Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bake-a-Bone at Home

Asking your dog to do without snacks or treats is much like asking a teenager to do without potato chips and Skittles. For most dogs it’s a long time between breakfast and dinner and oftentimes a small treat is enough to make the wait easier. Many of us use treats to reward our dog for good behavior, or on occasion as a way of saying, “Hey, you're my buddy and here’s something special.” Like us, dogs have favorites, certain flavors they’ll go for before others and those they will walk away from. My dog, Farina is nuts about peanut butter, jumping for it every time but in most situations turning up her nose at cheese flavored treats. On the other hand, cheese sprinkled on her food is a special bonus. Chicken jerky is great but turkey jerky takes some convincing.

Last week my sister’s two dogs gave Farina a present, the attached card saying, ‘Bon Appétit! — Gizmo and Doodle.’ It was a Bake-a-Bone dog treat maker, a small waffle-iron type machine with bone-shaped cutouts for baking dog “batter” into treats. It came with a recipe book of over thirty recipes, all of them simple and easy to make. I’ve only had time to use it twice, each time making a different flavor treat. Among the recipes in the booklet are many that look pretty good dog-wise, but there are also a few that I find it hard to imagine a dog eating. No testing necessary to know that my Farina would run to another room to get away from “breath mint bones” with fresh mint and parsley. She’ll eat Brussel sprouts and soy beans but wants nothing to do with mouthwash biscuits.

The first time I made peanut butter bones they turned out pretty good, if a little short of peanut butter. Next time I plan to increase the amount suggested in the list of ingredients, but with this first batch I made them more attractive by inserting a dollop of peanut in the center and adding a thin frosting of the same on top. They seem a little chewy, but Farina chomps them up. Here’s the recipe…

1 cup of whole wheat or regular flour
¾ cup of milk (low fat is a good choice)
½ tablespoon of baking powder
½ cup peanut butter (use more for richer flavor)
Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl and mix until blended well. With a small rubber or silicone spatula, spoon the mix into each of the lower bone molds. Close the unit and bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool on a rack for about 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate.

For my second attempt I decided on Chick’n Bones and this time, halfway through the cooking process Farina wandered into the kitchen with her nose twitching. She likes peanut butter, but chicken makes her drool.

1 cup of whole wheat or regular flour
½  cup of low fat reduced sodium chicken broth
¼ cup of low fat milk
¾ cup of shredded cooked chicken
½  tablespoon of softened butter
The process is the same as that of the peanut butter bones above. 

The Bake-a-Bone is made by Emson of New York and their website is:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Out of Words

For the past month my attention has moved way from the sort of writing that characterizes the usual posts in Scriblets, eyes turned instead to another pair of longer projects now complete. When it comes to writing, ‘complete’ doesn’t always imply something is completely finished, but at least for now I am comfortable in turning back to the old faithful format of posting something blog-like. The trouble is, a whole lot of words aren’t bouncing around my head now and no funny, bizarre or curious topics lie at hand. Still, in the off times from working on a pair of stories I did play with my camera, juggling some appealing images around the homestead here off Old Dixie Lane, and now I'm thinking they might make a suitable return to Scriblets.

Even though spring has come to Florida and many of the trees are rustling in new green, on occasion I stumble across a sight that still carries the darker colors and tones of another season, something that lost its place in the turning cycle and lies abandoned in a somber mix of late autumn, early winter hues. In the picture above a moldy pair of squash-gourds sit on a bed of dead leaves. The palette is strangely orchestrated and unexpected in this casual non-arrangement of two shapes. A less than joyous image, it manages to be beautiful.

What catches the attention in this photo of a chair back with flowers is the unlikely scenario of “jailed flowers” pushing their faces against the bars. It was the first thought that came to mind in turning to see these small flowers stretching to poke their faces through the vertical strips that make up the chair’s back. I wish I could name the flowers, but they are another clump of anonymous blossoms that color this country yard.

