Thursday, August 19, 2010

Emily Marie, a cat, 1992-2010

When I moved to Minnesota, following a guy I'd been dating for about five months, my dad helped me load up my little white pick-up and drive my stuff out here. It was a three day trip, he didn't let me drive, and I loved spending so much time with my dad. I also bawled like a baby before we'd even left California, but nevermind that. We arrived on Nov. 1, 1992, and the next morning at breakfast he said, "Well, I think today we should get you a cat." (We also had to get ourselves some gloves, scarves, and hats, because we drove in with the first snowstorm.)

We found the nearest Humane Society location, finally figured out how to get there, and faced the daunting task of choosing among the dozens and dozens of cats there. There were cats who couldn't be around other cats, and cats in the "colony rooms" who were more sociable and well-behaved. I decided to start there. In the first room, none of the cats looked up when I entered, and none seemed too excited about the possibility of being adopted by a CA transplant trying to pass off a flannel shirt as a jacket.

So I went to the next colony room. When I walked in, only one cat turned her head to look at me. When I walked over to her, she jumped up onto my shoulder and began to purr. We took her into one of the "get acquainted" rooms and she continued to basically attach herself to me. Dad said, "I think you've got a cat." The vet at the Humane Society believed she was about nine months old. She'd been surrendered by a family that was moving and didn't want to pay a pet deposit (that's how it was phrased to me - perhaps they couldn't). Her name was Tasha.

We brought her home and I renamed her Emily Marie (for Emily Dickinson and Marie Curie). That first afternoon she took a nap curled up on my dad. She liked to sleep during the day in the bathroom sink. At night she would pull her favorite toy - a length of string - up into the bed and meow. She played fetch for a couple years. Our apartment was on the sixth floor of a building overlooking a freeway - she would sit in the window and watch the freeway, batting at the glass when am emergency vehicle or police cruiser went by with lights flashing. She once ran over and licked the speakers the first time she heard Brahms. When we moved to a duplex, she found new favorite spots and games. When we decided to get a second cat to keep her company...well, she put up with him. Mostly.

For the last few months she's been on a long slide downwards. In the last two months she began to let Cora pet her. She stopped coming upstairs at night. She begged for milk and cream constantly, but lost weight until she was only about 3 pounds. On Monday we took her to a very kind vet who had been seeing her, who gave us the space to make our own decision. She walked out of her carrier onto the soft blue blanket they had spread on the table. She lay down and waited while we signed paperwork and petted her. She waited patiently for the vet to find one of her tiny tiny veins with his tiny tiny needle, and then she just lay her head down and stopped. We had time alone with her, petting her, talking to her, until we felt like that soft furry body wasn't really her anymore.

During this time, Cora was with friends, who had lost one of their cats earlier in the year; people, I told her, who would know how she felt. I had talked with her starting a few weeks before about how Emily was getting closer to her time to die. We talked about other people we know who have lost pets in the past year. We read some books. She frequently expressed a wish that Emily wouldn't die. She wanted us to take a picture of her petting Emily. She would often pet Em's head very tenderly and say, very seriously, "Is it your time, Emily? Are you going to die?" Monday night she told me she would miss Emily's soft and beautiful fur. Tuesday night she cried because she wanted to kiss Emily one more time.

I understand that. I still think I see her out of the corner of my eye, standing on the table, wandering into the kitchen. I think I feel her jumping onto the bed. I wonder if our other cat, Arvo, has become so much more vocal in the past five months as a way of anticipating and mourning her death. I think about how she came into my life when I moved to Minnesota, and how she has left it just as I am preparing to leave the state.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Joining the heat

We've been having a week of hot and humid weather here in the Twin Cities - one of my least favorite kinds of weather (usually followed by another least favorite: big thunderstorms). We've been eating salads, sandwiches, snacky lunches and dinners, skillet meals, nothing that would use the oven or have to be cooked for very long.

