Everything I need to know in life, I am learning from my dog.
She’s a mess, but she’s an amazing little mess, and I learn a lot from how she lives her life. Here are all the ways she’s teaching me lately.
1. She takes time to smell the roses — literally (especially if the roses have recently been peed on, but I digress).
I only recently started to appreciate this about her; it used to annoy me. When I take her outside, I’m always in a hurry to get back inside, get to work, or get to bed. She likes to explore, though, sniffing each blade of grass with intense concentration, evaluating the pheromones of all the dogs there before her, finding interesting plants to pee on, and investigating the occasional mushroom. I’ve noticed with some sadness lately that she seems rushed and nervous, knowing I’m going to pull her away from her survey at any moment. Why am I in such a hurry? I’m resolving now to wake up a little earlier, stay outside with her a little longer, and maybe smell the roses (not as literally, perhaps) a little more myself.
2. She stays positive. She’s been limping recently due to a back injury, but I’ll be darned if she doesn’t limp right up to me with a bone in her mouth, ready to play fetch! Now that’s optimism. (And that’s also a guilt trip, since she knows I’m gonna say no!) Personally, if I get so much as a cold, I can become a huge Chocolate-Chip-Cookie-Dough-eating baby. I could use some of Byrd’s positive attitude.
3. She wiggles. It’s just cute! Okay, I guess it might be kind of weird if I start doing this one.
4. She asks for what she needs. I can be pretty passive at times. Sometimes I’m shy about my desires or needs, so I’ll just hint at them or hope people can read my mind. This can produce miscommunication and frustration. Byrd, on the other hand, is about as direct as she can possibly be. If she wants me to throw her bone, she sets it on my foot and howls like a banshee. When she needs to go out in the middle of the night, she stares at me and cries. When she wants her food, she spins in circles until I put her bowl down. She may not be verbal, but she makes her needs known, and therefore they get met. If I want my needs to be met, I need to be just as straightforward.
5. She lets people know that she loves them. However, she does this with full frontal licking attacks (sticking her tongue up my nostril is her favorite), so perhaps I should find different tactics. Perhaps.
6. She’s not perfect. Did I mention that she’s a mess? Evidence:
- -I had to take a sick day during the second week of school to take her to the vet because she periodically just kind of falls apart (knee, hip, back, allergies, upset tummy, you name it).
-She’s one of those expensive fluff-balls you have to groom every month.
-She had an accident in the floor today. And yesterday.
-She also barks at loud noises (and soft noises. And silence.) Basically, this (language warning!).
She feels bad about these mistakes when admonished, but she’s resilient, and she continues to believe that she deserves my love. Why can’t we be like that? When I make a mistake, I feel like I just kicked a kitten or shut down a children’s hospital. I feel like I don’t deserve people’s mercy or love. But you know, there’s only so much you should punish yourself for goofing up!
7. She may be a mess, but she’s worth the trouble. And I am, too.
Even now, Byrd is teaching me. I’m currently learning all about the joys of relaxation from listening to her snore on the blanket beside me, sleeping off a busy day of pooping on my carpet. I’ll carry her into my bedroom in a moment for our bedtime, but before that, I wanted to tell you about possibly one of the best pumpkin recipes I’ve ever tasted. It’s not as cute as a fluffy poodle, but it is incredibly delicious (something poodles probably aren’t. I don’t ever want to find out if that’s true or not.)
This cake isn’t really “German” as in the nationality, but it includes the filling from German Chocolate Cakes (which are named in honor of Sam German, an American who created a product for Baker’s Chocolate.) It’s a moist, simple pumpkin skillet cake with a layer of gooey, rich toasted pecan and coconut filling ladled over top. Mike and I ate it with ice cream (duh) and a totally excessive drizzle of caramel sauce, swooning with every bite. You’re going to LOVE it.
What does your pet teach you?
Gooey “German” Pumpkin Skillet Cake
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, with filling adapted from David Lebovitz
Yield: about 8 servings
This cake is INSANE and easy and you just have, have, have to make it. That is all.
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup toasted pecans (optional, see note in directions)
“German” Filling Ingredients:
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 ounces butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped (see note in directions)
1 cup unsweetened coconut, toasted (see note in directions)
Note: To toast your chopped pecans, spread them on a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees F for about 6 minutes or until fragrant, stirring a couple of times. Toast coconut the same way, stirring often (it might take less time, however: maybe 4-5 minutes total). Don’t be scared and pull the nuts and coconut out when it’s pale — let it get good and dark, but not burnt.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet (I used a 10-inch) over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the vegetable oil, sugars, and vanilla and remove from heat. Let this mixture cool until the pan is no longer hot (about 5 minutes) so you won’t scramble your eggs.
Add both eggs to the butter mixture, whisking them well to combine. Whisk in the pumpkin. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice (Note: it’s kind of lame to use another bowl for this and I think you should be able to just dump all your dry ingredients on top and whisk them in well, but I was too chicken to try. If you just dump them in, please let me know how it goes!)
Stir in the toasted pecans if you’re using them. Bake your skillet cookie for 15-35* minutes, or until the edges are getting golden and the center is still soft (a toothpick inserted into the center should come out with some moist crumbs, but no liquid batter).
While your cake bakes and then cools for a bit, make the filling. Place the butter, salt, toasted coconut, and toasted pecans in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the cream, sugar, and egg yolks over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened, coats the spoon, and reads 170 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Pour this mixture over the coconut mixture and stir until the butter melts. Let the mixture cool completely (I set mine in the fridge once it was almost cool to thicken it some more.) Spread the cooled mixture over the surface of the pumpkin cake. Eat immediately (preferably straight from the skillet, with heaps of vanilla bean ice cream!)
*Depending on your skillet, this cooking time can really vary. I’d start checking at 15 minutes and then check every couple of minutes after that with toothpicks. Make sure to look for moist crumbs, not a clean toothpick. If you overbake, it might be dry!