Still Life, With Cats

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And then there were three

This past weekend we put up the Christmas tree. It is a very quick process, these years. We drag the extremely heavy box down from the attic, and we open it up and then we remove a cat, and we pull out each section of tree and we remove a cat, and then we set them all up and we remove a cat, and we hook all the cords together (and remove a cat) and then plug it in. And then poof, we’re all done. Because even though last year I did go buy some completely nonbreakable ornaments, we have come to the conclusion that it really is not worth even bothering with decorating.

That would be because of two reasons: Rupert and Ingrid

Rupert, the tabby terror

Ingrid the poofy

This year, we added Nutmeg to our little family. Nutmeg loves following Rupert around, and anything Rupert does, she is sure she needs to do too. So she came over and sniffed the tree, and we waited. And watched. And sure enough, after a day or two to ponder it, our tree gained its third (and final) ornament for the year.

Some people have all sorts of fancy ornaments and tinsel and garland.

Us? We just decorate our tree with cats.

‘Tis the season for Holidalies!


Oh look. It’s October already. And this year that means things get a radical shift in the kitchen. Okay, maybe not all that radical, since we weren’t doing too horribly bad about things beforehand, but this year, Richard and I are taking part in the October Unprocessed challenge. Granted, the word ‘unprocessed’ is a bit misleading for this challenge, since just the act of chopping or cooking is by its very nature ‘processing’. But the point of the challenge is that if it’s not something that the average person could make at home, or the ingredients list includes things that were manufactured in a chemistry lab, it should be avoided.

So far, we’re not doing too badly, although it’s only been two days yet, and weekend days are a lot different than week days when it comes to having time to cook. Of course it helps that yesterday we made our yearly pilgrimage up to Apple Hill, so pretty much the only things we ate all day were made of apples, and were made by hand at the farms (shh, we’re ignoring the ice cream on the pie). Today I made bread and for dinner we made a huge pot of dal. We followed that recipe pretty closely, but added a chopped zucchini (because the monster zucchini plant of doom is STILL producing, for crying out loud). As an aside, should you be interested in that recipe, bear in mind that it makes a LOT. Unless you have a large and hungry family, or are intending to serve this to a crowd, I’d recommend halving the recipe, at a minimum. I ended up stashing about half of it in the freezer, because while it turned out really delicious, there are only so many days in a row either of us is willing to eat leftovers of something before we get completely sick of it (and I suspect that given the amount left that *didn’t* end up in the freezer, we’re going to be bringing leftover dal for lunch all this coming week).

I know we’ll be running into a few interesting surprises as we go through this month. I hit the first one bright and early yesterday morning, when I went to set up my first cup of coffee of the day, took a look at the ingredients in the flavored creamer that I always use, and realized that it did not meet the criteria for ‘unprocessed’ by any stretch of the imagination. Luckily I stumbled across a blog post from someone else who’s doing the challenge who ran into exactly the same problem, and she linked to these recipes. This afternoon I made a batch of the Cinnamon Strudel (which smells just like a freshly baked cinnamon roll) and when I’m done with that, I think I’ll give the French vanilla a try. In the meantime, if anyone stumbles across a recipe to make my own hazelnut creamer, that meets the criteria for the Unprocessed Challenge, let me know!

As I noted above, the zucchini plant is still chugging along, although at a thankfully slower pace than earlier in the summer. The tomatoes are also showing signs of slowing down, although based on the number of tomatoes we put in, ‘slowing down’ still results in me filling the freezer and having to process another dozen or so pints of sauce every few weeks. With what’s left from last summer, and everything I’ve put up this summer, we’re not going to have to buy tomato sauce (or pizza sauce, or marinara sauce) for a good long time. The cucumber and peppers, however, have hit their end point, so this morning we spent about half an hour doing some clean-up, hacking back the worst of the blackberry vines and pulling up an embarrassingly large number of weeds. Then we put in the first batch of cold-weather plants – lettuce, sugar snap peas, scallions, and spinach. Later on, I’ll get some beans and shelling peas started, and maybe even try carrots again, and maybe, if we’re really lucky, the snail and slug population in the neighborhood will take a drastic turn for the worse and we might actually get a decent winter crop.

