Category Archives: Random Stories and Observations

Sterling Vineyards Ultimate Host Contest

The Hosting Calm Before the Storm

The Hosting Calm Before the Storm

The Backdrop of the Booth

The Backdrop of the Booth

The Booth

The Booth

Dessert Trays

Dessert Trays

The Judges Visit

The Judges Visit

Padma Samples the Food

Padma Samples the Food

Friends and blog followers know that I entered my “Wicked Wine Tasting” party in a contest to be named The Ultimate Host by Sterling Vineyards.  There were four separate challenges (Girls/Guys Night In, Wine and Dessert Pairings, Music and Wine Pairing, and the final was Host’s Choice) – I submitted an entry for the fourth challenge. Although I put quite a bit of effort into my entry, I must say, I didn’t think I would ever possibly win. Well, much to my pleasant surprise, I did win. All four semi-finalists would be flown to New York  to create the ultimate party in a 12×12 space for 150 people they did not know. The entries were judged by a panel of four judges; the head judge was Padma Lakshmi (of “Top Chef” fame).

So, I recently competed in the finals in New York, but was not lucky enough to take home the $25,000 prize (which also included a trip to Pebble Beach for the Food and Wine Expo, and a trip for two to Sterling Vineyards). While I am disappointed, it was a great experience overall. I really feel honored to have been a semi-finalist and it is awesome to be recognized for what I love to do which is to entertain and cook for people. Ironically, there were no cooking facilities at the site where the contest was held, so I had to order all of the food.

For those of you with whom I have not personally shared the details of my “party,” here’s a summary:

First, let me begin by saying that many of my ideas come to me when I am walking Humphrey; in fact, on some walks I have even found some items to use for decorations. So, I spent many an evening walk trying to come up with a theme for my party. (Note: the semi-finalists from earlier challenges did not have the two week crunch). Almost all of last year’s contestants did some kind of winter wonderland theme (the winner had a great apres ski party at “Mt. Sterling”), so I knew I would avoid that. One of the chapters in the textbook I use for my ESOL class describes the Chinese Five Elements and the need for balance in those elements. Since I teach mostly Asian students, have travelled extensively throughout Asia, and love to cook and eat Asian food, I thought I should try to do a party themed around the Five Elements. When I think about the most revered cuisines, all take into account balancing flavors and textures. Eg. Thai food always incorporates sweet, hot, sour, and salty. Everytime I cook, I think about balancing flavors. Certainly when one thinks of a good wine, one thinks of balance. Haven’t you noticed how wine descriptions will say something like “big and fruity with a hint of spice”? And then, think about pairing wine and food and you think about balancing the elements so that they are comlimentary. So that’s how my “Sterling Zen Den” evolved.

With my theme in place, the rest sort of just came to me (on my evening walks with Humphrey). I knew I would have to incorporate the Five Elements (Fire, Water, Earth. Wood, and Metal) into my booth and think about food that would fit the theme. Showcasing Sterling Vineyards (last year’s winner did Mt. Sterling)seemed like it should be a priority. I thought what if I could incorporate all of the elements into one memorable feature in the booth. I had a vision for a large S and a large V hanging on the wall with little shelves that held lit votive candles so that the SV resembled a marquis. Huge advantage for team Katherine – his name is Bryan. I tell him what I want, and he finds a way to make the perfect thing. The day after I learned I was a finalist, I went over to my “dear friend’s” house (yes, the one whose cat is the subject of Chronicles of an Ordinary Cat Sitter ) and we started brainstorming. She suggested incorporating birch since it is wood, popular in Asia, and also is kind of wintery. We found some cool rustic tables with birch legs, and you can probably guess what the next step was…ask Bryan to make one. Coincidentally, Bryan had brought back a bunch of birch logs from a recent fishing trip up north. Unfortunately, using the logs meant that “dear friend” would have to sacrifice her birch reindeer which he promised to make her. But she’s was OK with that – I  am probably indebted to her which will involve me catsitting again. So, needless to say, Bryan built a beautiful birch legged table.

Each contestant was given $3000 to put together the whole party, and you could not go over budget. If you wanted to use an item you already own, it would have a value attached to it. So, I had to keep “Mr. Open the Wallet” in line. I decided I should have a waterfall to incorporate the water element. I was going to look into renting a waterfall in New York, but Bryan, who also has inspired moments while walking Humphrey, suggested that he could make a waterfall – or two, for that matter. He came up with the idea of a waterfall with a shelf that showcases a bottle of wine – brilliant, but sounded complicated and probably not in the budget. Well, it turns out that Bryan was able to get a small remnant slab of granite from his stone supplier for free – yes, it did involve dumpster diving, but he was OK with that. So, I now had a piece that incorporated water and stone – why not try to include one more element? Bryan suggested that the water should flow into a galvinized steel tub (inexpensive at Tractor Supply) filled with rocks. Again, brilliant, but believe it or not, rocks are expensive, unless you collect them yourself from the shores of Lake Huron at your in-laws cottage. So, on our trip up to pick-up our Heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving, and our lamb, we stopped by and collected rocks.

