The Pleasures of a Plate-Licker

There’s nothing like having a dog around when you’re cooking. He (or she) is always there to catch whatever morsels you may drop, to show his appreciation with a lick of the tongue, and to relieve you of the job of scraping and rinsing all the dishes before they go into the dishwasher. That pre-rinse is particularly appreciated when you’ve given a dinner party and had to play chef and chief bottle-washer, to say nothing of hostess, all at the same time.

It’s more than a year now since my Corgle (short for Corgi-Beagle) Prince Madoc died of old age and I still miss him every time I come home. As I headed for the kitchen he would be several steps ahead of me. If I put down a plate that had a mishmash of leavings (never my plate!), he would always maneuver his long tongue around it to separate the meat scraps and juices from the veggies. When he’d consumed the good stuff, he would look up longingly, hoping there was just a little more to come. Then he would return to the plate for a final lick after I’d put it in the dishwasher just to make sure he hadn’t missed anything.

Madoc 

I would often speak French to him because it was a good way to practice my langue de cuisine. I liked the fact that he never talked back, correcting my accent and grammar. And I could tell that he loved the expressive lilt of spoken French.

Some months after Madoc was gone, I tried to get a small dog from a rescue shelter in Long Island and I foolishly picked a very forlorn little creature, naming him Precious as I snuggled him in my arms and took him home. But I should have been suspicious when I gave him his first bowl of food and he hardly touched it. It developed that he had been so abused that he couldn’t trust human beings, and in the ensuing days, though he gingerly ate a little more, nothing really worked, neither love nor good food, and I had to face the painful lesson that he was as unhappy as I was. So Precious had to be returned.

Now I am looking again and I’m a little wiser. I realize that the refusal to eat is a profound sign of distress in a dog. Moreover, it’s a handicap to humane training methods because how can you use a treat to give a command or reward a fellow when the lure isn’t tempting?

I’ve often wished I could take a dog to Paris with me. I love the way the French treat their dogs, taking them everywhere, letting them run free in the parks and treating them to lunch at a neighborhood bistro, where the chef is likely to send out a little bowl of something delicious pour le chien settled under the table. I am told that the French are considerably less indulgent these days than they used to be, but they are still more civilized than we are. You can see it in a dog’s cocky stride as he accompanies his family shopping in the busy outdoor markets of Paris.

When I was about nine years old, my parents agreed to let me have my first dog. I had been begging for one and they finally gave in when they thought I was old enough to take care of the creature myself. That meant not just walking her but cooking for her because in those pre-World War II days canned and dried dog foods couldn’t be found in your local grocery. So when we brought a Scotty named Sally MacGregor back from Vermont, she settled happily into New York life—primarily, I liked to think, because she loved my cooking.

I certainly loved cooking for MacGregor. It was my first experience alone at the stove and I could do what I wanted, cooking up chopped meat with whatever leftover tidbits I could find. She particularly loved liver and bacon (perhaps that’s where I got my early start appreciating organ meats).

Jeffrey Steingarten wrote a delightful piece some years ago for Vogue describing his moment of revelation as he was grilling fat sausages for himself over an oak and mesquite fire, and his companion, Sky King, a young male Golden Retriever, looked on. After he had been given his bowl of dog food, “Sky King’s look was eloquent,” Jeffrey wrote. “‘I know that you are a fair-minded human,’ he seemed to be saying, ‘and that you have only my best interests at heart. But are you absolutely sure that I should be eating this pile of dead and desiccated pellets while you experience the feral delights of flesh? Who’s the carnivore here anyway?’”

It was a turning point and from then on Jeffrey dedicated himself to preparing such delicious and healthful dinners as Roasted Marrow Bones for his canine friend. He talked with French chefs and, of course, got a positive response (and more recipes), but most of the vets and dog food company spokesmen he consulted worried that Sky would not be getting a “complete and balanced” diet.

