Monday, August 31, 2009

Shelter Trek 2009

Just a reminder that the Oshkosh Area Humane Society's annual Shelter Trek event is quickly approaching. The pre-registration date is September 9th, so if you'd like to avoid waiting in line I would encourage you to stop by the shelter to take care of your registration early. The actual event will be held on September 12th at Menomonee Park in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Why should you attend Shelter Trek?

It will be a wonderful chance to spend meaningful time with your dog. There will be a costume contest (this year the theme is "Shelter Trek Goes Hollywood"), a tail wag contest, best bark contest, best trick contest, a pet parade, and of course, there will be a dog walk.

Other Dog-Related Activities:

Lure Coursing: Lure coursing is a humane sport where dogs can chase an artificial lure around a set course. The lure is usually a plastic bag on a light line being pulled by a pulley system. This will be provided courtesy of Green Acres Boxer Rescue.

Radar Run: Have you ever wondered how fast your dog can run? The Oshkosh Police Department will be hosting a "clock your dog" event so you can find out!

Dive for a Duck: Your dog will win a prize every time!

Agility: Watch a demo, or give it a try! Low jumps and a tunnel will be available for beginners.

Registration costs $25 which includes the cost of a Shelter Trek t-shirt, free breakfast bars, water and popcorn, a free photo of you and your pet and eligibility to participate in the pet contests. Family members and friends are welcome to come and walk with a registered walker. However, your registration fee would be waived if you can raise $150 in pledges. For every $20 in pledges collected, registered walkers will receive a raffle ticket to enter to win special prizes. A pledge form can be found here.

Is your dog eligible? To be able to bring your dog, they must be current on vaccinations, licensed, leashed and under control. Please do not bring a female dog in heat. Owners must clean up after their pets, but bags will be provided.

Do you have a cat or other pet, or are you unable to bring your dog? You can still attend! There will be a huge variety of vendors selling pet-related merchandise, and it will be a blast to see the dogs dressed up in their costumes. I will be selling my catnip toys, and I hope to see some of you there!

This is the largest fund raiser of the year for OAHS. Please consider walking, collecting pledges, or stopping by to enjoy the festivities!

Cooking with Cari, volume 2: General Tso's Tofu

Here's another dish I reminisce about from my omnivorous past: General Tso's Chicken. As a kid I used to load up an entire plate with General Tso's at Chinese Buffets. While the thought of eating that much fried Chinese food is thoroughly revolting to me now, I miss the texture of the soft, fried breading covering the chicken, and the sticky, delicious sauce in which it was always smothered.

General Tso's Tofu:

What you'll need:

1 container of tofu (I used extra firm, I would recommend at least getting firm)
Enough egg substitute to replace 1 egg (I used EnerG Egg Replacer)
Around 3/4 cup cornstarch
Your favorite oil for frying (I used extra virgin olive oil, but you can use another type of vegetable oil)
3-4 chopped green onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2/3 cup veggie stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons sugar
red pepper to taste (I used dried crushed red pepper because that's what I had around the house, but ideally you would use a fresh red pepper and chop up as many small chunks/strips as you'd like)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
steamed broccoli, and any other steamed veggie you'd like to include. I also used green beans from my garden, which turned out nice).
Your rice of choice.

What you do:

Drain the water out of your tofu and cut it into 1 inch squares. Follow the directions on your egg replacer, but add 3 additional tablespoons of water. Coat all the tofu squares liberally in the egg replacer. When they've all been dipped, sprinkle your 3/4 cup of cornstarch over the wet tofu. Try to get a good layer if you're like me and used to enjoy the battery-coating on traditional General Tso's.

Heat your oil in a pan. Fry up your tofu until it looks golden brown. While you're waiting for the tofu to fry, you can start steaming your vegetables and getting some rice cooking. When your tofu is done you can set it aside and cover it to keep it warm. Drain the oil.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a pan. Add your green onions, garlic and ginger, and cook for about 2 minutes. Be very careful not to burn the garlic. Then add veggie stock, soy sauce, sugar, red pepper, and vinegar. Mix 2 tablespoons water with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and pour that into the mixture. This is what's going to give your sauce the thickness. Mix your sauce very well and turn off the heat. Add your fried tofu and steamed vegetables, and serve over your favorite kind of rice.

