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Having a Bad Day? Try Some Muffins

Leave good size chunks of peach in your batter so you can see the deliciousness.

I woke up this morning with peach muffins on my mind.

I’ve never even heard of peach muffins; I wasn’t sure they would work, though apple, banana and blueberry certainly do. But what spices go with peaches? I searched for recipes online first thing. Allrecipes.com, which isn’t where I usually turn, had exactly one peach muffin recipe. Cinnamon, it said; oh, I said, that might be good.

Why did I wake up with muffins on my mind? I never eat breakfast; the only way I can explain this peach jag is that I recently made some fresh peach cobbler, and that was great. Does the local supermarket still have South Carolina peaches? Yes, it turns out.

I suspect there’s more to my peach jag, though. My tomatoes are coming hot and heavy now, and I’m eating them at almost every meal. So this little peach obsession is part of a larger fresh fruit tear I’m on. This time of year only comes, well, once a year, and either you take advantage of it or you miss out. (The homegrown sweet corn is now gone. I had some good ears, though.) Murphy’s still has Indiana canteloupes, and I plan to save the seeds for next year’s garden.

But I didn’t have any peaches this morning so I proceeded to my regular routine of reading the newspapers, answering my mail, checking church websites and posting the Daily Office.

Today, checking church websites proved to be a mistake. Everything I saw upset me a little. On Daily Episcopalian, Dr. Derek Olsen offered part one of an essay about the Virgin Birth, which was appropriate considering that today has been the Feast of Mary’s parents Joachim and Anne. Derek’s inclined to believe that Jesus was conceived without sexual intercourse; so am I, even though we all know that what’s translated as “virgin” in English is actually “girl” or “young woman” in the original Greek. If, Derek says, one considers God to be Creator, and this does not conflict with scientific knowledge of the origins of life, an immaculate conception wouldn’t seem to be a hard trick for God.

Nearly all Episcopalians believe both in science and creationism. Our current Presiding Bishop used to be an oceanographer.

But Derek’s essay then led to a dozen mostly negative comments, including several from our ordained clergy, the net result of which is to undermine the very reasonable faith that most Christians have in the virgin birth, without (to my mind) any good reason except these half-baked half-theolgians’ own doubts, aired in public. I don’t like things like that. I left my own comment, agreeing with Derek and Fr. Bill Carroll, from my perspective having to do with prayer, which they’d all left out. My experience of prayer is that it usually or often leads to a perception of God’s near presence, which is what most Christians (for that matter, most Americans) report. Subjective claims of God’s presence don’t constitute evidence individually, but they do in the aggregate, and if God can touch us in Indiana, Haiti, South Africa, New Zealand and Brazil, then touching a young girl in Palestine way back when really isn’t much of a stretch.

Later today Episcopal Café reported about an Anglican priest in Canada who gave Communion to a dog during the Sunday service. “What say ye?” asked the priest in Wyoming who thought this was worth the attention of the faithful (she’d already weighed in doubting the Virgin Birth but claiming she could say the Creed, including the Virgin Birth, without crossing her fingers). What say I to the dog with Communion? Ridiculous, appalling, trashy, and the priest ought to be fired. There are now at least five angry rejoinders to my comment on Facebook.

So I haven’t had a great day. I get very tired of liberal clergy to whom we the People have bestowed the collar of ordination undermining our church and our faith, when there are so many others outside the Episcopal Church, from anti-Gay schismatics and wingnut fundamentalists to rabid atheists and the pope himself, doing the same thing.

Yes, I believe heaven is full of dogs and cats and animals. But I don’t think you feed them Holy Communion at any service of the church, for any reason, at any time. People have died for that bread and wine, first but not last Jesus himself, and I will not have it fed to dogs.

So some muffins would be really good right now, especially with some ice cream. I bought my peaches, but I also saw some bananas marked way down for quick sale, and bananas with spots are perfect for muffins. They’re in the oven now, while the peaches are in a brown paper bag to ripen a bit.

And for the rest of the week I’m on a muffin jag. If my dog Luke wants a taste, he can have it and no one will be hurt.

But God spare us these scandalous priests. Their questions aren’t bad but their answers can be awful.++

I don't think banana muffins need brown sugar on the top, but you can try it if you want.

Cooking Ups & Downs: Always Something to Learn

Mr. Beard was right; risk a little pink in your chicken breasts.

