Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Recipe #1: Dogs' Breakfast

"...said Dingo-Yellow-Dog-Dingo,"... I've made him different from all other animals; but what may I have for my tea?" -- The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo, Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling.

What indeed, O Yellow Dog?

Typically Yellow Dog, and his friend Big Black, had biscuits for tea, and elevenses, and midnight snacks, crunched up with doggy gusto. Breakfast was kibble with gravy, dinner was kibble with gravy and chunks. Delicious. But then there were those days when the big green bag yielded nothing but a handful of corn nuts and a quarter cup of greasy crumbs, the days when our New York economy, or the ferocity of the winter storm, or the laziness of a Sunday morning meant an improvised meal.

Were I to put the Dogs' Breakfast on the menu, the text would read something like, "Creamy Pecorino polenta with whole roasted tomatoes and two eggs, sunny side up." Maybe add a hunk of the brilliant house bacon my Sous Chef cured last week...maybe bring in a hearty rye bread to serve, toasted, on the side, with a knuckle of imported butter. That my father uses the term to describe a bad hand of cards is a good reason why I shouldn't menu the item; the heart quails at the thought of a customer reading the menu and wondering whether the Chef was offering roadkill, or something even worse. Dogs aren't picky.

The version that Yellow Dog wagged and waited for was more of a stirred affair, based on a recipe I learned as a child when conditions in our western Colorado mountain home were similar to those experienced 23 years later in NYC: the big green bag under the counter was almost empty and a store run wasn't in the cards until the next trip into Town, and if the snow didn't stop falling, well, at least we had a nice stack of firewood, and the dogs had a big jar of cornmeal and a shaker can of Kraft Parmesan. The many-legged throng in the kitchen when my mother made this for the dogs' breakfast was the canine equivalent of the excitement felt by Seattle foodies when a celebrity chef opens a new house in their neighborhood.

Here's one for the recipe box:

8 c cornmeal
16 c water
4 eggs
ripped up bread heels of whatever loaf is left
a nub of cheese
crumbs from the bottom of the dog food bag
ketchup or jarred spaghetti sauce

In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Stir in the cornmeal. Ask the dogs to leave the kitchen. When the cornmeal has absorbed most of the water, step over a dog, stir in the eggs, the bread and the cheese. Tell the dogs to leave the kitchen. Divide the mixture between two medium sized stainless steel bowls and chill. Leave the dogs in the kitchen staring at the refrigerator door. Chill, stirring at least once every seven minutes, until the dogs' excitement becomes greater than your worry that the mixture will burn the roofs of their mouths. Sprinkle the crumbs over the top of the dish for crunch, garnish with a generous dollop of ketchup or sauce. Push through dancing dogs with bowls and place on floor. Serves two.

Both of them loved these meals, possibly perceiving these occasions as something special, possibly wondering which had been the Good Dog to deserve such a treat. I like to think so.
After Big Black died the time I spent with Yellow was a little bit blurred, distracted as I was by the dwindling size of my pack. When I found out on Wednesday that Yellow Dog was gone I thought about his speed, his joy at flight, whether he was tearing through the North Woods of Central Park or running with Black and Bear along the paths of Magnuson Park, or eating his food too quickly. I remembered his grin and his furrowed brow, and I wonder whether he and Black are enjoying a proper Dog's Breakfast now, rolling delightedly in offal that must really stink up Dog Heaven. I hope they have a bath and a biscuit before I see them again.

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