The S̶t̶u̶p̶i̶d̶ New American: Dog Food

Stupid American.

I was very young when I first heard this expression, and more than a little shocked by how casually it was thrown around. To the foreigners saying it, it seemed painfully obvious how dumb I was, so much so that it made me wonder how I could have possibly missed it. I didn’t think I was an idiot. To my knowledge, none of the people I knew fell into that category either. This changed as I grew into a young adult. I developed this nasty habit of categorizing people the moment I met them. I would pick apart their every perceived imperfection until I had decided whether they were the stupid Americans I had grown up hearing about or normal and smart, like me. In other words, I had become a complete jack ass. Fast forward a decade later: I’m married, have three children, and two dogs. My wife has ironed out most of my inner douche, but something else has happened along the way. Parenting, or more specifically, putting other people’s lives before mine, has exposed a terrible secret: I was the stupid American all along. I did things without ever once stopping to think about why I was doing them, or the damage I was causing in the process. The stupidity came from acting out of habit rather than with purpose. This column will be dedicated to questioning habits we all take for granted, habits that may seem normal to us, but are at best dubious in the eyes of anyone living outside the country. In the age of information and open forums, there’s no longer any excuse for stupidity. This is the time for the informed American, the New American. So let’s begin with:

Dog Food.

Raw Diet & Dogs

The look on my father’s face was priceless. “You’re going to feed them that?” he asked, horrified as he watched me prep raw chicken legs for my dogs. “They’ll choke on the bone,” he exclaimed. “Or worse, they’ll develop a taste for blood.” I shrugged. His concerns were not unexpected: I imagine most people would have reacted the same way, to one degree or another. In fact, I had a similar experience years ago. “What the hell?” I had thought to myself, as I read the ingredients in a bag of dog food I had just fed my dog. “What’s corn and sugar doing in here?” The culprit was a brand of chow decorated with pieces of chicken, beef, and vegetables. The animals pictured eating it all looked happy, healthy, and vibrant. The food was also expensive. For these reasons it had never occurred to me to question the quality of the product. Yet there it was, right in front of me, a list of garbage that had absolutely no place in my pet’s diet.

I jumped on the computer and immediately started researching prepackaged dog food. Horror stories were everywhere. Obesity, tooth decay, diseases, recalls that had claimed the lives of countless animals, all directly linked to the f̶o̶o̶d̶  crap being pushed onto dogs. How can a natural carnivore possibly be expected to live a healthy life off of corn, sugar, or any of the fillers that make up commercial dog food?” I asked myself. “Why had it become so normal for people to think this was ok?” I had only to look within for the answer. The commercials I grew up with, the advice from veterinarians, & the accepted truth that pets need “pet food” had groomed me into thinking this was the way.

It isn’t. 

My dogs, Daisy and Cortez, are adopted Cairn Terriers. When they first joined our family, Daisy was obese (so much so she couldn’t climb the stairs without help), and Cortez needed eye drops for cataracts that had formed in his eyes. Since then, I have weened them off commercial dog “food” and onto a diet that consists of raw chicken legs in the morning and raw beef at night. Uncooked soft bones (like chicken legs) provide them with necessary calcium and never splinter, the act of chewing and working for their food fights tooth decay and satisfies their natural desire to chew, and beef (along with other natural foods like organ meat, yogurt, and pumpkin) adds diversity to their diet.

Daisy can now easily outrun me up the stairs and Cortez’s eyes have never been clearer. It doesn’t get any more natural than that.

Feeding our dogs in the raw isn’t any more expensive than using premium commercialized dog feed, and when you factor in the lack of vet bills, it’s actually quite a bit cheaper. Being different is always going to raise a few eyebrows. At the end of the day, and in this functional family, health and knowledge will always come first.

 

 

 

How to feed your child vegetables & keep your sanity.

