Meatball Drama

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A couple months ago I noticed Meatball had what looked like a bug bite on his chest, kind of under his front leg. I had been pretty lax about flea treatment so I thought maybe he just got bitten by something while rolling around in the yard (one of his favorite activities). I bought some flea treatment and gave it to him. But I still kept and eye on the bite and it didn’t go away.

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It wasn’t getting bigger or bothering him at all, but it was still there after a week or so. I asked my friend at work who said I should have the vet look at it. I did some Google consulting and figured it must be a histiocytoma because it matched the description. A couple more weeks went by and the bump was getting bigger. It was like a little strawberry button, but still wasn’t bothering him. I had a random Friday off work so I decided to take him in to the vet. The vet looked at him and said the bump could be a histiocytoma like I suspected, or, it could be a mast cell tumor which is a nasty kind of cancer. The bumps look exactly the same and there isn’t a reliable way to test them prior to removal. She suggested we wait a couple weeks and if it was still there we should have it surgically removed. I googled around (again) this time looking for natural treatment options for histiocytoma. Multiple places recommended castor oil, including one vet who used it successfully on her own French bulldog. I figured the worst that could happen is I spent $3.50 on a bottle of castor oil and Meatball was greasy for a while. I gave it a try. The bump did start to deflate but it was not receding fast enough. I knew it wouldn’t be completely gone by the time the two weeks was up, so I made the appointment for his surgery. We took him in and I waited nervously for the call to pick him up, which came about 4 hours later. He came out of surgery in rough shape. He had a 5″ incision and about 20 stitches. He was sore, shaky, and very groggy.

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Because we were removing it in case it was cancerous, it’s best to take a wide margin around the bump to ensure any bad cells are removed. I assumed a “wide margin” around a little bump would be a quarter-sized section to remove, not almost 20 stitches! We were pretty horrified, but my doggy friend assured me the vet was just being careful. We had a long road ahead keeping Meatball from scratching at his stitches. He has severe allergies to God knows what, and gets really red and really, really itchy under his front legs, exactly where his incision was. We’d have to keep him from scratching at it. We bought a few shirts for him at the pet store and bandaged his back feet with tender tape (a crepe bandage that sticks to itself). Multiple times a day we had to take the bandages off to let him outside, then bandage him back up when he came inside. I sanitized his crate every day, changed his blanket to a freshly washed and sanitized one, and his shirt to a freshly washed and sanitized one as well. Every. Day. Every. Day.

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Then his incision got infected so he had to go on two antibiotic pills, twice a day. So morning and evening, he got five pills each time and they all upset his tummy so I fed him rice, chicken, hot dogs, and turkey burgers for two solid weeks. Seriously laborious work. His incision wasn’t healing well. It was really swollen (even with the antibiotics), and he had all this weird fluid building up on his side by the incision. I was talking to the vet every single day (BLESS THEM) and taking him in for check ups nearly as often (BLESS THEM SOME MORE). After at least a week, we seemed to finally turn a corner. The swelling began to very slowly recede and he seemed a tiny bit more comfortable. It was a sloooooow healing process from there.
I had a hard time knowing he could have cancer and it could be serious. Dogs with grade 3 mast cell tumors typically don’t live even a year after their surgeries, and there was no guarantee he’d have a lower grade just because he’s young. Because his whole belly got really red after his surgery, the vet warned me it was probably mast cell tumor (it’s a typical reaction when one of those tumors is removed). I was really sad and worried. I love my dog (probably too much) and I couldn’t understand why God would let me have him only to make him sick and take him away. I prayed about it a lot. I know how ridiculous that sounds, there are bigger issues in the world than a potentially sick designer dog. The cool thing is I eventually had peace about it. Y’all, I don’t have peace about anything at all in life, much less something scary, potentially sad, and worrisome. But I did have peace about this. All the same, I was incredibly relieved when the call came saying the test results showed histiocytoma, and he’s going to be just fine. YAY!!!! Of course I felt a little bad for wasting a huge chunk of money on surgery, shirts, bandages, medications, etc. but Chris said it wasn’t a waste. We were taking care of the dog God gave us. He made Meatball, too. Chris was right. Meatball got his stitches out a few days ago, doesn’t have to take any more medicine, and is almost entirely back to his normally troublesome self. The best thing will be when he’s finally cleared for a bath in another week or so because he SMELLS. It’s OK, I still love him like crazy.

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Tips for Making Pizza at Home

Around here, pizza is sacred. We are serious about it. I recently came to the realization that pizza is my all-time favorite food. It almost always sounds good. By ‘almost always’ I mean over 99% of the time (aka any time except when plagued with the stomach flu). :)

When we were first married I started meal-planning and handling all the grocery shopping. I decided to make pizza a weekly dinner because 1. We love it 2. we don’t get sick of it, and 3. it was one less dinner idea I had to come up with. That was at least 5 years ago, and while we don’t have pizza each week (more like every other), I have developed what I think is a pretty good pizza with all that experience.

