Thursday, June 30, 2016

Raiders of the Lost Bark - a Barkley Memory and Tale

We all come home to different environments.  For some, it's the sound of little kids squealing with delight that Mommy or Daddy are home.  It's the the clatter of footsteps like the thunder of small ponies down a trail, that is no trail, but is simply a hallway rug, worn by that repeated motion of sheer joy.

For some it's a simple "Hello Sweetie" a hug and a kiss.

And sometimes it's the blissful sound of silence after a really long day, when all you want to do is eat a hot meal and have a mug of hot tea while you lay out the thoughts of the day in your favorite spot to write or perhaps watch one of your favorite old adventure movies.

The night in question was the later kind but it was going to be one of those very nights where the tea was a glass of Malbec.
Mom, come quick!  Someone pooped on the rug!

Barkley usually greets me at the back door to the garage, alerted by the door going up, with that terrifying bark that to outsiders sounds ferocious. He sounds scary, but he'll let me take a bone right out of his mouth with my bare fingers.  I'm his protector and his protected and if I want it, it's mine.  But he'll defend to the death, that bone, from any creature of a lower, parallel plane, those that are neither protected or protector that would take what he loves.  So even with that quiet temperament that is his nature, I know he'd defend to the death, as well, my safety.

But he knows the sound of my truck and the bark takes on a different tone. I normally hear him before the door is even up, the sound, wild and faint, and incomprehensible but for it's meaning. Bark!  Bark!  "Mom's Home!"

It was later than normal and when I came in - silence.  He was comfy on the couch, Brinks Barkley, sleeping on the job.
I patted him, fed him, let him out to go potty, which he always does after he eats. I was glad his tummy was feeling OK, as the previous evening he had snarfed up a bit of greasy food wrapper that had hit the floor when emptying the trash, and I figured that might upset his tummy. But he seemed fine, just not as lively as usual.

So I poured the wine, put on some barley soup  on to heat for supper, and sat down to call Partner from the couch.

We  had just said hello when:

 "Oh, Crap! Barkley threw up in the corner earlier!  I have to go".
Barkley has an ultra sensitive stomach as far as rawhides and some people foods, even when he was youngster, unlike my last black lab who could eat a tank and then just gently burp.  So several times a year, Barkley snags some fatty food that's dropped (bacon!)  or a piece of sandwich left unattended or a paper napkin or such that is soaked with meat juice.  He then usually throws it up. He always upchucks in the same spot, if he can't alert me in time that he needs to go out, a corner of the front room between a sofa and chair. Since there's a nice rug there, I spread out a large clean towel in the spot, just in case.

Unfortunately, it wasn't barf. Other end. Poor thing,

I'm sure he tried to hold it, but couldn't.  He's never done that in the house since his first couple of weeks home as a puppy. Of course, this time, he carefully MOVED THE TOWEL OUT OF THE WAY FIRST before he tagged my floor with the latest of black lab gang signs (in poop!) But I can see the doggy thought process - "Mom gets upset if I grab her clean towels off the counter so I will protect her clean towel even in my indisposition - I'm a good dog!"
Mom, I was just FOLDING these clean towels I found on the counter.

He just looked at me from a distance, as if he expected a scolding, as I cleaned it up (pointing out the large area of tile in the entraceway  he could have selected instead of the carpeting, though he didn't appear to be taking notes). There is nothing quite like the look of a dog that's expecting harsh words, no different than a human that somehow knows you are angry, even if they aren't quite sure what exactly they did wrong; a sort of shocked and unbelieving sorrow.

You look at them, your heart beating strongly with the heat of the moment.  They look at you, their heart beating a hollow echo as though already retreating, as they wait for your reaction. You look at them again, weighing a hundred expedients, knowing what you need to do, and not necessarily what fatigue and emotion might prod you to do.
I went over and gently scratched his ear saying  "It's OK, you couldn't help it, you're a good dog", patted him one last time, and gave Partner a call back

"(sigh) It wasn't barf".

