25 January 2013

Meow

 
Oggy, our cat, adopted us almost eight years ago now.  We had just moved into our first home and he came to visit.  He sized us up quickly:  no screen door, no kids, no pets, friendly = potential source of snacks and petting.  He was right.

Oggy came over a lot.  The funny thing is that he had a perfectly good and happy home next door.  He lived with John, who also had another cat, Tilley.  Oggy's sister.  Perhaps that was the rub.  In any case, over the six years that we lived in that house Oggy became more and more of a fixture.  Finally we fed him and let him sleep on our bed, mostly because he never gave up trying to get us to adopt him.  We felt a bit guilty in doing so since John was a lovely neighbor and we'd come to enjoy sharing meals together, admiring eachother's gardens, and hanging out now and then.  We didn't want him to think we were stealing his cat.

In 2010, John retired and moved to British Columbia.  We moved across town.  Tilly went to Canada.  Oggy came with us.


I remember the day that John said, "you'll be taking Oggy with you, then" in so many words (those might have been his actual words, I can't remember).  I was so relieved that he would offer to let us have Oggy.  We'd come to love him and I couldn't imagine giving him up.  I'm so grateful for John's generosity and graciousness with the whole Oggy thing.


So here we are.  As I type this I have a furry yellow cat about two inches from my computer.  Oggy is sitting on the dining room table next to me . . . purring so loudly it vibrates the table.  He's been trying to walk on my keboard.  And he's rubbed his face on my screen a dozen times.  True cat love, I suppose.

We've come to realize recently that Oggy is getting up there in cat years.  He's 14 this year (we think).  And that means he moves a bit slower, his joints click a bit louder, and he can't always jump as high as he'd like.  Then during the holidays we noticed that he was getting thinner.  Still eating lots but getting thinner and sleeping more and throwing up more frequently and then came the sneezing and coughing too.  Really, we should have known something was up when Oggy put up no fuss at all when we tied on his Christmas ribbon.


Turns out he has a severe case of inflamed bowel disease.  We know this after several vet visits, an ultrasound and biopsy, and lots of blood work.  Now he gets a chicken-flavored "melt" of steroids twice a day to combat the inflammation.  Today marks the one-week point in his treatment.  I'd say he's definitely feeling better.

He's eating even more than he was, which is great.  Hasn't thrown up in a week. Prefers his wet food now over the dry.  Seems to spend less time sleeping and a bit more time checking out what's going on around the house and making a point of spending time in the rooms that have people in them.  He's jumping up on things again (this is good and bad) and he's gotten more talkative.  For him this is normal.


Normal is good.  He's also gaining a bit of weight.  I don't feel his back bone as clearly when I pet him and he just feels heavier when I pick him up.  Not scientific, I know, but enough.  He's starting to bat at strings that move and he is crazy about treats again.

Yesterday Oggy let Wyatt wipe his nose with a Kleenex while sitting on top of Wyatt's large art pad watching the kid go crazy with his ink pad and stamps.  What kind of cat does that?


Oggy is part of our family.  He's made inroads into all our hearts.  And even in the short two years that Wyatt has known him I don't think it is a coincidence that Wyatt, when he is sad or bumps his head or has a melt down, has started meowing as a means of calming himself down or coping with something difficult.  At first I didn't know what to think of it -- my two year old in tears and meowing.  But now I have a sense that Wyatt is just thinking about (and acting like) his kitty, Oggy. And by thinking of something happy that he loves he finds a way through the stress.

Oggy regularly provides a de-stressing service to all of us.  He sat on my lap and studied with me all during law school.  He's been known to curl up on Byron's chest when he's home sick.  He's been a source of warmth and company by curling up by my legs and warming me up a million times.  We joke that Oggy is The Cat of Great Comfort.  And he is.  He somehow knows when you need a little love.

Oggy studying his way through law school.
When I was pregnant, Oggy was not sure what to do with my growing belly that constantly took up "his" lap.

If I'm honest with myself, I know we don't have that many years left with this dear kitty.  He is an indoor-outdoor kitty, too, which shortens his years I'm told.  It makes me sad to think about losing him someday, and I am most grateful that we don't have to deal with that situation yet.  For now, he's with us.  He seems content and acts like he is feeling much better.

I really, truly hope that he is.


23 January 2013

The new winter salad


Over the holidays I made this new salad at least twice because it was so good -- crunchy and clean, a bit of a palate cleanser.  Perhaps, like me, you are looking for new ideas that get you out of your old food ruts.  Salads that are fast, easy, and don't take much prep or plan-ahead time are hard to come by, especially in the winter.  I do love the roasted beet types, and the fruit-and-nut combinations, and the occasional citrus and avocado combo, but all of those take some time to put together or roast ahead.  Here's one that doesn't.  With the caveat that you must shop for the ingredients because you likely won't have them on hand, it is a cinch.

Goes beautifully with baked salmon and rich scalloped potatoes with Gruyere.  Just saying.

