Monthly Archives: March 2011

Dogs Dogs Dogs!

I am an unapologetic dog lover.  In fact, I love all animals; dogs are just at the top of a long list that probably also includes goats in the top five.  My deep love of dogs was reawakened when my partner and I adopted our dog, Luna, from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Old Windsor about a year ago.  Battersea’s main rescue centre is in London – south of the Thames in – you probably guessed it – Battersea.  After Luna entered our lives, I quickly became obsessed with training techniques, dog behaviour, and dog breeds.  Luna is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier – a much maligned breed.  Staffies have received a lot of bad press in the UK in the last several years because they’ve become popular with young thugs who use them as ‘status dogs’ – or toothy, intimidating fashion accessories.  So any of you who may have some romantic idea that the British care for their dogs better than Americans do, or have this cheerful days-gone-by Barbara Woodehouse ‘W a l k i e e e e s!’ vision of how Britons treat their dogs, is, sadly, mistaken.

Luna

Our beloved Luna trying to convince us that she should have another dinner helping. © 2011 Neil Print

Staffies and Staffie crosses are also used in the UK for illegal dog fighting, much like Pit Bull Terriers in the US.  Pit Bulls; Dogo Argentinos; Japanese Tosas; and Fila Brasilieros are illegal in the UK.  The Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) 1991 is breed specific legislation and has specifically banned these four breeds.  Many reports claim that the DDA has not been at all effective in controlling dangerous dogs, and that there has actually been an increase in the number of illegal breeds, and dangerous dog activity since the DDA was passed.  Most rescue centres are opposed to the measure and many would like to see the DDA repealed in favour of a more effective law that Punishes the Deed Not The Breed – in other words, a law that gets the dogs out of the hands of criminals and punishes the humans, not the innocent, abused animals, who were conditioned to be aggressive by their wannabe gangsta owners.  I agree wholeheartedly.

 

Crufts 2011 Agility

Inspector Stephen Hague from the Blue Cross with his three-legged mongrel called Douglas, competing in the Team Agility category on the first day of Crufts 2011 at the Birmingham NEC. Copyright onEdition 2011©

The UK’s rescue centres and pounds are stuffed full of Staffies and Staffie crosses; Staffies as well as Pit Bulls and other illegal breeds are being put down in unprecedented numbers because the rescue and pound infrastructure can no longer handle the vast number of dogs in need.  The DDA does not work.  One of the reasons I rescued a Staffie was that they seemed to be the breed that was most in need at this time; additionally, the breed fit with our family lifestyle enough that it would be appropriate to adopt one.  Greyhounds are much in need as well; fortunately Greyhounds don’t receive the bad press Staffies do.  Unfortunately, not all Greyhound racers treat their dogs in a humane fashion; there are plenty of ‘retired’ Greyhounds available in rescues as well.

 

 

Crufts 2011 Flyball

A team member from the Warrington Warriors during the afternoon's flyball preliminaries on the first day of Crufts 2011 at the Birmingham NEC. Copyright WWI/onEdition 2011©

 

Breed specific legislation is not limited to the UK.  My own gorgeous hund is banned from entering Germany.  Looks like she won’t be coming with us to Oktoberfest.  Maybe beer should be banned too, since some people can’t control their drinking, und – Gott im Himmel! – that could lead to erratic and dangerous behaviour!  Such reactionary laws help no one – animal or human.  Especially those whose animals and children are attacked by small terriers and Border Collies.  No one has ever suggested banning those breeds.  And no one ever will – and they shouldn’t, really.  There has been lots of talk lately, about reforming Britain’s DDA.  It is possible that in the near future, the DDA will repeal the breed specific part of the act.  The DDA may also enact compulsory microchipping for all dogs.  I would welcome both actions, should all this talk come to any fruition.

Black Bull Terrier

Did I do good? Huh? Did I do good?? © 2011 Neil Print

As a dog lover, I’m also interested in dog shows and dog show results.  In the UK, the ‘big show’ is Crufts.  I’m not fanatical about dog shows, and I am aware of, but ambivalent to, animal rights advocates’ perceptions, as well as the humane and ethical questions surrounding pedigree breeding and shows such as Crufts.  But I do like to see things for myself, and have always wanted to attend Crufts at least once, so my partner and I went to this self-billed, largest dog show in the world, founded by Charles Cruft in 1891, last Saturday.  I don’t know why there is no apostrophe in ‘Crufts.’  Perhaps the Kennel Club thought they’d save ink or electrons by omitting it.

