In memory of Thomas, the fattest cat I knew

Thomas was my cat. He was my first love, my begrudging fluffy companion. He showed affection through sprawling ceremoniously in the same room as me, or not scratching me when he could have. When he was feeling particularly generous, he might have curled up on the couch to steal my body heat or gingerly placed a single paw against my leg. I can count on one hand the number of times I tricked him into sitting on my lap for more than 10 seconds without force. I loved that cat- I still do. After around 16 long years of eye squeezes, affectionate mrowls, and chasing robins that he would never catch, Thomas left us to go eat the big can of tuna in the sky. Or, more likely, snub it. Just to teach them a lesson.

 

Thomas was a BIG cat. We adopted him when he was around 9 months old from the Humane Society a few days after Christmas. At the time, he was normal sized- a little gangly even- for an adolescent kitlet, but it didn’t take long for him to grow, and grow, and grow. When all was said and done, Thomas Oliver Jenkins weighed in at a hefty 17 lbs. He wasn’t obese, he was just… large, and had a little belly that wobbled when he walked. We think he was a Turkish Van Tabby- the odd color pattern of his coat matched the trademark orange tuft between the ears and ringed orange tail, and of course the most loveable part- his orange moustache.  Thomas also had an affinity for water- or the sink at least- another trait of his supposed ancestors. This justified his bigger size, since that breed is known to be more robust than most. Yes, I am making excuses.

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Large, in charge
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Please put me down
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In his younger years, rocking a bowtie
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Sink cat

Despite our best efforts to keep him inside as a house cat, Thomas had other plans. He became an adept escape artist, and within weeks could open both sliding and regular doors. Always the opportunist, he would wait for the most inconvenient time to slip out between your legs and make a beeline for the dark crawlspace under the deck, where he knew no one could reach him. Eventually, we stopped fighting it. His daily routine included meowing at the door until someone let him out, then in, then out again. On cold mornings, he would stand with his front paws on the porch in the dusting of snow, his haunches firmly planted on the rug inside the door, tail twitching contentedly, heat bill be damned.

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In the summer months, Fluffernugget often did cat laps around the yard, unsuccessfully stalking birds and squirrels and stopping for naps or rolls in the grass. In his youth, he performed fantastic acrobatics, including climbing trees, getting stuck in the basement ceiling, traipsing along the balcony, and diving off the porch- 12 feet above the yard. He always stuck the landing. As he got older, he settled for patrolling the perimeter of our property and finding new spots fit for an afternoon snooze. For a while, he had a kitty girlfriend who visited our porch from time to time looking for a late night rendezvous. Thomas, always the gentleman.

As we three daughters grew up and all moved away from home, the cat kept Mom and Dad company and provided entertainment in our absence. He became more reserved in his wizened old age, but also more worldly. When my parents decided to take a longer trip down to Florida, they brought Thomas with them.

Preparing for the feline east coast traverse was no easy task. As a kitten, Meow Meow hated the car, and told us so every second of every car ride in loud, aggravated cries. However, through persuasion and with patience that only parents have, my mom and dad car trained Thomas. They would take him on road trips, feed him treats, put him on his leash and walk him around rest areas. Eventually, he got used to it. When the brave if unusual trio embarked on their journey,  I was delighted to receive updates of the trip every few hours- Thomas on the George Washington Bridge, Thomas in West Virginia, Thomas at south of the border, Thomas on the beach. He, like many seniors, enjoyed the Florida sunshine and hopefully unlike most seniors, took delight in trying to eat geckos and chew the palm tree bark.

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Dad with Thomas, south of the border

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Each Christmas when the daughters would all return home for the holidays, Thomas would ignore our  return and ungraciously accept our pets and cuddles, though he got better about letting us express our love. Over the course of the visit I would alway find time to spend with Thomas, reminding him that he loved me best and that I gave the best head scratches, the fastest way to his kitty heart. This last Christmas, I knew he was nearing the end- he had dropped considerable weight and didn’t come running at the sound of friskies

anymore. He still gave eye squeezes and twitched his tail, and we took comfort in that. I wasn’t surprised when a few weeks later, I got the call.

I still tear up when I think of him in all of his surly cuteness, his begrudging purrs, and his constant mischief. He tolerated our affections and in return gave us an unforgettable to companion, a ray of sunshine on even the coldest, cloudiest of days. You can’t not smile when you see a cat, old salt or young kitten, chasing a ribbon or trying to fit in a box too small. It eases my sadness knowing that we gave him a long and fabulous cat life full of cat nip, treats, outdoor adventures including run ins with the neighbor chickens, and endless naps. Tommer was a rescue cat, and I’m so glad we picked him.

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Sweet dreams, fluff butt.

Love, your favorite human and number one fan

 

 

 

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I is for Indian Pudding- Ick!

