Cats

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I struggled with this blog post as much as any that I was asked to write. I’m telling myself that this is why it’s four months late in being delivered. That’s (a little) true, but also the extreme exhaustion of living full time in fifth gear has sapped my creative energy. So, here we are. Picking the December blog back up in April. Yikes.

As you most likely know, I adore cats. I grew up with them. But what to say about them in a simple post? I could literally write a tome on my thoughts on cats. Highly doubt anyone wants that.

I actually started this post twice before. Once was a righteously bitchy rail against people who tell me, “I hate cats.” Because telling someone you hate something that they love is socially acceptable. Sigh. But I didn’t think the negativity served the topic.

Then I started a photo blog that was a day-in-my-life with my three furry friends, demonstrating all of the weird, quirky, and amusing things they did. It was fun, but didn’t really capture the story either.

Then something terrible happened. A friend lost her dog after many, many years together. Like me, she doesn’t have two-legged kids and her pup was her constant companion. The passing has been understandably painful for her and, yet, she did the most amazing thing. She channeled her feelings into the most lovely obituary. Naturally, I wept when I read it.

I’m so lucky to still have my three guys with me. They’ve all had health scares over the years and none of them is a spring chicken anymore. I don’t know that when the time comes, I’ll have the wherewithal to write their stories. So I am going to do it now.

It says what it needs to on the topic of cats. And I hope it serves as a small ode to all of our animal friends.

Manny
Shortly after the sous-chef and I moved in together, I began a campaign for a cat. He was more of a dog person, but did see the logic in my argument that cats were a better fit for our lifestyle – more self-sufficient and happy (enough) to stay indoors. So, the big day arrived and we went down to the shelter (someday, see my second tome on the subject of “shelter pets”) to see the cats. In the very first cage, was a little ginger and white kitten that reached out his paw and tapped my arm. I didn’t need to go a step further. That was Manny and he picked me.

Manny is intensely loving and just as intensely jealous. I literally pet the other cats when he’s not looking. He runs around the house at 90 miles an hour for no reason. He does not meow. He either barks or chirps. I’ve explained this identity crisis to him, but he seems not to care. His favorite thing in the whole world is licking plastic. Gross.

He knows how to play hide and seek. And one time he beat me. I swear to god. Usually, I hide behind the door and he comes and finds me. Then I say, “GO,” and he runs to the next room where I follow and find him standing there. Imagine this game with your one year old and it’s pretty much the same deal. Well, one time he hid behind the toilet in a dark bathroom and I legitimately could not find him. Well played, Manny, well played.

He would sell his soul to the devil for a piece of deli meat.

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Trot
When Manny was about a year old, we thought we’d “get him” a kitten for company. We worked and traveled a lot and thought it must be lonely for him. We have never more deeply misread a situation. Manny still has not forgiven us for breaking up our awesome threesome.

Nonetheless, off we went to the same shelter where we found this loudmouthed little peep of a kitten. We took him out of the cage and all he did was bite my hands and ankles. We put him back in the cage and he promptly produced a big, stinky poop. It’s funny how most of us don’t change a lick from who we are when we are born. That was Trot. He’s still loud. He’s still aggressive as hell. And he still loves the litter box.

Trot is our unofficial alarm clock. He hangs out in the bedroom each morning looking for the slightest move that indicates that one of us is awake. Then he pounces with this insistent, incredibly piercing, “meow!” He sticks his face right in yours, such that his whiskers usually go right up your nose. Good morning.

He is the alpha. This is HIS house. Anyone that’s been our overnight guest can attest to what an asshole he is. He’ll sleep on your suitcase and hiss at you when you try and get in it. Charming. If one of his brothers is sitting someplace he considers more desirable, he will step on their heads and lie on them until they’re forced to get up and move. Super charming.

The sous-chef always says about Trot, “love hard, play hard.” And love hard he does. He is passionate with his affection and will always let me hold him, or hug him, or kiss him.

He probably needs to be checked into cardboard box rehab, his obsession with them is so great.

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Nomar
There was never supposed to be three. I am all too aware of the fact that the leap from two cats to three cats moves you into “crazy cat people” territory. Two was a good number – we had some furry friends, they each had a companion. But life is not always that tidy.