Terrier Group Finalists Crufts 2011

Terrier Group Finalists at Crufts 2011 wait for the judge's decision on the winner and runners up. © 2011 Neil Print

Crufts, held at the Birmingham (the original one, in England’s Midlands) National Exhibition Centre (NEC), concluded its four-day dog show on Sunday, culminating with its famous Best in Show award.  A Retriever (Flat Coated) won Best in Show on Sunday, 13 March 2011, proving that he really was the dog’s bollocks.  I will provide you with a show results link, since, as of this writing, The Kennel Club has not responded to my email asking them for permission to use their images, and protects its copyright on said images and text in an exceptionally fervent manner.  As such, I believe the use of their images would not fall under the US ‘fair use’ or UK ‘fair dealing’ copyright guidelines.  I do not write a blog with the express intent of being sued for copyright infringement, so please click here to see photos of the Best in Show and group winners: Crufts 2011 Photos.

Crufts 2011 Best in Show

Jim Irvine from Queensferry, Edinburgh with his Retriever (Flat Coated) Jet, after winning Best of Show on 13 March 2011, the fourth and final day of Crufts 2011 at the Birmingham NEC. Copyright onEdition 2011©

Update [24 March 2011]: Crufts and World Wide Images, the Crufts images copyright owner, replied to my communications reasonably quickly (I was the inefficient one… I’ve had access to the images for several days now) and granted me permission to use Crufts 2011 photos in my blog.  This does NOT mean that the images are free for others to use. Please ask World Wide Images if you want to use any of their photos; they seem like very reasonable people, and just may reply in the affirmative to your request.  Please do click on the above link if you would like to see a lot of photos, as I only have room for a few here.


DFS, a furniture chain best known for its seemingly endless sofa sales, is Crufts’s sponsor.  I continue to be more than vaguely disgusted about the hijacking, by sponsors, of event and arena names.  Event organisers and arena owners are more than just complicit in this practice of overt greed.   But that’s a subject for another blog.  I will now gladly return to discussing dogs.

Black Straffie during breed judging, Crufts 2011

A gorgeous black Straffie during breed judging, Crufts 2011.

Crufts’s sponsor used to be Pedigree brand pet food; Pedigree announced their departure from sponsorship of the show in 2008 after growing publicity surrounding the ill health of inbred pedigree show dogs. Click here to read a Guardian article about this.  I have a problem with the practice of inbreeding as well.  I’m also a little amused at the ironic brand – even a little surprised that Pedigree hasn’t yet decided to change its brand name.  But I’m pragmatic with regard to this subject: pedigree dogs aren’t going to go away, just because you may disagree with their existence.  I think it’s a better approach to protect and promote the health of every dog, from a Polly Purebred Poodle, to a Heinz 57 mongrel, and specifically call on pedigree breeders to better police themselves.  I now prefer to acquire my dogs through rescue centres (many of which are breed specific), but I don’t know if I have the right to force everyone to do so.

 

Staffie ring, Crufts 2011

One of the Staffie rings at Crufts 2011. They're all winners in my book. © 2011 Neil Print

In the interest of some balance in reporting, I did witness quite a bit of adoration at Crufts.  Most of the competitors I saw seemed to love their dogs to bits whether they won in the ring or not.  Crufts organisers are now stressing canine health much more than they did in the past.  Arguably, their attitude has changed due to all the negative press they have received in the last few years.  Moreover, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and Dogs Trust, the largest dogs charity in the UK, have both ceased to associate with and attend Crufts because of the negative breeding practices and animal welfare issues already touched upon here.

