Cooking memories

I daresay anyone with a dog knows how attentive they become when there's yummy-smelling cooking happening in the kitchen.

I rarely cook, so for my dogs, any cooking was worth paying attention to. They always got samples.

From the time I brought Maia home as a puppy in 1999, her favorite kitchen experience was the making of teriyaki chicken. She'd watch intently as I prepared the chicken thighs, poured on the teriyaki sauce (with lemon and pepper), and slid the baking dish into the oven. She would then guard the oven, lying right in front of it, until dinner was ready.

Maia supervising dinner prep, January 2013.

When Meadow joined us two years later, she adopted Maia's approach, although she guarded from a few feet away, ceding the best spot to big sister Maia. When Finn joined us in 2008, he didn't quite understand all the excitement because it didn't directly involve dog food bowls, but figured he should watch. From a safe distance, though; Maia and Meadow would push him back if he tried to get closer than them.

Meadow offering supervisory support from behind, January 2013.

When the oven's timer buzzer went off, signaling the opening of the oven door, Maia would jump up and rush right in, as if she was offering to take the chicken out herself. Meadow would stand on the other side of me, equally close. I'd have to shoo them both back before letting out the blast of hot air when the oven door opened. Finn, knowing better than to crowd the girls at this point of exquisite anticipation, sat squirming a few feet away, intently watching.

As I scooped rice out of the cooker onto my plate, then placed a couple pieces of chicken on top, I could feel all three dogs' eyes boring holes through my back.

Following me to the dining table, the girls and boy would find a spot underneath it or next to my chair and lie down, sort-of patiently waiting for that last bite that they knew I always saved just for them.

When Maia first became sick with lymphoma in January 2013, I cooked teriyaki chicken frequently to boost her appetite. Not only would the dogs get some chicken, but the teriyaki sauce the chicken had cooked in - now infused with chicken fat - became a favorite garnish on their kibble. I would cut a chicken thigh into small pieces, drop it into the leftover sauce, heat it and drizzle that over their evening kibble for the next several days.

My attempt to upload video of the teriyaki chicken dinner routine failed. Instead, this photo gives an sense of the intensity of the dogs' stares when awaiting a special treat, in this case marrow bones on the deck. 

Finn, Maia and Meadow awaiting marrow bones, March 2013. (Maia lost some fur on her nose and around her eyes due to chemo treatments; it eventually grew back.)

After Maia's lymphoma diagnosis, instead of cooking teriyaki chicken once every few months, I began fixing it every couple of weeks to make sure there was plenty of chicken and sauce for Maia. Meadow and Finn didn't complain.

Eventually, in May 2013, even teriyaki chicken no longer enticed Maia, a clear signal that her time was near. I switched to canned salmon, which she enjoyed until the day she simply quit eating. Nothing would entice her. That's how she told me, with her infinite gentleness, that she was ready. On June 6th, we said goodbye for the last time.

Three weeks later, I learned Meadow had bone cancer. The teriyaki chicken habit continued. Even more so, because Meadow never lost her appetite, and LOVED teriyaki chicken. She got as much chicken as she wanted. Finn enjoyed the extra chicken as well.

Meadow and I said our last goodbye on July 22, 2013. After, I simply couldn't fix teriyaki chicken. Too many associations, first the happy ones of dogs eagerly awaiting a meal magically coming from the oven, then the later ones of sick and dying dogs. I wasn't sure I'd ever make the dish again.

Time heals. That's what they say. It's true. Memories more often elicit smiles and laughter rather than tears. Grief lessens as the heart slowly mends and is able to once again hold all the love without breaking.

Tonight, I cooked teriyaki chicken and rice for me and Finn. It was as good as I remembered. Memories of the girls came flooding back as the aroma filled my house. Now, though, I have enough distance and perspective; I welcomed the memories wholeheartedly, like the loving and comforting old friends that they are.

New memories are being created, adding layers to the old. Finn has learned how to tell me it's time for his dinner. Maia and Meadow always took care of that chore for him. Finn quickly figured out the best way to get my attention:

Isn't it dinnertime?

He's irresistible. And he knows it. He learned the technique from watching Maia, then Meadow; they both did the exact same thing to tell me it was time for dinner.

I love how Finn carries on the traditions he learned from the masters: the girls.


Rebecca WallickComment