I don’t eat Paleo, but my dogs do

Have you heard about the potentially controversial research that dogs, through evolution, can now digest carbs in a way that wolves could not?

When I heard, and decided to blog about it, I was astonished to see how little I have written about raw feeding. A mention here or there, sure, but nothing significant since I first started feeding Isis raw meat in 2009.

I’m a believer in the nutritional benefits of feeding a dog raw meat. Humans are the only creatures that cook their meat, after all. Based on the information I had at the time, I fed Isis a prey model of 80 percent muscle meat, 10 percent bone, 10 percent organs. She seemed to thrive on the diet with a glossy coat and nonstinky breath.

She died very suddenly within two years of being put on this diet, but I have no reason to believe the diet had anything to do with her death from a thymic hemorrhage. I had recently added vegetables and nuts to her diet, at the suggestion of a holistic vet. I don’t think the vegetables or nuts killed her either. She had seen both the holistic vet and our regular vet within a few months of her death, and neither found anything medically wrong with her as a result of her diet, or otherwise.

Leo has eaten raw meat since I brought him home. Because he was extremely lean at about seven months, the holistic vet suggested I supplement the meat and bones with a grain-free kibble. He has eaten a combo of raw beef, deer/bison/llama bones and Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream formula ever since.

As a puppy, Leo works on a bison neck

As a puppy, Leo works on a bison neck

Mia was a little smelly and dull-coated when we got her, but shortly after transitioning to this same diet, her coat glistened and her breath got fresher. She did gain some weight from overfeeding, but otherwise is terrifically healthy.

So I won’t change my dogs’ diets based on the news reported today in the Los Angeles Times, NPR and the BBC. (I offer you three links to give the choice of reading, listening or watching the report).

The way I understand it is that dogs are capable of digesting grains. That doesn’t make it more nutritious than their historical diet. That doesn’t mean that they will live healthier, longer lives by eating a corn-based processed kibble.

I’m amused by the paradox between this research and the Paleo Diet, which is based on the idea that humans should still be eating the things they ate before the agricultural revolution. So, dogs have evolved to eat grains, but humans haven’t gotten there yet?

I don’t dispute the health benefits of going paleo, but I digest cake, bread and french fries just fine, thank you very much. I do know that I would be better off eating more vegetables. And I believe that dogs are better off eating a diet primarily consisting of raw meat and bones.

I think I haven’t blogged much about this before because I wanted to stay out of the fray, but I’m ready to stir the pot. So let’s hear it: My fellow raw feeders, what do you make of this news? Other dog lovers, where do you stand on a high-protein versus high-carb diet for your pooches?

True Confessions, weight loss edition

Almost 10 years ago, I lost a bit of weight on Weight Watchers. Following the plan was fairly easy and it took me a little over six months. I lived alone and didn’t have much of a social life; controlling what I ate was a piece of cake. I didn’t even exercise that vigorously at the time. And I was in my twenties.

I mostly kept the weight off for several years, despite moving in with Rob, perhaps because I practiced martial arts with him regularly. If the pounds started to creep back on, I thought, no problem, when the number on the scale gets higher than I can stand, I’ll just do Weight Watchers again. I rejoined on two occasions. Once with meetings and once online. I didn’t find it as effective either time, and not because they changed the plan slightly.

Partly, I found it too hard to keep track of my points. I eat lunch at the Skagit Co-op a lot. How am I supposed to know how many points are in their tuna cassoulet? I also blame my thirtysomething metabolism. The pounds don’t just melt off anymore.

When you’ve been meaning for a few years to lose that pesky five pounds, it’s especially discouraging to watch that amount double… and triple… and …

“Okay,” I’d tell myself. “Let’s do this.” Then I’d finish Rob’s fries. A couple of fries can’t hurt, can they?

A few months ago, I saw Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper on the Today Show talking about his new book, The Skinny Rules: The Simple, Nonnegotiable Principles for Getting to Thin.

The rules include:

  • Drink a big glass of water before every meal.

I can do that!

  • Eat apples and berries every day.

Oookay.

  • Go to bed hungry (don’t eat after 8 pm)

Challenging, maybe, but definitely a good idea and something I could work toward.

