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Egg salad sandwiches hit the spot. October 15, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. If you’re like me, you tend to think of egg salad as summer picnic fare, something you make maybe twice a year. But everything I thought I knew about egg salad changed a couple of weeks ago when I went to a local sandwich shop.

We’re talking early October, but this shop had homemade egg salad on the menu. It looked so good, a simple mix of shredded hardboiled eggs and mayo, that I ordered an egg salad sandwich with mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato and onion in a hot ciabatta roll.

Yum! What an inspired combination. The hot, crusty roll leant just the right heartiness to the luscious fillings, all of which balanced each other perfectly. Suddenly, summer’s salad had become autumn’s sandwich.

The question was, could I do this at home? Absolutely, and it was so easy. I made our friend Ben and myself a simple lunch of egg salad sandwiches with sweet potato chips and pickles this past weekend. I warmed split sections of baguette, then spread them with mayo (we like Vegenaise) and a robust mustard.

I piled on Romaine, radicchio, and shredded carrots and radishes from a bag of salad mix, added a fat slice of orange tomato, topped that with a slice of sweet onion, and then spread a thick layer of egg salad over the mustard on the other half of the baguette section. Then I slapped the halves together and served the sandwiches, chips, and pickles with fresh-pressed cider from a local orchard.

Yummmmm!!! So easy, so good, so satisfying. While those vine-ripened tomatoes are still available, I suggest that you give this a try. Picture it with a cup of hot cream of tomato soup!

‘Til next time,

Silence

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Best (bad) restaurant review yet. October 14, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. Who could resist an article about the five worst restaurants in America? Not yours truly. Clicking the link on my Yahoo home page, I found descriptions of five truly awful-sounding places. Fortunately, they were all in urban areas—New York, L.A., Miami, D.C., and Denver—rather than in our neck of the rural woods.

Whew! There are plenty of places around here with mediocre food and ambience, and I’m sure some have food that is truly foul, though mercifully, our friend Ben and I have never landed in one of those. But the mouse-dropping-strewn floors and appalling hygiene (inlcuding filthy bathrooms) in these diner-reviewed roach motels went far beyond tacky decor and tasteless entrees. Not that the prices reflected that—the worst-rated sold a rum and Coke to an unsuspecting customer for $18 after his discount!

Needless to say, all five restaurants were savaged by Yelp reviewers (as well as health inspectors). Now, people who take the time to write reviews tend to be pretty passionate about their dining experiences, which can lead to some rather nit-picky quibbles with the restaurants in question. I try to take them for what they’re worth, especially when a restaurant gets a bad review for a criterion I couldn’t care less about. If you’re outraged because there was a green light hanging over your table instead of a pink light, I don’t really feel your pain. What was the food like?

My own criteria for what makes a good restaurant experience are pretty simple: Not having to wait for a table. Tables that are big enough for the food being served, and comfortable chairs or booths that are the right height for the table. (I hate feeling like a three-year-old with my head barely poking above the edge of the table because the table’s too high for the height of the chairs.) Enough lighting to see the menu, your dining companions, and your food: no more, no less.

Then there’s the peace, quiet and space issue. I like plenty of space between tables, so you don’t feel like you’re having a group conversation, or that if you get up to go to the bathroom you’re inadvertently giving the person seated behind you free gastric bypass surgery.

As for peace and quiet: No TVs or loud, blaring music, please. Preferably no music at all. If I wanted to watch TV or listen to music, I could do so from the comfort of home and not pay good money for the privilege of doing it in the middle of a restaurant. And no live bands, and especially no roaming musicians, of any type or stripe. I’m trying to eat a nice meal and chat with my dining companions in a normal tone of voice, not shout over the music or feel like I’ve been thrust into an interactive audience experience. (God forfend. If I’d wanted to be an actor, I’d have been one.)

