Garth Stein’s novel The Art of Racing in the Rain had a lot of promise when it was chosen as our most recent book club selection - it had a cute dog on the cover, it has over four stars on Goodreads, and oh yeah, it’s an international bestseller. Honestly, my biggest concern when I started it was that the dog would die, and after the Lily and the Octopus crying-on-a-plane debacle, I wasn’t sure I could handle that.
From the start, however, it’s quite clear that Enzo the dog (and narrator) may die. As a very old dog with what seems to be hip dysplasia, he is suffering quite a lot in the opening chapter. However, as a highly enlightened animal, Enzo doesn't seem bothered and spends much of the book talking about his ultimate goal of becoming a human through reincarnation upon his death. And, for much of the rest of the novel, he spends his time making comparisons between life and racing that were a bit of a stretch at best and boring distractions from the rest of the story at worst.
For me, honestly, the downfall of this novel was not that the dog was narrating nor that the majority of the characters were unlikeable - including Enzo, who I thought could not have been more pompous and un-doglike if he was a cat - but that it tried way too hard and missed the mark. And while all of us in book club didn’t feel exactly the same way, three of us (including the lovely lady who chose it) absolutely hated it.
It’s an interesting concept, and who doesn’t love a good dog story? But it could have been so much more. It could have felt like a dog and not a philosophy professor was leading us on this journey. It could have been packed with just slightly less drama. I guess I didn’t think the title would be so literal, but I didn’t care for the racing comparisons. Overall, though, it just didn’t feel genuine.
On the plus side, lots of dogs got to enjoy treats because of this novel, and so that brings me lots of happiness. In the novel, Enzo’s owner Denny always gives him some chicken “bedtime treats” at the end of every day, and so I set out to find a chicken treat I could make myself. I found one from Use Real Butter that is extremely homemade, fresh and delicious. I chose to make it more semi-homemade, using both canned chicken and canned sweet potato, which required less prep time.
First, I drained the chicken and popped it into my food processor, pulsing it a few times to break it down into smaller pieces.
Then, I added everything to the bowl of my standing mixer - chicken, sweet potato puree, shredded cheddar cheese, an egg and half of the flour. I used the paddle attachment to combine the ingredients partially before adding the rest of the flour. This is where you’ll need to eyeball it and likely add more flour to get a less sticky consistency. Once the dough comes together, put it on a lightly floured work surface and roll it out to a thickness of about ¼”.
I found this adorable paw-shaped cookie cutter on Amazon, but you can really use any shape you have on-hand.
Once I had 2 cookie sheets full of treats, I put them in the oven to bake. (I ended up covering 3 cookies sheets in total and made somewhere between 175 and 200 treats.) I opted for treats on the chewy side, but I have included the directions from the original recipe below so you can make them crispier if you’d like to.
Once they were cool, I gave some to Beta to taste test. She absolutely approved! In fact, she liked the smell of them so much that she had a hard time holding back while I tried to snap some pictures.
Almost 200 treats is a lot! So I also wrapped them up in little gift bags to give to my coworkers who have dogs and asked them all to take photos of their dogs enjoying them too. Quite a good looking bunch! It seemed the treats got puppy approval all around.
- 12.5 oz, or one large can, of canned chicken (Premium Chunk White Chicken Meat), pulsed in a food processor
- 10 oz (approx.) canned sweet potato purée
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (and more as needed, plus extra for rolling out)
- 1 large egg
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix all of the ingredients together until the dough is well blended. The dough should come together without being too sticky. Add more flour as needed (by the ¼ cup) until you achieve a consistency that holds together but isn’t wet. (Additionally, more egg or sweet potato could be added if, for some reason, the dough is too dry.)
- Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out shapes and arrange on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake time will depend on size of the treats. For 1-inch diameter treats, start testing doneness after 15 minutes by lightly poking the center of a treat with your finger. For larger treats, allow for more baking time (but keep an eye on it the first time around). Treats should be slightly soft in the middle at which point you can remove them for soft treats. For crunchy treats, shut off the heat and leave the oven door closed. Let the treats dry out in the residual heat, but check to see that they aren’t burning at the edges.
- Store soft treats in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Store hard treats in an air-tight container for up to a week. If storing for longer, refrigerate or freeze them. Makes 150+ 1-inch treats.
Notes: I didn’t do an exact count, but my recipe made well more than I expected. Definitely in the 150-200 range, but probably closer to 200. This will depend most of all on the size of the cookie cutter, but also on how thickly you roll the dough. The large quantity makes this a great recipe to save money and stock up on homemade treats for your own dog, or to give as gifts to other dog owners!
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