"Oh, so the "Oh Crap" was literal then?"  We laughed and proceeded to chat while Barkley laid down next to me for an ear scratch, feeling fine physically, but needing the reassurance that all was well.

When people get married they take a vow of "in sickness and in health". In a way, we also do that with our pets.  Owning a pet is not cheap, even for youthful preventive care.  Then, there are always the things you don't expect, especially as they age, things that result in someone wearing the cone of shame or the expenditure of hundreds of dollars.
But you help them get better, you adjust your schedule, make doctor appointments and you offer only warmth and support.  You don't  lay your hand upon them with forceful curse and belittlement. They look at you to be the strong one, the tender one.. They trust you to act from your heart and not from the infinite, internal voices of human fear and angst.

Then, on those nights when you come home really, really late from work, your soul weary, the house dark, they will quietly come up to you, leaning into you, drawn from their slumber to your side like steel and magnet. At that moment, there as both your hearts beat in the silence, you realize that every measure of sickness and health was worth it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Fame is Fleeting but Donuts are Forever


Mom had her first live radio interview as an author at Speak Up Talk Radio in Ohio! She was SO nervous but host/author Pat Rollo was great and she was happy to spread the word about animal rescue and adoption! 

Here's the audio!



Just Kidding!

Here is the link for the interview. Learn more about some of the rescue organizations The Book of Barkley Supports as well as that one story she left out of the book so her Dad didn't "ground her" at age fifty (mumble mumble).


Woof!
Abby T. Lab

Monday, June 27, 2016

Nap for Bailey Day

Today - we are taking an extra special nap to honor our friend from blogging.


Bailey from Sheltie Times.


Bailey lived with his family in the UK and though we never met in the furs, we loved reading about his adventures.  He was going to host the napping event in the 2016 Blogville Pawlympics in August with his furry family member Katy and now he will be watching over Katy and the event in his angel form.

For Bailey went to the Rainbow Bridge just a few days ago and so many people miss him.  Until we meet again - we will run with you in our dreams.
Abby Lab

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Black and White - Does Abby want to sit with me on the couch?

I just want to spend some quality time with Mr. Lambchop, but thanks anyway Mom.


Thanks to our blog hop hosts Nola and Sugar!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Tea Time!

Mom made sourdough English Muffin Bread (no knead, you just need two bowls and a mixer) for afternoon teatime.

Yummmm!
The recipe is at:

Little known fact - the Labrador retriever tongue is specially constructed to lick the butter and jam out of all the little nooks and crannies in an English muffin

Abby Lab

Sepia Saturday - I'm Waiting

How long DOES it take for Dad to get dressed?  I've been ready for my walk for DAYS.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summer Allergy Ears

Time to give Abby her ear drops - always an adventure :-)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Bambi Go Home! - An Effort to make a Pet Safe/ Deer Proof Garden

Something ate the new plants.  But it wasn't Abby Lab~

Common culprits with low lying vegetation around town is usually rabbits.  But you'd be surprised where deer wander.  Perhaps not in the heart of a city, but in communities where there are parks and cornfields at hand, deer will travel far and wide, looking for a tasty, easy snack behind or near a low fence, or in an open yard. Our Chicago area village is surrounded on two sides by an enormous stretch of woods and the deer will happily wander across a busy street onto yours if you have tastier plants than in their own home.

Those people think deer and envision Bambi. But having lived out in the country and in the Northwest I see deer and think large wood rat with a rack. Deer are beautiful, in form and function but they are also incredibly destructive.