I still hadn’t come up with a menu, but that would be the easy part, and all I had to do for wine pairings was to go talk to my friends at Kakos Market. I did learn that most of last year’s contestants did supply a party favor. Before I settled on birch as the main wood, I had considered bamboo, so I had bamboo on my mind when I remembered seeing mini live bamboo plants as give-aways somewhere. Sure enough, they are a popular favor at weddings and parties and you can purchase them in large quantities on-line from Eastern Leaf . My 150 mini bamboo trees arrived safely despite our recent cold weather. Note that I am not referencing the bamboo as lucky…well, for obvious reasons. I decided I would set the bamboo in a galvinized tub filled with rocks (I was overzealous in my rock collection effort). After much consideration (at one point I thought I shouldn’t have all Asian food, but that just didn’t make sense), I decided to serve California rolls (everyone loves sushi and I was competing in a wine event), Thai summer rolls, and beef satay. I also had a bowl with some rice cracker snacks, wasabi peas, and peanuts. I found a cute little Zen fondue pot on-line (what could be wrong with chocolate fondue?). While in Florida for my daughter’s lacrosse tournament, I discovered these chocolate rocks (candy cover chocolate that look like little rocks), and I figured those would be perfect. I also had a local bakery, Love and Buttercream  make sugar cookies with a yin yang symbol frosted on top. Those I carried on the plane with me to NYC – the other items (except for the sushi, summer rolls and satay) travelled by truck with Bryan. I went on-line and was lucky to find great restaurants that offered catering service – Sushi Zen prepared excellent California rolls (the restaurant itself is lovely) and I am grateful to Aceluck for delivering the spring rolls and satay right on time.

As Bryan was in the process of crafting the birch legged table, he cut some extra pieces of birch which I could use for pillar candle stands and to put under my serving trays to add some dimension. By the way, if you’re in need of candles, I highly recommend Quick Candles – inexpensive, good quality candles and votive holders delivered…you guessed it, quick (ly). Since I still had some extra rocks, I decided to write food and wine quotes on rocks and place those about the table. Someone actually stole one of my rocks during the show – come on, it’s a rock with a quote written on it! I also had to contend with “invitations” to give to the judges upon their arrival. I bought five specialty papers that represented the elements and then crafted an invitation for each of the judges that said why I chose that element for them (it was a stretch because there’s only so much you can learn about someone from their blog or website).

So, my dear Bryan loaded up his truck and drove out to NYC with his brother. I flew out the next day with my cookies and we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Tao (yes, even our night before dinner out fit my theme) which is where I went for my 40th birthday. The day of the event was a little stressful; we were to start unloading at 1:00 PM, but that was delayed by an hour because the space wasn’t ready yet, and we were to have our booths completed by 5:00 PM and ready for the party promptly at 6:00. Due to the late start, they gave us extra time. I changed clothes and put on make-up at 5:50PM.  I was so impressed with all of the other competitors and everyone was friendly and gracious (good qualities to have if you’re trying to be the Ultimate Host). It was amazing how different all of our themes were, and I was in awe at how much detail was taken into consideration. For the most part, except for those who devoured handfuls of sushi, the ones who stole things (bamboo pens, rock, wine glasses), the guests (approximately 400 of them) were wonderful. I enjoyed meeting new people, relished in the compliments, and felt very relaxed and at ease in my Zen space. By the time they announced the winner, I just desperately wanted to take off my killer bright red high heels and have a glass of wine. You can check out pictures of the other competitors booth on the Sterling Facebook page (you may have to scroll down a bit). You can check out the judges Blogs at: Catch My Party  (Jilliam Tohber Leslie) Dine and Dish  (Kristen Doyle) and Fab Femme (Eryka). Thanks to all who supported me in so many ways!

Campfire Cooking and Fishing the Au Sable

Canoe Camping Trip

Bryan and I went on our annual (well, almost annual) canoe camping trip this past weekend. We went out on the Au Sable river – a blue ribbon fly fishing river in Michigan. I had never camped before I met Bryan; quite frankly, I couldn’t stand the thought of sleeping on the hard ground. I agreed to the trip if we could find a reasonable sleeping arrangement – air mattresses. So, we purchased good quality, small and lightweight self-inflating air mattresses from R.E.I. and I was, literally, a happy camper.

Comfortable beds

You can bet that I wasn’t going to be eating a withered hot dog and potato chips, so between the two of us, we managed to provision for and prepare gourmet meals. The first year I did have a back-up plan for rain which involved cold cuts for sandwiches and yogurt and fruit for breakfast; but after three years, and quite a bit of rain, I have realized that Bryan can make a fire no matter what. (OK we did start cheating by stopping at a local farmstand and buying a couple bags of campfire wood – for a buck a bag – after our first year when there was rain in the forecast and we knew we wouldn’t be arriving to our first campsite until dark).