A couple of days ago I went to the grocery store to buy some chicken breasts; it’s hot, it’s summertime, so fire up the grill, I thought. I grabbed some locally grown sweet corn while I was at it.

I’ve since made two meals from my purchase, and even though the ingredients were the same, the outcomes were completely different.

Cooking is both fascinating and maddening at times. Change one variable and you change everything. Maybe the result is fantastic and you feel so proud of yourself; maybe the result is disappointing and you end up doubting yourself.

Recipes are designed to take the guesswork out of cooking. But they can only do that up to a point; a great meal takes careful observation and a certain amount of lucky guessing, which they never mention on the Food Network.

The local supermarket is small by American standards; it carries a good variety for such a tiny village (pop. 1750), but there are usually only half a dozen packages of chicken breasts to choose from. (For my current purpose I wanted bone-in, skin on; there was another row of boneless/skinless.) They were only $1.99 a pound, but all three packages were similar; they were the biggest chicken breasts I’ve ever seen. They weren’t just Playmates of the Month, they were Jayne Mansfields.

I spent six bucks and got three pieces of meat; split breasts, a pound apiece.

First variable: size. Obviously it takes longer to cook Jayne Mansfield than, say, Janis Ian. But how much longer?

Second variable: cooking method. I used a charcoal grill two nights ago with excellent results. Last night I roasted a piece of chicken in the oven; not as good.

Third variable: cooking tips from a trusted source, in this case James Beard, whose book American Cookery I consult fairly often. He wrote about chicken breasts, “Either you run the risk of putting up with a little pink, or you’ll end up with an overcooked, tasteless bird that makes you wish you’d never even bothered.” In other words it’s a fine line, so err on the safe side. If the meat ends up underdone you can always cook it a little longer, but you can’t subtract doneness once you cross the line. So recently I changed my grilling time, from 40 minutes on the bone to 30. The results are much better, even though I sometimes have to finish it off in the microwave.

I have a super-easy method of seasoning grilled breasts: marinate in lemon juice and Worcestershire. You don’t even have to measure, just dump some in a bowl or bag. The flavor’s outstanding, especially if it’s not overcooked.

However, when you grill over an open fire, you’re going to have flareups as the fat renders off. You can control this by trimming excess fat before you start, regulating the distance between the food and the firebox and by lowering the grill lid so the fire gets less oxygen. You don’t want the chicken to be black on the outside and raw on the inside.

I like grilling a lot in the summertime because it’s only a seasonal skill in this northern climate. I need frequent practice to get good consistent results. Two nights ago I turned out some nearly perfect chicken, juicy and tasty. I used a lot of charcoal, had a hot fire going and was a bit worried for awhile, because I wasn’t seeing the flareups I expected. But all turned out well.

Last night I decided to make some sage dressing, spread that on the bottom of a baking dish, throw a breast on top and stick it in the oven. For the first time ever I decided to put the stuffing together without measuring; I make a really good dressing, but with only one breast I didn’t need much of it for a side dish, so I just threw ingredients together. I figured that the fat coming off the chicken would moisten the dressing underneath and it would all turn out fine.

Wrong. Jayne Mansfield didn’t have a lot of fat. That was why I didn’t see big flames the night before, but I didn’t know enough to compensate. Where the roasted chicken covered the bread, sage, celery and onions, the dressing was great; but it didn’t cover all of it, so some of my dressing ended up being toast.

The other weird thing was that the breast didn’t brown very well; after 45 minutes it still wasn’t very dark, so I cooked it for 15 more – enough time to dry it out somewhat. The color was good but the meat was less than ideal.

It takes experience, frequent repetition, to notice all the possible variables that can make or break your dish. Whoever heard of a bone-in chicken breast without much fat? Where did Murphy’s get those silicone implants, anyway?

I’ve bought other breasts there that were much smaller, as well as with a higher fat content. At various times I’ve had big grill flareups and overcooked meat, the worst possible outcome. I’ve never had breasts like these.

Every piece of meat is different, and you really have to think about what you’re doing. If you cook each one the same, you’ll end up with a thousand different, unpredictable results.

I cooked the corn the same way I always do; boil water enough to cover the ears, add a tablespoon or so of lemon juice and sugar, toss in the corn, put a lid on it, turn off the heat and let it sit for ten minutes. You don’t have to boil it, the steam works just fine.

Two nights ago, with my excellent chicken, I ended up with barely edible corn. Last night, with disappointing chicken, I had great corn. What made the difference? The margarine.

