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Archive for Wednesday, August 26, 1998

BEN WILL ALWAYS BE BIG IN MY HEART

August 26, 1998

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We buried my 13-year-old English setter Saturday. While people lose pets all the time, that certain self-centeredness which afflicts us when the loss is poignantly ours has convinced me that Ben was somehow different among dogs.

I tried to communicate this to him during his life and spoiled him unashamedly. His birthday was Aug. 17, and I have taken a certain satisfaction in recent days in the fact that he celebrated with a fine steak, grilled to a perfect medium rare. That was, in fact, the last meal he ate at home.

Until this summer Ben had been my gardening buddy as well. If in my haste I headed off to tend the veggies without him, he called me back to get him. Ben usually made the trip in the wheel barrow, which is probably a bizarre notion to anyone who has never indulged an elderly dog.

Ben's life was marked by adventures, many of them failed or at least unfortunate, and for more than half his life, he operated on three legs and showed signs of arthritis. I realized too late that a high-strung bird dog is not an ideal house pet, but by then Ben and I were stuck with each other.

In his youth Ben declined to be fenced or chained and exhibited not even a rudimentary understanding of cause and effect. Despite my considerable efforts to protect him from harm, he had been run over, shot through the chest and snake bit. At the end of one of his more spectacular rampages in the late 1980s, I was ticketed by an enraged animal control officer, and Ben became something of a folk hero with the Journal-World sports staff.

At that time the dog catcher was a former Kansas University football player known more for his contribution to the line than for foot speed. One day while I was at work Ben unchained himself and headed over the fence to the Holiday Park Pool, where he joined a children's swimming lesson in progress. Concerned lifeguards summoned animal control.

As reported to me by the dog catcher, who was still furious later that day at the animal shelter, my crippled dog eluded numerous tackles in a 30-minute romp around the pool, with the children cheering him on. During the rampage several deck chairs were overturned and the former athlete's ego took a beating.

On Sunday, I found myself back in front of the grill cooking steaks and missing Ben. The moment inspired me to do something a little different with that evening's dinner and I concocted this mushroom topping for steak. If you want to give it a subtle bite, use red wine vinegar instead of wine.

I was skeptical about the reaction that the combination of the wine vinegar and rosemary would elicit from the human carnivores in my household, but the concept won their seal of approval. Red meat has such a formidable flavor of its own that complementary flavors must be stout.

See Steak, page 2D

Continued from page 1D

About fresh rosemary: To get leaves but to avoid chopping up any stem, hold the sprig in one hand with the needles pointing upward. Run two fingers of the other hand down the length of the stem, peeling the needles of as you go.

Grilled Mushroom Steak

4 individual steaks

children cheering him on. During the rampage several deck chairs were overturned and the former athlete's ego took a beating.

On Sunday, I found myself back in front of the grill cooking steaks and missing Ben. The moment inspired me to do something a little different with that evening's dinner and I concocted this mushroom topping for steak. If you want to give it a subtle bite, use red wine vinegar instead of wine.

I was skeptical about the reaction that the combination of the wine vinegar and rosemary would elicit from the human carnivores in my household, but the concept won their seal of approval. Red meat has such a formidable flavor of its own that complementary flavors must be stout.

See Steak, page 2D

Continued from page 1D

About fresh rosemary: To get leaves but to avoid chopping g the liquid. Add the wine or wine vinegar into the skillet and cook until the liquid is gone but being careful not to scorch the mushroom mixture. When this step is completed, turn off the heat and remove the skillet from the stove.

Put the meat on the grill. When the steaks have cooked on one side, flip them on the grill. About four minutes before the second side has finished cooking or as soon as you flip a rare steak, spread a thick coating of the mushroom paste on the top side. When the steaks have cooked to specification, carefully remove them from the grill with a spatula and serve.

-- When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. You can send e-mail to her at mellinger

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