The hardest part

I thought we had more time. Although I’m not sure which was worse in the long run, thinking we had more time, which meant more time to watch and worry, or having it all go by too fast.

She was losing weight. She’d always been thin, but this was getting too thin. Rosemary was due to go in for a blood check anyway, to make sure the pills were keeping her thyroid hormones stable, so I decided it would be a double-tortie vet visit. I carefully placed the carriers in the car so they couldn’t see each other. Checkers and Rosie never liked each other. Checkers didn’t like much of anyone, for that matter – except for me. Most of our life with her involved a lot of arranging things for her so she didn’t have to deal with anything else but me.

He felt lumps in her intestines, and I could tell by the look on his face that it wasn’t good. She went back in, later, for x-rays. When I went to pick her up, he took me aside to talk. There are treatments, but life expectancy isn’t great. The least invasive is pills, but only if she’ll tolerate them. We are talking about Checkers here. Treating her for anything has been a massive struggle.

I brought home a bottle of pills and some pill pockets – little treats into which you stuff a pill so the cat will eat it with less fuss. She took them for four days. I started to feel a small sense of relief. The internet said if she’d do the treatment, we could get a temporary reprieve. The vet said it always comes back, but maybe she’d get another few months or a year or two.

The fifth day she bit the pill pocket in half and tasted the pill, and that was it. Four and one half pills. No more.

I tried to catch her to take her back for the next type of treatment – steroid shots. She freaked out and bit me, hard. I’ve been bit and scratched thousands of times in my life, but never like this. I sat down on the floor and cried, partly because it hurt like hell, and partly because I didn’t know what else to do. How do you explain to a cat that this is the only thing standing in between her and death?

He said that this wasn’t painful; that it will mainly just make her waste away. I saw her eat. I bribed her with wet food. She spent most of her days under the bed, only coming out at night to burrow under the blankets and curl up as close to me as she could, purring and shoving her head into my hand for pets.

Last night – although it was really early this morning – we came home from a trip down to San Jose to watch Richard’s parents’ play. Getting ready for bed, I noticed Ingrid and Rupert staring under the bed. Leave her alone, I told them, and then crouched down to find her. She was stretched out under the bed, barely breathing. I yelled for Richard. He brought me a towel and I pulled her out gently and wrapped her up and held her in my arms. At some point during the drive to the emergency vet, she passed away.

August 8th is when we were given her diagnosis of lymphoma. It’s only been four weeks. I thought we would have more time.

I wanted there to be more time.

Checkers: March 2003 –  September 4, 2011


Right now, the freezer drawers are full of gallon bags, stuffed with tomatoes. And the tomato plants outside are still full of tomatoes – most of them still green, but some of them that probably should have been harvested earlier this week, except that there were too many awkwardly placed spider webs and neither of us felt like trying to dislodge them while they were currently occupied by extremely large garden spiders, nor did we have any idea quite where to put any more tomatoes if we picked them in the first place. I have made red wine marinara sauce, and garden vegetable salsa, and still there are so very many tomatoes left to deal with, and I am running low on clean pint jars into which to put them after processing. Plus we still have plain tomato sauce left – at least a dozen pints of it – from *last* summer. All of which brings me to tonight’s decision to do Something With Tomatoes for dinner, except that I didn’t want to have to go to the grocery store and I didn’t want to have to thaw any of the whole tomatoes, and I didn’t want to have to do anything more than toss something into a pot and then walk away and immerse myself into a book until dinner magically finished all on its own. Or in other words, all of this is just a long-winded explanation of why tonight, I finally tried Marcella Hazen’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter.

I have seen a number of people gushing about this recipe on various food blogs, so I admit I was a bit skeptical about it at first, because I am used to my pasta sauce being full of herbs and chunks of vegetables; the sort of thing that takes a whole bunch of ingredients and a whole lot of time to put together. But there is a reason why people have been gushing about this sauce. It really is just as fabulous as everyone says. It only takes three ingredients, and best of all, even though it takes 45 minutes, it is exactly the sort of recipe where you can just throw everything into a pot and turn on the heat and then walk away.

