I often talk to you about sharing this Earth with our friends furry, feathered and even creepy-crawly because-- if you take the time to look-- they are just as lovely as the best of us. But wonderful as it is to share the planet, our best and biggest home, it is important to keep in mind that it is harder to share your brick-and-mortar home with a companion animal like a cat or a dog.
Let's face it, dogs and cats are work. Lots of it. They need to be fed-- sometimes like children (Freddie actually needs to be hand-fed most days because he rarely will eat out of his bowl. It can be cute, but it takes time). They need to be groomed because all that gorgeous fur can get matted and knotted and whatnot. They need occasional medical checkups, and you might see expenses add up if the animal gets sick. And they need to be walked come rain, shine or snow (at least dogs do, although it's a great idea to have an indoor cat that you walk on a leash-- best of both worlds).
Then there are the other side effects, like having to more frequently clean your home of all that hair they shed and all the dirt they track in, and learning to explain to guests why your couch is in tatters because the cat adopted it as her scratching post.
Of course, for true animal lovers, none of these is a deterrent. Because all of it is forgotten the moment you walk in through the door after a frustrating, long day at work and you're met by a welcoming committee of slobbery kisses, bright eyes and furiously wagging tails.
Which brings me to the point of this post. There are many, many good reasons why you should be really, positively, 100 percent ready when you bring an animal home. But on the flip side, there are also some really wrong notions people have about why they shouldn't bring home a dog or a cat.
I got to thinking about this when a dear friend, let's call her S, found a destitute puppy that had fallen into a gutter near her Bombay home.
Now S is one of the most compassionate people I've ever known. In days long ago, when we worked together at a newspaper, I was always awestruck by how easily and effortlessly she offered a ear and a helping hand to the many, many desperately poor people most Bombayites encounter several times each day, and usually ignore.
So it didn't surprise me at all when S got down and dirty and lifted out this pup. Because she was shivering and shaking and didn't look too well, she brought her home and tended to her until the next morning when she seemed to be doing much better.
Then, S put her right back on the street. All the time telling herself that she would keep an eye on her.
In S's defense, you have to know how dire the homeless animal situation is in Bombay, if you don't already. Hundreds of dogs -- and cats-- roam the streets with no medical care, no regular source of food, and no love. India does not euthanize stray animals, which I think is a great thing, but programs to spay and neuter the animals have not kept pace. Many animals are hit by cars, stoned by kids and even adults.
Even those who don't actually hurt the animals grow a thick skin to their suffering.
S is not one of these people. Yet, when she picked up this pup -- sudden as it was -- she just didn't think she wanted to have an animal sharing her home. But I could tell when she wrote to me that she had already fallen in love with her find. She had named her Pixie and she was showing a sure symptom of animal parenthood-- she couldn't stop raving how her pup looked cuter than all the other dogs out there :)
But S also had reasons that she thought were valid for why she couldn't bring Pixie indoors. So I thought I would use her reasons, and add others I've heard over the years, to debunk common myths about why NOT to bring home an animal.
Here you go, in reverse order:
5. They will chew every day through everything I own.
There is some truth to the fact that a little pup, and sometimes even a grown dog, will chew through stuff within reach when they are in a new home and understandably stressed. I mean, wouldn't you want to do something drastic if people you barely knew brought you home, then locked you up and disappeared for a whole day, without giving you a reason?
But with all my dogs chewing has been a very, very temporary problem that has ended within days, once they got used to their new home-- a little longer, perhaps, for teething pups. And you can always avert a situation where you come home to find that little replica of the Eiffel Tower that you bought on your Paris honeymoon covered in bite marks if you just buy a teething toy for your pup instead. And by keeping any precious objets d'art out of their reach. Simple.
4.Who will look after them when I'm at work? They'll be terribly lonely.
Dogs are just fine when left by themselves at home for 8-9 hours, although smaller pups who are being potty-trained do need to have someone around to walk them or send them out every couple of hours. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if most dogs are just waiting for their people to take off for a few hours so they can have some quality alone time and a good, long nap.:) That way they can be all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when you get back and offer you all those sticky kisses. If you plan on being out for more than 9 hours, though, I'd definitely suggest hiring a dog walker.
