Big Ambition, Little Legs: A Dog’s Adventure

Yesterday we put our old dogs’ little legs and stamina to the test on a long hike through Fort Ord National Monument.

For our human legs, a 4 1/2-mile hike wasn’t much to write home about. An afternoon jaunt, a walk in the woods (literally)*. But for 10-year old little dogs, 4-and-something miles was the canine equivalent of a marathon. A marathon they were unprepared for and also might have been led to believe** was more like a trip to doggie Disneyland than a long run. Because, you know, EVERYTHING that begins with getting into the car is their favorite thing!

*Oh yeah. ‘Cause we totally weren’t sweating.
**”You wanna go in the car? The CAR? You wanna GO? Who wants to GO? Wanna talk a WALK? O-kay! Let’s GO!” 

Ready to go out (or to get out.)

Ready to go out (or to get out.)

The best* thing about dogs is their short-term memory, which is inconvenient when they are back in the kitchen scrounging for snacks after you’ve just told them to GET OUT but helpful when you’ve mislead them into a different type of adventure than they were anticipating. So when we arrived and it was evident that a happy Pluto was not actually going to greet them at the gates of a grassy paradise full of Beggin’ Strips and fire hydrants, they were still excited to hit the trail because every new thing in the boring life of a house-bound little dog is their favorite thing!

*And most frustrating.

Ford Ord was just designated a national monument in 2012 and has been developed for public use since then with a series of trails, some of which include interesting relics from the Ohlone tribe and decrepit dugouts from what were probably military exercises when Fort Ord was still an active base. The views – from Fremont Peak to Toro, encompassing the Salinas Valley – are gorgeous, particularly on an overcast day when the marine layer is rolling in to the valley from the west and the clouds are creating a soft, thick blanket of grey across the sky that allows just enough sun to illuminate the hillsides, freshly green from our recent desperately needed rain. It was actually the perfect place for a hike with little dogs, as the road leading in is gravelly and fairly even, and the trail itself includes both soft, sandy gullies (not so ideal for short legs) as well as hard-packed earth at the summit.

Welcome to Fort Ord National Monument.

Welcome to Fort Ord National Monument.

Gorgeous views on a stormy day.

Gorgeous views on a stormy day.

The dogs entered this new paradise excitedly* and trotted happily along for about a half a mile before the panting began, and one began lagging and the other shortly followed suit, so that before we had even hit the trail head, we had stopped 3 times: for a “business break”, for a makeshift water break** and for a general rest and recovery***.

*A walk! Our favorite thing!
**BF MacGuyvered a water “dish” out of a poo bag. Brilliant.
***For the dogs. Right. The dogs.

And upon arrival at the trail head, in Robert Frost-esque fashion our paths with our respective dogs diverged in the woods: Baylor, rejuvenated by the break and the adventure of something new, charged forth upon the trail less traveled, as he loves to do, exploring the path with new purpose, dragging me behind him. Snoop, on the other hand, less excited at the prospect of the uphill path, dragged his paws more and more slowly until he was scooped up and enjoyed the rest of the hike from a cozy vantage point of his papa’s strong arms, with legs dangling languidly, eyes half closed in exhausted happiness. And not long after, it became clear that while Baylor faced no shortage of ambition in sniffing, exploring, lifting his leg* and charging forth after shadows, creatures, etc., his 10-year old legs were a bit short on stamina and he was similarly scooped up and carried comfortably to the top of the ridge.

*The one remaining good leg.

A man and his mutt.

A man and his mutt.

Camouflage dog.

Camouflage dog.

Ever the intrepid hiker, Baylor takes a breather.

Ever the intrepid hiker, Baylor takes a breather.

I got your back, dog.

I got your back, dog.

Two tired little dogs.

Two tired little dogs.

True to form, when I wasn’t carrying the dog, I was documenting our day, partially because I’ve also become obsessed with the perfect iPhone photo* and also because I was so delighted by the pretty little wildflowers** all along the way. Documenting is dangerous when you aren’t paying attention, and in my quest to take the perfect picture I almost stepped right on several stinkbugs,  narrowly avoided an encounter with a mountain biker and allowed the dog to wander freely in what is apparently active mountain lion territory while my patient (and half-amused, half-exasperated) BF steered me clear of each of these hiking hazards.

*Until I purchase the perfect point and shoot.
**I found this fantastic website on wildflowers that helped me identify a couple we saw and couldn’t capture the countless others dotting the hillsides with pops of purple, blue, red and yellow.

Tidestrom's Lupine.

Tidestrom’s Lupine.

Baby Blue Eyes.

Baby Blue Eyes.