I love food cooked over the campfire; in fact, we joke about opening a campfire restaurant, but we both have real jobs. I first heard about campfire breakfast when Bryan took my son Jake on his first canoe camping trip. Jake couldn’t stop talking about how great the bacon, eggs, and hash browns were when cooked over the campfire. I couldn’t agree more, but add in another element…campfire coffee – it is like nothing you have ever tasted!

Campfire coffee to start the day

The key to gourmet camping is preparation. Since we have to pack everything into a canoe, we have to be prepared, but not overpacked. I pre-chop and, if necessary, marinate, all of our vegetables and meat. I only pack as many buns as we’ll need, and portion out all of the other ingredients. Granted, I use a ton of small ziploc bags and tupperware containers, but it makes a huge difference. Bryan has invested in great camping gear, so our eggs stay protected in a plastic egg crate, we have camping knives, cutting boards, camping cutlery, cooking grates, cast iron skillets, 5- 7 day coolers, and the most magnificent percolating camping coffee pot.

Our well provisioned canoe ready to launch on Day 2

The view from Day 1 Campsite

This year’s menus (not too different from previous years) included:

  •  Grilled Italian Chicken Sausages (the diet, though modified, continues) with grilled onions, peppers, garlic and crimini mushrooms, and spicy horseradish mustard on Sesame seed Hogie Rolls
  • Caprese Salad (fresh tomatoes and basil from our garden)
  • Fresh grilled Corn on the Cob

(Severe rain made photographing the first night’s dinner impossible)

Hashbrowns, bacon and coffee cooking over the hot coals

Eggs get cooked in the iron skillet which has a nice bacon flavor already- Yum!

  • Homemade Maple Cured Bacon
  • Eggs
  • Hashbrowns (frozen Oreida)
  • Campfire Coffee (great percolator coffee pot and Dunkin Donuts coffee)

    Bryan prepares the breakfast food (background) – I prepare breakfast cocktails (foreground)

  • Grilled thick-cut New York Sirloin steak
  • Baked (campfire cooked) potatoes with Yogurt sauce (chives, garlic, Seasoned salt and Pepper)
  • Fresh grilled Corn on the Cob

    The potatoes get drizzled with olive oil, pierced and well covered with foil. They cook directly amongst the hot coals.

Day 2 Dinner

We don’t eat breakfast until late morning, so we skip lunch, but if you want to pack cold cuts and bread (in case you don’t have a Bryan who can make a fire regardless of conditions), sandwiches would be a great mid-day river treat.

We’ve learned to pack paper plates, and burn all leftovers in the firepit at the end of the meal. At night, we tie up our garbage in a tree and hope that the critters don’t come too close to our tent. We love to fish, but don’t count on catching our meals (especially because I am always a catch and release fisherman). You can reduce your garbage by packing only what you need – most campsites do not have garbage facilities, so we have to “carry out” our garbage.

Bryan has iron skillets (the best) and he packs his own cooking grates (don’t count on finding a cooking grate, even if your campsite has an established iron fire ring). The skillets are well seasoned and the perfect campfire cooking ware.  And, as mentioned, the coffee pot is key.

We love to fish and canoe leisurely; this year the weather got to us, but it paid to be prepared. We still ended up with two beautiful days, we just had two dinners in the rain, which, were, nonetheless, delicious!

Coming off the river

Campsite Day 2

Fishing

Trying to dry out after the rain

Transportation stored for the night

Another view from camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diet – Day 1

Yes, it’s true, Bryan and I started a diet today. It’s rather intuitive that being an adventurous cook with a taste for rich gourmet food and starting a food blog is not a good recipe for one’s waistline. We will be eating a lot of vegetables and lean protein over the next few weeks, but I’m going to try to be as creative as I can, and I still have a few “pre-diet” recipes to post. Tonight we had Grilled Mustard Garlic Chicken Breasts and steamed broccoli. The chicken was a new concoction (I’ve never marinated chicken without Olive Oil), and it was actually really good, so I’ll post that recipe soon. Now, let’s keep in mind, that I have been hungry all day, so maybe the chicken just tasted good because I was hungry.

