Kitties are my weakness — maybe even more so than beer and foie gras. At house parties I am the person on the floor making friends with the host’s cats. In my neighborhood, I’m the house that stray cats flock to, knowing they will get food and pets (if they allow it).
When I started this blog, I had three cats each of whom got their own introductory post. I lost the oldest one, Friday, a few months later. Since then I’ve had only two, tuxedos Lucifer and Gus Gus, both strays that my husband and I took in after finding them on the streets. Even though they are years apart in age, they have clearly come to love each other like brothers.
Gus Gus giving Lucifer a bath.
While I adore my “gruesome twosome,” I admit over the past few months I have been dreaming of kittens. I’ve put off seriously looking to adopt because I guess in my heart I believe taking in a stray is the best thing to do. I also believe (since they’ve always managed to before) that the right stray will find me.
And — almost like magic — two days before Thanksgiving an abandoned kitten needing a home practically dropped in my lap. Well, literally, she was dropped at my company’s farm out in rural Oregon. I won’t spend much time talking about how callous a person must be to dump two kittens barely a month old in a box in the middle of winter…I’ll focus on the good part.
The kitten and her adorable brother, both deemed healthy by a vet, were brought to the office and immediately cuddled and fawned over by the whole staff. I laid claim to the girl kitty, a teeny tiny tortoiseshell, who the vet said weighed just over a pound. Her brother was taken home by one of my co-workers so the story really is a happy one.
It’s funny the way that holiday decorations can instantly bring me to a happy place. In December, the stress of holiday traveling melts away when I see my childhood stocking (made by my mother years ago) hung over the fireplace. In college, I remember the sense of connection and solace when my friends and I would do silly things like paint Easter eggs together or decorate our dorm rooms with hand-print turkeys. It made being away from home a little easier.
Seeing this vase makes me feel like I’m home.
This is how I feel every February when I go up to my grandma’s house for my birthday and see a familiar white vase on the table, full of pussy willows and dangling red heart candies. I feel like a kid again, like I’ve come home from camp or a weekend slumber party.
Logically, it doesn’t make much sense because growing up I was never at my grandparents’ house this time of year — I was always in school. Instead they would fly to Alaska (on alternate years) to visit my brother and me for our birthdays. I was oblivious to the whole pussy willow/candy heart tradition until I was living in Portland and began spending my birthday weekends with them in Tacoma. Yet, there’s still a nostalgic feeling attached to those little gummy hearts.
Maybe it’s because the story connected to the vase and its enticing sweets is so familiar. Every year I hear about my uncle, who in his younger days used to pull all the hearts off their strings, leaving behind the empty circles of thread as evidence. My grandma loves to tell me this story and honestly, every year I enjoy hearing her recount the memory. It makes me feel connected knowing that traditions (along with having a sweet tooth) remain a constant in my family.
There was a recipe, pulled from an issue of Saveur, that I’d been wanting to try out since December. It was the name that got to me: Dolores’s Brokenhearted Chicken, so-called “because it tastes so good it makes you hungry even if you’re heartbroken.”
It sounded like a dish that could cure any life woes — the very essence of comfort food. The chicken is cooked somewhere inbetween being roasted and braised in a sauce made of stock, sherry and butter. It’s topped with parsley to brighten the flavors and served with crusty bread. And while the chicken is good (very good in fact), it’s the luxurious sauce that is the true winner. It soaks into the bread making it almost like a custard — full of flavor and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
In other words, this was the perfect meal for me to make before I left on vacation a few weeks ago. I had been running around so much that I was mentally and physically exhausted. In fact, I was so rushed that I ended up making this after I ate a dinner of ramen, so that my husband could have dinner ready when he came home.
See, the thing with being married to a chef and having a day job means we are often like ships passing in the night. I’m asleep when he gets home, he’s asleep when I leave for work. I try to make his late nights a little better by having a plate of food waiting for him when he gets home. Having cooked professionally for years, I know the last thing you want to do at the end of the night is eat anything you’ve cooked yourself. It’s just so much better when someone makes it for you.
So while this chicken is supposed to be made to comfort the lovelorn, I like to think it better expresses my attempts at being a good wife. (In return, since marriage is a two-way street and all, my husband makes sure my kegerator is never empty. That’s love.)
Spring Asparagus Panzanella Salad with Radishes, Eggs and Pecorino
Two weeks ago my Easter plans were pretty loose — mainly revolving around the couch, a cat on my lap and maybe some bubbly in my hand. But things can change quickly. My grandfather, who was six months from his 98th birthday, suddenly became very ill and passed away last Thursday. Now I rarely get overly personal in these posts and I certainly don’t intend this one to get weepy, but I will say it’s been a very difficult week.
Luckily, I live close enough to my grandparents that I visited them as often as I could. And so after I heard the news, I packed up a bag and headed north to see my family. Many family members had made the pilgrimage, first to visit with him, and then to help plan the memorial. This was how I ended up cooking Easter dinner for nine last Sunday.
It was actually the perfect way to spend the day. For me cooking is a peaceful endeavor and it was nice not only to have a distraction but also a sense of purpose. And being surrounded by family as everyone traded stories about my grandfather (and discussed how people get famous from YouTube videos) was undoubtedly the best place to be.
Losing people you love is always hard. It was especially devastating for me to say good bye to the man who taught me to play cribbage, made me learn to use the brakes on my bike (long story!) and walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. But we honor these people with stories, recalling their memories to help continue their legacies.
To lighten things up, I’m going to tell you one of the more amusing stories being passed around over the weekend:
We had some friends over last weekend for a BBQ/wine drinking extravaganza. My husband and I had just reached our 5-year anniversary and thought there was no better way to celebrate than with some good wine, great food and even better company. So surrounded by some of our closest friends, we dined on a simple, but elegant dinner fueled by the power of vino.
A Ponzi pinot party!
The star of the show (well besides the magnum of 1996 Pinot Noir Reserve from Ponzi — given to us at our wedding, which was held at Ponzi Vineyards) was undoubtedly the steak. I bought it from work — a lovely grass-fed Uruguayan beef flap that only needed salt, pepper and a nice hot grill.
But no matter how delicious the meat is, I always feel like it needs some sort of sauce. Keeping with the idea of fresh and easy, I talked my husband into making salsa verde — one of my summer-time favorites. Salsa verde is a blend of finely chopped herbs, with capers, lemon and anchovies added help bring it all together.