Click on the pic to see the YouTube video
3, 059 days.
That’s how long I had Batu. He arrived from Chile on Christmas Eve, 2005, and departed from Palm Springs on May 11, 2014.
Exactly 3, 059 days.
In some ways it seems like a long time. But right now, it doesn’t seem nearly long enough.
Batu was born on Cinco de Mayo–the 5th of May–2004. He was born in Argentina. Batu’s grandfather was a famous bull terrier from Germany named Rock. Batu’s owner paid $15,000 for Rock. He could’ve bought a car for fifteen grand.
I’m glad he didn’t. But that’s a lot of money for a dog.
So Batu’s owner had high hopes for the young pup. He was hoping Batu would be a champion show dog, maybe show him a little return on his investment. Batu was entered in a few South American dog shows, but there was some technical defect in his bone structure, which prevented him from advancing any further in his show dog career.
Batu was a neglected champion, much like Yours Truly. He was kept in a crate. No one knew what to do with him. Kinda like me…
I had wanted a bull terrier ever since I saw the movie Patton. Patton had a bull terrier named Willie. When my cousin–a true dog lover who knew I wanted a bull terrier–found out about Batu, she decided to get him for me for Christmas.
She has a house in Chile. She’s well-connected in the dog world down there. She left Baltimore, flew down, rescued Batu, and brought him to me on Christmas Eve, 2005. I was at my Uncle’s house on Cat Tail Creek, outside Baltimore, Maryland. USA.
Batu and my cousin, Christmas Eve, 2005, Batu’s First Night
Batu came out of the bedroom that Christmas Eve, walked up to me, and stuck to me like Velcro. He found me, and I found him. He stayed by my side for almost every one of those 3,059 days.
Batu came with that name. I don’t know how he got it. So I Googled Batu and all that came up was the grandson of Genghis Khan.
Batu Khan. So that’s the story I’m going with.
At the time, I was living in a basement apartment in Roland Park. It was an incredible place in an old mansion that used to be a country club. The woman who lived upstairs was 100 years old. The apartment downstairs had three bowling alleys—a bit dilapidated—off to the side. There was a huge back porch, which overlooked two grass tennis courts, both of which had seen better days.
I loved the place. When I brought Batu home that Christmas Eve, he would not leave my side. If I walked into the kitchen, he’d follow me. If I walked into the living room, he’d be right behind me. If I went into the bathroom, he had to go with me.
The first few nights I had Batu, he slept in bed with me. But when I found a tick on the bedspread one morning, I decided to get him his own bed. I put it by my bedside, and that’s where he slept. If I woke up in the middle of the night, I would reach down and pet him. For most of his life, he was always within reach.
I think Batu had separation anxiety. So I took him just about everywhere I went. If I went to a recording studio to do a CD, I’d call in advance and make sure it was OK if Batu came along. DC, Philly, New York—if I had a session, Batu went with me.
If I went on vacation, Batu went with me. If I went to visit my Dad in upstate New York, Batu went with me.
Whenever I’d sit down and play piano or guitar, Batu was there. Almost every song I wrote, Batu was at my feet. Whenever I’d play music, he’d close his eyes halfway, and get this look of bliss on his face.
Unlike most people who listen to my music.
The apartment in Roland Park had a crazy little kitchen with a small four-burner stove. I had just got a video camera, and I started shooting cooking videos; short, goofy little 5-minute home movies, that featured Batu.
I had heard about this thing called YouTube that had just started a few months before. I started posting the cooking videos on YouTube. One of my five or six fans saw the videos, and brought them to the attention of their friend who was involved in a new network, the Italian American Network.
They liked the videos. They loved Batu. The Italian American Network started posting the videos on their channel. They encouraged me to do more. So, Batu and I kept on making cooking videos in that little kitchen.
My cousin also has an apartment in Manhattan. Batu and I would drive up to New York City when she wasn’t staying there, and we’d do videos in her kitchen. It was an amazing kitchen. Batu and I would stay for a couple months, and shoot cooking videos for the Italian American Network.
The VP even came to the apartment to meet Batu.
After our first batch of New York cooking videos, we drove back to Baltimore, to the apartment in Roland Park. One day I let him out back like I’d done a thousand times before…
He didn’t come back. As night fell, I was in a total panic. I made posters, I put them up all around the neighborhood. I rode around on my bike, calling his name, all day and all night. I visited and called every dog shelter, SPCA, vet, and animal hospital I could think of. I called pet psychics. I called pet detectives. I walked around, handing out flyers.
I had just had double hernia surgery right before Batu bolted. I didn’t care. They could have chopped off my arms and legs and I would still have gone looking for Batu.