I don’t want to go on about the details of the diet, but let me just say that Day 1 was rough. I was texting my “don’t go on a diet because then you can’t go out for lunch and cocktails with me friend” while I was walking the dog. I’m sure she won’t mind if I share the dialogue. It kind of encapsulates my hungry state of mind. (I am K, and she is F)

  • K: I’m going to eat a dining room chair.
  • F: That’s troubling to me…
  • K: Because I’m that hungry or because the chairs are nice?
  • F: Cause you’re that hungry. I’m eating pot pie from Mrs. Kravitz.
  • K: Nice, someday I, too, may eat that.
  • F: If you don’t eat your own lips off first.
  • K: Right, dog leash might be tasty.
  • F: I hope I don’t find you grazing in the backyard like a goat.
  • K: I would be enticed if a tin can was involved.
  • F: Preferably with bacon grease inside.
  • K: Now that’s just mean, my mouth is watering.
  • F: Sorry, but bacon is good.
  • K: I know, it could end wars.
  • F: Indeed, I hear the FBI is using it to negotiate hostage situations.
  • K: Humphrey just discovered an abandoned bun on the sidewalk – I almost fought him for it.
  • F: You’d have won.
  • K: No doubt. Gives new meaning to street food.
  • F: Who needs a food truck when you have litter?
  • K: Right, Could be a new Food Network show.
  • K: Remind me never to become so passionate about a cause that I am willing to go on a hunger strike.
  • F: Right, that would just be stupid.
  • K: Just saw a bunny – thinking Hossenfeffer.
  • F: My cousin could whip you up a tasty meal.
  • K: Humphrey would fight me for that one- he’d probably win that one.
  • F: Indeed.
  • K: Did you know that sauerkraut is a probiotic? You can now feel very healthy about eating a Reuben.
  • F: Great. How does the 1000 Island factor in?
  • K: Probably not so good.
  • K: Wish I new more about mushrooms, I just saw a huge one.
  • F: LOL

 

Lazy Lunch at the Lake

BLT – the perfect cottage lunch

I am still struggling to pull myself away from the beautiful beach to cook and blog. We’ve been enjoying a lot of meals one would expect to eat at a cottage – grilled chicken, grilled steak, grilled potatoes, crisp salad etc. My BLT lover friend was here the other day and, you guessed it, we enjoyed BLTs for lunch. I didn’t even use fancy bread (it’s hard to find here), so we had our BLTs with grocery store Italian bread – toasted, of course. We did enjoy heirloom tomatoes and the bacon was the super thick cut that I buy from John Henry farms (they have a booth at our local farmer’s market, but they also deliver). What goes better with a BLT than sour cream and onion potato chips? We even ate off of cute plastic plates adorned with sailboats. I am going to try out a new risotto idea and I think I might pair it with a cranberry braised chicken – that is if I don’t spend too long at the beach and watching the Olympics.

The view of Lake Huron from the cottage

And it’s beautiful even after it rains

Humphrey training for Olympic kayaking

 

 

Lake Huron

Sunrise on Lake Huron

It’s not that I haven’t been cooking since our arrival at Lake Huron just over a week ago, it’s just hard to tear oneself away from the beautiful lake. We’ve had some great meals with friends and family and my waistline is paying the price. Internet service has also been sporadic even with the handy little 4G MiFi device. On one of our first nights at the cottage we enjoyed a dinner of London Broil, grilled potatoes, and salad with lettuce I harvested from the garden before I left. We had, literally, a houseful this weekend. We had homemade meatballs and marinara, (the meatballs served as lunch the next day as a meatball sandwich with melted provolone) chicken with creamy pesto sauce, (I had to make the pesto sauce in the smoothie maker which was the closest thing I had to a blender or food processor) and more fresh salad. We also grilled two boneless legs of lamb (see my Easter post for Alton Brown’s lamb recipe), scalloped potatoes, and caprese salad, and of course, grilled bread. Breakfast has included breakfast sandwiches with egg, swiss, avocado, and tomato. For the less healthy conscious, I served homemade buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy. As a farewell to our guests leaving this morning, I sent them off with “loaded” blueberry muffins. Now that the house has cleared out, I will focus on clearing out the leftovers and catching up on the blog. Currently 92 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, and the lake is breathtaking. Back to the beach!

This Year’s Garden

Summer 2012

As summer heats up, I’ve fallen behind on my food blogging; so I thought I would share with you why… the garden. Bryan, the kids, the dog, and I occupy a small, but what I like to think of as quaint, home on a postage stamp sized lot in a suburban community of Detroit Michigan which I often refer to as “Mayberry.” We’ve worked hard to try to transform what was once a somewhat barren (other than being ridden with lemon balm and mint) yard. When I moved to the house (pre-Bryan), the back porch was enclosed with aluminum walls and outdated windows. The floor was painted an obnoxious bright blue (they missed the mark if they were going for the U. of M. look). At first I thought it would be a good game room for the kids and me, but as summer approached, it occurred to me that the space would better serve as an outdoor living room. I had the walls and windows torn down, painted the floor black (which we recently stripped, as we are getting ready to tile it), added a rug, patio furniture and LOTS of planters. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with a home renovation decision. I sewed some side curtains to make the covered area seem more enclosed and room-like, and I hung a bamboo curtain over the expansive brick wall which, unfortunately, had been painted white.  The key to the charm of the patio, however, was the potted flowers. Annually I make the trek to my favorite greenhouse http://www.tellys.com/ and fill two full sized carts with a random assortment of flowers. I start with no plan, but just start trying to mix and match colors, shapes, and growth patterns.

