Thursday, November 13, 2008

For the Dogs

It's pumpkin pie season, and my dog couldn't be happier.

I am the kind of food geek that roasts her own pumpkins to make pie. Okay, look, I KNOW that it tastes the same if you buy it in the can. You can all stop telling me that. If I don't have time and I need to make a pie, I'll buy the damn cans, alright? But I LIKE roasting the pumpkins. It feeds my pioneer-lady fantasies, okay? It's me, the prairie and a few potatoes I dug up by hand from the freezing ground, right before the blizzard hit. I've just got to make it till Pa comes back with provisions. So leave me and my roasted pumpkins alone.

Anyway, my dog and I share this mindset, so when I roast pumpkins, she pretends she doesn't have a 40-lb bag of IAMs Mini Chunks and ten pounds of meaty marrow bones in the freezer, the likes of which Ma and Pa Ingalls would have served for Christmas dinner. No, it's just her, the back alley and a few strips of roasted pumpkin skins. Lucky she's so scrappy or the Tramp would never go for her.

Okay, whatever about my dog's and my pioneer fantasies.

The truth is, my dog actually likes pumpkin and squash skins. I learned this from my mom, who feed them to her dogs, and was the first person to talk me back into feeding dogs table scraps.

Back in the 70's and 80's we all got too fancy to feed our dogs scraps. It made them beg while you were eating. It made them fat. So they said.

I bought all this hook line and sinker, and when I got my first dog I never fed him scraps. He was a deaf pit bull who was really headstrong, so it made sense on a lot of levels to be strict with him in every way possible

(I used to let him chew on apple cores, until the day I was driving through downtown Philly with him in the passenger seat: I was halfway through an apple when he climbed on to my lap, trying to get at it. I had my arm extended out the window, skidding through traffic, with an 80-lb pit bull on my lap, sticking his head out the window to get the apple, before I realized that he couldn't even have apple cores.)

But my sweet girl Cleo, who is only part pit bull, is a little more malleable. (Look how gently she takes the pumpkin skins! She is always like that about treats.) I give her scraps. She doesn't beg; if she does, I make her leave the kitchen and lie down on her bed. It makes sense to give dogs table scraps. This is what dogs have eaten for thousands of years. It is why we have dogs, because they can survive on our table scraps.

Plus, what is all that crap in dog food? Thousands of unpronounceable ingredients and by-products, that's what. Are they healthier for all this nutritionally formulated food? I don't know. The fish guy at Fairway told me his dog lived to be 17, eating nothing but table scraps. That's spectacularly old, for a dog.

It makes sense to me to give dogs wholesome healthy food, not packaged processed food. It makes sense not to throw away scraps and then go buy a packaged food. It's wasteful not to give dogs your scraps, and it's probably healthier.

Cleo still gets dog food. But as often as possible I give her scraps. She gets the remains of soup stocks, and the livers and necks (uh, and feet) of the chickens that are about to be roasted. And she gets pumpkins skins. Look how cute she is!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Magic Garlic Soup

I'm not feeling so good. I have the first bad cold of the season.

Sore throat, big head, runny nose, swollen sinuses. Ehhhhh.

I got through a wigwam-building field trip and a double playdate, but when it was time for dinner I wanted some relief. There would be no fish tacos (the original plan), no spaghetti, no macaroni and cheese. I needed a spicy salty broth, the kind you can't get in restaurant unless you go into Chinatown, which I'm not doing on a sick night like this.

I was lucky on many counts:

1- I had chicken stock in the fridge.

2 - I planted lemongrass in my backyard last spring, which is still going strong.

3 - I had rice noodles and fish sauce on hand, permanent dry goods which should always be in the cabinet for nights like this.

4 - Limes could be had from up at the bodega around the corner.

5 - Finally -- and this is where I hit pay dirt -- I just spent a weekend with a family in which the mom is from Thailand. After a dinner party, we came back to our rented cabin, and she made a midnight soup. It was her homemade broth, noodles, cilantro and the magic ingredient: crunchy garlic. It was like discovering salt. I cannot believe this ingredient. Its MAKES the soup.

She chops up lots of garlic and sautees it in oil and salt until it is golden brown: sticky, crunchy, salty deliciousness. She likes it so much she puts it on everything, so she makes giant batches and always has a jar on hand. This is an incredibly wise thing to do. I thought I was doing it tonight, but we ended up using it all in one shot.

This soup is so good, after two huge bowls, I still can't stop thinking about it. Sorry the measurements aren't exact, but if you are drunk or hungover or sick, you won't care about measurements anyway. Just do it to taste. It's simpler than it might seem.

Its most basic incarnation would be broth with fish sauce, sugar and limes, then noodles, then crunchy garlic.

And then why not add limes and cilantro and hot sauce?

Or spinach or fish? Or whatever?

Drunk, Hungover, or Just Plain Sick Soup

a few cups of chicken stock
3 or so tablespoons fish sauce
generous pinch of raw sugar
Stalk of lemon grass

3 scallions, sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, or spinach, or whatever you have on hand (optional)

Thin rice noodles

4 or more cloves of garlic, minced and sauteed slowly in a few tablespoons of oil and a generous pinch of salt

Hot chili sauce such as Sriracha
Cilantro, chopped

1. Heat the broth with the lemon grass, fish sauce and sugar.

2. Add the sliced scallions and fennel or spinach or whatever else you want to put in.

3. Add the rice noodles.

4. Divide into serving bowls. Add crunchy salty fried garlic. Squeeze limes, and add chili sauce and cilantro. Feel better. I did.