One day turned into two. Someone called, told me they found my number on his collar. I was ecstatic…until they told me they’d found the collar—without Batu attached to it– in the parking lot of a grocery store about two miles away. I kept up my search.
From the mansions of Roland Park to the crackhouses on York Road, I rode my bike, calling Batu’s name, handing out flyers. I’m surprised I didn’t get shot. I didn’t care. I wanted Batu back.
I called a friend who was a meteorologist on a local TV station. He put out the word on his Sunday morning show. People started calling, telling me they’d seen him. I’d race over.
No luck, time after time. A couple of wonderful women called me up, and offered to help.
We’d search in shifts. It was the middle of the summer. It was in the heart of Baltimore City; traffic, heat, no food, no water, and none of the medications that he needed.
I didn’t give up hope. I got a call on the eighth night; someone had seen Batu in their backyard. I raced over. I saw him, called his name, and he bolted. I chased after him, but couldn’t find him. I looked all night and into the dawn.
I posted more signs, everywhere.
The next day, I got a call from a Baltimore City Councilwoman, said she’d seen Batu in a neighbor’s yard. I drove like a maniac, and there he was. Behind a wrought iron fence that was bolted shut. How he got in, I have no idea. The owners of the house were on vacation.
I scooped him up. He ate the whole box of dog biscuits I had in the front seat. He had been gone nine days. Finding him was a miracle.
Batu spent a couple days in Intensive Care. It cost more than three thousand dollars. My cousin paid the bill. How sweet.
It wasn’t the first time Batu cheated death.
Batu and I were at my Dad’s house in upstate New York on the Fourth of July, 2009. It had just rained, and there was a double rainbow reaching across the mountains. I took a photo.
I walked inside my Dad’s house. The phone rang. My Dad lives on top of a mountain, a place called Rat Tail Ridge, and there aren’t too many neighbors. And the phone doesn’t ring too often.
I picked up the phone. I got the news that his only brother had died. I told my Dad.
My Dad said “Fuck!” about a hundred times in a row. Then he cried. I’ve only seen my Dad cry twice. When his best friend died, and when his only brother died.
Unc—that’s what I called him–had fallen down the basement steps and died immediately. He was extremely wealthy, in good health, had a beautiful young wife…He was 88 years old. My Uncle and I were real close. I had lived with Unc for a couple years.
I packed up Batu and my Dad, and we drove for six hours from Rat Tail Ridge down to Cat Tail Creek, my uncle’s house. We didn’t talk much. I was heartbroken. So was my Dad. Unc was like the Godfather—our world seemed to revolve around him. My cousin–his daughter–was crushed. Unc was an amazing guy.
After the funeral, there was a wake at Unc’s house on Cat Tail Creek. The next day, I took off for a show in San Antonio.
I left Batu with the family. They knew him, loved him, and I knew he would get more than enough attention. Everybody loved Batu.
When I landed in Texas, I got a frantic phone call…
“We were crabbing! We put a chicken neck on the end of a string and threw it in the river! Batu jumped in after it!”
Batu can’t swim. Bull terriers can’t swim. They sink.
“And Batu sank! We all jumped off the pier, right into the river! Clothes, wallets, cell phones…we couldn’t see him! We were following the trail of bubbles! Oh, my God! It was so scary! We couldn’t find him! But we finally dug down and found him and fished him out! He’s OK! “
It was my sister on the phone. Batu had survived. But he could very easily have gone on to Doggie Heaven.
That was the second time Batu escaped death.
Batu was an amazing dog. But I never thought of him as a dog. To me, he was more like a funny little man in a dog suit. A lot of people told me I looked like him.
I took it as a compliment…
Come to think of it…Batu was bow-legged, and so am I. He had a huge head, a big nose and squinty eyes, just like me. He had huge feet, like Yours Truly. Batu liked to dress in black and white. Me, too.
Batu liked bananas, apples and cantaloupe. He loved French fries. When we were on the road, I couldn’t leave him in the car, so I’d go through the drive-thru at McDonald’s and get him French fries, and feed them to him, one by one.
Batu had a bark that would make you jump five feet straight up in the air—it was loud and sharp and startling.
But he didn’t bark much. He was a very calm, laid-back mutt. Not much bothered him. When we would walk the streets of Manhattan, there was so much noise–trucks, sirens, car horns, brakes screeching. Batu never flinched. I could have fired a gun next to his head and he wouldn’t have blinked an eye. Batu was cool.
Batu had a sense of humor, he liked to play. He was funny. He was photogenic. When I pulled out the camera he’d look right at it.