A random collection soon to be “organized”

Over the years, I have come to rely on a couple of favorites which include any combination of blue with orange, pink with yellow and deep purple, a variety of coleus, trailers in a variety of colors ranging from grey to chartreuse, and I always buy a decorative clover (sometimes purple, sometimes green) for good luck. For my window boxes (both in front and a few in the back), I try to be a little more symmetrical and balanced, but I love the whimsical feel of the potters on the back porch.More Porch Potters

Climbing Beans in Potters against Garage

As a cook, and daughter of a past regional president of the Herb Society of America, it was imperative that I have an herb garden. After pulling most of the invasive lemon balm and mint (I will never grow either except in a pot), I tore up a patch of grass right in the center of my tiny yard and started an herb garden. I have quite a few perennials including sage, oregano, two varieties of creeping thyme, tarragon, lavender, chives, and my beloved sorrel. Every year I add such standard annuals as parsley (flat and curly), dill, cilantro, rosemary (for a few years my rosemary survived the winter), fennel, and, of course, basil. So, it’s the basil where things started to get a little out of control.  This year, we “cut back” a bit on the number of basil plants and varieties. We currently have 9 basil plants which include six varieties.

A few of our potted basil plants

Quite honestly, the only reason we cut back is that we couldn’t find our lemon and lime basil varieties – but the season is young, so we very well may end up with even more. Because we have such limited ground space, we grow most of our basil in pots, and it does just fine. This year’s basil varieties include:

  • Genovese Basil (Sweet Basil) – sweet, peppery flavor; excellent for pesto, Caprese salad and with almost any type of pasta.
  • Thai Basil (Holy Basil) – peppery, licorice type flavor; excellent in any Thai or Vietnamese dish – it just smells like Thai food.
  • Opal Basil (Purple Basil) – a strong basil flavor, excellent if you want color or used in flavored oils or in homemade vinagrettes.
  • Lettuce Leaf Basil – smells and tastes like sweet basil, it just looks a little different, which I think is cool
  • Pesto Basil – varigated small leafed basil, smells and tastes like pesto, as if the garlic is built right into the basil. I use it in place of pesto.
  • Spicy, Spray Globe Basil – small leafed, globe shaped plant with a spicy flavor. Excellent just added as a flavorful garnish to any dish which contains or beckons for basil flavor.

Here are a couple of links for websites which have more information about basil varieties:

http://www.basilbasics.com/basil-plants.html

http://www.herbcompanion.com/gardening/basil-varieties-a-cooks-guide-to-uncommon-basils.aspx

http://backyardpatch.blogspot.com/2011/06/holy-basil-herb-of-week.html

If you are going to have a basil obsession, why not have a tomato obsession – after all, what pairs better than tomatoes and basil? Bryan is really the tomato guy in the family. The first year that we planted multiple varieties of tomatoes, mostly heirlooms, he did a ton of research on caring for tomatoes. What he learned…tomatoes like to be touched and (I think this was just his own addition), talked to. After a long day managing laborers on commercial construction sites, Bryan enjoys time bonding with his tomatoes. I don’t complain because it means that he handles most of the evening watering. We grow a few tomatoes in the herb plot, but we grow the majority in pots which we scatter around the patio and other parts of the yard. This year we pulled out the day lillies which grew along the patio to make room for more tomatoes.

This year’s new tomato patch

This year’s tomato varieties include:

  • Black Krim (Heirloom) – cherry style, deep purple in color, sweet in flavor
  • Juliet- mini Roma style tomatoes, excellent flavor cooked or raw
  • New Yorker- one of the earliest emerging varieties, very hardy
  • Sunsugar – medium sized cherry style, orange in color, very sweet
  • Ponderosa Pink- Huge (up to 2 lbs) meaty tomato, excellent for eating or canning
  • Black Prince- described as rich and juicy. Excellent served raw
  • Bloody Butcher – early producing, 5-9 medium sized tomatoes per cluster
  • Green Zebra- chartreuse and green striped, sweet flavor with a bit of a bite
  • Rutgers-originally grown commercially, well known for smooth skin that doesn’t crack – reliable traditional tomato flavor
  • Watermelon Beefsteak – slightly scalloped shape, excellent flavor with just the right amount on acidity
  • Chocolate Cherry – sweet delicious complex flavor, can be picked and ripened indoors
  • Sugar Snacks – bite size super sweet tomatoes, grows in clusters

We purchase our heirlooms at our local farmer’s market, but there are plenty of companies which sell seeds on-line. Because our growing season is short here in Michigan, and I don’t have a good indoor starter space, we always buy plants.

