Monday, August 8, 2022

International Cat Day by Jenn McKinlay

JENN McKINLAY: Apparently, August 8th is the International Day of the Cat. This seems only fitting then that this is my week to host the blog since this has truly been the summer of the cat. 

It started so innocently...

This guy who we call Shackleton because much like the polar explorer, he is brave but dumb (I don't really know if Ernest Shackleton was dumb so much as he was overly optimistic about his outcomes) and the name certainly fits this little fellow who is afraid of nothing...nothing! This video is our first meeting when he was three weeks old and just trotted right up to me and demanded my attention.

Shack Attack!!!

He got it! Once I saw his fam - a very young Mama and FOUR kittens - I felt like I needed to help her out - it takes a village, after all - and so I began feeding them twice per day in our side yard where she'd decided to hunker down, bringing toys, etc. You know, typical Auntie stuff.

Then it became apparent that we were going to need to step up and find them homes because street cat life is hard and we wanted more for them than that. I started feeding them in a cat carrier and one day (when they were about 10 weeks old) they all piled in to eat and I just shut the door. Mama watched me and (I swear) she gave me the slowest blink ever. I like to think it was her way of saying, "I trust you." I told her she was a great mom and promised that her kittens would have happy loving homes.

Since Hooligan 2 had moved out to go to college, we had his vacant bedroom and it became the kitten room. One of the kittens, who resembles a beige tiger, did not come out from under the bed for two weeks. I was certain we'd have to neuter him and release him back into the wild. Yeah, no...

Shh, don't wake the baby!

Named El Tigre because he was all teeth and claws, he has become the biggest Mama's boy in the house. Seriously, I am shocked.

One of the four rescues was adopted. See? I'm not totally hopeless! We called him Danny (short for Danger! because every time he saw me when he was tiny, he'd puff up and scamper away as if shouting "Danger!") His new mom dotes on him and sends us pictures and videos. His new name is Max :)

And then there is Wynona. Small but mighty. She keeps up with her bigger brothers and is the fiercest hunter of the three - look out crickets! She was almost adopted but the cat in the house she was to go to was not having it. I was secretly relieved. I mean just look at that face!

She's modeling a post surgery sock-onesie,
which I learned from mystery writer Tammy Kaehler,
who also rescues and fosters kittens if you need a cute FB follow.

Sometimes the universe just knows what you need. It's been tough around here entering empty nest land. While I did push the Hooligans out of the nest, I've missed the yelling, wrestling, farting (okay, not that one so much) that was daily life with young men. Now I have these three scamps, who make us laugh every day. The Trips (short for triplets) have blended into our home seamlessly - all of our other pets are equally amused by them - so obviously we're a monster foster fail and the remaining three are staying.

Hub is a spectacular cat daddy!

Presently, we have two dogs, one fish, and six cats in the house. How many felines makes you an official cat lady? Does it have to be in the double digits? Or do I just need to always be covered in cat hair and constantly showing everyone I meet pictures of my cats? 

All right, Reds, who else is a cat lover in the group? How many do you have (or have had)? If you’re not a cat lover, what is your pet of choice and no pets is a perfectly acceptable answer, in fact, I envy your sanity. Also, if anyone wants a cat, I can help you out! Just sayin’.

LUCY BURDETTE: Raising hand here, I am a cat lady. I don’t think you have to go higher than six, Jenn, lol. The highest number I had was nine and it was too many! They began to turn on each other. But one at a time, I love cats! You’ve already met my T-bone, most handsome cat ever!

HALLIE EPHRON: Raising both hands here. I don’t have any but I adore cats. Jerry and I had a pair of stinkers when we lived in NY. Black and white cats that we got when they were tiny abandoned kittens and then had to give away when my cat allergy put me in the hospital. 

Three Little Kittens Lost Their Mittens - Jerry Touger

HANK PHILLIPI RYAN: Oh, yes, love them. SO much. They are endlessly hilarious, and so smart, such good role models for self-care. :-) When I was a kid, and living essentially in the most rural of places, we had…the gorgeous all-white Rosemary, and Rosemary's babies, named F. Scott and Zelda. At the same time, a feral cat called Picnic,and my darling Mrs. Purdy, who had kittens in my closet on the first day of school. But as a family of maybe 5 people at the time, that’s kinda only one each. So I figure  you can do cat math and allocation. And as an adult, I’ve only had two at once, and I hesitated at that for the very reason you mention. But then, stray Leon, (who I found when I was out jogging and was about to go to the shelter to prevent me from being a cat lady), was so ridiculously adorable that I could not resist. Even though my Lola did not acknowledge his existence for the 14 years they shared an apartment.

