247 — Christmas Dinner with Dogs and Why it Matters

Christmas Dinner with Dogs and Why it Matters

Christmas Dinner and How that Applies to Dog Shows

Now that most of us are home for a couple blessed weekends, we can all, even the most diehard of competitors, relax, restore, rest and recharge. The Christmas and New Year’s holidays give us a chance to take stock of the year past and plan for the one upcoming.

Christmas and Thanksgiving are my very favorite holidays of the year. To me it is all about the food and the family and friends who become family. Which, of course, includes our dogs, usually a plethora of them underfoot while cooking and eating. We exchange a few small gifts at Christmas, but mostly we hang out and eat good food.

JUST like dog shows, the profusion of cable cooking shows, and dog shows, have turned chefs and dog handlers into celebrities, but the reality is, ANYONE can do this!!! Just to give you encouragement in this area, I’ll give you a brief tour of my own “cooking history.” I have many friends and family who are trained professional chefs. I, on the other hand, learned at the school of “well, hell, the dog won’t eat it either”….

It’s not WHAT’s under the tree that counts, it’s WHO’s under the tree that truly matters.

Growing up in Southern Oregon in the ’70s and ’80s in a one-earner household of four, meant Mom had to be very creative in her food budget. I was raised on home-cooking, home-canning, wild game and garden produce. Chicken, from the store, was a special treat. Lamb chops were a once a year birthday dinner. Mom and Gramma were the cooks. I was shooed out of the kitchen.

Milk came from a friend down the road in gallon glass jars with three inches of heavy cream on top. My kitchen skill was to “skim the cream” from the milk using my tin baby cup. Mom used the cream to make butter as well as the richest, most amazing sauces you have ever tasted. I was proud of my ability to get all the chunks of cream, leaving just the whole milk for drinking with dinner.

Mom was ridiculously good at this sort of pioneer lifestyle, particularly considering she’d been raised in a very urban setting. She also made her own soap from rendered lard and lye; butchered, trimmed and cut all our wild game meats; made Chinese food, including homemade egg rolls; taught us how to use chopsticks, even before a fork; and, canned anything that you could name. But that’s another topic for another day.

Fast-forward to life right after college. My refrigerator typically contained pickles, ketchup and beer. Maybe peanut butter and bread. I was working for a weekly newspaper as a reporter. My before-tax income was $1000 a month. My father literally laughed at me. He said a college education meant I was supposed to be able to eat something other than PBJ…. Hah! That was all I knew how to cook!

As life trundled on, I had more money and less money at times. I ate out, ate in. Mastered scrambled eggs. And tuna salad sandwiches. I learned to cook by doing it. I had a definite ace in the hole, though, since I could call Mom anytime and ask her what to do.

One of my most treasured possessions is a cookbook of her old recipes, food I grew up eating. Mom hand-wrote each of these recipes. I’ve added to it over the years with recipes cut out or printed out or made up. I would rescue that book from a house fire.

During the “lost years” spent in Nebraska, where good meals at restaurants were both very difficult to find and impossible to afford, I did a LOT of cooking. It was during this time that most of my trial and (lots of) error occurred… I’ll never forget the carrot cake that had baking soda instead of baking powder…. Oh, dear Lord…

At any rate, the point I’m rambling toward here is that *anyone* can learn to make simple, healthy, fresh, whole food meals. Literally, if I can do it, YOU can do it!! AND you can learn to show your dog!

While we’re on the topic of learning, here’s your “this podcast is about dogs moment”…. As dog handlers go, much like cooks, there are two schools of thought. I describe it as the classical music conductor and the jazz pianist.

The classical music cook, and dog handler, are those individuals who pay exquisite attention to detail, are beautifully prepared and outfitted. These outstanding folks handle every situation carefully, by the numbers and make very, very few mistakes – either in the ring or in the kitchen. Their results, while not necessarily exciting, are satisfying and genuinely successful. They can make a picture better than anyone and never, NEVER have an unforced error.

The jazz pianist cooks, and dog handlers, are fewer and farther in between. They lean toward the flamboyant. They have good bones, if you will, in terms of their technique, and never take chances with safety, but they are much more willing to go out on a limb. In the kitchen, there is no such tomfoolery as *measuring* much of anything and it’s a gut instinct, sort of pinch of this and dash of that. In the show ring, the handlers of this school are much more likely to “take a knee” or make the big gesture. They are often, I have found, the handlers who will enable the more challenging dogs to shine by working with them rather than forcing them into a mold that is comfortable for the handler. As cooks, we sometimes have “crunchy rice” episodes (yes, a topic for another day….) As handlers, that grand gesture can have unintended consequences (bouncing bait off the nose of the dog that can’t catch into the path of the dog moving on the down and back at the Garden comes to mind as one of my own errors in judgement….)

For the last couple years, trained chef and dog handler, Anthony Cantor, and I have had a Bobby Flay style BBQ throwdown at one of our pacific northwest summer shows to highlight exactly this compare and contrast of style…. We’re tied at one all, so be on the lookout for this year’s tie breaker event…

So, as you work up your Christmas dinner menu, and your plans and goals for next year’s dog show season, think about ways in which you fall into one of these categories. And maybe practice pulling something from each school of thought that will help you with your current dog.