My parents went on a long trip. My mom – being my mom – had recently adopted both a puppy and a kitten at the same time. The puppy was a little rough with the kitten and my mom was nervous leaving them together with the pet sitter only checking in occasionally. Would we be willing to take care of the kitten for a few weeks? Of course.

People talk of the phenomenon of love at first sight. Usually it’s a concept reserved for two humans, but I assure you that it can happen with pets too. Nomar looked at me the day my dad dropped him off and I looked back at him. We both just knew. He is my cat alone. And I am his mom. The sous-chef is simply a minor annoyance in this whole situation.

Nomar came from a tough beginning in an abusive home, ripped from his mother cat all too soon. He’s got some emotional wells he needs filling and no amount of love ever seems to do the job. He is just the sweetest cat of all time. Much like the cat in Shrek, he has these big, white-rimmed eyes. It makes him stinking adorable. He gets away with a lot.

His favorite thing in the world is to nestle into my side and “knead” and nuzzle my arm. This cat is 10 years old and he’s still a kitten with his momma. Can you blame me for favoring him?

Sadly, he’s the little beta cat. Manny can’t stand him. Trot sort of tolerates him. Though, Trot’s patience wears thin when Nomar tries to lick his face clean. That’s the sure precursor of a fight.

Nomar is the absolute stereotypical ‘fraidy cat. Doorbell? Under the bed. Vacuum? Under the covers. Loud noises? Pure panic. One time I happened to be holding him when the doorbell rang and I had a welt for days on my neck from him clawing out of my arms. I call him Nervous Nell a lot.

He loses his mind for a toy called a “cat dancer” (basically, a little piece of cardboard on the end of a wire that bounces around and that the cats chase… it doesn’t take much, I tell you). He’s recently learned how to open the cabinet door where we keep it.

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I seriously could go on. Even in writing this, I was thinking… oh, I should talk about how Manny loves to look out the window, how Trot is wicked (scarily!) smart, or how Nomar lords over the cat scratchers. But I’m quite confident that this is more than enough for anyone other than the most ardent cat-lovers out there.

I think the point is simply how unique and special each one is. I’m happy to have had the chance to know them.

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How to be a self-respecting female baseball fan

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<<donotrantdonotrantdonotrantdonotrantdonotrantdonotrantdonotrant>>

I repeated this to myself a few times before starting this post. I promise to try and be on my best behavior. You will likely need to remind me. I hope it doesn’t get so bad that you unfriend me. But. It’s possible.

WEAR YOUR FUCKING PINK HAT. WEAR IT PROUD.

Oh god. That happened fast. Sorry.

<<donotrantdonotrantdonotrantdonotrantdonotrantdonotrantdonotrant>>

You know how to be a self-respecting female fan? Be a fan. It’s that simple. Have fun. Don’t be an asshole to the people near you. Cheer on the home team. Respect the classy players on other teams. Be intrigued when you learn something cool about the sport or your team’s history. Your gender doesn’t matter. We all play by the same rules.

Drink some goddamn beers. Look up meaningless bits of trivia on your phone. Do the last part in the bathroom stall if you like. Come back to the seats to wow everyone with your knowledge. I don’t care. It’s not a lesson in the Civil War. No one will be better or worse if you know who pitched game two in 1986. Knowing that doesn’t make you a good person. It makes you good at remembering things. I’m so happy for you.

It’s a sport. It’s supposed to be fun. You’re not in your house. You’re not working. HAVE SOME FUN AND GIVE EACH OTHER A BREAK.

Girls like pink. Most of us anyway. Wear the hat. It’s adorable.

A girl is somehow weaker, stupider, more fair-weather than your dude cousin from Toledo who borrowed your jersey and doesn’t know the first thing about the line up? Because she’s in a pink hat? Fuck. You.

<<donotrantdonotrantdonotrantdonotrantdonotrantdonotrantdonotrant>>

I am sick and tired of women getting pushed around. I am sick and tired of having this conversation. We’re equal. Done.