Here is how you make this sauce (at least my version of it). Chop up one large onion and toss it into a big pot with about 5 tablespoons of butter. Pour in two pint jars of home-canned plain tomato sauce. Simmer over medium heat for about 45 minutes, or until sauce is thickened and the onions are translucent. About fifteen minutes before the sauce is done, start some water boiling for pasta, and if you time it just right, you should be draining your noodles just about the time your sauce is ready to go. If you are like me and only ever use unsalted butter, and tend to can your tomato sauce with no seasoning at all, you’ll probably want to add a few dashes of salt at the very end, but otherwise, resist the urge to doctor it up in any other way.

For such a simple recipe I have to admit, I was really surprised by how delicious it turned out. The onion imparts a lot of flavor into the tomato base, and the butter adds an element of complexity to the flavors. I am always happy when something so simple turns out so well – especially when it’s the sort of thing that makes use of something I’ve got in excess. We’ll definitely be making this recipe again. But next time, I’m going to make sure we have some kind of bread to go with the meal, if only to have some kind of method of somehow extracting every remaining bit of sauce off the plates.


It’s been kind of a crazy year so far, when it comes to the weather. First of all, it was a pretty soggy winter, and then the soggy kept dragging on and on, all through May, and even into June. We put the veggies in in late May, and one week later a massive hailstorm came through and pummeled everything. Luckily we only lost one melon plant – everything else somehow survived, scarred but otherwise unbowed. Then it rained again, and rained some more, and all those little veggie plants went WHEE and decided to see just how huge they could grow. Toss in another huge rainstorm just this past week (complete with thunder so loud it was rattling the windows all across town) and this is what you end up with.

(click to see a larger view).

The giant beast you see in front of Richard is our zucchini plant. Our ONE SINGLE SOLITARY zucchini plant, which has so far been producing as many (if not more) squash than the three summer squash plants we had last summer combined. Let’s just say that the dehydrator is going to be getting a real workout this summer.

The messy hedge wall to Richard’s left is made up of three tomato plants. Notice how they are TALLER than Richard? This is what happens when tomatoes and rain storms mix. The tomatoes are so dense at this point that I am not entirely sure how we are going to manage to actually harvest anything – it’s next to impossible to reach in and around the giant tangle of branches. I can see a whole lot of green tomatoes, lurking in there, though, so if the current nasty-hot weather we’re having holds, I suspect we’re going to be swimming in giant piles of beautiful red fruit soon. At that point, it might end up being a battle between the zucchini and the tomatoes as to who can overwhelm us first. Because what you do not see in this picture is the other huge, messy hedge wall behind me (I’m the one taking the picture), made up of five additional tomato plants, all tangled together and loaded with unripe fruit and massive branches that are trying to reach across the path and take out the cucumber. Oh, and let us not forget the blackberries, which are that big tangled mess in the back of the picture, behind the wall of tomatoes, since they are doing their best to take over the potato bed and make a break for the pomegranate tree, and the only reason we have not gone at them with clippers is that they are still (yes, still) producing. Phew.

Click, click

Pattern: Gentlemen’s Sock – from Knitting Vintage Socks. Made for Richard. This is sock pair #2 completed for the year (yes, I am aware that I am 3 pairs behind schedule).

The results of a massive book purge: 8 grocery sacks, and 3 boxes, stuffed with books. This filled the back of the Prius completely, yet is only a small fraction of what we still own. We dropped them off at the Friends of the Library used book store this morning, and returned with only 6 ‘new’ ones (one of which is being sent off to someone else).

Stacking herb garden. There are three basils on the bottom. Naturally those are the ones the snails are decimating. Stupid snails (I hope you like Sluggo).

Tiny baby cucumbers. There’s about half a dozen on the plant so far.

Baby tomatoes. We put in twice as many tomatoes this year. I am hoping that I do not regret this.


