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Living: Food, Health, Lifestyle, Garden, Pets

The Free Press WV

►  Reduce the risk of SIDS

Did you know that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), defined as the sudden and unexplained death of an infant, is the leading cause of death in infants between 1 month and 1 year, including some in Solano County?

Parents can reduce the risk of SIDS by creating a healthy environment for their babies and following safe-sleep guidelines.

What we know about SIDS

The cause of SIDS is not completely understood. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and National Institute of Health, the leading theories suggest that infants who die of SIDS may have an underlying vulnerability, such as a genetic pattern or brain abnormality. When these babies are exposed to other risk factors at an early stage of development, it may be enough to cause SIDS. Possible risk factors include an unsafe sleeping position, unsafe sleeping environment, exposure to secondhand smoke, infection, or other types of stress.

There is no way to predict whether an infant may die as a result of SIDS. However, here are some of the recommendations for risk reduction published by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • First and foremost, pediatricians recommend that parents and caregivers place infants on their backs to sleep. Though tempting, car seats should not be used for sleep, as young infants do not breathe as well in the sitting position. However, car seats should still be used for safe car travel.
  • A safe sleep environment can reduce the risk of SIDS. Infants should sleep on a firm mattress covered only by a fitted sheet. Cribs should also have no soft objects or accessories, including pillows, blankets, toys, and crib bumpers. To stay warm, infants can wear a “sleeper” instead of using a blanket. Additionally, parents can share a room with infants, but should avoid bed sharing altogether.
  • A healthy lifestyle can also reduce the risk of SIDS. Parents and caregivers shouldn’t smoke around a baby or allow anyone else to do so. Pregnant woman should avoid alcohol and drugs during pregnancy and after birth. Breastfeeding is highly recommended.
    Finally, regular doctor’s visits are important for the health of both mother and baby. Regular prenatal care helps make sure babies are healthy before they are born, and allows for early detection of any health problems. After they are born, infants should receive all immunizations and well-child checks.

Parents, families, and communities can do their part in reducing the risk and ensuring their infants sleep safely, grow up in healthy environments, and receive the care they need to thrive. In acknowledgement of October 2017 as national SIDS Awareness Month, the Solano County Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health (MCAH) Bureau will provide SIDS-related information, education, and resources.

►  Hooray for queso, especially when it’s draped over tacos

That Soft Cheese Tacos are an item, a Dallas specialty, had escaped me until I read about them in Lisa Fain’s upcoming cookbook, “Queso! Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip” (Penguin Random House). The lactose-intolerant and eaters of healthful weeknight meals must turn away: This is unapologetic, almost-evil, cheese-on-cheese action. (In truth, I was expecting the accompanying nutritional analysis to be worse than it is.)

Fain, author of the Homesick Texan blog and a couple of cookbooks, knows how to build a good queso and explains why these are called tacos instead of what they look like. An enchilada sauce or gravy is chile-based, in short. Otherwise, the corn tortillas rolled with straight-up Colby Jack inside and draped with a smooth blend of American cheese, milk, cornstarch, seasonings and tomato-onion-chile pepper come together pretty much like enchiladas.

You will have enough queso left over to warm up and dip into a few nights later, and for that you will be grateful.


4 to 6 servings (makes about 5 cups of queso)

Serve with a crisp salad.

MAKE AHEAD: You may have queso left over, which can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Adapted from “Queso! Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile Cheese-Dip,” by Lisa Fain (Penguin Random House, September 26, 2017).

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small onion

2 to 4 medium jalapeños (may substitute 1 poblano pepper)

2 cloves garlic

¾ cup grape tomatoes

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound yellow American cheese

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup whole milk

1 cup water

½ teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or more as needed

Twelve 6-inch corn tortillas

12 ounces shredded Colby Jack cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the oil into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Cut the onion into small dice. Stem and seed the jalapeños (to taste), then mince. Mince the garlic. Coarsely chop the tomatoes.

Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in the diced onion and jalapeños; cook for about 5 minutes or until just softened.

Meanwhile, shred or cut up the American cheese.

