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The Secret Ingredient By RUBY LONG

Friday December 30, 2005

Soon after Ruff joined our household, my husband and I hosted a family event to introduce him to everyone.  

I would never have chosen Ruff as a name for our dog. For one thing, I can’t stand Dennis the Menace and for another, a handsome boxer like him deserved something more dignified—Clarence, maybe, or Nigel. Or a name related to the sport—Max, say, or Rocky. Not Ruff. But you can’t look a gift horse, or in this case a gift dog, in the mouth, so when we were offered 2-year-old purebred Ruff, we took him, name and all. He was a good-natured dog and we thought he would be a good companion for the child we were expecting. 

The neighbors who gave Ruff to us showed long faces as they offered him and made the excuse that they hated to lose him but were moving to a place too small for a dog. But I suspect that after we said yes they went inside and celebrated. I imagine them chortling and high-fiving each other at having gotten rid of him. They had had a lot of trouble keeping him in their yard and were probably tired of the struggle. 

He was a beautiful dog, with a muzzle like black velvet, but he had never had any training and had always been allowed to roam. My husband and I had both grown up with dogs and were sure we could train him. Since there was a strong board fence around our yard, keeping him home presented no problem for us. He would have plenty of room to exercise on our big lawn, we reasoned, and no need to wander. We would find out later how naively optimistic and wrong on all counts we were. But he was part of our family now and we wanted everyone to meet him. 

The day before our event, I shopped for dinner supplies. I put a lot of thought into the menu and chose a nice roast, small, sweet carrots and firm, brown potatoes. They all went into the fridge as soon as I got home, to keep them as fresh as possible. I made two apple pies and put them in there, too.  

The next day we worked in the yard, making it look as good as possible for the family’s visit. My husband mowed the lawn and we arranged the furniture on the patio so we’d be able to sit outside after dinner. When we were finished, my husband went off to visit with the neighbors. I got the roast out of the refrigerator and unwrapped it. It was at that moment I discovered, to my dismay, that I didn’t have a pan large enough to hold it.  

I’ll make a quick run to Wanda’s, I thought, as I headed for the front door. I’m sure she’ll have a big roasting pan. She’s always having company for dinner.  

Wanda, about 15 years older than I, lived two doors from us and I often borrowed things from her. Sure enough, she had a big pan I could use. I took it and dashed back to my house, anxious to get the meat in the oven. 

In my kitchen once again, I washed the pan out, set it upside down to drain and reached for the roast. But there was no roast on the counter. I could have sworn I had left it there, sitting on paper towels. I looked in the refrigerator. No roast. I looked in the garbage. Yes, the butcher paper the roast had been wrapped in was there. But where was the roast? As I stood, puzzling over how 10 pounds of meat could fly out of my kitchen, a movement in the back yard caught my eye. I half laughed, half cried at what I saw. There was Ruff, our dinner roast in his teeth, chowing down for what must have been his answered prayer, his dream meal come true.  

“Ruff,” I yelled at him. “Put that down.”  

I ran out and took the meat from his jaws. I inspected the damage. I wondered how I was going to tell my husband’s midwestern family, used to having meat three times a day, that this would be a vegetarian dinner. Ruff watched me with disappointed, accusatory eyes as I brought the roast, covered with bits of grass and dog slobbers, bits of paper towel still clinging to it, back into the kitchen. It doesn’t look so bad for all that, I decided as I gave it a good inspection. Only a small bit shows signs of being chewed on. If I wash this off, no one will know its history and the story of its rescue. Plus, I rationalized further, the oven temperature will be hot enough to kill any dog germs.  

So that’s what I did. I washed the roast carefully, getting all the grass off, turned the oven up high and stuck the meat in.  

Everyone said it was a delicious dinner. And when they commented on how tender the roast was, I kept my eyes lowered and said, “Thank you.” I never told anyone about my secret meat tenderizing method. And Ruff didn’t say a word, either.