  • Eat protein at every meal.

This is a tough one for me, since I don’t eat meat (although I do eat fish, eggs and cheese). When I was on Weight Watchers, I considered a baked potato to be an acceptable meal. Which brings me to:

  • No white potatoes. Not even baked.

Uh oh.

  • No starchy carbs after lunch.

Oh, hell, no. That’s too hard. If I can’t have rice, potatoes or pasta, what am I supposed to eat for dinner?

The following week, I may have tried to drink more water and not eat after 8, but that was about it until Rob downloaded Harper’s audiobook from the library. (He downloads lots of books by trainers. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t telling me I needed to lose weight.) I spent a recent Sunday morning lying in bed listening to Harper’s twenty rules.

“Okay,” I told myself. “Let’s do this.” Then ate most of Rob’s fries at lunch.

BUT… I also stocked up on veggies, apples, and berries. Bought the Skinny Rules for my Nook, so I could reference Harper’s sample menus to give me ideas about what I’m supposed to eat for dinner.

A week and a half later, I’m down four pounds. Which is awesome, considering I cheat every day. Just a little.

What’s the difference? I needed some rules to enable me to make better choices. No potatoes. Fine. No starches after lunch. If you insist.

Also, I’m not thinking about what I can’t eat, but what I get to eat. Yay, salmon, peanut butter on apples, fancy hard cheeses, cucumbers and hummus, Greek yogurt mixed into my oatmeal. I feel like I’m changing the way that I eat, not just dieting. Remember that tuna cassoulet? I’m not eating it anymore (pasta noodles and creamy sauce). I stick to the vegetable dishes at the Co-op and make sure to get a small scoop of tuna or egg salad. That place is really a blessing, since I don’t like preparing my own lunches. (Or dinners, for that matter, which makes it less fun to follow Rule 15: Prepare and eat ten meals at home a week.)

I don’t usually tell people when I’m trying to lose weight. And incidentally, I’m allowed one splurge meal a week, so if you see me eating a cracker at 7 pm, don’t wag your finger at me.

If I gain those four pounds back by next week, I’m totally deleting this post.

Airport security and a missed opportunity

Long ago, my mother taught me that if you see something you really want during your travels, buy it. Don’t wait. Because you might not see it again, and then you spend the rest of your trip searching in vain for the clear umbrella with matryoshka dolls on it. Oh, sure you’ll see lots of blue ones, but the clear one will elude you.

It feels like a silly travel rule when tons of souvenir stands sell millions of seemingly the same thing. But time and again, I’ve made this mistake.

We flew Dutch airline KLM for our European adventure, which meant we passed through the Amsterdam airport three times. The first time, we were here more than seven hours which was enough time to go into the city, have some beers and see the Anne Frank House. We had one minor glitch, though, because we put our coats in a locker near the gate where we arrived, without paying attention to where it was, or where our departing gate was, which led to our having to go through the security line and passport control twice, and being the last ones on the plane. They did not, however, call our names, tell us we were delaying the flight, and threaten to offload our luggage, which we heard them do to others on our second trip through.

After we’d been through security once, before we knew we’d have to do it again, we passed a chocolate shop called Leonidas. That’s our dog’s name!! I cooed, we hastily took a (not very good) picture with Rob’s digital camera, and I made a mental note to come back. Because it would be silly to buy a box of chocolates with your dog’s name on it at the beginning of a two-week trip to Europe. Not when you know you’ll have another chance on your way home.

Unless… getting back to that store on your way home would mean having to go through passport and security twice more. I mean, I love my dog, and I love chocolate, but he can’t read. Or eat chocolate.

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Still, I’m pretty sure this is the biggest disappointment of the trip. Worse than not getting to see Lenin.

A word about our lodging

For our visits to St. Petersburg and Moscow, I selected bed and breakfasts suggested by Way to Russia. In St. Petersburg, we’re staying at the SwissStar, and were picked up at the airport by a good-looking young man who said almost nothing on the ride.

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We were greeted by Lena, who spoke not very much English, but made a great effort to show us around. We shared a bathroom with three other rooms, but it was right next to our room and only once was anyone trying to use it when I wanted to. The only downside would be that the shower, toilet and sink all were in the same room, so if someone was using one, you couldn’t use another.

