Focaccia With Caramelized Onions, and the Common Sense Of Dogs

focaccia with caramelized onions

You’ve heard those amazing dog stories– you know, the ones where the parent is hanging by the edge of a cliff, or has a heart attack in the middle of nowhere, or is about to get engulfed in a terrible house fire, and lo and behold! Fido, who never seemed to be good for anything but wagging his tail for a treat, suddenly morphs into Superman.

Or Underdog or Lassie, if you will.

He runs all the way to the nearest highway and barks down a passing car. Or he grabs the collar of his  hanging-off-the-cliff father and drags him to safety. Or he runs up the stairs to the bedroom to warn his sleeping parents about the fire that could kill them.

I’ve even heard of a dog that dialed 9-1-1. Or maybe that was in a movie. Whatever. You get the picture?

The point is, humans have for a long time believed in the miraculous power of dogs to come through for us in tough times. We think they’ll do anything for us by any means necessary. In fact, we think they are just a little magic.

I was reading a newspaper article the other day about how two-thirds of American pet parents think their dogs have a sixth sense. The story was filled with people talking about how their canines sensed things before they happened, including dangerous, life-changing events.

Well, as an affirmed dog lover who has lived with more of these magical creatures than I care to count, I want to burst that bubble.

Dogs don’t have a sixth sense, but they are unusually good at using the five senses they do have. And they are unusually smart– more than most people ever give them credit for– making it seem as if they have those extraordinary powers we humans lack.

For instance, dogs are keenly observant– they watch you closely and unabashedly and read your body language better than you would ever be able to read theirs or anyone else’s. Wonder why that  dog barked at you (after all you didn’t tell him you are just a little afraid of dogs)? Well, because he could read it as clearly as if you had barked it to him by shrinking away just a teeny bit when he bounded up to you. Or by hulking down over him although he doesn’t know you from Sarah Palin. Or thrusting a tentative hand in his face when he was least expecting it.


Opie can tell which car driving on the street is his Dad’s and not just any car. He gets boundlessly happy and starts to dance around at the door even before Desi has pulled into the driveway. Sixth sense? No, but he has learned by now that Desi’s car is moving slower than other cars do as they drive past the house. And he puts two and two together.


Lucy, who is horribly afraid of thunderstorms, senses one coming hours before I hear the first clap of thunder. Sixth sense? No, but atmospheric pressure drops before a storm can arrive and dogs can sense that change in pressure far better than humans can. Therefore all the whining and pacing and running into the basement for what, at first to me, seems like no good reason at all.


Both Opie and Lucy will bark their hearts out when a stranger approaches the house– and they, honestly, have a special bark for the mailman even when they are not looking out the window. But they never, ever bark when Desi or I are at the door. Not because some unreal power tells them that it is us or the mailman, but because dogs learn over time to recognize people by the sound of their footsteps.

Dogs have been known to sniff out tumors, but research has shown that’s because the tumors send out chemicals into the body that the powerful doggie nose can detect. Dogs can tell when you’re going into the kitchen to feed them and when you’re just going there to get yourself a cup of tea because your body language has transmitted that information to them whether or not you’re aware of it. They can sense changes in temperature faster and they can hear far more sounds than we can. And they can certainly tell when you are in trouble and will risk life and limb to help out the person they love.

Freddie the dog

In conclusion yes, dogs are magic. But the magic is far more powerful than can be explained by a mere sixth sense. It is that they’ve figured us out far better than we have ever been able to figure them out.

And you thought you were the smart one.


focaccia with caramelized onions

Now on to today’s recipe which I found in my new favorite vegan cookbook, Tal Ronnen’s The Conscious Cook.

Focaccia is a fluffy, crusty, lightly golden flatbread that must certainly be the stuff Italian gods cooked up on a sunny Mediterranean day when a deep-azure sky was specked with fluffy blue clouds and the angels were playing lilting music.

Here’s a bread that tastes great on its own, especially when it’s still warm from the oven, but also makes for a sandwich bread like no other. And, because it’s dough is not unlike a pizza dough, you could very well turn it into a pizza.

I’ve talked enough for the day so I am going to let the recipe do the rest of the talking. Ciao, everyone, and have a great MLK Day holiday!