Stir the garlic into the saucepan and cook for 30 seconds.

Whisk together the cornstarch, milk and water in a tall liquid measuring cup, until well incorporated, then pour into the saucepan. Increase the heat to medium; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, to thicken the mixture.

Add the American cheese and reduce the heat to low; cook for about 6 minutes or until the cheese has melted, stirring a few times, then add the tomatoes, salt, cumin and cayenne pepper, stirring until well incorporated. Taste and add more salt and/or cayenne, as needed. Turn off the heat. The yield is about 5 cups.

While the queso is cooking, place the tortillas in the baking dish and turn over to coat with the oil on both sides; it’s okay if they overlap. Warm through (middle oven rack) for 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the baking dish to the stove top (off the heat).

Working with one at a time, place a now-flexible tortilla on a nearby cutting board. Add about ¼ cup of the Colby Jack cheese down the center, then roll up the tortilla and return to the baking dish, seam side down. Once they’re all done, cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for about 10 minutes.

While they are in the oven, reheat the queso over low heat, stirring a few times.

To serve, uncover the tacos and pour 2 or 3 cups of the warm queso over them. Serve right away.

Nutrition per serving (based on 6, using 3 cups queso): 530 calories, 26 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 36 g fat, 21 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 880 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

Living: Food, Health, Lifestyle, Garden, Pets

The Free Press WV

►  The best dog I have ever owned

I have always loved animals of all kinds, but mostly I adore cats and dogs. My first cat’s name was Squeaky. I don’t remember when I got her, but she was always there since I can remember. She was with us a long time, well into my teens, and she eventually passed of old age. She wasn’t the only animal that I cared for and loved over my lifetime so far. Mostly I took in kittens and raised them. If they were ill I researched how to make them better and did everything I could to make them better. If they needed to go to the veterinarian, then they I would be sure to take them. As the years went on, I was known as the “go to” girl when there were animal questions. I have often opted for a more home care approach as long as I felt comfortable with it. I do not know everything when it comes to animals, so there were plenty of trips to the vet to have things taken care of that I could not do with home care. The same way I would care for myself and my loved ones is how I cared for my pets and still do.

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I got my first puppy in 2009 when I was 22 years old. She was a black lab mix of chow-chow, Scottish terrier, and who knows what else. She was a gift to me from my husband for Valentine’s Day, and we named her Izzie. I was not working at the time, so I spent a lot of time with her playing, hanging out, and training. I researched how to train a puppy because I had never done that. Those were big trial and error type days, but we eventually found our rhythm, and she was an amazing friend to all of us.

My youngest son was two years old at the time, so Izzie was to him what my Squeaky was to me. His life always included Izzie in it. They grew up together, and she had this love and protective motherly instinct over him that I adored. As my son got older, he would start to wrestle with Izzie, and she would wrestle back. They could do this for the longest time, and they would just keep going until we told them both to stop.

However, Izzie was not perfect. She came with her faults just like any other dog. She had accidents inside, she chewed through things when she was teething, and she would also tear into things she should not have. If we discovered something such as an empty bread loaf bag then our immediate question to Izzie was “Did you do this?” with a look of sadness and immense regret coming over her face. That question would get asked of her every once in a while with the same response from her.

As a young pet owner, I wasn’t aware of the dangers of not getting your pet “fixed.” Izzie was an only dog in our household, and we didn’t see the need to have her altered. There were never any plans of breeding her, as she wasn’t purebred or anything like that. She had her lady times, and we adapted to that and took care of her during those times. My big girl was getting older though as the years passed. She did slow down some as time passed, but she was still alert and protective of us.

Late in 2016, as her cycle came, I noticed it never seem to leave her. She would still spot and what not, but I was not sure what was going on then. When she continued to decline, we took her in for a work-up with a local vet. He concluded she had an infection of her intestines and thus she was given a few medications and was sent home. As Izzie took her medications, we saw in improvement in her. It was so nice to have our girl back, but as quick as this came and went, it came again. Even with a follow-up in between and more medication being given to us for her, her improvement stopped and she declined at a faster rate. As the weekend started the week before Christmas, we knew Izzie was suffering, and we knew this could not be an intestinal infection. We packed her up in the back of our Journey and headed to S.P.E.C in Cordelia. During this difficult time, the staff there were amazing to us and to Izzie. To the doctor on duty that night, it was obvious immediately what was wrong with Izzie. She had pyometra, a serious and life-threatening infection in the uterus.

