The Missing Piece (featuring Asparagus and Spring Pea Farrotto)
About a month ago, I started to gently peruse a few online pet adoption sites. I was doing a lot of things gently as my dog Dexter’s departure had taken a bigger toll on me than any other of my pet’s passing. There was a hole in my life that I couldn’t fill up with work or laughter or ice cream.
One day during my search, I found a gorgeous white husky/ American Eskimo mix that I felt a connection with the moment I saw her photo. Online pet adoption is a lot like online dating. Or rather, it’s exactly like online dating. It’s a game that plays more to your imagination and desperation than reality. I nervously filled out the adoption application to see how I could meet this dog I felt so drawn to. About a half hour later, a woman from the pet rescue organization “Stray from the Heart” called me. I felt more nervous than I would have been setting up a first date with a handsome suitor.
“I see from your application that you’ve had dogs in the past,” she said.
“Um, yes, I have. And I still have one dog, my boyfriend’s dog Sam, who is a husky shepherd mix. He’s the best. I love dogs. Love them.” I bit my lip to make myself to stop talking. It’s an excited talking thing I frequently fail to manage on the phone.
“I see it says here your dog Dexter died from hemangiosarcoma?” she asked sharply.
“He did, yes. It was a couple of months ago. He was my best friend.”
“Well, you know, dogs get that disease when you feed them cheap food.”
My arms went numb and I could only hear a high pitched ringing in my ears.
“How’s your OTHER dog feeling?” she asked.
I wanted to shout at her with the voice of James Earl Jones – which I truly believe lies somewhere within me- but her words had cut me too deep. I whimpered that that was not true, suddenly feeling like maybe it was. Maybe I had unwittingly murdered my dog. I mean, there was a time when I didn’t have much money and went for the cheap stuff. I used to smoke around him, I let him eat people-food occasionally, and sometimes he would ingest stuff from the street that I couldn’t wrestle out of his mouth. All of a sudden, I felt like I had been the worst dog parent in the world. I should never be allowed to be near dogs, let alone have one in my possession!
She responded with a “oh… well… I thought I heard that somewhere…” as if what she had said had no impact and would lift itself from my memory lickity split. Detached, I stayed on the phone with her, was approved for the dog, but learned that the dog lived in Puerto Rico and would have to be flown to New York by a special transporter. Um, what? I said I thought I’d keep looking for a dog that was a little more local.
The problem was that now I had opened that door. I had let myself get excited about the real possibility of having a new dog in my life. Feeling vulnerable as I trolled more adoption agencies online, I made a plan with a friend to go to Adoptapalooza, a pet adoption fair in Union Square the following Sunday. And that… that is where I met Baby Foxy- a husky shepherd mix, like Sam. I had actually seen her when I was looking through the fair’s website the night before and had filled out an application then. All system’s go, I figured. When I met her in person, my heart exploded. She was sweet and energetic, always flipping over to get more belly rubs. I returned 4 times to the stall where she was being kept during my visit to the fair. I waited to talk to reps from the rescue association to make sure that they had received my application from the day before. I wanted them to know I was serious. At one point, a college age guy leaned in to ask about adopting Baby Foxy, and I turned slowly to check him out. His casual shorts and gelled hair had no shot as far as I was concerned. Battle to the death… I mean adoption.
Two days later, when I still had not heard from Husky House, the adoption agency where Baby Foxy was living, I called them. They told me they had received many applications for her and would get back to me soon. I called again two days later. The rep there said that, since I had not specified Sam’s vet’s name on my application, she had tossed it. I explained that Sam isn’t actually my dog, he’s my boyfriend Shannon’s dog, (you have to list dogs that live in your home) but that we would get that info to her right away, which we did. We spent days going back and forth via email and phone calls – Sam’s vet, Sam’s vaccinations, Sam’s medications, Sam’s castration. I had given her all the information for my dog Dexter, my corgi-lab mix – all of which was approved, but they were obsessed with Sam’s incomplete files. They were, without a doubt, huskists.
I spent the next 2 ½ weeks in communication with them; some days feeling optimistic, some days not so much. Shannon went to his folk’s house in Connecticut to fetch vet records from as far back as Sam’s initial adoption, we got official approval from my building that having two dogs was ok, we got friends and family members as references, we tracked down receipts from medications we purchased years ago. And I would visit Baby Foxy’s online adoption profile to see if someone had taken her, but she was still there, and of course, my love for her grew over that time.
2 ½ weeks. We went out of our way to fulfill every request. Out of our fucking way.