I’ve always loved fresh cut greens (lettuce varieties), but they require quite a bit of room and are always susceptible to be raided by critters. In fact, since my cat (the world’s greatest hunter) died, my parsley and beans have been ravaged by a bold little bunny who I’m soon to introduce to my bunny hunting hound dog Humphrey. So, I decided I would try to grow lettuce in pots, more specifically, window boxes. Bryan built me a shelf along the fence between the neighbor’s yard, and we line it with window boxes filled with lettuce. It is pretty much bunny resistant, and, since lettuce needs constant harvesting, it allows us to share the bounty with our neighbors. Whether making a salad or just topping a burger or sandwich with lettuce, I just go out to the fence and cut the lettuce.Lettuce on the fence

We grow several varieties of lettuce including:

  • Arugula (my favorite)- peppery flavor excellent in salads, pasta and with beef carpaccio
  • Red Boston Lettuce
  • Boston Lettuce
  • Green Leaf Lettuce
  • Red Leaf Lettuce
  • Bibb- Butterhead
  • Bibb- varigated

A couple of tricks to keeping your lettuce going throughout the season: clip it often (you can store it in the fridge in a damp paper towel in a baggie), don’t let it flower – if it does, remove all flowers (seeds), and don’t overwater it.

Green Leaf Lettuce

The (Perilous) Chronicles of an Ordinary Catsitter

It has officially been forty-two hours since I have had contact with the feline incarnate of Satan. In an effort to avoid a lengthy bout of therapy- I’m not sure there’s a branch of psychology that deals with people who are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of encounters with a cat – I have decided to write about my experience.

It began innocently enough, well, now that I think about that, I question the innocent part. My dearest friend expressed panic because her cat sitter (apparently she knows the Mary Poppins for cats) fell through. She was thinking of asking the neighbor girls to help out, but she just “didn’t feel comfortable.” Well, now I know that’s a load of manure; the reality is most likely that her father, who happens to be her insurance agent, strongly advised her against enlisting the services of young children to care for the beast. Naively, I volunteered. I am the cat’s Godmother after all, which, by the way, I’m going to seek counsel from the church on how I can be excommunicated from such role.

Because I was not returning from Chicago until Friday, my duties would be limited to seven days, and her “malefriend” would take care of Sadie (her name, by the way, means “princess” in Hebrew) for the first two days. I had my doubts about malefriend, but was advised by text message that he had fulfilled his responsibilities and had even hung out with Sadie for a good portion of the day (of this anecdote I am very skeptical).

Day One: I arrived at the house of doom at about 1:00 pm. I figured I would feed the cat, hang out with her for a bit because she was probably lonely, and then head off to the nearby grocery store. I opened the door and Sadie was right there to greet me. I naively thought, “Oh, poor thing, she’s so lonely and happy that I’m here.” I said Hello, put down the mail, setting aside two magazines I thought I’d look at while I hung out with the cat, and headed to the couch to pet the cat who seemed much in need of attention. She was very loving, purring and rubbing up against me; she simply couldn’t get enough love. After a bit, I decided I’d go ahead and feed her and head out to hang out on the back porch which is one of Sadie’s favorite spots. I grabbed the magazines and started toward the kitchen. I had no sooner crossed the threshold to the kitchen when the onslaught began. Out of no where, Sadie started pawing at my legs (large blessing that she has no front claws, or I would have been mauled to death for sure), and trying to bite me. Dressed in capri pants and flip flops, I was not armored for such a surprise attack; I quickly lowered the larger of the two magazines to protect my legs and “shoo” the cat away. Well, apparently this maneuver was viewed as retaliatory, and Sadie went into full on battle mode, hissing, and making a blood curdling threatening sound which resembled nothing of a “meow.” I knew I had to escape. I headed for the porch, desperately trying to unlock the door before the cat reached the unprotected back of my legs. I made my way out to the porch, ego bruised, and decided that this was just an unusual incident and clearly Sadie had misinterpreted my intentions – she seemed to be “on guard”- possibly she was protecting her food (which, ironically, I was to be the purveyor of). I sat for a bit and distractedly tried to read the magazine. After a few minutes, Sadie sauntered out and I thought “OK, she’s happy to be out on the screened porch, clearly we just had a misunderstanding”. She came over and sat erectly on the floor directly in front of me. At first I thought all was OK, and then I saw it, the look in her eyes – it was nothing short of bloodthirsty. I admit, I panicked; all I could think of was how vulnerable I was just sitting here; she could leap up and be on my face in a matter of seconds. I bravely declared to her that I had had enough of her intimidation and was going to fill her bowl and leave – no nicey nice hanging out with the cat anymore. I made my way to the kitchen, all the while with an eye toward the door, and managed to get the cat food in the bowl before the aggressor returned. I waited, but Sadie apparently didn’t feel like coming in to eat yet. I was now faced with the dilemma of how to get the cat back in the house so that I could lock the back door – yes, it crossed my mind that I could just lock the cat outside, but I imagined her clawing her way out of the screen to go on a serial killing rampage throughout the otherwise quiet neighborhood. I was doubting that anyone had, as of yet, been over to care for the cat, because, surely, they would not have escaped unscathed, but then I saw the Fun Size Milky Way wrapper, undeniable evidence that “malefriend” had indeed been there. At last, after lurking in the doorway for a minute, Sadie came in to eat. She went right to her bowl and started to eat. I managed to slip by her, unnoticed, and locked the door. Great, now I could safely escape. I started out of the kitchen, and out of nowhere, there she was – she leapt in front of me prepared to avert my escape. I was now thoroughly confused, my theory about her guarding her food clearly did not hold true because I was the one who fed her. In the split second that I was pondering such, I was offguard enough to allow her another opportunity for attack, and she seized the opportunity. She started with the batting of the legs and the attempted biting when I yelled at her, “Sadie, stop it!” Well, that did not go over well, showing her alpha cat nature, she went fully up on her hind legs, opened her mouth, barred her enormous cat fangs and let out the most threatening deepthroated hiss one can imagine. That was it, I now started running for the door, hoping she was not in pursuit. I barely made it out alive.

