Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Graduating the doggies (and trainers)

(I missed one week of dog rehabilitation training, this refers to last Sunday, our culminating event.)

The doggies were on parade, and we, the trainers, were fearful we'd fail the dogs. For no matter what anyone says, if we didn't do our jobs right, then the dogs won't do as we ask of them. So we sat, smiling, trying to get our enthusiasm up, helping each other through a difficult day.

JI had a specific exam set out. The dogs must complete all 6 behaviors - walk on a loose leash (no pulling, no tugging, no walking wherever they want; they must follow us); sit; placement on the bed; down; come when called; and crate. A dog passes if they accomplish at least 5 of the commands, preferably all 6 to move onwards to the next level of training. We all worried about certain dogs; Makisig hasn't been a star pupil, while some of our better dogs have been exhibiting a sense of losing interest in some commands (too easy? bored? not enough treats?). Mitch wasn't doing a down as quickly, and I knew Hazel still has trouble walking properly. Gwen showed up but hadn't worked with Iris for weeks, so she didn't think she should work with the dog; she eventually did work with her through the course. And since Hazel has her owner, I didn't have a dog to work with. So I gave my support to all the handlers, and made sure John knew what the course was going to be like. John and the other trainer Joe looked a bit green around the gills, worried their dogs wouldn't make the grade.

The first two dogs went through the course with flying colors, that didn't help those at the end of the line, since it started to look like the best dogs went first. Finally we had a couple of dogs who missed one of the six commands, and JI gave comments, but still passed the dogs. Whew. We started looking at it as not simply a major obstacle for the dogs, but a chance to show how well they've done in the last couple of months. Their success, and yes, all 8 dogs passed, made us feel like we've come a long way since we began last December.

JI made it clear that we got them through basic puppy training. The next step is to get them through good citizenship training, and hopefully something even more advanced in the future.

We ended the day with a dinner, looking through photos of our graduation event, and group photos with the dogs. It was a great Sunday, a day of achievement and camaraderie.

Friday, February 20, 2009

"Why do you cook?"