Crufts 2011 Reserve

Gavin Robertson from Wallingford, Oxfordshire with his Basset Griffon Vendeen (Petit) called Gilly, Reserve Best of Show on 13 March 2011. Copyright WWI/onEdition 2011©

 

In its own defence, The Kennel Club stresses that it adheres to strict breeding guidelines that emphasize the health of the dogs.  The organisation advises on how to avoid buying from puppy farms/mills and runs its own accredited breeders programme to ensure the health and humane treatment of puppies and their parents.  Some say that these developments come too late.  Perhaps.  But better late than never, as my father used to say.  I would argue that the public’s perception of what constitutes positive animal welfare has changed dramatically in the last 20 years even.  I hope that those who criticise The Kennel Club are also eschewing eggs laid by battery hens, as well as veal and lamb, and even farmed fish.  PETA members are probably among the above.  I hope I don’t attract too much criticism from them.

Terrier Group Winner Crufts 2011

A slightly blurry photo of the ultimate Terrier Group Winner, a Fox Terrier (Wire). © 2011 Neil Print

Crufts was large.  Massive, in fact.  Surprisingly, thousands of dogs and thousands of people all in one place from 8:30AM – 8:30PM did not smell all that bad.  I guess all of us had bathed for the occasion.  My other half later remarked on something that I didn’t notice while we were there – and upon reflection, I think he was correct.  The human attendees were overwhelmingly white.  There were so few people of colour there that the only minorities I can remember seeing were some Asian guys watching one of the jumbotrons of the Hound judging, outside the main arena, which was still packed when we left on Saturday evening.  If you identify with a non-caucasian group and you attended Crufts, I’m sorry to have missed seeing you there, and apologise for any misrepresentation you may perceive on my part.  Please feel free to comment.

White Bull Terrier

I am a fat cheeky Bull Terrier and everybody loves me! © 2011 Neil Print

This observation on the part of my husband made me reflect on the demographic interested in dog ownership, dog shows and the Kennel Club.  I suppose that there are some cultural, and even religious reasons (perhaps, like the ancient Egyptians you worship cats, or perhaps, like many modern Egyptians, your religion perceives dogs as ritually unclean) for avoiding dog ownership or developing any kind of canine admiration.  But I wonder if some of it has financial roots as well.  Dogs are expensive to keep.  Pedigree dogs even more so.  And the Kennel Club is a bit of a posh organisation.  One must be elected to membership.  To retain even more exclusivity, membership is limited to 1,550 people.  Perhaps I have encountered an unanticipated piece of the British class system and social strata in action?  I was ignorant about much of this subculture before I attended Crufts, and I probably still am.  What do I know?  I’m just American riff-raff.

A Bedlington Terrier

A Bedlington Terrier on the ring judging table. © 2011 Neil Print

I think it’s interesting to compare the Dog Groups into which the Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club (AKC) organise the breeds.  If you’ve read this far into my narrative, chances are that you will be too, so I will elucidate.  The Kennel Club splits dog breeds into seven Groups: Gun Dogs; Hounds; Pastoral; Terrier; Toy; Utility; and Working Dogs.  The AKC uses eight Groups: Herding; Hound; Non-Sporting; Sporting; Terrier; Toy; Working Dogs; and something called ‘Miscellaneous.’  Miscellaneous seems to me to be an insult both to the dog and the humans, who in days gone by, bred the dog for a specific purpose.  Surely, if one looks into a breed’s history, one can ascertain how the animal was employed and place it into a corresponding Group?  You can probably guess here that I prefer the Kennel Club system.  It seems to me there is less room for ambiguity, if you care about that sort of thing.  I am pedantic, so I do.

Parson Russell Terrier Best in Breed, Crufts 2011

The Parson Russell Terrier Best in Breed, moves in the Terrier finalist ring, Crufts 2011. © 2011 Neil Print

For those wondering (I did) who runs the US’s famous Westminster Dog Show – the answer is: the Westminster Kennel Club, which predates the American Kennel Club.  The Westminster Kennel Club now falls under the umbrella of the AKC, however.  There is no Best in Group award for the Miscellaneous Group and it looks to me, when I compare the AKC and Westminster Kennel Club websites, that there aren’t even Breed awards for the dogs classed as Miscellaneous.  Even more insulting.  The poor Miscellanies.  They don’t know that they’re Miscellanies, and I’m sure every one of them deserves an award just for being a spectacular dog.

Bull Terrier, Crufts 2011

Can we go home now? © 2011 Neil Print

Finally, it’s my humble opinion that every one of the dog owners who attends one of these shows goes home to the best dog in the world.  I know I did.