But Sky is doing well and Jeffrey is doing well and I think I will join them in practicing what’s-good-for-me-must-be-good-for-my-dog as soon as I find the perfect hungry creature, just little enough so I can tuck him or her under the seat when we fly off to Paris.

41 Responses to “The Pleasures of a Plate-Licker”

  1. MyLastBite says:

    Beautiful story. I’ve always had “plate lickers” in my kitchen, and currently have three wonderful and naughty rescue dogs. Life would be so boring without them!

  2. Robyn urman says:

    what a touching story…Kathy Santos contacted me on your behalf. I would love to discuss and help you find your next furever friend please contact me!!!!!

  3. Chris Chu says:

    To Ms. Jones,

    I just wanted to thank-you for your life’s work and its subsequent legacy. How marvelous is a life that is well lived, isn’t it!

  4. Nan says:

    I loved this post! We’re lucky enough to have a 10 year old “plate/floor licker” around our kitchen and I will be heartbroken when he goes…he’s naughty, rude and thinks nothing of nipping at my heels when he can but he’s also snuggly, loveable and so dang cute! I cook him breakfast every morning – after that he just gets kibble…and the occasional trip to McDonalds for ice cream…is that wrong? I wish you luck in finding the perfect 4-legged companion.

  5. Leslie says:

    Great post! My dogs have always eaten some of my food and licked the plates clean – lately they have been enjoying your roast pork tenderloin recipe.
    I think it is a good test of a person’s character – do they recoil and looked shocked when you casually put the dinner plates on the floor, or do they commend you for caring for your dog?

  6. Louisa Chu says:

    Dear Ms. Jones,

    I seemed to always know I loved your work, but now I know I love you, the food and dog loving person who’s fearlessly bittersweet. I just wanted to share that I took my dog Kiba to Paris last month. She’s a 100ish pound Malamute mix. I adopted in Alaska about a year after I lost my beloved dog Karli. Kiba was horribly abused the first years of her life but she took to Paris like a Parisienne and with a sweet tooth and nose sniffed out patisseries like a scent hound. Please don’t give up on rescue dogs. People always say my dog is so lucky that I rescued her when in fact she rescued me.

  7. annbb says:

    Just wanted you to know how much I’m enjoying your book, The Tenth Muse, My Life in Food. I’m at the point when you were with van der Groot. It is just amazing all the folks you rubbed elbows with, probably with little knowledge that a lot of them would become so well known.

  8. David Terry says:

    Dear Ms. Jones,
    Well, what a pleasure to have discovered that you have a blog. Everyone seems to be blogging these days. It was just last week that, having finally gotten around to returning this single-person houshold’s census, I told a friend “Let’s see…I’m a single, white, Episcopalian, Southern male who doesn’t blog. If I hang around long enough, I won’t have to worry about social security; they’ll probably build a special comfy-cage for me at some zoo for rare and endangered species.”

    In regard to your posting?…

    You’d enjoy a cartoon a German friend sent to me. It depicts a dog, sitting in front of a dishwasher like a sidewalk beggar, with his hind legs stuck out in front of him, and a sandwich board hung around his neck, proclaiming “FREE RINSE-CYCLE”

    And thank you for “The Tenth Muse”. I just finished reading it.

    Sincerely,
    David Terry
    http://www.davidterryart.com
    P.S…more than somewhat off-topic (but I hope you’ll enjoy the comment), a friend’s reply to the remark made above was “Oh… You’re a little white man living in a little white house with two little white dogs? Actually, you’re more likely to end up in a commercial for The Mormons.”

  9. Barbara Hopwood says:

    Dogs aside, our late and well fed cat, Buddy knew exactly what I was doing when the cutting board came out. A claw to the edge of the counter always garnered a piece of beef or a chicken liver. He could lick plates with the best of them. My kitchen still proudly carries a door hanger announcing that the cook is not responsible for the cat fur in the food.

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