Jonathan and Lola, clearly a creature from another planet. Lola I mean. Circa 1995.

(Oh and I just saw this on Twitter:  “Here's a common scam that is going around that you should know about: Sometimes cats will meow at you like they haven't been fed, but in fact someone DID feed them and they're just trying to get fed again.”)

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Jenn, I've been following your kittens with absolute delight. And, yes, I am a cat lover. Dogs, too, but I can't imagine life without cats. They are endlessly amusing, and anyone who thinks cats aren't affectionate must never have owned (or been owned BY) one. We are now a two-tabby household, as we lost our little tuxedo guy to kidney disease just recently. Yasu is the Tail-less One–she was found badly injured as a kitten and her tail had to be amputated, after which she came to live with us. Lucy was a neighborhood cat who adopted us, and we are the most doting cat humans ever. I think we have an invisible sign on our door that says "Suckers here!" 



RHYS BOWEN:  We only had one cat. He was a big orange male who adopted us when we had to live in a rented house after moving back to CA from Texas. Absolutely adorable. He walked the kids to school in the mornings, would come running beside my car when I turned into our street and wanted to be in on all our activities including sitting on the board or in the box when we played board games. He was the most lovable and loving animal ever and I still miss him.


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oh, yeah. We never had cats when I was growing up, and the few dogs wound up going to other good homes because when you suddenly get posted to another country, what else do you do? (Dogs and military life can be hard to mix.) But when I got married, it was to Ross and his cat, Big Mac, who was at our wedding! Since then, we've had a one or two cat household. Mac was followed by Georgie, who bit everyone and then ran away within a few months, followed by Anastasia, then Juno (who we thought had scabs and missing hair from a hard life on the street, but who turned out instead to have allergies requiring expensive shots and pricey allergen-free food.)


Our senior-most pet is Neko, Anastasia's sister, who is a sleek and healthy twelve. Her special role in the house is to lay next to me on my desk while I'm writing, interrupt me for skritches, and shed enough hair so I have to get my laptop professionally cleaned periodically. 


How about you, Readers? Cat lover or no? Tell us about your felines!

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Elegant Smoked Trout Pate for Sunday Entertaining with Celia Wakefield

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's my Sunday, which means it's another amazing recipe from our own Celia Wakefield. I have had this smoked trout pate many time, and can assure you it is divine.  Take some time to put it together and, of you can't eat it at a lake house, you can enjoy it while sitting with your feet in a tub of cold water with a fan blowing on you!

Alfresco dining? We New Englanders look forward to alfresco weather through the winter and into the spring each year. I like to mark our first breakfast on the deck each year with a photo which I inevitably upload to Facebook to make friends envious both of the morning and of the deck with our lake view. As I write the temperature is in the 90’sF, and we have spent the past couple of days in the house keeping cool and dry. But I have not given up hope of Alfresco meals to come, hopefully with friends.


Thinking back to meals out of doors in England, one was always on a knives edge as to whether it would rain or no. I can think of several meals on a freezing beach wearing a damp suit because it was a matter of pride to go into the water, freezing or not. But reading about the heat wave in England makes me glad we live in Maine. Julia and I started discussing outdoors food well in advance of the next blog. We are on the proactive, planning train right now and we will have no procrastinating deadlines. If I want to bribe Julia all I have to do is promise her smoked trout pate. In fact when Julia asked me where I had found my recipe for Smoked Trout Pate, and would I share it with you I could not believe that I had not done so already.This is the story of immigration and recognizing my passion.

Arriving in the USA on July 31, 1969 brought me here at a tumultuous time in - Vietnam War, Betty Friedan and women lib, the ERA, Roe vs Wade, Watergate, Cosmo or did you read MS magazine? I was overwhelmed with a myriad new experiences; a guard with a gun, Friendly’s, Chinatown, my first road trip to Vermont culminating in a night in Victor’s bachelor pup tent where I awoke with claustrophobia  in the middle of the night and tried to leave via the side wall, being told loudly by the assistant in B. Altman's that she couldn’t understand what I was talking about. I realized I had a lot to learn. 


