Green Beans and Fire

For most of us, the warmer months are something we await eagerly. As soon as the central heating of the nation is turned up, we dust off our beach towels, ditch the scarves and plan holidays, picnics, barbeques and the like.

Beans 1

But for those in some parts of Australia the anticipation of Spring and Summer is not so positive. The Australian heat brings with it a natural disaster that is devastating and uncontrollable. Every year like clockwork, fires rage through the Australian countryside, fueled by the dry vegetation that is typical of a nation that is in drought more often than it is not. The fires originate when they are lit either by accident or by pranksters who surely have no concept of the level of devastation they cause with the act.

Families evacuate on advice of the authorities, scooping up pets, food supplies and valuables. Inevitably hundreds of homes are lost and with them, all that their previous inhabitants owned and loved. So far in my state of NSW, the lives of two people as well as countless animals, including pets and wildlife, have succumbed.
For me, the bushfires are something that we hear about daily as hour by hour, more and more homes are engulfed despite the courageous efforts of the Rural Fire Service. Whilst close to home, we must be deeply grateful that we are not the ones who stand to lose everything to something that is beyond our control. And in our gratitude, we should try to provide whatever support we can to help the families get through yet another season of destruction.

If you would like to donate to the bushfire appeal, try here or here or to donate to help affected animals, try here. I’m sure if you choose to, it will come back to you one day a million times over.

Beans 2

On a slightly brighter and simpler note, here is a simple green beans dish that is the perfect combination of low effort and high yield, a welcome thing in the heat. Freshness of the beans is paramount and it also helps if the tomatoes are a little over-ripe. For the most part, you can chop everything up and throw it in a pan after tempering the spices, then cover and forget about it for a good twenty minutes or so. Serve with your favourite Indian flat bread, in a wrap or as a side for meat dishes.

Beans 4

Simple Green Beans Curry

Serves 3-4 as a side dish

Get:
500g fresh green beans, topped and tailed
2 over-ripe tomatoes, diced small
1 medium white or brown onion, finely chopped
2 tsp cooking oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4-1/2 tsp chilli powder, according to taste
2cm ginger, finely grated
Salt
Water
Small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Make:
Chop or break the beans into roughly 4-5 cm lengths. In a large non-stick fry pan, heat the oil and temper the cumin seeds. Reduce to a low-moderate heat and add the spice powders and fry for about 2 minutes. Add the ginger and onions and saute until the onion is a little tender. Then, in go the tomatoes, 1 tsp salt and about 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook on a low-moderate heat for 7-10 minutes, until the tomatoes yield easily when pressed.

Throw in the beans, stir through and add another cup of water. Cover and cook until the beans are tender with some bite (about 20 minutes). At this point if the mixture is still quite watery, uncover and cook on low heat until most of the water has evaporated. When the mixture has almost completely reduced, taste and add more salt or chilli powder if desired, then stir through. Stop cooking when the water has evaporated such that the tomatoes and onions cling onto the beans.

Before serving, garnish with the fresh coriander.

Beans 3

Black Cat Pumpkin Cheesecake bars and 5 Tips for Safe Pets this Season

Halloween is coming!  And in anticipation, I present you with these Pumpkin Cheesecake bars which I assure you, you will love as much as I do.  The base is one that refuses to play second fiddle to the fresh, tangy topping.  It is packed with nuts and shredded coconut, providing a roughage that contrasts nicely with the smoothness of the cream cheese and pumpkin.

I used melted dark chocolate to pipe these funky little black cats, and adorned them with shiny edible pearls for eyes.  You can of course choose whatever design you please; witches hats, bats, evil eyes……the world is your cheesecake!

Pumpkin cheesecake bars ingredients

Speaking of cats and holidays, for those of you who have four-legged family members, I thought I’d put together a list of ways to care for them during this season.  Our beloved furry friends can get a little neglected during the festivities and that, as well as the insanely hot summers we experience here in Oz mean that vet hospitals are the busiest during this time.