The first time I used squeezable Parkay. The theory of it is fine; it isn’t hydrogenated, so just squeeze some out, put it just where you want it to be, then roll the ear around in its cradle so all the kernels get buttered. It’s simple to use and you can control it without wasting any.

When you use butter or margarine, you stick a pat on a hot cylinder, which melts the spread and makes it go every which way. You can spend two minutes trying to butter an ear when you should be eating it hot.

While the theory of liquid margarine is good, the actual product is totally disgusting. It doesn’t melt! It comes out of the container a thick, gooey mess and it stays that way. I don’t want to plunge my lips onto a thick coating of slime; I want to taste corn, not an oil slick.

Last night I used regular margarine, the stuff that melts and becomes much thinner. The corn came out the same both times, but the eating was as different as night and day.

New rule: never buy Liquid Parkay.

The actual rule, which isn’t new, is this: never buy a product that’s a cheap substitute for the real thing. Stick margarine is a cheap substitute for butter; Liquid Parkay is an expensive substitute for halfway decent margarine. If you’ve got any around the house, throw it out.

But never apologize for not being James Beard or Julia Child. They screwed up all the time too.++

Julia Child, poultry wrangler.

Tomatoes in abundance, dill to flavor the world!

Oh God, you are too good to me.

I’m eating lunch as I write this; pasta salad, a bacon and tomato sandwich. No lettuce; as James Beard said, “You could add lettuce; but why would you?”

The tomato on my sandwich is so fabulous it doesn’t even need salt — and all tomatoes need salt in my opinion. But this one is juicy and sweet, chock full of that great red flavor of my favorite food.

This particular tomato is a bit darker in color than others I’ve picked and eaten so far; a different breed from a different plant. Tomato varieties vary greatly from each other, and to me the best tasting ones are more juice, less meat. Tomato-lovers can easily tell the difference.

My friend Bob in New Jersey has been bragging about how good his local tomatoes are (though he has to buy them, the poor man); we have a friendly rivalry going about New Jersey vs. Indiana tomatoes. The Garden State does grow tomatoes on a commercial scale; there’s a reason Campbell’s Soup is headquartered in the state. So I hope the Jersey tomatoes are as excellent as he says, because then I’ll know he’s getting some good eating.

However, the largest tomato canning company in America is headquartered 90 minutes from my house, in Elwood, Indiana, a family-owned outfit called (appropriately and lovingly) Red Gold. Because that’s what they sell, red things good as gold.

Tomatoes are very nearly the best food you can eat; chock full of vitamin C and antioxidants, nutritionists say. People who eat a steady diet of tomatoes get a lot fewer cancers. But me, I just eat ’em ’cause they taste so good!

And this one from my garden is a gem, perfectly formed, free of all blemishes, ready for the grocery store or my stomach!

But there’s a story behind today’s bacon, too; I bought it from Jessica Smith, one of the owners of This Old Farm in Darlington, Indiana, an innovative farm-to-market operation that’s winning all kinds of grants and recognition. I bought the bacon at the farmers’ market in West Lafayette. It’s more expensive than the commercial bacon at the grocery, but I know the hogs weren’t tortured on their way to my sandwich.

Chicks getting comfy at This Old Farm

This bacon looks different, it behaves different when you cook it up in the pan; there’s less fat, so that changes your cooking technique slightly, as the bacon is done faster. Less fat makes home-grown bacon a better buy pound-for-pound because you get more meat. The lean-to-fat ratio is also far greater with beef I’ve bought from This Old Farm. The taste isn’t greatly different, but you can tell on sight that this isn’t what you’re used to.

Commercial beef and pork producers artificially speed up the growth rate of their animals; they fatten them up faster so they are ready for market quicker. CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) pen them in concentration camps so they never see the light of day, never eat their natural diet; factory farms inject their prisoners with growth hormones to cut costs and move the animals to market faster. And of course, with the animals crammed in barns where they can barely move, the owners inject them with antibiotics so that if one animal gets infected, the others don’t come down with it and the whole herd gets sick.

Are these hormones and antibiotics good for the humans who eat commercial meat? Last week the USDA told Congress there’s a big problem in our food supply. The Des Moines Register reported:

Antibiotics in Livestock Affect Humans, USDA Testifies
July 16th, 2010

Des Moines Register
By PHILIP BRASHER

There is a clear link between the use of antibiotics in livestock and drug resistance in humans, President Barack Obama’s administration says, a position sharply at odds with agribusiness interests.