The blackberry vines we planted last year are currently going crazy. Basically, they have spent the last twelve months going from two puny little stalks to doing their level best to take down the fence between us and the next door neighbors. The vines have been covered in flowers, and berries are popping out all over. Only recently, however, have some of them been ripe enough to pick, although admittedly it’s taking us a little while to figure out exactly when that might be. My excuse is that I think berries are horrid, nasty tasting things full of seeds, but Richard loves the little suckers, so I’d have thought at least one of us would be better prepared to distinguish a ripe berry from a not-quite-ripe one. Ah well.

Anyway. Aside from the random strawberry or three every few days, so far the only thing coming out of our garden right now is blackberries. Lots and lots of blackberries. Last night, we picked a great mound of them – big, fat berries that stained our fingers red. So what does one do with a giant pile of blackberries? Do you really have to ask that question? Obviously, I had to make jam.

Time between when they were picked off the vines and when the jars were pulled out of the boiling water bath to cool on the counter – just about two hours. Richard licked the spoon when I was done filling the jars and pronounced it delicious. I did not share his opinion, but that has more to do with the fact that I cannot stand the vile little fruits than any actual commentary on the state of the jam itself.

There are still oodles more of them on the vines, so it’s pretty obvious that we’re going to be dealing with large quantities of blackberries in the near future. I’m looking forward to giving other recipes a try – perhaps some blackberry syrup, or blackberry jelly, or even (if they get too out of hand) squeezing some of them down to juice and using them to dye some yarn (several kitchen towels are now sporting spots of the most beautiful blue).

From the oven

Let’s say you are in the mood to bake something. Maybe cookies. Shortbread is really quick and easy and only takes a few ingredients – all of which you always have on hand (you *do* always have these on hand, right?). Except you’re also in the mood for peanut butter.

This is what you should make.

Peanut Butter Shortbread

1 cup flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter (4 tablespoons)
1/4 cup peanut butter (whatever kind you like best)

Stir together flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter, or your hands, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Knead dough with hands until it comes together.

Press dough into an 8×8 inch baking pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until lightly brown at the edges.

Let the shortbread cool completely before cutting into 20 – 32 pieces. Yes, really. I’m serious on this one. While you might be able to get away with eating regular shortbread straight from the pan, if you try a piece of this one while it’s still warm, you will have hot peanut butter goodness immediately coat your entire mouth and will be unable to do anything but make vague squeaking noises until you gulp down something to drink. As a side note to Richard’s writerly friends upon who I foisted this experiment, please accept my apologies for not realizing this would be an issue before I gave you still-warm-from-the oven cookies.

Should you decide to sprinkle about half a cup of semisweet chocolate chips on top of the cookies as soon as they are removed from the oven, and then once melted, spread that chocolate all over the cookies before you cut them, more power to you. Is it possible that one of us is considering adding a thin layer of additional peanut butter in between the cookie and the chocolate, just to ramp things up a bit? Maybe. But how about we keep that our little secret for now.

And On And On

The longer I go without writing, the more difficult it is to start back up, primarily because I start to feel as if I have to cover everything from the time I missed, and it gets too long and unwieldy. So I shall, instead, summarize.

Cats: Zucchini started losing weight at an alarming rate and his fur was matting something awful. At his age, I knew it was only a matter of time before he came down with one of the Big Three (hyperthyroid, diabetes, or kidney disease). The verdict – advanced kidney disease. He was nearly 17. We buried him in the backyard with the others.

The numbers in the house, however, are still the same. We picked up a new kitty at the shelter – a little one-year-old siamese mix. We’ve named her Nutmeg. She’s surprisingly quiet, for being part siamese, but she is adorable and has bonded with Richard (she is very much a Daddy’s girl) and loves to skitter all over the house chasing balls and if we could just get Ingrid to stop antagonizing her by growling every time she catches a glimpse of her, everything would be peachy.

As for everyone else – let’s see. Checkers’ eye finally cleared up, much to my great delight because I was getting seriously tired of chasing her down to dose her twice a day. Rosemary is hyperthyroid, but luckily she tolerates the pills just fine, so (fingers crossed) it’s an easy treatment for now. And Rupert has figured out how to scale to the top of the new office desks – the seven foot tall office desks, mind you – so we’re now slowly adjusting to looking up to see a fuzzy little face peering down at us without freaking out about it.

