This morning my family bade a fond farewell to our much-loved beta fish, Francisco.
It was a Saturday in October of 2012 when we first welcomed Francisco into our home. I remember I’d just trudged through my first PSAT, and the sky was filling up with heavy gray storm clouds, and my mom and little brother and I drove to the pet store with the cheerful ambition to buy a beta fish to add some zest to the second-hand fishbowl we’d just received from my grandmother. Most of the fish at the store were dead or close to it, floating lifelessly in those cruel little plastic containers. Out of the two or three that were still kicking, my brother was drawn to the double tail male with a pinkish body and vibrant, flowing blue and red fins.
We bought the fish and some supplies, and all the way home I held the little guy in my hands in his container, holding my breath and praying the car wouldn’t make any sudden movements, that I could keep the fish safe, that he’d make it home unscathed, poor delicate creature. I thought it must be a miracle when we arrived home and got him upstairs and into his prepared fishbowl in one piece.
As our first fish, Francisco quickly found a place in all of our hearts, especially the cat, Artemis. We all enjoyed watching him dart erratically around the bowl, and carefully asses whether he could fit through the door to his fish castle before slowly, gingerly inserting himself inside to claim his fortress. It was fun to feed him his pellets and even more so the dried bloodworms which were his special treat (I didn’t like to touch the nasty things but was content to watch my mom or brother drop one onto the surface of the water. In an instant, Francisco would dart forward and slurp the delicacy into his gullet in one gulp!)
As time passed and the novelty of the “new animal” wore off, it was replaced by a deeper, truer love that comes from someone being a vital member of the family. Although he was a fish and we couldn’t touch him or relate to many of his emotions, I think we all became quite attached to Francisco. Artemis watched him for hours on end to ensure he was getting along all right. And for a while, he was.
But a couple months ago, something changed. Francisco no longer built the bubble nests at the water’s surface that were supposedly a sign of his happiness. He didn’t seem to want to swim around as much as he used to, and instead settled down at the bottom of his environment, rarely moving at all. When he did swim to the top to get air, it was with pained-looking movements, and he’d fall back to the bottom and be still as soon as possible. He got so boring to watch that Artemis wondered what we’d done with her playmate who used to be so active.
Concerned about Francisco’s health, the family searched all over the web for possible diagnoses and treatments of fish diseases. A number of common ailments came up, and we deliberated intensely over what course of treatment would be the best to follow. We spent a pretty penny on medication from an aquarium store that was supposed to help cure a number of beta diseases, put Francisco in a freshly-cleaned environment, and painstakingly administered the medication as directed. (My mom had to divide a tiny packet of powder into tenths…ouch!) After a week or two of this, no change occurred in Francisco’s well-being, and we decided to just go back to caring for the fish as we had before. At least he was eating.
For the time being.
As the days and weeks dragged on, Francisco became more and more sedentary at the bottom of the tank. His fins drooped. His colors were less vibrant. He eventually began perching on top of his castle so it would be less effort for him to reach the surface when he needed to. Even centimeters from the surface, it seemed to be a great undertaking for him to grab hold of his food. In a burst of precious energy he’d launch his feeble body at the pellet of food…and miss. And try again. And miss. It was quite disheartening to watch. Eventually he’d simply give up and stare longingly at the pellet, unable or unwilling to go for it. After a week or so of this, when we dropped a pellet in for him he’d just stare blankly at it and not even attempt to eat it. It could bump right against his face and he’d just lie there on top of his castle, what had been his home and was now his prison…his deathbed?
We didn’t want to say it, but in the last few days we all knew our poor long-suffering little guy was not long for this world. He seemed to realize it too, in the way that a beta fish can be aware of these things. He didn’t even look at the food we put in the tank. It really frustrated me to see this, to try to feed the animal and not get any response, to be unable to have an inkling of what was wrong with him, but also to see plainly that something was horribly wrong, the nature of the disease was obscured as in a cloud of octopus ink but the symptoms were obvious as the glaring light of an anglerfish in the abyss. I wished he were human so we could take him to a hospital, get him examined, have needles running into his veins and filling his emaciated frame with the nutrients it needed to get back to health. I wished I could force the food pellets into his mouth and MAKE him eat so I could MAKE him better. Now maybe I’ve gotten a tiny taste of what it’s like to be the parent of a child who refuses to eat, who’d rather starve than risk gaining weight.
