Monday, January 30, 2012

English Toffee Cookies and Bedtime Stories

Guest post by Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

Once again I discovered a misplaced recipe in heap of recipes destined for recycling. As I sniffed the pile, a faint but delicious scent of vanilla and cinnamon with a hint of walnuts teased my nostrils.

The recipe said, "English Toffee Cookies. 4/29/74." The words "Excellent & pretty rich" scrawled off to one side caught my eye. I placed the recipe near the basket of nuts from Grouse Mountain Farm.

To make things happen around here, everything has to be in the right place at the right time.

I love walnuts but I can't remove the shells myself. That's where humans come in--a person can crack these nuts from Grouse Mountain Farm with their hands. FYI--it's more work than you think to bring the nuts to the canine who has an expanded range of tastes. Check out this video.

Canines must be super-obvious about what we want. I'm talking over-the-top--an intense stare with saliva trailing out the side of your mouth is your best bet, otherwise humans are so tuned into their Iphones and Ipods they'd never get the message.

My dog park buddies can't believe I like nuts. "You like what??" they'll ask pausing over a stick or ball, as if I'd said I love eating drywall. Clearly we're a nation of dogs who have been eating the same things for much too long. Got kibble. Really? It's time to branch out. But try and get dogs to change, move beyond their usual routines and that's when they seem most like humans mired in their ways and living in denial about it.

It's really not all that surprising, but then again, none of my dog park buddies grew up listening to bedtime stories or learned to read books as puppies (not even the know-it-all German shepherd, though he claimed he read Garth Stein's book when I first met him.)

These were my favorite stories when I was young.

An interruption of one of those stories led to my discovery of walnuts.

I mentioned in my last post old Abe was my unwilling mentor, and he was possibly the greatest unsung food thief that ever lived, at least in our house. I wanted to be just like him. But Abe was always one step ahead of me.

It was just the three of us then, plus Gino the cat, who played with me from time to time and occasionally knocked things off shelves, but Gino never shared our love of the carrot or walnut.

Abe liked every thing edible, and some nonedible stuff such as pretzels, which barely pass as faux food in my book. The old guy slept with both nostrils open and never missed an opportunity to steal food. An open cupboard door, a market bag parked on the floor, a bowl of hummus carelessly left on a low table--Abe ate everything. The sly old coot once polished off an Irish coffee, licking the entire mug clean.

A surly, unrepentant lifetime sofa surfer, Abe wanted nothing to do with me, and when I didn't take him seriously and followed him where ever he went, he curled a lip and growled. But all I wanted was to be just like him--without the sorry-ass sour attitude.

So one afternoon, we sat around the lady as she read a story. I gazed at the picture of Boswell climbing the stairs as she read, "No obstacles deter me in my search for higher things." No one noticed when Abe left.

CLUNK! We all turned to look in the kitchen. Abe had spilled the basket of walnuts in the kitchen.

"Hey!" shouted the lady, standing up. I peered over the sofa and watched walnuts roll across the floor and Abe slink out of the kitchen. The lady tossed the book aside and we heard: CRUNCH, CRUNCH! Abe had stopped to chew his treasure.

The lady pried his mouth open. Pieces of walnut and shell fell out, and she said, "Who knew you liked walnuts?" She laughed, surprised.

First dog rule: laugh, and no one takes you seriously.

But humans are inconsistent and we canines use their predictably inconsistent behavior to our advantage.

Instead of taking the nut away, the lady peeled the shell, even took care to remove all the sharp pieces.

Whoa--if you can get your humans to peel nuts for you, you can get them to do anything. She handed Abe the nut. Anything that geezer dog wanted, he got.

What dog wouldn't want what Abe had?

I was by his side in a flash, as was Badger my co-conspirator. The lady cracked another nut; handed us each a piece. Badger spit out her nut, which I quickly snapped up and wolfed down.

You learn to eat first and think about it later when the pack surrounds you.

I wouldn't be surprised if the lady found empty shells in the back of Abe's crate, he'd probably been stealing them for years. Oh I was learning a lot already and I hadn't even set foot in dog school yet. (to be continued)

As a species, canines have come a long way thanks to humans--Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire, comes to mind. I think dogs were manipulating humans long before plants picked up that idea.

This recipe is a little more decadant than the usual recipes here, but in order to qualify according to Management the following can be procured locally:

Whole wheat pastry flour (Nash's Organic Produce)
Eggs (River Farm, Growing Things, Stokesbury, Skagit River Ranch)

Vegans could use half a mashed banana instead of the egg (and omit the egg white brush) and a vegan equivalent of butter. The bars may not hold together as well.

English Toffee Cookies
(Makes about 3 dozen cookies)

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 275F. Butter a 7 by 9-inch cake pan.

2. Cream the butter and sugar until smooth.

3. Add the egg yolk and vanilla, mix in thoroughly. In another bowl combine the flour and cinnamon. Mix the wet and dry ingredients, using your hands to blend the mixture together.

4. Spread mixture into the pan and press the dough over the entire surface. Whip the egg white, then brush it over the top of the dough. Sprinkle the nuts over the entire surface and gently press them down before baking.

5. Bake for 1 hour. Cut into 1-inch squares while still hot. Wait until cool to carefully remove from the pan.

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