Because she was misdiagnosed and the infection was so far gone, her chances of survival were low. It was with a heavy heart my husband and I decided the best thing to do was to put Izzie down. She as such an amazing dog to us and I would like to think that she had an amazing life with us, though I had hoped we had more time with her, perhaps when the youngest went away to college in 8 or so years. We weren’t ready, but we couldn’t be selfish.

On December 17, 2016, we let our Izzie go to Heaven. With that decision, we gave her peace and ended her pain. We all cried and there are times when I still do. I keep her ashes next to our bedside and a photo of her lovingly hangs on my cubicle at work with the “Rainbow Bridge” poem underneath. There will never be another Izzie Ramirez and our hearts will forever be touched by that bearded little girl.  ~~  M. Felix Ramirez ~~

Living: Food, Health, Lifestyle, Garden, Pets

The Free Press WV

►  This Ten-Minute Tortilla Soup is filling comfort food fast

I owe the idea to well-meaning fans, who over the years would approach me to thank me for the genius of making 10-minute-meals. I never had the heart to correct them: I hosted Ten Dollar Dinners. Ten-minute meals, I always mused, would be about a thousand versions of PB&J, which sounded like hard television to pitch my producer. But the idea marinated. And then it became a challenge: what could I make in 10 minutes that wouldn’t be a PB&J (no disrespect to the sandwich-anthem of my childhood)?

While most of my recipes are weeknight-friendly — that’s simply how I cook with four kiddos to feed before the activity flurry — I decided to create recipes that were extra quick for those nights when even a half hour seems impossible to find.

Today’s recipe is one of the dinners that came from this project. Ten-Minute Tortilla Soup is filling comfort food that I feel good about serving my family. It’s simple but tasty, and my kids love it.

I’ll caveat the 10 minutes by saying that the dinner does take advantage of some prepared items, such as purchased salsa, canned black beans and leftover chicken. But these items are healthy pantry staples that you probably have on hand, and have a long shelf-life, including the chicken: freezing up chicken leftovers or rotisserie chicken for weeknight dinners is an excellent habit for weeknight cooks anyway. And, the recipe is pretty flexible. Skip the cheese and add avocado cubes, if you prefer, or if that’s what you have on hand. Use ground beef instead of chicken. Or even Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. Make it spicy or mild. However you choose, I promise you this: it will be quick.



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Servings: 4

Start to finish: 10 minutes.

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

4 corn tortillas (about 5-inch diameter), cut into quarters

1/2 cup prepared mild (or medium) red salsa

1/4 cup prepared mild (or medium) green salsa

1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice

1 cup cooked black beans, rinsed and drained if canned

1 cup shredded or cubed cooked chicken

1/4 cup plain lowfat Greek yogurt

1/4 cup shredded jack cheese

1 tablespoon pepitas (pumpkin seeds), or other seed or crushed tortilla chip

fresh cilantro for garnish, if desired

Heat the broth and tortillas in a saucepan over medium high heat to simmer. Simmer for 1-2 minutes to soften tortilla. Pour the mixture into a blender, and add the salsas and lime juice. Very carefully blend the mixture until smooth, about one minute. (Do not fill the blender more than halfway with hot liquids and do not cover the blender completely; use a kitchen towel to help.) Pour the mixture back into the pan, add the chicken and beans and reheat for another two minutes on medium high heat. Pour the soup into individual bowls, and top with the yogurt, cheese, pepitas and cilantro, and serve.


Nutrition information per serving: 241 calories; 48 calories from fat; 5 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 37 mg cholesterol; 415 mg sodium; 26 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 22 g protein.

