Champ de Noël

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Here is my version.  Not as perfectly neat, but it tastes amazing. IMG_2536.jpg

Have fun making this to impress family and friends with this modern twist on a classic bûche de Noël stolen from Fine Cooking Magazine.

This delightful looking cake was featured in the December edition of Fine Cooking, one of my favorite magazines.  I stole the photo from the article but will post mine tomorrow when it is decorated.

The layers are vertical rather than horizontal, making for a very dramatic reveal. It is an “all-day” project or one you can do over several days.

[Get a PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION HERE with all step-by-step photos.]

This version looks cool, but all the classic elements and flavor pairings are here, so it’s guaranteed to be delicious. The vanilla sponge cake has a delicate texture, yet it’s sturdy enough to “literally” stand on end. The layers are doused with a boozy soaking syrup before they’re coated with a smooth-as-silk, espresso-spiked white chocolate ganache filling and coated with a dreamy, creamy and eggless double-chocolate buttercream.

Like the traditional bûche, the garnishes for this cake can be rustic, whimsical, or elegant. I like to use the tines of a fork to create a barklike design in the buttercream around the side of the cake. Just before serving, I may top the cake with a cluster or two of small meringue mushrooms along with chocolate shavings for bark. You can add silver or white dragées for ice crystals, sugar-coated cranberries for a pop of color, a mint sprig or two for signs of spring, chopped pistachios for lichen, and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar for snow. Extra meringue mushrooms look great arranged around the base of the cake.

Vertical variation

While the garnishes make the cake look spectacular, what people really want to know is how I make those magical vertical layers.
All in all, it’s a straightforward process: You use what could be called a “wrapping” technique to assemble the cake. After baking the sponge cake in a large rimmed baking sheet, cut it into five strips. To train the shape of the innermost strip of cake and avoid cracking in the final product, I roll up one strip in paper towels while it’s still warm, just as you would when you’re making a jelly roll. I then roll the remaining strips up in a tight spiral together to train them. The ends of these strips are cut on an angle to create beveled edges; this step helps the strips to lie flat as the cake is assembled.

Start building the cake by brushing the innermost strip with soaking syrup then coating it with white chocolate espresso ganache. After this centerpiece is rolled and positioned on a plate, brush, fill, and wrap the remaining four beveled cake strips one at a time around it. The technique sounds complicated, but as you’ll see, it’s an easy-to-follow
process.

 Champ de Noël

Explosion Cake

 

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My granddaughter and I saw this in a magazine, not knowing how “famous” it was and decided to make one.   If you have a collection of sprinkles you might like to use, it is a great way to use them all, or at least most of them.   It is a really fun cake to make, with all the different colors and layers.  It looks like a regular cake (with lots of sprinkles) till you cut the first piece.

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It is a very simple recipe and easy to make, but you do need six six-inch cake pans.  I actually only had five but had a springform, the right size for the sixth.  The only thing I did notice is that the springform, which was dark took about 2-3 minutes longer to cook, so that is something to aware of if you are using different colored pans.  I may just buy a sixth six-inch pan today.

The basic recipe is a simple white cake and if you are not a “baker”, you could use a boxed white cake.  I baked the cakes two at a time, so I did not crowd the cakes.  Luckily I have two ovens, so it did not take long.

FROSTING

8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

16 ounces cream cheese, cold

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

32 ounces powdered sugar

CAKE

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon table salt

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1½ cups granulated white sugar

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1⅓ cups milk

Food coloring

Nonstick cooking spray

 

Preparation

Cake:

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F and put the oven rack in the middle of the oven (if you are using a convection oven, set it to 325°F).

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until they are really mixed together. You have to mix all the dry ingredients together first so that there are no clumps in your batter, which will create white spots. Set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on medium speed to blend the butter and sugar together, until they become fluffy. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula so it’s all mixed in from the sides.  Be sure all the butter is blended, so there are no lumps of butter.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter-sugar mixture, with the mixer on medium speed.  Scrape the sides of the bowl.