A week or so back, the dog was barking at something near one of the sheds and wouldn’t stop. Three times I called for her to shut up but like many times she ignored me and went on with her barking, eyes focused on something at the base of a small leafless bush. Eventually I walked over to shoo her off and to see what was causing the excitement. The baby turtle in the picture above had apparently just hatched from a buried egg and in the first moments of life was being tormented by a noisy puppy. I guessed right away that it was a hatchling of the gopher turtles that sometimes wander around the backyard nibbling grass. Before releasing this baby I washed it off and took a snapshot. Must say, it’s much more beautiful than its full grown elders who are a dull and smelly greenish brown. Maybe the yellow spots fade with maturity and the black turns dark green.

Three years ago a friend in Japan arranged to have delivered to me here at Christmas, an amaryllis bulb. It was left to me to plant the bulb, a magical orb that has bloomed each year since and the photo above shows this spring’s new stalk emerging from the bulb just visible beneath the Spanish moss. The amaryllis lives outside and receives minimal care, but manages well on its own. This picture shows a first stage.

This is what the amaryllis looks like about ten days after the stalk first emerged. Two of the blooms are almost fully open and two others (left and right) have yet to unfurl. The background shows a view of the backyard.

In November an old friend from New York visited for a couple of weeks and spent much of his time wandering around the yard sketching. One day he did the above study of an angel trumpet planted just off the back porch. He used Japanese Uni watercolor pencils to give the leaves their distinctive yellow green and managed to capture the balance and grace of branches beautifully.

Came home from the supermarket the other day and almost without looking I slung some potatoes and avocados in a bowl on the kitchen counter. A few minutes later I noticed the bowl and decided my slinging had a touch of the artistic. There was a star fruit and a couple of onions already in the bowl and along with the sweet potatoes and avocados, made for a nice arrangement. I tweaked it a little then took it outside to photograph on an old beam bordering a flower bed. The red flowers painted on the rim of the bowl provide a colorful harmony.

And here’s the feisty Farina taking a rest from her outdoor labors of running, digging, barking and chasing squirrels. Ask her and she might tell you she’s living in dog heaven, that the eats aren’t bad and that her Papa is well-trained.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cry Bloody Murder

Japan’s major English daily, The Japan Times, carries a weekly column dubbed Essential Reading for Japanophiles and is one I look forward to each week. It’s very likely the case that most of the recommended readings are of more interest to those with a keen interest in things Japanese, but one or two of the suggested books are major titles in Japanese literature familiar to the average Western reader. One of the column’s recent recommendations was a mystery by Akimitsu Takagi, a prolific writer between the years 1948 and 1988. Never having read one of his many books, I figured it would be a good start. First published in 1948, The Tattoo Murder Case was Takagi’s first foray into writing. Despite his ongoing popularity, the book was not translated into English until 1998, three years after the author’s death.

With all military industries in Japan halted after World War II, Takagi found himself out of work. On the recommendation of a fortune-teller, he decided to become a writer. It was good sense that prompted him to send a second draft of his first book to the great mystery writer Edogawa Rampo, a man who played the major role in development of Japanese mystery fiction and who wielded considerable influence. Rampo recognized Takagi’s skill and sent the book to a publisher. Shisei satsujin jiken (The Tattoo Murder Case) was published in 1948. A year later his second novel, Noh Mask Murder Case won the Tantei sakka club sho (Mystery Writers Club Award).

Takagi published thirty-one novels and nine short story collections over his lifetime. He died in 1995.

The Tattoo Murder Case is set in post-war Tokyo, a city of mostly destruction, a place of the homeless and the hungry getting by as best they could. It was a time when American GIs were a common sight, when American policymakers were shaping a new Japan. While Takagi’s story wanders through this dark and broken landscape, with few exceptions, his characters are members of a class saved from the loss of everything in life. They all live comfortably and moneyed in still standing homes, attend the theater and socialize at restaurants on the Ginza. But among those privileged citizens are some with nefarious agendas.

