parenting a pug & za’atar roasted potatoes December 1, 2011

When I was 3 or so, there was Zoro. He was a Doberman – taller than me, pointy ears, so regal. My folks, with my dad’s work schedule being what it was, tried to make it work and keep him with our family. In our big duplex in Chicago, he caused absolute havoc. On the eve of my yearly photos, he ran down the hallway, turned a left into the bathroom where my mom was helping me take a bath…and jumped in the tub. Scratches all over my face and arms. The photos had to be postponed and Zoro went to live in the suburbs with friends who had a yard. I never had a dog again while growing up.

Mingus joined our family a month & a half ago. Having a dog is something I’ve wanted for a long time but never thought I could manage because of my work schedule. Freelance life means I have days upon days of free time…and days upon days of never seeing daylight for being in the studio. I’ve always been a cat person because, well, they’re a lot like me – they sort of do their own thing, look for some pets and encouragement and generally don’t give a damn otherwise. Having a dog – and a puppy, at that – has been really eye opening. For the first time ever, the roles are reversed and someone or something needs me. He didn’t pick me – I picked him and he can’t really leave on his own. He has no thumbs. I’m his everything (as is his daddy) and it’s an odd place to be in.

It’s also an exhausting place to be in. I see the behaviors in me as I deal with Mingus that I saw in my parents sometimes. The exasperation. The fatigue. The trying to balance it all and be good at it all. Trying to keep the dishes out of the sink and the wet leaves off the floor in the midst of it all. Having a dog has been a joy…but it’s been a lot of hard work. If he wasn’t so damn cute or so unconditionally loving, I would have pulled my hair out by now. I fully expect Supernanny to come through the door at any turn.

We’re doing the best we can, I think. What I’m not doing, however, is cooking.

It’s all I can imagine that this is like having a baby. Waking up, taking him outside, feeding him, taking him outside again, working on invoices or taking a shower while he takes a nap and then repeat throughout the day with the occasional “stop chewing on your sister” thrown in there for good measure. I’ve taken a few personal moments and let him snooze in his crate but, for the most part, it’s all Mingus all the time. I made a pot of soup at 8 am while he was otherwise occupied…and it was the best move I’ve made in a month. There was a quicky kale salad that, while delicious, doesn’t necessarily count as cooking as much as it does assembly.

One thing I have been able to do is roast.

I threw a pan of these really beautiful tri-color potatoes in the oven for a quick breakfast before heading to a shoot this week. Tossed with my current spice obsession, za’atar, they were bright and light tasting. I added the lemon slices for a little tang that could only be topped by some hollandaise, which I certainly don’t have time to babysit. It was a meal hearty enough to get me through a day with no craft services. Adding an almost-fried egg on top with a sprinkle of fresh herbs was a quick finishing touch that made me feel like taking a moment and doing something nice for myself.

Za’atar Roasted Baby Potatoes with Lemon – serves 4 to 6 as a hearty side dish

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice that is a mix of sumac, sesame seeds and other herbs. It has a very light, bright flavor and is a great way to season breads, fish, meat and vegetables. While I buy my za’atar premade at a local market, you can make your own mix at home. The great folks at Frieda’s Specialty Produce sent me these tri-color baby potatoes that are just lovely – the colors hold even once they’ve been roasted and taste & look like fall.

  • 1 pound small tri-color potato or other small sized potato you have available – washed, dried and cut in halves. Cut the larger ones into quarters
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons za’atar
  • 1 large lemon – cut into 1/4″ slices
  • kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste

– Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a large mixing bowl, toss the cut potatoes with the olive oil, za’atar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread them out onto a large baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Pull the tray out and scatter the lemon slices on top and continue to roast until the potatoes are crisp and golden brown – this was another 10 minutes in my oven. Allow to cool slightly and serve – this is a great dish for brunch with eggs or a side dish with roasted fish or lamb.


Elizabeth Dec 1, 2011 11:12 am

I’ve never had za’atar, but your description sounds wonderful. I just love the lemon slices in the potatoes. My sweet dog passed away recently, and I’m thinking of getting a puppy in the spring–nice to have a reminder of how much work it really is. Good luck!

Jennifer Walker Dec 1, 2011 11:12 am

I have a “new” dog. He is 5 years old, I rescued him after a 3 year sabatical of no dog after the death of my 13 year old boy. My new dog is a Jack Russell, adhd and is a character. I walk him over 3 miles each day, tend to his every whim and when I brought the Christmas tree in the house, he peed on it!!! Seriously, I have never had a dog do this. I am so thankful I finally let down the wall and brought Nick home with me, you will not regret your new companion.

sonya Dec 1, 2011 12:12 pm

perfect timing – this is my kind of dish and I have a new, unopened packet of za’atar waiting to be used and a bunch of potatoes from my csa box! congrats on your new puppy (no pics?).

DessertForTwo Dec 1, 2011 12:12 pm

Aww I bet Mingus will become less demanding over time. Puppy stage is the worst. I’ve been thinking about getting a dog to soothe my loneliness on these dark nights, but after reading this, um, I think I’ll wait, hehe.
I would love roasted potatoes and a fried egg for breakfast! Yum!