I started out making a really bready crust from a family recipe. It was thick and soft, and not chewy. More like focaccia. It was OK. I personally prefer a thick crust that’s really chewy and bubbly. Chris prefers a thin crust that’s got a nice crunch but a little chewiness as well. Because thinner crust = less carbs = I can eat more slices, I usually make a thin crust. To make a thin crust, I switched from my first crust recipe to one using bread flour, because I’d heard rumblings that bread flour provided the texture I was looking for. The recipe requires you to knead the dough for 6 solid minutes. Even though I make dough in my KitchenAid mixer, that’s still a long time. After months of making it this way I switched from bread flour to all-purpose flour, and from 6 minutes of kneading to just enough to pull the dough together. Honestly, I didn’t notice a difference.

At this point in my pizza-making career, I’m looking to perfect my dough recipe further by finally getting the chewiness I’ve been looking for. The internet seems to believe that comes from 00 flour, so naturally I ordered 22lbs from Amazon and I am impatiently awaiting its arrival. In the meantime, here are the best tips and tricks I’ve learned to date:

1. Since I no longer knead the dough for a long time, I find that letting it rise overnight in the refrigerator provides the best texture. From what I understand, kneading the dough helps create gluten, which gives it a chewier texture. In lieu of kneading, you can opt for a long rising time (this is why no-knead bread still turns out awesome). Now, I rarely have the foresight to start my pizza dough 24 hours in advance, but when I do it truly does turn out better. If you don’t have 24 hours to let your dough rise, I suggest turning your oven on for a minute, turning it off and placing your freshly mixed dough in the slightly-warmed oven to rise. Give it at least an hour. This is a good time to preemptively work out :)

2. USE A PIZZA STONE. Place the stone in your cold oven and turn the oven on to 500. Once it’s heated you’ll place your prepared pizza on the hot stone. This is the single thing that has made the biggest difference. I have dreams of building a brick pizza oven in my back yard when we re-do it, but that is a few years away. In the meantime, a pizza stone really helps.

3. Fresh cheese is far superior to frozen. I freeze cheese often when I can find it on sale because I know we’ll use it. However, fresh cheese melts so much better, and to take it one step further fresh mozzarella melts even better than shredded (non-frozen). We use 1 c. (4 ounces) of cheese per 16″ pizza. It’s not a lot of cheese, but provides a complete thin layer. 2 cups (8 ounces) will create a more typical pizza.

4. The best mix of cheese is 3 parts mozzarella to 1 part muenster. I know!!! Who would have thought?! It’s true. Muenster is the BEST and gives it a wonderful flavor but is pretty strong when you add in the sauce and toppings. Because mozzarella is so mild, you need much more of it to provide a balanced flavor.

5. Transferring a prepared pizza to a blazing hot pizza stone is tricky business. I cook prepare pizzas on a square of parchment paper and use that to place the pizza on the stone, and I grasp a corner of it and use that to drag the baked pizza off the stone. This leads me to…

6. Roll your dough out directly on the sheet of parchment paper. The dough will stick to the paper so it won’t spring back, and you don’t have to dust the top much at all to keep the rolling pin from sticking. This wastes way less flour and prevents the pizza crust from getting dusty and dry with all that excess flour.

7. Use more sauce than you think you need. You shouldn’t be able to see the crust at all through the sauce, The crust absorbs some sauce as it bakes so you need a little more to account for that.

All this could change with the arrival of my (life-changing?) 00 flour, but this is what I know to be true about pizza at this moment. And now, a delicious pizza idea for you:

1. roll your crust out on a sheet of parchment paper (see #6 above)

2. top with a thin layer of BBQ sauce (no tomato sauce)

3. Top with sliced or shredded Swiss cheese

4. sprinkle bits of pineapple, thin rings of red onion, and (if you like meat, I do not) chopped cooked bacon on the top

Bake and eat! SO good!

Ps. I also want to try mixing in a portion of brown rice flour to see how that changes the texture of the dough. Can that be done?