5. Add the vanilla to the milk and set it aside.

6. Mix about 1/3 of your dry ingredients into the butter-sugar-egg mixture, then blend in half of the milk, always mixing on medium speed.

7. Mix in the second third of the dry ingredients, then the remaining milk mixture.

8. Stop the mixer for a few seconds and use a spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl as you go, then mix in the last of the flour mixture. Make sure it’s all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth. You don’t want any lumps, but don’t overmix it so stop the mixer as soon as the batter is smooth.

9. Divide the batter evenly into six portions. They don’t have to be exactly identical, but you want them to be close: You can use any small bowls that are all the same size: Just slowly pour the batter into each of the bowls a little at a time until they are all at the same height (it’s about 1 cup of batter per bowl).

10. Color the batter individually in rainbow colors: I used purple, turquoise, green, yellow, orange, and pink for our six-layer cakes. Start with a tiny drop of food coloring, stir it in completely, then add more until it is your desired color (the baked cake will come out pretty close to what you see the outside will be a little brown, but that gets covered with frosting).

11. Spray six 6-inch round baking pans with cooking spray, then pour the colored batter into the greased pans.

12. Bake the cakes two at a time for 8 minutes without opening the oven door. Then rotate each pan so the front faces the back. Bake for another 8 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when you insert it into the middle of the cake (cakes are very sensitive. The less you open your oven, the better your cake will come out! I don’t know exactly why, but I know it).

13. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes (when they’re warm, they’re really fragile, and that’s when they tend to break.) Then flip them over onto a baking sheet or cooling rack and let them cool completely before you frost them.

Frosting:

Use an electric mixer on medium speed to blend the butter until it is smooth. Add the cream cheese and blend it together until there are no lumps. Then add the vanilla. Stop the mixer and use a spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl, making sure it’s all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth.

Mix in the powdered sugar a little bit at a time on the lowest speed otherwise, it will fly everywhere! Use the spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl, making sure it’s all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth.

Be sure it is all perfectly blended or you may lumps when you go to frost the cake.  It is a fun project.  We used the cutouts in the middle to make what I called the “The Leaning Tower of Caka.”

Assembling:

This is the fun part:  Cut a circle using a 2 inch or so biscuit cutter on five of the six layers.  Put a little frosting on the plate, so the first layer will adhere.  I use commercial cake cardboard available at Walmart, Joanns or Michaels.  Add the first layer, then frost it with nothing in the middle.  Continue to the top layer.  I do a thin coat of frosting over the entire cake, then put in the refrigerator till it is hard.  That makes it easier to put on the final layer of frosting.  There are several YouTubes online that walk you through how to do it.

The outside is a little tricky.  I put the entire cake in a big bowl in my kitchen sink and handful by handful, from the bottom up, added the sprinkles.  It was amazingly easy this way and quick.  Add a little touch-up and you are done.  The fun part is cutting the first piece of this cake.

Be ready as it can make a mess!  I think I am still cleaning up sprinkles!   I put ours in a tray with higher edges, so it would not go all over the floor. We photographed and delivered it to our local Fire Department.

Explosion Cake

HOW TO BUILD A BEAUTIFUL CHARCUTERIE BOARD

I found this article on food.com and really enjoyed it, as I love a great Charcuterie Board and this article gave something to think about.  Although my boards usually look pretty good, they are not as beautiful as the one shown below.

Entertaining 101

 

Do you ever scroll through picture-perfect cheese boards and think, “I could never do that”? The good news is, it’s a lot easier than it looks! Just follow this easy, step-by-step tutorial to build an epic charcuterie board for any occasion.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: CHEESE!

FIRST THINGS FIRST: CHEESE!

