MALIBU WAY OF LIFE: Jack’s world-or, how I learned to stop dieting and love the dog

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The author's dog, Jumbo Jack.

About once a week someone asks me how I’m able to sample full menus of restaurant fare and keep my figure in form. Eyes wide, I can feel a snicker rise up the back of palate into my nose like the fizz of too-fast Pepsi as I explode in a burst of mirth somewhere between a guffaw and a chortle. I left sylph-like in high school and my curves are more zaftig than dangerous. Still, given the omnivorous nature of my work, I could be more Pillsbury Dough Boy than Mrs. Field except for one very tiny thing – my dog.

If he’s had a big breakfast, he’s four pounds soaking wet. His legs from belly to heel measure a mere four inches, yet when he gets all four legs in motion, they’re a blur of rapid movement that propels me at a half jog down the street behind him. It is ludicrous that I, with my 34-inch legs, cannot keep up with a dog that is ankle-high, but it’s true.

Things were not always this way. We first got his brother when he was a fluff-ball barely big enough to swamp my palm. I adored him and took him everywhere, tucked in a pocket or astride his favorite perch, my right shoulder. It took weeks for him to grow big enough for the smallest collar, but one day I led him to the street and put him down tethered to a light leash. He sat – and he stared.

“Come on,” I crooned, “let’s go visit” as I tugged just a bit. He tugged back. I pulled, he pulled, back-and-forth. I crouched to break the impasse and sang softly, “Macho, macho man, you’re gonna be my macho man.” He ran up to me and I crab-walked backwards, leading him on. As long as I sang, he followed. When I stopped, he stopped. All the way to a friend’s house.

Of course we named him Macho Man, but his real name was a gift from Dr. Lisa Newell at Malibu Animal Hospital. One day, while he was still a puppy, he tumbled and we rushed him to the vet, scribbling his name on the emergency room form and handing him to an assistant for x-rays. We waited breathlessly for 10 minutes until a vet I’d never met came into the waiting room. She called out, “Mack Homan, is there anybody here named Mack Homan?” It took a moment, but I answered, “Macho Man,” a question rising at the end. Indeed. Forever more, he was Big Mac.

Mac died last fall in another tumble, but before we lost the tiny dog with the biggest heart, we had adopted his brother. Tall jackrabbit ears, lanky legs and a strange habit of springing all four legs into the air when he sprints earned him a companion name, Jumbo Jack. He’s not much bigger than a burger, but he keeps the fat off and brings a smile as broad as that of the clown’s.

Birthday Bones for Bowser

When we first moved to Malibu there was a Christmas story in Sunset Magazine about dog gifts, including a sure-to-make-him-drool bone recipe from Tom Rice. The effect of baking a batch was so galvanizing, it became a regular treat. Then, our house burned—and the recipe with it. I called Sunset begging for a copy but no one remembered it. Now, thanks to the wonders of the Web, a new generation of dogs is slavering in our kitchen. Bone apetit!

Makes about 4 dozen, 3-inch long bones

1 lb. liver, rinsed and chunked

2 large eggs, washed

1 cup cottage cheese

1-1/2 cups wheat germ

About 3-1/4 cups. whole wheat flour

1. Boil liver with 1 cup water for about 5 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid.

2. Puree liver and whole eggs in a blender, adding liquid as needed to create a thick, smooth paste.

3. Scrape mixture into bowl. Add cottage cheese, wheat germ, and 3 cups flour. Stir until evenly moist, adding reserved liquid to make a heavy dough.

4. Knead until no longer sticky, adding more flour if necessary. Roll onto a floured board until 1/2-inch thick and cut into doggie shapes with floured cookie cutter.

5. Bake in 300-degree oven until bones are tinged darker brown and feel firm to touch, about an hour. By this time, you will have to wipe the nose-prints off the oven door.

6. Cool on racks. Bones should be hard when pressed; if not, bake a few minutes more. Store in airtight tins for up to two weeks, or share with neighbors.