My current boss is the CEO of a growing company. We generate tens of millions in revenue each year and help tens of thousands of people who are at a crappy crossroads in life. She’s one of the smartest, savviest people I’ve ever known. She could crush you with a single look. She’s the best boss in my career to date. The last meeting I was in with her, she was using a glitter pen. You know what her favorite color is? I’m not going to even answer. Fuck. You.

You want to be a self-respecting fan? Friend? Employee? Partner? Parent? Do the best you can. Be easier on yourself. Be a shit load easier on those around you. Stop feeling like you have to apologize. Rise above the petty bullshit.

Wear the pink hat.

<<endrant>>

The most frustrating things about going to a ballpark that is not Fenway

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I grew up on baseball. My dad obsesses on the sport. So, by the time I was old enough to show a modicum of interest, he seized on the opportunity.

At the time (early 80s), we were living in San Diego and routing for the Padres. My first official ballpark experience was there. I remember absolutely nothing about it, except that it was still a time that you could hang around and ask for the players’ autographs. I was a die-hard Tony Gwynn fan and happily hung out after the games, waiting for his scribble in my book.

Fast forward a few (many) years and I was a young woman living in Boston, going to odd Sox games when coworkers had a leftover pair. I remember drinking too many beers and casually routing on the home town heroes. I enjoyed Fenway, but it had fleeting importance in that focused-on-a-perfect-social-life decade.

But as always, time rolls on and so do priorities. The sous chef and I  got close to the requester if this post – a committed Sox aficionado – and his gorgeous bride (who also happened to be my college roommate) and a passing interest turned into season tickets.

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As a minor point of trivia, the first year we had the season package was 2004. I’m not saying we directly played a role in breaking the curse, but us baseball fans are a superstitious lot. We were at Fenway that year. A lot.

For the first few games of that season, I can’t say it felt a whole lot different than those random games in my 20s. But then something happened. Suddenly, we were good. Better than good. A little great. Powerfully scrappy. Hungry for the big prize.

Everything changed. The city held its collective breath. Sportscasters beat their chests harder than normal. When Papi brought his bat across the plate with the kind of force that spun his feet and ankles towards his mama in heaven, we clenched our fists and cheered heartily. We’d waited 86 years for what was at our fingertips.

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The park vibrated with anticipation. The cold metal railings of September and October baseball were taut and burned the touch of an ungloved hand. Noses stung with the crisp fall air and smell of spicy steamed franks. The grass – exhausted from a season bearing cleated feet – held on to its unnatural green by the sheer will of the grounds crew. You could feel it in every pore by the time you hit Yawkey Way.

Of dozens and dozens of amazing memories of Fenway, the one I’ll have till the day I die, is sitting in a shitty corner of right field taking in the 3rd game of the ALDS that year. We were playing the Angels – up two games in the series. We were losing. It was the first time I’d ever been in the park post-season. Vlad Guerrero had hit a grand slam earlier in the game. I’d already chucked it up to a no-win.

The game went to extra innings and ended with a walk off home run from Ortiz. Players danced on the field after wearing dirty unis and champagne.

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The question posed for this post asked about the frustration of visiting other parks. There is no frustration. I now frequent AT&T and the Coliseum in Oakland. Both are charming and fun in their own ways. I am not frustrated.

But they are not magic. I will never be at those fields and walk up the ramp in April to breathe in a smell that can only be described as “possibility.” Fenway is magic. It stands alone in that capacity.

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For the record, the requester also asked for the best pitchers’ numbers. A long standing joke of our Fenway tribe. I’ll go with 38 and 45. He’ll know why.

Dairy Free

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I feel really fortunate that both the sous chef and I are adventurous eaters and that neither of us have any confirmed allergies or intolerances. The fact that red wine is a leading suspect of my chronic hives is not spoken about in our house. It’s like our Voldemort.

Of all of the common foods that folks have to give up for various reasons, the one that makes me the most horrified is cheese. I love cheese. Off the charts love. I love cheese so much that, as I wrote the notes for this post, the sous chef was driving me to Valentine’s dinner at a dairy farm (yes, yes, he’s a good sport).