We lived on 34th and Third in a twentieth floor studio which Victor had found when he arrived early in 1967. Becoming pregnant, I was quite sure that life with a baby needed more space, so we bought a house in the NYC ‘burbs when we learned we would not be returning to the UK. I got used to suburban life, made friends and of course friends = entertaining which for me was a chance to cook something new.

Summers were filled with outdoor activities, festivals and alfresco dining; Shakespeare at Stratford, Ct., music at the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Estate, the home of the Yale Summer Music Festival, more music at Caramoor. So different from my previous life in London. Each event was an opportunity to create a new recipe and all that went along with it. 


Yes, I would pack a cloth, napkins, silver goblets - a wedding gift from my room mates in London - wine, the works. Wine or sangria went into a thermos so as evade the powers of whatever place we were eating. But it was at the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Estate that I first heard the Tokyo String Quartet and made Smoked Trout Pate as our share toward the diner sur l’herbe. I loved creating meals to go and while I enjoy a tasty sandwich, how much more fun was a spinach quiche, or boned chicken stuffed with Middle Eastern spices. Since my first alfresco efforts I have spread my wings into catering, demonstrations and even helped the Junior League with a cook book launch lunch. At a local country club of course.

But my smoked trout pate is very close to my heart. First with the arrival of the Cuisinart, making pate or pesto, not to mention pastry, spreads, compound butters etc. became a much easier task. I think of the hours spent at the turn of the twentieth century, in the kitchens of the gentry where a teenage girl would work away with a pestle and mortar on sandwich meat or fish pastes (as they were called) for tea on the lawn. With a food processor it becomes the work of a few minutes to mix to the needed consistency.


Smoked trout usually comes in packs of two fillets which is pretty much the whole trout without the head. The best brand is Ducktrap from Maine but I also buy smoked trout at Trader Joes. I am sure there are other local brands around the country. The other important ingredient is unsalted butter. Here in Maine I can buy Kate’s butter which is also a local and I think spreading further than Maine now. To offer some ideas of quantity, I have made up as little as one fillet with about 2+ to 4 oz butter. But it is really better to use the whole two fillets unless someone in your house likes them for lunch. For a party as part of the food being offered I would use two packs which should give you enough to fill a 3 cup mold like my red fish. 


Presentation can be important for a party if people don’t know what it is which is why I use fish related molds or plates. Early in my catering career a lovely Italian man said to me that I should always serve the smoked trout pate molded like a fish whenever possible. I’ve had the fish mold for at least forty years.


1 pack Smoked Trout fillets

1/2 # unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp grated horseradish (bottled not fresh unless you have it growing)

1/2 fresh lemon juice

1.    Soften butter,( usually a couple of hours on the counter)


2.    Squeeze a half lemon


3.    Bone the trout fillets - break the trout in half down the line between ribcage meat and top. Put the rib meat into the FP (food processor) with about a 1/4 of the softened butter.


4.    Taking the other piece of fish and starting from the head end, break into one inch pieces and carefully feel for the pinbones. The video demonstrates how to find and remove the pinbones even though the fish shown isn’t a trout. I realize that these are very small fiddly bones but in a smooth mix they do show up. I usually use my fingers to remove the pinbones but a small tweezer saves one's hands too.




5.    Add half the lemon juice and all the horseradish to the FP, with more butter and pieces of trout as you bone them. You may not need all the butter and lemon juice or you may find on tasting that you need a little more juice or some of the flavorings. 


6.    Mix in FP about 10 seconds then check the consistency. Add a little more butter if it is not smooth enough or tastes dry. You are aiming for a smooth consistency with a taste of the fish, lemon and horseradish. Not adding the butter all at once helps you judge how the mixture is coming together and you will know when it reaches a consistency you enjoy. The amount of fish in the pack is not a standard measure which is why I recommend adding the other ingredients a little at a time. 



7.    Scrape out into a buttered mold or onto a dish, cover with the used butter papers and wrap tightly in plastic, then refrigerate.


