My Heroes: Coney Island Chili Dog Sauce

“Who Let the Dogs Out,” Baja Men


When I first read about Cesar Milan in a 2006 New Yorker article, his Saturday morning show, “The Dog Whisperer,” was on the National Geographic Channel. I had no dog, but I didn’t care, I would get one just to hang out with Cesar. Ginny came to Eugene for a visit and we spent an entire Saturday binge-watching a Cesar marathon. I bought a copy of his book, Cesar’s Way, told my dog friends what they were doing wrong with their dogs, and spouted off to strangers about Cesar. He was gentle, he was kind, he had sad, brown eyes and he turned bad dogs into good dogs. Cesar was everywhere: People Magazine, late night TV, dog food commercials, and personal appearances.

Eventually my crush wore off. After a few seasons, the show became predictable, consisting of the same three chapters. 

  • Chapter One, “The Dog”: Cesar and his main dog, “Daddy,” meet the problem dog who barks, bites, whines, pulls on his leash, pees on the furniture, destroys shoes, chews on the baby’s toys, runs away, can’t get along with others, or wants to eat the cat. 
  • Chapter Two, “The Fix”: Cesar clips a leash on the bad dog’s collar, walks him down the sidewalk, gives his leash a firm tug, says “Tsssstt” when the dog misbehaves, and, with Daddy as the good example, turns bad dog  into an Alpo ad. 
  • Chapter Three, “The Hero”: Cesar trains the dog owners, solves their personal problems, and walks off into the sunset. 
  • Chapter Four? Cesar leaves and takes Daddy with him, reformed dog stays, no one is interested or patient enough to work with dog, dog resumes his old, bad habits and eats shoes, toys, and the cat.

Chip and Jojo were my next reality heartthrobs. I sat through Saturday Fixer Upper marathons, planned to install shiplap behind the bed (who knew about shiplap?), bought a rusty bike for the “design wall,” and thought of the darling duo as family. Much like The Dog Whisperer, Fixer Upper has three chapters with a predictable finale. 

  • Chapter One, “The Dog”: Chip and JoJo help the new couple select a miraculously cheap problem house in Waco, Texas. 
  • Chapter Two, “The Fix”: First there’s Chip’s demo, then there’s the unsolvable problem Chip or Jojo solve (usually it’s Jojo), and finally, Jojo decorates the renovated house. 
  • Chapter Three, “The Hero”: Chip and Jojo pull back a giant photo of the original house and ¡Viola!, a spiffy–as–new, “open concept” house complete with landscaping, two-car garage, play space for the kiddos, “Chef’s kitchen” with a farmhouse sink, and washing tub for the dog—all done for $30,000. 
  • Chapter Four? Chip leaves and takes his DIY expertise with him, Jojo leaves and takes her furniture and wall art with her, kitchen clutter creeps in, farmhouse sink is impossible to keep clean, dog tub leaks, weeds crop up amongst the perennials, no one is interested enough to hang up their clothes, etc.—my obsession waned.

But fortunately, I have Real World reality stars. Bridget and Ronnie (with help from their village) turned a cramped, dark house with a moldy, above-ground pool into a stunning, light-filled, forever home with an expansive, wrap-around deck. Now, it took a year longer than they planned (a year in which they had no free time), cost more than they planned on, and “If we knew then what we know now, we never would have attempted it.”


Jon and Lara lived in their house for ten years, planned carefully what changes to make, went through three contractors, are now stepping around stacks of old bricks, have no working sink, and cook on a stove in the living room, but hope to be renoed by the end of May. 

Rae Anne walked on plywood for three years, cooked in the laundry room, made coffee on top of the dryer, and used the bathroom sink for dish washing. She finally has beautiful hardwood floors, striking Shaker cupboards, stand-alone open shelving, a new gas stove, and a sun-filled kitchen/great room.

Dogwise, my Real World heroes are Ginny and Ron, who have comforted and trained orphan dogs for thirty years. They wouldn’t think of buying a dog with a pedigree but provide homes for dogs with no place to go. They made room for Shelby—best dog in the world, Alfie—ankle biter with a Mickey Rooney complex, Dinah—ball dog and sandwich snatcher, Gina—Italian immigrant, and now Arthur—blind, deaf, old, and dignified.

My Real World heroes are the ones who belong on the cover of a magazine.

Coney Island chili dog sauce 

  • 1 lb. ground beef 
  • 1 medium onion, chopped 
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder 
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons white vinegar 
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder 
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard 
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar 
  • 4 oz tomato paste 
  • 1 cup water 

Brown the ground beef, add onions, sauté until onions are soft. 

Add all ingredients and simmer for 2 hours.

This entry was posted in Family and friends, Recipes. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to My Heroes: Coney Island Chili Dog Sauce

  1. Cindy says:

    What a GREAT post. I loved reading it!!! You have such a way with words!

  2. Ginny says:

    I love photos of me taken ten years ago! Thanks for the memories.

  3. Becky Ehrlich says:

    Really wonderful! You are such a good writer, always enjoy your posts. This one struck a chord, having also partaken of the reno koolaid. Hope to see you soon, Becky

  4. Bridget says:

    Honored to be included in this one, especially since I hold in such high regard Lara Salem AND JoJo. By the way, that chili sauce looks amazing! 👍🏻

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.