I’m more tolerant of restaurateurs’ attempts at decor, as long as the restaurant is spacious, quiet, comfortable, and clean. If someone wants to decorate a Greek, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, or vegetarian restaurant with their idea of suitable paraphernalia, color schemes, and the like, and they don’t seem to be hitting the mark, I give them credit for trying to make their restaurant distinctive. As long as Day of the Dead bobbleheads aren’t hopping up and down in my face or an endless loop of “That’s Amore” isn’t playing in the background, I’m fine. I wouldn’t want to encounter decor of this kind in a high-end restaurant, of course. But if I’m not paying for a leisurely, one- or two-hour supper, it’s fine with me.

I’m also okay with leisurely service, as long as the food arrives at the table at the proper temperature and in the correct order. Certainly, I don’t want my salad to arrive with my entree and have the now-cold appetizer rushed apologetically to the table soon thereafter. But as long as my unsweetened iced tea is brought promptly, I’m happy to enjoy my dining companions’ company rather than champing at the bit for food to be on the table now, or at least within seconds of ordering.

What about service? I appreciate a cheerful server, but don’t expect one. If I’d been standing on my feet for hours, rushing around, dealing with grouchy, even unreasonable or nasty customers, I’d be ready to dump hot soup down everybody’s backs. (Why I’m Not a Server 101.) I do expect courtesy from a server, as I expect a server to expect courtesy from me (plus a 20% tip after taxes). And I expect a server to keep an eye out and refill my iced tea without my having to ask for a refill, but not to hover over the table constantly, making me feel pressured to gulp down my food and leave as quickly as possible.

Oh, right, the food. Because I love cooking, when OFB and I go out to eat, I want food that I love but wouldn’t make at home. That includes all fried foods, from falafel patties and spanakopita to pakoras and vegetable tempura. Not to mention sweet potato fries, fried okra, and onion petals. It also includes beautifully made foods from international cuisines that I lack the patience or skill to make at home. And regional specialties that I also lack the patience to make, like our local Mennonite pumpkin roll (a pumpkin sponge cake rolled around a cream cheese-whipped cream filling), or luscious hickory-nut cookies.

But let’s get back to that restaurant review. The third-worst restaurant got the best bad review I’ve ever read. The Yelp reviewer who came up with it deserves a four-star rating him- or herself, don’t you think? “The place is dirty. I shudder to imagine what the kitchen is like. Save your money. Go lick a bus seat and get the same gastrointestinal experience for free.”

Gotta love that money-saving aspect.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Shiloh to the rescue! October 13, 2013

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Shiloh, our friend Ben’s and Silence Dogood’s gigantic black German shepherd, is a wuss. Yes, her size and deep-chested barking do tend to unnerve FedEx and UPS men, not to mention the postman and water delivery guy.

But that’s just because, seeing a huge black dog racing between the front window and door, barking enthusiastically, they don’t notice the huge, happy smile and lolling tongue, the furiously wagging tail, and the excited tone of the bark: “Look, we have visitors!!!” People who actually come into the house immediately realize there’s nothing to fear except an enthusiastic licking.

Shiloh proved her lack of guard-dog chops once and for all when we were sleeping soundly and, at 2 a.m., there was a loud knocking on our (very isolated rural) door. Silence, half-asleep, was completely terrified, since in her groggy state it didn’t dawn on her that a murderer was unlikely to knock, however loudly, on the door. “BEN! What are you doing?!!” “I’m answering the door.” “NOOOO!!! Here! Take this pepper spray! Get the baseball bat! Do you want ME to take the pepper spray?!!”

It turned out to be the fire police, informing everyone on our street that a garbage truck had crashed into a telephone pole down the road, breaking it and pulling over a connected pole across the street. (Mercifully, no one was hurt.) They wanted us to turn off our power so the repair crew could get to work safely.

So where was our fierce watch beast, normally up and barking loudly (if cheerfully) at every passerby—and every passing dog—during all this? Well, there was Silence cowering in terror on the bed. And there was Shiloh, having picked this up from Silence, cowering very quietly in the pitch-dark on her bed at the foot of our bed, doubtless thinking that no one would notice her way down there, blending into the darkness.

Let us stress again that Shiloh loves dogs. Shiloh loves all dogs. She lives to play with dogs (and try to steal their food and toys, but that’s another matter). Keep this in mind as you read what recently happened.