Living: Food, Health, Lifestyle, Garden, Pets

The Free Press WV

►  At Disney World, 4 hotels in pilot program to accept pets

Four hotels at Walt Disney World Resort will allow guests to bring dogs beginning Sunday.

The hotels near Orlando, Florida, are Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Disney Port Orleans Resort-Riverside, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort and cabins at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. The Yacht Club adds $75 to daily room rates for canine guests, the other three, $50.

The pilot program is accepting reservations through October 2018. Two dogs are permitted per guest room.

A Pluto’s Welcome Kit includes a mat, bowls, pet ID tag, plastic bags, puppy pads and dog walking maps. Doggy day care and other pet services are offered nearby at Best Friends, an on-property pet care facility.

Disney says dogs staying in its hotels “must be well behaved, leashed in resort public areas and properly vaccinated.”

►  You won’t believe the thing that makes great cheese straws

The South is credited with creating the cheese straw but no one knows who, where or why exactly. There is one vague story about leftover cheese being added to biscuit dough to make a snack but I don’t buy it.

Cheese straws are closer to a crumbly savory shortbread cookie than they are to flaky biscuits. These days, the term “cheese straws” encompasses a category of savory crackers in all different shapes and some even made with puff pastry.

The recipe that I grew up with was a simple dough made in a bowl with a fork. It was rolled into a ball and mashed down flat with the same fork in a crisscross pattern like a peanut butter cookie. The ingredients were few; best-quality butter, extra-sharp cheddar, all-purpose flour and a pinch of cayenne pepper. They were served as a nibble before dinner and wrapped up with a bow as a gift at the holidays. These days there are so many commercial companies making all manner of cheese straws in every possible flavor combination that “cheese straws” have become a category of cheese crackers.

Last week, I decided to make up a batch of cheese straws to serve with cocktails before a dinner party that I was hosting. The recipe that I use is a mash up of the recipe that my mother made with a secret ingredient that I discovered in Paris many years ago.

When I was in college, I visited one of my best friends who was doing a year abroad and lived with a family in a tony neighborhood of Paris. Expecting to meet the lady of the house, I rang the bell. Instead, I met Sena, the jovial family cook who was infatuated with all things American. Sena ran the house, did all the marketing and cooking and looked after my friend. She invited me in and I couldn’t wait to taste her French food. Instead, she placed a plate of the best cheese straws that I had ever tasted in front of me with some ice tea. She was beaming. I was a little disappointed. She was obviously proud of herself, thinking she was very American chic serving cold tea and cheese straws to two Southern girls.

I took a bite to be polite. Little did I know that that bite would change my cheese straw game forever. Always the inquisitive one, I had to know why they were better than all the cheese straws that I had tasted before. I complimented Sena, and then asked, “what is your secret?”

When she told me, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Her secret was Rice Krispies cereal. When I pressed her, she admitted that she picked up her secret many years before from an exchange student from Alabama.

I loved that I had to travel all the way to Paris, to pick up a cheese straw tip from a girl from Alabama. And, to this day, I add Rice Krispies cereal to my cheese straws. Try it. I guarantee that you won’t be able to stop eating and/or making them.



The Free Press WV

Servings: 20 servings (3 per serving)

Start to finish: 2 hours, 45 minutes (Active: 15 minutes)

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated by hand

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups Rice Krispies cereal

Mix first six ingredients with a fork or clean hands until all the ingredients are well distributed. It will be a stiff dough but it will all come together eventually. Add Rice Krispies and mix until evenly distributed — you will need to use your hands at this stage.

Cover and chill for 2 hours. Roll into small balls or logs. Place on ungreased cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper, and mash down with a small fork in a crisscross pattern.

Bake at 325 F for 20-25 minutes or until golden on the edges.

Chef’s Note: The larger you make them, the longer they will take to cook. I like them slightly darker, but if you like them on the lighter side, bake for less time.

Remove from oven and let sit on cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack, and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.


Nutrition information per cheese straw: 235 calories; 156 calories from fat; 17 g fat (12 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 49 mg cholesterol; 211 mg sodium; 12 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 6 g protein.

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