Monday, April 10, 2017

How We Became A Canine Dentist's Dream

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 12, 2017] ©2017
Boy, have I had a chance to eat some words. And since they involve teeth, the phrase is apropos.
A little more than a year ago, I wrote a column about brushing dogs’ teeth which at the time I found to be an absolutely hilarious concept.  When I was growing up, every household in my family-centric neighborhood, including us, had a dog.  No one had fences and the dogs were simply let out as needed. The dogs generally went to the vet twice in their lives: once to get a rabies shot (if they hadn’t already had one at the pound where you got them), and then when they died, which was usually from being hit by the car they had been chasing at the time.
If my parents were alive today, the concept of brushing a dog’s teeth would incite both incredulity AND hilarity in them.  Which it did in me when our vet first suggested it for the now-deceased Winston. I researched doggie tooth brushes and doggie tooth pastes (you can’t use the ones for people) and even tried it once on Winston. An English bulldog, Winston was clear he had the advantage and it was never attempted again.
In the meantime this past year, we have had the full-on expensive education in canine dental health.  For reasons I hope  someone can explain to me, small breed dogs are notorious for bad teeth which not only cause the animal pain and difficulties eating, but makes their breath smell like they just ingested a barrel of rotten mackerel.
Percy, our first foster dog last year, was a Shih Tzu who had been abandoned on the streets of Bonita and rescued by a small volunteer rescue organization before being placed with us. Our vet said this dog had some of the worst teeth she’d ever seen. 
Let me emphasize that when you foster a dog, the foster agency pays all the expenses: food, medical and dental care, neutering, beds, grooming, toys etc. The foster parents just have to provide love and care while a forever home is found. Or in the case of our second foster, Lilly, until the foster parents fall madly in love with the dog and keep it.
The many volunteer animal welfare organizations locally are constantly scrambling for funds to treat the animals they rescue so as a donation to ours, we said we would pay all Percy’s expenses including dental, neutering, grooming, food, etc. Any money they didn’t have to spend on this dog was money they could spend on another one. My husband and I agreed afterwards that it was probably the most gratifying money we’ve ever spent.  Usually when you donate money to a charitable cause you don’t get to see the results, but after five weeks and just under $1,000, Percy was totally rehabbed. He went to a fabulous home and has given a 75-year-old widow reason to get up in the morning.
At the time, we thought that $500 for Percy’s teeth was a lot of money. We were such virgins. A neighbor with three small breed dogs has spent more than $4,000 on the teeth of EACH of them.  “You could get a whole lot of new dogs for that,” opined my husband Olof.
Well, yeah, but the problem is, as we know too well, you get really attached to the old ones.
The first thing we noticed about our second foster dog, Lily, was that her breath was even worse than Percy’s, if that was even possible:  a 9 on the “ickter” scale. Lily’s previous owner had relinquished her to the County shelter saying she couldn’t afford the dog’s dental care. The County’s medical in-take report was all of four words: “Nice dog. Terrible teeth.” 
Fortunately, the same volunteer organization who rescued Percy rescued Lily. They spent $500 to pull the worst of Lily’s teeth but it was clear that this was only going to be the start.
As happy as we had been to sink $1,000 into Percy, a dog we didn’t even own, this was not something we could do every month. But Lily rapidly worked her way into our hearts and before we knew it, we’d adopted her and sunk another $1,100 into her teeth beyond what the rescue agency had invested. (We consider her dental care our new 401k.)  But what a difference in her breath which previously would have scorched your eyebrows.  And all of a sudden she was eating voraciously.
But now, of course, it was up to us to maintain this brand new mouth into which we now have such an investment. So just as we became pros at cleaning Winston’s ever-infected ears, we’re now absolutely whizzes at brushing Lily’s teeth. And every time I do it, I look heavenward toward my parents and say, “I know. I know.”

Lily shows off her freshly-rehabbed teeth
Front-tooth-challenged granddaughter and dentally-enhanced dog