Regarding the animal world, we often presume things to be simple and primitive: animals are driven to survive and reproduce, therefore they pursue food, shelter and mates until the moment of their demise, not thinking of what comes afterward or what is the meaning or purpose of what they do, or whether they as individuals are happy doing it. Not much has been found yet that can be proven about the psychology of various members of the animal kingdom – we don’t know all there is to know about the workings of the human phsyche, for that matter. But the latter has been researched in far greater depth, and we have found ways to treat a myriad of human psychological disorders such as depression, obsession, and you guessed it, eating disorders. Even a generation or two ago the acceptance and available care for diseases such as these was far less expansive than it is today. And we still have a long way to go before we find a total “cure” for all eating disorders, if such a thing is possible (current findings point to no on that one.)
And certainly if one is not a human but a fish, say, available psychological counseling is pretty much zero. Who knows what goes through the minds of our household animal companions as they go through their lives and reach their ends? We can’t expect them to be brutes with no feelings, nor can we at this point understand what they may be going through during what they perceive as tough times. I have learned the hard way that it’s impossible to force an animal (or a person) to do what they’re “supposed to do.” I only wish they’d come up with some way for me to communicate with my fish so he could have let me know what was paining him so, what was eating away at him inside and out, why he wasn’t swimming around or building bubble nests or eating with gusto.
But we can be thankful that at least, while this technology has not yet been developed with with respect to inter-species communication, it is quite possible to communicate with other human beings whom we love who may be going through something we don’t understand. Who understands why I stopped eating? I’ll never completely decipher the meaning or origin of my muddy thoughts at that time period myself. All I can say is, I’m glad I had a supportive family who cared enough to work with me and listen to a language they didn’t understand. I’m glad I didn’t have to be force-fed through a hospital tube, and I hope I am never in a position of forcing someone else – human or otherwise – to be “cured” without really listening.
Francisco, I know you’re reading this post up in fishy-heaven. This post, and the cake recipe I’d been planning to share before this fateful morning, are both dedicated to you.
If you know someone with an eating disorder, don’t try to feed them this cake because trust me, they won’t eat it. But if you know someone who’s been feeling down lately, or is missing a loved one perhaps, go ahead and bake this cake for them. It’s a healthier form of comfort food that will warm the heart while also nourishing the body. The cake base is made with whole wheat pastry flour and steel-cut oats (you can’t taste the oats) and infused with the flavor of sweet maple to caress the tastebuds and the heart. The cake is frosted with a quick and easy cinnamon cream cheese icing that looks repulsive but tastes great, and sprinkled with pistachios and chocolate-covered raisins for extra flair. At the bottom, I baked a layer of bananas that I hoped would get caramelized in the oven, but it didn’t seem to happen, so instead of caramelized bananas we have sweetened bananas. Oh, well. It still tastes great.
I highly recommend this cake, whether or not you or a loved one has something to be depressed about. If you do make this cake for a hurting loved one, please bring it to them in person with a gift basket, a warm blanket, and an open ear ready to listen to whatever they have to pour out.
Click here for the full recipe: Banana Maple Cream Cheese Comfort Cake
I’m no poet
And I know it
But today I’ve got the muse
‘Cause I sipped a special smoothie
And by now you’ve heard the news:
Was this smoothie
Not a recipe to lose.
Came to me in a consciousness-stream
Add some mango
Now we’ll tango
In a tropical sunbeam.
Like the beaches
Of a land where pineapples grow
Add some chocolate
Now we’re rockin’ it
With a touch of pistachio.
Of chilly cream
Like the clouds outside my door
But inside I’m slurping a smoothie
Wrapped in sweaters so I’m warm
Like those beaches
Full of peaches
Where the coconuts do grow
Wanna get groovy?
Drink this smoothie
Then the rhythm you will know
Of a tropical dance of flavor:
Chocolate, peach, pistachio.
Nope, I’m no poet
And now we all know it
But, dear reader, never fear
For you can still get the smoothie
You desire: just click here.
My poetry may be awful as the ocean glitters clear
But that does not concern us
With the blender yet so near.
You need only make this recipe
To set your tastebuds all aglow
Let them bask in these sweet flavors:
Chocolate, peach, pistachio.
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Lately I’ve become a little obsessed with the notion of international travel. I love to look at photos of beautiful nature and landmarks in distant places, watch nature programs taking place across the sea, listen to music in different languages and daydream about my future dream vacations to destinations all around the world. One country that has achieved high status on my travel bucket list has got to be Australia. I’ve always been fascinated by the quirky, unique creatures found only in the land down under, and after seeing some nature films taking place there and a ton of Pinterest pins of beautiful Australian beaches and the Sydney Opera House from every angle, I’m just about ready to pack my suitcase and set sail for this gorgeous continent.