Batu loved to ride in the car. To the post office, or to New York City, he was all-in.
I’d throw his bed in the back of the car, and I’d have to lift all seventy pounds of him into the car. Then we’d take off. It’s funny; I guess he never knew if we were going a mile away, or a thousand miles away. He was just happy to be along for the ride. He would lie there for hours and hours and not make a sound.
I’d have to reach back and shake him just to make sure he was alive.
We moved out of the apartment in Roland Park when the woman upstairs died. She was 103. Batu and I moved into another apartment right down the street. It was more like a Mafia hideout than an apartment.
In 2011, Batu and I packed up the Slimousine and moved to Nashville. I wanted to re-pot the plant. Wipe the slate clean. So we drove to Tennessee. Eleven hours. Seven hundred miles.
I love Nashville. But after we got there, Batu’s skin problems started getting worse. He’d always had skin problems. Batu had been to more vets in more states than any one dog I had ever known. But in Nashville, Batu’s skin got so much worse.
How bad? At one point, I took him to the vet and asked him if we should put Batu down. He had sores on his feet so bad he couldn’t walk. Sores on his elbows, his back, his chest, even his face.
It was disgusting. I called specialists all over the country. I was desperate to find a cure. It looked hopeless.
So I took Batu to his vet in Nashville, thinking it might be time to let him go. I told the vet that if we had to put Batu down, he might as well put me down, too. Maybe I could get a twofer…
Batu was so miserable. So was I. The vet then suggested we put Batu on every dog medication known to man, and if it didn’t kill him, maybe he’d get better.
So we put poor ol’ Batu on antifungals, antibiotics, prednisone…I changed his diet to an incredibly expensive hypoallergenic dog food. I gave him baths a couple times a week with ridiculously expensive medicated shampoo that I had to leave on for 15 minutes at a time.
And Batu got better. We started eliminating drugs, and after a few weeks, Batu was almost back to normal.
So Batu fought the Grim Reaper three times and won. It was pretty miraculous.
Once a month, Batu and I would drive from Nashville back to Baltimore. My Dad had moved from upstate New York to Annapolis. The place upstate was too isolated and hard to maintain, with all the snow in the winter, and all that grass to mow in the summer.
Soon after my Dad moved, he fell and broke his hip. The doctors placed him in a hospice. I explained to the people in the hospice how much my Dad loved Batu. To my surprise, they let me take Batu up to my Dad’s room. My Dad would always brighten up when Batu arrived.
When my Dad passed away, Batu was by my side at the hospice. I took a photo right after the nurse walked out of the room and gave us the news.
A year later, in December 2013, I left Nashville with Batu, and we drove to Breckenridge. Breckenridge is a charming and lovely ski resort, with a vibe like an old Western mountain town. My brother had rented a place there for Christmas so the family could be together and hang out for a week or so.
I took a jar of my Dad’s ashes with me.
We drank absinthe one night. Absinthe is what Vincent Van Gogh drank too much of when he cut his own ear off and gave it to a prostitute.
We didn’t get quite that nuts, but when we got back to the apartment, we started cooking Christmas dinner, and somebody knocked the jar of my Dad’s ashes off the top of the fridg and they shattered on the floor.
We looked down in silence. And then we started laughing. I know my Dad would have appreciated the craziness of it all. We swept up the ashes and the broken glass into a dustpan, and walked outside. It was six degrees. We scattered the glass and ashes and dust into the cold and snowy night.
Batu was there, right by my side.
The next afternoon I was sitting on the couch with Batu. I was reading the contract for the apartment, when I noticed that they had a huge notice:
WE DO NOT ALLOW PETS.
It was a hundred-dollar-a-day fine if they caught you with a pet.
So, for the next couple days, I kept Batu on the QT, the Down-Low and the Hush-Hush.
We checked out right before New Year’s Eve. My brother and his family left first, around 9:00 AM. Check out time was 10:00 AM. At about 10:10, I was getting ready to make my first trip to the car, when I heard a loud knock on the door.
“CHECK OUT TIME IS 10!”
Batu started barking. The guy knocked again. Batu barked again, louder.
I grabbed Batu, went out to the balcony and threw him over the railing, into a snowdrift. Before you call the SPCA, keep in mind I was on the first floor. I tossed his dog bed over the railing, too.
I picked Batu up out of the snow, grabbed the bed, and ran to the car. I threw the bed in, put Batu on top, and ran back to the apartment balcony. I jumped the railing and made a mad dash to the front door.
The guy walked in, looked around, and didn’t say a word. He checked out the apartment. Then he walked out and walked down the hall. I packed the rest of the stuff in the car and took off. We never got fined.
