Sunday, January 27, 2013
Boots Settles In
This morning, before I’d even finished my first double espresso, I had another pan of Irish stew bubbling on the hob.
That’s the third batch this week. Jo reckons if she sees another lamb chop, she’ll start baa-ing. It’s not because we have a freezer full of dead sheep: it’s down to the new puppy.
Boots may be the cutest dog on the planet: he’s furry, friendly, housetrained and bouncy – a perfect addition to any family. But there’s one problem: he only likes rich, homemade stock on his kibble.
If you think we’re being a trifle overindulgent towards this mutt, you’re absolutely right. Spoiled doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s my fault: any dog expert will tell you not to give a dog human food, but when he puts his head on one side, looks at you and whimpers, I just have to start chopping the onions.
“Oh, he’ll be no trouble,” Jo had said reassuringly, when she first proposed adding another dog to our menagerie.
In many ways she was right. At the dog socialization class (or “puppy school”, as Izzy calls it), the trainer took one look at him and within seconds had him walking to heel, sitting, lying down, and doing that walking-between-the-legs thing they do on The X Factor. All at just 8 weeks old. Apparently English shepherds have the intelligence of a superdog – they’re from the same lineage as farm collies, and can be used for finding dead bodies in mountain rescue operations or playing backgammon. They’ll happily spend hours rounding up ducks and cows and anything else you need to be moved. But only when you give them Irish stew, apparently.
When he’s not herding Jo and Izzy, both of whom are now twisted irrevocably round his little paw, he likes to sleep on Mabel’s head. Mabel is our younger cocker spaniel. She is longsuffering and maternal, and has a permanently worried frown on her forehead that gives her the face of an old woman. Boots also likes to chew on Mabel’s ear. Each new indignity adds another wrinkle to her sad demeanour. By contrast, Truffle, the elder spaniel, lacks the wrinkles, but has every other characteristic of an old woman: she’s intolerant, snappy and selfish. If she were human, she’d vote UKIP. Boots steers well clear.
In an effort to solve the problem, we’ve tried many different kibbles, but he rejects them all without a shot of strong, aromatic, homemade gravy. Then, like a dog possessed, he literally wolfs it down. We thought it might be due to the smell of the lamb – he is, after all, a shepherd dog. So, as an experiment, Jo made me buy some Knorr lamb stock cubes, as recommended by Marco Pierre White.
“Come on, Boots, this is Michelin-starred lamb stock,” I urged, but he sat, underwhelmed, head to one side. We tried organic; we tried Oxo cubes. He just whined and wandered over to the cooker, where pans of fresh stock were gently simmering. Of course I melted, and poured some fresh juices over his supper.
In one way, I’m glad he’s discerning. It runs in the family. Take coffee, for example. Personally I wouldn’t mind if Starbucks takes so much umbrage over David Cameron’s “wake up and smell the coffee” comment that it pulls its business out of the UK altogether. For as an imbiber of more caffeine than is good for me, it’s my humble view that Starbucks coffee sucks.
I didn’t understand why it tasted so bland until some researchers from Glasgow University discovered that Starbucks’ espressos had far less caffeine than other high street chains. Now it turns out that British people, intolerant of insipidity, were insisting on so many extra shots, that Starbucks has quietly doubled the quantity of espresso in their latte. And it’s still bland.
You see, like Boots, we English like rich, strong flavours. If you invited me to join you for coffee at Starbucks, I’m afraid I’d start whimpering, put my head on one side and implore you to take me to a nice, homegrown, taxpaying coffee shop instead. With an extra shot please.