focaccia with caramelized onions
Focaccia With Caramelized Onions, and the Common Sense Of Dogs
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: Italian
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups warm water (Ronnen uses only 1½ cups, but I found that to be terribly inadequate in my winter-dry kitchen. I'd advise you start with 1½ and add more if you need it)
  • 1 tbsp + 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2½ tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • ⅓ cup + ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter
  • 1 tsp red chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp rosemary flakes
  • 2 red onions, thinly sliced
  1. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar and the warm water and stir to dissolve
  2. Sprinkle the yeast on the water-sugar mixture. Don't mix. Allow it to stand for about 15-20 minutes until the mixture starts to bubble, indicating the yeast is alive.
  3. Mix the flour with 1 tbsp salt. Add the water-yeast mixture one cup at a time, along with ⅓ cup of the olive oil, a teaspoon at a time, mixing between each addition either with a spoon or on low speed in a stand mixer.
  4. Knead by hand or on low speed in a stand mixer for 10 minutes. The dough is very firm and a bit much for my ancient Hamilton Beach stand mixer to deal with because the bowl kept jumping off the stand. So I ended up kneading by hand which was a pretty good workout for my arms.
  5. At the end you want a smooth dough. Place in a bowl coated with 1 tbsp of the oil, turning the dough over once to coat the top with oil.
  6. Cover with a damp cloth and place in a warm place or in a cold oven, as I did, with the light on.
  7. The dough will double in about 1½ to 2 hours.
  8. In a skillet, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil and 1 tbsp of Earth Balance vegan butter along with 1 tsp salt.
  9. Add the onions to the skillet and saute, over medium heat, about 25 minutes until the onions turn soft and brown. Stir frequently because you don't want the onions to burn and stick to the bottom. Set aside.
  10. Line a baking sheet with parchment and spray or coat with oil.
  11. Turn the dough out into the sheet and with your fingers push it into the corners to get a fairly even rectangle.
  12. Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes.
  13. In a small bowl, mix remaining 3 tbsp of the olive oil with the red pepper flakes, ground black pepper, rosemary and 1 tsp salt. Brush the oil mixture evenly over the top of the focaccia.
  14. Place in a preheated, 400-degree oven and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, rotate the sheet, spread the caramelized onions over the bread, and bake another 10 minutes.
  15. Remove the loaf to a rack and let it stand 10 minutes before cutting.
  16. Enjoy!
(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

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  1. says

    I know what you are saying Vaishali.
    I raised a pup and was its mom for 12 years .. she understood our talks, would walk up and gesture if she wanted the fan on and had different barks for different people and cats too. It is due to her that today I can understand the difference between a happy bark and a distressed bark or a warning bark. :-)
    The bread looks yum … must try … sounds easy enough.

  2. says

    What a great little essay, Vaishali. I so agree, dogs show us how much you can learn from paying close attention- they are little Miss Marples and Poirots as they figure us out. Your pups are adorable, and smart!

  3. says

    Sharmila, a dog that indicated when she wants the fan on– that’s adorable and terribly smart. And yes, they definitely have different barks to convey different emotions.
    Lucy is doing very well. Other than some side effects of her chemo medications, she shows every sign of being a healthy, happy dog. She sends you a big woof!

    Nupur, yes, they really are like little detectives, aren’t they? I am always reminded of Eddie driving Frasier mad by staring at him as if he’s reading him– their lack of inhibition is their greatest asset.

  4. says

    Its so good to read your post. Lot of information and well written. Dogs are best friends but poor me is scared of them always. love pups :)

    And thats a nice yummy bread. :)

  5. says

    I go to the park everyday and I love watching the dogs play. The are so intelligent! I must say that I never go near one, for some reason i’m terrified of all animals ans so yes all dogs bark at me :)

  6. says

    Great post! I know in my family we think our dog is about 1 DNA molecule away from talking.

    The bread also looks luscious!

  7. says

    As we live in earthquake zone, whenever we do have a small or medium, people always says: My dog started barking and running “crazily” around the house before the shake… I guess they even sense/feel the quake before us. U ve studied a lot about ur pets, they all look adorable!
    The bread looks delicious!

  8. says

    Loved your writing! Its so true that dogs observe you so closely. It just amazes me.
    All the kids look so beautiful as usual.

    Like the recipe will be trying it soon …

  9. says

    What a wonderful write up! I agree dogs are observant but somewhere I want to believe they are magic too;) Ur babies are so sweet! mucho hugs to them.
    I have a pet parrot back home in India and he is a smart chap too. When I was in B school I had a scooty that I would ride to school. There was another scooty ( with a ‘kick start as opposed to my button sart) in the building opposite to mine. My parrot could identify when I roared into the lane and would whistle and call me ecstatically and let my parents know I was on my way! My parent would sometimes be fooled by the other scooty but ‘Pittu’ would not bother and so they would not pay attention. Magic ;)? no, just that exceptional ability to identify the noise of the engine and of course love for me ;))

    Focaccia looks so good! It is on my must try list, especially since I have gotten over my fear of baking:)

  10. says

    Nithya, Poornima, dogs really are the easiest creatures to befriend and most can’t wait to give a willing human some big kisses. :)
    If you ever decide to befriend a dog, here are some tips you might find useful: always ask the parent if you can approach, and when you meet the dog make sure you squat down or sit so you are on the same eye level. Dogs don’t like people they don’t know towering and hulking down over them. Give the dog an open palm to sniff first, and once you’ve passed muster stroke the dog’s neck. Don’t rub the head, which is the place most people go for, because lots of dogs don’t love head rubs– it’s the equivalent of pinching a kid’s cheeks :) Talk to the dog in a soothing, gentle voice but don’t make sudden, sharp movements around them. Hope you’ll be able to use that someday! :)

    Priya, Thanks!

    T, I agree– they probably are. Or maybe they are too evolved to do something so mundane as talk. :)

    Haymarket, hummus would be great with this bread.

    Cham, Mints, thanks ladies!

    Manasi, your parrot sounds terribly smart– birds definitely are no bird brains. :)

  11. says

    I love Eddie from Frasier :)

    and maybe thats why my Mom used to say I had a dog’s sense when i was a child – from all the jeeps zooming into the staff colony where we stayed, I could pick out the one which was my Dad’s :)

    The focaccia looks very soft and tasty!

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