So, last weekend, a friend of ours came over. His job is to go into people’s houses and advise them on how they can weatherproof their houses. And he told us that we’d be amazed to know how many of these homeowners had pitbulls, especially in urban areas. He said that many of the pitbulls were perfectly friendly, but many were not, to the point where the owners had to cage the pitbulls while our friend did his evaluations.

In one house he recently visited, the pitbull was so vicious that it dragged its huge crate across the floor after our friend, growling, snarling and barking as it tried to rip him apart. Our friend was so concerned that he recorded the dog’s behavior on his smartphone, in case he or his survivors needed it for legal purposes. “See? Just look at this,” he said, playing the clip of the snarling, growling, leaping dog. It was certainly an unnerving performance.

But what was truly remarkable was the transformation it produced in Shiloh. Our normally upbeat, happy-go-lucky dog heard those threatening sounds and recognized them, and what they meant, immediately. She didn’t know where they were coming from, and assumed they must be outside, since there was obviously no other dog in the house.

Rushing to the deck door, she let loose with such a ferocious, deafening, menacing round of barking as we’d never heard in our lives. Her meaning was perfectly clear: “Try to hurt my people and I’ll tear you end to end.”

Our friend hastily ended his clip, and the second the noise stopped, Shiloh stopped barking and went back to being her loving, friendly, “Want to play with this squeaky toy, and if not, how about a treat?” self. But now there was no doubt in our minds: If we were truly under threat, from a dog, at any rate, Shiloh would protect us with everything she has.

Our friend Ben guesses that, ultimately, it’s just poetic justice. I wouldn’t (under threat of my life) dare to call Silence cowardly, but as the incident related earlier in this post might suggest, she’s not exactly fearless. However, the mere thought of someone laying a harmful hand on Shiloh turns this timid lamb into a raging lion. “If I ever found someone trying to hurt her, I would pound them into pulp! They might not live to regret the day they ever laid a hand on her!!!”

Gee. If only I could get her to feel that way about me…

How to tell if a pawpaw’s ripe. October 10, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I have quite the little pawpaw grove here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home we share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. We planted three different varieties in the hope of getting a good crop (pawpaws need a second variety to cross-pollinate in order to set fruit), and last year, for the first time, we finally got some fruit. But before we could harvest them, the critters made off with them all.

This confused us, since the wily wildlife here at Hawk’s Haven usually strikes our berries and other fruiting plants the second they’re fully ripe, but not a second before. And these pawpaws were still green!

We’d become intrigued by pawpaws, a native fruit also known as “banana custard” because of its texture and flavor, when a friend brought us some ripe fruit from her trees a number of years ago. The big fruits are oblong and about the size of the small yellow mangoes you sometimes find alongside the large variety in the produce aisle. They have golden yellow flesh and large black seeds, which are easy to remove. Then you can scoop the flesh out and eat it as is, add it to muffins, cookies or bread (a la banana bread), or use it to flavor homemade ice cream.

The pawpaws Deb brought us had a noticeable yellow flush over the green skin, and we were waiting for our fruit to change color when it vanished. This year, we have a bumper crop of pawpaws, and OFB and I are eager to get a few for ourselves this time. But, once again, they’re still green. So you can imagine our shock when our friend Leslie stopped over and announced that our pawpaws were ripe and, in fact, she’d just eaten two of them!

“But Leslie, they’re still green!” I exclaimed.

“They’re definitely ripe, or at least the ones that have started to soften up are,” she responded. “They’re delicious! You’d better get out there and pick some.”

What the bleep was going on? I went online and Googled “when are pawpaws ripe.” Sure enough, it turns out that the skin of some pawpaw varieties will blush yellow when ripe, but others just stay green. Ways to tell if the green ones are ripe include checking for a slight give when pressed, like a ripe mango; putting your nose up against the fruit and seeing if you can detect a fragrance; and twisting the stem sideways to see if it detaches easily from the tree. Other folks just wait for the fruit to fall, then harvest it quickly before something else does.