After I had managed to calm my shaking, I called my “no longer so dear” friend and explained the situation. She explained that malefriend had described her as “frisky.” No, frisky are those cute little kittens who play with a ball of yarn on the Kitten Chow commercial – Sadie was far from frisky. As I shared more details about the attack in the kitchen, Sadie’s mother said that she does have a bad habit of biting, and she has started hissing lately – details not shared earlier, for obvious reasons. She also said that her other friend (not malefriend) who had come by earlier in the week said Sadie was like the Guardcat of the house. So, now I know I’m dealing with the equivalent of a feline Doberman. I went home and told Bryan about the episode and he flat out did not believe me. After all, he had been named the cat whisperer after taking care of both my cat and Sadie at my house for a weekend. While we were off for a “girls weekend,” he was texting us photos of the cats laying together happily in bed with him. Now, I can hardly believe I ever let that cat in my house. After one too many “Oh, don’t be ridiculous” and “You’re just exaggerating” comments, I decided that Bryan would have to accompany me the next day to witness the terror.

Day 2: The cat whisperer and I head out on our journey to feed that cat. It crosses my mind that we should have told someone where we were going – just in case we didn’t return. We entered the house, and Kujo was right there waiting for her prey. Bryan said hello and petted her and it was like a reunion; my heart swelled and I questioned whether I had just imagined the whole incident the day before. Just in case, I told Bryan to distract Sadie by petting her, while I made my way into the kitchen. I was able to get into the kitchen fill the food dishes and refresh the water without any sign of encroaching attack. Sadie came in to eat, Bryan helped himself to a fun-size Milky Way, as seems to be the trend with men, and we left without incident.

Day 3: Unwilling to admit to unrelenting fear, I asked Bryan if he wanted to go out for brunch. I chose a place near the lair. After brunch, I innocently suggested that we stop by to feed the cat. We arrived, fed the cat, and left – once again, all without incident. Prior to leaving, I had the foresight to put a bag of kitty treats in my purse, so that tomorrow I could use them as a decoy to keep the cat occupied while I made my way to the kitchen.

Day 4: The cat whisperer was busy all day, so I couldn’t rope him into accompanying me on my cat feeding duties. I procrastinated as long as I could, but then realized that allowing the cat to become to hungry would likely only bring out the worst in her. I contemplated calling my attorney and drafting a quick will, but decided that I was overreacting. I staved my fears as I turned the key in the lock. The guard cat was there to greet me, but she gave me a sad, almost innocent little meow. It was true, I had misjudged her, she was just lonely and confused. Surely, now she knew me – I was her caregiver, the one who feeds her. I petted her, spoke to her in that stupid high pitched voice that people use when talking to babies and called her affectionate names like Sadester, Pretty Kitty etc. I emptied a pile of treats on the floor and made my way to the kitchen. I had just gotten the food in the bowl, when the treat supply was exhausted and Sadie came into the kitchen. Sensing impending doom, I decided to be proactive and reached down to pet her. All seemed well until I stopped petting her, and then the batting of the legs started again. I petted her again and she seem to oblige, but she kept getting dangerously high up on her hind legs. I managed to set down the bowl of food while petting her and planned my escape. I had nearly made it out of the kitchen, when she came at me – running in front of me, blocking my path and batting at my legs. I told her to stop and go eat her food, and then, she bit me, right on the shin. I managed to escape, swearing at telling her that she was evil and didn’t deserve to be fed.

Day 5: After a restless night of nightmares about a giant black cat (the size of Godzilla) crushing my home, I woke up dreading my catsitting duties. Bryan was once again occupied, so I would have to go it alone again. Again, I procrastinated, putting away my clean clothes and organizing my soccer bag, when I had an epiphany. I would wear my soccer shin guards when I went to feed the cat – surely she wouldn’t be able to pierce through the hard injection molded plastic of my Adidas shin guards. I arrived at the house, put my shin guards over my heavy jeans (no more capris and flip flops for me), and was somewhat embarrassed thinking that the nosy neighbor Mrs. Cravitz might see me and wonder what was going on. I had a little trouble with one of the shin guards, it seemed the velcro had been compromised and the guard was only loosely attached – leaving a possible point of entry. I said a prayer and entered. I used the pile of treats tactics and made it to the kitchen with ease. However, upon my departure, the attack began. But, luckily the shin guards served as an effective shield. Satan seemed even more irritated at her defeat and I left the house muttering “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!”