We lost a few of our newly planted spruce to the rabbits this winter, and I'm going to try my best to keep the deer from eating the rest of them (deer aren't particular fond of spruce but if starving will eat about anything green).
How do you know it's a deer that's been nibbling on your landscaping? "Have a Nice Day spelled out in deer poop near your depleted maples might be a good way, but it's not always that obvious.  There are ways to tell however.  Deer lack upper incisors, so browsed twigs and stems show a rough, shredded surface. Rabbit damage has more of a neat, sharp 45-degree cut. Rodents leave narrow teeth marks when feeding on branches. Deer strip the bark and leave no teeth marks. Hungry deer will find just about any plant tasty, going at it like a Weed-eater on crack.
There really is no "deer proof" plant. There are species however that they find less appetizing if given a choice (you know, like turkey bacon). These include purple coneflower (4th photo from the bottom which is ALSO pet safe), thyme, grape Hyacinth, daffodil's, juniper, hawthorn, pinion pine and Douglas fir. For your flowerbeds specifically, they usually won't eat Lady's Mantle, Butterfly Weed, Foxglove, St. John's Wort, Lavender, Daffodil, Poppy and most pungent herbs. Favorites are apple, maple and plum trees, geraniums and tulips.

What I know doesn't work. No Deer Allowed signs. Things that make noise, like sheets of foil (they get used to it). Dogs, (effective in the day but if the dog is in the house at night sleeping, the deer simply wait until dark. Deer voodoo dolls. Spotlights (they get used to them).
Chemical vs. Natural: Some folks recommend chemical repellents to deter deer. I've used both chemically based, and naturally based but ONLY used the chemically based when the only pet was an indoor cat. Some I've tried with some success, Deer Away (good product, lousy dispenser) and Deer Off . Chemicals that don't work well in testing include denatonium benzoate, so check the label. The best "over the counter" product I've tried with success was Plantskydd, which like the Deer Away is a "fear inducing" repellent. However, it's not a product for the aroma sensitive or those whose bedroom window is directly downwind, for Plantskydd's effective ingredient is pig's blood in a veggie oil binder that helps to keep the product from being washed away too quickly. Ewwww!  The pigs' blood works by emitting an odor that animals associate with predator activity and stimulates a fear-based response which will have deer and other mammals looking for somewhere else to dine lest they be the next woodland creature slaughtered.

In short, it smells REALLY bad and will last for a while on any clothing you get it on.. Just be careful, when and where you spray, but typically the odor fades to the human nose after a day.. It can also discolor leaves, so spray it around the soil at the base of the plants. Of all the "non green" things I've tried, hands down, it worked the best but I was NOT a fan of the smell at all on day one.
There are also taste repellents. some of which you can make at home, naturally and some which you can buy, such as Tree e Guard®, or the McDonald's Big Mac (just kidding)

The BEST pet and child safe product is that I've tried and been very pleased with is called "Deer Scram" and it requires no special handling - just use the scoop and sprinkle it around your plants. A totally "green" mixture, formulated out of organic ingredients, Deer Scram forms a protective odor barrier around your plants and shrubs.  To humans it smells like a very mild fertilizer (which it is) but it's the "smell of death" to deer (and hungry bunnies don't like it either) and you only have to apply it every 45 days or so. (Normal rainfall actually enhances it's effectiveness).  

to order http://www.deerscram.com/

Though not as effective as Deer Scram,  a natural DIY repellents that does seem to work is a mixture of 20% eggs and 80% water. This may clog your sprayer so if you can remove the white membrane attached to the yoke before mixing, that will help. This will need to be reapplied every 30 days but it can be a less expensive alternative, especially if you have chickens handy.There are other "home remedy" methods to repel deer. Hot sauce has been said to repel (though it does not work on Cajun deer). Try 3 tsp per gallon of water and respray after rain, or watering. Others swear by coyote urine (100%). I've had a hard time getting the coyote to pee in the cup so I'll stick with either the egg mixture or Deer Scram

Home-remedy repellents can be questionable at best. Some call for scattering human hair or soap shavings around the plants, or hanging bars of soap and fine mesh bags of hair from the trees, Blair Witch style (replacing both soap and hair bags monthly). Deer have been reported to simply eat the soap bars, and frankly hanging bags of hair from your trees and plants is only going to repel the neighbors (who think you've gone crazy on them and if you've got the freshly slaughtered blood smell wafting from your soil as well from a spray of Playtskydd, you'll find kids won't even come to your house on Halloween any more.)