Not that we begrudge our wildlife their share of pawpaws. The reason we grow them is that their leaves are the sole food of the caterpillars that become the gorgeous zebra swallowtail butterflies. We love butterflies, so we grow pawpaws for the zebra swallowtails and milkweeds for the monarch butterfly caterpillars. We just wish the critters would leave a few pawpaws for us to enjoy!

If it ever stops raining, we’ll be out there checking for ripe fruit. OFB and I will probably go for the scoop-and-eat method rather than making bread or ice cream. One final warning from the web: Apparently pawpaws can go from lusciously ripe to black-skinned and inedible within days. So once you pick them, eat them ASAP or scoop and freeze the flesh to use later.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Batting 2000. October 9, 2013

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It’s hard to believe, but today’s is the 2,000th post for our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. On behalf of all of us, and of our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, our sincere thanks for your support and encouragement from Day 1 to today. We look forward to sharing many more thoughts, discoveries, observations and recipes with you in the days, weeks and years to come!

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
—Benjamin Franklin

The frogs of winter. October 8, 2013

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have been enjoying the company of two frogs who took up residence in our deck’s half-barrel water garden this spring. They’ve stayed with us all season, and their occasional commentary and antics have kept us amused when we sit out on the deck every dry evening to relax and watch the sunset with our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh.

But now, with the weather cooling rapidly and the leaves falling, we’ve become worried about them. After all, if the winter is cold enough, that water garden can freeze almost to the bottom. (We move the water plants to a similar half-barrel in our greenhouse to overwinter.) Would our frogs have the good sense to head to our little stream, Hawk Run, which runs beneath our deck bridge, and burrow into the mud bank for their winter hibernation?

Our friend Ben felt that research was in order, so I turned to my good friend Google, which revealed some truly amazing facts about the winter habits of frogs. First, while they do hibernate, they don’t burrow into the mud to sleep the winter away. Instead, they just remain suspended on the pond or stream floor.

But what if the water freezes? Well, of course the frogs freeze with it. Only they don’t, or not exactly. According to frog expert Rick Emmer, writing in Scientific American, frogs come with their own antifreeze, which keeps them from dying even if they freeze.

“True enough, ice crystals form in such places as the body cavity and bladder and under the skin, but a high concentration of glucose in the frog’s vital organs prevents freezing,” he writes. “A partially frozen frog will stop breathing, and its heart will stop beating. It will appear quite dead. But when the [water] warms up above freezing, the frog’s frozen portions will thaw, and its heart and lungs resume activity…”

Yowie kazowie! That explains why frogs are found as far north as the Arctic Circle. Let’s hope it’s enough to protect our resident frogs if they decide to hibernate in our water garden this winter. We’d be very happy to see them again next spring!

Reviving wilted kale. October 7, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I love kale. I love kale raw in salads and cooked, sauteed in olive oil with garlic and onions, steam-cooked in the drops of water from rinsing the leaves and splashed with balsamic vinegar just before serving, added to pasta dishes or soups, or tucked into phyllo pastry spanakopita-style. Yum!

Admittedly, I wasn’t always a kale fan. Where I grew up in the South, kale was unheard of. I was the best speller in my elementary school, able to spell “chandelier” by age six. I always looked forward to spelling bees. But when my Northern teacher gave me “kale” to spell at one bee (something I’m sure she thought was a no-brainer), I was totally stumped. After pondering this for some time and deciding that it must be a Celtic word (think ceilidh, pronounced “caylee”), I ventured “cail.” Fail! “Don’t you know what kale is?!” my horrified teacher asked. Well, no, as a matter of fact.

But now I do. And kale is the perfect fall/winter green, so I was crushed this past weekend to see a big bin marked “Kale” at a local Mennonite farm stand with just two wilted leaf remnants. Rats! Foiled again.

Then I saw a guy at the checkout stand with a giant armful of gorgeous kale. “Ah, so you’re the one who got all the kale!” I blurted out. “Well, there was a big bunch outside last time I looked,” he said. Outside? I was out the door before you could spell “kale,” and sure enough, there was a big bunch in an outside bin. A bunch with impressive curly leaves and long stems. A bunch that was still attached to its base, something I’d never before seen.

