Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kitties, California and oysters.

First: Thank you all so much for your warm-hearted comments on my last post. It has been nearly two weeks since we lost such a big part of our little family, and even more since I last held Tim in my arms. Moving on gets easier with each day. Writing that post helped.

The first few days without Tim in the apartment were brutal. We kept catching random items out of the corner of our eyes and mistaking them for him, perched in his favorite spots, waiting patiently for attention. We missed his greetings when we walked through the door and the warmth of his fur when he slept. By this past Saturday, we had visited four different animal shelters in the area, trying our best to be patient and find kittens who belonged in our family -- who could make our home complete again. We didn't want to rush into anything.

On Monday, we found them and brought them home.


So, without further ado, please meet Omar (left) and Marlo (right). They've only been around for a few days, and already I know that Marlo loves to eat (girl after my own heart) and Omar loves to fight (he's little but ferocious, ferocious but sweet). They're our babies, and we're so excited that we get to love them for the rest of their lives.

Second: California. With all the kitty business going around here lately, I haven't had time to tell you about our trip! This changes right now. Starting with the oysters.

the marshall store.

I haven't always been crazy about oysters. In fact, I still wouldn't consider myself crazy about them at all. But I like them a lot, and that's something I couldn't say after trying them raw just a couple of times before. Before now, I thought they were just OK. Good, but nothing special. But the way some people eat them like they're slurpy diamonds plucked from the sea -- my dad, for example, who, if offered to share a plate of a dozen raw oysters with his daughter, will eat almost all of them if she's not careful, and will likely not save the last one for her -- I really did want to love them.

the marshall store.

I don't know what made these different. Maybe it was because of where and how we ate them: At the Marshall Store in Tomales Bay, slurping them off the half shell over wooden counters looking over the blue skies and water, with pelicans flying not far overhead. We bought  fresh oysters from the Tomales Bay Oyster Company off Highway 1, and drove them back along the windy road to our rental beach house to eat them hot off the grill with beer, bread and cheese. I think these are the ways oysters are meant to be eaten.

the marshall store.
the marshall store.
the marshall store.

If you're not sure about oysters raw, then get them on the grill. And if you're going to grill them, be sure to add a generous douse of olive oil and garlic. That's the way my brother-in-law, Matt, got Murdo (who had tried the oysters raw at the Marshall Store and decided they weren't for him) to love oysters so much, he started counting the remaining shells on the grill to make sure he got his fair share.

Matt used this recipe from Simply Recipes, skipping the parsley and red chili flakes and adding extra garlic. He used an oven mitt and a knife to pry the shells off, just after they started to bubble and open on the grill. We spooned olive oil and garlic into the shells, then returned them to the grill to finish cooking.

And then we feasted. Because that's what makes oysters special, really -- the feast, and the surroundings, and the company you keep through it all. I get it now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Last Friday, we packed up our bags and headed to California for a family vacation. Before taking off, we dropped off a very sick kitty at Murdo's parents' house, with instructions for how to administer his subcutaneous fluids and how much to feed him. We brought his scratch box and toy mice, his blanket and his treats. We set up a comfy spot for him in the closet of Murdo's old bedroom, with his water dish nearby. When I said goodbye to him right before we left, I was hoping it wouldn't be the last time. But I knew it was a possibility.

Tim had been suffering from chronic renal failure for more than two years. His kidneys were no longer working like they should've been, and after a week spent at the vet's office two summers ago hooked up to an IV and barely eating, we all thought he was going to die. Although he lived, and fought, and showed us just how strong of a cat he could be each day for the past 25 months, the last few have been very rough on him. Just a few weeks ago, he was diagnosed with anemia, making him very cold and weak. He wobbled when he walked. He didn't always make it to the litter box. There were good days and bad, and then, more bad days than good. When we left him last Friday, he was still getting worse.

We were supposed to be gone for nine days, and we knew it would be hard on him. We thought he would make it, that he would wait for us. After eight days, we knew he was hanging on by just a thread. Murdo took an early flight back to Chicago on Saturday afternoon, and Tim died in his arms that night. He was 15 years old.

We keep saying that he was waiting for Murdo. That he was waiting for him to come home. He was too weak to walk or even lift his head at that point, but when Murdo got there and picked him up, Tim started purring. Murdo packed up his things and brought him back to our apartment, and after carrying him through the door, Tim took a few sniffs and knew he was home. His head went limp, and he was gone.