Lena showed us the kitchen, where shelves in the refrigerator were marked green for common use, and red for people’s private stuff. We also had a fridge in the room (and a safe). Coffee and tea were in a drawer near the sink. She would wash the breakfast dishes, but after that, we were expected to wash our own.

An old dude was drinking tea as we had our tour, and I saw him twice more, including once in the middle of the night while I was waiting for the US Consulate to call back and tell me they’d just dragged Rob’s body from the Neva. (See earlier post. Rob did not drown in the river.)

A British-ish girl asked about the wifi password as we were paying for our room, and that night, I let her go ahead of me in the bathroom before bed.

Beyond that, it’s been deathly quiet. Which I consider a huge plus. I thought we were the only ones staying here, except one morning, there were a ton of clean dishes in the dishwasher after breakfast. The previous night, I’d made eggs for dinner (the night both Rob and I were sick. See earlier post.) I’d put the skillet and plates in the dishwasher and ran it. So, while we slept (and we did sleep late) all those dishes got used and washed? And we heard nothing?

Later, we returned around 6 pm, and there was a different old dude on the computer and about four older ladies loudly eating cake and drinking tea around the kitchen table. Within an hour, they were all gone. I would have heard them if they’d all had breakfast here, wouldn’t I?

This morning, I had a couple of slices of bread with off-brand nutella I found in the tea drawer. I suspect it was from somebody’s private stash and got left behind. After three days of seeing no one else eating it, yeah, I polished it off. I felt a little guilty about eating eggs for dinner (it’s a B&B, not a B,B&D), and for eating all the off-brand nutella, until I noticed that there were four loaves of bread here around 10:30 this morning and as I’m eating the last of the hazelnut spread before bed, there’s only one loaf left. Who’s eating this stuff?? Are there people eating the food who aren’t sleeping here?

Mystery aside, I would totally recommend this place. It’s close to a central metro station, but probably hard to find if you didn’t have a prearranged airport transfer.

Autumn at the Russian Versailles

Today was a relaxing day, by comparison. The plan was to take the hydrofoil to Peterhof to see Peter the Great’s palace. But when we arrived at the pier with the big Meteorboat to Peterhof sign (in Cyrillic), it was deserted and the guy at the coffeeshop said there were no boats.

“Because of the weather?” I pointed at the sky as if that would make my meaning clear. It had been raining. When the guy looked at me blankly, I simplified.”Why?”

“Closed for season.”

Well that sucked. Once again, I’d researched and learned conflicting info. The company’s website said boats ran every half hour. The girl with pretty green eyes that matched her scarf at the information booth near the Hermitage said boats only ran at 12:30 and 1:30, which was great news as it was 11:54. (We’ve been sleeping late.)

Discouraged, we walked to the other pier in what felt like vain hope of finding another boat company that was still running. We could take the metro and a minbus there; I had printed instructions. But I had my heart set on a boat. (An enclosed boat.) I’d get all hot and sweaty again if I had to descend the endless metro escalator in my North Face jacket, fleece sweatshirt and scarf. Then, surely I’d have to ask 110 unsmiling Russians to point us toward the minibuses. We planned to take the minibus home, but I wanted to take the fancy boat there.

Lucky for me, there was another boat company running a hydrofoil, and it was not yet 12:30. However, pretty eyes was wrong; there was no 12:30 boat. We had to wait until 1:30 anyway.

Despite being enclosed and comfy, the boat ride was cold, so I put on my gloves and fuzzy hat. Arriving at Peterhof by boat was a treat.
We enjoyed the fresh, cold air and fall foliage as we disembarked. Peterhof’s famed 140+ fountains were in full glory and the gold and yellow palace sparkled as we ascended the steps and snapped photos.

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Then I felt a familiar faintness. Hunger. Today I had my mixed nuts with me, but since it was so cold, we wanted to sit and rest for a few inside a cafe. A nice souvenir lady pointed us back toward the pier. We passed ladies sweeping up fallen yellow leaves to the “Pectopah” (That’s Cyrillic for restaurant), which turned out to be swanky. More expensive than yesterday’s cafe near Peter and Paul. It wasn’t part of the palace of course, but in a separate standalone building with a patio where no one was sitting.