It Happened. On my journey of Baking the Alphabet, I have had my first flop. For the record, this project has produced 9 baked goods, and 8 of them came out great- in fact I am pretty confident that most of them will become recipe box staples. However, This One Will Not.

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Ah, what is that?
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AUGH!!

Lets start at the beginning, where things started to go sour. I is not a good dessert letter. There are few I desserts, especially once you cut out Ice cream- which I did. Why? Because A. I’ve made it before, B. it’s not that exciting, and C. It’s labor intensive, which means I definitely won’t be repeating it.  I wanted something a little more exciting, and also decided that using anything that started with “Iced” or “Icing” was cheating. After brainstorming and coming up blank, I cast a net out to friends and family, begging them for help choosing an original I dessert. On a whim dad recommends Indian Pudding. Side note- after the whole thing was over, I confronted him about why he would recommend such an atrocity. He rebuffed, saying he only suggested it based on it’s name, not on flavor or good merit. Thanks, Dad.

Okay, I thought to myself- this could work. I hadn’t heard of it, so I looked it up. It’s called Indian Pudding because it has cornmeal in it. Creative. It’s also traditionally a New England based dish, popular as an alternative dessert for thanksgiving dinner.

With images of warm, spicy pudding in mind, I set to work. Here is where I should have had a second red flag- this recipe has a HALF CUP of molasses in it. That is a TON of molasses. Every step of this recipe was more unappealing than the last. The bubbling pot of mush, the slorping sounds it made as it oozed from bowl to pan, the color of the final product (think 70s brown turtleneck on a beige and yellow paisley couch with a wood paneled wall in the background). All of it was bad. The only edible thing in the whole mix was the raisins. When you look forward to raisins, you know it’s bad. To add insult to injury, the dish to delish ratio (Just made this up, deal with it) was WAY off. Dishes- Over 10. Deliciousness? 1, and that’s generous- I’ll allow it because of the raisins. Here’s what gets me- I did everything right! This is how it is supposed to taste. No thanks!

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Molasses. Doom.
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Bubbling maliciously
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SLORP
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Before Baking- this does not bode well.
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Unreasonable mountain of dishes (not pictured- even more dishes)

Look- I won’t trouble you with any more sickening images- It’s been traumatizing enough for all of us. It’s all part of the journey, right? If you want to make cake, you have to break a few spirits with your atrocious Indian pudding  eggs. On the bright side, I got to practice scalding milk in a double boiler, and tempering eggs, skills that can always use refining. It’s important to look on the bright side! J is for…

H is for Honey Buns

Honey buns are like the superior, more sophisticated older sibling of cinnamon buns. Sure, Cinnamon buns are delicious; I’m not denying that. I make them often, and enjoy messing around with different fillings, frostings, and dough contents. The spicy cinnamon never disappoints. However, in the spirit of this project, I decided to make honey buns for the first time.

The yeast was activated in milk and honey instead of the more traditional water and sugar, filling the kitchen with the rich scent of warm honey and yeast. I added the flour and kneaded it until it was a smooth elastic dough- the recipe called for letting it knead in a mixer, but I would do it by hand even if I had the means to do it mechanically. Kneading a dough is a labor of love, and I never mind it.

I slathered the dough in canola oil and set it aside to rise for 2 hours on this particularly chilly morning, then started in on the honey pecan caramel topping. Honey, butter, sugar, into the pot they go. I let this concoction come to a low boil until it bubbled and thickened, much like caramel, then poured it into a 13×9 inch dish that had been slathered with butter. Crushed pecans sprinkled throughout created a nice visual effect and were a delicious addition to the finished product.

Once the dough had risen, I rolled it out into a nice, smooth rectangle. I absolutely love this dough! It’s so smooth and elastic, and easy to shape with minimal effort and a bench scraper. This part of the process is identical to cinnamon buns, so it was a breeze. I poured melted butter liberally over the rectangle, then sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar , creating a healthy sludge of filling (healthy for your soul, not so much anything else). Next came the rolling- a nice even roll makes for equal buns- a necessity when sharing a treat like this. No one wants the small one!

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“Sprinkled” – More like smothered
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Photo by Thomas – Artsy

I used a sharp knife to slice 12 individual buns out of the roll, and placed them onto the honey caramel pecan mixture to proof again. 2 more hours and into the oven they went for about 45 minutes. Out came perfection- Score! I let them cool for about a half hour before I got impatient and flipped them out of the pan. The gooey caramel was still warm, and the buns were fluffy and sweet.

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Look at those Pecans!
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Proofed and ready for the oven!