Miss T Dec 1, 2011 01:12 pm

Its hard work, I remember crying and crying because Leon would just continually wee everywhere, including on my brand new duckdown quilt and it was as you say exhausting. Then one day – out of the blue – he just went outside, and he has never ‘wee’d in the house again. He brings us so much delight I would be devestated without him. Hang in there, its worth it. I would LOVE to see some photos! Leon is pug x french bulldog. The light of my life (actually better make that second light, or the human 1st light will get angry…)

Kiran @ Dec 1, 2011 02:12 pm

I shouldn’t be comparing this, but having a pet is almost identical to having children ;) Glad y’all embarked on this new journey. Mingus is so lucky :)

Sarah Dec 1, 2011 02:12 pm

We’ve had three pugs, and while adorable and charming, they can be terribly needy little things. The puppy stage is the hardest. Our little Sofia is one and a half years old, and still driving me crazy having to chase her around and keep her entertained when she’s not sleeping. But, I will say it gets so much better every day. Pugs are the most lovable dogs in the world. I can’t imagine life without one. Seriously. You’ve got a best friend in little Mingus.

FoodieBuddha Dec 1, 2011 07:12 pm

I suggest you feed Mingus this and see what happens! Looks freaking dericious!

Paula- bell'alimento Dec 1, 2011 09:12 pm

I like to say that I’m crazy about my kids {and fur kid} but they drive me CRAZY at the same time ; ) Ah but those sweet faces, they get you every time xoxo And that last shot day-um girl! I want. Now. ; )

Snippets of Thyme Dec 1, 2011 10:12 pm

Oh, this was the cutest story! It will get better…I promise! Once he’s potty trained, it will be all cuddles and cute puggy faces.

Cookie and Kate Dec 2, 2011 12:12 am

Thanks for explaining what za’atar is! I’ve been wondering. I’m so taken with those tri-color fingerling potatoes. They’re so good roasted with a bit of salt; I’m sure your way is even more flavorful and delicious.

Stephanie @ okie dokie artichokie Dec 2, 2011 09:12 am

I keep hearing about this wonderful spice you speak of; now I really need to pick some up. Always looking for new and exciting flavors to add. Ah — I remember the days of first getting adjusted to puppy life. We got our Jack Russell Terrier eight years ago and she was a ball of energy (she still is, but has a lot more downtime now) that really tested our patience. But, like you said, if she weren’t so darn cute and irresistible things would’ve turned out differently. Amazing how much love goes into animals — dogs especially. Good luck with your new puppy!

Ashley Dec 2, 2011 09:12 am

Love hearing about Mingus. Pugs are awesome. I have a little “nephew” pug named Pinky and he totally makes me smile. The za’atar looks and sounds amazing!

Winnie Dec 2, 2011 09:12 am

I have a solution…get another dog! I know it may not be in the cards, but in all seriousness, when you have two they entertain each other…it’s worked very well for us. The potatoes look fantastic btw…I love z’aatar.

Living The Sweet Life Dec 2, 2011 10:12 am

What a fantastic recipe!! The picture above of your completed breakfast … it’s making me hungry :$

deb pipes Dec 2, 2011 10:12 am

i too, love za-atar – will do this recipe this winter – heat the house & make it smell yummy too….

note on the puppy to dog phase – even dogs go through adolescence & teen-age times – i frequently wanted to “strangle” my “teen-age sons” (an english pointer & blk lab) when they were about 18 months to 30 months.
however, like teen-agers, your dog will get over this stage & will become a responsible citizen ;0
meanwhile, good luck….

Jen Dec 2, 2011 03:12 pm

Oh, we have a pug mix and a boston mix and I completely agree that when they are puppies it’s like having a baby! Schedules are everything–but it is so rewarding to have company when you need it and is there even when you didn’t realize you needed it. I also love roasting, especially when I’m too exhausted to really cook. You just let the oven do the work for you.

Jesica @ Pencil Kitchen Dec 2, 2011 04:12 pm

I love roasted potatoes. Roasting the lemon along is a great idea… This must have tasted fresh and warm at the same time.

J @ ... semplicemente j ... Dec 2, 2011 08:12 pm

Simply beautiful and delicious …

I brought Dante into my life after not having a doggy for 16 years … and with so much traveling to do with my job … I was nervous … it has not been easy all the time … but so worth the happiness he has brought into our household!

He is such a puppy … a lab no less .. a handful and again soooo worth it … enjoy!

Sasha (Global Table Adventure) Dec 2, 2011 08:12 pm

Aw, this reminds me why I keep cats. I have two year-old daughter, too – so I can relate the busy schedule… good luck! Things will settle down eventually :)

Marisol Murano Dec 7, 2011 11:12 am

Love your tri-color potatoes and za’atar. I use both white and black sesame seeds in my za’atar mixture — smokey and crunchy taste. Thanks for this great blog. Chef Marisol.

Mairi @ Toast Dec 25, 2011 10:12 pm

Love zaatar…so good on just about anything these potatoes will feature on tonight’s menu. If you like love zaatar you should check out Ottolenghi’s zaatar chicken…so good!

joelle Mar 3, 2013 07:03 pm

This is a great recipe…
Za’atar actually means Thyme in Arabic. The za’atar mix is usually combined with olive oil and spread on a dough to make a traditional Lebanese pie called man’ouche. Simply delicious…

Robin Jul 23, 2013 11:07 am

Thanks for the recipe. I love that za’atar bread that I buy in our local Lebanese supermarket so za’atar on potatoes should be just as yummy…and will most certainly be a big hit at our weekly potluck.
Interesting and well written story about your doggies.
Robin in Montreal