For better or worse, Maggy and I had a pretty Rockwellian upbringing. Raised in the farm community/artist colony of New Hope, Pennsylvania, we were surround by lush woods, snow-dusted fields, funky shops, and salt-of-the-earth people. We chose and cut down our own Christmas tree each year, picked pumpkins straight out of the patch, apples off the trees, and blueberries from their bushes. Saturday mornings meant making pancakes, muffins, or waffles with Mom (fun!) or helping Dad rake the leaves (less fun). Until high school, we could walk to school every morning and home each afternoon. We had breakfast together most mornings and dinner together every night, and on the evenings when the sun stayed up long enough, we’d all go for long walks after dinner.
Sure, we fought, we yelled, we had our issues, but Maggy and I had it pretty good, and we knew it. So, of course, we had to find something to complain about. And there was one place where we believed we had been deeply wronged: we didn’t have a dog.
Mom and Dad let us have fish, gerbils, hamsters, and cats, but a dog was out of the question. One year, when we were on vacation in Maine, Maggy and I spent an entire rainy day at the library and holed up in our room reading up on puppies. We learned which breed was right for our family, how to choose the perfect puppy, how to take care of it, and how to train it. Then we created a presentation complete with poster board visual aids. We planned to present our well-researched findings to our parents, and we were convinced that they would be so impressed with our determination and responsibility that they would agree to get us a dog.
I distinctly remember lying in bed the night before the big presentation, absolutely giddy with excitement. I just knew they were going to let us have our way…finally! I imagined that in a few months, or maybe even a few weeks, I’d be cuddling with a golden retriever puppy straight out of the L.L. Bean catalog. I could almost feel her soft fur and little, wet nose.
Maggy and I gave that presentation, and – without even needing a brief recess to discuss it – our parents said no. Not maybe, not we’ll see. Just “no.” We cried, we whined, we let them know how unfair it all was, but they would not be moved. Maggy and I barely changed the kitty litter once a year, they calmly informed us, so there was no way that we would actually do our part in taking care of a puppy.
And so we all went on in a dog-free home until Maggy and I graduated and started our own lives and homes. I always swore that as soon as I got my own place, I’d get a dog. But, I didn’t. As soon as I got my own place, I learned how hard it was to pay the rent and the bills and keep the place clean without vet bills, pet food, and dog hair.
After three years of marriage, though, Anthony and I finally decided that we were ready – emotionally, financially – for a puppy. So, we got one. A little 12-week old French Bulldog who we named Eloise. I loved her instantly, more than I ever thought was possible. But my parents were right: there was NO way that, as a kid, I could have made a commitment to care for a dog (much less a puppy!) and maintain that level of care for as long as necessary.
Puppies are no joke – they’re basically like babies. They need to be fed, watered, and taken out regularly. When you’re not feeding or taking them out, they need to be watched constantly. If you take your eyes off of them for 30 seconds, they’re either peeing on the carpet, pooping in the dining room, or chewing on any available electrical cord. When they wake up in the middle of the night and cry, you just have wait it out – cringing and dying a little inside – so they learn to self-soothe and go back to sleep. You have to train them and be careful not to reward bad behavior. You can’t work late without making arrangements, you can’t just jet off anywhere for the weekend. Hell, you can barely take a shower those first few weeks. (New moms…sound familiar?) But, of course, one look at that face or a few big puppy kisses, and it’s all worth it.
One of the most difficult adjustments has been the change in our cooking habits. Anthony and I love to come home from work, open a bottle of wine, and cook. But with Eloise, we’ve had to tweak our routine a bit. Coming home now means taking her out, sometimes for an hour-long walk. When we return from coaxing her around the neighborhood (one of the hazards of a bulldog…they’re a tad lazy!), we’re hungry and not all that inclined to simmer stews or roast chickens. And even if we don’t walk long, we still have to keep our eyes on her at all times – a challenge when you’re both in the kitchen.
The first few weeks, our dinners consisted mostly of salad and scrambled eggs or things we fished out of the freezer. When we got tired of that, one of us would cook while the other sat in the next room and played with Eloise. That worked, but we love cooking together and we missed catching up over the sounds of sizzling garlic and simmering sauces. So, we started making simple meals and taking turns popping our heads out the kitchen every minute or so to check on the puppy. We had to keep the meals quick, easy, and forgiving, like this variation on the Croque Madame. This classic French recipe, tweaked to leave plenty of room for puppy checks, is also lighter and quicker than the original, so we’ve termed it the Croque Eloise. Crunchy, rich, savory, and warm, it makes a beautifully simple lunch or dinner when nestled up to a bright arugula salad and a glass of crisp white wine. (I like to tell myself that, at the very least, it’s a few steps up from scrambled eggs!)
After nearly two months of quick, on-the-fly cooking, Anthony and I have finally learned to bring Eloise and her bed into the kitchen with us and barricade the door with the trash can. She usually wanders around hoping we’ll drop something, and when the only thing that falls to the floor are scraps of onion, kale, or something equally unsavory for a puppy, she curls up and goes to sleep. I hope that we’ve finally found a way back to old habits with new family members, but we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, there’s always Croque Eloise!
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- ½ cup each: whole milk and chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 4 slices ham
- 4 large eggs
- Salt and pepper
- 4 slices sturdy loaf bread, white or wheat
- 1 ounce grated Gruyere cheese
- Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan. When it starts to sizzle, whisk in flour, then milk and broth. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook to thin sauce consistency, a couple of minutes longer. Whisk in cheese and mustard; turn off heat and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat another tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add ham and cook until golden brown, a couple of minutes; set aside on a plate. Crack eggs into empty skillet, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of water, cover and cook eggs to desired doneness, a couple of minutes for sunny-side up. Remove eggs to plate with ham. Pour off residual water and return skillet to low heat. Add remaining tablespoon of butter and add bread; grill until golden brown, a couple of minutes. Turn bread over and spread each piece with a portion of sauce, top with ham, then egg, and a portion of cheese. Cover and cook until bread bottoms are golden brown and cheese has melted, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Serve immediately