Friday, August 22, 2008

Dog Show News and Other Fruity Tales from New England

Primarily, this is a food blog, and I usually keep to my proper format. But perhaps you will indulge me this once with a wee brag about my handsome little PBGV buddy, Grady. By way of a preface, I should tell you that I got my first would-be show dog, Prunelle, SEVEN years ago, but she didn't really turn out to be the finest example of the breed. So after a lot of disappointment in the ring, some PBGV breeder friends of mine entrusted me with Grady, AKA Goose Creek Wonder Boy (get the reference?). He is a very nice dog, but as a novice owner-handler competing in the same ring with professionals who have grown up in the dog show world and/or make their living at handling and grooming....well, it's still tough going trying to finish my dog's championship by myself. Add to this my paltry teacher's salary that only allows me to travel to shows three or four times a year, and it will come as no surprise that Grady is four and has been sitting on ten (out of the required 15) points for quite some time. I even got desperate and hired a professional handler (a PBGV breeder) to show him for me last month in West Springfield, MA, hoping to earn what is known as a major--a win of three, four or five points (meaning you have to beat a number of dogs all at once, not just one dog per show for 15 shows--got it?). But still, no luck. Flash forward to this past weekend in Fitchburg, MA. (Fair warning: settle in for a Harry Potter or Twilight Saga-length story! Despite the fact that I am a public speaking teacher, I know nothing about brevity.)

I should begin by telling you that I very nearly did not make it to Fitchburg last Saturday. There was only one other class male (that is, non-champion) entered, and I was worried that I would travel all that way (five hours), and the other male might be absent, meaning no points to be won unless, by some very slim chance, he beat all of the females. And what were the odds that Grady was going to beat all five lovely ladies all by his lonesome own-some? I also almost turned around and headed back when I realized--in Swanton, Vermont when I stopped at Mickey D’s for a bite of breakfast--that I had left my bank card at home, and I had only $15 cash on me. Happily, I discovered a credit card in my bag, and I hoped that that would carry me through the weekend, so I trudged onward. Since I had to leave home at 7am to make it to the show in time, the sleeplessness plus seasonal allergies made me groggy and bleary-eyed. It was a LONG trip, to say the least! Then Mapquest took me on a weird route through New Hampshire and down into the top of Massachusetts via Route 12, and I somehow missed my final turnoff and got horribly lost. I was verging on hysteria when I finally made it to the show site, right at our posted ring time! I didn’t even have time to groom Grady—just ran a brush through him quickly and hurried inside. Happily, Ring Three was WAY behind, and they still had wire weenies, little beagles, and smooth weenies to go. So I tried to remember how to breathe again and calm myself after my panic that I was going to miss the show. Once I settled down and could focus on my surroundings, I was delighted to see some familiar faces near the ring, both human and canine, so that was nice and helped put me in a better frame of mind.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t expecting to do much, if anything, in the competition that day. In fact, my goal for the whole weekend was maybe to go WD (Winners Dog, meaning the best of the non-champion boys) one of the two days and get a single point by defeating the other class male. So imagine my surprise when the judge looked hard at both dogs, gave each one last feel down their backs, and then quietly said that the dog (that was my Grady) would be Winners, and the puppy, Reserve (which is like runner-up)! I was THRILLED! In fact, I was so excited, that I nearly left the area, until my friends reminded me that I had to go back in for Best of Breed! Of course, in the BOB round, the number two (who won our most recent national specialty) and number six PBGV's in the country, respectively, were strutting their stuff and battling it out for breed domination. So the lady who was handling the Winners Bitch (best of the non-champion females) and I were chatting over in the corner, and I was playing with Grady, just trying to make it fun for him, since I thought his work was done. Then finally, we’re all lined up, and the judge seems to really be struggling with her decision for BOB, as well she should with those two fabulous males! And she was looking and looking at the Winners Bitch, and all the time, I’m secretly thinking, “I’m tired, lady. We know the bitch is going to be Best of Winners--meaning the best of the non-champion dogs, both male and female--so just choose one of the specials (champions) and let me go to my hotel and take a shower already!"

