Sunday, December 16, 2012

Nondairy Peppermint Bark

This year I was so swamped with work that I had no time to shop for teacher gifts. Phoebe needs four presents for her dance teachers by tomorrow. How did this happen?!

OK, breathe. Do dance teachers eat cookies? Homemade granola? Oats? Check. Almonds? Oh, wait I ate the last of the slivered almonds this morning. Raisins? Hmmm, I love raisins but do other people like raisins? Dried cherries? Or are they too sour? Aah, forget it!

When I discovered a three-ingredient recipe for peppermint bark on, I was overjoyed. I substituted nondairy chocolate (so Phoebe could partake) and added some peppermint extract to ensure minty goodness. That way, it doesn't really matter how many candy canes you use, as they're more decorative than for flavor.

These are so good and easy to make. Think of the variations: Rocky Road Bark, Rice Krispies Bark, Orange Zest and Pistachio Bark . . .

Adapted from                                                    

2 12 oz. bags semisweet chocolate chips
2 t extra virgin olive oil
1 t peppermint extract
6 crushed candy canes

Step 1: Crush candy canes.

Step 2: Melt chocolate gently over double
boiler. Use a couple inches of water
over simmering heat.

Step 3. Add oil and extract.

Step 4. Pour onto 12 x 17 baking sheet
lined with parchment paper.
Spread evenly with an off-set spatula.

Step 5: Sprinkle with crushed candy cane.
Let cool at room temperature.

Step 6: Peel off parchment paper.

Step 7: Cut bark into triangles.

Or I found it was easier to break it
with my bare hands. Roar!


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

DIY Snow White Costume

J. Crew cashmere t-shirt;
mustard skirt, Forever 21;
Jellypop nude pump DSW

Other than embellishing a plain headband with red ribbon and plucking the bow-tie off a collar from an old dance costume, this outfit required no work. So cute!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

One-Ingredient Vegan Ice Cream

Have you seen those impressive vegan ice cream recipes where (a) there's only one ingredient: bananas and (b) they do it w/o an ice cream maker? Turns out the secret is freezing the bananas and then grinding them up in a food processor. The recipes caution that the process can take some time and much scraping until you get the right consistency. Not one to overexert myself in any way, I thought, Hey, I have an ice cream maker. I wonder if I could simply puree the bananas and throw it into the machine. It works!

Step 1: Puree 4 bananas to yield 2 cups.

Step 2: Pour into ice cream maker.

Step 3: After 20 mins, voila!

So creamy and scoopable!

Phoebe friendly!

Even Miss I-Only-Eat-Real-Ice-Cream Chloe likes it.

No added sugar = puppy friendly!

Finally, Luna gets to eat our food.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Kibble-Dispensing Toy: Kong Wobbler Review

Luna graduated from puppy training this past weekend. For six weeks we convened in a giant playpen at Petco. Although we didn't agree with everything the trainer recommended, I thought her tip about feeding made sense: Never put your dog's kibble in a bowl. What?! Turns out, when you feed your dog from a bowl, you miss an opportunity for intellectual stimulation. Instead, you should put her kibble in some sort of dispenser.

This seemed worth trying, because Luna will start eating from her bowl but gets easily distracted and we have to constantly remind her to "Eat!" Nobody likes a nag. We started with one of Luna's favorite toys, a sturdy Calistoga water bottle. We unscrewed the cap and filled it with her entire meal of 1/4 c of kibble. She loved it! Too bad the bottle gets gross from Luna's slobber and needs to be recycled every day. The search for an upgrade began.

This treat ball caught my eye, but had some troubling reviews on Amazon about the plastic cracking:

The Premier twist and treat toy looked sturdier but seemed too small to dispense an entire 1/4 c meal:

Too impatient to wait for an online delivery, I picked up the only kibble dispenser I could find: The Kong Wobbler in the size small. Made of sturdy plastic that Luna can't chew, it looked promising:

At first, she tried to get the kibble from the hole because she could smell the food, but then she figured out that she had to tip the toy such that the hole touched the floor to dispense the kibble.

Some tips:
  • Don't give the Wobbler to your pup when she is very hungry.
  • Demonstrate tipping the Wobbler so your pup can see how it works.
  • If it's too frustrating for your pup, stay nearby and help her. Eventually, she'll get it. Or start her off with a water bottle and then move onto the Wobbler when she gets used to the idea of a kibble dispenser.
  • Only reserve this toy for feeding so it remains special.
  • After half an hour, pick up the kibble and put it away. You want to keep your pup on a consistent feeding schedule so you can predict her bowel movements.
Some caveats:
  • If you're anal, you may find the mess of kibble all over your floor very disturbing.
  • The hard plastic against the hardwood floor may rattle your nerves.
  • Works best with kibble. We tried putting in small soft treats--too sticky. Crunchy freeze-dried treats--too square.