The tattoo artist of that time was deemed a criminal, his work performed in secret and viewed openly on only rare occasion. It was associated with the criminal class for the most part, but could also be found among firefighters. Takagi’s cast of characters is built upon those who view full body tattoos as an art form deserving of museum walls. A woman is murdered for her tattooed skin, another is relieved of his skin for snooping and a third killed for getting in the way. One of Takagi’s best creations is the character known as “Dr Tattoo” who muddles police efforts in his passion to hang one more beautiful skin on his walls. The plot focuses on the three children of a famous tattoo artist, each elaborately tattooed with creatures of legend—a snake, a frog and a giant slug.

Kenzo Matsushita, a post grad medical student at Tokyo University is taken along by an older classmate to a tattoo exhibition where men and women display their full-body tattoos. At the showing he meets a beautiful young tattooed woman named Kinue Nomura who encourages his attentions. He spends a night with her stumbling away the next morning in love. Several days later he receives a letter from the woman expressing fears for her life and asking him to come to her home the following morning. He goes to her home the next morning but discovers her dismembered body in a bathroom locked from the inside.

It is unfortunate when a basically good book with a fascinating setting, interesting characters and a gripping story is badly mauled by a poor translation, one that goes far beyond the parameters of translating. I feel certain that had Akimitsu Takagi been alive when this translation was done in 1998, he would have unequivocally rejected the translation-adaptation of Deborah Boliver Boehm. It’s hard to imagine what about her agreement to translate a writer’s work into English made her think it permissible to rewrite passages and to add words of her own in a belief that an English reader requires as much. Equal blame should be attached to her editor at Soho Press, who might even be a non-existent contributor. Rarely have I read a translated work that treated a writer’s words so cavalierly and it is easy to imagine Ms Boehm looking over a passage of Japanese and telling herself, “An English reader will never understand that. I’d better rewrite it.” 

Two other books by Akimitsu Takagi are available in English translation by a different translator. If you do not read Japanese and want a look at the work of this writer, the books are available at Amazon in English translation. In both cases the translations were done by someone apart from Deborah Boliver Boehm. Those books—The Informer and Honeymoon to Nowhere—are offered on the same Amazon page as The Tattoo Murder Case.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Pineapple Cake for Tokyo

Designed by Kengo Kuma & Associates and completed in December of 2013, Sunny Hills is a cake shop in the Minami Aoyama district of Tokyo situated in what is basically a residential neighborhood and at 297 square meters is probably not much larger than a two-story home. If anything, Japanese architect Kengo Kuma has given the people of Minami Aoyama a sight that dazzles and jolts the senses. At once beautiful and horribly out of place, his design for the Sunny Hills cake shop is well worth whatever the time and cost involved, simply for its daring to show what is possible in the art of building. On first look, it appears to be an enormous jumble of exquisitely joined and polished sticks that have no clear purpose architecturally. Almost like a scaffolding that hides the building inside, the traditional carpentry of the whole structure is certainly fine to look at, but at the same time confusing.

The building’s design will almost surely draw numbers of people to Minami Aoyama for a look at Tokyo’s latest example of avant-garde architecture, and a good many of those will not be satisfied with only a street view, but eager to see the inside. And since it is a type of store favorite among Japanese young and old, chances are good that Sunny Hills will find itself overflowing with customers eager to sample its pineapple cake.

Sunny Hills cake comes to Tokyo from Taiwan. The speciality is a variety of pineapple cake, a sweet popular in Taiwan and baked in the shape of a bamboo basket. The store is built on a joint system called jiigoku-gumi, a traditional method used in Japanese wooden architecture and often seen in shoji doors and screens—vertical and cross pieces of equal size entwined to form a muntin grid. Normally the pieces intersect in two dimensions, but in the architect’s design for Sunny Hills they are combined in thirty degrees, in three dimensions, producing a cloud-like structure. Using this idea, the section size of each wood piece was reduced to 2.4 x 2.4 inches. Because the building is located in a residential area, the aim was for a soft and subtle impression, something very different from a concrete box type of building. Architect, Kengo Kuma, believes the street and surroundings together with Sunny Hills offer a pleasing harmony to the eye. Some might consider that concept debatable, arguing that the design clashes with its surroundings.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Bowling Alleys & Toilet Paper