Materials that work in one area or for one person may not work at all in an area more highly frequented by deer, and there are differences in feeding habits that run state to state.
Netting and Tubing. Tubes of Vexar netting around individual seedlings are an effective method to reduce deer damage to small trees. The material degrades in sunlight and breaks down in three to five years. These tubes can protect just the growing terminals or can completely enclose small trees. Attach tubes to a support stake to keep them upright. Tubes may not protect the trunk from damage when the buck uses the trees to scrape the velvet off of the antlers. A buck in the mood is not going to be deterred by a tube. Another option is flexible, sunlight-degradable netting that expands to slip over seedlings.

Paper or Reemay budcaps. These are used to protect a trees terminal bud during dormant season. They may help reduce browse damage. Budcaps are rectangular pieces of material folded lengthwise and stapled around the terminal leader. These are used most commonly on conifers since deer normally munch on the conifer seedlings in the late fall and early spring when the caps can be installed without interfering with tree growth.
Fencing: Adequate fencing to exclude deer is the only sure way to control deer damage. But don't think the standard fence will do it. Driving down from the Northern part of the state into the city, I pass through a park that is fenced to keep deer out. I've seen a dozen cars hit deer there in the last couple years commuting that way. The deer just pop right over it. A standard deer-proof fence is 8 feet high and made of woven wire.

Some people have luck with tying white plastic shopping bags on the fence every couple of feet. The noise and movement of the plastic bags seems to scare deer and keep them away.

For small gardens and stands of trees (no more than 3 to 4 acres) you can use invisible polypropylene mesh barriers. These are 7 and a half to 8 feet high, UV treated with a high tensile strength that blends in. It comes in rolls 100 to 330 feet long and is attached with hog ring staples to high tension line. The bottom is either staked to the ground or attached to another high tension wire to keep the deer from limbo dancing underneath. Some people use a slanting type deer fence or fortify their electric fences by baiting with peanut butter. Baiting is NOT legal for hunting but it is for teaching a deer what Mr. Fence is all about. The peanut butter will draw them in to a fence/nose encounter (Choosy Mothers Choose . . . Son of a Bitch!) The deer will remember that and will associate the fence with stay the heck away.

If you are in the country and you and your neighbors HAVE NO OUTDOOR PETS- a last resort - the electric fence.  Electric fences also can be used if you are dead serious about it. . Electric fences should be of triple-galvanized, high-tensile, 13.5-gauge wire carrying a current of 35 milliamps .  Several configurations of electric fences are commonly used: vertical five-, seven-, or nine-wire; slanted seven-wire; single strand; and others.

There are restrictions in many areas as to the use of an electric fence and for good reason. If the fence is legal by local or state statute, there may be restrictions as to purpose, number of strands, size and type of charger (might have to be Less Than Lethal approved), must be inside the perimeter of a mechanical fence, setbacks from property lines and public access, etc. (If electric fences are outlawed only outlaws will have electric fences.) So you should check your local ordinances before purchasing and installing. In any event, when using a single strand electric fence you will want to mark the wire with reflective tape or a cloth strip, something to catch the deers eye. Otherwise they won't see it until they've gone right through it.

And remember, if all else fails.

Remind yourselves you don't live in Thailand where giant monitor lizards try and enter your home.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Chipmunk Cheeks

Abby Lab here -

Mom had to to to the Dent-ist today to have a couple fillings from childhood replaced as well as a new filling for a cavity they found on her checkup.

She's a little sore and puffy and the dentist told her she can't have anything hard or crunchy this evening.
So she said no ice in the single malt with her piece of chocolate

We will see you all tomorrow.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day 2016

Give me a piece of that bacon and corn casserole 
or I'll have to call "my boys".
 - The Dogfather.

Happy Father's Day everyone!  Abby Lab has gone back to sleep on the futon but we're going to share our breakfast with our wishes for a wonderful day to all of your Father's out there, whose children (and grandchildren in some cases) have benefited from all of your love and care.
My husband was charged with frying up the bacon, but I made a special breakfast casserole for him. It's one my Dad loves, for breakfast or dinner, a cross between cornbread and corn pudding and it was a hit, very moist and creamy with cottage cheese being the surprise ingredient.

