Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Snickers - The Dealership Dog

Sarah with her new puppy.
Sarah is now a senior in high school.
In 2006, our youngest child, Sarah asked for a puppy for Christmas. We knew that would not work because
we did not want to be house training a puppy during a cold, snowy South Dakota winter. But our family dog, Repo, was starting to get up in years so we decided that we could honor her request but it would be closer to her birthday, April 19, rather than Christmas. So she found something else to replace the puppy on her Christmas list and moved the puppy to her birthday "want" list.

So shortly after her birthday, we traveled to a kennel and picked out a puppy. She named her dog "Snickers". Snickers was quite easy to house break - I think that Repo was very helpful in this process. Snickers had a lot of energy. Repo was very tolerant of Snickers.

As she got bigger, Snickers exhibited all the signs of an alpha dog from hell. She teased and tormented Repo and pretty much did whatever she wanted.

About that time, The Dog Whisperer was a popular television show. The host and star, Cesar Millan,, would go into a home with a dog problem and train the master how to train the dog (rather than vice versa!). My wife bought his book and we both read it but it didn't take long to see that Snickers just needed someone to show her who the master was.

So I would take Snickers down and hold her on her back and hold her feet while laying on/next to her. I spoke softly to her trying to sooth her because she did not like the position or having her feet held. I did this as often as I could for about a week or so and soon Snickers behavior came around - especially when I was around. She had come to understand who was boss (if only that would have worked for the rest of the family!).

Repo and Snickers
Snickers became a great family pet and a buddy to Repo. When Repo died a few years back, Snickers was really lost. Though she came around, it was almost as though she went through a mourning process - just like the rest of the family.

Repo was a good hunter and he had a very strong hunting instinct. He knew when the gun came out that the fun was about to begin. I have a dummy launcher that is powered by a blank .22 shell. When you release the handle, the shell is fired and the dummy is launched up to 100 yards out. Repo would tear up chunks of asphalt trying to get after the dummy as fast as possible.

Snickers, on the other hand, when I shot the dummy launcher would look at me with an expression that said "What is all the noise? - I'm getting the hell outta here!". I had no hope for her to be a hunter. I decided she had been bred for the tri-color (which is more rare for English springer spaniels) rather than for her hunting instincts. I was fine with that because we had gotten Snickers for Sarah and I still had Repo to serve as my hunting partner.

When Opening Day of the pheasant season came around, I had no plans to take Snickers to the field with us. One of my hunting buddies owns champion field trial dogs and he had a pretty new pup as well. When I asked him if he was bringing his pup, he told me he would not bring his pup unless I brought Snickers. I knew he was anxious to get his dog in the field so I relented and agreed to bring Snickers but vowed to leave her in the kennel.

As we prepared to walk the first field that day, my friend convinced me that I needed to give Snickers a chance. So I put the training collar on her and let her out of the kennel.

To my amazement, Snickers was hunting the moment she hit the ground. Her cropped tail was wagging at full speed and her nose was to the ground following the scent of the "wiley ringneck". She needed a little reminder on occasion not to get too far ahead, but she was a hunting fool.

Repo and Snickers pose after a successful
day in the field. Sarah with her brother,
Alex, and his friend Joe.
Shortly after entering the field, one of us knocked a pheasant down near the creek that divides the land we
hunt. All four dogs, Repo, Snickers and my friends two pointers, were on the scent but could not find the bird. We continued on along one side of the creek. All four dogs worked well and together.

We hunted all the way up one side of the creek, a couple of small food plots, and a few fence lines. We had a great day in the field. We were wrapping up the hunt walking along the other side of the creek, back toward the pickups. Snickers and I were right up against the creek about 100 yards from the trucks. A couple of guys were already back at the truck and were in the cooler retrieving that eminently refeshing, end-of-the-hunt beer.

It look pretty damn good and so I called Snickers to join me in the walk to the truck. She was predisposed, still hunting along the creek. I wanted her to learn to follow my commands and was getting frustrated because she would not come. I stomped back over to the creek where she was wrestling with something in a patch of heavy cover. As I got closer to her, I realized that she had a rooster pheasant in her mouth. She had found the bird we knocked down four hours earlier when we walked the other side of the creek. That was enough to make a believer out of me - I now had two hunting companions!

We have spent many hours in the field together since then. My measure of a successful pheasant hunt is more directly tied to Snickers' satisfaction than it is to the number of birds in the bag.

She now accompanies me on most of my goose hunts (in my yard) as well. Though the geese are too big for her to retrieve, she has, on more than one occasion, chased a wounded goose down and helped me finish the kill!

I am often asked if she is a hunting dog. I guess she is but she's really more of a companion that hunts. She does a pretty good job but I would not compare her to those dogs who are used exclusively for hunting.

