puppy love: one year together

“‘Look at that,’ people said, looking at me and not Rose. ‘Look how badly she wants a baby.’ […] When did mammals get so confusing? Who can’t look at a baby and a puppy and see the differences? You can’t leave babies at home alone with a chew toy when you go to the movies. Babies will not shimmy under the covers to sleep on your feet when you’re cold. Babies, for all their many unarguable charms, will not run with you in in the park, or wait by the door for your return, and, as far as I can tell, they know absolutely nothing of unconditional love.” Ann Patchett, “This Dog’s Life”

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on the ride home from the breeder, January 4, 2014

While I cannot echo Patchett’s claim that she never regretted the decision to have a dog on those midnight trips outdoors, I identify with her differentiation between babies and dogs. Like Patchett, I am childless–by choice. When I finally met the love of my life, and found job stability and settled into a community, I was in my late 30s. When Gregg and I discussed our thoughts about children early on, I told him I have been on the fence on the issue most of my life. As we settled into our relationship and our mutual agreement not to have children, I experienced moments of loss–usually around the holidays, and usually observing moments that I most would’ve enjoyed with children–trips to the library or bookstore. But mostly, I experienced a kind of relief to be spending these years of my life not tending to young children.

I, did, however, long to tend to a puppy–to raise an adorable furry being into happy, well-adjusted doghood. I craved the companionship on walks, the snuggles, and the sheer affection that a dog can provide.

Living in a home where we could comfortably raise a puppy, Gregg and I discussed whether getting a dog would be a good decision. We listed pros (see above) and cons (a temporary limit on our free-wheeling day trips out of town, the expense, the shift in our daily schedules). We decided that the pros vastly outweighed the cons, and I researched breeders of miniature golden doodles, our breed of choice. We sent in an application, and waited.

I tried to imagine our home with a dog. While I had grown up with Golden Retrievers, they were outdoor, farm dogs. Our relationship with them was friendly but not close. Gregg liked dogs but had never had one in his life. We read about dog training, researched the best foods, toys, and training methods.

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at home, January 2014

On a sunny July day, I called our breeder to check on the progress of the litter and she told me that something went wrong and the litter didn’t take. I was devastated. Gregg and I had anticipated bringing our puppy home in early Fall, a perfect time to potty train. We agreed to wait for the next litter, and our name was bumped to first on the list. On November 9, the puppies were born, and we were invited to come choose our puppy on January 3, and take her home the next morning.

We had to drive about six hours to the breeder’s house, so we made an adventure out of it, taking all day to drive, to eat, to stop for coffee, and to enjoy the time together. We arrived in the early evening and she introduced us to the four female puppies we could choose from. She gave Gregg and I each a puppy to snuggle, and we then played with all four of them. Two were clearly sassier than the others, trying to chew on Gregg’s shoelaces, and instigating play in their pen. One was a little smaller, a little snugglier, and much lighter in color than the others–she was the first one I held, and she was the one we chose, for her sweet, quiet nature.

The next day, we picked her up and took her away from her canine family. I sat with her on my lap in the backseat the long drive home. We stopped twice to give her a chance to go potty and drink water, neither of which she would do. Instead, she tried to crawl up in the wheel well. Back inside the car, she yawned and panted. I furiously researched these symptoms on my phone, only to discover that they were signs of distress.

When we finally arrived home, she wandered through the house, and promptly peed and pooped on the floor. And so began our life at home with a dog. The first few months were among the most challenging of my life, and family and friends can attest to my tearful frustration and guilt at wanting to give her back. I was obsessed with raising her by the book, The Art of Raising a Puppy, by the Monks of New Skete. I wasn’t sure what to do when Hazel didn’t respond like the dogs in the book.

From my current vantage point, I can’t remember everything that was so terrible those first few months, but I do remember her incessant barking when placed in her crate while we were home, her desire to nip and jump at our ankles, the multiple mid-night potty breaks, and her reticence to poop on command.

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at home, January 2015

More than her normal puppy learning behaviors, the challenges were external: multiple polar vortexes, with record-breaking sustained frigid weather; and my mother-in-law’s repeated admissions to the hospital as each session of chemo, meant to extend but not save her life, landed her in a hospital bed, weaker each time.  Gregg helped care for his mother, and I tended to our puppy. I was tired, frustrated, sad, and lonely.

As the months passed, Hazel grew in size and in personality. Suddenly, she would go to her crate with nary a noise. We adapted our routines and she settled in, curling up on the bath mat when one of us was showering. We used the commands we learned in obedience classes, and bonded more.

