I've had a comfort food craving lately. So baked casseroles are de rigueur. I picked up this amazing book deal at Walmart Monday: Cook's Country Best Lost Suppers cookbook for seven bucks! Whoa. This is just what the doctor would order for me (if I had the stamina to see one, that is). I haven't been "book" shopping since Borders announced it's closing. I'm still too bitter to drag myself to a Barnes & Noble. Not yet. I really needed to literally "stumble" upon a book find like this. (There were only two on the shelf--just waiting for me!) The cookbook has been a dinner respite here for the past two nights. Going on three if you count this evening because I already have my mind set on another famous meal from this "Lost Treasure" collection. Sure, the cookbook's full of meat eater stuff, but as a veteran vegan, I can easily manage most, if not all the book's offerings as a vegan translation. And the very first recipe in the book beckoned me to do just that. The chicken and dumplings had my name all over it. I could not have been more pleased. It was the perfect salve for broken hearts. Dr. Thyme and I kept oohing and ahhing over this scrumptious dish of yum. The bisquits (or dumplings) are the key to this whole meal. Hubby proclaiming the dumplings "the best" and requested them in some future breakfast ensemble. Sometimes I think the cooking gods look out for me. Especially in my great despair at the unfairness of the it all. The world. Life. Everything.
Last Friday it became clear that our boy was not improving. I was in a state. I called our vet and made an appointement, barely able to speak other than answering the all-too-familiar question: What seems to be the matter? I stammered, He won't eat. And that was about all I could get out. The next morning was the first appointment available. When we arrived, the receptionist and I weighed him--I knew he'd lost weight because his leash and collar had had to be adjusted. She looked at me, I looked at her, then we went into "the room" where not one, but three of our kids in just the past two years had taken their last breath. It was about all I could do to not run out of the room screaming. To say my nerves have taken a beating would be an extreme understatement. I've not been sleeping well either. No wonder.
So he and I waited. Then, they took him in to another room for a look-see. I'd rather not have the exam done in my presence because I am too much of a wreck and dogs naturally respond to our emotions. About ten minutes later, our doc came in (she is a saint). She said, Well, you know that for a dog his age, he looks good, but. . . he's lost a bit of weight and the lack of appetite points to something more than I can discern on a physical exam alone. Plus, Kelly--he's at least 85 in human years. Yes, I know. (Or older. He was another rescue from the bowels-of-hell city shelter). But knowing the year we've had thus far, she tried to remain as optimistic as possible. She knew I was nowhere near ready for the "options" talk. So she drew blood and sent it off for analysis. She called me yesterday with the news. He has liver disease--possibly cancer within the liver itself. Hard to tell, but I do have some tried and true treatments we could try, she added. Well. Okay. And then I felt my body heave and sort of collapse on itself. Pen in hand I wrote down everything she said. She also said, given his age and all, there is a good chance these options will greatly improve his appetite and, make him a bit more comfortable and have less of an upset stomach during this, the last leg of his very long life. She said it could extend his time with us anywhere from a few months, to up to a year. A year?! I was thrilled! One more year would be heaven--just heaven. But really, I'd take another lifetime all over again. I would.
Such a brave boy. When we lived in the city, our once lovely neighborhood began to rapidly change. We were in denial about this until I woke one morning to let the dogs out and feed them, when only two of the "many" returned. Stunned, I squinted into the dark corners and saw it--a hole in the corner of the fenced-in yard. I was horrified! I screamed. Just sat on the back porch and screamed. The police were called. The privacy fence had been kicked in and our garage was ravaged--the car windows shattered. I didn't give a damn about the cars. I wanted my kids--put all the forces you can on this I pleaded with the officer! And all sort of expletives were flying from my mouth. I was a woman on the brink. About two hours later still standing on my post on the back steps, yelling out the names of the still missing, miracle of miracle, guess who comes trotting up the block, right back home to the exhaustive delight of mommy? Our boy. I collapsed. I nearly fell over the back fence railing. My throat raw from screaming. He could not have been any more unphased. He was like, "Hey, I think you forgot something. . . I'm hungry!" Such a smarty pants. So brave. (*The rest of the crew were eventually returned home, but not until fifteen years of my life were shaved off from the stress of it all.)
So his sissy is being an absolute saint right now. Even if he drops his first mouthful of whatever it is he gets a yen for, she politely waits to see if mommy picks it up and tries again. She even tries to get him to play with her. He can be crabby. He might indulge with a tail wag, but that's about it for now.
Vegan Chicken And Dumpling Casserole
*Adapted from Cook's Country Best Lost Suppers
Makes a 9 x 13 casserole
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, minced
2 celery ribs sliced thin
3 carrots halved and cut into little half moons
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
3 Gardein Chicken Breasts (or your preferred vegan chicken substitute)
3 tablespoons vegetable margerine
1 cube veggie broth mixed with 3-4 cups of water (or use 4 cups veggie stock)
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried parsley
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375. Lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish. Set aside. In a large saute pan, add the oil and all the chopped veggies, bay leaves and cook until the onions begin to brown a bit around the edges. Add the vegetable margerine to this. You'll want a bit of browning to happen. Some of the onion may stick to the pan, that's fine because you'll be adding liquid and once you do, you can scrape up those bits of brown and it adds really good flavor to the veggie sauce. Now, crumble the veggie cube into the pan with about a cup of the water. If using pre-made broth, just add a cup of that now. Allow this to simmer uncovered for about ten minutes. Add the remaining water/broth. Allow to simmer an additional 20 minutes or so--until the potatoes just begin to soften. Meantime, while the veggies cook, saute the vegan chicken substitute you are using. After the veggies have simmered and the potatoes begin to soften, use a fork to mash a few of the potatoes up. (This is a brilliant way to add thickness to the sauce!) Next, add the frozen peas and remove from heat. *If you think your sauce is a little to thick, it's okay to add more water a quarter cup at a time. You don't want soup, but you don't want gravy either because the dish will thicken more when you bake it. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool for about five minutes. Pour mixture into the baking dish. Now make the dumplings.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (King Arthur if you have it)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsweetened soy milk (at room temperature)
1/4 cup vegan sour cream
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil (for brushing on the biscuits before baking)
In a large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. Carefully stir in the wet ingredients with a spoon. Don't overmix--just get all the dry pieces incorporated. Drop by 1/4 cup amounts mounds of the dough on top of the veggies in the baking dish. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the olive oil. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool about ten minutes before serving.