I have a dealer friend who, upon meeting our family pet Snickers, asked me if she goes to the dealership with me every day. I told him no that she didn't. He told me that he thought that was a mistake because she had the right temperament to go to the store and hang out there.

I thought about that for a couple of weeks and finally decided to give it a try. So I brought a bed and Snickers to the dealership with me. I knew that I would have to train her to stay in my office so I brought her training collar too. I put her bed in my office and put the training collar on her. I hit the "vibrate" mode when she tried to leave the office. It didn't take her long to understand that she was supposed to stay in the office.

It has been amazing how many people want to pet the dog. People will see her in my office and will bend down to call her over. I release her to those who call her. We have found so many of our customers love dogs.

Snickers travels with me to my Ford store each Wednesday. She does not come into the store there. It would be difficult for her because there is not a consistent place for her to stay there. Instead, she waits in the front seat of my vehicle for me. She usually get a good nap while waiting. When it is too cold, she stays home. Her short hair doesn't keep her warm for long periods of time in the cold South Dakota winter.

She has learned to watch me pretty closely in the mornings at home. Any deviance for my normal routine signals to her that I might have a meeting in Sioux Falls or Pierre and that she will not be able to join me on that day.

Snickers with her stuffed pheasant
Scott the sales manager bought Snickers a stuffed pheasant. She loves to strut around the showroom with the stuffed pheasant in her mouth. Tourists especially love this - I think it fits their image of a South Dakota dog!!

At the GM store, Snickers finds her way to the customer lounge regularly for some affection. She makes it to the conference room during lunch hour for more affection. She wanders from office to office seeking the attention of employees and customers. She is very good at plopping her chin on people's lap. Occasionally, she meets with some resistance but usually she gets a warm welcome, some baby talk and a good ear scratching!

Among the many pleasures dog owners derive from their pets, there are some very valuable lessons. Dogs teach us how to mourn. I have lost three dogs in my lifetime and each time one died, I went through a mourning process. It is like losing a member of the family and, in some ways, prepares us for that.

Dogs also teach us about persistence. They will either persistently enforce their will and train us, or we will be persistent in our obedience training and teach them. I have been on both sides of that equation.
In her bed behind my desk

Dogs show us how to be loyal. They know who feeds them, who provides them shelter and who cares for them - and they don't forget. A dog knows its masters voice, name and distinguishing characteristics.

Perhaps most importantly though, dogs teach us the true meaning of unconditional love better than anything else I know. It matters not what kind of a day we had, who we offended, how poorly we performed, or how we treat them, the dog is there with a wagging tail and a wet tongue looking only for a scratch on the ear or a stroke on the head in return. We can all benefit from that lesson.

I invite you to stop in and meet our loyal, loving dealership dog, Snickers. She can entertain you while we change your oil!

Update 5/29/2020: We put Snickers down on May 23, 2020. We are grateful for our 14+ years with her. She was a great dog and friend!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My Quest for the Perfect Cocktail

One Manhattan is alright, two is too many, three is not enough.

The Manhattan is the king of cocktails. My golfing buddies, the Cahoonas, turned me on to the drink a long time ago but my appreciation for the cocktail and its complexity has grown as I have gotten older and wiser. The Manhattan can be stirred or shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass, where it is garnished with a Maraschino cherry with a stem. But Cahoona Pat taught me how to make the drink served on the rocks in a Old Fashioned glass and so that has always been my preferred method. He also taught me a little secret that I will reveal a bit later in this post.

So I have been a sucker for any tavern that fancies itself as making a good Manhattan. If they feature it, I'll try it - as long as there is a cocktail shaker involved. If the bar tender isn't using a shaker, he/she is a beer tender serving cocktails.

In February 2010, my wife and I were in Orlando for the National Automobile Dealers Association Convention. We were there over Valentine's Day and so I took her to dinner to commemorate the occasion (and our very first date which was on Valentine's Day 1977!). We decided to eat at one of the restaurants in the J.W. Marroitt Hotel in which we were staying.

We commenced our evening's festivities with a pre-dinner cocktail. As luck would have it, the bar featured a Manhattan on their bar menu so I ordered one. I noticed the bar tender "shaking" drinks proving to me that he knew what he was doing.

My Manhattan was good (an 8 on a 1-10 scale). When the drink was gone, however, I tasted nirvana as I popped the dark cherry into my mouth. It complimented the complex tastes of the Manhattan so much better than the regular maraschino that normally accompanies the drink.

I asked our server about the cherry and she informed me that it was a very special cherry that was "contraband" in the U.S. I inquired about that and she told me you could not buy these cherries here. She told me they were Amarena cherries. You could only buy them in Italy. That sounded like a challenge to me - and the cherries in the cocktail were worth the challenge.