Choose 3-4 types and a mix of soft and hard cheeses, all served at room temperature: Goat, Gruyere, Gorgonzola, Manchego, Burrata, Brie, Sharp Cheddar, White Cheddar, Havarti, Boursin

Think of  creative ways to display your cheese:
* Cubed and piled up to add height and dimension
* Cut into thin, square slices and fanned out along the edge of the board
* Cut into thin, triangular slices and placed in a circle, with points facing in
* Served in large wedges for guests to cut themselves

 

MEET ME AT THE MEAT AISLE

MEET ME AT THE MEAT AISLE

Choose 2-3 types, preferably pre-sliced: Salami, Prosciutto, Sopressata, Pepperoni, Bresaola, Pâté, Smoked Salmon

Think of creative ways to display your meats:
* Fold round, thin slices of meat in half, then fold again.
* Arrange to form a salami rose bouquet!
* Roll up slices of prosciutto and stack them on top of each other.
* Sopressata is usually cut into thick rounds, so fan these across the board.

 

ADD CONDIMENTS + SIDEKICKS

ADD CONDIMENTS + SIDEKICKS

You can’t have condiments without bowls! Invest in a few ramekins for displaying sauces, dips and salty, briny snacks that complement your meats and cheeses. Think about which of these options you might add:   Honey, Whole Grain Mustard, Jam/Preserves, Infused Oil, Pickled Vegetables, Olives, Artichoke Hearts, Roasted Peppers, Cornichons and I personally like the idea of Sweet Chili Sauce, Hoisin Sauce, and Spicy Jams or Jellies

 

BRING THE COLOR WITH FRESH FRUIT

BRING THE COLOR WITH FRESH FRUIT

Try a mix of fresh fruits that are flavorful and abundant all year long (like Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Cantaloupe, Grapes) and dried fruit for options that are only available seasonally (like Mango, Apricots, Figs, Cranberries).

Creative ways to display fruit:
* Cut long, thin wedges of cantaloupe and fan them out or wrap thin slices of prosciutto around the middle.
* Choose whole dried figs and halve them to display their pretty seeds and centers.  If fresh figs are in season, that is even better.

LET’S. GET. CRUNCHY.

LET’S GET CRUNCHY.

Nuts and crackers or crisps are easy additions that require no extra prep work! Choose a few to round out your board: Pistachios, Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, Cashews, Mini Toasts, Seeded Crackers, Cheese Twists, Water Crackers, Crispy Breadsticks, Pita Chips

* Use nuts to fill in any gaps in your board by stacking them in piles around other ingredients.
* Add extra height and interest by placing breadsticks or cheese twists upright and fanning crackers across the board in swirls.

FINISH WITH A LITTLE RAZZLE DAZZLE

FINISH WITH A LITTLE RAZZLE DAZZLE

When it comes to finishing touches, garnishes go a long way to add a hint of color and freshness. Try: Rosemary Sprigs, Basil Leaves, Mint Sprigs, Fresh or Dried Lavender

 

NO BOARD, NO PROBLEM

NO BOARD, NOT A PROBLEM

Don’t have a wooden board handy and prefer not to buy one? Feel free to use everyday kitchen tools like a pizza paddle, cast iron skillet or a sheet pan of any size to display the fruits of your labor (pun intended)!

 

 

HOW TO BUILD A BEAUTIFUL CHARCUTERIE BOARD

Painting and Puppy

Do they go together?

It has been a couple of weeks since I have been able to be in my studio.  Having a new puppy has not helped.  She is very cute but very busy!  Most days I truly wonder if a puppy really adds to your life or just wastes your time.  I don’t feel like you get much in return at this point in time.  She is finally old enough that she can be in my art studio when I am working but has to be in a crate or she would literally “eat” my artwork, as she eats everything else in path.

Just now I went to make another cup of coffee, but the barn door to the laundry room where I make my coffee got knocked off the track by the puppy and it is going to have to stay that way all day.  It is too heavy for me to life to put back on the track. The cat is locked in the laundry room but at least he has food and water and can get to his litter box and he has freedom from the puppy and I am mostly wishing I had freedom from the puppy.

