When you live with a dog, you soon start to see the world through his eyes.
A dog’s world is rich– infinitely richer than our human one. We only appreciate the familiar and we are held back by our inhibitions and all those pesky little things like behaving ourselves in public. A dog, with no such irritants in the way, launches full-scale into appreciating everything he encounters on that hallowed daily ritual called the Walk. And by that I mean EVERYTHING. Plants, twigs, something incredibly delicious you can’t even see but must be there because your dog just spent five whole minutes trying to dig it out of the grass, a fire hydrant, even that bright orange cone left behind by a roadside crew gets a dog’s full attention followed, most likely, by a shower.
But the most attention is reserved, of course, for the animals.
Not the human animals so much because, let’s face it, humans are boring. All they will do is hover over you and hold out a hand to sniff, and after you’ve sniffed it in hopes that there was a treat in it what do you find? There isn’t. Give me a break, you can almost hear the canine say.
Luckily, other animals are much more fun. There are the squirrels, those little busybodies with their incessant ritual of picking up acorns and oversized objects in their tiny mouths, then carrying them back to little tree holes to stash them away. For dogs a squirrel embodies the final prize: this is the creature they were put on earth to chase. And no matter how many generations of dogs come and go, and how few the squirrels they catch, the mission stays alive and fresh and festering, like a vendetta in a Manmohan Desai movie.
At nearly 12, Opie walks slowly most of the time with lots of sitting breaks, but when he sees a squirrel– at least for a moment– he forgets he can’t run like the wind anymore. He will race away, tugging at the leash, me flying helplessly behind. It’s a picture I am glad you are not around to see.
And then there are the bunnies. Oh my god, the bunnies. Opie loves bunnies even more so than the squirrels because they’re rarer and therefore worth the exercise. Sometimes, as we drive through the neighborhood, Desi will slow down to point out a bunny with big, beady eyes to our furry little Playboy and it takes all of my strength to stop him from jumping out the window.
The raccoons drive Opie just a little mad, the little ones and the big ones, with their lovely, black-and-white painted faces. They slink up and down the trees in packs and they baffle him because he never quite sees them, but he knows — he just knows— they are around. Arrgh. And the deer, all too visible when they visit our suburban neighborhood at night in groups to nibble on new plants. The best Opie manages, when he spots them, is a bark, because he’s not quite sure what he can do to a creature so elegant and so oversized.
There’s the fox. This beautiful, nimble little creature that stalks the neighborhood at night looking for food. He’s barely bigger than a cat with a pert, intelligent face and a bushy red tail. Each night, after his walk, Opie squats out in the front yard, looking for action. Occasionally I’ll hear him bark and go out to find the fox staring disdainfully at him, wondering why this fluffy creature is making all this noise.
But if there’s one creature Opie is truly besotted with and looks for each time he walks, it has to be Georgia the cat.
Georgia, a gorgeous tabby with huge eyes that talk, is a feral cat who gets fed by just about everyone in the neighborhood, including Desi who is madly in love with her and would have brought her home long ago except that she knows how to put him in his place with a well-timed hiss. Like his dad, Opie is obsessed with Georgia, although for different reasons: he’s not happy she’s eating all that delicious cat food daddy puts out which should be going into his own tummy by rights. So every time he steps out of the house he starts looking for her, nose working fast, so he can chase her away whereever she is. He’s done it too, many times, but she is just too fast for him.
I am not even going to talk about the dogs here because that’s a long story for another day. For now, let’s just say that there isn’t a doggie butt for 10 miles around that Opie hasn’t sniffed.
So what are you still doing here? Don’t you have anything better to do on your Saturday morning, like sniff the fence, circle a fire hydrant, and squint up a tree to see who might just have scurried up there? Go on, have fun! It’s the weekend.
Italian food is what I cook most often in my kitchen– after Indian food– and that just goes on to show just how popular, and delicious, this cuisine is. And how versatile and easy. No matter where in the world you live, pastas and pizzas are quite likely among your favorite foods.
My love for Italian food perhaps started, like many others, with a delivery pizza that has very little to do with real Italian food, but it was honed and refined over years of watching public television chefs like Lidia Bastianich and Mary Ann Esposito create magic in their kitchens. The one thing that had always put me off about Italian restaurant food was that everything seemed to be drowning in tomato sauce or in cheese or both. But watching Lidia and Mary Ann taught me that real Italian food can be fresh, wholesome and even healthy. I still love watching them because although neither of these cooks is vegan or even vegetarian, a lot of the foods they make are, to my mind, very vegetarian friendly.
I adapted the Italian Wild Rice Soup with Asparagus, Leeks and Chickpeas I have for you today– a soup with the true Spring flavors of fresh vegetables– from a recipe in the cookbook Lidia’s Italy. Her version is vegetarian, although it contains cheese. I subbed out the arborio rice for some nutty, delicious wild rice and the cheese for some heart-healthy chickpeas. It was divine.
I am going to run now to enjoy my weekend, but first, here’s the recipe. It’s super easy with very little prep and although you need to let the soup cook for more than an hour, it is a labor-free hour because you have to do precisely nothing.
- 6 large cloves garlic, crushed
- 4 medium potatoes, cubed
- 15 stalks of asparagus, hard ends trimmed. Cut the asparagus into ½-inch pieces
- 2 leeks, washed thoroughly and green and white parts cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp dried sage
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup wild rice (can substitute with brown rice)
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
- Place the oil and garlic in a large pot over medium heat. Let the garlic cook, stirring often, until the garlic becomes lightly golden.
- Add the potatoes and let them cook for about five minutes, stirring ever so often, until they begin to lightly color.
- Add the leeks, red pepper flakes, season with salt and ground black pepper, add the sage, and the add 10 cups of water or vegetable stock to the pot.
- Add the asparagus and the wild rice. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower heat until the pot is gently boiling and let the soup cook, uncovered, for about an hour. If the soup gets too dry (it shouldn't with this much water) add some more water.
- Add the chickpeas and more salt and black pepper, if desired. Ladle into bowls and drizzle on some EVOO-- it's really worth the few additional calories, trust me, and olive oil is actually good for you.
- Serve hot with a crusty Italian bread or by itself. This soup is a one-pot meal.