
To visit HousePaws Facebook Page


PetsitUSA Blog

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America’s Favorite Veterinarian Contest halted due to cyber-bullying: Finalists to be honored collectively

Reported in AVMF NEWS, the following was announced:

“America’s Favorite Veterinarian Contest Halted Due to Cyber-Bullying – Finalists to be Honored Collectively”

“The 2015 America’s Favorite Veterinarian Contest has been halted, and we have declared all 20 finalists “America’s Favorite Veterinarians” following a vicious cyber-bullying attack which disrupted and contaminated the final election process. Activists opposed to cat declawing “hijacked” the contest, resorting to cyber-bullying the majority of the contest finalists. The attacks were reprehensible and undeserved, and have undermined the spirit of the competition and caused the contestants undue harm. Read the press release for more information.

“We thank you for your interest in the contest, and we are truly sorry for what has happened. Our contestants deserve the utmost respect for what they do every day as veterinarians. We ask that those who are bullying these contestants immediately stop. Please join us in honoring these veterinarians with the respect they deserve.”

Lori , I’ve Got the ‘Scoop’!, LLC

2015 National Pet Sitting Business of the Year Recipient, NAPPS

2015 Best Pet Sitter & Dog Walker Burlington County, Winner of Best of Burlington County Times

www.IveGotTheScoop.net 


PetsitUSA Blog

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TRACIE HOTCHNER: ADOPTED PETS TEACH US PATIENCE (“LOVE DON’T COME EASY” FOR SOME)

newtraciepic2Sometimes you hear the story of someone who adopted from a shelter and discovered the dog or cat was really timid and shy. They might have expressed disappointment, or even made the fatalistic judgment “this animal must have been terribly abused and will never be able to be a loving pet.”

People can mistakenly give up on such a pet and take them back to the shelter without ever giving them a chance to develop a bit of trust and courage. Adopted animals have something valuable to teach the person they choose, and often that lesson is patience. When you adopt you receive the simple life lesson that something good is worth waiting for. Adopted dogs and cats can also show us the truth of the song lyric “you can’t rush love.”

I have seen time and again how rewarding the love feels to both the person and the pet when that pet is a reluctant new family member. When such dogs or cat are given the respect and space to find their own way to express and receive affection, the result can feel like a miracle!

Maybe those dogs and cats were not even abused – they’ve simply never experienced the love of humans before. They make us realize that depending on what has come before, even good things can take some getting used to! It’s always impresses me when someone who adopts is willing to postpone his own pleasure in having a pet to interact with, and instead is willing to delay that gratification and let the animal adjust at her own pace.

DFF-logo-ProudSponsor175x166My friend Jacob adopted a Lab-mix dog, Millicent, who was so fearful that she spent the first months (not days or weeks!) slinking around at the perimeter of rooms and curling up in the back of her soft-sided crate, as if to hide herself. Jacob kept the zippered mesh door of the crate rolled up like a tent opening but he never reached in there to disturb Millicent or tried to coax her out.

Sometimes he’d sit outside the crate door and read with a few extra delicious treats in his lap, letting Millicent sniff him out and acclimate when her curiosity (or thirst or need to pee!) enticed her out of the crate. Jacob never rushed Millicent – he let her decide when she was ready to come over to him. Little by little she took a deep breath and learned to trust him.

Once she crossed that line it was a matter of weeks before she stood up straight, walked confidently right through the middle of rooms, and the tail that had been tucked between her legs uncurled and began to wag, first tentatively and then with abandon.

Jacob’s patience paid off with a sense of accomplishment and even of triumph – and with those patient beginnings he allowed Millicent to develop a comfort level that will serve both of them in good stead for many years to come.
RPLN-NewLogo-ProudSponsor175x197
Tracie Hotchner is the author of THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know and THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know.

She is also a renowned pet radio host and producer, having spent 7 years on the Martha Stewart Channel of Sirius/XM with CAT CHAT® and even longer with her award-winning NPR radio show DOG TALK® (and Kitties, Too!) that continues to broadcast in the Hamptons and the Berkshires. Her most recent accomplishment is the pet talk radio network she has created on the Internet called The Radio Pet Lady Network.

Halo

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Gray fox on the hunt

I’ve only seen one of these foxes in person. They simply avoid coming out in the middle of day around here.

They prefer to stay deep in the woods, where they can take up a tree if something should spook them.

 


Natural History

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How to sell a toy dog

The Poodle (and Dog) Blog

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Thankful

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I’ve spent a lot of time the past few weeks thinking about gratitude, and what it means to me. I was worried that this, the first holiday season without the person who defines it for me, would be horrible and that I would have no interest in celebrating anything. Which is a valid response for sure, but I was hoping I could dredge up enough energy to participate for my kids’ sake.

And then a funny thing happened. I totally was into the whole gratitude thing.

Although my life has had its ups and downs, I would say I’ve been pretty darn lucky, and I’m the first to admit that. This is the first year I’ve had what I consider a truly devastating event, and even that- well, this is part of the human condition. Love and loss, one of the great lessons we learn as humans, one of the great moments for which pets prepare us.

I am grateful for that. I am grateful that my work prepared me for life to the point which I could address loss head on. Sorrow? Yes. Regret? Nope.

I never could have imagined when I started this little blog so many years ago that the people who would show up have turned out to be the most amazing group I have ever met. You have supported me through low points and high (many of which you never even heard about, but trust me, they were there), given me love and encouraged me to fulfill a lifelong dream, allowed me to walk into that bookstore and see my name on a shelf.

I am grateful for readers who, despite a world full of cynics and narcissists, recognize that we are all on the same side. Even when we don’t always agree on the finer points, we all know that hey, we all love animals and do our best in the best way we know how.

Do you realize how amazing that is? How many people spend their lives in anger, drumming up fury over things just because they need something to fill their lives?

We don’t need to do that, because we have all we need. And that frees us up to experience life in all its beauty, pain, and love. Your support and encouragement has in turn given me even more compassion for the people I meet every day, and that is such a gift.

This is the lesson our pets give us every day, and we carry it with us out of our homes and into our interactions with everyone around us.

It is a beautiful thing.

And I am thankful.

Pawcurious: With Veterinarian and Author Dr. V

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