In testimony to a House committee on Wednesday, even the Agriculture Department, which livestock producers have traditionally relied on to advocate for their interests, backed the idea of a link between animal use of antibiotics and human health.

The Agriculture Department “believes that it is likely that the use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture does lead to some cases of antimicrobial resistance among humans and in animals themselves,” said John Clifford, the USDA chief veterinarian.

The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates antibiotics in animals and humans, has recently proposed to end the use of many drugs as growth promoters in hogs and other livestock. Only antibiotics such as ionophores that have no human use would be permitted to speed animals’ growth. The FDA has set a schedule for phasing out the drugs’ use or proposed specific restrictions.

Officials said the ban is needed to ensure that the [antibiotic] drugs remain useful in human medicine.

Now the thing about gardening, family farming and rural life in general, is this: it’s slow. Not much changes from one day to the next. Maybe that green tomato you’ve had your eye on is a little bigger, or maybe it’s not; it’ll “get here” when it’s good and ready. You can’t speed it up, you can’t slow it down, Mother Nature’s in charge.

Of course this doesn’t sit well with agribusiness, which is always looking for efficiencies to maximize profits, but a piggy gets born or a tomato turns red when it’s good and ready.

There’s one other big advantage to this bacon I’m eating; I know where it came from. It didn’t pass through a hundred different hands like that Big Mac with makeup and lipstick that looks glamorous on TV. If God forbid that burger makes you sick, the USDA has no way to know where it came from, which is why more people will get sick until a food detective finally figures out “it was the Big Mac.” Meanwhile a dozen kids and senior citizens are dead. THAT’s the kind of self-regulation/no regulation that agribusiness lobbies for. If you really knew what you were eating you wouldn’t eat it, so they have to keep you in the dark and put lipstick on it.

We can expect more and more emergency food recalls as time goes on, because in the minimally-regulated world of agribusiness, someone’s always going to be looking to cut another corner and make another buck. Remember that peanut warehouse down in Georgia, where they knew their nuts were contaminated, but resold them anyway? The food business is cutthroat (because so much food is sold, there’s so much money to be made), so what did they care if the throat that got cut was yours?

But this bacon now disappearing from my plate? It came from a hog raised at Skillington Farms (Stan and Laura) in Lebanon, Indiana, which was processed at This Old Farm’s facility in Colfax, where the owner loaded it into her van and sold it to me in West Lafayette, where I drove it home to Kentland. Their names (all two of them) are right there on the package.

Portioning feed for the animals at Skillington Farms

As a customer they’ve treated me with respect, they’ve met me with accountability.

Well, in the time it took to compose this I’ve eaten two bacon and tomato sandwiches and eaten two bowlfuls of pasta salad; and I promised you something about dill, which I’ve got growing right outside my back door. The plants are three feet tall and flowering now — but I don’t want flowers, I want leaves, so last night I cut off all the flowers. (Believe me, the plants will make more.) I’ve also deflowered my chives and some of my oregano. I’ve got far more of these herbs than I can use.

My pasta salad is very simple; you don’t need to buy an overpriced box of mix. I use half a pound of rotini, a quarter pound of cooked ham or pepperoni, a medium cucumber peeled and sliced, and 4-5 medium tomatoes, skinned. (A bell pepper is optional; mine are growing but I decided to leave them on the vine this time.) Then dump on 6 ounces of whatever salad dressing you like, then chill overnight. I decided on dill vinegrette, as follows.

Josh’s Dill Vinegrette

3/4 C of your best oil
1/4 C white vinegar*
1 T chopped fresh dill (1 t dried)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 t salt
3/4 t dry mustard
3/4 t paprika

Whisk or shake together in a cruet.

* Flavored vinegars (red, cider, balsamic) overwhelm the dill, so don’t use them.

Kraft and Wishbone would go out of business if people knew how much better homemade vinegrettes are; cheaper, fresher, no preservatives.

And when you grow your own herbs you feel like the master of the universe. Ah, dill!++

Dill is pretty when it's in flower, but you want leaves, not blooms. Off with their heads!

Ta-da: 1st Tomato Arrives!

Everyone in Indiana knows that the arrival of the First Tomato of the season is both a cause of great rejoicing and a danger; since state law provides that anyone caught stealing the First Tomato may be shot dead with impunity, its arrival can be an anxious time.