He died in Murdo's arms. He knew he wasn't alone or abandoned. He was surrounded by familiar smells and wrapped up in a loving heartbeat. In the same arms that held him 15 years before during a near-death experience as a kitten, rushing to the emergency clinic due to an allergic reaction. He lived through that, too, and spent the rest of his life as Murdo's best friend, companion, family member, and for the last six years, mine as well. He was a well-loved cat, and he lived a good, long life. With warm blankets and long naps. Scraps of lunch meat in the kitchen and cat nip on his toys. Late-night hunts for packaged bread. Lazy afternoons in his favorite grassy spot. Lots of lap time, and chest time, and spooning time. He was the kind of cat who even cat-haters loved. Thinking about these things makes it easier.

The little things that he left behind, however, don't make it easy at all. I came home on Sunday night to an apartment that felt incomplete. His food dish is still sitting out by the hallway, and every time I look at it, I see him there, waiting to be fed. I see him sitting outside the bathroom door when I'm getting ready in the morning. I see his sweet face looking up from the floor next to me as I write this. He's still here with me, and while I never want him to leave, this presence he left behind makes my heart ache.

When I finish writing this, I will get up and clean his food dish. Tomorrow, I will gather up and wash the towels we kept on his chair when he could no longer control his bladder. We will return the remaining unopened cans of his kidney diet food to the vet. We will keep our ears and eyes open for a pair of kittens, a brother and a sister duo, who will help make our little family complete once again. We will move on, and we will always love him.

Tim is buried in his favorite spot in Murdo's old backyard. There is a mound of rocks covering his grave. Below, he sleeps curled with his toy mice -- one to lay with, and one to play with. And there is a jar, with a piece of paper on which Murdo wrote:

R.I.P. Tiny Tim Yahsuh MacKenzie (Yah) the Unblinking; Barn Born and Barely Housebroken, the Lord of the Back Yard, Converter of Cat Haters, Survivor of State College and Constant Companion, Him Who Was Not To Be Denied. Here lies the best cat that ever lived, and an even better friend. Loved by many, forgotten by none. We will meet again.

Two years ago, Death stared Tim in the face. He never blinked, but one day we all must close our eyes.

Tiny Tim
July 1996 - August 20, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011


butterfly shellssan francisco
I'm in California.
Here's what I've been looking at
and eating
and soaking in
all week.
I'll be back next week
with much, much more.
Hello! And happy Friday!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hot dogs, kimchi and Chicago-style.

Sometime late last month, I can't recall the exact day, I started getting sick of hot dogs. This is probably a common occurrence come August for most people, when summer is starting to wind down and we look at the calendar with wide eyes and start frantically filling our weekends with visits to the lake house, the fair, the beach.


But for me, hot dogs aren't even just a summer food. I eat them and love them year-round, even in winter, when tomatoes are a no-no (I prefer my dog dragged through the garden, in true Chicago style) and the grill is covered in snow. I'll gladly throw a couple of hot dogs in the microwave, quickly chop up onion and tomatoes, bust out the pickles and mustard, and have dinner on the table in less than 10 minutes. Which is why we've been eating hot dogs once a week, every week around here lately, and probably why I've started getting sick of them, and why I still pencil them into our weekly menu anyway.

So when hot dog night rolled around last week, instead of the usual Chicago-style, I opted for something different: kimchi. Yes, I put kimchi on my hot dog. And I liked it. And I'd eat another one, too.

kimchi hot dog

Some of you may have heard of a kimchi hot dog, and many of you probably haven't. I had never heard of it until my friend Diana gave me a recipe for kimchi hot dogs, inspired by a company called Asia Dog in New York City, that called for homemade spicy kimchi relish, spicy ketchup, jalapeno mustard and topped with crushed potato chips.

Since I already had kimchi in the fridge, and I didn't have any jalapenos, I veered away from Di's recipe. Instead, I chopped up the store-bought kimchi, mixed some plain yellow mustard with Sriracha hot sauce, and piled the toppings onto an organic, grass-fed, all-beef dog nestled in a poppy seed bun. I ate two of them.

If you've never had kimchi before, I wouldn't recommend putting it on a hot dog as your first experience. Get to a Korean BBQ joint, preferably with a real Korean if you know one, and try the kimchi with galbi or bulgogi or both. If you like meat, you'll like Korean food. If you like spicy, pickled vegetables, you'll like kimchi. If you like kimchi, you'll like kimchi hot dogs.

