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Goin' to the Dogs

(post, DawnHeather Simmons)

The menu for this last weekend has me thinking about hot dogs.  I must confess, I like hot dogs.  And in my life, they have a somewhat odd history, since we were mostly not allowed to have them.  Dad didn’t like them.  And Dad had a whole list of things that we were not allowed to eat at home because he didn’t like them.  Hot dogs was one of them.

Mom, on the other hand, was addicted to chili dogs.  So my brother and I were treated to tastes of that delicacy…  always on the sly…  sometimes in places that amazed our childish eyes.  For part of my life, we lived in and around Los Angeles, so I had the pleasure of eating at the original Tail o’ the Pup.  It’s a hot dog icon, set in a building shaped like a hot dog.  For a time, we lived within walking distance, and ate there many times.  When we moved back to the Bay Area, I learned to love Doggie Diner, another icon, now adrift in history.  In the East Bay, where I lived and worked for awhile, I had my dogs at Casper’s along with the guys from work.  It was a stop we made at least a couple times a week.  

Living in Denver, I had the pleasure of eating at a dog place the name of which, regrettably, I have forgotten.  They had specials on exotic dogs every Tuesday.  It might be rattlesnake or some other exotic meat.  I must confess that, although I enjoyed eating there, I never was brave enough to try those particular items.  I did, once, try their family specialty, which was a dog, slit down the middle, stuffed with a slice of American cheese, wrapped in bacon and then deep fried.  I thought it was overkill…  They served their fries (real ones, cut each morning) with Cholula® hot sauce, which was a rather tasty choice.  And speaking of fries:  At Mustard’s Last Stand, behind the radio station I worked at, they had excellent dogs, but my favorite thing on the menu was their fries, which were like nothing I had ever had before then:  They left the skins on.  Yum!

We did have dogs at home, of course, from time to time, when Dad was out of town, or working a lot of overtime.  Mom would fix them in a few different ways.  She liked them best fried in butter, which smoked up the kitchen something fierce.  I usually boiled them.  My brother liked them grilled on the barbecue so they showed grill marks.  Sometimes Mom would make up a batch of beanie weenie.  Other times, she’d cook them in sauerkraut, and we’d have them without buns, over the kraut.  But her piece de resistance was her barbecued dogs.  She’d mix a batch of sauce out of minced celery and onion, ketchup or chili sauce, Worchestershire sauce, a little white vinegar, and a scary quantity of brown sugar in an 8” x 8” Pyrex® baking dish.  Then she carefully slashed each dog diagonally several times before laying it in the sauce and spooning the sauce over them.  She baked them, basting them every so often, until the sauce almost became candy.  That was a preparation that could bring tears to one’s eyes. 

I lived with, and took care of, my parents at the ends of their lives.  After Dad died, for about a month, Mom and I practically lived on all the things Dad never let us eat:  cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, melons of every variety we could find, and most especially hot dogs and chili dogs.  Mom had a favorite brand of chili – no beans for her, thank you very much.  And we always used copious amounts of chopped onions on our chili dogs.  Some days we had hot dogs or chili dogs for more than one meal.  That season of hot dog excess is long past, and now I’m down to once every couple of weeks or so, except around summer holiday weekends, anyway.  

Now, let it be said, not all dogs are created equal.  And I refuse to get into the debates over skinned or skinless, beef or turkey (or other contents), Kosher or not, favorite brands, which type of relish is best, whether chili for chili dogs should or should not have beans, what other toppings are appropriate, etc.  These are largely regional and personal differences.  And I do have my preferences, but it’s not important to get into them.  Suffice it to say that whatever other healthy dietary choices I generally try to make, deep down at heart, I am a dog lover.