So when my mom’s cousin asked for a blog post on dairy free foods for her husband who (voluntarily!) doesn’t eat cheese, I had two thoughts. 1) I silently sainted her. I’d be throwing a daily tantrum over this matter. And, 2) What the fuck do I know about dairy free food?

I mean, I was sure I could come up with something. It’s not like I eat cheese every day. (That last part was a lie.)

Who wouldn't want to eat this goat cheese?

Who wouldn’t want to eat this goat cheese?

So, I wracked my brain… I really didn’t want to offer suggestions with fake substitutes, or dishes that naturally didn’t require cheese to taste satisfying. That just didn’t feel like the point. My mom’s cousin does enjoy dairy and her husband doesn’t. I wanted to find something that would appeal to both.

Then I remembered a meal I’d made years ago that was tasty, simple, and filling – creamy, with (you guessed it) no cream. It’s made with nut butter… which, if you haven’t used before in recipes, give it a go. Nut butters add a ton of depth and richness to a dish that’s really hard to get without dairy products.

This recipe is delicious. And doesn’t have a speck of cheese. It is possible.

Chicken with Pecan Cream and Mushrooms

Chicken with Pecan Cream

Ingredients
• 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
• 1 cup water
• 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
• 6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• Cooking spray
• 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
• 8-ounce package presliced mushrooms
• 4 cups cooked egg noodles
• Chopped parsley

Preparation
1. Place pecans in a food processor; process until smooth (about 1 minute), scraping sides of bowl once. With processor on, add water and 3/4 teaspoon salt; process until smooth, scraping sides of bowl once.
2. Sprinkle chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper.
3. Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sauté 3 minutes on each side or until done. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.
4. Add shallots and mushrooms to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Stir in pecan cream; bring to a boil. Cook 1 1/2 minutes. Place 2/3 cup noodles on each of 6 plates. Top each serving with 1 chicken breast half and 1/3 cup sauce. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Cooking Light , October 2002

Traditions

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So, under the construct of this blog-a-day-in-December plan, a few serendipitous things happened with the timing of topic suggestions and where the calendar fell. Not the least of which was that my 25th request was for “traditions.” As you may know, the 25th of December is Christmas Day – what could be better for talking about traditions?

However, as sometimes happens, real life got in the way of serendipity. Nearly ten members of my family descended on my tiny apartment for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, where I proceeded to cook a feast of seven fishes, a full holiday brunch, roast beef tenderloin, and about a million appetizers. And then things got really crazy with work. The blog suffered and I made no post on that day or for many days after. As my one friend would say, “le sigh.”

Despite not writing, I was, nonetheless, thinking about family and holiday traditions. But, here’s the thing. We don’t have many. Is that weird? We’re sort of an eclectic, decentralized bunch. We love each other a lot and enjoy getting together, but we’re inconsistent.

Sometimes the holidays mean travel; sometimes they mean staying close to home; sometimes we exchange presents; sometimes just hugs. They usually mean eating turkey. We didn’t this year, much to my dad’s chagrin.

Almost universally, my family values adventure. My one brother skipped the family affair to drive his RV to the outer desert to bake in the sun with his girlfriend this Christmas. My other brother is spearheading an excursion to Oregon in a few weeks to forage for truffles in the woods. At 77 and 71 years old, my parents are currently plotting their fourth move across the country. Me? I’ll be on planes six times in the next four weeks. It’s in our blood.

Family Adventure: Early Days

Family Adventure: Early Days

Family Adventure: Early Days

Family Adventure: Early Days

Family Adventure: Early Days

Family Adventure: Early Days

It made me wonder… can adventure in and of itself be considered a tradition? Every year the sous chef and I plan one big trip (Alaska is a serious contender this year), which I suppose is a bit of a tradition? My brothers have both traveled the world, but have always somehow made it back to live in southern California. My parents never fear moving, but always end up as homebodies, wherever they land. When we do gather as a family, it’s rarely be in the same place and the players vary, but the food is always good and the bickering is always measured with laughter.

In the end, tradition seems to be what you make of it. It could be doing the same thing every year, or making it up all new each year. I think that what really matters is to simply love what you do and to never stop doing what brings you joy.

On that note, I have airline tickets to book. Later.

