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Canine Cuisine

Our columnist starts cooking for his pooches--and discovers he's not alone

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Bagels with honey and carob chips. Hand-molded truffles, filled with peanut butter and a crushed peanut-butter cookie mixture, coated with carob. Almond biscotti, decorated with carob and yogurt coating. Cinnamon- and honey-flavored pretzels, dipped in carob. Garlic-and-cheese bites. Banana-walnut biscotti. Honey-oat and vanilla-oat and chewy peanut-butter cookies. And more and more.

Woof! And welcome back, y'all.

A few months ago, when I was thinking about the annual trek back to our Midwest farm, only one thing bothered me based on extensive travel experience. Not the price of gas--having an Insight provides a certain smugness about such things--nor the succession of Motel 6 accommodations 'twixt here and there (only when I travel with Noah do I stay in the fancypants places like the Four Seasons, the Bishop's Lodge or Captain Cook's). But, being with the dogs, we're condemned to unhealthy, cross-country, fast-food, drive-through places since I won't leave them alone in the car, and because they once destroyed a room in Gillette, Wyo., when I was gone for just an hour! I know it was Marley-the-pug who instigated that destructive free-for-all.

In any case ...

The solution, I decided, was to find food product(s) that would be: a) easy; b) nutritious; and c) space-efficient (an Insight is long on mileage and very short on room). I went on the 'Net and, within 10 minutes, had about 200 recipes. That weekend, I made trial batches of baked products comprised of molasses and carob, slivered almonds and walnuts, honey and brown sugar, whole-wheat flour, toasted wheat germ, soy flour and soy milk, peanut butter and sesame seeds. I was much the beloved figure with the pups as they taste-tested what came out of the oven. And I had visions of a 2,000-mile trip that would pass sublimely as we snacked on the same foods, stopped for gas every 650 miles and finally experienced The Da Vinci Code phenomena via books-on-tape in the car.

As it turned out, we didn't make the trip this year for a variety of reasons. But the experiment led to a new level of human-canine sharing here on River Road--these snacks were so healthy and so good that we shared them on a regular basis. We still do. (A note to Laurent: Please do not ban me from Le Bistro.) I thought that I had perhaps discovered the perfect food-fuel pellet.

Because I subscribe to the idea that, after numerous millennia of Very Bright People, no thought is unique or original--although the expression, context and subsequent application may be so--it came as no surprise to me that there are lots of people here in Tucson and the larger world who have devoted themselves to making such treats. The opening paragraph is just a sample of what they offer; below is a partial list of how to get to them. It's not inclusive 'cuz I wasn't able to talk with everyone, but, those with whom I did talk raved about what they do and how they love it.

"It's the best job a person could have ... we have the best customers," says Joan Riba of Bone-Appi-Treat. She started making dog treats almost a year ago after moving here from the San Francisco Bay Area, where she had worked as a china restorer for a decade. Restoring china was stressful--"maintaining that level of perfection is taxing"--and she had been baking for her own dogs for years. Julie Steiner, who owns Uptown Pup, and who carries Riba's products, agrees that it's a great business, and the clients--canine and human--make it pleasing. Steiner also raves about the peanut-butter bones and Mutt Muffins made by Tucsonan Carey Haas.

Katie King of Four Paws Bakery is equally enthusiastic. A native Tucsonan, she tests (as all do with their own four-pawed focus group) on her most critical audience: her three dogs. She makes seven different products, and her peanut butter and honey oats seems to be the fave. She works eight hours a day, three or four days a week, to make up to 60 bags of treats, and she loves it. "It's my favorite business--it's great in terms of making living, and I want to get to the point that it's my full-time job. King says that when she started doing this two years ago and went to get her business license, the license folks looked at her oddly. Now, she notes, she has lots of colleagues.

"We have so much fun with it," says Prudence Theiss who, with her mother, Barbara Fauble, showcases approximately 10 different homemade items from their Barking Biscuit Bakery at events around town. They started their business about a year ago, and would like to have a boutique store in the future. For now, they custom-make orders to client needs.

"I absolutely love this business," says Allison Bressler, who created Cisco's Bake and Bakery a year ago this September. Bressler also works for the Humane Society of Southern Arizona and, as many of her colleagues did, started baking for dogs in a way to combat the food allergies her own animals had and have. "I've always enjoyed baking ... I looked at human recipes, took out sugars and flours and other potentially allergic things and developed recipes." It's a booming business nationally, notes Bressler.

At my store-of-choice the other day, I looked at the ingredients label for Milk-Bone Dog Treat with Real Beef Marrow: Wheat flour, beef meal and beef bone meal, sugar, cooked bone marrow (preserved with BHA, BHT and citric acid), dried digest of poultry byproducts, beef fat preserved with tocopherols, salt, cornstarch, brewers died yeast, artificial colors Includes red iron 40), iron oxide, sodium metabisulfite (dough conditioner), natural flavor.

I bought a small box and brought it home. Sisk, the collie-mix, and Marley, the pug Empress, looked at the proffered nuggets, licked them and backed away. I didn't even lick them. Instead, the three of us had toasted wheat germ and peanut-butter cookies with molasses and brown sugar.

Yes, this is important food, too. My thanks to Jill Wohlfeil of the Humane Society of Southern Arizona for contact suggestions.

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