If you don't like kimchi, I understand. I spent a good part of my childhood associating kimchi with stinky, spoiled cabbage. I'd scrunch my nose and make a face whenever my parents opened a jar. But tastes change, and thank goodness for that.

My taste for the Chicago-style hot dog, however, will never change. I may be sick of it for now, but I'll love it always. 

My Chicago-style Hot Dogs
The traditional Chicago-style hot dog, according to Vienna Beef, includes the following toppings: yellow mustard, bright green relish, chopped onion, tomato wedges, one pickle spear, sport peppers, celery salt, one all-beef frank and a poppy seed bun. I skip the relish and celery salt and sometimes eat sport peppers, but only on the side. Below is my version/assembly method. Although I don't include all the traditional ingredients, I think the tomatoes, pickle and no-ketchup rule qualify mine as still completely Chicago-style.

1 all-beef frank*
1 poppy seed hot dog bun
plain yellow mustard
finely chopped white onion, as much as you can handle
2 tomato wedges
1 Claussen kosher dill pickle spear**

Cook your frank according to package directions. You can steam it, grill it or even microwave it. Nestle the frank in the bun, then squirt 2-3 fine lines of mustard on one side of the bun, near the bottom of the frank. Sprinkle a handful of chopped white onion over the frank, so that the majority of the onion is on the mustard-less side of the bun. Insert the tomato wedges on the mustard side of the bun. Top with pickle spear.

Makes 1 hot dog.

Kimchi Hot Dogs
You can buy kimchi at most Asian grocery stores. Some supermarkets may also carry kimchi -- check the refrigerated section where they keep the won ton wrappers, tofu, etc. Or you can make your own kimchi with recipes from David Lebovitz or Steamy Kitchen.

1 all-beef frank*
1/2 cup kimchi, chopped
1 hot dog bun
1 tablespoon Sriracha hot sauce
2 tablespoons plain yellow mustard

For the Sriracha mustard, mix the Sriracha and mustard in a small bowl. Adjust according to tastes.

Cook frank according to package direction. Nestle frank in hot dog bun. Spread Sriracha mustard on one side of the bun. Top with as much kimchi as you like.

Makes 1 kimchi dog. Don't be scared. 

*Get a good quality, all-beef frank. I recommend Vienna Beef or Hebrew National, although for the kimchi dogs I used Applegate 100% organic grass-fed and finished all-beef franks. They're a bit more expensive but oh. so. good.

**Must be Claussen. No other store-bought pickle compares.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I am a writer.

Some days, the thoughts just flow out of my fingers, and it's just so easy, and it feels so good.

I've noticed that this often happens when I'm writing comments on other people's blogs -- that I can organize my own thoughts when I'm responding to theirs. That it's the conversation that gets me going. Writing can't just be about only the thoughts in my own head, after all. If that were the case, I might as well be talking to myself. I think that's what makes the blogging community such an inspirational force.


Other times, many times, I struggle. I stare at the blank page. I type words, I read over them, I delete.

Sometimes I write because I feel like I have to.

Molly posted some thoughts about writing today -- about how we do what we do, and avoid what we do, and feel better when we know others do and feel the same as we do -- and they really struck a chord with me. So much so that I started writing an email to her in response. And a paragraph or two in, I realized that I was doing it. I was finally writing what I've been wanting to get out for what seems like ages. I decided that in addition to sending her that email, I'd post it here, too. It might just be an email, but there are words on the page, and they're mine.

(You can read Molly's post here.)


Thanks for writing this post, Molly, and for sharing your thoughts on writing. I was just thinking about my own writing yesterday, and if it's really what I'm supposed to be doing, since it's not really something I particularly want to do every day. My day job is to write content for clients every day, and I'm good at it, but it gets old sometimes. A lot of times. Lately, I'd much rather be holding a camera in my hands, letting my pictures speak for me, just staying silent in the background, with no words to put on the page. Does this mean that writing is just my work, but not really my passion? I almost came to the conclusion that I don't love writing.

But reading your post, and thinking about it more, makes me realize that writing is just a part of who I am, and always has been. There is no escaping that. It's what I do. It's what I know. It's why I keep a blog. It's why I collect journals and fill them with scribbles just to stay sane. And we don't always love everything about ourselves all the time, but that doesn't make it any less a part of who we are.

So I'll keep writing. Of course I'll keep writing. What was I thinking? I don't think I'm capable of stopping. It's what I do. It's who I am. And every so often, I have to remind myself that being a writer is all I've ever wanted to be, and now I can finally say that I am.

Thank you for helping me find those words.