It seems I’m not the only American interested in Australia. I’ve seen clothing and shoes bearing some allusion to the continent fly off store shelves. The food industry has caught on to America’s Aussie obsession as well: I’ve noticed more and more products in grocery stores claim to be “Australian” in some way. When my mom saw the Australian-style yogurt I bought (which was made right here in California), she wondered what comprises the “Australian style” of yogurt. I said since it’s being sold in the U.S. it doesn’t really matter how they make the yogurt; no one here knows whether it’s authentic or not. As long as it has a picture of a koala or says “matey” on the packaging, we Americans find it exotic and compelling.
When I went to Whole Foods Market to buy organic puff pastry dough for these danishes, the only brand currently in their freezer was Aussie Bakery. I’d never tried it before and had no reason to trust it…but it had Australia written all over it. I was sold.
Turns out Aussie Bakery was an excellent choice: the puff pastry was easy to work with, and once baked was buttery, flaky and delicious. It had a perfect, light texture and made a great base for creating my pastries. I daresay I could taste the Australia in every bite! 😉
Australian Danishes. Is that an oxymoron? I’m pretty sure danish pastry was invented in Denmark. Although these particular danishes are not strictly Danish. I’d call them multicultural, as they consist of a blend of different flavors from all different regions of the globe. The pastry dough was “Danish”-style, though originating from Australia, but the fillings emulated those of a cinnamon roll, which was invented in Sweden. The very fact that they are made up of a harmonious blend of the best elements of various different cultures, in my mind, makes them quintessentially American, as this nation is known for being a colorful mix of cultures from all around the world. Think of pretty much any “American” food; you’ll find upon further investigation that the different elements comprising the dish hail from multiple backgrounds. And such is certainly the case for these delicious danishes: they blend the flavors of different places into one petite, yummy treat.
In these Reverse Cinnamon Roll Danishes, quality puff pastry dough is endowed with tangy cream cheese filling and drizzled with a buttery brown sugar-cinnamon mixture. I call them “Reverse Cinnamon Roll” danishes because in a cinnamon roll the cinnamon filling is the main attraction wrapped up in dough, and there’s often just a tad of cream cheese icing on top for good measure. But in these danishes, the rich creaminess of sweetened cream cheese is the highlight, and the sugary cinnamon mixture is the complement. I’m a very dairy-oriented gal so this pleases me more than a ton of cinnamon and a dollop of cream cheese would. Plus, more cream cheese = more protein, right? 🙂
Unlike danishes made in traditional bakeries, these can be eaten guilt-free. The cream cheese filling is made with light cheese and not a ton of sugar, and there are no preservatives or other yucky things you usually find on commercial bakery shelves. I made mine kind of smallish, but even considering the size, they are remarkably low in calories, with only 130 each. So bake some up now, and enjoy with abandon for breakfast or anytime! Let the international tastiness transport you to another land…
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At school a few days ago, my friends and I were hanging out and having one of our usual random conversations. One girl went around to everyone there, asking what they usually have for breakfast on the weekends. When someone said, “pancakes,” the girl declared, “I would have breakfast at your house!” Another friend responded, “I don’t eat breakfast,” and the interrogator said, “I would NOT have breakfast at your house!” When it was my turn to be interrogated, I said I like to make all different kinds of things for breakfast: I bake, cook, make smoothies, whatever seems appealing at the time. The weekend is my time to be creative with food, and I like to use my artistic license to make breakfast into something special without worrying about having to hurry up and be anywhere. My friend said she would definitely have breakfast at my house.
If she’d come a couple mornings ago, she would have been treated to something savory and scrumptious: Mediterranean Baked Egg Ramekins.
Hot from the oven, the nourishing baked eggs and healthy veggies were spruced up with flavorful olives and yummy avocado. Gardein brand Seven Grain Crispy Tenders added that umami flavor with plant-based protein. I served them up with a spoonful of hummus for a Mediterranean-style mini-meal that was to die for. Too bad I didn’t have my breakfast-loving friend over to bask in the glory of baked egg ramekins with me. But at least this way I had some leftovers to use up during the busy week!
You’re invited to breakfast, my-house style. Just click to be treated to the recipe for Mediterranean Baked Egg Ramekins.