The problem was, it looked tired. It had clearly been harvested the same day that I visited the stand, but had been sitting in an open (though shaded) bin all day. But I had an idea for a way to revive those still-scrumptious-looking leaves, so seizing the bunch, I returned to the checkout stand. I thanked the guy, who was still there, and said I’d just need to revive the kale a bit. “Oh,” he said, “I just wrap the stems in damp paper towels and they stay fresh for days.”

This is, in fact, a great technique for herbs and stemmed greens like kale and chard that are already hydrated and plump. But my kale needed more than a damp paper towel or two to return to full, fresh life. Sort of the difference between a breather and CPR.

When I got my bunch of kale home, I reluctantly cut it off at the base and plunged the stems into a deep bowl of room-temperature water (I used the bowl from my rice cooker), just as you’d cut the bottoms off flower stems and then plunge them into a vase of water. I set the bowl in the sink and made sure all the kale stems were in the water and were propped up so they wouldn’t fall out of the bowl.

I knew my technique was working when our friend Ben, who had seen the initial bunch of kale, wandered into my office a couple of hours later and demanded to know what on earth I’d done to the kale. “Have you seen it?! It’s taking over the sink! It’s going to be coming for us at any moment!!!”

Heading to the kitchen, I saw what OFB meant. The formerly lackluster kale was now fully expanded, glossy, hydrated, happy. The transformation was incredible. And all it took was to create a cut-kale arrangement!

Now I’m ready to make all those salads and sautees and other scrumptious dishes. And I know my kale will be the best money can buy. Should you end up with a bunch of less-than-fresh kale, keep this technique in mind. And if your kale (or chard or whatever) looks great but you’re not going to use it for a day or two, wrapping the stem ends in damp paper towels is an excellent method to keep the leaves fresh and hydrated.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Cedar waxwings at last. October 6, 2013

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Our friend Ben was surveying the morning scene from our deck door yesterday, enjoying the view across our plant-filled deck and backyard. As I watched, I became aware of a large flock of grey birds on the privet that borders Hawk Run, the little creek that runs behind our house.

Mind you, I’m not referring to those horrible privet cubes people love so much, but to a tall (as in 15 feet), graceful, open, airy plant, left to grow the way God intended. A privet left to its own devices is a delight in all seasons, with its exquisite form, clusters of tiny, highly fragrant white flowers that turn into clusters of deep blue-black berries, and bright yellow fall foliage. In winter, the berries cling to the shrub, and I love to watch the mockingbirds enjoying them.

But I digress. Observing this flock, I noticed several things. They were bigger than chickadees, who have already arrived for the winter with their cousins, the titmice. Titmice are grey, too, and are bigger than chickadees, but I’ve never seen more than three or four at a time, and here were at least 12, maybe 20.

The crown feathers of a titmouse’s head form a crest like a cardinal’s, giving it its name, tufted titmouse. I thought I could see something crest-like about these birds’ crowns, too, but the triangle seemed to be flattened, pointing backwards. Could it be, could it finally be, that I was seeing a flock of cedar waxwings?! Our friend Ben raced for the binoculars.

Yes!!! These amazing birds, so common in the northern half of the country in fall and winter, had never been in our yard before. In fact, Silence Dogood and I had never seen one. And here was a whole flock! Resisting the urge to hog the binoculars, I called Silence and we stood at the sliding glass doors, just revelling in our good fortune.

How did I know these were cedar waxwings, when the birds I was watching appeared to have dark grey backs and whitish underparts, and the pictures in our bird books show brown backs and cream underparts? Their tails gave them away. In fact, our friend Ben thinks they should be called cedar waxtails, not waxwings. The tips of the tail-feathers of waxwings look like they’ve been dipped in deep yellow candlewax, and our binoculars showed that clearly. (The secondary wing feathers are tipped in red “wax,” giving them their name, but our binoculars didn’t reveal that.) I’m sure the birds really are brown and cream, but take this as a caution as to what light conditions can do.

I don’t know about you, but there’s only so long Silence and I can stand still and hold up even small binoculars to our eyes, and shifting focus constantly makes Silence dizzy. So after a few minutes, we decided to risk it. Arming ourselves with our steaming mugs, we slipped out onto the deck as discreetly as we could manage and sat down. And then we were really amazed.