Now, for the meat and potatoes, as they say, of this show. I’m sharing with you a Christmas dinner menu from my home a few years ago. Complete with appetizer through dessert. From fancy to soothing, these recipes were featured on my Auntie Laura facebook page (which is sadly lacking in current updates, as I’m WAY too busy to keep up on posting to it)… Feel free to check it out if you’re looking for inspiration for upcoming parties, meals and feeding a horde on a budget.

Remember, ALL events held in the homes of dog lovers will feature a little bit of extra protein (sometimes called dog hair) somewhere along the way… nobody ever died from it… enjoy the love from our four-legged family, politely and quietly remove the hair and keep on eating.

The starting dish at every. Single. Family feast in my entire life is Gramma’s clam dip. It’s simple, soothing and satisfying. Recipes for all menu items included in the blog post. But straight up, sour cream, cream cheese, lemon, minced clams, dried onions and a dash of Worcestershire sauce… The secret is to blend the cream cheese and sour cream thoroughly w/ the lemon and clam juice, using a hand blender, before adding the clams and dried onions. MOST important, make ahead item and let sit overnight to blend flavors. Even more important for the full, authentic Gramma’s house experience, is to serve ONLY with Ruffles potato chips.

The menu I’m sharing includes herbed leg of lamb with oven roasted root vegetables, morrocan beets with mint, winter fruit salad and chocolate coconut pie. In the “make the picture” category, design and print a beautiful menu to share with your guests! It feels special and personal and exotic all at once.

On the year in question, I’d found a great leg of lamb on sale for a reasonable price (hook up with a local farmer for your very best lamb…)… Root vegetables can be mixed and matched, I used potatoes and carrots and onions.

With that theme and the lamb on the menu, I added the Morrocan spiced beets with mint. And for a palate cleansing salad, the fabulous winter fruit on a bed of butter lettuce.

My favorite piece was the gluten free Chocolate silk pie in a chocolate-coconut crust with homemade whipped cream … holidays, and dessert especially, are always a challenge for folks with dietary needs. this enabled us to have a sweet treat that wouldn’t bust the diet, the budget or the gut.

Ya’ll have a wonderful, happy, merry holiday of your choosing. Laugh, love, treasure and never, ever, forget that life is ridiculously short. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!


Gramma’s clam dip

8 oz sour cream

8 oz cream cheese

Juice from 1 lemon

2TB juice from one can of minced clams (save some to thin the dip if needed while mixing)

1TB dried minced onions

A dash of Worcestershire Sauce

Put these ingredients in a medium mixing bowl & beat on high speed with electric mixer.

Add 2 cans drained minced clams

Mix thoroughly. Refrigerate.

To have the most authentic experience, serve only with Ruffles potato chips. Yes, this is one of the exceptions to healthy eating! To have a healthy experience, use gluten free crackers for dipping…

This is the recipe I followed, for the most part, for the Herb Roasted Leg of Lamb and gravy. Turned out SUPER yum!! I marinated the roast for 24 hours in a tupperware container, rotating and shaking several times during the course of the time. I used an excellent stone ground mustard in place of the Dijon (just like it better). I placed one onion, quartered; three large peeled carrots, cut just in half; and, a half dozen rose potatoes, unpeeled, halved, in the bottom of the large Dutch oven roasting pan and tossed them with an olive oil, mustard, vinegar glaze. I placed the roast on top of the veggies and poured all of the marinade over the roast and veggies. Cooked as directed. Did pull out the roast and let the veggies cook another 20-30 minutes while the roast sat under foil.


This is the recipe for the spice blend I used on the Moroccan Beets with Mint. Parboiled and peeled first. Sliced and marinated in the spiced olive oil at room temperature until ready to cook for about 45 minutes at 350.


Winter Fruit Salad. Peel and dice two Asian pears and three nice crisp apples (in this case Pacific Rose). Spritz with fresh lemon juice as you work to prevent browning. Add 3/4 C dried cranberries and 3/4 C walnuts. Toss with 1 small jar pomegranate vinaigrette (in this case a store bought item), cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Place a handful of torn butter lettuce leaves in a bowl. Add two heaping spoonfuls of fruit salad. Top with goat cheese.

Chocolate silk pie in a chocolate-coconut crust. (NO BAKE!)

This is the recipe for the pie filling.


Chocolate coconut crust from Fannie Farmer:

2 oz unsweetened chocolate

2 TB butter

1 C powdered sugar

3 TB hot water

1 1/2 C flaked coconut

Melt chocolate and butter in a small pan over low heat. Mix the sugar and hot water together in a wall bowl. Add the chocolate and butter to the sugar, then stir in the coconut. Press the mixture firmly into a pie pan and chill.

I did pie crust first. Let it chill in the fridge while I made the filling. Let the filling cool a bit and then just poured into crust, covered and ate the next day! Serve with a sprinkle of coconut and homemade whipped cream. The real thing! Buy a small container of whipping cream. Put a metal bowl in the freezer. Pull out when ready to serve dessert. Pour in cream. Add 2 TB sugar. Beat with electric mixer on high for 5-10 minutes. Bite me Cool Whip!! LOL


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1 Comment

  1. Steve Finkel on 12/24/2018 at 12:53 PM

    Good article and good recipes (I think). I have forwarded it to my wife who is not a dog person, but who is a cooking person.

    Thank for the excellent reading/interviews this year and Merry Christmas to you and your fine dogs. God bless us, everyone!

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