After what seemed like an eternity, she awarded CeeJay (the #2 PBGV in the land) BOB, and then I have to tell you that I almost FAINTED when she pointed to Grady as BOW and the bitch as BOS (Best of Opposite Sex). I began weeping ridiculously—the poor judge must have thought I was insane as she handed me my ribbon! I stumbled out of the ring, blind again--this time with tears--to receive lovely congratulations from my friends. Once again, to explain, when Grady beat one dog, that was only worth one point. But since the bitch won a four-point major by beating four other females, when the judge gave him BOW, he got the same points as the bitch (this is known as “crossing over”). So that was Grady’s second major—and you need two to finish a championship! YIPPEE! Despite my oafish handling and feeble grooming skills, Grady now has 14 out of 15 points with both majors! With my luck, it’ll take another year or two to get that last single. But we’ll get it eventually…I am nothing if not patient and persevering! ;-)

Here is a picture of my almost-champion! Even without proper grooming, he's pretty handsome, isn't he? :-D

And then here is a more casual shot of the little would-be champion following his glorious triumph. Doesn't he look pleased with himself? Not for his win, of course, but for what he's done to the bed! We had only been in the motel room for a few moments, when I turned around and found this (all hail the champion pillow-flipper, noting the haughty and defiant sideways glance):

Unfortunately, the show Sunday was a bust. We had to wait around all day until about 3:30 to show, then the puppy dog beat Grady (of course, he did---that would have been the one last point that we needed! ppppffftt). And on top of that, we still had a five-hour drive home! I took the same general route back, through northern Massachusetts, the southwestern corner of New Hampshire, and all the way up through Vermont. Despite my late departure, I was hoping to hit some cute little rural farmstands along the highways and byways of my journey. And indeed, I did! I managed to score some local peaches before I even left MA, and shortly thereafter, some Shiro (very sweet, yellow) plums and wild blueberries at one elderly couple's farmette in NH. Actually, the road that they lived on was THICK with wild blueberries on bushes that were taller than my head, and there were many folks that had pulled their cars over and were picking to their heart's content. But I hadn't the time, so I was happy to pay the sweet little grandma lady to pick a pint for me!

A little further along my way, I happened upon a terrific berry farm called Monadnock's near Troy, NH. Apparently, they were an Editor's Pick in 2007 for Yankee Magazine's Travel Guide to New England. I'm not surprised, as they grow all kinds of neat things there, including every kind of berry, plus black and red currants and gooseberries. I chose a pint each of raspberries and blackberries, two pints of the most GINORMOUS (cultivated) blueberries, and two more kinds of plums. I didn't remember to ask for the names of the varieties; they were both red-skinned, but one type was larger and looked like a sunset inside, and the other kind was small, but a lovely, deep wine color throughout. And of course, I believe I picked up some Vermont sweet corn before finally crossing back home into New York State. So my seasonal produce acquisitions helped take the sting out of our loss in the show ring that afternoon and made my long road trip seem shorter and much more enjoyable (well, with the help of the "Hairspray" soundtrack...tee hee).

After getting some much-needed sleep Sunday night, I undertook a couple of food-related projects earlier this week using a portion of my beautiful, newly-acquired fruit and even some of the bounty from my own garden than greeted me upon my return home (pictured above, left). First, I made the most faaaaaabulous spicy plum sauce using all three varieties of plums that I bought on my road trip and some of my own homegrown peppers. I only made half of the original recipe, which yielded four beautiful half-pint jars, to see if we liked it. We taste-tested it on pork chops that had been prepared with an Asian-style marinade. SO delicious! So now I think I need to score another couple of pounds of plums and make one more batch.

Spicy Three-Plum Sauce (adapted from the trusty Ball Blue Book)

2 pounds pitted and chopped plums, any kind or combination
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup finely chopped onion (about one small)
1 medium jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (I used four small hot peppers, including cayenne, serrano, and Super Chili--a generous tablespoon when chopped--which made this quite spicy!)
2 teaspoons mustard seed
1 teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Bring all ingredients except plums to a boil in a non-aluminum pan. Stir in chopped plums. Reduce heat and simmer until thick and syrupy, stirring often (this took, I'd say, between 30-45 minutes, until it was reduced by more than half). Mash with a potato masher or blend if you want a smoother sauce (I used my stick blender).