They offered bear and elk and rabbit. Rob really wanted a sandwich, but we didn’t see anything like that. We decided we’d be satisfied by a bread basket, fried potatoes and pumpkin soup. Still water and apple juice to drink. Ketchup and butter were extra. Our waiter did not appear amused by our meager order.

The food was excellent, but Rob’s apple juice and my pumpkin soup were each about $10.

When we got up to leave I notice a sad-looking Asian tourist, dining alone, camera atop the table, hunched over her bowl of soup. (Maybe I’m projecting. Rob didn’t think she looked sad.)

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We continued our relaxing stroll, feeling happy to have escaped the grit of the big city for a while. Taking the hydrofoil was a clever move too, because we didn’t tire our feet out trying to get to the place.

As we strolled, we discovered a self-service Pectopah inside a palace-like building.

“Dammit! That’s where I wanted to eat! Why didn’t she point us in this direction?” A person-sized plastic ice cream cone stood outside a door. “And they have ice cream!”

Rob’s chief complaint about Russia is that it doesn’t seem as friendly as Italy with gelato on every corner.

On our way back, we did in fact have to ask a few Russians for directions. But eventually, it was an Asian couple I identified as fellow travelers by their giant camera, who told us where to catch the minibus.

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The Rasputin Conspiracy

When I was in St. Petersburg in 2001, I wasn’t able to visit the cellar where Rasputin was murdered. Who even knows why I wanted to, except that I like macabre stuff. In my travel story, I said that it’s worth seeing the rest of the Yusupov Palace even if you can’t do the separate Rasputin tour.

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Strange, because as we approached the yellow palace along the Moika River, I had no recollection of being there before. I was determined to see the cellar this time, although guide books and websites had conflicting information about how to do it. Some said you had to call in advance, others said you needed to be part of a group, and others said there was a tour every day at 1:45.

I tried calling, but the person who answered the phone spoke no English.

At the ticket counter, a sign said that the Rasputin tour indeed was at 1:45, and was in Russian only. Foreigners were required to have interpreters. No individual visits.

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I tried to buy a ticket anyway. The lady shook her head at me and summoned the “administrator,” who spoke English.

“Can we just go with the tour and look?”

“It’s just two rooms. Not very interesting.”

Hmm. Clearly there’s something about Rasputin’s murder he doesn’t want me to know.

“Aren’t there wax figures or something?”

“No. It’s all in Russian. Just history.”

Weird. All the reviews said there were wax figures depicting the attempted poisoning and successful shooting of Rasputin before his body was driven across town and chucked into the Malaya Nevka river.

I should add that I knew next to nothing about Rasputin, other than his name and that he was murdered there, but now I really wanted to see the damn cellar, even if the wax figures were gone and the room was empty.

Seeing the strength of my resolve, they sold me the tickets. Man, I never had to work so hard to give anyone $8 in India.

While we waited for that tour, we visited the rest of the palace, aide by spotty audioguides that clicked off midsentence during descriptions of the antique room, the theater, the prince’s study… It was a perfectly lovely palace, but there are lots of palaces around here. Dunno why you’d bother with this one unless you were in the neighborhood and/or could also see the cellar.

We still had more than a hour before the cellar tour, and I’d forgotten to replenish the supply of mixed nuts in my bag. I didn’t think I could last without a snack. The closest food joint appeared to be a cafeteria-style place across the Moika. As we crossed the river, Rob said he could go for some chicken soup.

“Good luck with that,” I said.

As we waited in line, I saw the counter dudes handing over bowls of soup.

“Guess it’s your lucky day.”

He had the soup, I had a piece of carrot cake, and we enjoyed the experience of eating with regular Russians, including uniformed soldiers.

Back at the palace we joined the tour to sit in nearly empty rooms while a lovely tour guide chattered away in Russian. I’d pretty much resigned myself to this possibility. Still, a murder happened here.