Sunday when my husband was home and my youngest son visiting, I could finally put the puppy in the hands of someone else and go back to my studio to paint.

 

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Last weekend I traveled to the Celebration of Life of one of my college sorority sisters in Vacaville.  It was a bittersweet experience.  It was wonderful to see many of my sorority sisters, but hard to share the passing of one.  It was dear to see her husband, as he was my first boyfriend in college before he met her.  It was so wonderful to see what a rich and full life they had together as they showed photos throughout the years of their long and happy marriage.  It made me feel so good to know what a wonderful life they had together.

The upbeat part of the trip was that I was lucky to spend some time with my oldest son and granddaughter.  We drove out the coast near Santa Cruz, where we took a wonderful and beautiful walk along the beach.  We walked through a farm that is open to the public with several older buildings and some historic sites.  The painting above is of one of the buildings that I photographed along our walk.

3.jpg   Here is the photograph that I painted.  I loved that it looked like one time it was loved, but now it was old and forlorn.  I took several photos of other buildings and think I may do a series of paintings of the area.

Yesterday it was cold and rainy and even though I should have gone to Urban Sketchers in the morning, I chose to try to spend it in my studio with my puppy.  It is funny, if I turn on a movie, she is like a little child and watches the movie without complaint, so I was able to paint the following piece from a photo I took in Poulsbo at the marina.

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I am out to the studio again after I either go out to buy a coffee or I almost forgot I do have a French Press that is not locked in the laundry room.

Anyone want a very cute Aussie Kee that will eventually be a great companion for someone much younger?

Painting and Puppy

Tomato Soup with Feta & Thyme

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INGREDIENTS

 2 tbsp olive oil or butter

1 chopped onion

cloves garlic (or I always like a little more)

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

1 tsp dried oregano (I used 1 tsp fresh)

1 tsp thyme (fresh is always better

2 tbsp tomato paste — optional, but a good idea for color

1 28 oz can of Bianco Crushed Tomatoes (available at Albertsons)

cups Beef Stock  & a little water

2/3 cup fresh feta cheese — crumbled

A little fresh thyme

Salt & White Pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat olive oil (butter) over medium heat in a large pot ( or a Dutch Oven). Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, tomato paste, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

     

  2. Cook on medium heat for 20 minutes, until the tomatoes are tender and cooked. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. Or I find it just as easy to use my Cuisinart for this.

     

  3. Put the warm soup in bowls and place feta and thyme on top.  It is pretty and adds a little more flavor to the soup.

RECIPE NOTES:

  • Here is a little bit of fun kitchen information.  If you are using olive oil, heat the pan first, then add the olive oil.  
  • If you are using butter, put the butter in the pan and heat as the pan heats.  
Tomato Soup with Feta & Thyme

As the puppy grows

IMG_2081.jpgI miss my peaceful mornings.  Wake up when the sun rises, pet the cat at the top of the stairs, feed the cat, have a cup of coffee, read my email, put away the dishes, start the laundry.  Quiet and peaceful!

Mornings are not relaxing anymore.  I still wake up, but jump out of bed to make the pup does not make a mess.  Pet the cat a much shorter time at the top of the stairs.  Take the puppy out to poop.  Clean up poop and wash down kennel.  Come back in rain or shine and feed the cat as the dog jumps all over the place, carry the cat holding the tail out of the puppies reach so he can’t bite it.  Collect the dog dish and three different ingredients, to make sure the puppy has “good healthy poop”.  Puppy gets so excited she bangs my knee into the wall, so there is the second puppy bruise this week.  Feed puppy and immediately take her outside to do her duty for a second time.
OMG, I finally get to make coffee after I spray down the puppy pee.  Come back in to put away dishes and start daily laundry; hear a lot of noise in the laundry room and the puppy’s tail and back legs are all that can be seen by the cat litter door.  Pull out the puppy, close and fasten the door to the laundry room so she cannot get in, but the cat cannot get out. Poor cat, probably just had the poop scared out of him.  The cat has terrible mats in his fur for the first time in four years.  Called a groomer to come to the house and cut out the mats.  She said the cat is probably stressed.  It will be a mere $100 to groom the cat and we have to give him a sedative.
Pick up my coffee cup, so maybe I can have it slightly warm.  (Got to remember to use the thermal cup) . Coffee has cooled down, but as I walk to my office I notice another pile of poop in front of the guest bath.  Humm, the laundry door is closed so I cannot get paper towels.  Use toilet paper to clean up the mess.  Sterilize with cleanser and walk toward my office to read email and etc, and there are three more piles by the front door.  How much can any puppy poop and why three times in three different places?
I do not think this is the right way to start your day!  I love my puppy, but not so sure I love my life with a puppy.  Got to think about this.
Puppy is finally quiet.  Cat is locked in the laundry room.  I think I like my cat more than the puppy.
And another day begins…..
As the puppy grows