To can: Fill hot, clean jars with hot sauce, leaving 1/4" headspace. Wipe rims, adjust lids, and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes at 0-1000 ft., 25 minutes, 1001-6000 ft., or 30 minutes, above 6000 ft. Makes about 4 half-pints.

*This sauce is great for dipping, as a grilling sauce, or brushed on baked pork chops or chicken.


Lastly, I used the raspberries, blackberries, and some of the high-bush blueberries to make a yummy triple berry pie with a unique, vanilla-scented crust by special request for one of my most faithful farmer's market customers from last year. I adapted a recipe that I found online from my favorite new t.v. show last season, "Pushing Daisies." (Did you watch it? It's offbeat and visually amazing and wildly creative....and funny...and touching...and romantic. The main character is a pie-maker with a special, supernatural gift, beyond his touch with pastry. And it has a terrific supporting cast, including Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene of "Little Shop of Horrors" fame. Oh, just do yourself a favor, and head over to abc.com to watch all of the episodes from season one before the second season begins in October--I can't wait!). Anyway, I didn't use the cardamom, and I made a traditional two-crust pie instead of a lattice top, but it looked and smelled great when it was done. Sorry, I can't tell you how it tasted or even show you what it looked like when it was cut, as it was a special order, but I got good feedback from the recipient after the pie (and two pans of San Francisco Fudge Foggies!) were delivered. Here's the recipe that I used for the pie that I highly recommend to showcase your own luscious summer berries:

Chuck's Triple Berry Pie with Cardamom and Lattice Crust
(adapted from a recipe on
BakeSpace)

For crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup frozen vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (can substitute lard here)
5 tablespoons (or more) ice water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For filling:
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch (I used 2 T cornstarch plus 1 T tapioca flour)
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (I omitted this and added 1/2 teaspoon vanilla)
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries (about 8 ounces)
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries (about 8 ounces)
1 cup fresh blackberries (about 5 1/2 ounces)
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

Blend flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter and shortening and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix 5 tablespoons ice water and vanilla in small bowl; add to processor and blend using on/off turns until mixture begins to form moist clumps, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into two balls. Flatten each into disk; wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared two days ahead. Keep refrigerated.) Soften dough slightly at room temperature before rolling out.

To make the filling, whisk one cup sugar, cornstarch and cardamom in large bowl to blend well. Add all berries, jam and lemon peel and toss gently to coat with sugar mixture. Let stand until berries begin to juice, about 20 minutes.

Preheat to 375 degrees F. Roll out one pie crust disk on generously floured surface to 121/2-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter pie dish. Spoon filling into crust. Roll out second pie crust disk to 12 -inch round; cut into thiteen 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide strips. Arrange seven dough strips across filling, spacing evenly apart. Place 6 more more dough strips diagonally across first seven strips forming lattice. Trim strips even with overhang on bottom crust. Tuck ends of dough strips and overhang under; press to seal. Crimp edges decoratively, forming 1/2-to 3/4-inch high standing rim above sides of pie dish. Brush lattice strips (not crust edges) lightly with cream. Sprinkle strips with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. (I made a regular two-crust pie glazed with egg wash and omitted the extra sprinkling of sugar.)

Bake pie 30 minutes on a lined sheet pan on a lower rack in the oven, then cover crust edges with a foil collar to protect from overbrowning. Continue to bake pie until filling bubbles thickly in center and the crust is a deep, golden brown, about 50 minutes longer. Transfer pie to rack. Cool completely. (Can be prepared eight hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

To serve, cut pie into wedges. Serve with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

2 comments:

jsgrant said...

Gorgeous Grady! Congratulations on a job well done. And the plum pie looks great as well. But once again, I have to think of my thighs and I won't be trying the pie any time soon.

Randi said...

Congrats Grady!! He's so adorable( although I'd have loved to see a pic of the wire weenies).

For as much traveling as you do, I'm surprised you dont have a GPS. We got one in December and its seriously the best thing ever!! Totally worth the investment. It has saved us many fights in the car over directions.