Here are a few important ways to look after our creatures over the next few months…….

1.  Watch what they gobble: Our pets love a Christmas feast as much as we do.  In fact, we often see patients that have eaten something silly, causing them to become sick.  Nothing ruins a holiday like having to spend an hour in a busy waiting room of a vet hospital!  When pets eat fatty foods such as bacon, sausages and sweets, it can trigger a condition known as pancreatitis.  This is a very painful and debilitating condition whereby the pancreas becomes inflamed, causing vomiting and a lack of appetite leading to dehydration and illness.  Most cases are treated with hospitalisation, antibiotics and IV fluids, but severe cases can be fatal.

Fatty foods aside, certain foods such as onions, chocolate, raisins and many others are actually toxic to pets.  So while you enjoy your meal, treat your pet to something pet-friendly such as a raw bone or doggy treat, and ask visiting relatives nicely not to feed the pets human food or leave it lying around within reach.

Pumpkin cheesecake bars ingredients2

2. Remember that things that are not food can seem edible:  In addition to eating inappropriate foods, some dogs (think Labrador!) have a knack for eating things that really shouldn’t be eaten by anybody!  While you are celebrating the holidays, your pooch may do the same by gulping down something that may get stuck in his or her gut causing an obstruction.  Some holiday related things that I have had to fish out of doggy intestines include wine corks, skewers, fish hooks and corn cobs.  Believe me, spending Christmas eve elbow-deep in a dog’s abdomen is no fun for the vet, the dog or the anxious owner!

3. Protect against nasty critters: In Australia, the heat tends to bring out some of those nasty creepy crawlies that we are well known for.  Paralysis ticks are a horrible little bug, and if I could choose one species to be extinct, it would me this one.  They latch onto an unassuming animal and proceed to inject them with a poison that paralysis first the legs and then the respiratory muscles.

There are one or two good products available from vets to protect dogs against these ticks and they should be used in high risk areas such as national parks and near water bodies.  Unfortunately none of these products are highly reliable and you should search your pet after visiting these areas, focusing on the head and neck.  If you notice any signs of paralysis such as weak legs, a change in bark or breathing difficulty, veterinary care should be sought immediately.

Snake bites are also more common during summer and this should also be treated as an emergency.

Pumpkin cheesecake bars 3

4.  Stay on top of routine treatments: Ensure your dogs are fully vaccinated.  Diseases such as Parvovirus and Canine Cough (Kennel Cough) are more frequently transmitted in the warmer months.  Parvovirus occurs mostly in young, inadequately vaccinated dogs and causes severe vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration.  It is also a condition that can be fatal due to the profound dehydration and weakness it causes.  Vaccinations and worming can often be overlooked during the excitement of the holiday season so stay organised!

Pumpkin cheesecake bars 1

5.  Beat the heat: Keep your pets cool during the scorching summer months.  Keep them indoors or provide plenty of shade outdoors.  Ensure there is plenty of clean drinking water within reach, and add ice cubes to it on hotter days.  Pets should not be left in cars on hot days and if this must be done, leave a couple of windows open a notch, don’t leave them for more than a few minutes and park the car in the shade.

So with a bit of care and vigilance, your furry friends can enjoy the holiday season while staying happy, healthy and out of hospital!

Hoping I haven’t put you off your food with all this vet talk and on a brighter note, here’s the recipe for my Black Cat Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars for October’s SABH.  The lovely JJ from 84th & 3rd is hosting this one.  These bars are gluten-free, vegetarian and fructose free (not including the decoration).

Happy Halloween to you and your pets!