As luck would have it, our son Alex was studying in Florence, Italy that semester. Our daughter, Rachel, and her then boyfriend, now husband, Andrew, were going to Europe to visit Alex over Easter. I thought that would be the perfect opportunity to score some contraband cherries!

So I told them to forgo the Italian leather gifts, the fine Italian ties or other traditional gifts from Italy and bring me some Amarena cherries. That's all I wanted - some cherries for my Manhattans.

As the three of them traversed Italy, they looked everywhere for Amarena cherries. They had absolutely no luck in finding the cherries. Even Alex's mentor, Fr. Bruno, could not help them find the rare fruit. They did find a variety of maraschino cherries which Rachel and Andrew brought back for me (in lieu of leather or ties!).

But I was not going to take no for an answer so my quest for the scarce cherry took me where I should have started - a Google search. The second result - right after the Wikipedia entry - was Amazon. On Amazon, I found several different brands and sizes. Paydirt!

I ordered the cherries (in the gallon size) and they showed up two days later. I wanted to go straight home (at noon) and park behind my bar and experiment with my new swag. I exhibited an incredible amount of self control and waited until mid afternoon.

Now a gallon of cherries is a lot of cherries. They came in heavy syrup and so I had to separate the cherries from the syrup. I needed some containers suitable for the task. While I stumbled through the whole process the first time, I now have a system complete with the perfect containers.

As I mentioned above, Cahoona Pat had a "secret" ingredient to make his Manhattans special. That secret was a bit of cherry juice mixed in with the whiskey, vermouth and bitters. The syrup that the Amerena cherries came in would take that secret to another level.

As I mixed my first Manhattan with Cahoona Pat's recipe and my cherries, I found that I had a magnificent new twist on a great recipe for a classic cocktail. I could not wait to share it with the Cahoonas on our annual week-long golfing trek to Minnesota.

So I bragged about my new-found mélange to the boys in the lead-up to our trip. They told me that if it was as good as advertised, to be sure to bring plenty! So about two weeks before our trip, I ordered a gallon. I left it sitting on the basement bar so I wouldn't forget it.

That year we left a day early and played a round of golf in Sioux Falls and had dinner at Cahoona Mark's house. After dinner, the requests for one of these new Manhattans mounted as cigars came out. The bar was set up, all it needed was cherries - the cherries that were sitting at home on my bar, where I had placed them so I wouldn't forget them. There would be no special cocktails that evening.

As I took a relentless razzing for my absentmindedness, I was furious contemplating how I might salvage the the bar setup at the "Tiger Woods" cabin at the golf resort in Minnesota. I struck on an idea - Amazon had rescued me before, perhaps it could do it again.

I whipped out my trusty iPhone and brought up the Amazon app. I bucked up for the overnight delivery and placed and order for a $90 gallon of Amarena cherries. I was able to drown my concerns about the cherries in some fine whiskey that evening. There is always fine whiskey when you're with the Cahoonas!

The next day when we checked into the resort north of Brainerd, MN, there was a package for me already waiting. The cherries had beaten us there! I've been an Amazon fan ever since. Amazon.com - the remote bar tender's best friend!!

The relentless abuse stopped later that evening when the pre-dinner cocktails came out. The Cahoonas agreed that the cocktails were better than advertised and showed their appreciation by swilling them down non-stop for five straight days.

The Amarena cherry Manhattan has become a staple of the Cahoona trip, a signature drink at Rachel and Andrew's wedding and a trademark drink at the Knust family bar - even when it's on the road.

Here are a couple of tips for making this delectable blend. The syrup that the cherries come in is very heavy. I have learned to cut in by mixing one part water with one part syrup. I have also discovered that taking about one quarter of the cherries and soaking them in some good whiskey for a couple weeks makes a luscious bar treat.

But the most important tip I can offer is to use good whiskey or rye - whatever your preference. Life is to short to drink bad whiskey!

World Famous Knust Amarena Manhattan

1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
4 oz bourbon or rye whiskey (my favorite for Manhattan is Maker's Mark)
1 dash Angostura® bitters
1/2 - 1 oz Amarena cherry syrup (I like 1/2 oz; wife likes 1 oz, depends how sweet you prefer)
2 Amarena cherries (unless it's an after dinner drink, then add three)

Combine the vermouth, whiskey, bitters and cherry syrup with a cocktail shaker full of ice. Shake gently. Place the cherries in a chilled Old Fashioned glass and pour ice and cocktail over the cherry or, even better, strain the drink into the Old Fashioned glass with a "bourbon ball" ice cube. The cherry juice will give the cocktail a deep maroon tint.

I have found that a good cut of beef (like a Cowboy ribeye) or a herb-crusted rack of lamb go well with the Manhattan. But nothing pairs with the "King of Cocktails" like an after dinner cigar and some stories from the day's golf game!!!