In the Economist, Dr. Richard Wrangham explains the anthropological reasons for why our common ancestors took to eating food charred by the early flames. Cooking food meant that the first humans could digest food more efficiently, absorb the nutrients faster, change, evolve, and eventually learn how to post annoying Facebook photos. That, of course, is human evolution in a nutshell or less. But when I read it, I thought, why do I cook? This same question came up this week. A visitor from a prestigious international cooking school asked me and my colleague if we cooked, and what kind of cooks were we: does cooking relax you or does it stress you out? Does it inspire you or do you only want to be on the other end of the process (eating)? I find cooking to be pretty relaxing, inspiring, creative juices flowing, but there are moments, particularly when surrounded by pots, pans, whirring machinery making sounds it shouldn't, menu planning, realizing guests are arriving at the door and the rice is still raw, oh so many crazy moments before a meal, that the thought comes to mind "why am I doing this?"
Last Sunday, I fed two groups of friends. The first group were fed brunch food: a spinach mushroom quiche, french toast, creamy scrambled eggs, and fruit. Nothing too crazy and outrageous, plus the prep took less than an hour. The second group were fed chinese birthday noodles, boiled dumplings, taro duck (purchased from a local restaurant), and a sichuan style boiled beef. The latter menu required more prep, more kitchen time, more research. What I didn't tell most of the visitors that day was that three of the dishes were totally new to me. First the spinach quiche. I took inspiration from David Lebovitz's blog and riffed off his Spinach pie recipe. I added the mushrooms since I had them, and a load of shredded manchego cheese in lieu of parmesan. While it came out a tad saltier than I had hoped, it matched well with the scrambled eggs which I've made a lot of times before (the addition of cream and mustard make this a standout - something I learned from a Wolfgang Puck recipe).
The second and third dishes also being tested for the first time were the birthday noodles and the sichuan beef. "Misua" is a southern chinese noodle made of egg. They look like rice vermicelli, and bundled in sheaves that you cook quickly over salted boiling water. It takes no more than a few minutes to get it al dente, so it has to be cooked right before serving. The rest of the dish however can take awhile - preparation starts by soaking dried squid overnight, rinsing it out the next day, and then chopping into slivers. Soak a cup of chinese mushrooms for half an hour to an hour, and chop into small pieces. Make a chicken stock out of one chicken, garlic cloves, a good size piece of ginger sliced into coins, coarse salt, peppercorns, and I added some cloves for flavor. The chicken stock was made by placing all the ingredients in a crockpot and simmered for a couple of hours, skimming the scum every so often. The chicken pieces I have put aside, but the stock I kept simmering while I put the rest of the dish together. Saute half a kilo of ground pork with onions and ginger, add the squid, a cup of chopped chinese sausages (these tend to be very fatty and slightly sweet), the mushrooms, and when the pork is browned, add the stock (about 2 cups), and let simmer for an hour. When guests are about to arrive, toss in the cooked noodles. Serve with chopped scallions (greens), fried garlic chips, fried shallots, garlic peanuts, and typically a red-dyed chicken egg (the dye-ing of the eggs is not something I've figured out yet, so needless to say the eggs I served were more a blush pink than red).
This dish is typically served on someone's birthday, so I wanted to share this with the friends coming over for dinner. I have fond memories of this dish while I was growing up, my mother preparing days in advance and making sure we had this to eat for breakfast on any of our birthdays. I called my mom a few days before to ask for general directions, but wasn't sure if it would taste the same. I was pleased with the results except for the not so red eggs, and I'm glad I can turn to the memory of making it for future events.
The beef dish has been something I've planned to make for months now. I had seen it on Appetite for China, and knew I had to tinker with it. I loved this dish in Sichuan restaurants, it would be served boiling and bubbling like something out of hell, all the chillis dancing away on the top of the meat, and after a few spoonfuls, everyone would be sweating away from the dish, gustatory masochism!
I knew all the ingredients were easily found, and I just had to round them up, prep, and prepare, and serve when the diners were there. Other than going to the butcher early in the morning to get a good chunk of meat (and sliced by the kindly butcher to my specifications), it didn't take too long to saute the individual parts - spices, then vegetables, then the chilli bean sauce with stock (shared the stock of the birthday noodles), which got an extra dose of chillis when I added something I found recently - a garlic chilli sauce - and let to simmer away till ready. The beef is doused with chinese rice wine ahead of time, then dusted with cornflour before cooking in the chilli stock. A quick swirl in the fiery stew, ladled out over the greens, and then served with the chilli sauce over it. The only part I didn't get to do was fire up a hot chilli oil to top the dish. By then my small kitchen was overrun with pots and ingredients and plates. One more item would have pushed it over the edge.
When I ponder on the question of why I cook, I figure it's not something I take for granted. I appreciate being fed by friends and family, I know it is a gift, a measure of their time and willingness to share themselves with me. I can only give back in kind. It's a better gift than anything I can buy, and I evolve.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rock icons

Spinal Tap is back! Or maybe just trying to make us give them more money. In any case, if you were a fan of the movie (This is Spinal Tap), laughed and snorted and nearly fell off the sofa while watching the dvd, then this is the greatest news since ... well since the last slow news day.

Monday, February 09, 2009


A hotwater bottle wrapped in a waffle teacloth, some hot tea, and lounging in my jammies, I settled into my sofa to watch the Grammies this morning. Nothing I ate was helping calm my tummy as a bad round of dysmennorhea kept me from leaving the house. Lying in bed wasn't going to get rid of it, and I was feeling less than perky after a long night of traipsing between the room and the bathroom. Women's troubles. Uck.