House: The downstairs bathroom sinks have faucets with lever handles. One of the sinks doesn’t drain very well. Rupert and Ingrid are extremely smart cats who like to play in running water. Do you see where this is going?

So basically after they flooded the entire master bedroom, we turned the water off under that sink and then hightailed it to Home Depot and ordered an entire new counter (because if we were going to replace the faucets, we might as well replace the sinks that we hate, and if we’re going to replace the hideous sinks, we might as well also replace the hideous tile). The counter is currently sitting in a giant box downstairs, and we are nearly done hacking off the remains of all the mortar and junk that was underneath the tile, so that we can install the new stuff. Possibly it will happen this weekend. We’ll see.

Everything else: Vox Musica went to Chicago to sing at the ACDA National convention. It was stressful. It was crazy. It was also kind of fun. We performed twice, in front of several thousand people. We did a lot of walking all over downtown Chicago. We got to see a few other groups perform. Alas, what we did not get to do was hold an official music-burning party once we returned home (let’s just say some of us are heartily sick of some of those songs at this point), but maybe we can still try for later on that one.

I finished my Estimating class and got an A+ (much to my shock, but hey, I’m not going to quibble!). So now I have my Tuesdays back, but I’ve lost my Saturdays for a few months because I’ve been spending them in training sessions to become a Master Food Preserver. I suspect it will come as no surprise to anyone that I am having far more fun in my MFP classes than I did in my Estimating class.

Knitting – sigh. I feel as if I’ve lost my direction there. Nearly all the knitting I’ve done lately has been test knitting patterns for someone else. I’m poking along slowly at two pairs of socks, but not really feeling the love on either of them. I have ideas for patterns in my head but I haven’t worked up the energy to actually play with them and work them out onto paper. I have a giant lace project that *must* be done by mid May, and I haven’t touched it in weeks. I know it’s only a matter of time until I’m back to my old level of enthusiasm – this isn’t the first time I’ve hit a lull and I know it won’t be the last – but when I’m in the middle of it, it’s just generally frustrating.


Clickety click

So, I was right – the 100,000 mile check-up did include another ‘ouch’ for my car. Turns out a cracked drive belt can be expensive. Ugh. But I am consoling myself that, all things considered, the ‘major’ repairs on this car have been few and far between, so it isn’t as bad as it could have been. We’ll see if I can keep it going for another 100,000 miles (although I suspect it’ll take even longer than the first 100,000, since we do a lot less driving than we did when we first got it).

Aside from the wince-inducing auto maintenance, though, the week’s been a decent one. The box arrived for Kathy’s Take and Replace Swap, and even though I need more lace yarn and/or more sock yarn like I need another overly caffeinated turbo-cat (aka Rupert), I could not help myself, and took out these:

That’s two skeins of Knit Picks Shimmer in an absolutely gorgeous red, and a ball of self-patterning sock yarn. I have a laceweight drawer and a sockweight drawer in the paint-spattered old dresser I use for yarn storage, and they are both so full that it is almost impossible to stuff any more yarn into them, but…in the face of shiny new yarn, I am weak. At least with a Take-and-Replace swap, yarn in = yarn out, so total number of yarn skeins in the house didn’t change.

On the plus side, however, last night I did finish a pair of socks (plain stockinette ones, in purple Trekking XL), thereby fulfilling the Sock-Completion-Goal for January. And earlier this week, I handed a few sock pattern books to Richard and said ‘pick the ones you like’, so (using some of the sock yarn that ‘accidentally’ fell into my shopping basket at a yarn-shop-closing event a few weekends ago – ahem), Thursday night, I cast on for a new pair. I’m not holding my breath I’ll get these done by end of month, because Richard has large feet and I have other things I also need to be knitting in the meantime, but it at least gets me an early start for February.

Oh, and speaking of February, since she posted it to her blog, I can show you the thing I was frantically trying to finish up last weekend.

This is Coo and Coy, and you can get the pattern to make your own little duo here (just in time for Valentine’s Day!).