Not only were the waxwings clustering on the privet, alternating between it and some nearby evergreens, but the air was literally filled with birds and birdsong. We’d begun filling the feeders again a few weeks ago when it got cold. And because our large yard is wildlife-friendly, we always have lots of birds. But this particular morning was entirely different. There were the chickadees, goldfinches, titmice, cardinals, mourning doves, and the last robins. There were our nuthatches, and we could hear the resident woodpeckers at work high in the tree canopy.

But here, too, was the first bluejay of fall! (We love big, bold, colorful jays.) And the air was full of warblers, flying from tree to tree, and the waxwings, and myriad other birds, coming so close to us in the branches overhead, I thought at any moment one might land on us. Silence and I agreed that it was the most amazing morning either of us had ever experienced.

I guess it’s not surprising that we finally got our cedar waxwings: We have two huge red cedar trees in our front yard, which bear thousands of waxy blue-black juniper berries, providing food and shelter for myriad bird species over the winter. And cedar waxwings get their name from this evergreen. The question is, what took them so long?

The real nanny state. October 3, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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“Ben! Get in here and look at this!”

Silence Dogood was fuming. “I just clicked on an article about five healthy spices—cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cardamom, and cloves—and after it listed their health benefits, it said not to eat them without checking first with your doctor! What are we supposed to do, call our doctor every time we want to sprinkle cinnamon on our hot chocolate or eat curry or put black pepper on our food?! Gaaahhhh!!!”

Silence and our friend Ben despise the nannyism that has overtaken the patient-doctor relationship. You’re not supposed to go for a walk or begin an exercise program, however modest, without first checking with your doctor. Every article and piece of advice (about health or almost anything else) ends with “Be sure to check with your doctor first.” I’m waiting to see “Please do not breathe without checking with your doctor first.”

This is different from the bad old days when doctors were infallible gods and patients were humble worshippers who never questioned their doctor’s advice no matter how misguided it was or incompetent he was. The difference, though, is not that we can now inform ourselves about health matters, and from reputable sources like The Mayo Clinic, WebMD, The Lancet, and The New England Journal of Medicine, so that we can make informed decisions and have informed discussions with our doctors.

Instead, the difference is that, in the past, it wouldn’t have occurred to either doctor or patient that it was a doctor’s role to oversee every least detail of a patient’s private life. The doctor’s role was that of healing; the patient’s, of living. I cannot imagine a patient coming into the doctor’s office and asking, “Doctor, I’m having a bridge party this weekend and am baking a cake. Is it all right if I sprinkle some cinnamon on the icing?”

Empowerment is informing yourself about how to maintain your health and restore it if something goes wrong, and doing enough research to see what is proven to work, what shows promise (and in what form), what seems to neither help nor harm despite claims, and what might actually be harmful. Maturity is understanding that if one tablet, capsule, or cup is good, ten isn’t better. Insanity is turning responsibility for your entire life, to the minutest detail, over to your doctor.

Doctors are already overworked and in increasingly short supply. They don’t have time to tell a nation of infantile hypochondriacs how to tie their shoes when they could be treating disease and saving lives. Let’s please send this nanny on permanent vacation and rediscover the virtues of common sense and personal responsibility.

Dogs you shouldn’t own. October 2, 2013

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When you think of dogs you shouldn’t own, some breeds naturally spring to mind. Breeds like pit bulls, whose powerful jaws can deliver a bite that can break bone. Or Border collies, who were bred to herd sheep over long distances all day, every day, and are great for an active family or as working dogs but become destructive if left alone and bored.

Maybe a breed like the chow springs to mind, fiercely protective of his family but often just plain fierce towards others, or the Akita, bred to hunt bears and strong-willed, a great dog for a seasoned dog owner who is willing to put the time into training, a disaster-in-waiting for an inexperienced or timid owner. Then there are the breeds that have been overbred, typically the mini-minis whose bones are so fragile they break spontaneously or who’ve become known for anxiety disorders.