Jambalaya

Jambalaya has its origins in several rice-based dishes well attested in the Mediterranean cuisines of West Africa, Spain, and France, especially in the West African dish Jollof, the Spanish dish Paella (native to Valencia), and the French dish known as Jambalaia (native to Provence).

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I combined a couple of recipes and added a few ingredients of my own.  I didn’t have chicken but would have added that to enhance the flavor. I love shrimp and would have added it at the end, but my husband does not eat it.

Ingredients:

2 TBL olive oil (EVOO)

1 pound sausage ( I used mild Italian that I made)

1 onion (chopped)

1 red or yellow bell pepper (chopped)

3 stalks celery (sliced thinly)

3 garlic (chopped)

2 TSP Cajon seasoning

1 TSP oregano ( I prefer fresh)

Pinch of Cayenne

1 TSP Scallions (white part) and save the green and slice for serving

14 oz chopped tomatoes with chili

Beef stock ( one container) I used homemade chicken stock

2 cups cooked rice

1 cup of okra (fresh or frozen-thawed)

Add some shrimp if you like it

  1.  Sauté chicken in olive oil until cooked and the sausage is lightly browned.  Set aside.
  2.  Sauté the onion, bell pepper, celery,  and garlic until soft.
  3. Add rice, liquids, and seasonings.  Add the cooked rice, chicken (or beef) stock, crushed tomatoes, Cajun seasoning, oregano, cayenne, and bay leaf.  Give everything a good stir.
  4. Cover and cook.  Then cook for 20 minutes, being sure to stir the mixture every 5 minutes or so (to prevent burning) until the rice is nearly tender.
  5. Add the okra and shrimp and cook for 5 minutes or until the shrimp is pink and opaque.
  6. Taste and season with salt and pepper (add Cajun seasoning, if needed).
  7. Serve warm.  Garnished with green sliced scallions and enjoy!
Jambalaya

Sausage & Chicken Soup

Since we have a lot of sausages leftover from my birthday, I am attempting to find creative ways to use it, so we don’t get tired of it or waste it. This soup was rich and very delicious and I would definitely make it again.  Add a little crust of bread for dipping and it is a wonderfully easy dinner.  You could add a little rice or pasta of preference if you need more substance to your meal.  I used all low-sodium products to make it healthier than the original recipe.  I threw a little shave Parmesano Reggiano on top, but I do that to a lot of dishes.   Enjoy this Fall soup!

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Ingredients

 to Add all ingredients to list

Direction

  1. In a stockpot or Dutch oven, brown sausage with garlic. Stir in broth, tomatoes and carrots, and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes.
  2. Stir in beans with liquid and zucchini. Cover, and simmer another 15 minutes, or until zucchini is tender.
  3. Remove from heat, and add spinach. Replace lid allowing the heat from the soup to cook the spinach leaves. Soup is ready to serve after 5 minutes.
Sausage & Chicken Soup

Tarta de Santiago Recipe – Spanish Almond Cake

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An authentic recipe for the Spanish Almond Cake found on the Camino de Santiago.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: Gluten-Free

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound (1 3/4 cups) whole almonds, preferably blanched
  • 6 large eggs separated
  • 1 1/4 cups superfine sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 drops almond extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Instructions

  • Finely grind the almonds in a food processor.
  • With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a smooth pale cream. Beat in the zests and almond extract. Add the ground almonds and mix very well.
  • With clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold them into the egg and almond mixture (the mixture is thick, so you will need to fold it quite a bit).
  • Grease an 11-inch springform pan, preferably nonstick, with butter and dust it with flour or spray with cooking spray. Pour in the cake batter, and bake into a preheated 350°F for 40 minutes, or until it feels firm to the touch. Let cool before turning out.
  • Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar. Or, if you like, cut a St. James Cross out of paper. Place it in the middle of the cake, and dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar, then remove the paper.

Notes

Stencil the top of the cake using the traditional cross symbol of Saint James.
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Tarta de Santiago Recipe – Spanish Almond Cake

Dog Eats Books

All my life I have loved to read and collect books.  My cookbook and art book collection is dear to me and I refer to them often.  Apparently, they not only look good but taste good to our new puppy.  I have learned in the last couple of weeks if you do not hear puppy activity and the puppy is not within eyesight, the puppy is into ‘no good’.  As I mentioned in my last dog blog, we blocked off the entire living room, with its tempting bookshelves, my grand piano, area rug, and fabric chairs, but in my office design books are on a couple of low shelves.  I try to let the puppy be with me in the office, but if the jingling of her bell is silent, I know the teeth are active. (or she is peeing or pooping)

This morning, sitting quietly in my office and reading email, I noticed the silence. Time to do the “house tour” to discover the whereabouts of ms. puppy.  First walkabout reveals lovely new piles or gifts by the front door and several runny ones on my tile. What a great to start your day, but at least I had time for a coffee after taking her outside, feeding her, feeding the cat and hosing down the outside.  Oops, better go outside as I forgot to hose down the outside.

Did I mention while taking the puppy out for her first visit to the outside kennel, a bald eagle flew over my head about twenty feet above, luckily with a salmon about half the size of the eagle in its talons.  I did realize that the puppy is finally almost too big to be considered good eagle meals.  Yippee ~ yard time.  Oops, the yard is not effectively fenced.

Second quiet time walkabout finds puppy gleefully chewing on one of my America’s Test Kitchen Cookbooks that I had in with the design books on the lower shelf in my office.  It now has lovely teeth marks on the corner with a couple tabs missing, but it is still usable.

So now the bottom shelf is sprayed with Lavender oil, as apparently, puppies do not like the smell.  While spraying the shelf, I notice once again the jingle of puppy is not heard. Ah, the door to upstairs is open and the puppy is exploring the upstairs bedroom, which is not allowed as the floor is carpeted.

Quiet time for a moment, as the puppy is asleep by the gate to upstairs, the cat is hanging out adding hair to the top of a chair in the gated living room and I have a moment to add to this blog.

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When I started my blog, it was about interior design, art, and cooking.  Bringing a puppy into a house changes all the dynamics of not only your home but your life.  I never thought the above sprayer would be the dominant accessory in our home.  I have seven of these in strategical places throughout the main floor.  The puppy likes to growl and attack your leg or pant leg, whichever is more convenient. The puppy does not like water sprayed on its face, so not only are these on many tables, I carry one in hand for protection from the growing monster.

On the other hand, I never imagined my personal residence overtaken by puppy gates, chew toys, spray bottles and fences.  I do love the “little monster”, but right now I am not sure how much I like the changes it has brought into my life.  I have not been in my art studio since we brought her home, other than to clean it and get it ready for guests.

My friends keep telling me all this will pass. I would like to take a break today and sit in my favorite reading chair by the fireplace downstairs, but the puppy at the cord to the lamp.  Think I’ll go for a car ride (with the puppy in the crate) so I have a little quiet time.

Dog Eats Books