Ps again: I’m not a food snob. Like, not at all. I’m also not a snob about using the best or fanciest gear. My kitchen has old super crappy appliances that still turn out great food. I don’t think you need to have a chef’s kitchen or grind your own flour to make something you’re excited to eat and excited to serve to your friends. I don’t usually use organic cheese or Muir Glen tomatoes. Also – I love frozen pizza, so there. The only tool I think you really need is the pizza stone, and I got mine on Black Friday for $12. Amazon usually has a good deal, too. Even frozen pizza tastes better on it! :)

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Fun with Photo Editing Apps

There are so many photo editing apps out there. Like, so, so SO many. I think these apps are a really fun amateur way to give my photos a fresh look. Although we have Photoshop in my home, I don’t know how to use it, so I really can’t compare any of these apps to that program. But I can compare them to each other! I edited the same photo in multiple apps to compare the functionality of each one. (Sidenote: I have an iPhone 5s, so obviously that’s what i used to take the original picture an edit them all) First, the original. It’s a photo of my dog, Meatball (who’s surprised? No one?):

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I just downloaded the VSCO Cam app, here’s the picture edited in that app, using a filter and all the adjustment options. I like the ‘grain’ option, to kind of pixelate the photo:

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Next I edited the same photo using the Rookie app. Same as VSCO, I used a filter and then adjusted all the other bits. The VSCO seems to have richer capabilities, but the Rookie app is easier to use (and it has fun things like stickers and borders although I didn’t use those for this particular photo). I really like how the photo appears textured, like finding and old photo in an album that’s been bent and scratched, and is now a little faded:

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Next up I edited my photo in Instagram. I’m not a huge Instagram fan at this time and I wasn’t thrilled with their editing capabilities. They were much more limited compared to Rookie and VSCO. Chris, however, likes this photo the best and he’s the expert around here:

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Next up I used the ABM photo editing app. I have seen people do amazing things with this app, but it doesn’t seem to work properly for me. Too bad because it’s a great concept and beautifully designed for easy use. I like any app that allows me to add pink hearts and stripes to my pictures:

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Lastly I used PhotoGrid, which is so fun for making silly pictures :) :

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I also have Hipstamatic which I totally love, but I wasn’t able to edit this particular photo with it (since it had been taken outside the app. As far as I can tell Hipstamatic only edits photos taken with Hipstamatic.)

Isn’t it funny how we all take these gorgeous, high-resolution pictures and then edit the crap out of them so they look old and hazy? I think that’s so funny. Still, I love the vintage look of old photos and Polaroids. I do think it’s annoying when you read blogs (not naming names, here…) where all the pictures are sunspotted and hazy, and everyone’s wearing a flower crown. Haha! Who lives like that? It took me about 25 shots to get one of Meatball that was worth editing. Real life is messy and chaotic, but I sure do like it :) (and no one is wearing a flower crown…but sometimes I do wear headbands with huge bows :) )

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Battle of the Chocolates (and cities)

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Last week we did our taxes and discovered we owed an amount that went screaming into the four digits, rapidly dashing my hopes for a tax bill more along the lines of last year’s $250 one. Multiply that times ten, then keep going. That’s more like what we ended up with. Ugh.

I was distraught, so Chris took me to QFC and suggested that we fulfill a recent desire of mine to do a chocolate taste test. We bought two bars of exactly the same flavor (dark chocolate, almond, salt) and set out to objectively analyze them and pronounce one a winner.

Inadvertently, we picked one from Theo, an amazing Seattle-based chocolate company, and another from Moonstruck, a fantastic Portland-based chocolate company. Portland is my home town and Seattle is where Chris has spent the vast majority of his life, so we had a bit of a battle of the cities on our hands, too.

On the drive home, we discussed the qualities we wanted to compare. I suggested texture, even distribution of almonds, and salt-to-sweet ratio. Chris suggested “which one is most cow.” After a moment of confused silence from me, he added, “Oh, you mean we are actually seriously comparing them? OK, then yeah, texture is a good one.”

We ended up with this list to use when comparing our chocolate bars:

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We placed the bars upside down on separate plates, so we wouldn’t be able to tell which one was which, since the tops of the bars are stamped with the respective logo (incidentally, Moonstruck’s was prettier). Isn’t it funny how one is so much darker than the other, even though there is only a 2% difference in cacao content? Equally strange, the lighter colored bar is the Theo bar which has 70% cacao to Moonstruck’s 68%.

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Here’s a closer look:

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We spent time thoughtfully considering each bar…Image

{that’s a Basquiat skull printed on Chris’s shirt, isn’t that cool? We love Basquiat}

And cleansed our pallets with water and sliced apples (me) or Juanita’s tortilla chips (Chris, who I think just wanted a reason to eat more chips)

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We analyzed the chocolate bars from every angle….

{Theo’s bar, pictured here, had larger almond pieces}

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In the end, we had differing opinions. Chris preferred Theo’s bar, giving it a 33 out of 45. He gave Moonstruck a 22 out of 45.

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And I preferred Moonstruck, giving it a 39 out of 45, while I gave Theo a 30 out of 45.

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I realized this whole thing could have been resolved if we had also bought Toblerone’s dark chocolate, almond, and sea salt bar which is superior to the ones we tried. Don’t worry, I won’t mind repeating this experiment many times over. :) To summarize, when it comes to Seattle vs. Portland, Italy wins. Haha!