Tangled up on the sofa wrestling with the dog two nights ago, television playing in the background, my attention was caught by a commercial wherein a woman in a bowling alley threw her ball for a resounding strike, bringing the product name Cottonelle to the screen as she turned to the camera and said, “I need a clean alley all the time.” My mouth was still gaping in surprise when a quick cut brought up another toilet paper commercial, this one presenting a lovely housewife in pearls and low heels announcing that Charmin is, “another way to keep your underwear clean.” I had to look out the window to make sure I hadn’t drifted out of orbit and landed on planet Mars.

It appears that freedom among advertisers has evolved to include a kind of low-brow tabloid language exemplified by Cottonelle and Charmin in selling their toilet paper. Or am I just behind the times and seeing another case of technology leading us down a road to where nothing is left unsaid or unshared, where social networks have encouraged the sharing of every thought and action and where people say and show anything and everything? Or maybe I’m simply going off on a rant about nothing more than a few graphic details about toilet paper and how we use it. Apparently a great many people are curious about it because the very first website I clicked on stated at the top that the number of questions concerning toilet paper was amazing. Well heck, I’m gonna jump right into the mix.

Long before the luxury of ultra strong and uniquely balanced triple ply, snowy white toilet paper enriched with aloe, people depended on an assortment of devices to handle the problem. We’ve all heard the corncob and Sears catalogue stories but they represent only the tip of the iceberg. Vikings used discarded sheep’s wool, coconut shells were the choice in early Hawaii, lace was popular with French royalty and snow and tundra moss did the trick for the Eskimos of yore. Mussel shells were useful for coastal peoples and one source describes the ancient Greeks using stones and pieces of clay. The Romans had a good idea with sponges on the end of sticks kept in jugs filled with salt water. Probably the worst choice in history was my own. Out in the woods on a camping trip as a kid I grabbed up a handful of leaves that turned out to be poison ivy.

It was the Chinese in about the year 600 who first came up with the idea of making paper especially for use behind closed doors. It must have been intended for people with large bottoms because it was made in sheets measuring 2x3 feet. In the US, “Gayetty’s Medicated Paper” was the marvel of 1857, a paper of pre-moistened sheets of manila hemp medicated with aloe and dispensed from a Kleenex-sized box. The name Joseph Gayetty was printed on every sheet and Mr Gayetty claimed for his toilet paper the bonus of hemorrhoid prevention. The toilet tissue on a roll familiar to modern culture came about around 1880, but since toilet paper was still a sensitive subject, out of embarrassment the Scott Company left their name off of it, deciding instead to customize, or name it for their customers. As a result the Waldorf Hotel gained fame in the toilet paper arena. Scott didn’t take credit for their product until 1902.

Getting people to buy toilet paper was a uphill battle, in large part because Americans were embarrassed by anything pointing to bodily functions. Customers didn’t want to ask for it by name. Germans had a similar embarrassment about the subject and one company came out with advertising copy saying, “Ask for a roll of Hakle and you won’t have to say toilet paper!” Widespread acceptance of the product was slow in coming, but eventually boosted by more and more homes with sit-down flush toilets and indoor plumbing systems. The Hoberg Paper Company hit a bullseye in 1928 with something called Charmin. Once again, the key was advertising. They gave the package a feminine logo depicting a beautiful woman, conveying softness and femininity. This allowed the avoidance of talking about actual purpose and merely asking for a package of Charmin. It wasn’t until decades later that the beautiful ladies on the package were replaced by babies and bear cubs.

Twenty-six billion rolls of toilet paper, worth about 2.4 billion, are sold yearly in the US alone. The average American uses 50 pounds (23 kilograms) per year, fifty percent more than the average of other Western countries. All around the world, in place of toilet tissue, water is still one of the most common methods of cleaning. India, the Middle East and a number of Asian countries continue to rely on a bucket and a spigot.