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Flipping Out Over Pancake Day and More: British Cuisine Part One

Here’s a warning label on the flashy packaging right up front: my British audience of three might find my food instalments boring. Or if you have no interest in cooking or chefs or a cuisine that people consistently have told you all your life does not exist, you may struggle through all 1,687 glittering words of this post as well as the cuisine-related posts that will follow.  However, at least this blog won’t kill you or cause birth defects (I’ve hired a bunch of journalists to check the science on this, so I’m sure I’m right), or even cost you anything except a few minutes of your time.  Precious minutes that you will never get back – so if you read this in its entirety, I will be flattered that you thought it worth your while.

To say I like food is an understatement.  I wish I felt indifferent to it, but I don’t – so I cope the best way I know how.  By looking at pictures of it.  (I like to call this Food Porn.)  And reading cookbooks and recipes, and of course cooking it, and (gasp!) eating it.  All this has led me to develop a decent background in British Cuisine.  Such as it is.  OK, I couldn’t resist that pot shot – it’s an elderly joke but there seems to be plenty of mileage left in the old girl yet.  However, I’m here today (and tomorrow) to challenge your long-held belief that the British don’t have (other than Fish and Chips) “A Food.”  Now, if the Italians can have A Food, and the Chinese can have A Food, then the British can also have A Food.  This is an equal opportunity blog, dammit.

I’ve found the food quality in England to be quite good, and have noticed the difference, especially with eggs and cheese and other dairy products.  The superior richness in flavour is startling.  I’m sure that part of this has to do with the widespread availability and use of free range eggs (any other kind will soon be illegal in the European Union), and the absence of mega-dairies.  The cows here are still allowed to wander free and eat fresh grass.  That should be their right, as it should be the right of chickens to be free of tiny, confining battery cages.  I am 100 percent opposed to factory farming.  Besides the animal cruelty involved, our food quality suffers immensely when these methods are used.

Crud.  I can feel myself Going Native – I’m already submerging in this cultural quicksand.  Soon the only thing left of me to see will be an arm slowly sinking in the mire, waving a placard that reads: Please throw in some Extra Mature Cheddar, a jar of Piccalilli and a Cadbury Dairy Milk Whole Nut bar. And maybe a cheese and onion slice.

A very important day in the British Food Calendar is deliciously speeding its way to the population of this crowded island.  Pancake Day.  Also known as Shrove Tuesday.  Also known as Fat Tuesday.  Also known as – yes – you’ve probably caught on by now: Mardi Gras.  The British are too reserved to drunkenly dance down a crowded street half-naked but for a hundred strands of shiny beads, so they eat pancakes instead.

These Pancakes are nothing like American pancakes; they are the crêpe’s tasty sibling.  The traditional topping is granulated sugar and lemon juice.  I am told, with great reverence, that technique is extremely important when cooking these pancakes.  They must be pan-tossed in the air properly; no other method will do.  Sometimes they’re tossed while running down a street in something called a pancake race.  There are usually no beads involved, unless you count beads of sweat.

My partner and I celebrate Pancake Day with great gusto, although we cook up a variety of fillings and toppings, both savoury and sweet.  Then we eat until we’re sick.  Not everyone’s idea of fun – especially those prone to fanatical calorie counting.  But the original purpose of Pancake Day was to use up all the fattening foods in the house before Lent descended and one was expected to look sufficiently pious during the forty days preceding Easter.

If you want a recipe for traditional British Pancake Day pancakes, click here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/occasions/pancake_day Delia Smith uses half milk and half water.  My husband disagrees vehemently with this method.  It is wrong, he says.  There should be a complete absence of water from this recipe, he says.  This is not the first time one of us has disagreed with Delia, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Here are some other traditional British foods that you may or may not have heard of:

  • Yorkshire pudding: a baked crust of flour, eggs, and milk
  • Toad in the hole: sausages baked into a Yorkshire pudding
  • Bubble and squeak: many variations, often including cabbage and potatoes
  • Bangers and mash: sausages and mashed potatoes
  • Faggots: a disgusting meatball type thing
  • Scotch eggs: a hardboiled egg covered in sausage meat, coated with breadcrumbs, then baked or fried
  • Puddings: all desserts are called puddings, regardless of whether they are a pudding or not

