My parents have replaced me with kittens. Again.

(This post originally appeared on my old Open Salon blog on May 14, 2009)

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My dad’s new kitten prodigies.  Soon they’ll be doing advanced calculus.

My dad’s been driving me crazy lately.  Dad is retired and spends most of his time at home up in Canada.  He’s got books to read and he’s taken to feeding the neighborhood cats in his backyard while he tends his tiny little garden.  When dad hasn’t been making friends with all the cats in town, he’s upstairs on his computer.

I’ve threatened to come up there and personally disconnect his Internet access.  No, he’s not cruising porn sites.  These sites are much, much worse.

Conspiracy-ridden, right-wing nut job websites.

Every day I’d talk to him, he’d feel it was his duty to let me know the latest.  “You should start stockpiling some food, you know.  I hear Obama’s going to give Monsanto a contract to make all the food for the entire country.” he told me one day.  Ugh.  The next day it was something about the Census and taking GPS readings to determine where all the guns in the country were.

Give a retired man with too much time on his hands a computer with Internet access and he can make you insane.  I was soon dreading those phone calls.

So I was pretty happy to hear that one of his neighbors had given him two eight week old kittens from their cats’ latest litter.  Dad even got the ”joy” of hearing the conception of these kittens on a cold night in February in the backyard.

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Come on, say it!  Say, “AWWWWWWW!”  You know you can’t resist!

Their names are Bonnie and Clyde.  Clyde is the all grey puff of smoky fur and Bonnie’s the mixed tabbyish kitty. The names are highly appropriate names given their behaviors.  Now when I call me dad to see how things are going, the conversations don’t include any more conspiracy theories or any more doom and gloom news.  Now it goes something like this:

“Hi dad.  How’s things?”
“Hi.  They pooped in the litter box today.”
“Oh, that’s great.  Did you get some sleep last night or did they keep you up?”
“They woke us up at 3 while they were running up and down the stairs.  Normally I’d be mad, but it was really cute.”
“They sound just like children.”
“HA!  Did you see that?  Clyde just tackled Bonnie.”
Yes dad, of course I can see that.  On the phone.
“So how’s the weather?”
“HAHAHAHAHAA!  Now they’re chasing each other down the hall!”
“Uh huh.  Alex drove the car yesterday.”
“Wow!  They’re really beating each other up!”
“I’m pregnant with twins.  They’ll be born tomorrow.”
“Awwwwww!  Now they’re licking each other!  That’s so cute!”
“Dad, the world just exploded.”
“Did you hear them meow?  Tell me you heard that!”

*sigh* Yes.  I’ve been replaced.  All that there is now is the cats.

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If you look really carefully, you might be able to see that Clyde is polydactyl.

It’s not the first time.  Shortly after I left home, my parents adapted two cats from a friend and named them Thelma and Louise (you’ll detect a theme here with movie character pairs that go on crime sprees).  They were tiny kittens when they brought them home and didn’t know how to eat, drink or use the litter box.  My dad, the kitty midwife that he is, taught them how to do all of that.  It got to the point that they would crawl up into his lap and start suckling on his sweater.

Thelma and Louise were beautiful cats.  There was only one problem.  They hated me.  I would come for a visit and they would hiss and hide.  I had never had a cat do that to me before.  For Louise, just the scent of me was enough to make her mad.  But they had my dad’s heart and they kept my parents company after I left the country. Sometimes it was as if they knew it.  When I would leave to go to the airport to go home, I swear I could see Louise sticking her tongue out at me when I left.

Evil Thelma
I shall burn you with my evil laser kitty eyes! Thelma in her usual spot whenever I’d come to visit.

Thelma and Louise lived to a ripe old age until finally succumbing to it.  There were months where my dad swore off of having cats again.  He was so hurt and so upset by their passing, less than a year apart from each other, that he wasn’t sure he could handle having, and eventually losing at some time in the future, another beloved pet.

You can get me that cat food anytime now

Louise would put up with me.  Especially if I was in the kitchen.  But if I pet her and she went back to Thelma, she’d get hissed at for letting me touch her.

Until now.  These little buggers have stolen his heart.  He’s happy and laughing and loves watching their antics.  He’s much happier than he was when he was looking for the latest “news” online.

It was as if what he found on the computer would make his life so dull.  Now Bonnie and Clyde have made it so much brighter.

Kitchen Tip – How to avoid mushy potatoes in stews and soups

I love potatoes.  It must be the Dutchman in me.

However, I hate mushy potatoes.  I can understand mushy potatoes in something like a Potato and Leek soup.  Mushy, as in pureed.  It still had better have some good, toothy chunks of potatoes in it though, just to add a little substance to it.  Bacon too, but I digress.

Want to put a stew or soup on the stove or in the oven, but don’t want to worry about what time you need to put in the potatoes to get them all cooked in?  And don’t want to throw them all in when you put everything in the pot and probably end up with mushy, mealy potatoes?

Here’s what you do.

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Cut up your potatoes as you normally would, peeling them if you’d like.  I use Yukon Golds, because I love their flavor and how well they keep after a few hours of steaming.  If you’d like, add a little dash of salt to them. Wrap them up in a foil packet, sealing them tight and place on top of your soup or stew, then cover and simmer your stew for however many hours you’d like, or place in the oven for a few hours. Not only will your dinner cook, but so will your potatoes.