Good luck! This was pleasantly simple to make. It goes quicker with two people in the kitchen. When I made this my husband fried up the tofu and stirred the sauce and rice while I prepared the tofu and did all the chopping, steaming, measuring and mixing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cooking with Cari, volume 1: Vegan Manicotti

About a month ago Adam and I took the plunge and decided to stop eating dairy. The transition has been much easier than I had anticipated. As we were both vegetarian before making this decision, we haven't been craving meat, but there are some dishes I still reminisce about. A few wise vegan friends have given me the following advice: focus on recipes that are vegan without having to make modifications, because fake cheeses and substitutes often can't recreate what you loved about an old favorite.

Well, this is a recipe that flies in the face of that advice. Vegan Manicotti!

This recipe is so darn good the manicotti was half eaten by the time I could take this photograph.

What you're going to need:
1 package of manicotti noodles
2 packages of tofu (I used soft tofu)
Dried basil (you can use fresh if you're fancy. The basil grown in our garden is the sole property of Bernie, our rabbit).
Lemon Juice, 1 tbsp
2 cloves garlic
1 package of mozzarella flavored soy cheese shreds (optional)
1 cup of chopped spinach (optional)
1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce

Really, that's it. Pretty short list of ingredients, eh?


1. Heat a big pot of water on the stove to a boil, add noodles. As you're making the filling, periodically check the noodles to make sure they're not sticking on the bottom. They don't have to be completely soft when you drain them because they'll cook more in the oven.
2. While you're waiting for the water to boil and your noodles to cook, you can work on the filling. Drain both containers of tofu over the sink. ***Top Secret Tip*** Put both slabs of tofu on a plate, and put another plate on top. Use sturdy plates so they don't break! Gently press on the top plate to squeeze the excess water from the tofu. Drain and repeat. Before I toss these into a large bowl, I like to hold them over the sink, one at a time, and squeeze them with my hands one last time to get a little more water out. Don't obsess over getting all the water out, because you need some of the water for the filling, but you don't want it to be too watery, either.
3. Chop up your two peeled cloves of garlic as fine as you can. Dump those in the big bowl with the tofu.
4. Add about 3-5 tablespoons, give or take, of dried basil to the bowl.
5. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to your bowl.
6. If you decided to use the chopped spinach, add that now.
7. The fun part! Mix all this stuff together with your hands. Don't even try to keep your hands clean and use a spoon.
8. By this time I bet you've already drained your noodles because it takes awhile to make the filling. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees now.
9. Pour a nice bed of pasta sauce on the bottom of a glass pyrex baking dish. I used the big size.
10. Stuff each noodle with your filling and place it in the pan. It's going to be a snug fit if you boiled the whole box of pasta, which you should always do because these make awesome leftovers.
11. When all the manicotti noodles are in the pan, cover them with pasta sauce. Really cover them up nice so they're moist.
12. Put these bad boys in the oven for about 30 minutes.
13. Take the manicotti out and put your shredded mozzarella flavored soy shreds on top. Put the pan back in the oven for about another 3-5 minutes or until it looks melty on top.
14. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Latest Project: Zombie Walk 2009

A group of zombie enthusiasts from the locally run Oshkosh Horror website are orchestrating a zombie walk in my town. On the first saturday of each month, the downtown shops host what is called Gallery Walk. Cooperating stores are transformed into art galleries that display the work of local artists. On September 5, 2009, a more unconventional piece will be on display.

That evening, a horde will be assembled, painted, splashed with corn syrup and food coloring, and sent rambling down Main Street among those attending gallery walk. It should be a sight to behold.

There is also going to be an after-party to benefit Time Cinema, which is in much need of rejuvenation. At this after-party there will be zombie-related prizes donated by area businesses. This is where I come in. Inspired by Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide, I will be creating a zombie apocalypse survival kit - for your cat.

Here is the first of my four catnip toys that will be given away as a prize for one of the many contests that will be held at the after-party. A kitty-sized Molotov Cocktail.

I can't wait to work on the rest.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fancy Schmancy Photo Shoot!

