REAL COOKING: Critters itching for some help

“Phew! You smell like a bad Easter egg,” my son said to me as I walked through the living room to the front door.

“Thanks, I love you too,” I growled, wishing that I, too, could be curled up on the couch reading a book instead of heading back outside to deal with two drippy guinea pigs.

Our guinea pigs have contracted ringworm, which makes their hair fall out-leaving the one with the long black fur looking like one of those poofy poodles with a fancy haircut.

The guinea pigs’ vet, Virginia Skinner of Peabody’s Veterinary Clinic, has prescribed a course of treatment that includes a regimen of drenching the cavies (the pig’s proper name) in a lime sulfa dip.

And let me tell you folks, there’s nothing that says “fun” more than spending part of a Sunday afternoon dipping two struggling guinea pigs over and over into a vat of yellow water that smells like a 3-week-old rotten egg.

It’s a good thing I like the little critters. You can probably imagine what Keith thinks about all of this-and that’s why I’m dipping the pigs and he’s not. Dr. Skinner told me specifically not to hold their heads under the water.

After I bathe the cavies in the sulfa, I rinse off with the hose outside and then come inside to wash thoroughly. Even though I wear an apron and gloves, the smell tends to permeate my skin, my hair, my clothing-well, everything.

So, I rinse myself in white vinegar like my mother taught me to do. According to my mom, white vinegar cures all ills, cleans everything and dissipates all offending odors. I’m not sure if it works with this medicated dip, but at least I feel like I’m trying to do something about the stench.

And that’s how I come out smelling like a bad Easter egg.

It seems like we’re having a rash -pardon the pun-of skin problems with our pets this summer. Our beagle, Biscuit, has always suffered from seasonal allergies, but this year they have been exceptionally bad.

I didn’t know that dogs could suffer from allergies to pollens, weeds and grasses before we got Biscuit. As a pup, when summer rolled around and she romped down in the creek bed, her skin turned bright red. The underside of her oversized beagle ears became fiery, and she scratched and scratched.

Keith wondered if she had gotten into a patch of poison ivy, but when he took her to see one of her vets, Norman Galle, allergies were found to be the culprit. He prescribed some medication that took care of the problem.

Over the years, there have been summers when she hasn’t suffered, and in some years medication has been required. This summer, Biscuit not only developed her red and itchy skin, she started coughing as well.

Dr. Jennifer Martin at the Hillsboro Animal Clinic examined her and started Biscuit on medication that soon took care of not only the redness but the cough as well.

But now Biscuit has started showing symptoms once again, and Dr. Martin has started her on another round of meds. This time, the vet asked Keith if we had recently put in new carpeting.

Yes, we had. So now we are trying to determine to what the dog is allergic-the stuff outside or the stuff inside. Since she goes in and out and in and out, we’ll probably need a hard freeze before we are really sure what’s making the dog itch.

It’s a good thing Biscuit likes going to the animal clinic. I think it’s because Office Manager Sue Millett always gives her a dog “cookie.” Biscuit is too shy to eat it in Sue’s presence, but when I get her out to the car, Biscuit gobbles it up and wags her tail in appreciation.

I’m just grateful her medication comes in tablet form. I’d hate to have to dip that fat hound up and down in a sulfa bath. There wouldn’t be enough white vinegar in the world to cover up that smell.

* * *

Keith and Alex, along with the other Jost men, lately have been spending a lot of their spare time at the reservoir fishing for bass and wipers. They came home last Saturday night full of stories and reeking of bait. I insisted on showers before they sat down to a late supper, but I only suggested that they use soap.

Crispy Fish

2 cups dried mashed-potato flakes

1 cup flour

1 Tbs. garlic powder

1 Tbs. seasoned salt

1 Tbs. black pepper

2 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)

4 (6 oz.) firm fish fillets (like cod, bass, crappie)

2 cups butter-flavored shortening

Soak fish fillets in cold water. Combine dry ingredients in a shallow pan. In a deep skillet, melt shortening and heat to 350 degrees. (Yes, it’s best to use a thermometer when you fry fish. Or use an electric skillet that will maintain a set temperature.) Take the fish out of the water, shake off excess and dredge the fillets into the flour mixture. Place fish into hot shortening and fry, turning as needed, for about five minutes or until fish flakes. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Serve as soon as possible with tartar sauce, lemon slices and all the trimmings.

* * *

Grilled fish also is delicious and simple to prepare when you keep these few steps in mind. To preserve the meat’s moisture, coat the fish with oil if you want to place the fillets directly on the grill. The oil will help to seal the moisture into the meat. And be sure to keep a careful eye on the grill because fish requires more attention than your average burger or T-bone. Flip the fillets as soon as a cut into the fish reveals that the fish is cooked at least half way through. Once flipped, it takes only a short time for the meat to be done.

An easier method is to place the fish on, or wrap it up in, aluminum foil. The foil will prevent the loss of moisture. Here again, keep a close eye. Fish cooks quickly.

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