31 October 2010

I win at life.


And the aftermath.


24 October 2010

Shoes and ships and sailing wax

Sorry to leave you all hanging. I have a good excuse though. My new job is excellent. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but so far so good. I am SO glad to be working with some of the best litigators in the country! Man, do they know how to go after bad people who do bad things!

Also Dave has been out of the house a lot; one of his bands will be recording a new album (an LP? What the hell is the difference these days?) out in LA. They have been working very diligently, so diligently that Dave got bronchitis on top of a cold. This is sort of funny since I had an unrelated cold which progressed to bronchitis a week before. I think I was in denial about being sick because I decided not to take anything to reduce my fever in the hopes that a high fever would burn the virus out quicker.

It turned out not to be such a great idea. I planned to monitor my temperature and take something if my temperature went up past 102F, but when I wasn't paying attention it shot up to 103 and I spent a very uncomfortable night in a wringing wet bed. If I had known my fever was that high I would have taken something for it but it turns out you can't read a thermometer when your brain is busy cooking itself. It's like being on recreational drugs without the recreational aspect. My temp dropped by itself overnight to a mere 101, which is when I discovered the results of the previous evening's failed attempt to read the thermometer.

Oh well. I called in sick for a second day in a row and went to the doctor, who diagnosed bronchitis and gave me a z-pack and a note for work. (Then when I got into work no one would take the note from me because they all believed me. So I tucked it in between the pages of my employee handbook, because I didn't know what else to do with it.) I'm probably dumb enough to avoid going to the doctor even after that fever, but I am a nonsmoker and therefore when my insides became coated in gray gunk it seemed like there was more to the story. I was pretty relieved not to have pneumonia actually. According to the doctor bronchitis vs. pneumonia is really a matter of the location, location, location of your bacterial infection. How gross is that thought, by the way? At least as gross as gray mucus.

The cats were all pretty happy to have me home though. Obviously - I was toasty warm and slept for 20 hours a day. It's a cat's dream come true. And Bob showed me how there is now not a single surface in the house that he cannot reach. He is the giantest asshole I have ever met, and I have met some bad cats in my day. I think the assholery is the pigheadedness of really superior cat who is trying to figure out his place in the world.

Nibbles is no slouch either - she has figured out how to open drawers and I am pretty sure she opened the kitchen cabinet on her own the other day. But Nibbles is lazier and prettier than Bob, and she's friendlier too. She generally overcomes visitors by putting her paw in their chest and looking deep into their eyes. She did this with my landlord the other day, which was extra useful since he had stopped by because the rent was late. (He was super nice about it actually, and perhaps a little distracted by Nibbles climbing up his chest onto his head while purring ecstatically.)

All the cats seem to have been super naughty lately. I'm attributing this to switching them all to wet food (in preparation for a transition to a raw diet). Apparently dry food is like crack for cats, and almost as bad for them. Or they could just be energetic because we haven't been around very much. Whatever - the little fuckers want to party all the time.

We tried them with raw meat for the first time last night, actually, and four out of the five went for it with gusto. The holdout was Pip, who has also been the slowest to get excited about eating wet food. Pip is actually what prompted the switch to a raw diet (which, I *know*, is totally a crazy cat lady thing to do). He had a bladder "blockage" which cost $1700 and a trip to the veterinary ER to unblock. It was caused by him eating dry food and not drinking enough water. If he had been eating wet food, it's extremely unlikely that this would have happened. I was searching online to find out more about the bladder blockage and found Lisa Pierson's extremely authoritative site about the benefits of a raw diet. She is not only a vet but she talks about a groundbreaking study (which I can't find right now, argh) done by a vet which compared several generations of cats who were fed dry food only vs. a natural diet - within a couple of generations the dry-only cats had developed some serious problems.)

Besides it being a pain in the ass to deal with raw food, my reservation about a raw diet was how much it would cost and whether or not it would be okay for Lucky (who is diabetic) and Pip to eat instead of their presciption food. I couldn't work out how the cost compares to prescription canned food because I didn't know how much cats eat a day. It's based on their body weight, but most cats are around the 5 ounces/day mark. (The equivalent of five mice! This is unreasonably interesting to me. For our cats to support themselves they would need 25 mice per day between them!@ Holy shit!) But Lisa Pierson actually crunches the numbers and works out the cost (.64/cat/day) - which is cheaper than Pip's prescription canned food. A 6 pound bag of dry Rx for Lucky costs about thirty five bucks, or sick bucks a pound, That's a lot more expensive than the raw diet, which is about two bucks a pound. (Science Diet is like .18 cents a pounds, which is really kind of scary when you think about it.)

So there have turned out to be a surprising number of side benefits which I didn't expect just from the switch to canned food. It's easier to feed them - they all have two meals a day, all at the same time, and then we can clean the counters completely between meals. (In fact, we are almost at a point where we will be able to feed them all on the floor instead of having to keep dry kibble available at all times on the counters for Pip, Wiggles (aka Nibbles) and Little Bobby Dickface. Yes! Having a bowl of food on the counter has grossed me out for years!)

Also the litter boxes smell less terrible. I don't know what they put into the dry food, but it's pretty awful when it comes out the other end. Supposedly a raw diet will render the poops odorless, or almost odorless. If this is true, it's worth switching only for that reason. My goal in housekeeping is to have a house where you would never know that we had cats if the cats themselves didn't come out to say hello. This means cleaning the litterboxes a LOT and vacuuming a LOT. (I wish I had a good way to pick up pet hair on soft furnishings.) If the litterboxes are less grody, it's a little easier for me to deal with cleaning them when I come in the door after work. Cook's Illustrated recently reviewed robot vacuums. I've wanted one for a while but I don't know anyone who has one and could tell me how well they really work; however, if CI says they're worth the money then I trust them. (Apparently there is even a robot which will mop the floor! I love this idea since mopping the kitchen floor is one of my least favorite tasks.)