And Japan? The future does not look too rosy for the now familiar roll of toilet paper. Supermarket and drugstore shelves are piled with the stuff but a growing number of Japanese people have come to depend upon something called the Washlet, and it won't be long before homes equipped with this convenience outnumber those without. Attached to seat and tank, the Washlet works like a bidet, but includes a heat controlled air blower for drying, a heated seat and even a sound device to cover embarrassing sounds. After many years of using a Washlet in Japan, the return to toilet paper was an uncomfortable lesson in my reacquaintance with American life.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Dream is the Truth

‘Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.’ — first line of Their Eyes Were Watching God

She was part of the Harlem Renaissance at its height. She held a degree in anthropology from Columbia University, published four novels and over fifty short stories, essays and plays and received a Guggenheim Fellowship twice. At one time her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was being taught in seventeen different courses at Yale University, a book she wrote over the course of seven weeks in Haiti. 

Twenty-three years later Zora Neale Hurston died in a Fort Pierce, Florida County Welfare Home, quickly buried among weeds in an unmarked grave and just as quickly forgotten. 

She was born in a small Alabama town in 1891 but grew up in Eatonville, Florida, an all black town located just six miles west of Orlando. She published her first story in 1921 and in 1925 arrived in New York at a time when the Harlem Renaissance was at its peak. Hurston quickly became an integral part of that movement, collaborating with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman. Over time, Hurston fell out of favor among prominent black writers for her reluctance to take a political stance in her writing and for her use of black dialect for her characters. In 1937 she published her second novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, a work destined to become a classic of African-American literature. Her last novel, Seraph on the Suwanee was published in 1948, but for reasons that remain cloudy, her work more and more went unpublished. An essay, “Why the Negro Won’t Buy Communism” published in American Legion magazine in 1951 was the last work published before her death. 

In 1975, after a research trip to Florida, Alice Walker published the essay, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” in Ms. The article ignited a revival of interest in Hurston which has continued to flourish with re-printings of her books and stories, biographies, films and PBS documentaries, as well as a resurgence of her place in university classrooms.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, set for the most part in the black Florida community of Eatonville tells the story of Janie Crawford, a black woman in search of true love and her true self. A voice like none other, Janie sparkles with wit, beauty and wisdom as she narrates a life through the trials of poverty, three marriages, repressed ambition and the ultimate and freeing discovery of romantic love. Described by many as an African-American feminist classic, the description is much too bland for a novel both vibrant and achingly human, one that transcends labels. The story follows Janie Crawford’s ripening from a spirited but voiceless teenage girl into a woman with strong convictions about her destiny. Though written in a brief seven weeks, Their Eyes Were Watching God pulses with the blood of rich experience and is possibly the most widely read and highly praised novel in all of African-American literature.

One of the most contentious aspects of Hurston’s writing has always been her unique use of language, specifically a mastery of the rural southern black dialect, criticized as making her characters (and southern blacks in particular) cartoon-like, Brer Rabbit type personalities that support a stereotype. What cannot be missed though is a narrative structure that divides the flow of language between polished literary narration and idiomatic dialogue. In the afterword to modern editions of the book, Henry Louis Gates Jr. suggests that Their Eyes Were Watching God is concerned with ‘…finding a voice, with language as an instrument of injury and salvation, of selfhood and empowerment.’ This is seen in her relations with husband Jody when he stifles her speech and prevents her from talking, a clear suppression of her individuality — “Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home.” 

The opposite is seen in Janie’s later relationship with Tea Cake, who engages her in conversation, putting her on equal terms with respect for her individuality, and it is from this respect that her great love for him springs. For Janie language is both the source of her identity and her empowerment.

Putting aside the argument that Hurston’s language supports an unflattering stereotype, would it not be better to take Alice Walker’s suggestion and view the writer as an artist and not as the artist-politician that most black writers have been required to be, that in the case of Their Eyes Were Watching God it is a more fulfilling read to see it as a fervent human quest rather than a distinctly black one?