3. I can't pick up a dog's poo. I mean, are you serious?
This might not even be an issue in some countries-- including India-- and everyone knows the sidewalks of Paris are coated in dog poo. But here in the United States the best way to get your neighbors to hate you-- not to mention incur the wrath of the law-- is to not pick up after your doggie. And while it may never become your most favorite activity in the world, honestly, there's nothing to it as you'll find out once you've waddled smack dab into the situation and taken control. They are your kids, after all, and how can you let some poo get between you?
2. They will pee and poop all over the house all day
Continuing on this glorious theme, this is a big one for most first-time wannabe pet parents. But believe me, potty training your dog is one of the easiest things to do. Pups and even newly adopted adult dogs might have a few accidents at home in the beginning, so you have to be prepared for that. But dogs are innately clean animals-- they do not want to soil their home just as much as you don't want them to. Every pup I ever brought home was successfully potty trained within weeks, if not days. It is the only thing I've ever managed to train them in-- beautifully-- so you get the picture? You can find on the Web numerous tutorials on potty-training your dogs or litter-training your cats.
1. They will die on me
This is the most common excuse I encounter and quite easily the worst.
Yes, dogs will die on you, as will cats, because unfortunately their life spans tend to be much shorter than ours. But so will people, even some who you don't think would die in your lifetime. Is that any reason to shun the wonderfulness they bring into your world when they are around?
I have had dogs I've loved die on me, and I've cried buckets each time. I've fostered dogs who I've fallen in love with, then handed over to their new forever homes, and I've cried buckets again. But I wouldn't for a moment give up all those lovely memories we made together, just because I am afraid my heart will break when they move out of my life. Being open to life-- and the possibility and even certainty of death-- is crucial for any well-rounded human being. Loving an animal teaches you never to take a moment for granted.
My friend S's story has a happy ending: she did finally decide to bring Pixie indoors. And she took her to the vet to get her vaccinated.
I am sure they're going to be really happy together for a long, long time to come. :)
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
But they were usually available when you wanted something vegetarian and something hot, and sometimes that was good enough.
I have been on a mission to reduce the amount of sweets cooked in my kitchen and that means coming up with recipes to satisfy the snack-seeking Desi when we get home from work late in the afternoon. It's either that or gobs of peanut butter and jelly on toast. Since that latter option doesn't appeal to me as it does to him, I try when I can to come up with something different.
These vegetable cutlets are a great option because their lusciousness owes itself to the great spud and not fat. I've said this before and I'll repeat it-- potatoes are one of the best veggies around, and they appeal to almost anyone, child or adult. What usually gives potatoes a bad rep is the way they are prepared-- deep-fried, or topped with tons of unhealthy cheese or sour cream. But find a healthy way to cook it, and you can have your potato and eat it too.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Mojo de Ajo, which apparently translates into a bath of garlic (I wouldn't really know-- I don't speak any Spanish), is a traditional Mexican dish with infinitely delicious possibilities, and you can see why. Think of a ton of spicy garlic drowned in fruity olive oil and then kissed alive by tangy lemon juice. It's magic.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Krishna scurried out of bed and into the kitchen. Amma was at the stove, sari tucked above her knees, a hand splayed at her waist, the other holding a long-handled, pock-marked ladle.
The deep-fried sweets made a neat, golden mountain at her elbow.
If only I could get one, Krishna thought. If only, if only. How can I get one?
He had to be quiet so Amma wouldn't catch on he was standing nearby. "Sneaky," as Amma had told him countless times, wagging a finger in his face. But what could he do? It's not as if he could just ask for one
"It's too early to eat sweets," Amma would say. "I'll give you one later."
Later. Krishna hated that word. He lived for the urgency and perfection of Now.
His jaw had dropped open and the juices were bubbling up in his mouth. It was no secret Krishna loved to eat. He didn't mind it when Appa told him he ate "like a pig." Or when guests looked at him and went, "Krishna, you've put on some weight!"