Pumpkin cheesecake bars 2

Black Cat Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

Makes 8

Recipe for the base is from Sarah Wilson’s Blog

Get:

For the base:
1/2 cup nuts- hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios or macadamias work well
1/2 cup shredded or dessicated coconut
1/3 cup nut meal- I used almond
2 tbsp unsalted butter

For the topping:
1 block (200g) cream cheese
1/2 cup pumpkin puree*
2 1/2- 3 tbsp rice syrup or honey
1 tsp allspice
1/3 cup almond meal

To  decorate:
About 10 squares dark chocolate
Sprinkles, pearls, et al
A piping bag or homemade version (try this tutorial)

Make:

Preheat the oven to 160 C.

Use a food processor to grind the whole nuts to a very coarse meal with some small chunks.  Place in a large bowl and add all the other ingredients.  Using your (clean) hands, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture forms a sort ok kneadable dough.  Press the mixture into a grease-proof paper lined loaf tin or a deep baking tray if you decide to double the recipe.  The base should be about a centimetre thick.  Bake on the middle shelf for about 15 mins or until firm and very slightly browned.  Allow to cool before adding the topping.

Place the topping ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and pulse until well combined and smooth.  Pour the mixture over the cooled base and spread evenly.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before slicing into 8 even squares.

Line a tray with grease-proof paper or a silicon mat.  Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in 20-30 second bursts in the microwave.  Place in the piping bag and pipe shapes of your choice.  At this point, I placed the edible pearls to make the cats’ eyes.  Place the tray in the fridge till the chocolate sets.  Once the cheesecake bars are set and sliced, decorate with the chocolate shapes and any other decorations you wish to use.

*I make pumpkin puree by placing a chunk of pumpkin, skin and all, on a tray in an oven preheated to 180 C.  Bake until the pumpkin is quite soft, about 30 min.  Scoop out the flesh and mash by hand or using a food processor.

White flowers

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

On the Importance of the Fur-Child

DSC_0640

Our family pooch Cookie is a nuggetty little Jack Russell Terrier crossed with God-knows-what.  He is undeniably socially inept when it comes to others of his kind.  His stumpy front legs turn outwards and he is afflicted by skin allergies to silly things like grass, that see him determinedly licking his paws at any given opportunity.

Cookie Fishing

He is deeply offended by the advances of other four-legged beings and has been known to hold a grudge beyond what is decent and reasonable.  He is intensely dedicated to playing fetch but is appalled at the fact that when on a beach, he is expected to swim (swim!) into the water in order to retrieve the ball.  Yes, if Cookie were a person, he’d be a Forrest Gump of sorts; a creature that is utterly endearing in his inability to ever reach the top of the food chain.

dogs beach

But just like many a fur-child around the world, ours brightens our household like no human could.   The flavour that pets add to our lives can only truly be understood by those that have shared their lives with one that is furred, feathered or scaled.

I’m not talking about the obvious heroes- the guide dogs, the search and rescue dogs or those incredible pooches who detect seizures in their epileptic owners before they even occur.  I’m referring to those everyday creatures, without special training or powers.  The ones who make a terrible racket every time the doorbell rings and ‘help’ you with your gardening on weekends.  Those that wake you up by stationing themselves purring on your chest every morning.  That one that is right this moment snoring on your ottoman, chasing butterflies in his sleep.

alex

A woman once shared with me that it was her four little fluff-balls who saved her from depression when she was battling breast cancer. That while it was her oncologist, her surgeon and her nurses who saved her body, it was her canine family that saved her sanity.

Another tale that I will never forget was a man’s very personal story, in which his Springer Spaniel was single-handedly (pawedly?) responsible for reuniting him with his estranged wife.  And let us not forget those creatures who keep our senior citizens company when no-one else will.

Cambodia Dog

Our pets add sparkle to our lives that we would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.  For many, they are all that wait for them when they come home each evening.  They make us laugh and remind us to look outside ourselves, even at times when that seems impossible.  For those of us without kids, they give us something to be responsible for other than ourselves.

At the very least, if they are anything like Cookie, our fur-children provide intensive cuddles, free entertainment and a reason to get outside and throw a ball again…..and again…..and again.

Happy Vet Nurses day Friday the 11th of October!
Cookie Chinaman