Hurston was often the butt of criticism from fellow black artists who disliked what they saw as a  subservient adoption of the “happy darkie” persona for benefit of a white audience in search of stereotypes. Langston Hughes gave example of that in his autobiography, The Big Sea
‘…Zora Neale Hurston was certainly the most amusing. Only to reach a wider audience, need she ever write books—because she is a perfect book of entertainment in herself. In her youth she was always getting scholarships and things from white people, some of whom simply paid her just to sit around and represent the Negro race for them, she did it in such a racy fashion. She was full of side-splitting anecdotes, humorous tales, and tragicomic stories, remembered out of her life in the south…She could make you laugh one minute and cry the next. To many of her white friends, no doubt she was a perfect “darkie”, in the nice meaning they gave that term—that is a naive, childlike, sweetly humorous and highly colored Negro.’

Like me, perhaps others find this picture of Hurston not altogether distressing for at the root of it all is Hurston’s desire and problem as a writer to communicate faithfully the cultural wealth of a black folk tradition. She was after all a mix of writer, folklorist and anthropologist.

Sometimes the case with even the biggest names, I came to Zora Neale Hurston late. A name familiar from conversation and books, it is my loss that her stories and novels came to hand only in the past weeks. Frankly, I am astonished at the power of her words and her themes. Much too unsophisticated to set Hurston among African-American feminists and leave it at that, readers will discover in her writing a treasure house of humanity, passion, magical realism, folklore and wisdom. Eight stories and one novel are enough to convince me that the name and writing of Zora Neale Hurston will be around for a long time to come.

Monday, January 6, 2014

French Bread for Dogs

January 3, 2014

Woke up to frosted windows, a first time sight in this country house. The old plastic thermometer hanging on a back porch post read 46° (8°C) and the gloomy sky made it seem even colder. Didn’t stop the dog from diving through her door and hitting the yard at a run but she obviously realized something was different because not ten minutes later she was back inside curled up on the bed. Most times her early morning outside-inventory takes at least an hour before coming inside for a bowl of food.

One more day without thoughts drifting to a wider world where the view is filtered through Safari windows. The situation will likely be different tomorrow; a repair technician is on his way with all the necessary replacement parts. Meanwhile, I sit bundled on the back porch with a new dog cookbook, The Culinary Canine, figuring which of the thirty recipes will work for Farina. At first glance, one or two show a list of ingredients that this country kitchen can’t afford, but others show food that I already use frequently in stirring up the dog’s dinner. The dog owner who thinks dogs should never be given human food, that a bowl of dry kibble serves a dog’s needs just fine, then stop reading here. If the thirty-one dog owners, trainers and veterinarian who added recipes and opinions to this book are even halfway right, a dog will be healthier with a mixed diet that includes a whole lot more than kibble. But I realize there is another side to the question and I’m certainly not qualified to endorse either side wholeheartedly—just an ordinary guy who loves his dog and wants her to both enjoy her food and grow stronger because of it.


Let’s start with a few suggested ingredients in the making of fido’s dinner, or in some cases treats or snacks. Not one recipe but a scatter shot of several: half of a French baguette, a sweet potato, spinach, goat or lamb shanks, Spanish chorizo, parsley, blueberries, green beans, celery, quinoa, filet of bluefish… I’m more of a mind for something along the lines of chicken, carrots, rice and peas, so what does the cookbook offer along those lines? Here’s one…

1 pound chicken breast (skinless and boneless)
4½ cups chicken broth
1½ cups brown rice
3 medium carrots
6 blueberries
(The original recipe specifies organic everything, but regular works fine out here in the country.)

Directions: In one saucepan, poach the chicken in the chicken broth until tender. In another saucepan, cover the brown rice with water and let it cook slowly. Juice 2 of the carrots and slice the other one. Cook the carrot slices in the carrot juice until soft. Drain the carrots and add them to the cooked rice. Cut the chicken into small pieces and add it to the carrots and rice. Mix and let cool. Serve topped with blueberries.

Sounds pretty human to me, and also very tasty. I would also pour about half a cup of the chicken broth into the mixture because I know my dog likes chicken broth.

Bone appétit.

About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America