I have to admit, as a lover of lomography and the Holga, studio photography doesn't come naturally to me. My style is more shoot from the hip than carefully planning precise shots. Law of reciprocity? What's that? There are two shutter speeds on a Holga: B, and clickety clack. The f stop function is laughable. So, needless to say, the most difficult part of opening an Etsy shop has been taking high quality photos. I want the people who visit my shop to feel like they are holding the item in their hand, not confused about what they're even looking at.

I needed help, and luckily my brother-in-law Ian is a fantastic photographer. He really knows his stuff, and he has a lot of experience doing the types of studio-quality shots my shop needed as he carefully catalogs his ornament collection. He also takes beautiful photos when my husband and I travel with him.

Wow, did I learn a thing or two (or three, or four). I learned that it's handy to put the camera in full manual mode to have full control over the shutter during these types of shots, that f8 is "the aperture setting of the gods", that it helps to take a sample shot of something white and to adjust the camera's white balance according, and that it's important to adjust the light source placement to control shadows cast on your subject.

I also learned that my new favorite thing is to look at these behind the scenes shots from our photo shoot. There is something exciting about seeing the scene behind the Etsy shop photo. It hints at the process behind it all.

There are stories behind these shots. My Etsy visitors don't know that I used a broken pan handle to prop up this little panda catnip toy for his very first photo. They don't see the camera, the tripod, the lights.

Now every time I look at a photo on Etsy I will wonder...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Walk Through My Garden

Every year I like to walk through my garden and photograph the plants that managed to survive. In the spring I organize my seeds, start them indoors, transplant them and care for them lovingly through the first weeks of summer, but I gradually lose my zeal and some of the plants (the most fragile ones) can suffer for it.

Here we have some potted herbs for my rabbits. It's basically their snack garden. I come out in the backyard every few days and snip a few choice herb sprigs for them to snack on. Bernie loves basil, and all three of the rabbits love parsley. This was actually the first year I was able to grow and harvest a sustainable amount of parsley.

This is a Mexican Sunflower growing in a pot on my patio. These things are as tough as nails; I cannot believe I didn't kill them. I am definitely going to grow them again next year.

I also grew a few pots of random wildflower mixes, which grew very well. I honestly can't identify any of the flowers except for the Bachelor's Buttons that are growing in one of the pots. They brought in a nice amount of bees and butterflies, which was nice because these pots are surrounding the vegetable garden.

Adam's favorite: red peppers. They're not red yet, but they're getting pretty large! Most of my pepper plants only have one pepper each, but this poor little guy is struggling to support three big peppers.

Before this year I had never grown green beans. I can't believe how easy they are to grow! I didn't start them indoors. I just shoveled a little trench, tossed in some seeds and covered them up. What a surprise a couple weeks ago when I looked under a bean bush and found a modest harvest waiting for me!

I am growing several pumpkin plants. These two plants are Blue Moon pumpkins, which are a novelty, blue-colored pumpkin that supposedly are good to eat as well as carve. Right now they are taking over the backyard bench. For those of you who have actually seen my backyard, you'll probably assume this doesn't bother me too much.

A bee loading up on pollen from my first open sunflower. I can't wait to dry the seeds!

Here is a photo Adam took of me watering the garden. I love the above ground system our landlords built when they lived here. The fencing I installed this year did a much better job of keeping the rabbits out. Now the only thing I'll have to worry about is the squirrels harvesting my peppers for me like they did last year!

Thanks for reading! I had fun putting the photos together. I hope everyone has good luck with their gardens this year. May you all have abundant harvests.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

First Showcase and new packaging!

I've been somewhat skeptical of the benefits of showcasing my items on Etsy, but yesterday I decided to try it and booked a slot for today. I have to admit, my heart skips a beat when I see my little catnip toy at the top of the Pets section.

I did notice that one new person had marked me as a favorite this morning. I also updated my shipping options to indicate that I now ship internationally, so I'm hoping some of my fellow Etsians living overseas who, according to Google Analytics, have been visiting my shop can make a purchase.

Wish me luck!

I also just got my new stickers and business cards in the mail, so here are some pictures of what they toys will look like in their packaging:

Here is a closeup of the label. The paper is from a recycled comic book. I plan to only use recycled materials for the toppers. I drew the image that appears on the sticker and I hand wrote the text.

Here is a close up of the toy in the bag. I am including a business card with each toy.