Here’s a parting thought: if you haven’t downloaded PhotoGrid to your phone, DO IT RIGHT NOW. You can make amazing gems like this one:

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Thoughts on Vintage

Every weekend Chris and I go on a coffee date. By far, it is my favorite part of the week, and it deserves its own post. Yesterday we went to get coffee in South Lake Union. We wandered around the MOHAI-park area, and meandered the streets, hopped up on caffeine. We came across Antique Liquidators, a warehouse vintage store. It was 99.5% furniture (nothing that fit our current needs) but there was a little section of costume jewelry, all $0.25 per piece. I bought these two necklaces:

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Who is BR? I don’t know anyone with those initials, but I love the tarnished chain, the length, and the cutesy heart. And I think it’s funny to wear initials that mean nothing to me :) also – new dining room table! Isn’t the texture and color great?! I love it.

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I love, love, love chunky bead necklaces.

I didn’t used to shop vintage because it grossed me out. More on that here. Now it’s rare that I wear an outfit without at least one thifted or vintage piece. It comes down to uniqueness. I’d say it saves money, but honestly, for me, it doesn’t. Because I never try on vintage clothes before washing them, I just guess at what I buy and often it doesn’t fit. Or it fits but not in a way that I like. It’s a price I’m willing to pay for the fun of the shopping hunt, and for the gems that I do get. Anything I buy that doesn’t fit me either gets donated or given to a friend. The stuff I do keep is so different and unique, it’s enough to keep me hunting through the next rack or dreaming up the next thing I want to look for. 

When I talk to friends who don’t thrift or shop vintage I tell them to start with Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads. Those are current clothes that have been curated so you only get the best stuff. 

Sidenote: I buy all my nicer jeans there. Why pay $220 for Diesel jeans (a brand I love) when I can get them from Buffalo or Crossroads for $20? 

Now I’ve just given away my best secret… :) Oh, well, do with it what you will.

Happy Shopping!

Ps. I love my two new necklaces layered up! although I don’t intend to wear them with ratty hair and a hoodie normally (I’d just finished working out and put them on to show Chris)

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At-Home Date Night

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an unrelated picture of my dog

Recently I was “forced” to take two days of work. You see, I can only accrue so much vacation time before it stops accruing and I lose some. Ain’t no way I was going to let that happen, so I took last Thursday and Friday off. I know, I know: how I suffer.

I decided Friday night would be at an at-home date. I planned a simple meal and cocktail, went to the grocery store, cleaned the house, and put on a dress (a casual one).

From a food stand point the date was a failure. 

1. I never made the salad

2. the BBQ chicken pizza I made was blah

3. the Mexican chocolate cookies were dry.

I gave Chris the task of mixing each of us a vodka and pineapple juice cocktail (shake, pour over ice.) I told him to put two shots of vodka in each. Later he confessed that he “had put two in each glass, but it didn’t look like much, so I added a third.”

Oh! So that’s why I was swaying strangely while singing The Kill in Rock Band (our after dinner activity). Honestly, it didn’t matter that the food was uninspiring, we had a great time (and that’s not just the vodka talking!). It’s an idea I plan on repeating, but with better food next time. :)

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Love What You’ve Got – 2

Next up in the line of Things I Love That I Already Own: this letterpress print…

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When I was single, I really couldn’t afford large-scale art. I had a few things I got at IKEA but call me a snob, I don’t really consider that to be art.

That’s snobby isn’t it?

Is it?

Let’s not dwell on it.

(It is snobby. Is it?)

ANYWAY, once we got married and our income had increased some, we started picking up art that was meaningful and personal. By that I do not mean expensive, but I do mean more unique than the green and black print of a singer I had gotten from IKEA for $7, and I also mean more impactful than the collection of tiny frames I had turned into a gallery on one wall.

The print above may be the largest piece of art we’ve purchased. It’s 36″ x 48″ and was part of the Wayzgoose letterpress event last summer (put on by Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts. Super cool. Way, way cool. Check it out). Design firms or departments from around the region develop a large “letterpress” print that they then create by hand-inking the block, placing paper on it, and running over the whole thing with a steamroller. You can enter a raffle to win a piece, but I decided to bid online for one a couple days after the event.

Side note: Never let me near eBay, as I discovered I become crazed with competitive rage when faced with an auction situation. This particular print went over the amount I had planned to spend, but I  really couldn’t let the mysterious other bidder win. IN YOUR FACE, OTHER BIDDER!

Now we’ve hung this on the wall of my home office and I absolutely love it. 

This is really a topic for another post, but I like art that has a little grit. Some dark themes. So, this was the perfect print. My home office is mostly pink and a skull advertising the black art provides the perfect counter-balance, and is a great juxtaposition. I may get a frame for this print one day, but I like the textural paint and keeping the print uncovered allows the viewer to see that. 

It’s one more thing that makes this house really us, and I love it. 

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