Then she led us into a dark room where three wax men plotted a murder around a table. One of them peered out the window. Another looked about to leap from his chair in protest. I discerned from the tour guide’s words the names of the perpetrators I’d read in the Rough Guide’s description of the murder. Who needs an interpreter when your B&B has copies of travel books to borrow?

Next we went downstairs where wax Prince Felix Yusupov stood beside a table where long-haired Rasputin sat, looking suspicious after eating cakes supposedly laced with cyanide. (The doctor who supplied the poison later made a deathbed confession that he hadn’t used real cyanide. Rasputin’s assassins wound up having to shoot him a bunch of times.) I recognized him as Rasputin despite not actually knowing very much about him. Upon reflection, maybe that’s why the Russians don’t want stupid foreigners to tour the Rasputin cellar. Isn’t that like someone wanting to visit Ford’sTheater without knowing anything about Lincoln except he wore a beard and a hat?

But look how much I learned!

The final room’s exhibit contained what looked like a newspaper photo of the body after he washed up downstream.

So yes, friends… I got what I wanted. Saw what I waited 11 years to see. Was it worth it? Would I recommend it? I don’t know, but I feel gratified. Yes it was weird to stand around for half an hour listening to a history lecture in a language we didn’t understand. We would have preferred to have an interpreter. But supposing they did allow individual visits, we happily would have paid to walk down to the cellar, look at the wax figures and be on our way.

Then we might have gotten to the Peter and Paul Fortress in time to see the Space museum before it closed. Instead we settled for the cathedral and the prison museum.

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Pinky swear with shrunken head Peter the Great

As we approached the fortress, it started to gust wind and rain, so we popped into a fancy cafe where I ate delicious bliny with smoked salmon. I thought the pancakes would be wrapped around the salmon like a blintz, but they were presented folded with the smoked salmon on the side.

Guess what else was on the menu, which Rob ordered? Chicken noodle soup!

Lessons from St. Petersburg

When you’re used to visiting cities the scale of Florence or Prague, you look at a map of St. Petersburg and think it’s an easy walk from your B&B to the Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood.

It is not. Take the metro.

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I’d forgotten, but that was the advice I gave in a travel story I wrote 11 years ago.

When I tried to reread it a few months ago during trip planning, I was embarassed by my lead that let on how challenged I felt.

Reading the rest of the story this morning, I think it’s a pretty awesome travel piece, if I do say so myself, especially how I conveyed what I learned from my tour guide about St. Petersburg culture.

Because I forgot my own advice, we took a long walk around the “neighborhood” last night, and happened upon a supercharming place called Soviet Cafe Kvartirka. Usually, when you’ve walked a long way in a new city and are cold, and coming down with a cold, you pick the first place you find and feel let down.

Not the case. I drank cherry beer and ate Ukrainian dumplings stuffed with potato, and soaked in the kitschy decor, music and old Russian movie on the TV. We expect to return to Kvartirka over the next few days.

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Today we walked to the Troitsky (Trinity) Cathedral, metroed to St. Isaac’s and the Bronze Horseman, then metroed to the Church of Spilled Blood.

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My favorite souvenir I have ever purchased came from St. Petersburg. I bought it at a stand near the Church of Spilled Blood. It also happens to be my favorite Christmas decoration. Shaped like a nesting doll, but sealed, it’s painted like Santa Claus, and jingles when it rolls. Today I learned that they’re meant for children and the nicest ones NOW cost upwards of $100. None could be had for less than $30. I almost convinced myself it was worth it, then remembered I already had one. Sort of. It’s in my mom’s custody, so I see it every Christmas.

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Today is my birthday! I selected a restaurant for dinner that sounded as fun as the place we went last night. Turns out, it seems to be part of a small chain of Soviet Cafes. While Kvartirka has an urban Soviet vibe, Dachnika is decorated like a Russian cottage. The sound of a rooster crowing greets you as you open the door and make your way downstairs. Frogs croak in the bathroom.

I ordered potato pancakes and Rob ordered pork with potatoes. Sadly, they had no chocolate cake, so I had birthday cheesecake.

Continuing on the theme of me posing with statues that remind me of my dogs, here I am with a lion, posed with her foot atop her ball, just as Mia likes to do.

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