Hazel became a constant, affectionate, and playful companion. She senses my emotions, and has licked tears from my face and comforted me during an anxiety attack. Taking care of her needs–for food, for potty breaks, for walks and play and exercise, has kept me aloft during one of the most difficult years in my life. My mother-in-law never regained strength from her last rounds of chemo, entered hospice in mid-April, and  passed away on May 22. I can honestly say that Hazel has helped me cope with this loss.

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enjoying a long winter walk, January 2015

Today, Hazel is content lazing around the house, joining me on long walks, and playing never-ending games of indoor fetch. She is sweet, well-behaved, adorable, and goofy. She is wary of many strangers, despite our attempts at socialization (a few encounters with aggressive dogs are to blame), but quickly warms up to those who speak kindly and pet her. Gregg and I appreciate her playfulness and her sheer joy at seeing us come through the door every evening afterwork.

Patchett writes, “I want to learn to love people like this, the way I love my dog, with pride and enthusiasm and a complete amnesia for faults. In short, to love others the way my dog loves me.” Hazel has shown me the possibility of pure, unconditional love and forgiveness, and I’m doing my best to emulate her model.

Hazel, named after the band Sister Hazel, whose song “In the Moment” is one of “our songs,” completes our family of three and brings so much joy to our lives.

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ready to play, January 2015

 

“In the Moment,” Sister Hazel (2004)

Well if you’re wondering

Where I’ve been all evening

If you think that I’ve drifted off

Without leavin’ here I’ve finally found the answers

Don’t worry, I’m not lost

I’m in the moment

The one where nothing matters

And everything’s alright

I’m seeing things so clearly now

And you’re the reason why

I’m in the moment

And I’ve alive

I’m alive

I’ve been restless but you have been so patient

Well I carelessly wasted my time

But you left the door open

And you kept the light on

You waited for me to arrive

[Chorus]

Well I’ve finally come around

And now I see

Every road has taken me

Where I wanna be

I wanna be

[Chorus]

I’m alive

[Repeat 3x]

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Tuesdays With Dorie: Gingerbread Bûche de Noël

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This year, Christmas is more melancholy than most, as G’s family experiences the first Christmas after his mother, my sweet mother-in-law, died from cancer at the end of May after a year-and-a-half journey with the disease.

My grief, muted and tolerable in the ensuing months, hit like a polar vortex these past few weeks. When the acute sadness washes over me, I give in to tears, and allow myself to feel the weight of an incredible loss, and the journey to that loss. As anyone whose life has been touched by cancer can attest, that journey is filled with unexpected turns, moments of hope, and, in our case, an irrevocable loss.

And so it was with a heavy heart that I donned my holiday apron, fired up my mixer, Blossom, and undertook Dorie’s gingerbread Bûche de Noël. I found comfort in the many steps, from making pralined pecans, to baking and rolling the cake, to creating the marshmallowy Italian Meringue frosting. I recalled last year’s Christmas creation–a chocolate peppermint ice cream cake baked in my vintage tree shaped pan, reminisced about our last Christmas all together, and looked ahead to spending time with my in-laws.

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We ate, talked, drank, shared gifts, and found joy and comfort in being together, despite our shared sorrow.

My mother-in-law loved decorating for Christmas, and writing thoughtful notes in personal cards sealed with stickers. My father-in-law carries on these traditions.

The Bûche de Noël, also known as a yule log, symbolic of the large logs that generate warmth and light during long December night, was the perfect dessert for this long season of darkness.

Here in Wisconsin, daytime is short, and sunshine eludes us many days. And still, we celebrate the light…life…love.

Happy holidays to you and yours, whatever celebration you honor.

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Tuesdays With Dorie: Cranberry Crackle Tart

Did you know that Wisconsin, where I’ve lived and learned to call home these past seven years, leads the country in cranberry production? I’ve never visited a bog–they’re a good drive from where I live–but I gladly purchase Wisconsin fruits when they arrive late in the farmers’ market season.

Beyond the typical Thanksgiving side of homemade cranberry sauce (which makes a killer topping for a Wisconsin aged cheddar sandwich), I’ve baked quick breads, cranberry bars, and tossed berries to my puppy to snack on. I’ve never baked a cranberry tart, and I was skeptical of Dorie’s recipe for Cranberry Crackle Tart. Nevertheless, I baked it alongside more traditional Thanksgiving pies like pumpkin, pecan, and apple.