VegetablesForcing a child to eat vegetables can be a challenge. We’ve all been there. You sit down at the table, make eye contact with your little one, and before you know it the two of you are engaged in an epic gladiatorial battle to the death, or at least that’s how it feels. Either way, it’s exhausting, and frankly, unnecessary. As parents, we feel obligated to force our children to eat their vegetables. Yet this kind of thinking gets us nowhere. Our obligation is not to force anything on our children, but to raise them to be healthyThe battle begins long before the kitchen table.

Before adding to a child’s diet, it’s much easier to begin by subtracting anything that may be endangering their health. A great place to start is with sugar, your child’s worst enemy (or best friend, depending on who you ask). Sugar has many sneaky forms, and it’s important that you be familiar with all them. Candy and soda are the obvious offenders, and neither should be given to your child with any regularity, but less obvious offenders include commercial cereals and fruit juices. If you can drastically reduce or eliminate any of these from your child’s diet, consider it a huge victory for her health.

Another detriment to your children is processed food. If it’s frozen, instant, or out of a box there’s a good chance it isn’t healthy.* Of course, not everyone is a chef. But guess what? When children come to my restaurant, they aren’t requesting the Chilean Seabass in spicy bouillabaisse. Kids prefer simple food. Pasta in butter with plain chicken usually does the trick. With the internet, cooking simply has never been easier. A little effort goes a long way.

With the bad stuff out of the way, you can take several different approaches to the veggies. The first is some positive motivation. Your child won’t eat her vegetables? Encourage her by displaying an after dinner snack at the table, and reminding her that if she finishes dinner, she’s welcome to that snack. And if she doesn’t eat? She still gets her snack, but much less than she might have otherwise.

Your second option: don’t forget the salt. I know it sounds crazy, but salt is only bad if you’re overdosing on crappy processed food. Otherwise, don’t be afraid to add a pinch here and there. Humans crave salt. Children are no exception.

When all else fails, compromise. Children won’t starve themselves. If their diet isn’t polluted with sugar and processed foods, you’re already several steps ahead of the game as it is. Instead of an entire side of veggies, settle for your children eating a single vegetable with dinner. Fighting with them will only teach them to fight back, whereas a compromise will teach your children how to problem solve, and more importantly, save you and your spouse from a lot of unwanted stress.

Parenting is tough. As with anything worth doing, the solution is never a simple one. But that’s what sets a truly great parent apart from a mediocre one. Good luck!

 

*I’m referring to instant processed foods in their many varieties here, not frozen fruit, vegetables, or natural whole foods which can be absolutely beneficial!

 

I gave up alcohol. My kids gave up…juice?

juice boxes

Having blown my early twenties drinking and partying, I had resigned myself to the idea that when it came to starting a family, I was going to be a late bloomer, if at all. Lucky for me, my future wife and her two children from a previous marriage made up for lost time. Jumping into a family so quickly was not without its challenges, and a big one was breaking bad habits, especially the not so obvious habits. For example, drinking tequila on the rocks like it was water? Bad habit. Drinking water to hydrate? According to my future step-daughter, also bad. 

If this little girl was thirsty, she had to have juice. Apple juice, orange juice, grape juice, fruit punch, it didn’t matter; as long as it was juice she had to have it. Now, as a functional alcoholic, I had two things in my fridge: beer and water. One of those I couldn’t offer her (and expect to stay with her mom). The other, well…she wasn’t having it. She hated water. Unfortunately for her, I hate juice. Actually:

I hate products that are labeled as juice when really the closest they come to fresh fruit are the pretty pictures painted on the label.

So I took a stand. No juice. If I couldn’t get buzzed then neither could she. You know what happened? My seven year old daughter grew up to love water. This didn’t happen overnight. But rather than sugar water, which, honestly, that’s what most juice is, I quenched her thirst with…water. Thirsty after a day at the park? Water. Thirsty in the morning? Water. Thirsty after…you get the idea.