Today I decided that we would just have to suffer the consequences.

Earlier in the week, Chris and Cora had mixed up a batch of dough for rosemary-whole wheat-flaxseed baguettes from the Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day book (I borrowed it from the library, copied out some recipes, and am now waiting for a copy to drop from the sky into my lap...or to be able to buy one later this fall). Whole wheat bread has been my nemesis this summer - I have had trouble finding a recipe I like that has both a good taste and a good texture. So, we made two baguettes to go with our pesto spaghetti tonight. I also, at the behest of Cora, made a pan of chocolate chip cookie bars. To round out the meal we had a little melon from our farmers - a variety of cantaloupe - and a simple tomato salad - four kinds of tomatoes, salt & pepper.

I know it is a good dinner when Cora eats it all, eats two cookies, curls up on the couch, and falls asleep at 8pm.  Plus, the bread turned out fantastic! Not only great tasting, but also beautiful. If only our camera were not out of batteries!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Well-stocked, and proud of it

About two months ago a friend paid me a compliment that I keep returning to and treasuring. She was helping me pack up and rearrange things in the pantry, in anticipation of the house going on the market. At one point she told me that she really admired and envied my well-stocked pantry.

I know that many, many cookbooks are happy to tell you what you should have in your pantry, what a "well-stocked pantry" will have. But what I find is that it is more important to know what my family likes, eats, and tends to think would be tasty. Lots of tomato products. Various kinds of beans and rices and pastas. Certain produce should always be on hand, certain condiments. Certain categories of food can be completely dispensed with (any kind of fish, any canned soup product).

My friend's comment was especially nice to hear because I do take a certain secret (up until now) pride in my pantry - in the readiness of it. I like it that I can do a decent amount of baking and cook on the fly, if need be. I like being able to pull a nice lunch together on the spur of the moment, especially in the summer when Chris and I are both pretty much home for lunch together most days. It's nice to grab up a bunch of good-looking peaches at the store and come home and waffle between pie and cobbler for a while, and know that either one could be made from what is on hand. Or bringing home an awful lot of zucchini in a CSA box and knowing I have everything I need for zucchini bread.

Getting those CSA boxes has really given me some great opportunities to exercise my pantry - both the physical pantry and also what I think of as my mental pantry, which is not so much stocked with food as with ideas about food. I have loved our CSA this summer - I learned a lot last summer about how to manage the box, what to expect, and how to work in new veggies for my family. There have been many fewer incidents of throwing things away completely unused. There have been times we haven't used something up entirely, and there have been times we just couldn't bring ourselves to eat more of something (I'm looking at you, kohlrobi), but on the whole, way fewer than last year.

The other night I made a fresh corn polenta recipe from the recent Bon Appetit - the only thing I needed from the store was the mascarpone. We had it with grilled chicken with some leftover jerk marinade that Chris has made a few days before, and with green beans - all the veggies involved were from the CSA. There was leftover polenta, of course, and once refrigerated it firmed up nicely. Earlier in the week I'd made tomatillo salsa from CSA tomatillos, onions, and jalapenos, and we had that with stacked cheese enchiladas, but there was extra salsa, of course.

So, the other day, faced with lunchtime and not wanting a sandwich, I started poking around the mental pantry. Here's what we ended up with: leftover chicken (retail chicken, nothing too virtuous there), and then a pan-fried polenta slice topped with a salad of chopped tomatoes (two kinds from the farmer's market) and black-eyed peas that just happened to be in the pantry and the leftover tomatillo salsa. It was the kind of plate that I find myself looking at with great satisfaction.

It was a combination of the "luck of the box" from the CSA and a prepared pantry. And it fit in with what we are striving towards: only buying what we might call ingredients, basic building blocks, and trying to buy locally and/or responsibly. (In this last respect, that leftover chicken totally didn't fit in.) But if we can keep to these rough guidelines, we can have meals like that: Totally unplanned, totally made up, totally delicious.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hold on / Let go

From the ages of about 5 to 15 there were few things I loved more than dancing. Somewhere towards the end of that period, around the age of 11 or so, I had to admit that it was unlikely that I would ever be good enough to make a life of it, and eventually some recurrent knee issues really put that thought to bed. I like to think that I can still appreciate dance.