Updated 7/26/2018

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Let Me Tell You a Story...

"Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale of all."
       —Hans Christian Andersen

Do you know someone who is a good storyteller? Someone who can paint a picture with words or punctuate the point with that perfect metaphor; someone who embellishes the story just enough - but not too much; someone who uses attention getting introductions; someone who includes details to develop the plot, characters and setting so you feel like you know just who or what he/she is talking about? Let me introduce you to such a storyteller.

I have a Ford store in Winner, SD. I live 50 miles away in Chamberlain, SD. I don't read the Winner Advocate (local weekly newspaper) like I should. Recently, I was in the store and saw the latest edition sitting on the counter. As I took time to look through it, I saw a column written by someone I know quite well - an employee, Kirk Bainter, the F&I manager in my Ford store.

I read the column and enjoyed the story very much. I inquired about how long he'd been writing these and where I could read past columns. I learned that he had written a dozen of these stories on a wide-ranging variety of topics. They appear in the paper on a bi-weekly basis and some of these were available on the Advocate's website, but that not all were.

I asked Kirk for copies of his other stories. As I read them, I found they reminded me of events and characters from my youth. I really enjoyed reading them.

I encouraged Kirk to share them on a blog - to start his own. So he has created "Story Time with Kirk" which is simply a collection of the stories he has written for the Winner Advocate.

Kirk is somewhat of a character. I think his stories illustrate that quite well. But if you want quick, concrete evidence of that, this video proclaims that very loudly.

He has granted me permission to post one of his stores here.

She Screamed for Ice Cream

by Kirk Bainter
One bad decision can lead to another and amplify it's impact exponentially when done with my kind of precision. This can make certain situations more memorable than others. Take for instance my recent trip to the convenience store to pick up my fresh made pizza order. I arrived long before the pizza was done, as this is my normal mode of operation. I was patiently standing by for any sign of the delicious bacon-cheeseburger pizza that would begin to peek out of the 503-degree conveyor oven. I believe I was the only customer in the store at the time.

Fate changes with every heartbeat, blink or decision we make like the wind changes speed and direction for reasons most of us don't understand. I wasn't thinking about fate or repercussions or anything but pizza when the young father and his two children came into the store that night. I noticed the father of the two precious youngsters head directly to the men's room, leaving the two kids somewhat unattended. 

The boy was about seven or eight years old. He went directly to the gum/baseball card area and was quickly entranced within it's power. The little girl was five. She had to be five. There is a certain look all five-year-olds have. It is unmistakable, undeniable and inarguable. She was five. Probably bored from riding in a car for some time, the little girl was peering upward and focusing on nothing in particular when she turned to walk up the same aisle as me. I was facing the goodie machines. You know, the soda fountain, freezy machine, coffee pots and oh yes, the ice cream machine.

She strolled along the aisle carefree and humming an unpublished concerto. But, all that changed as she neared me. She looked to her right and instantly radar locked on the ice-cream machine. I wondered for a moment what the attraction was. As I looked closer at the machine, the answer became quite clear. A smile came to me as I noticed there was a two to three inch ice cream stalactite hanging from the dispenser nozzle. 

With little hesitation she reached out to obtain the small hanging treat. At the precise moment her index finger made contact with the ice cream, the compressor that runs the cooling system of the machine kicked on with a violent roar. 

She reacted with a quick tensing and small jump back. Thinking she may be responsible for breaking something or setting off some type of ice-cream machine theft alarm, she snapped her head to the left, looked directly at me with eyes wide and jaw dropped. I could have looked away and left well enough alone, but no....not me. I looked at her, then at the machine, then back at her and said in an authoritative and accusing tone, "What did you do?"

See, I think I'm a really funny guy. That was supposed to be a really funny thing. I simply failed to consider my audience. The next few seconds were those kind where you wish you had a rewind button to hit.  First, there was a small inward breath, then a large lung filling gasp followed by a second of silence. A moment like that can seem to last a long time when you know the next thing that happens will be very, very bad.

At first I thought the sound I heard was an ambulance siren at full screech. Unfortunately, it was not. During mid-scream, I became aware that I was alone in an aisle with a young girl screaming her head off within five feet of me. I also knew it probably wouldn't look good to any amateur child protection advocates that may have just stumbled into the store. 

Not knowing what to do, I simply ran. Not perhaps the best quick decision I've made in my life. As it turns out, there just isn't any law against being stupid or being a jerk to a little kid. I'd like to see it stay that way for the next "funny thing" I decide to do.

Kirk's stories appear bi-weekly in the newspaper. If you need a bit of this light-hearted commentary occasionally, you can subscribe to the Advocate or you can visit "Story Time with Kirk Bainter" .