Served with Amish Bacon and maple syrup, it made this man who has thoroughly enjoyed being a "dog Dad", a happy man.  We are cutting way back on our meat consumption and what we get is from local  small farmers who raiser the animals humanely.   This Amish bacon is a treat several times a year.
click on the photo to enlarge

Dad's Favorite Corn Casserole

In large bowl mix:
1 cup corn meal (I use Bob's Red Mill gluten free)
3/4 cup King Arthur's gluten free flour (or whole wheat Pastry flour, if you're not gluten sensitive)
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of Cardamon or Nutmeg

In medium bowl mix:
2 eggs, whisked
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons buttermilk (or regular milk to which you've added 1 T. of lemon juice and let sit five minutes)
a drop of vanilla extract
1 cup low fat cottage cheese
1/4 bacon grease, melted (or butter or vegan spread, whatever you prefer)
1 cup canned cream corn (use rest of can for another meal)

Mix wet into dry ingredients and stir until blended.  Pour into a greased 8 x 8 inch baking pan.  Bake in preheated 375 F. oven for 40-45 minutes (until lightly brown around edges and  a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs, not wet, not totally dry). Cool slightly, then cut into squares to serve.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Saturday Eats - A Brownie with Teeth

Had the kind of week that leaves you craving a big brownie?

Sure you can make a gluten free, fat free, sugar free brownie. That would be known as "compost".

Mom's best friend LOVES good chocolate, and when they get together they make some seriously good brownies while her friend's six rescue cats (the first four of which are featured in The Book of Barkley) play detente with Abby on "box day".
Goldie hides in her box away from the crazy black lab.

So they aren't going to make healthy brownies - they are going to make the Domo kun of brownies - dense, chewy, able to hold up to a glass of milk, and seriously taking away any chocolate craving you had. These are dense and chewy and very rich - you'll never go back to boxed brownies again. For those of you who haven't been to Japan - Domo Kun is the official mascot of Japan's public broadcaster NHK, and you see him all around town. He's shaped like a giant brownie with teeth and legs.  I've several toy plushie Domo Kuns around the house that Abby carries around in her mouth.
Dark Chocolate Brownies

1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons(78 grams) all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6  ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (my fav - Scharffen Berger Unsweetened Dark) 
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon very finely ground coffee
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon Penzey's Mexican vanilla 
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I love the 365 brand from Whole Foods)

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Grease an 8 x 8 pan or drape parchment paper across it so you can just lift the brownies out when cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder and salt  together.

Put the chocolate, butter, and coffee in a large heat-proof bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Quickly whisk in the sugars in until combined, then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

When cool, add 2 eggs to the chocolate/butter  mixture and whisk until combined. Add remaining egg and whisk. Add the vanilla extract and stir until combined. Mix ONLY until combined - too much mixing adds air bubbles into the egg mixture which makes for a cake like brownie - not our goal here.

Add the flour mixture and chips to the chocolate mixture and fold until just combined (you will likely see a few small streaks of flour still).

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread with a spatula until evenly distributed in pan.. Bake in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time.  Stick with a toothpick at 20 minutes. Brownies are done with the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs attached to it, you don't want it to be a dry toothpick as in making cake.

Let the brownies cool completely before serving.

- Abby Lab

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ask Not For Whom the Dog Barks - He Barks For Thee

CHAPTER 17 - Do Not Ask For Whom the Dog Barks, He Barks for Thee

We had survived the winter in our new house, the snow here, not nearly as deep as in the last state we lived in, although I shoveled more than I had planned.  I loved having a fenced yard though, even a modest chain link one.  I could let him in and out without leash, wind or cold.  He seemed to know, however, when I was not looking my best at which point he refused to come in from the depths of the yard until I came out on the deck in fuzzy bathrobe, wild red hair and slippers to call for him.