Batu and I drove to Scottsdale, Arizona, stayed for New Year’s Eve, and then drove to Palm Springs, California. On the way to Palm Springs, we passed the General Patton Museum. We stopped by the statue of Patton and Willie.
The first four months of 2014, were the healthiest and happiest days of Batu’s life. All of his skin problems disappeared—it must have been the climate. I put him on a diet. He lost 9 pounds. He was in the best shape of his life. Batu seemed to flourish in Palm Springs.
Batu had only one health problem remaining. He had an enlarged heart. Batu would pass out occasionally, drop to the ground like a ton of bricks. It was always very scary. But he always came back.
Batu turned 10 on the Cinco de Mayo, 2014. He never looked better.
On Mother’s Day, I left for a concert in San Diego. When I left Batu with the dog-sitter, all was great.
I did the show that night at Humphrey’s, a cool little club on the bay. That night was one of the happier ones in a long time. I had just done a really good show, Batu was doing great, all was good in SlimLand.
The next morning I got a text from the dog sitter. I called her, and she told me Batu had fallen asleep the night before–Mother’s Day, May 11th–and never woke up.
I drove from San Diego to Palm Springs. Three of the longest hours of my life.
I walked in, and Batu was lying on the kitchen floor. I scooped him up, and put him in the car as I’d done so many thousands of times before…
And I drove him to the vet to get cremated. When they took him out of the car, and walked away, you would have thought that everybody I had ever loved had just gone down on the Titanic.
3, 059 days.
Seems like a long time. But it wasn’t nearly long enough.
Chicken Stuffed with Goat Cheese
I started this cookbook when Batu and I started making cooking videos for the Italian American Network. It was early 2006.
I finished the cookbook with this recipe. May 3, 2014. Batu passed away the week after.
Batu’s photos appear in almost every recipe in this cookbook. Why? Because he was in the kitchen with me all the time. He would lay his big schnozzola on my feet, or in between my legs as I stood at the stove.
I miss the little fella. Who loves ya, Batu?
I don’t like wasting food. If I’ve got leftovers in the fridg, as long as they don’t have anything growing on them, I’ll eat ‘em.
I had some goat cheese that was…on the cusp, so to speak. I took a sniff, and it smelled good.
But I knew I’d need to use it soon, so I came up with this brilliant idea…
Mix it with some scallion and red pepper and make a little stuffing for the chicken breasts I had that were about to expire.
The dinner was actually delizioso.
No one got sick, and no one died. That’s my definition of success in cooking.
A couple things…
Before the lawsuits start flying in, always remember to check the expiration dates on stuff. Your nose knows. Take a schniff…when in doubt, throw it out.
My brother once made a hot dog, and as he was eating it, I noticed the bottom of the roll was all moldy and green. It was pretty funny…until that night when he threw up in the drawer of the bedside table that we shared.
It’s important to check stuff before you stuff your face.
Whenever you handle raw chicken, make sure you clean everything it touches really well. Use hot water and soap and a pressure washer. Don’t lick raw chicken. Sounds like a good blues song…
As with any recipe, if you don’t like an ingredient, leave it out, or substitute.
You guys are smart. With incredibly good taste, I might add. You can do this.
¾ cup goat cheese
1 tablespoon chopped scallion—the middle part only
1 tablespoon minced red bell pepper
3 chicken breasts, sliced thin (about ¼ inch thick)
3 slices prosciutto
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Here we go…
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Now let’s make our stuffing…
Put the goat cheese in a small bowl.
Add the scallion and red pepper.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Mick ‘em up.
Set aside. Let’s make some chicken!
Put your breasts on a plate. Then put your chicken breasts on a separate plate. Notice the difference…
Put a slice of prosciutto—one layer—on half the chicken breast.
Put a couple tablespoons of the goat cheese mixture on top of the prosciutto.
Fold the breast over, in half.
Do this with all three of your breasts.
Put some flour on a plate, about 1/3 cup. Add some salt and pepper, mix.
Grab a breast.
Place it on the flour.
Turn it over, so both sides have been dusted with flour.
Do this with all the chicken.
Get a sauté pan, put it over medium high heat.
Add the butter and olive oil.
When the butter starts to bubble, add the three chicken breasts.
Cook for 4 minutes.
Turn ‘em over, cook on the other side for 4 minutes.
Put them in a baking dish, and place in the oven for 5 minutes.
Pull ‘em out, check for doneness.
If they’re not done, put ‘em back in the oven for a few more minutes.
When the chicken breasts are done, plate ‘em up!
I did roasted beets with carrots as a side dish, along with some risotto.