I am also including a Heart Felt Wool button witch each toy. The image is an embroidered heart, and the URL for my Etsy shop is printed around the lip. You can also see the back of my business card. I got them from so each card has a full color photo of one of my creations on the back.

Who knows. Maybe now that I have packaging for the toys, perhaps I could take some to local shops downtown and see if I could pique interest and consign my toys.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Kitty City, Sugar Gliders, and the Blue Ribbon!

Yesterday I attended The Valley Pet Expo as a volunteer for the humane society; I also sold some of my catnip toys at the OAHS table. Here are some highlights:

This expo is a new event, and one of the more innovative features was the "Kitty City" area of the venue, where attendees could meet adoptable animals and submit applications if they were interested. OAHS brought several kittens, and by the end of the day we had three applications. I would consider that a success.

Here is a close up of one of the furry friends available for adoption.

Here is a view of the t-shirt selection available at the OAHS table. My favorite shirt said "Spay and Neuter, because his isn't the only tail he's chasin'." You can also see the Fromm tables in the background. They were one of the major sponsors of the event. It was great to have them there (and I'm sure people enjoyed the free samples and the amazing coupons they handed out if you made a purchase).

I attended a presentation about exotics. The woman who gave the presentation owns 35 chinchillas and 2 hedgehogs, so she brought animals from her personal collection. During this part of the presentation she gave the history of the presence of chinchillas in the United States, and she explained that they were brought here for their fur. This particular chinchilla is rare because of the color of its fur.

Here is another chinchilla, who was my favorite because of his alert facial expressions and the adorable freckles on his ears. He's pretty photogenic here, isn't he?

Here is another photo of my favorite chinchilla taking a dust bath. I believe you could successfully photoshop this to make the chinchilla look like he was doing a Snoop Dogg impression.

I loved this hedgehog! I was somewhat bummed out. I asked if he was camera shy to make sure I could take a picture respectfully, but he still flinched when he saw my flash.

This was my favorite part of the presentation because of the absurdity of the coincidence. I had asked a question about sugar gliders at the end of the presentation, and when the presenter paused a woman in the audience said, "I've got some sugar gliders right here if you want to see some!" She then proceeded to pull two sugar gliders out of her front sweatshirt pocket. I was at a loss for words, to say the least.

Here is my side of the merchandise table. Our booth won a blue ribbon for overall best presentation. The judges appreciated our willingness to greet attendees passing by, the selection of our merchandise and the way the booth was decorated.

Our famous wheel of prizes! I helped many a person spin the wheel for a prize; it was just too bad that most of the prizes were dog related. It was a bit awkward when a cat person would spin the wheel and win a poop bag dispenser or a wash mitt, but we were flexible and let them pick whichever prize they wanted if that was the case.

Even though the air conditioner wasn't working and the traffic was somewhat slow at times, I had a great time at the expo and I think I'll go again next year if OAHS will still invite me to volunteer and sell the catnip toys.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chicago Comic-Con Sketches

Whew! I'm still recovering from the convention. We left Friday afternoon and returned late Sunday evening.

My favorite part of the trip was meeting artist Katie Cook. Adam purchased two of Katie's famous mini watercolors. One of Sauron, one of Gandalf.

Katie also did a custom painting of our rabbit, Maisy. We told her that Maisy was a chubby little brown, lop-eared rabbit with attitude that loves carrots. This is what she came up with:

I'm also extremely pleased with the custom sketch that Matt Kapolczynksi did of Bernie:

I would love to bring my catnip toys to one of these conventions, but I can't imagine it would be easy to make back the $300 weekend table fee. Maybe I could talk another Etsian into sharing a table and splitting the table fee next year...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bikers and Barkers - Newest Catnip Toy Design

Available for sale now at my Etsy Shop. This is my most complicated design to date, featuring two felt wings and a curly tail. It was designed specifically for the Bikers and Barkers poker run event that will benefit the Oshkosh Area Humane Society and will be sold at the event, but I feel they are so cute that not only "hog loving" Harley owners will like them. Bikers and Barkers will be held August 22, 2009. Prizes will be given for the best poker hands. Registration will be held at the Oshkosh Area Humane Society beginning at 10 a.m. All proceeds benefit the homeless animals at the shelter.