I didn't pay too much attention during the show, but found myself perking up when I saw that Robert Plant and Allison Krauss were nominated and won 5 awards, including best album for Raising Sand. At first I wondered if it was the same CD I had bought last year, one that I heard on Accuradio earlier in the year, and enjoyed enough to buy it with the help of a visiting friend. Indeed it was. It's a great album, country, rock, folk, blending seamlessly into very singable, sometimes haunting music. This is another case of mature music, not for the teenyboppers, but well written songs that only make sense when you start having more gray hair. Congratulations to the winners!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Week 9

Some of the major points that we covered today included Consistency and the use of silence (or as JI said "Shut up and train"). A few of us, including me, were working with dogs that were normally trained by someone else. I took over Smart today, Hazel and Jon arrived late. Other than having to lure her to go Down, Smart was in good shape for training today, although my left hand feels like raw steak, her teeth are like jagged edges, and she bites down on my hand for the treat. One of the other trainers took over Mitch, who is normally run by K. Mitch is one of the dogs that had previous training, and she can typically plop down into a Sit or a Down with ease. But B couldn't get her to do the positions properly; we figured out that Mitch was not sure what was going on and it was as if her inner mind had decided to shut down after getting her signals crossed. Since B is a chattier trainer, it was also important to learn not to speak too much while getting a dog to do the command. Luring the dog to the proper position first until it is able to do the command properly, then using the command to affirm the position is what JI wants us to learn. We have to stop talking too much to our dogs, we're messing up with their auditory senses.
It was a long training day, even though we left the park at 1 pm, earlier than normal. But intense sessions with our dogs left most of us braindead at the end of the day. I needed cold sustenance and a large glass of sago gulaman was all I needed to pick me up from the floor.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Week 8

It's been three days since my last session at the dog training session. What with all the workload since Sunday, it slipped my mind to write down what we completed and what we need to work on.
Met with John and Hazel at La Vista, tested her on sits and downs. The wily little canine seemed to have lost any interest doing a sit, but her downs were spot on. She still walks John instead of the other way around, so we had to talk to JI about this. We played puppy pingpong until she got tired and plopped down. We should have only done a couple of rounds while she was interested.
JI didn't teach us anything new, but wanted to see how we were doing as a group, so we brought in three dogs at a time, working on the basics. I took Putol (now known as Jack, as he has recently been adopted) in for a round of lessons, but he was not in the mood at all. No sits, just lay down on his side; he was more than typically distracted and couldn't seem to concentrate. I felt like a total failure as a dog trainer on Sunday.
The only highlight was when Smart let me work with her (her usual trainer was on leave that day), so we did a good set of three sits, three downs (with some luring, but she did the position properly), and her Heeling is so lovely to watch. I suggested the new trainer give her a go, since it would be easier to work with a dog with some proficiency, even though Smart can be a real wise-ass at times, not to mention she dislikes being touched on the ruff.
JI gave me a ride out of the village and we chatted about his plans for the team. He does want to get us to learn advanced training and get the dogs into a Good Citizen program, but we need a home with doors.
While it was a difficult day with my two dogs (both adopted! Does that count in my record?) on Sunday, I felt inspired to think about long term plans. Maybe I'll ask JI if I could be an apprentice so I could learn how to work with other dogs, purebreed and rescued.

Monday, February 02, 2009

My subconscious is telling me... something

I have strange dreams, and while I'm not the only one out there with wild dreams, I do enjoy some of the weird symbolism of the dreams, if only I knew what they meant (symbolizing my strange thoughts? that I need to clean my bathroom better?). This morning's dream involved a friend who is an avid foodie, who was selling several of his family's kitchen items, each item solidly placed in what looked like bookshelves and displayed as if they were to be sold in Williams-Sonoma. For some reason, I wanted to get the breadbox, in a 60's bakelight detail, dark blue enamel. So I went to visit him and his family, only their home had turned into a british row-house, very narrow and compressed. The dog was there to greet me, but what caught my attention was a new dog they got, which only had a head, a barking, yapping, white head with barely any body left to it, perhaps a thrush like tail wagging in the back. I wasn't too surprised by the "eric-the-half-a-dog" nature of the new pet, but I did ask them if it was eating well. My friend looked very weak and aged, like his health was poor; he was weakly sipping at the bowl of duck soup, moaning about the lack of flavor and how difficult it was to eat properly.

Should I warn the friend that he might be the owner of a new half-dog soon?

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies