Cooking With Myra: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, muffins

By Myra Starkey
Jan. 7, 2014 at midnight
Updated Jan. 6, 2014 at 7:07 p.m.

When life gives you lemons, make lemon yogurt muffins with walnuts and rosemary lemonade.

When life gives you lemons, make lemon yogurt muffins with walnuts and rosemary lemonade.

My husband, Taylor, and I have been without children at home for the last four years.

Our youngest just graduated from Baylor and was able to secure a job in commercial real estate. It appears he won't be moving back home. One great blessing in our lives is that all three children are employed or getting ready to be.

Miles works in Austin and Spencer in Houston. Hannah is waiting to hear where she goes for a surgery residency, and that will hopefully be Houston since her husband, Ben, already has a good job there doing corporate law.

I guess my point in saying all of this is that our parenting skills are no longer needed on a regular basis. And that has left a bit of emptiness in our lives. So we have done what many childless couples do, and that is to expend our sweet talk and devotion to our two dogs, Hazel and Lola, appropriately called "the girls" for short.

These two black standard poodles are cute, fluffy - and since they have not indicated to us that they intend to go to college - are much more affordable than our children. Their main cost to us is dog food and the occasional haircut or vet visit.

Just the other morning, they waited patiently while I prepared waffles. This is one of their favorite breakfast foods. I actually made them for Taylor. Since I had some left over, the girls assumed their begging positions and waited patiently for what they knew would be their breakfast.

They simply sit, and when you look their way, they raise a paw, performing the universal "shake" command, even though not instructed to do that. I'm pretty sure that even the most mentally challenged dog can learn to shake. We are too lazy to teach them any other tricks.

Their little tails thump excitedly on the wooden floor as they lick their lips in anticipation. And really, if you knew that it was either going to be hot waffles or dry dog chow for breakfast, which would you choose? I would sit on the kitchen floor and do whatever trick it would take.

In the early morning, when I am still asleep, Taylor arises and lets the dog out. They sleep in cages overnight and are anxious to be released in the morning. They run outside to do their thing and then race back inside. They then bolt for our bedroom to see if I am awake. If my eyes are shut, they walk away, allowing me to stay in bed, but if I open even one eye, they jump on the bed, wagging their tales excited to start the day.

That's the great thing about dogs. They are excited the minute they wake up. They don't know what is ahead, and they don't care. They are just happy to be alive. There is a lesson there, I am sure. Maybe the lesson is that it is easy to be happy if you have no greater responsibility than to wake up, eat, get petted, bark out the window at non-threatening noises, chase things in the backyard, dig holes, bark at the neighbor dogs, jump on the furniture, lay on the bed, get petted some more and then take a nap.

What a life.

My dogs are perhaps the greatest fans of my food. They will eat anything. Lola is the younger of the two pets, being slightly larger than her sister. Because of her size, she is always first at the food offering. She competes with her sister for all the tender morsels that are either left behind or offered by our hands.

Hazel is smaller and likes to jump very high. She can get to everything on the tops of counters or even on the stove. Of course, she only does that once we leave the kitchen because she is a well-trained dog.

We often cannot even tell that she has eaten part of a dish. She puts her front paws on the edge and then takes whatever is in her reach. She loves cookies, especially those that are cooling on the countertop, and she is known to enjoy sticks of butter and cake as well. Hazel also is willing to eat anything that I am eating, including lemons, celery, bok choy, squash or cabbage. The dogs mostly like anything that is cooked in butter or bacon grease, and I find this to be true also with the average human.

Evolutionary researchers have confirmed that dogs have flourished so well through history because they are the ultimate moochers. Dogs figured out way back that it is easier to look cute, make eye contact, wag your tail and beg for food than to actually go out and hunt for wild game.

It's not that most dogs live the luxury life of gourmet table scraps and moist, canned dog food, but even dry dog food from a bag is probably better than an uncooked possum or squirrel.

Our dogs have higher standards than that. They will certainly catch a varmint and even kill it, gnaw on it, roll on it and then proudly drag it up on the back porch for our approval, but they won't actually eat it.

Our poodles are excellent watch dogs, protecting us from all kinds of dangerous things. For instance, they bark menacingly at plants in the garden or gentle elderly ladies who are walking their little dogs down the street in front of our house.

Once, a UPS guy showed up at the front door, and Hazel began a throaty growl and threw herself at the door, baring her teeth and snarling. It was so upsetting to me that I spoke to him through the closed door and asked him to leave the package on the front porch and back away slowly. I did not dare open the door lest he have a poodle attached to his throat while he bled to death, and I would never again have Zappos shoes delivered to my home address.

Lola is less aggressive than her sister unless there is food involved. I have seen her fierce side once when she growled and body-slammed the windowpanes when she saw a possum sitting on the back porch.

The possum seemed to realize there was a door between them and waddled freely down the steps and casually walked away. And then there are the squirrels that both dogs hate.

It might be dark outside, but the poodles can spot a squirrel on a tree or roof within a hundred feet. So I can take some comfort in knowing that we will be safe from ever being attacked in our home by squirrels.

Lola is the television watcher. She sits quietly and looks at the screen. If I am feeling generous, I turn the channel from CSI to Animal Planet, and she gets excited to see other four-legged creatures in the same room. She paces back and forth, looking behind the television when she sees an animal pass before her eyes and then out of the picture, probably thinking that surely the animal is somewhere in the room. She is not the sharpest pointer in the pack.

Meanwhile her sister, Hazel, prefers to watch television from the comfort of the couch, although she knows she is not supposed to get on the couch. And she is an obedient dog and never gets on the furniture unless we walk out of the room. Then the two of them fight for couch supremacy. If I am sitting on the couch, she will drape herself across me like a shawl, keeping her hind legs on the floor. She considers this being on me and not the couch.

Our dogs are more than pets. They seem excited about each new day when the sun comes up, and their enthusiasm is infectious. They love me unconditionally - even when I am grouchy after a day of work, they still approach me and nuzzle their head against my body hoping that I will rub their ears and call their name. Somehow, when I start petting them, my stress level falls, and I realize that dogs are really a man's, or gal's, best friend.

As I write this, the girls are laying at my feet totally still and just happy to be in my presence. They desire nothing other than just an occasional ear rub or petting. Then they settle back into their resting positions dreaming of either chasing possums or eating bacon; I am unsure of which.

I have been on a lemon kick since there are an abundance of them on trees around Victoria. I made rosemary lemonade recently, which I thought was really delicious.

My friends who taste-tested it were not convinced. Next, I made lemon yogurt muffins, having decided I needed to lose a few pounds. At least I think that yogurt and granola is diet food.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email



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