Monday, April 3, 2017

How A Pilot Makes Pizza

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 5, 2017] ©2017
When my engineer husband announced he wanted to make homemade pizza, I recognized a thinly disguised excuse to use the fancy stand mixer that he bought to make cookies for my book event two years ago. This is a man who has never met a gadget he didn’t like. He was dying to use the dough paddle feature.
Olof’s baking style is an engineering marvel. When he decided to make five types of Christmas cookies using the old family recipes he employed “a simple application of undergraduate quantitative analysis” to determine the yield, and FIVE spreadsheets (projected output per recipe, master ingredient list, etc. etc.) 
We’re pretty used to engineering terms around our house (the kids remember being declared “left turn-capable” in their driving lessons with Olof). But Olof is also a former Air Force pilot so the pilot terms have become part of the family parlance as well. While I would spell out words over the phone like “S as in Sam, E as in elephant”, Olof is strictly NATO Phonetic Alphabet: alphas, bravos, deltas, foxtrots, tangos, whiskeys, and zulus.
Any project designed by Olof will also have “Ops checks,” traditionally confirming the correct proper operational parameters for aircraft oil pressure, temperature, etc. As it turns out, they can also be applied to pizza dough.
In December, we had acquired a pizza stone (on which you cook a pizza in your oven, to make the crust more crisp) and a pizza peel – a special shovel to insert the pizza onto the stone. But we had used frozen supermarket pizza dough and pizza sauce from a jar. The store-bought dough kept shrinking when we tried to roll it out. An Internet search advised us to let the glutens “rest.” We were hoping that the glutens in our homemade pizza dough would have already had a good night’s sleep and the rolled out dough would stay rolled out which I’m happy to report that it did. 
In true Olof fashion, the pizza dough effort entailed a three-page post-project documentation entitled “Pizza Dough Apportionment” with subheadings including “Statement of the Problem,” “Factors Bearing on the Problem,” a “Solution” section full of mathematical equations, and, of course, assorted Ops Checks. 
It was clear that our dough recipe was going to make more dough than we needed for one pizza. Some of us might just wing it, but not Olof.
Factors Bearing on the Problem included:
(i) We cook our pizza on a round stone, 16” in diameter.  The crust cannot exceed this size.
(ii) Inga likes her crust thin and crispy.  She’s a little vague about how thin, so I estimate a target thickness (Tc)= 1/8” = .125”

The Final Problem Statement pondered:  How to separate an as yet undetermined volume of pizza dough into equal portions any one of which could be rolled out to a crust 1/8” thick and 15” in diameter, and the others conveniently frozen.
Olof determined that the easiest way to freeze the unused dough was to cut it into rounds (“like fat pancakes”), separate the rounds with parchment paper and place them in a freezer bag.  We had freezer bags with a mouth about 7” in diameter.  He decided that rounds 6” in diameter could be stacked, separated by parchment paper, and sealed in the bag.  A 6” dough cutter from Sur La Table was procured to make the rounds. A little mathematical scribbling later, he determined that the initial dough ball should be rolled out to ¾ inch thickness before cutting out rounds.
So how exactly did you determine that, I inquired innocently. Easy, he said, happy to write it out for me:
The problem that remained was how thick a 6” round should be so that it could be rolled out to a crust exactly 15” in diameter and 1/8” high.  Since the crust is fabricated from the round, it follows that the volume of the crust Vc and the volume of the round Vr are equal (i.e. Vc = Vr ).  Both the round and crust are cylinders.  The formula for the volume of a cylinder is:
Where D is the diameter of the cylinder and T is its height (or thickness in this case).  Since the two volumes are equal:
This equation can be simplified to
Substituting 1/8” for Tc, 15” for Dc, and 6” for Dr , gives an estimated thickness for each round of ¾”.
Um, OK.  A footnote noted the problematic nature of the V measurement since the crust was still rising. I was happy to note that given what we were making, there were some pi’s in these calculations.
In Experimental Result, Olof described manufacture of the dough, rolling it to the predetermined 3/4” thickness, and cutting five equal 6” rounds. (Scraps, he documented, were discarded.)
And now for the Ops Checks:
Ops Check 1: Will the four extra rounds fit in a 7” diameter freezer bag? After separating them with parchment paper sheets, they slid snuggly into the bag and are now in sub-zero hibernation.
Ops Check 2: Will the fifth round roll out to a 15” pizza, 1/8” thick?  Using a well-flowered rolling pin I rolled one round out on the 15” parchment paper template.  It fit perfectly, reaching the 15” edge just as the dough’s thickness reached 1/8”.
Ops Check 3: Does the homemade dough make good crust?  Conclusion: very tasty, but crispier if you remember to start pre-heating the oven and stone at the beginning of the process.
Ops Check 4:  Can the frozen rounds be thawed and rolled into future crusts? Check scheduled for future accomplishment.
Postscript: Ops Check 4 was a Fail. During the freezing process, the dough rounds retained sufficient fluidity that the weight of the stack caused the lower rounds to extrude beyond the intervening parchment paper separators and adhere to each other. Also: in the future, consider placing a thin layer of edible lubricant between the separators and the dough rounds.
Any excuse to use his fancy stand mixer
Olof cuts out 6 inch dough rounds
The dough rolls out to exactly 15 inches in diameter x 1/8 inch thick
The happy chef