The verdict:
Very sturdy, dishwasher safe, what more can you ask for? Meal times go faster now. Although this toy was designed to prevent fast eaters from wolfing down their kibble, it also works for slow eaters who get distracted. We probably could have scraped by with a water bottle, but the Wobbler was a worthwhile upgrade. It keeps Luna entertained so mealtimes become fun and stimulating.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

DIY Mini Ranch Style Doghouse

Allen Lau (aka my handy husband) finally agreed to write a post for the nifty nest. Maybe he'll build us a log cabin next!

A mini ranch style doghouse made of . . .

a pile of scrap wood!
It's been a couple of years since I demolished and removed a built-in storage chest from our bedroom. Because I'm somewhat obsessive-compulsive about not wasting, I hung on to quite a pile of wooden planks and mini posts and beams. This stockpile of wood sat in the garage for a while and then finally found a place in the narrow alley of the side yard near the trash bin, where it has taken on many season's worth of rain and dirt. Reptiles and snails have even made a home for themselves under this pile of wood. The day finally came when I put this wood to good use! I knew my hoarding ways would pay off. We recently adopted a new puppy, and I thought it would be great to build her a little shelter from the elements when she goes outside to play. I did a quick search and found a nice and simple plan from Sunset for a mini ranch style doghouse. Limited by my raw materials and whatever else I scraped up in the house, the following is my adaptation of the Sunset design:

Create a solid foundation by laying some 2 x 4s (in this case 1-1/2 x 2s) as the base, cut planks to desired length, lay the planks perpendicular, and screw down planks to form a stable platform. My dimensions were around a 3' x 3'  square.
I made some quick calculations using high school math to figure out the heights of the front and back vertical support beams so that we end up with a roof line that has about a 15° slope from the front to back.

On one side, add the vertical beams and anchor to the platform with some right-angle braces for reinforced strength. The braces are not required, as the side walls attach to the platform, and the vertical beams give the structure enough rigidity. Nail or screw in planks on the outside of the platform and support beams, working your way up from the bottom. Do the same thing for the other side of the doghouse.
For the front of the house, add a rectangular frame for the doorway. Here I made the opening 12" x 18". 
Cut planks to length and screw or nail to front of the house, working your way up from bottom and around the entryway. Notice the 2-inch gap just below the very top plank at the top. I intentionally left this open for ventilation and to allow a bit of light to come through. Also, because I didn't have a table saw and didn't want the trouble of ripping a narrow strip of wood to fit this gap, I decided to let the gap remain.
Create the removable roof. I thought having a removable roof was a great idea from the Sunset plans. The removable roof allows for easy access for any future cleanup. Basically do the same thing as the platform in the first step. Here take care to ensure the support beams that hold together the planks fit around the four vertical support beams. I saved the worst wood pieces for the roof, as they will be topped off by roof shingles anyway.

The completed doghouse! Yay!

Add a coat of primer, then a coat of desired color paint. Enlist the help of your kids. I just found some old interior wall paint  in the garage. I would suggest using exterior wall paint if you have any lying around. 

Add a swing door that doubles as an awning when opened. I wanted a door so that we can close up the house at night to prevent any unwanted animals from making themselves at home. I was very proud of myself for recovering two old hinges from a broken screen door that's also been collecting dust in our side yard alleyway. Add roof shingles to the roof for weatherproofing.

Luna checks out her new digs.

I did end up having to go to the hardware store to pick up a few items: shingles, roofing nails, galvanized steel deck screws, galvanized nails for outdoors, some right-angled braces. The total cost was about $50 and about 20 hours of sweat and labor.

  • Instead of buying tools for one-off jobs, borrow from friends and neighbors. 
  • Before screwing in planks, especially near the ends of planks or board pieces, pre-drill starter holes that are slightly smaller than the size of the screws; this will prevent any of the wood from splitting.
  • Use the good clean sides of the wood for the inside of the house so that your precious pet will not get injured by splinters. Try to remove any dirt and mold that accumulates on the wood. Remove any finishes from old paint or stains so that your pet doesn't ingest them.
  • Use screws and nails that are long enough for the material but not so long that they protrude into the interior where your pet may get scraped and injured by the sharp tips.