And we were rejected.
One time, years ago, Shannon had purchased heartworm medication from a pet store instead of a vet and that was enough to prove to Husky House that we were terrible, terrible pet parents.
Devastated doesn’t even begin to describe my state of mind. This rejection had shot another hole in my parental confidence. I couldn’t understand how this was happening. I have been a more devoted dog mom than I have been chef, girlfriend, daughter, or friend. I felt myself slipping into the hole in my heart.
But you can only cry on the couch for so long. On my next day off, I hopped on the Long Island Railroad and trekked out to the North Shore Animal League. I was done with online dating. It was too heartbreaking. It was a schlep and a half to get out to Port Washington and I wasn’t prepared for what I found when I arrived. So. Many. Dogs. I felt my excitement turn into anxiety. There were so many cages, so many terrified little guys desperate for homes. I tucked into the bathroom where I wept for all the ones I could not bring with me. I returned to the dogs though, a little lighter after my meltdown, and I found one dog that brought a smile to my face. She was blonde, as all my dogs have been, with a pointy nose and crazed energy. I filled out the application and was approved within an hour!
Unprepared for this quick adoption process, I had to return the next day with a car, bringing Shannon and Sam with me for back up. Shannon wasn’t as intrigued with the dog I had seen the day before, and when I thought about it, she had way too much nervous energy and wasn’t going to grow much bigger. Ok, live and learn. I kept looking. I found another dog- pointy nose, crazy energy. This was the one. But she was almost manic when we got her out into a pen with Sam (who gave us this “you’re fucking kidding me, right?” look).
I was checking out a couple of hounds that were working the cute angle. I thought they were adorable, though at that point the process felt a bit like Ikea shopping. You take the best of the stuff you see, not the best of all the options in the world. Shannon was coming to check them out when this giant schnauzer/ lab puppy in the pen next to the hounds leapt up on him. She grabbed him and looked into his eyes as if she had something very important to say. I saw it happen.
I took one look at her rounded nose, beardy black face and thought “Meh, I’d never adopt a dog that looks like that. I prefer a pointy nose dog. She’s black not blonde. Blah blah blah.” And then she was let out of her cage and she jumped into my arms. I’ve never felt such an open hearted creature before. She was immediately trusting and excited and curious. She is everything that my cynical, pessimistic, New York soul needs. She looked right into my eyes and I knew that she was the one. North Shore Animal League gave us their blessings and we brought her home that afternoon.
She is… my missing piece.
And so I introduce to the world Miss Amelia Spectacles Wonderland Tucker.
As fall has arrived, I find myself craving warm food that’s still healthy. I think farrotto is the answer. Farro is a wheat grain, similar to barley, that is nutty in flavor, full of protein and antioxidants. It can be tough to find in the local supermarket but easy to find online and in specialty/ health food stores. Whole Foods, for example, carries a few brands. It comes in 3 varieties – whole or unpearled, semi-pearled, or pearled, which relate to how much of the outer bran covering is taken off. Obviously, unpearled can take a lot longer than semi because the bran is still in tact. Semi-pearled is the easiest to find and is the one I use regularly. If it’s not marked “semi-pearled” on the box, simply check the cooking time recommended on the package. A pearled farro will generally cook in about 15-20 minutes, semi-pearled in 30, and an unpearled farro can take 80-90 minutes. I’ve substituted it for arborio rice in this recipe and added some sweet peas and asparagus to make it a really healthy comfort food that still feels sinful.
Asparagus and Spring Pea Farotto
- 1 cup frozen spring peas
- 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup semi-pearled farro
- 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- Bring a small saucepan with salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice and water. Blanche the peas and asparagus for exactly one minute and then drain and transfer to the ice bath to stop the cooking process.
- Take half the blanched asparagus and cut it into four pieces. Put the spring peas, the cut asparagus, and 1/2 cup of the chicken stock in a food processor and pulse a few times to make a semi smooth puree.
- Cut the remaining asparagus into 1/2 inch pieces and reserve.
- In a large saute pan, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat to medium and saute until the onion becomes translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
- Stir in the farro and then the wine. Stir and simmer until the wine has almost evaporated.
- Begin adding the stock to the farro 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently until each addition is absorbed. The whole process should take about 25-30 minutes.
- When the farro is tender and almost all the liquid has been absorbed, stir in the pea puree until it is absorbed. Add the asparagus and then the parmesan, stirring well to incorporate.
- Enjoy with more parmesan on top.