Time to serve! I usually serve smoked trout pate with water biscuits, but very thin crisp toast is great too. Did you notice there’s no salt in this recipe? There is plenty in the smoking mixture and the pate shows to its best on unsalted crackers. This is a gluten free recipe so it also goes well on the rice crackers which are GF. I have served it with crudities - in fact, anything it can be spread on.

ENJOY! I hope you enjoy trying the pate as much as Julia does and it is a star in my kitchen.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

I was this many days old when I learned...

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I was headed over to the Pop sugar website to look for book information. Now, if you have never been to, I encourage you to give it a try for their terrific book recommendations. They have praised, among others, our own Jenn McKinlay, in one of their "best books of summer" lists. They also provide lists of recommendations for thrillers, mysteries, women's fiction and nonfiction; really a must-read site for me when it comes to finding new releases.

However! While I usually go straight to the book section, the other day I thought I would take a look at the main page. They do a lot of of celebrity gossip, music news, and generally give an insight into the culture of today. And it was right there that I realized I know absolutely nothing about the culture of today.

Scrolling past the stories about actors and singers I had never heard of, I ran across a "reviewed and approved" landing site, that sent the reader to six different evidently fabulous products. Reader, I didn't recognize any of them. And when I say I didn't recognize them, I mean in several instances I only understood individual words.


Let's take the first item on the list. Smart toothbrush. I understand each of those words individually, but combined? I'm baffled. Does the toothbrush send alerts to your cell phone if you're not brushing long enough? Does it nag you to put in a full 4 minutes 3 times a day? It has been well over 50 years since I've had to have anyone remind me to brush my teeth, and I'm not sure why I need an artificially intelligent toothbrush to take the place of my mother.

The second item: bamboo sneakers. I have sneakers. You have sneakers. We all have sneakers. Are your sneakers made of bamboo? I recall a very hippie dippy Whole Earth Catalog kind of flip flop back in the late 70s that was made of some sort of rush matting. Are these sneakers the latest iteration of that idea? If I walk in the National Zoo, will pandas attempt to eat my sneakers?

Item the third: mineral sunscreen. Okay, this I understand. Mineral sunscreen protects you from the potentially killing rays of the sun by putting a thick chalky layer on your skin. I think? I'm waiting for the expose that reveals the minerals for this wholesome sun protection actually come from exploitative minds that are somehow worsening the climate crisis and probably expanding the whole in the ozone layer. (I don't think we have a hole in the ozone layer anymore, but I suppose it's always possible to get a new one!)

Fourth item. Organic matcha. I have to confess I inadvertently cheated on this. I was mentioning this list to my brother-in-law Dan and I said, "I know what matcha is. It's that Chilean drink that is whisked up in a gourd." Reader, it will not surprise you to learn I was wrong. Dan explained I was thinking of yerba matta; matcha is powdered green tea from Japan. His youngest son loves it, which just goes to prove that all of these items are probably aimed at generation Z. I, on the other hand, am part of generation Zzzzzz.

Fifth on the list. OOKIOH Swim. It could be a swimsuit. It could be a new exercise craze. It could be something completely unrelated to actual swimming, sort of like the "Adult Swim" comedy show on one of the cable networks. (Or is it a cartoon show?) Whatever it is, it's probably smart, organic, and made of natural items like grasses and rocks.

Finally, the sixth item, which is the only one containing no words I recognize. Caraway Cookwa. I'm pretty sure the tasty seeds are spelled differently, right? And what is a cookwa? Is this some sort of portable Australian camping stove? Something you take along to the Billabong? We've seen the reinvention of the pressure cooker, in the form of the hot pot, and we've seen the reintroduction of sous vide, which I am under the impression was originally some sort of 16th century cooking method. Perhaps a cookwa is an updated sort of wok. One that talks to your phone, and Alexa, and your smart toothbrush, so it knows to make sure you brush your teeth after you've eaten dinner.

All I can say for certain is; I am not the target audience for this section of I have a sneaking suspicion the mainstream of culture has passed me completely by, and if I want to find products that make sense to me, and that I can envision using, I should probably subscribe to AARP magazine.

How about you, dear readers? Without checking, do you know what these "Reviewed and Approved" items do? Are you in touch with the pulse of contemporary consumer society? Or are you more Prevention magazine and Reader's Digest?