There are photos of some of the more dubious British dishes on the Bay Area Brit’s blog: http://thebayareabrit.com/2011/02/21/you-eat-what/ I’m proud to say that I have not eaten any of them.  Except maybe a bite of the Christmas pudding and perhaps the mushy peas – you have to try some things at least once.  I actually like mushy peas – except I just make my own, using soaked dried peas and baking soda – which is called “bicarb” here, just to complicate things.  OK, and I admit to eating bangers and mash on many occasions – but they looked nothing like the dish in The Brit’s obscene photo.  And Americans, raise your hands, those of you who know what (actually Who) a Gurkha is.  A noble part of British Military History and contemporary Army forces, according to Joanna Lumley, is the correct answer.  There is a very large ex-Gurkha / Nepalese population where I live and work.  There is also a restaurant here called The Gurkha Palace.  The food there is Absolutely Fabulous.

The British (except my mother-in-law) also love their curry.  This influence from the Indian Subcontinent has permeated the British Isles with its exotic fragrances.  Although chicken tikka masala, considered to be one of the most popular curry dishes in the country, was actually invented in the Birmingham area, not the Subcontinent.  I think I had eaten Indian food a total of once before I moved to the UK.  I like curry, but there are so many Indian takeaways with inferior food, it really is astounding.  And takeaways aren’t cheap by any means!  The better ones charge even more – getting an Indian takeaway or eating out, tends to be a treat for us, as it’s child’s play to spend £20 or more on a meal for two.  That’s $32.55 as of this writing.

“Meat and two veg” is the term that is used to describe a traditional British meal.  It is equal to an American’s meat and potatoes.  My husband didn’t eat anything but this until he got to university.  His parents, although smashing people, aren’t exactly adventurous eaters.  Then his eyes were opened to pizza (I’ve yet to find a decent pizza in this country) and curry and Chinese takeaways.  Yes, Takeaways.  We don’t “Take Out” or get our food “To Go.”  Meat and two veg is also a slang term for male bits and pieces.  I sometimes wonder if this is a reflection on the poor taste of over-boiled veg.

An exceptionally popular tinned (yes, tinned, not canned) food in the UK is baked beans.  I read somewhere once that the British eat more baked beans per capita than any other nation.  I don’t doubt it.  I eat them now too – but I didn’t used to much.  American baked beans tend to be made with pork.  British baked beans are vegetarian friendly.  They are also more sugary than American baked beans.  There are a ridiculous number of baked bean brands here.  Personally, I think that Branston and Sainsbury’s (a big supermarket chain) brands are better than Heinz – which likes to claim that it is the leading brand.  Their slogan is burned into my brain now too, along with the rest of the British population: Beanz Meanz Heinz.  Branston is more famous for its pickles.  These pickles are nothing like an American pickle.  They’re more like a kind of brown chutney or relish.  An acquired taste.  I have almost acquired it, but I’m waiting for Branston to make it taste better.  One of the Branston pickle factories burnt down in 2004, a couple of months before Christmas, causing a terrible pickle shortage.  This event sparked mass culinary hysteria and panic pickle buying among the British.

As for tea, you need to know little except that the black tea in Britain is superior to the average black tea in the US.  With the possible exception of iced tea, which doesn’t exist in the UK – or at least I haven’t found any yet.  No one ever needs to cool down here.  It never gets hot enough.

“Tea” is also the word that many use to describe the evening meal – Dinner or Supper to many Americans.  The British who use “Tea” for the evening meal, often use “Dinner” to describe Lunch.  Confused yet?  There are also Devon or Cornish or Somerset Cream Teas.  This is the delectable combination of a pot of black tea, scones, clotted cream (a thick, sweet, spreadable cream) and jam, usually strawberry.  One of the most sublime activities in the world in which one can participate, is to sit outside in the summertime at a country or coastal tea room, gulping down this fattening, sugar laden delicacy.  I just had one yesterday – not as good as in the West Country, but satisfactory.

All this blogging about food is making me hungry.  I’m off to a tea of jacket potatoes and ale.  Maybe I’ll cover those in my next post.  Until then, cheers!

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