Fennel-endive-pomegranate salad
adapted from this recipe in Martha Stewart Living, December 2012
serves 4-6 as part of a meal

1 fennel bulb, halved and cored, and very thinly sliced
a handful of trimmed fennel fronds
2 firm heads of Belgian endive, white or red (white is easier to find so that's what I use), ends trimmed off, rinsed and then roughly chopped
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, broken by hand into bite-size pieces
1/3 cup good quality olive oil
3 Tb. freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Arrange the sliced fennel, fronds, endive and pomegranate seeds on a platter or shallow bowl.  Shake the oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper together in a small jar, until emulsified.  Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss to lightly coat.  Sprinkle with walnuts to finish.


20 January 2013

Q1 in my garden


Maybe I forgot to tell you that I planted a fall/winter garden in my raised beds last September.  I signed up for a CSA of plants from these folks, which provided me two flats of starts by the 15th of September.  After clearing out the summer crops, turning over and amending my soil a bit, I planted most everything I received in the raised beds and stuffed a few others in pots and planters here and there too.

Everything has done quite well, especially with the mild temperatures we enjoyed until very recently.  But even with the freezing temps, all seems fine with overwintering plants now that we put a protective cover over them. The cauliflower, purple sprouting broccoli, and red bunching onions are still healthy.  The kale is looking lovely and tasting sweeter and sweeter with the cold weather.

Purple sprouting broccoli and cauliflower (and arugula running amok).

Lettuces and spinach hanging out in the toasty grower . . . and a few beets.

The chard patch (why I grow it I'm not sure.  I much prefer kale).
Last week I trimmed out dead wood and snipped the canes back a bit on the raspberry bed.  Hoping for a heavy crop this summer -- without the fruitworms that showed up last season.  Learning about how to organically control this pest is my latest obsession. 

The raspberry patch before the clean up.
I completely neglected to mulch or organize the six (now 50!) strawberry plants that I put in one of my raised beds last March so I have no idea how they will do this coming June.  They grew like crazy all summer, sending out runners into and beyond the bed.  Who knew six plants would turn out to be too many for a 10 x 2 foot raised bed?  I may try to get some straw yet this month and cover the plants to prevent damage to the crowns -- or any further damage, I should say.  We've had a few nights with temps in the 20s recently.  I also neglected to pinch off all the flowers last June (the first season) so I'm not sure I've gotten my plants off to much of a good start anyway.  Live and learn.


One of the projects I had really hoped to accomplish in 2012 was get a compost system going.  Where to put it, however, has been the big question.  I'd like a three-bin arrangement so I could have piles at different stages and useable compost available throughout the year.  I have a friend with chickens who has offered me as much manure as I'd like but I need to compost it before using it on the garden.  Oh the beautiful soil that would build!

Which brings me to my plans and goals for the veggie garden this year . . .

  • Plant fewer peas and more kale
  • Skip the tomatoes and chard
  • Try a few new crops--maybe fennel bulb and some runner beans?
  • Plant rhubarb
  • Get started early by planting peas, spinach, and radishes in late February
  • Start composting
  • Beat the fruitworms for good
  • Install copper slug tape on beds to protect strawberries and greens
  • Refresh the cedar chips on garden paths
  • Plant cover crops this fall instead of growing veggies 

Kale starts that wouldn't fit into the veggie beds in September happily growing in a pot on the porch.
Wyatt's row marker collection.

07 January 2013

Winter solstice dinner 2012


Once again with their charm and hospitality our friends Alex and Sarah conjured light and warmth on the darkest day of the year.  We joined them and a small group of friends for dinner in their home in late December, on the night of the winter solstice.  It was an evening of outstanding food and captivating conversations.

Good tunes and a gingery punch served in an antique cut-glass punch bowl got the party started about an hour before dinner.  Crisp bread with pears and herbed cheese primed our palates.  The dinner included courses made by or contributed to by each of the guests.  Good wine, stories, and poems rounded out the festivities.


Our hosts encouraged us to bring Wyatt and we did.  Not knowing how the evening would go, we brought toys and books, and figured he would eat and play and then fall asleep early on.  Well, turns out the boy loves a good party.  He spent most of the night laughing and flirting and trying new foods.  About an hour and a half after his regular bed time, he fell asleep and I tucked him into our hosts' bed while we continued to enjoy the evening.


The delicious meal came in courses.  First the appetizers, which disappeared quickly: lightly toasted baguette arranged with pears poached in wine (1 cup of red and 1 cup of white) and cloves, and topped with Neufchatel cheese mixed with a tad of cream and chervil.
 

I had the privilege of making the soup course, and I made one of my winter favorites -- cauliflower cheese soup with scallions.  It's a smooth, comforting soup where the simple pureed base of potato, cauliflower, and carrot gets jazzed up with mustard, caraway, and a little cheddar.

Cauliflower Cheese Soup
adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook recipe

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 cups cauliflower pieces
1 cup chopped carrot
3 cloves of garlic
1 cup onion, chopped
4 cups of water
2 tsp. kosher salt

Put the above ingredients into a tall soup pot and bring to a boil, cover, then simmer about 15 minutes until the potato and cauliflower are tender.