We’re parents, we are our children’s last line of defense when it comes to their health. If my child is thirsty my duty is to hydrate her…not use water as some kind of vessel to sneak crap into her body. Because sugar, in the doses found in juices, turns into crap. It’s scientific. Look it up. Now I know what you’re thinking. Does that mean that my children can never bask in the glow of a cool, refreshing soda on a hot afternoon?

Heck no. How else can I justify the occasional tequila?

Be a Great Parent! Just not actually a great parent…

Dr EvilWhen it comes to parenting, one thing that most of us can agree on is that it’s good to want to be a great parent. I mean, it’s not like people are going around telling us to be bad parents, right? Of course not. But what does it mean to be a great parent? Who decides what defines greatness? I know that seems like a question only someone from Colorado or Washington might ask, but please, consider the following:

Breakfast, as we all know, is the most important meal of the day. Hand your child a bowl of cereal, a glass of orange juice, and a slice of toast, and she will conquer the world. Use 2% milk, cereal that you got on sale, all natural Florida orange juice, and margarine instead of butter and you might just feel like you’ve conquered parenting. But have you really? Let’s take a quick look.

First the cereal. Check the ingredients. How soon is sugar labeled, and how often? Odds are, pretty darn soon and a lot. Ok, now the OJ. A glass of 100% orange juice has about 24 grams of sugar. That’s about six cubes, or five spoonfuls. Yikes. And the milk you poured into the cereal? There are many reasons one might argue against it being healthy, but the one fact that sticks out in my mind is simple: in 1970 the average cow produced 9,700 pounds of milk in its lifetime. Now it yields about 19,000 pounds of milk. That is not evolution. It’s hormones and it’s scary. Leaving us with…the toast. Is it white? Wheat? Ezekiel? And what the heck is margarine, anyway?*

Exhausting, isn’t it?

You know what else is exhausting? Being judged for raising these questions. A few months ago, I caught a commercial for cereal on TV. Already annoyed that a cartoon character was telling me what to eat, I waited for the part when it would assure me that the cereal was part of a “complete breakfast”. It never came. To my surprise, the commercial ended by calling the cereal a part of a “delicious breakfast” instead.

You know what else is delicious? Deep fried pig skinWhere are those commercials?

We’re told to be great parents, with the expectation that we’ll just shut up and listen. Well, listen to who? The people who profit from poisoning our kids? No, thanks. I’ll settle for being the weirdo who questions them instead.

 

*I am in no way qualified to vouch for any of the claims made by these links. What I can vouch for is the importance of skepticism and informed decision making.

 

 

Plan an Adventure!

This year we were ready for Disney. We had gone the year before, and with what we had learned from that trip still fresh on our minds, we were excited to embark on another trip to the Magical Kingdom.

And then, on a whim, I mentioned Puerto Rico.

snow sand man

My kids went nuts over the possibility.

To be fair, the mention wasn’t completely from left field. I am Puerto Rican, after all, and on average I visit the island at least once a year. My grandparents live along a strip of homes belonging to all of my grandfather’s siblings in a town called Cayey, a bustling mountaintop village about half an hour from San Juan. I love them to pieces, and so my children have grown up hearing stories about my treasured grandparents and the magical place they call home. Taken aback by their reaction, I reminded them (my kids) how much they had loved Disney, but sure enough, they were insistent: “Dad, we want to go to Puerto Rico!” Who was I to deny them?

This trip was far and away the best vacation I have ever had. I’ve done my fair share of globetrotting, and while by no means finished, the grandeur of a new and unfamiliar place takes a back seat to the wonder and joy that overcame my children upon discovering what must have felt like an entirely new world to them. From the moment they realized it was no longer snowing, the trip consisted of a series of memories that no amount of planning could have anticipated. Among my favorite, in no particular order:

- My son single-handedly catching a lizard and presenting it to his grandfather not unlike the way a cat presents a dead mouse to its person (the lizard survived the ordeal).

- My children waking us up and begging to hang out with their new favorite tour guide in the world (my Uncle, God Bless his patience) in the backyard.Thebackyard

- The beautiful site of my beautiful grandmother holding my daughter in her arms.