So when I saw an article on Yahoo’s home page called “5 Worrisome Dog Breeds,” I clicked on it at once. Which five would turn up on the list?

The answer proved to be heartbreaking. The article, which appeared on the VetStreet website and was written by renowned veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, was about three dog breeds that have become most notorious in the veterinary profession for terrible diseases and disorders, plus two whose popularity landed many of them in animal shelters, where their days were numbered.

Of the latter two, one was the pit bull—not exactly a surprise. I’ve been seeing pit bulls dominating shelter populations for years. The poor dogs apparently are discarded because someone wants to look tough, then finds that his dog is “too much dog” for him, or because the person really is tough, and the “scary” pit bull he ended up with turns out to be a mild-mannered sweetheart. As Dr. Becker notes, people are afraid to adopt pit bulls, so once they reach the shelter it’s usually their last stop, despite the ongoing efforts of animal rescue organizations and no-kill shelters to save them.

The other dog on the shelter list was a complete surprise: the chihuahua. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a chihuahua at a shelter, but then, I live in a rural area where I haven’t seen that many chihuahuas out and about, period. Apparently, in more urban areas, the Taco Bell/Paris Hilton phenomenon resulted in a wave of chihuahua breeding and buying, which then resulted in a wave of dumped chihuahuas clogging shelters.

This is confusing to me. I’m not a small-dog person, so I’ve never understood why anyone would want a chihuahua in the first place, but if you did want one, I can’t imagine why you’d want to give it up. Dr. Becker says they’re a generally healthy breed with larger-than-life personalities. Certainly, they don’t take up a lot of space and they’re not terrifying. I just don’t get it.

These situations are unfortunate in the extreme, but it’s the final three that I find most heartbreaking. The first dog on Dr. Becker’s list is the bulldog, to which he adds pugs and French bulldogs—you know, those poor animals that have been bred to have hideous smashed-in faces. How anyone could do that to a dog is beyond my wildest imagining (or to a cat, for that matter—think Persians). How horrifically cruel to the poor animal who can no longer even breathe and is prone to collapse if given exercise in hot weather.

Dr. Becker says many of them must have their nostrils surgically enlarged and/or their soft palates shortened to permit them to draw in the breath of life. How could anyone justify breeding an animal that can’t even breathe?!

The last two on the list really broke my heart, since they’re our favorite breeds: German shepherds and golden retrievers. The beautiful, lovable goldens made the list because they’re so terribly prone to cancer; in fact, Dr. Becker says that among vets, they’re known as “the cancer retriever.”

No one knows why goldens are so prone to cancer, but our own dreadful experience certainly bears it out: We lost our beloved Annie to cancer at just 1 1/2, and our adored Molly at age 10. When our neighbor’s golden recently got the Big-C diagnosis, his vet congratulated him, saying that any golden who made it past ten without succumbing to cancer was a rare sight indeed.

As for German shepherds, Dr. Becker presented a regular laundry list of potential health problems: “epilepsy, vision problems, bleeding disorders and digestive problems, as well as bad hips and degenerative myelopathy, an incurable condition that causes progressive paralysis.” Oh, joy! That’s something to look forward to with our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh.

So be warned. After enduring the agony and heartbreak of Annie’s and Molly’s decline, suffering and death from cancer and cancer treatments, we’ve decided that, much as we would love another golden, we won’t get one unless fate literally drops one of these incredible creatures in our laps. Our neighbor, also a big-time golden guy, says he thinks he’ll risk it after his beloved Jackson is gone.

Think carefully before adopting a dog who’s notoriously disease-prone, a dog deliberately bred to be miserable, or a dog that’s not suited to your personality and your lifestyle. Nobody wants their dog to suffer. And if I never saw another sad, bewildered, abandoned dog in a shelter, it wouldn’t be a moment too soon.

Dogs (and cats and all pets) are not disposables, they’re living, loving beings like us. So do your research, talk to owners, breeders, rescue organizations and vets about the personalities, traits, and needs of various breeds before you buy or adopt. Spend some time at shelters getting to know the individual dogs (or cats) there. This is one time to truly look before you leap.