“Barkley, if you’re trying to help me meet a nice guy, this is not the way to do it.”

Sometimes I’d have to go out to get him to quit barking at the ducks, at the geese, at a leaf floating by on the surface of the pond.  I was trying to teach him not to bark at nothing, only at a real threat. I'm not sure if it was helping.  Sometimes he’d just stand by the front gate and selectively bark as if he had some form of Doggie Tourettes.

I was trying to teach him good from bad barking habits.  So if he barked at a tiny bunny I’d say “Barking BAD!" If he barked at stranger hanging around the front sidewalk, even if likely harmless, he heard “Barking GOOD!"  He then got a little treat.  That kept more than one door to door salesman away as his bark sounded like it was coming from a huge Mastiff. He wasted no time with the allowable barking, wanting that treat as soon as possible.
He also knew the word “company.”  You might bark at company, but "company" meant someone was coming over and that meant food and treats and people that might be suckered with big brown eyes into giving him goodies.  With that word, he would still bark, and loudly, but his tail would be wagging.

The whole backside of the house had windows that faced the pond that ran between two blocks of homes.  Barkley always assumed his position of protector on the little loveseat against the window, looking out across the back of it at his territory as it grew dark, a small form of courage, and a heart big enough to contain the world.

One evening we were relaxing to some quiet music, Barkley in his usual position on the love seat. The lights were dim; the outside lights not on yet.  The shrubs formed foreign, almost, ghostly shapes, the limb of the tree a black gash across the moon. 

I could hear music from a distance.  Across the water, it looked like the neighbors were having some party, windows open, adults in and out, smoke from the grill. It wasn’t overly noisy, I was just aware of it.

Then I noticed movement behind my chain link fence.  I looked out.  It was dark, but in the flash of a cigarette lighter I could see it was the kids of that neighbor and their friends, probably sneaking out of the house during the boring parental entertainment.  They likely figured no one would see as they lit an illicit cigarette trying to look both older and cool, achieving neither.  They likely weren’t up to any mischief, but I didn’t want them sitting out against my fence, throwing their cigarette butts onto my property.

Barkley has a low growl in his throat.  I looked at him and said “company,” as the kids weren’t up to any harm, just teens being teens.  But I had no intention of this becoming a habit and picking cigarette butts out of my yard every Saturday morning.

I looked at Barkley, his tail now tail wagging, and pointed out toward the fence, and said “Barking Good!”

I then opened the door, the porch light off.  But for the light across the pond, it was pitch dark outside, Barkley fading like the intangible form of some dark, quiet shadow into the silent night.
I half expected him to launch into the bark immediately, but he did not.

Instead, he rushed at the fence in the darkness, invisible on the air, until he was six inches behind them, at which point he launched into a full scale bark.

BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK

I heard the squeals and heard the rushing of movement, as the kids flew like a flock of pheasants away from those imagined teeth and that fence.  I’d be willing to bet at least one of them wet their pants.

I love my dog.

-From "The Book of Barkley"  (Outskirts Press 2014)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Toast to Mom's

I hope when Mom makes her toast for her sandwich for her work lunch, she thinks of me.

I miss her when she has to work late.

Abby Lab

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Monday Eats - A Memory of Ashley the Fire Truck Dog and Burger Night


In our childhood home, Saturday night was always "hamburger night". It didn't matter if it were a holiday or during the school year, if there was disaster looming somewhere or news of war on TV, everything we could possibly worry about was held in abeyance until that  ritual was complete.

There could be snow on the ground, or heavy rain and winds of 50 mph and Dad would have a grill out, lashed to something, making hamburgers. If you haven't had a barbecue that's a combination of Maverick and The Deadliest Catch, you haven't lived.
Mom would  be inside making the side dishes in her Mrs. Cleaver attire (her Sheriff's badge put away, and Chanel No. 5 donned).  Dill pickle spears,  carrots, celery sticks and the occasional radish for Dad (which he called "belly rumblers") would be placed on the ever present relish tray.  With that, there would be  plates with thick slices of cheese, lettuce, mayo, bacon slices (if the fatted pig had been dispatched), sliced Walla Walla Sweet onions, a big bowl of Ruffles potato chips, lightly buttered and toasted hamburger buns plus sometimes, macaroni salad and coleslaw if we'd worked hard doing our chores that day.