When you’re ready to serve, carefully unwrap the packet and pour your nicely steamed chunks of potatoes into your stew and stir them in.

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An extra bonus – this works with Crock Pots and slow cookers too.  Do the same thing: wrap up your potatoes in a foil packet, place on top of your food, cover and let cook.  Since they’re happily steaming away in their own little environment, they’ll be just fine.

Bon appetit!

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(PS – if you want to add frozen peas to your soup or stew though, like I did, don’t put them in the pot before you cook everything together.  They won’t be green when you’re done.  Just stir them, still frozen, into your soup or stew about the same time you put in the potatoes, or about five or ten minutes before serving.  The residual heat from the stew and the pot will cook them and keep them green)

Presentation is everything

Here.  This should make you drool a little.
Pastry offerings at Eric Kayser in the 5th arrondisement, Paris

How often has this happened to you?

You’re sitting in a restaurant. Maybe you’re sipping the remainder of a nice glass of wine after the dishes from your main course have been cleared away. You’re quite content with the dinner you’ve had. No, you’re satisfied. You really could just go on to coffee and the bill and call it a good night out.

And then a server goes by with another tables’ dessert. It looks fabulous. Your eyes light up and your mouth drops as you take in a short, quiet gasp.

Your eyebrow lifts. Suddenly, your stomach makes room and invites your brain to say, “I’ll have the same thing.”

You’ve no doubt heard the classic phrase, “You eat with your eyes.” This is absolutely true when you’re in Paris. Walk by any storefront, especially during the holiday season, and you’ll see the most amazing displays of chocolate, pastries, breads or cheeses that would be enough to set your mouth to watering and your feet to walking through the door to make a purchase. Or at the very least, it’s enough to put you in a holiday mood, especially when you see that twinkle of joy in a child’s eyes as they peer into the window display with anticipation.

The window at La Mere de la Famille on Rue Cler

Christmas chocolate on display at La Mere de la Famille on Rue Cler, Paris

The French take food presentation very seriously. It’s art. Go to a French restaurant and chances are, your order will be beautifully displayed and you’ll pause to admire it before picking up your knife and fork to start eating it (unless you’re really hungry of course). In the kitchen, presentation is a big deal. Sure, you can make a chateaubriand that tastes great, but if it looks terrible in presentation on the plate, who would want to eat it? It would show bad on the kitchen and even worse on the chef. Slap it onto a plate with a few smears of stray sauce and throw on a few potatoes and shove it out of the kitchen, you’d be guaranteed a disappointed diner and, in these days of instant Internet reviews and pictures online of meals, you’d be sure that word would get around and the number of customers would drop.
The same thing is true in French stores.

Christmas gingerbread

Christmas gingerbreads at the Christmas Market along the Champs Elysees

Look at the window displays. It’s not just a paper sign giving their hours. It’s a literal cornucopia of their holiday offerings. If they don’t tempt you to go inside, at the very least, you’ll think about how beautiful the food looked.

Laduree's windows of macarons

Laduree’s holiday macaron window display along the Champs Elysees

One of the biggest themes I took away from seeing these beautifully arranged windows, buying the meticulously arranged and presented boxes of chocolates or candies or sitting down to a plate of amazing looking food was this – they actually care about their food. And not only do they care about the product going into the boxes or bags or plates, they respect it.

I really would have no trouble serving myself.  Really.  *ahem*

Macarons ready for the choosing at Larnicol

Think about it. When you go to a store and ask for a dozen rolls, what do you take away from the experience? If someone just throws them into a bag, twists it and shoves it to you and says, “That’ll be $2.99,” what do you walk out of the store thinking? Do you think anything of it at all? Now say you walk into a store, ask for a dozen rolls that are carefully placed into a box, sealed with a sticker giving the name and address of the bakery and it’s carefully passed to you as if live chicks were inside. That should tell you that not only does the person behind the counter respect the product that’s coming out of the back, but believes in it enough to treat it with care (and hopefully you will too as you take it home).

Another example of that awesome packaging

Box of chocolate paves from Michel Chaudun, sealed shut with ribbon and a wax seal

If there’s enough respect and care for the food as it goes out of the store, then chances are there’s a lot of respect and care going into it as it’s made. And trust me. When it comes to food, the French know when something isn’t made with care. An éclair made without real cream? Bread made from frozen dough rather than made by hand in the store? Trying to serve products like that to customers would be suicide for a store. Not only would it make you look cheap, but it would show disrespect – to the customer and to the very trade that they are practicing.

Laurent Dubois’ cheese creations at Place Maubert

It’s a lesson that we could learn in the US. Maybe if we came to appreciate the aesthetics of our food more, and even enjoy the little luxuries of a wonderful pastry or loaf of bread, properly and lovingly made, maybe there wouldn’t be a problem with obesity or overeating. Maybe if we felt satisfied with our experience in eating a fabulous piece of tart or cake, we wouldn’t feel the need to mindlessly eat a box of cookies that had never been touched by human hands as they came out of the factory.

Quite literally, we’ve lost touch with our food.

Patrick Roger chocolates

Chocolate offerings at Patrick Roger