Do you have “helpers” in the kitchen? I remember helping my mom and my grandmother with the easiest and lowest-risk-of-the-house-burning-down steps of their cooking procedures when I was a kid. Now I’m into cooking and baking myself, but all the little people around our house have grown up and I’m safe from the “help” of inexperienced little hands…but a certain set of paws sure likes to grace the kitchen counter while I’m working!
Artemis is really a very helpful kitty. Throughout each day and its long list of chores, she’s always eager to pitch in. We should all be grateful for her supervision of folding the laundry:
She also likes to organize the books in our library:
And occasionally she can be found inspecting the water on our kitchen table to ensure cleanliness.
What an industrious feline she is! She somehow finds the time to perform all of the above tasks, as well as a few more (i.e. supervising the family fish, helping my mom make the bed, and sitting on my homework. I can tell by the righteous look on her face as she does this that she truly thinks she’s helping. Either her behind knows how to solve trigonometric equations, or she’s helping me procrastinate!) At the end of every day, you can tell by the long-suffering look in her eyes that she wishes we humans weren’t so needy and helpless.
She’d like to take a vacation, catch up on her beauty sleep, visit the aquarium…but she knows if she left us to do the chores ourselves, the house would probably be falling apart when she came home. So she continues to help us out by sitting on our work and skillfully pawing at our household appliances, ensuring that everything gets done and the house is spick and span. Whatever would we do without our little helper kitty?
As a feline, however, she of course only does things on her terms. She helps when she’s in the mood – otherwise, she’s nowhere to be found. This was the case when I made these cupcakes the other day: maybe she was out catching mice, or enforcing “lap arrest” by keeping my mom or my dad confined in a chair under supervison. Either way, I sort of missed the watchful eye and -ahem! – help of the conscientious cat. I know her assistance would have added a truly special touch to these cupcakes.
Even without the cat’s help, these cuties turned out wonderfully. A simple, sweet cupcake base spruced up with mixed berries and topped off with a rich, tangy yogurt/cream cheese icing…what could be better? To make them even prettier, I added a dollop of strawberry jam to the top of each cupcake. Garnishing with fresh berries would be great too, I just didn’t happen to have any on hand at the time. Too bad Artemis can’t run out to the store and buy last-minute missing ingredients… 🙂
These cupcakes are made with whole wheat pastry flour, and added fiber and nutrients are derived from the almond butter and the fresh, frozen and dried berries mixed into the batter. The yogurt frosting, though not fatty or sugary, is just enough to grace each cupcake with scrumptious goodness! Though they are healthy as cupcakes go, these little guys do not taste healthy at all. My mom liked these cupcakes, and she NEVER eats a dessert that isn’t chocolate.
So if you’re looking for an alternative to those sugary, buttery calorie-bombs that are so easy to crave, if you like cheesecake and cake and don’t want to have to choose between the two, and especially if you enjoy baking and crafting something cool in the kitchen, then go ahead and try these Berry Cheesecake Cupcakes. Get some helpers to join you, and get baking!
Berry Cheesecake Cupcakes
Makes 12 regular sized cupcakes
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 2 tbls brown sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- dash of cinnamon
- 2 eggs (or egg substitute equivalent of 2 eggs)
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbls milk
- 1/4 cup organic light agave syrup
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbls Barney & Co. brand Honey & Flax Almond Butter
- 1/2 cup dried blueberries
- 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
- 2 medium strawberries, chopped to little bits
for cheesecake frosting
- 1 Laughing Cow brand Creamy Swiss cheese triangle
- 1/2 cup plain lowfat yogurt
- 3 tbls Truvia brand Baking Blend
- 2 tbl strawberry jam
Note: I encourage replacing some of the dried or frozen fruit indicated here with fresh. I just didn’t happen to have much fresh fruit on hand other than the two strawberries I wanted to use up.
Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Line a regular-sized muffin tin with 12 paper cupcake liners.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. Mix. Add eggs or egg substitute, vanilla, milk, agave, and honey almond butter. Mix well, but do not over mix. Gently fold in the dried blueberries, frozen raspberries, and chopped strawberries.
Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Frosting: In a small bowl, combine the Laughing Cow cheese triangle, yogurt, and Truvia Baking Blend. Use an electric mixer on a low setting to blend until smooth. Frosting will have a somewhat liquid-y consistency. When cupcakes have cooled, spoon frosting over the top of each. If desired, garnish with additional berries and/or a dollop of strawberry jam.
Chill cupcakes in the fridge until ready to serve. Enjoy cool.
Even Mr. T. Rex wants a cupcake!
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