Day 6: I had had a busy day of errands and was around the corner from the home of the housecat turned feral. I didn’t have my shinguards with me, but I was tired and didn’t want to go all the way home just to have to return and face my worst nightmare. Knees shaking, I approached the house. I took note of the “Protected by ADT” sign and thought what a waste of money to pay for an alarm system when you have a feline Doberman. I thought I might post Sadie’s picture under the ADT sign. I reached in my purse to pull out the treats and realized I had left them on the counter; I panicked. Thinking quickly, I decided that I would just pet Satan the whole time and maybe she wouldn’t attack. I entered and started in with the high pitched voice and the petting. It seemed to work. Hunched over, all the while petting the cat, I made my way to the kitchen. There were a couple of moments, like when I had to use two hands open the can of food, where it was touch and go because I stopped the petting, but I managed. I quickly put down the food bowl and made a very fast escape. Phew.

Day 7:  I woke up with a sore back (from the hunching over to pet the cat) but singing “Glory Glory Hallelulja” it was my final day of catsitting. In all of my rejoicing, I forgot to take my shin guards out of my soccer bag from my game the night before; I realized this, of course, only as I arrived at the lair. I decided my petting tactic from the day before had worked well, so I went with that. For some reason, the tactic didn’t work as well today. As I crossed the threshold, the batting began; I tried to dance around it, but, apparently my sudden movements were met with dismay and, yes, Satan bit me right where my  leg meets my foot – very tender skin. I screamed, which apparently scared her enough to retreat. I quickly filled the food bowls, checking behind me frequently, threw them down and burst toward the door. As I closed the door behind me a wave of relief passed through my shaking body – it was over, I had survived with all of my appendages intact. I texted my “not so dear friend” that she should be advised that her cat would likely be very happy to see her and then proceed to kill her in her sleep. So far, I think she is still alive.

For authentication purposes, I have transcribed the text messages from the days of my catsitting.

After my initial phone call graphically describing the horrific events of Day 1, I (K) received the following message from cat owner (A):

A: Was she just as bad today?

K: (no reply yet)

A: ??

K: (no reply yet)

A: Now I’m worried, did she attack u?

(After my reply that I slept late):

A: Was Sadie as bad yesterday?

K: No, Bryan was with me so he petted her while I snuck into the kitchen.

A: LOL – Cat Whisperer – maybe she likes men better

K: Right?

A: The dog has officially dropped three loads today in my room!!!! Apparently the 5 day mark is when she’s ready for me to leave.

K: I think day 5 is max for your cat Kujo

A: Oh no, was she bad again?

K: Bry went with me again – so she was ok but I’m still scared of her

A: Sorry, I feel horrible

K: It’s OK, I’ll go into therapy when u return

A: I know she feels bad

K: No, I’m pretty sure she just loathes me and wishes me dead

A: I like to think she misses me and is protecting the homestead

K: For sure – she’s like a feline doberman

A: LOL

(Next day)

K: Sadie attacked and bit me today when I was walking out of the kitchen – she’s crazy!!!!

A: Oh no, I feel horrible!!!!!!!!

K: I thought I had a system down- gave treats at door – I keep them in my purse. Then, while she was distracted with treats, I do food, but today she trapped me in the kitchen.

A: I’m so sorry!!! 😦

K: It’s really quite funny that I am terrified of my Godcat.

A: I know. I know in her heart she really loves you.

(Next day)

A: Was it bad again? It’s ok to swat her or spray her.

K: My system now includes shin guards – works pretty well but she still attacks. Will try to send you a video

A: Perfect

(Next Day)

K: She did not even attempt to attack me today – I just petted her the whole time while I made my way to kitchen – did make fast escape though- feel bad

A: No worries, glad she was nicer

K: I think she’s saving all her energy because I’m quite sure she’s plotting to kill u in ur sleep

A: I’ll be home Saturday

K: We’ll plan your funeral for the long Easter weekend

A. Boo

(Next Day)

A: How was Sadie?

K: Seemed fine at first then got bored w food while I was tending to plants so she bit me

A: I’m sorry, no shin guards?

K: No played soccer last pm and forgot to take them out of the bag

(After owner’s return)

K: How is ur cat?

A: She hissed at me and bit me but fine now thanks again!!!

K: Lol! I swear she went feral in ur absence. She needs a good brushing but lord knows I wasn’t going to attempt that – I might have lost a limb!

A: Right, will prob wait myself

K: Good plan

A: Sadie has an apology gift for you

K: Is she getting her fangs removed?

A: Sorry that was more than she was planning to spend.

END