Some gardeners, eagerly watching the First Tomato candidate slowly turn red day by day, have been known to pick it too soon. Since everyone knows you don’t pick it without eating it immediately, this tactic invariably leads to Premature Taste Disappointment. So most people pride themselves on having the self-control to wait until nature takes its course.

Other tomato gourmands pitch a tent next to the garden, haul out lawn chairs and hold a shotgun vigil; tomatoes grow and ripen overnight, so the most likely time for the tomato gang to strike is between 4 and 5 a.m. Unfortunately people who are going to be up all night turn it into a party with lots of alcohol, and sometimes innocent people get shot accidentally; guns and alcohol don’t mix.

And then there’s the little old lady next door, who’s been eying your tomato patch greedily for the past month; everyone knows little old ladies are up at the crack of dawn, so she tiptoes over, snatches your First Tomato, hides it in her apron pocket and tries to walk away nonchalantly. If you sleep in when she strikes, you miss the chance to bump her off scot-free and get some better neighbors next door. At any other time except First Tomato Day, shooting her is a felony.

In the ’90s some people tried installing elaborate security systems, with motion detectors, floodlights and screechy sirens to chase away thieves. Unfortunately this expensive method didn’t work; it caught a lot of rabbits who don’t eat tomatoes, and it kept the neighbors up all night. Several cities passed noise ordinances against this practice.

I was lucky this year; my First Tomato came earlier than most other people’s, so I slept well and picked it as soon as I woke up.

So far there have been no reports of violence, but the season is still young.

How did I eat it? I made a tomato sandwich. No bacon, no lettuce, just substantial white bread sliced thin, and good tomato sliced thick, with mayo. I served it on my mother’s fine china, as all your better families do.

I did not, however, put on her old CD of Mantovani’s Greatest Hits. Some traditions ought to be retired. Nor did I put on formalwear, a tradition the nouveau riche tried to start back when Reagan (“Greed is good”) was president. It never caught on anyway; tomato juice has a tendency to drip onto your pants.

How was my sandwich? Quite satisfactory, but not the best I’ve ever had. I blame the variety; modern hybrids are bred for more meat and less juice, to be less messy. But this is senseless, because the flavor a tomato is in the juice and pectin, not the meat. You wouldn’t want a dry watermelon; why would you want a dry tomato? Modern varieties are seemingly bred for people who don’t even like tomatoes.

I try to buy several different varieties; I can tell them apart when I slice into them, but I can never remember the names of the ones I like. I prefer the older varieties, now called “heirlooms.” In the good old daze you knew you ran the risk of having tomato juice drip off your chin, so you wore an old pair of jeans and kept your napkin ready.

The meat and skin of a tomato are only there to house the juice. Every recipe that calls for removing the juice and seeds should be tossed out. Tomatoes do not exist so you can hollow them out and use them as containers for chicken salad. That may look cute but it’s pointless; serve your chicken salad on the side and slice a good tomato for eating with a fork. Don’t ruin your best ingredient so it will look cute.

The First Tomato arrived three days ago; an earlier candidate was deformed and tossed out. Yesterday I picked another, which is now half-gone, and today I picked four more, two little ones, a medium-sized and a giant. My friend Scott came by and I gave him three of them, including the big one. He said, “You’ve got tomatoes already?” I was so pleased. Later he informed me he gave the two little ones to a co-worker who loves tomatoes, so I was pleased they found happy homes. This also means Scott kept the giant one for himself; human nature has not been repealed.

I got to show him my first-ever real garden; we looked at the peppers, which are still babies but twice as big as they were a few days ago. And he noticed my strawberries. Maybe I was showing off a little; human nature hasn’t been repealed.

Tonight I’m going to make my Famous Peach Cobbler; these came from South Carolina and are well-ripened. I also notice that my pal Peter has a goodlooking recipe for Peach Bread on his site; he’s even got it in PDF so you can print it out.

Now, having bragged about my Famous Cobbler (human nature still goes strong), here’s the recipe.

Josh’s Famous Peach Cobbler

3-4 ripe peaches (2 C)
2 T butter
3/4 C white flour
3/4 C sugar, depending
1/2 C milk
1 t baking powder
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 400º.

Melt butter in 9×9-inch baking dish in the oven. Peel, pit and slice peaches. Remove baking dish and dump in peaches. In medium mixing bowl, mix dry ingredients well, add milk and stir to a smooth batter. Dump on top of peaches and bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

Two things make this great; it’s so simple and so good, and how it looks going into the oven is not how it looks when it comes out. You think it’s going to be a conglomerated mess, but no, the batter rises around and over the peaches, forms a soft crust and looks fantastic.