The pie is simple to make, especially if you choose Dorie’s press-in sweet tart dough as a base. I made homemade strawberry jam a few days in advance, so on Thanksgiving morning I only needed to make the meringue and bake the creation. Cutting corners, I set my covered bowl of egg whites in a bowl  of hot water. They were still less than room temperature and took forever to set up into the desired soft-peak stage.
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The tart was a beautiful addition to our dessert buffet, and was the sleeper hit of the holiday. At least two family members asked for the recipe, and many commented on the perfect interplay of sweet, buttery crust, with tart berries, subtle sweetness from the jam, and a chewy meringue cap. What a delight! And a reminder to never doubt the wisdom of Dorie.

Happy belated Thanksgiving to my fellow American readers. I hope your table was filled with favorite family foods, the chairs occupied by agreeable loved ones, and the house echoing with laughter. IMG_7390

Tuesdays with Dorie: Palets de Dames

IMG_0020_2Late August 2008, one year into working at my still-new job, living in a still-new state, I joined Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD). The baking blog community comforted me and kept me company during a lonely time of adjustment to said new life. I remember weekend baking binges and Tuesday evenings sifting through photos and finding words and stories to create blog posts about cookies, cakes, tarts, and puddings. I wrote my last TWD post in November of 2011, a time of busy happiness, of wedding planning and professional milestones.

I return to the kitchen, dust off Blossom (my pink KitchenAid mixer), tie my apron strings, practice my minimal French and start Baking Chez Moi. I fill this new blog space with stories, photos, and deliciousness. I find my way back to the art and craft of baking, and, more importantly, writing. (You can read my previous baking adventures at bliss: towards a delicious life).

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Last Saturday, after helping friends harvest the last leafy greens from their garden before the coming cold, I cracked open Baking Chez Moi and studied the first recipe for the baking group: Palets de Dames. I mixed together the dough and tucked it in the refrigerator to chill. On Sunday morning, I boarded the poetically named Hiawatha Express from Milwaukee to Chicago, where I met my mom, who traveled via a less-poetically named train from Michigan for a quick overnight visit. Our destination: The Spice House.

I was going to meet Dorie.

I’m a proud bibliophile who devours books, particularly fiction, non-stop. I’ve met many authors at bookstore readings, academic conferences, and University lectures. But I’ve never been quite as excited to meet an author. Most books feed my mind, and perhaps trigger an emotional response. Dorie’s books have quite literally fed me and my loved ones on occasions as diverse as ordinary weekdays and once-in-a-lifetime weddings.

Mom and I arrived at the SIMG_0025_2pice House at dusk, and joined the crowd inside the cozy shop. Within minutes we were sipping Korbel sparkling wine and eating Chocolate Linzer Cookies and Vanilla Sables and assorted truffles as we waited to see Dorie. And then there we were, and she was every bit as charming and approachable as I had imagined. We chatted and she signed my book, posed for photos, and kissed my cheek. This forty-year old woman was having a serious fangirl moment.

Dorie spoke to the crowd about her process writing the book and her editor’s insistence on a macaron recipe. As she spoke of her recipe testing and commiserating with fellow culinary genius Pierre Hermé, I drifted back to my trip to Paris in 2010. I remembered all of the sweet treats I savored from Pierre Hermé and Ladurée and Poilâne. I thought of the bag of almond flour nestled in my cupboard, purchased this Summer when I dreamed of macaron.IMG_0021_2

As I pull these stories together, I think of my mom, who baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies throughout my childhood. Who always baked homemade birthday cakes–and still bakes a multi-layer German chocolate cake in early March every year . Cooking and baking, languages of love.

I think of my grandma, who gave me Baking: From My Home to Yours, the original Tuesdays with Dorie master text. My grandma, who signed up for the University sponsored ten-day trip to Paris I co-lead, and willingly accompanied me to every chocolate shop and patisserie on my must-visit list our last day in the city.

I think of the cookbook authors and fellow bloggers who have shaped my culinary journey from tentative cook to confident, creative innovator, eager to keep learning.

My small kitchen contains multitudes.

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Palets de Dames satisfy with subtle sweetness and softness, and promise to be a favorite of my husband Gregg’s–he prefers soft cookies, while I crave a bit of crunch or chewiness. These delicate and simple cookies pair beautifully with a cup of darjeeling on a cold November evening, and are a snap to make, especially when you have the dough chilling in the fridge.  IMG_0029_2