Another funny thing: I said that all the cats liked the raw chicken except for Pip; the PigBear loved the chicken but actually stopped eating it when she was full. I have never before seen her stop eating of her own volition. I'm hopeful that we might be able to help her lose weight with the raw diet (it's really easy to calculate how many calories she'll need based on her weight.) We just need a vet scale, and thanks - again - to Lisa Pierson, I know where to buy one online.

Lucky in particular went for the raw chicken with gusto. We don't know the history of his first three years; Dave's friend adopted him because her cleaning lady found him hanging around outside a dumpster, so I wonder if he went for the meat because he has had experience living rough? (on the other hand, I know Bob and Nibbles never hunted outside and they liked it, so who knows.)

One other happy thing about the raw diet: since I'm buying decent meat for the cats this means that we'll probably have more meat around, which bodes well for the humans. In a post which I can't find right now, Jennifer Reese of the Tipsy Baker observes that cooking vegetarian requires a lot more work than cooking meat. (I am super envious of her pet goat having, chicken keeping lifestyle. I hate plain eggs but they'd be handy to feed the cats.) I gave the cats one chicken breast last night and Dave and I had the other two for our dinner. When we ate dinner, none of the cats begged for food. ... because they were full? Because cats find raw meat infinitely more delicious than cooked? A fluke? Only time will tell.

It was the easiest and most delicious thing I have made in a while. Dave is still feeling kind of punky from his illness so it was a comfort food kind of night. I read Nigel Slater for inspiration (he is such a good food writer, and what's more, I don't think I have ever made any of his recipes and had it turn out badly. Probably in part because his recipes are super flexible.)

I sauteed a chicken breast in 1 tbl butter (yes - just butter) and then deglazed the pan with some vegetable stock (Slater calls for white wine, which would have been better but I had none), then added some buttermilk (Slater says yoghurt or creme fraiche, but again I had neither.) I let it all bubble away for a while, reducing and concentrating the flavor. The heat made the buttermilk split into tiny, unattractive white globules (this would not have happened if I'd used creme fraiche) so while the sauce was reducing I made a quick roux (browned the 1 tbsp flour on one side of a nonstick pan while 2 tbls of butter melted on the other side, then combined the two and added the dregs of some vegetable stock) and stirred it into the sauce, which thickened it up a bit and, more importantly, camouflaged the split buttermilk. Then I added the juice from a leftover half a lemon, tasted the sauce, decided it needed capers, and added a tablespoon or so of those plus a little brine from the jar. (I would not have needed a roux at all had I used yoghurt or creme fraiche, and the sauce would have reduced more quickly too.) Once the sauce had thickened up to my liking I threw in about a half a cup of basil leaves from the plant which has been yellowing sadly on top of the fridge ever since the weather turned cold and I brought it indoors.

While all this was happening I had a spaghetti squash roasting in a 450F oven. (I split it in half, scooped out the seeds and strings, salted and peppered it and put it face down in a glass baking dish for about half an hour. I suspect I left it in there longer than that, but overcooking spaghetti squash wasn't a big risk, and in fact, it was fine.) Once the chicken and its sauce were ready, I piled the spaghetti-like squash innards (not an appealing simile, sorry) into shallow pasta bowls and put the chicken breasts on top and then poured the sauce on top of everything. Apart from the use of spaghetti squash instead of angel hair pasta, this is the Italian restaurant comfort food of my childhood. (Well, as a kid I would have ordered veal instead of chicken, but who's counting?)

Also, despite the use of butter, it was incredibly healthy. Three tablespoons of butter isn't much (about 300 calories) when the rest of the meal is boneless skinless chicken breasts and squash - I didn't set out to make a diet meal but apparently that's what happened. I also didn't have to fuck around chopping and sauteing onion and garlic for a soffrito (aka mirepoix if you're feeling froggy), which is something I almost always have to make when I am cooking vegetarian in order to get some depth of flavor. Meat is so much easier to build a meal around and it provides a flavor that vegetables, delicious in their own right, can't produce. And that's why I will never be vegetarian. But I do want ethically treated meat, i.e. animals that have good lives right up until the day they are killed so that I can eat them. (If I lived in a place where I could get excellent produce year round, I think vegetarianism would be a lot easier. But I live in Boston where the growing season is four months long, hence the almost perpetual need for a soffrito.)

And that's all she wrote for now. Don't forget to tune in for another episode about really dowdy and unfashionable ways to spend your time.

11 October 2010

from now on, I calls 'em as I sees 'em

...not like I ever did mince words. I'm more towards the "blunt to the point of rudeness" end of the spectrum.

The past ten days have totally kicked my ass into the stratosphere, and not in a good way. So no insights from me.

But listen to this song, because it's one of my favorites, even if I am embedding it via gootube (currently* I have a hateon for Google and all its minions)

* I'm sure that by tomorrow morning I'll be back to welcoming our new Googlous overlords. In the meantime I'm hacked off.

01 October 2010

It may be time for an intervention

I just got all excited thinking about looking at my data to see if it makes a bell curve and what it looks like in a scatterplot chart. This seems like a problematic trend.

On the positive side, my high school math teacher would be proud (thanks, Mr Murphy! Even though I referred to my time with you as "probability and sadistics" all year, it turned out to be pretty handy lo these many years later.)