But I'm having trouble mastering the steps to the dance I am currently engaged in. This hold on/let go dance of moving, of waiting for a house to sell, of leaving - in painful gradations - people and places I love, of looking for places to fit into in the new place, of leaving room for new people, of managing the emotions, bedtimes, meals, expectations, and needs of our little family. Every day is both rehearsal and performance. Every day requires changes in the choreography.

Today has been a day when it seems the only part of the dance I'm able to execute with any ability is the "hold on" part - and, of course, I think we all know that it is the "let go" part of the dance that earns the applause.

Monday, August 2, 2010

No blueberry-picking, but plenty of Snow White and fairy tale musings

But I wish this were a post about blueberry picking - I have read so many blog posts about blueberry picking in the last weeks, seen so many luscious photos of berries in boxes and baskets and pies and jam jars and cakes and ice cream bowls! I have been beset with terrible blueberry-picking envy. I thought of it too late to pull it together, which is a shame. I really love blueberries. Cora and Chris love blueberries, too, and we are certainly eating our share of retail berries. Mostly in cobblers and pancakes and yogurt and just fresh-washed out of a bowl. And now the peaches are threatening to eclipse the blueberries in our hearts. Such is the fickle nature of summer.

I finally got around to downloading the Flip camera. We had movies on there going back to early May. Yikes. But I think perhaps my favorite movies are a two-part sequence of Chris and Cora re-enacting Snow White. I think you will agree that Chris earns his Daddy stripes by participating in this, knowing it would be filmed and (of course!) posted. I only wish I had caught on camera the effort that went into Cora perfecting her technique for the "apple rolling away from my dead hand" move.

Last fall, in class we read fairy tales and academic essays on fairy tales and folklore. I was really surprised that none of my students, all first-year college students, *none* of the 40 students, were at all familiar with any of the more traditional versions of the tales. They knew nothing about red-hot iron dancing shoes, eyes pecked out by doves, walking on knives, etc. None knew the Bluebeard story, even! (I feel like I did pop culture a service by teaching these tales, the oldest and the newer reimaginings.) And over and over what they said was, "Who would let their kid read these?! Who would tell these stories to children?!" They were scandalized as only 18-year-olds can be.

Imagine their horror when I confessed that not only did I read and tell these stories to my girl, but that she really liked them.

I always go back in my mind to my good memories of tucking myself away in the back (the back-back) of the family station wagon and reading and rereading the volumes of Grimm and Andersen tales on family trips. I so loved those stories (my favorite is "The Goose Girl")! They were pretty accurate old-time translations, too. With the occasional illustration. I especially remember one of the end of a story wherein the evil character was turned into a giant black poodle that was forced to eat hot coals for the rest of its (presumably short) life. That thrill of revulsion and shock was delicious.

I also remember doing a paper on Maurice Sendak and all that he said about children and what adults think is too scary for kids is probably not half as scary as what already exists in the child's mind and fears. I agree with that. I read those tales now, and I think they are scarier for an adult - because as adults, we know that while we would like to think that people don't abandon their children in the woods when times are tough, a casual read through a newspaper will tell you such things do in fact happen today.

I also read something my cousin Traci wrote recently about why she identifies with Ariel from The Little Mermaid (Disney version) - how she feels born to sing (and sings beautifully), but struggles with losing her voice due to recurrent throat health issues. That she is also curious and sometimes naive. And that reminded me again about how we find ourselves in literature. Just as that poor goose girl ended up finally whispering her troubles to an old stove, here I am talking to the internet.

And, finally, at least in fairy tales, we do still get the happy endings we crave after all the trauma and tension.