Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Cat’s Dream

Raoul says, “I’m helping!”


When we were first married, my husband and I lived in a WWII era four-plex on a busy corner in Albany, California, next door to Berkeley.  The bottom apartment on the left in the modest white clapboard house with green shutters was our home for four and a half years. Although the place was tiny, it was comfortable for the two of us and our, by now, three indoor cats.
We had a half-size apartment stove, which competed for space in the kitchen with the water heater, the refrigerator and place settings for the cats. In our dollhouse kitchen, all movements had to be carefully choreographed if we were to work together. We perfected the do-si-do maneuver necessary to pass from the corner sink to the stove as we chopped, washed or stirred. Storage space was at a premium; we sacrificed the cute drop-out-of-a cupboard ironing board and turned its niche into a spice rack. The biggest and least practical horizontal surface was the deep triangular shelf that reached back from the tiled backsplash. A macramé plant holder, containing a spindly specimen reaching toward the only window, hung from a hook in the ceiling over the shelf.

We cooked together a lot. We’d make big pots of chili and pans of cornbread for our post- football game parties, and actually used our crock pot—a standard issue wedding present in the ’70’s. Another house specialty in those days was our famous spaghetti, always accompanied by crunchy garlic bread and lots of jug red.

Branching out a bit, we started experimenting with Chinese dishes, using a Time Life book (another wedding present). I made wonton soup from scratch, chopping by hand  in those pre-food processor days the pork, ginger and spinach for the filling, then folding the wrappers, sealing them with moistened fingers and dropping them into homemade chicken broth. Our big wok, a gift we had actually asked for, barely fit on the stovetop, but we used it to stir fry a variety of dishes.
Our menus grew in scope and level of difficulty, and we sought new challenges. Why not try Peking duck with Mandarin pancakes, scallion brushes and hoisin sauce – the whole deal?  We purchased a fresh duck, then read step one of the recipe, which directed us to “loop a length of white cord under the wings,” and then “suspend the bird from the string in a cool, airy place for 3 hours to dry the skin, or train a fan on it for 2 hours.” Exploring our options for this part of the process, we took down the plant and hung up the duck.
Fueling up for the hunt

We dragged out our electric rotisserie (a generous wedding present from a great-aunt) and placed it on the shelf above the sink, directly underneath the dangling duck. This immediately blew a fuse, which meant we had to unplug whatever else was plugged in for the duration of the drying-out period. Plug in, blow fuse, repeat. Meanwhile, juices from the duck hit the red-hot heating element below, producing a sizzling siren song for the cats.  The three of them:–Catrina the calico with the crooked tail, Midnite, the skittish long-haired black cat, and sleek, gray Kinky Raoul– lined up and posed like ancient stone cats, their eyes glued to the flightless indoor bird. Six eyes narrowed to slits; an occasional ear twitched. If that duck made a move, I’m sure they would have jumped straight up in the air like cartoon cats. I don’t know what was more amusing–the cats watching the duck, or us watching the cats watching the duck.

After a couple of hours, the hapless duck was liberated from its noose and plunged into a boiling concoction of water, honey, ginger root and scallions. The cats used this reprieve to huddle together. I imagined them pooling their knowledge in order to calculate the precise amount of thrust and velocity required to leap up and take a whack at the duck, should such an opportunity present itself in the future.
Following its dip in the flavorful aromatic bath, the bird was strung up again to twist slowly in the window for another couple of hours. Eventually the cats sensed the futility of their duck watch. One by one, they crept off to find a square of sunlight somewhere, there to sleep and dream of indoor ducks, cooked and crispy, within their grasp.

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