The same formula works for other kinds of fresh fruit, even canned peaches and pie fillings. Even a novice cook will get compliments on this one, while the fancy cooks who like to slave over their desserts may even realize that sometimes simpler is better.++

First Tomato a Total Bust, but Ice-Licking Dog Makes Up For It

Here's a nice specimen; mine was rotten.

Yesterday I picked my First Tomato, which was nice and red but lying on the ground, so I knew it wouldn’t be any good. Tomatoes need to hang from the vine or they rot. I took it inside because I wanted to see what happened to it.

It’s a law here in Indiana that any thief who picks your First Tomato may be cheerfully shot with total impunity. But even the Tomato Gang wasn’t interested in this one.

You don’t think there’s a Tomato Gang? You don’t live in Indiana. We all belong to the Tomato Gang (and we’re thieves).

I brought it inside and sliced into it. The bottom half was rotten because it lay on the ground. But the top wasn’t much better, very woody, not juicy at all. I put it in the compost box.

Let’s get this clear, shall we? Tomatoes are supposed to be juicy, and I couldn’t care less if this does not meet the needs of McDonald’s, Burger King and Hardee’s. They don’t like juicy tomatoes, which drip on your skirt while you’re driving up I-65.

Those things are tasteless, which fast food specializes in. Don’t eat in your gol-dang car, hokay? That skirt never did much for you anyway.

Tomatoes, like oranges, exist for the juice. That’s where the flavor is. Never, ever buy a tomato hybrid designed for fast food chains.

Would you want to eat a dry orange that was all meat and no juice? Then why would you design a tomato that way?

It’s not my fault that people like to put tomatoes on their burgers and not oranges. (They’re both very rich in Vitamin C.) If you’re going to eat a burger Be Prepared. It’s called a napkin; you can do it.

My First Tomato was a total bust. I wasn’t that sad, I’ve got a lot more ‘maters on the way; the timing (practically the 4th of July) vindicates my decision to plant tomatoes early and wait to see if the frost got them, which it didn’t. Replacement vines would only have cost a buck or two, so I learned something this year. My tomatoes look like a rainforest, while my next door neighbor’s got these spindly pathetic things.

I’d have eaten part of the First Tomato if it hadn’t been so woody, but I threw it all away. (“Woody” is when the green part of the vine extends down into the flesh. It’s inedible, the whole thing is deformed.)

It was a hot day, and once I cut into it and saw it was worthless, I began to be concerned about my dog. Luke spends most of his time outside on a 30-foot lead, and it’s been hot here, our first hot dry spell of the season. He so likes the sunshine that I worry about how he eats and drinks. When we wake up in the morning he’s never interested in breakfast, he only wants outside, and it’s not because he’s desperate to pee; he takes forever to do that. What he wants is the sun, so I pour out food and water as he clamors to go outdoors. I take him out, and bring him back later, and sometimes he eats or drinks like I want him to. Sometimes he doesn’t, he just wants back outside.

I’ve tried taking his chow-and-water dish outdoors so he can feed when he wants to, but ants got into it and that was a mistake. In the morning I offer him food and water, but he’s not interested, so we go outside and play, and later I bring him back in case he’s hungry or thirsty. Then clamor clamor clamor, jump and turn in circles, “Outside!” Okay, dude.

But it was hot out, and I’d already given him a second chance at the doggy dish, which he rejected, and I didn’t know what to do. I took him an ice cube.

He loved it.

I held it in my hand and he lick-lick-licked; when he got tired I rubbed it on his belly. But then he wanted to lick it again, so we did that. He paused and stood up, and I rubbed it on his back. He thought that was great. Then he licked it again; in a minute it was just a nub. I finally dropped it and he licked it on the grass until it disappeared.

It’s an amazing thing to have another creature eat out of your hand. He totally charms you, while you feel strong and protective and goofy.

Since he likes being out all day, but I can’t trust him to stay in our yard, I check on him all the time; he can’t say if he’s hungry or thirsty, I have to interpret the signs. I wish I were better at doggie-speak, but maybe we’re doing okay.

Luke ate an ice cube; highlight of my day.++

Luke, ice cube-licker. Prettyboy, little wuss, total favorite.