Dad would present us each a burger with a ceremonial flourish of the spatula that was the childhood equivalent of being knighted and we'd then go into the kitchen and head down the line of goodies making our burgers just the way we wanted.  I thought of that as I packed Mom's relish tray, brought home with me from my recent trip to visit Dad.

But for tonight, after a couple difficult work days, in memory of  two and four-legged friends who have left us, a little less calorie laden dinner that will bring back memories by the family deck, meals  prepared with love.
Ashley - the fire truck dog.  
My Dad's companion until she left for the Bridge at age 13


Turkey Soft Tacos with roasted corn salsa.  For the meat, use your favorite ground meat. Ground pork tenderloin or chicken breast makes a nice light accompaniment to the salsa but use any ground meat or veggie meat substitute you like (I use the Gardein veggie "meats" products several times a week).

First, prepare the corn salsa so it has a few hours to blend flavors.  If you like the corn salsa at Chipotle, you will LOVE this.

1 small red bell pepper (seeded and chopped)
1 and  1/2 cups Trader Joes frozen roasted  corn - thawed (until corn season when you can do your own fresh corn roasted on the grill)
2-3 Tbsp. of onion finely chopped
pinch of garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ancho chili powder
Juice of one lime (not less than 2 Tbsp)
1  and 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vineger
1 and 1/2 teaspoon wild honey
pinch  or two of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 and  1/2 teaspoons of your favorite hot sauce (the ones pictured were a 30th birthday gift from my best friends to my husband who shared them for the photo.  The Scoville Brothers Heavy Metal Heat is a favorite in my fridge).


Mix vegetables in one bowl and set it aside.  In another bowl, mix all other ingredients except the olive oil.  In a thin stream, slowly pour in the olive oil whisking briskly until it emulsifies. Drizzle over vegetables and toss.

Fry up the meat.  If using lean cuts, you won't need to drain, otherwise, cook about 3/4 of the way through, drain, then add your spices, you want just enough fat left on the meat for flavor and to help the spices adhere. I don't use the commercial taco seasoning which is often loaded with salt and chemicals.  For each pound of meat use:

1 teaspoon  cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
and a pinch of salt, pepper and sugar 

When the meat is cooked through, add a couple tablespoons of water, cover and turn heat off so the flavors blend as you set the table, stirring occasional.
Then get your tortillas ready.  This is my favorite brand, made here in Chicago by the descendants of immigrant Raul Lopez who came to the states in the 40's to work as a Illinois Central railroad trackman. But he had a dream and that dream became one of the most successful tortilla companies in the Midwest.   It's the only brand I buy.
Don't nuke them or just heat in a dry room on a hot fry pan. You need moist heat to properly soften them.To prep  yours in the oven preheat it to 250 degrees. Wrap a stack of tortillas in a damp, clean dishtowel and place in a casserole dish of similar size. Cover with a lid or a tight fitting piece of aluminum foil. Place in oven for 20 minutes.
Mom!  Throw one like a Frisbee!

Once the tortillas are heated, transfer them to a tortilla warmer to keep them nice and hot  (Disclaimer: any resemblance to the top of this tortilla warmer and the "authentic UFO!" photo taken from the deck that night we all had a few beers is purely coincidence).  If you don't have a warmer, put them on a plate under a warm, slightly damp dish towel.

Place meat, salsa, shredded cheese (I went for a low fat version and left the cheese off the one pictured), chopped tomatoes and crisp romaine, rice,  chopped jalapenos, cilantro and additional hot sauce and low fat sour cream or ranch dressing in bowls and line up!  Each burrito will be as individual as you are.  He's too far away to join us but  even Dad would approve.