- Getting locked out of the airport because the kids and I had to experience a rotating door (subsequently forcing us to watch helplessly from outside as Mom struggled with all the luggage by herself…oops).

- Feeding over a dozen Iguanas as they leaped from trees and swam ashore to hungrily devour our offerings of left-over fire roasted chicken.iguana

- Cooking said chicken with a machete, a fire pit, and salt.

- The look of sheer gratitude on my wife’s face the next day after I bought food instead of cooking it outside.

-  My children experiencing a pristine beach for the very first time.kids beach

- Meeting an older couple, Arturo and his Bride, who had been living on the beach for 6 months. The Bride had Alzheimer’s. In life, Arturo reminded us, there are problems, and then there are problems that can’t be fixed.

- Climbing a coconut tree and discovering that my son, for whom I had climbed the tree, doesn’t like coconuts.

- Hiking through a jungle, and wading into a waterfall.markandjennwaterfall

- Waking up to my grandfather playing the guitar and singing outside our bedroom window.

And lastly…

- Upon asking my seven year old daughter which she had enjoyed more, Puerto Rico or Disney, her reply:

“Disney was full of fun things to do, but Puerto Rico…Puerto Rico was an adventure!”

I underestimated my children. I assumed their idea of fun was always having something to do, forgetting that the simple act of discovery can be an experience in and of itself.

Thanks, kids. Love,

Mom and Dad.

Ultimate Comfort Food: Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherds PieIt’s cold outside. And when it’s cold, it’s time for filling, hot, all in one foods that warm you from the inside out. Shepherd’s Pie is one such dish. Distinctly Irish, you get your spuds (as a dear Irish friend would say), veggies, and protein all in one. For you parents: it’s a hit with the kids & even better the next day. Sláinte!

Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients:

8-10 large potatoes

3 large carrots, chopped

4 celery stalks, chopped

4 cups ground beef

2 cups beef broth

4 tbsp butter

1 cup corn

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup milk

1/3 cup flour

3 tsp Worcestershire Sauce

8 oz tomato sauce (1 small can)

6 tsp Dijon mustard (I love this country dijon)

salt & pepper (kosher salt if you can)

Directions:

1. Set oven to 350°. Clean potatoes. Poke holes in them with a fork and place in oven over a pan to collect drippings. Bake for 45 minutes or until skin is crisp and inside soft. While baking, continue with recipe.

2. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a deep dish pan & saute 4 cups ground beef over medium heat. Season with a dash of salt & pepper. Saute until cooked through (completely brown). Set meat aside, save pan drippings.

3. Add chopped celery & carrots to pan and cook over medium heat until soft (approx. 10 mns).

4. Add 2 cups broth, 1/2 cup heavy cream, tomato sauce, cooked beef3 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 6 tsp mustard. Taste. This is the best part of the dish. If you love salt, add a pinch more. Crave heat? Add some pepper flakes. Feeling exotic? Throw in some curry. Next, add 1/3 cup flour.

5. Reduce. Raise heat to medium high, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. The longer the meat cooks, the more it will thicken. I recommend 10-15 mns.  Once desired thickness is achieved, remove from heat and set aside.

6. Remove potatoes from oven. Cut each in half and smash through a potato ricer. If you don’t own one, mash using an alternate method, and then seriously consider investing in a masher. They’re amazing.

7. Heat remaining 3 tbs butter in a pot over medium heat. Add mashed potatoes, remaining 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 cup milk. Salt & pepper to taste. Add more or less milk to achieve desired consistency. Mashed potatoes will be ready in minutes. Remove from heat.

8. Now the fun part! In two separate casserole dishes, layer the meat first and then top with your mashed potatoes. We use a pastry gun to squeeze the spuds, but spooning works great too (use a fork to make groves in the mash). Some people like to paint egg whites over top for an added sheen, but I don’t think that’s necessary. After assembly is complete, heat your pie under a broiler & check every couple minutes until spuds are nicely browned.

9. Enjoy!