I funneled the last bit of mint mirin aioli into a squirt bottle and labeled it accordingly. I lined it up alongside its cohorts in the fridge – barbecue sauce, lemon crème, dynamite sauce, wasabi mayo – my little sauce army; ready, willing, and able to back me up. I had been hired to cater a birthday party for my former executive chef from LA in New York to see friends and family. I was both thrilled and terrified to be cooking for my old boss.
My prep list almost complete, I exhaled and then burst into tears. This had been happening for the past couple of days: tears in the subway, tears in the park, tears in Fairway (well, that’s happened for years). My dog Dexter was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, catapulting my moderately bipolar tendencies into a full frenzied multiple personality. Exhausted by my tears, my boyfriend, Shannon, sat me down and asked me to draw from my strengths rather than be swallowed by my weaknesses. I watched his mouth move and thought “It must be so easy to be a man. To think you can control and regulate any feeling that comes into your heart.” I nodded and promised I would try because, of course, he was right. I had gotten out of control. I felt so much that I almost felt nothing.
We leashed up our dogs, Sam and Dexter, and took them for our nightly stroll. Dex was struggling. His strength was vanishing before our eyes. He had to be carried for half the walk. We got home and I started to make dinner when Shannon looked at his phone and saw a call and an email from our vet. I ran to my computer to read the email. Dexter’s blood tests had revealed a dangerously low red blood cell count from either the advanced cancer or the chemo. She said she had called our oncologist and recommended Dexter get an emergency transfusion that night.
Shannon, reading the email simultaneously, said heroically “I’ll go grab a cab”.
I stood up and walked into the hall where Dexter was listlessly sitting and panting. I dropped down to his level and replied, “I don’t think so.”
Suddenly everything got very still. I felt connected to the earth and five times my actual size. I felt like a golden eagle stretching my wings out and protecting my little dog with my newly found clarity and strength.
“He’s not going to spend another night away from home. It’s too much. It’s done. I think we should just let nature take its course. No more doctors. No more needles. No more metal tables.”
Dexter leaned into me on the floor and I looked at the hall where we were sitting and felt like I had never seen this hall before. It was like suddenly seeing a building that you’ve never noticed even though you’ve walked by it for 20 years. You think “when did that show up?” but of course it’s always been there. I just sat on the floor of my newly discovered hall with my dog and my boyfriend and my other dog and I knew we would be ok no matter what. The tears had stopped. It was peace.
We didn’t know if Dexter would make it through the night but he did. The next day, he seemed even worse and we left for my catering gig not knowing what we would return to. I knew I had to go work though. I needed the therapeutic disappearance of the outside world that I experience when I’m cooking. I also needed to do a good job for my old boss. I had obsessed about this gig for months now.
And I’ll tell you something… we were on that night. Shannon, my sous chef; Laura, my server; and I danced from station to station in the kitchen with effortless ease and I felt all the terrified, judging, screaming voices in my head quiet down into a single warm hum. The party was a huge success- filled with so much laughter and love that I felt quite full by the end.
When Shannon and I returned home, Dexter was still there, wearily wagging his tail and panting his breath. I held him close all night, letting him know I was there for him, whatever happened. And do you know what he did? He got stronger. And then a little stronger. And stronger still.
He wouldn’t eat you see, so I started feeding him chicken. And then, since rice has always given him the runs, I made him some orzo. He has been living on chicken, orzo and multivitamins for the past week and seems to get more powerful every day. Now, I know that he’s still going to die soon. He has hemangiosarcoma, which is 100% fatal, 100% of the time, but the life he’s going out on is a good one. A friend suggested I write a book about the orzo dog cancer diet – I could sell a few million copies and then run off to another country before anyone did any research. I have a better idea though. How’s about if I give you a recipe for orzo salad that will make your whole summer delicious? It’s a deal.
Oh, this one’s not for dogs…
I call it kitchen sink orzo because it has everything you could want. I grill the radicchio as well as the tomatoes to give them a slightly charred taste which marries well to the sweetness of the peas and basil and saltiness of the olives and cheese. It’s a wonderful base for your experiments. Add anything your heart desires.
Kitchen Sink Orzo
- 5 tablespoons quality olive oil
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups orzo
- ½ head of radicchio
- 1 cup teardrop tomatoes
- ½ cup spring peas
- ½ cup pitted mixed Mediterranean olives, chopped
- ½ cup pecorino romano cheese, shaved
- ½ cup pine nuts, toasted
- ½ cup basil, cut into chiffonade
- 2 garlic cloves
- Mix olive oil and vinegar in a bowl, and season to taste.
- Separate the radicchio leaves and toss in the oil and vinegar mixture (and do not throw out vinaigrette after the leaves have marinated).
- On high heat, grill radicchio leaves until slightly charred, about 1-2 minutes a side. Chop radicchio into bite sized pieces and put into large bowl.
- In the same hot pan, toss in the tomatoes and let them blister for 1-2 minutes. Add to the radicchio.
- Cook the orzo in salted water according to the directions and then drain.
- Blanche the spring peas and garlic cloves in salted water for 2 minutes. Drain peas, chop garlic.
- Mix the orzo with the radicchio, peas, tomatoes, olives, cheese, pine nuts, basil, garlic, and vinaigrette and enjoy.