My first flight: Solo at six years old

My first flight: Solo at six years old

Bourbon

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It is a well-established fact that I love booze. Ales? What’s better than a frosty cider on a hot summer day. Gin? I could write prose about gin. Wine? There is decently likelihood that wine gives me hives and I still love it. Got that? I am probably allergic to wine and I still drink it (almost daily). That’s commitment.

But amber spirits? I’ll pass. Scotch and whiskey turn my stomach sour. Brandy and cognac are only good for baking. Rum tastes like bad college memories. And tequila? Oh, tequila. Of tequila we do not speak.

Now, bourbon… she’s a different mistress all together. Bourbon treats me wrong every damn time, and still I love her. Bourbon surprises me and makes me wistful all at once.

If you asked me to name my single favorite cocktail of all time, there’s a good chance I’ll tell you a Milk Punch from the Bourbon House in New Orleans. It’s divine. Be forewarned. If you come with me to NOLA, you will be drinking Milk Punch.

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I love bourbon so much, that, when at a wedding in Louisville, I dragged five totally disinterested girlfriends on a two-hour road trip to the Maker’s Mark estate. Guess who are all fans of bourbon now?

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Like food, the taste of a certain spirit will bring you back places (and, I never want to be taken back to where tequila goes). Bourbon brings me down the bayou. With memories of sitting on the beach in Biloxi, MS, looking at palm trees still bent over from their battle with Katrina. Memories of dancing to slow moving jazz on Frenchman Street. Memories of rocking on a wide Southern porch of a volunteer house, eating strawberries and resting my weary feet.

It brings me back to the amazing group of volunteers that I’ve sweated with in that humid landscape – those that I may have known for only a day, and those who became like sisters. The end of most rigorous days, spent working tirelessly to help a community back to its feet, meant sharing a cool bourbon cocktail and sharing war stories. It’s a special spirit.

If you are now jonesing for a bourbon drink, you’re in luck. This one’s a gem:

The Big Texan Bourbon-and-Grapefruit Cocktail

. 2 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice
. 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
. 1/2 tablespoon simple syrup (see Note)
. 2 basil leaves
. Ice
. 1 grapefruit slice and 1 preserved cherry, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, combine the grapefruit juice, bourbon, simple syrup and basil. Fill a chilled rocks glass with ice. Add 5 ice cubes to the shaker and shake well. Strain the drink into the ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with the grapefruit slice and cherry.

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Source: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/big-texan-bourbon-and-grapefruit-cocktail

Cat Scratchers

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The sous-chef’s one and only request for a post this month was, “cat scratchers.” I’m pretty sure he was just trying to be an asshole. In order to be just as much of an asshole back, I decided to actually do it.

This will be a short post.

I am pro cat scratchers. Our cats love them and they totally help save our furniture. We have three kinds in our house; one of our cats really loves the flat ones, one really loves the tall one. One simply tries to sneak in scratching our slipper chairs. Despite what I covered above, he is single-handedly the biggest asshole in the house.

Nomar is a freak for the flat ones, which you can get cheaply at almost any pet store or pet department at a big box store. He not only likes to scratch them, he likes to sleep on them. Which looks entirely uncomfortable, but he loves them. Don’t cheap out and get the narrow ones. Double wides rule in our house.

pPETS-9425329dtSo much so that, we recently upgraded him to the “turret” (a Kittypod), an outrageously expensive elevated scratcher. He spends every waking minute sitting in this thing. I do not regret the money we spent on this for a second.

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Manny, on the other hand, loves the tall scratchers. We learned years ago that, the taller, the better. As in, ours is three feet high. Part of what cats love about scratchers is the stretch they get… so, give them something nice and high to work out all those little cricks. The sisal on ours is totally shredded. Probably time for a new one.

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Last little point on scratchers. Put them right as you walk into a room. Yes, they’re ugly and, yes, I encourage you to hide them in the closet when guests come over. But this will really encourage your kitties to use them… something about coming into the room lights their scratching fire (I’m sure it’s some quirk of evolution). Having them in this spot will preserve the arms of your couch.

After all this, I’ll give you one guess as to what Santa Claws has put under the tree for our boys this Christmas. I hope they’re excited.