While the soup simmers, separately steam 1 1/2 cups additional caulifloweretes until tender.  Set aside.

When the soup is cooked, let it cool about 10 minutes. Then, using a hand-held immersion blender, carefully puree the mixture in the soup pot until smooth and creamy.  You can also use a blender and puree the mixture in batches if you prefer.

Next, heat the pureed soup on low heat while you whisk in:

3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp dill weed (optional)
1/2 tsp caraway seed
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
black pepper
salt (if needed)
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

Just before serving, whisk in the steamed cauliflowerets and 3/4 cup buttermilk.  Don't let it reach a boil.  Adjust the salt.  Serve garnished with chopped scallion.

Serves 4-5 as a meal; more as a first course.




Good bread with roasted garlic (grown by one of the couples who attended) accompanied the soup.  As did a salad of mixed greens, peppers, and homemade croutons.  Then came the main course, an artichoke timbale, poached King salmon, roasted fingerling potatoes, and a tangy cabbage slaw.


Next came the cheeses, fruit, and flat breads.  The cheese board included choices by everyone -- St. Andre, manchego, Stilton, cheddar.  I think the party got louder at this point.  Perhaps it was the wine.  Who knows, but I recall a poem in Russian at this point, and then a few limericks . . . and lots of laughter. 


Apple tarte tatine brought the meal to a close. I ate mine before I thought to take a picture.  (Sorry.)  Around eleven we headed home, sleeping toddler in tow, hearts and stomachs filled. 

Such a tradition makes one look forward to the dark days.  Thank you, Sarah and Alex, for making room for us at your table this year.

06 January 2013

We threw a party today


It was filled with a handful of little people (and their handlers), trains, chocolate cake, little oranges, balloons, a few pom poms, two puzzles, a bi-plane, and a dinosaur . . . to name just a few of the things that made our day a fun and memorable birthday for Wyatt.  He's two now. And he's asleep as I type this.  Exhausted.

He had a blast the entire time.  Running laps around the house.  Hugging his friends big and small.  Bouncing. Wiggling. Eating as many pretzels as he wanted. Laughing. Blowing out candles.  Eating cake. It was exactly what a birthday party should be when you are two.


We had a great time too.  For me, the pre-party planning and decorating and making a cake.  For Byron, making a train table and finishing a small home project that made the place look nicer for the party (thanks for the baseboards, Byron).  During the party, we enjoyed visiting with a few friends while wrangling our little people -- catching up on moves, travels, the holiday festivities, and new year plans.


This birthday is still close enough to the big event that I remember well what this day held for me two years ago, too.  At breakfast this morning I remarked to Byron that at the same time two years ago . . . my water broke.  Argh.  It was only a few hours later -- 11:05 a.m. -- that Wyatt came on the scene. Nothing has been the same since.

What a smart and fun and fulfilling adventure this kid-thing has been.  I'm so extremely glad Wyatt is here.  So glad he is such a hilarious and caring and interesting person.  And, most of all, glad that I am his mom.

Happy Birthday, Wyatt!


Many thanks to our friend Tuffer Harris for generously snapping photos during the party.


04 January 2013

New


We have started this new year with lots of new things.  New words for Wyatt: "high five," "argentina" "tortilla" and "awesome" to name a few.  New house goals for the year ahead -- finish the bathrooms, replace the baseboards, redo the entry . . .   Some new personal goals as well -- more money into the retirement accounts, more vacations, more exercise . . .  less weight around our middles.  Most importantly, we are committed to spending more time this year with the people we care about -- family, friends near and far.  We've already gotten off to a good start by eating new year's brunch with my sister and her husband, and enjoying dinner on New Years Eve with some lovely friends we wish we saw more often. 

The garden is also promising new beginnings.  My camellia is nearly ready to bloom and the bulbs have sent up short little green shoots already.  I think the forsythia buds are fattening up too.   Most exciting . . . I'm planning a small orchard for the front side yard that, hopefully, will be planted in February and March. Such fun to plan!

In the veggie patch, the arugula, purple sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, and clumping onions are going strong.  The kale and chard and even some lettuces are still providing greens for our table since we've not have much of a hard frost yet.  And February is coming, which means I'll get to start planting (peas) and the garden begins again for real.  Oh how I do love this mild, albeit gray, climate of ours.

That said, we will enjoy a bright spot this weekend when we will get to see some of our parent-friends since we have a birthday party to attend and another to host.  Wyatt is turning two on Sunday.  Ours will be a low-key affair with very few people -- and only a few little people -- with almond butter sandwiches, play time, and double chocolate cake. 

You can probably tell that I'm excited about this new year.  It feels good to have a whole new year laid out before me.  One that I haven't squandered yet . . . one that holds all the good possibilities of a new adventure and none of the regrets associated with opportunities lost or not taken.  I'm quite happy about this new year.  I hope you are too.