Pet owners are ridiculous in their human-like indulgence of their fur babies, and we are no different: we didn’t even think twice about tromping down the trail side by side, our pets in our arms, laughing at our own ridiculousness and the half-comatose happiness of our weary old dogs, whose little legs proved to be shorter than their ambition - but whose contentment was well worth the extra weight we carried, even as we raced back to the car through a rain storm that caught us just at the the tail end of our adventure.

Our dogs’ short memories means that they’ll have this same experience next time we arrive at Ford Ord – but unlike our canine counterparts, we’ll remember and be more prepared.Though our little dogs may not have been able to make it as far as we would have liked, the distance they did travel rendered them exhausted and snoring* throughout the evening and prompted us to remember, even just for a few hours, how wonderfully re-energizing a simple hike can be.

*Success!

Tired dogs, happy humans – a perfect end to a perfect day with our canine companions.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Like most of my kitchen adventures, tonight’s chicken tortilla soup experiment started as an idea* somewhere after my second cup of coffee and before lunch that became an obsession by early afternoon and an absolute certainty by the end of the day: I would be making chicken tortilla soup tonight.

*Read: Craving.

However, the problem with having a craving is that by the time it becomes a craving, it’s not really logical. So when you set out for the grocery store after a long day at work with an empty stomach and only a vague idea of the recipe in mind, you’re likely to end up with a bunch of ingredients that aren’t especially cohesive. You might even have to go back to the store after you’ve already started cooking to obtain the correct ingredients*.

*This may or may not have happened.

And even though you’d think it should be easy enough to just quickly look up a recipe online while shopping in order to obtain the correct ingredients while in the store, sometimes technology (i.e., WiFi) fails you and you can’t download any recipes and there are a million people who are also tired and hungry checking out at the same time as you so you end up wandering around in a craving-induced grocery coma, guessing at ingredients:

 Okay, so, I am sure tomatoes, canned, I think whole, maybe diced? I can’t remember, but if I cook whole long enough, I can smash them up, and then I’m pretty sure a bunch of powders, probably garlic and cayenne will be enough, but do I have chili powder? And then beans, but do I need to be official and cook them from scratch or can I use the canned ones? Something else…something…OH! Corn, but wait, canned or frozen? And OHMYGOD I almost forgot the tortilla chips! But hold on, what was I looking for…hmmmm…oh yeah, green chiles, and definitely an onion but I’m just SURE I am missing something…

And on and on, until you give up on trying to get it right and figure you’re pretty much close enough* and focus on getting through the masses so you can just get home and get started.

*Which is exactly why I don’t care as much for baking, because you really can’t get away with “close enough” in baking and clearly I’m not much for following directions.

So between my memory of my friend’s amazing tortilla soup from several weeks ago and these two tortilla soup recipes I pilfered from Damn Delicious and Martha Stewart on the fly,  here’s what I came up with:

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (fresh or defrosted)
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cans or approx. 4 cups chicken broth (I used reduced sodium)
  • 1 small can (4 oz.) diced green chiles
  • 1 or 2 cans whole black beans (ideally, reduced sodium), drained
  • 1 package (10 oz.) frozen corn
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • Several cloves garlic (which I excluded, but would have made it better)
  • 2 tsp. EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1 tsp. cayenne powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder (in lieu of garlic cloves)
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • Sour cream
  • Shredded Mexican cheese
  • Tortilla chips, crushed

Directions

Simmer defrosted (or fresh) chicken breasts in a medium frying pan for approximately 20 minutes. Here’s the secret: Simmer on low. No oil necessary. Let the breasts* simmer in their own juices, turning occasionally.

*Heh. Breasts.

Meanwhile, cook the diced onion in olive oil for approximately 2 – 3 minutes until translucent.

In a large saucepan or pot, warm the chicken broth, tomatoes, chiles, beans and spices. Throw in the diced onion/garlic when done. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes (until sauce starts to thicken). While the mixture is simmering, shred the chicken with a fork. Toward the end of the 15 minutes, throw in the chicken and corn and simmer for another 3 – 4 minutes.

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Two staples of cooking: A glass of wine, and a hopeful little dog.

Two staples of cooking: A glass of wine, and a hopeful little dog.

Ladle some of the hot soup into a bowl and let cool for about 3 – 5 minutes, then add toppings as desired: a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of cheese, a handful of cubed avocado and of course, the crushed tortilla chips.

Finally, dive right in with a giant spoon and die from the deliciousness.

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Let’s keep the focus away from the calories, shall we?

PS – I froze half of this, which I was delighted about, because it made a TON of soup.

Bon appetit, friends!