Besides, being called greedy was a small price to pay for one of those adhirasams. They were his favorite sweet in the wide world. Amma made them just once or twice a year, and then all Krishna usually got was one.
"Deep-fried foods are not good for you," Amma would say when he asked for more. "You ought to be glad I'm letting you eat one."
If they are not good for me, how come they taste so good, Krishna wondered. And they were so, so good. The juicy crunchiness, the rich, cloying sweetness, and that intoxicating cardamom...
Krishna heard the door open and Appa's voice carried into the kitchen. "They're here!"
Krishna's heartbeat rocketed. Guests. At least four of them by the sound of it. Gosh, what if they ate up all the adhirasams, leaving none for him?
He snuck closer to Amma, who hurriedly put the ladle down, pulled at the sari tucked in at her waist, and smoothed it down with one hand. "Come in, come in!" She called out, picking up the plate of adhirasams. "Look what I made for you-- your favorite sweet."
Next thing she knew she was sprawling across the floor, plate still in hand, and the adhirasams were flying across the room. Everyone ran in. "Oh, what a mess," Amma grumbled in embarrassment as Appa helped her up. "Where's that dog? He's always sneaking up on me! This time I'll teach him a lesson!"
Everyone turned to look at the golden pooch sitting in a corner of the room. His tail wagged even more furiously as the faces turned toward him. There was no mess. Nor a single adhirasam in sight.
Boy, those were good, Krishna seemed to be saying. Thanks, Amma!
What? You really didn't think I'd tell you a story that wasn't about a dog, did you?
I wrote this up for Chalks and Chopsticks, an event that calls for a marriage of food and fiction. How tempting is that?
As busy as I've been with Lucy and all else, I didn't find out about the event until after the deadline. But Sandeepa, the host this time (for the event started by Aqua), was kind enough to let me in. Thanks, Sandeepa!
There's a pinch of me and a pinch of Opie in this story, if you hadn't guessed it already. Adhirasams are my favorite sweet in the whole wide world, although I don't think I ever sent Amma (my Tamil mom-in-law who fed me the first adhirasam I ever had), sprawling across the floor in my quest to get some. But that's something my smartassed Opie just might do.:)
Hope you enjoyed reading it. And if you didn't -- you'll definitely enjoy the adhirasams. Here's the recipe:
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Thick compilations of antique recipes picked up at yard sales-- recipes stirred up by 1920s housewives in their own kitchens or passed down by their moms, generously donated for the church benefit. Classics like Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cuisine. Modern time-savers like Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and Rachel Ray's 30-Minute Meals. And just ones I had relied on each day in my kitchen, first as a novice and then as a more experienced cook, like the incredible Joy of Cooking.
If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know I hate waste. Just as much as I hate giving away a cookbook. And there was a good reason I bought some of these cookbooks and kept them-- the great recipes they offered. So instead of just letting go of my modestly impressive collection I learned, over time, to put them to good use: by veganizing them.
It didn't always work. When I tried making beignets from the Joy, the dough fell apart in the frying pan, the egg replacer I used just not strong enough to make up for the egg it replaced. Another time I naively (read stupidly) tried to substitute tofu in an angel food cake and ended up with a moist, dense, albeit delicious slab that didn't rise but one inch and didn't taste anything like an angel food cake.
Lucky for me, there were more successes than failures. While baked goods can be the most challenging to adapt, I've been able to veganize a kitchenload of baked goodies -- especially ones that I've adapted from Joy-- that I've shared with you over the years on this blog, including my Whole-Wheat Challah Bread and my Scottish Shortbread.
The stews and curries-- the cooked goods-- were far easier. While I usually use vegetables to replace meat in most dishes, the easy availability of meat substitutes doesn't hurt.
The recipe I have for you today is a version of a chicken-lentil stew with Indian spices that I adapted from a slim and tall cookbook called The Book of Curries and Indian Foods.
I used to love this stew because not only is it delicious, but having grown up in a home where meat was never combined with lentils into a single dish, the whole concept of throwing these two protein powerhouses together seemed both enthralling and enticing. In fact, the only Indian dish I can think of even today, which combines meat and lentils, is the delicious Dhansaak-- a dish from the Parsi community.