Thomas and I had these for breakfast several days in a row. After running rigorous scientific experiments (read: eating several honey buns), we determined that while they are OK cold, they are far superior when consumed warm and soft. Popping one in the toaster oven yielded a a slightly caramelized crispiness on top, elevating the honey flavor to the next delightful level. I would absolutely make these buns again- even though the basics are the same as cinnamon rolls, the wow factor added by the gooey pecan topping make these a serious contender as my new go to.

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Finished Product- No filter!

What’s on the agenda for I? I don’t know yet! I have finally gotten caught up with most of my blog postings, so I’m hoping my baking can get back on track as well. I have a lot of letters to get through and not so many weeks left to bake! It’s amazing how fast time flies. Until next time!

Glacier day 2- 15 miles of excitement, and how sweet bread saved our lives

 

After a long and exciting day traveling to Glacier National Park, Doris and I both passed out as soon as we zipped up our sleeping bags, and didn’t move until the dawn chorus of chirping birds and yelling children stirred us from our sleep. Waking up without an alarm is such a luxury! We rolled out of our cozy burritos, quickly got dressed, made our lunches, stashed our cooler in the bear box, and hopped in the adventure corolla. Our next agenda item was securing a parking spot at Logan Pass- an endeavor that can end poorly if you don’t plan it right. The pass has limited spots, and once they go, they’re gone. You can spend hours circling around waiting for someone to leave, or if you’re especially unlucky you can arrive when the rangers stop letting cars into the lot. We wanted to avoid a confrontation. The early 16 mile drive from our campsite was quietly beautiful- day trippers were not yet awake, and the curvaceous cliffside-hugging road was more or less empty. A few adventurous cyclists were pedaling up the pass in the cool morning shade. As we ascended out of the forest, the views got increasingly more stunning- The massive U shaped glacial valleys were covered in thick green vegetation that eventually gave way to dark rock and white snow. Glacial lakes shimmered their signature blue. We drove along the garden wall, 100 feet or so below the Highline trail, where we would soon be hiking.

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The dotted line shows the Highline trail- see the Grinnell Glacier overlook a little over halfway through

Our arrival and subsequent parking at the pass was uneventful; our early morning paid off and we had the luxury of choosing a spot right on the edge of the lot for the best views. An hour later when we departed for the trail head, the lot was full. Now that we had a spot secured, we pulled out folding chairs, a coleman stove, and coffee- it was time for breakfast. We had oatmeal, bagels with peanut butter, Aeropress coffee, and a magnificent view.  A herd of bighorn sheep graced us with their gawky presence; their massive horns casting long shadows across the snow as they meandered through the meadow past a pair of backcountry skiers setting off. The women in the car next to us offered us some sesame sweet bread from their local bakery- I’m not sure of the origin, but we graciously accepted and packed it away to enjoy during the hike. Thank you, random strangers!

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Breakfast with a view!

After fending off several fellow tourists envious of our breakfast based ingenuity, we filled our packs with snacks, water, and layers, and headed toward the unassuming Highline trailhead to begin our 13 mile trek. The first mile is exciting; the trail is often no wider than 6 feet with a sheer cliff on one side and a rock wall on the other. I can’t imagine running into a vociferous mountain goat up there. The trail follows the cliffside high above the valley for several miles, and we appreciated both the incredible views and the cool air. Perhaps we would have moved a little faster had we known the temperatures would climb into the 90s that afternoon. The first ascent over haystack pass below Haystack Butte traversed a large snowfield and we came upon the remains of an avalanche- identified by the sight of many trees knocked over in a uniform direction. Oftentimes the Highline Trail is closed up until Independence day because of avalanche debris covering the path.

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Doris standing on the cliff- I would say our Mom wouldn’t approve but she hiked this portion of the trail last week! Hardcore!
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Views from this point in the trail
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One of many massive snowfields

We soon discovered what would prove to be the biggest challenge of the day- going to the bathroom. As I noted before, the trail is carved into the side of the cliff. There is nowhere to go, no privacy. The only way to avoid giving fellow hikers a show was to hustle past the closest hikers in front of us at what we hoped was a discrete pace, unhook our packs and unbutton our pants on the go, and scope out a spot that would provide the most cover. On the count of three we would drop trou, each looking over the others shoulder for oncoming traffic, and pee as fast as we could. We never got caught, but we did have a serious case of the giggles each time. Later, Doris stumbled upon another group doing the same hustle and bustle that we so gracefully pulled off. We exchanged knowing looks and congenial shrugs- that’s hiking for you!

About 7 miles in, we reached the Grinnell Glacier overlook- a steep 0.9 mile climb that rises over 900 feet to the top of the garden wall. Since you only live once and “we were there” we decided (read: I dragged Doris) to hike up. It’s only a 2 mile detour, though the misleading sign suggests it’s 0.6 and does not indicate elevation. Our pace slowed quickly on the serious incline (about 100 ft of elevation per .1 mile), and it took the better part of an hour plus some serious motivational speaking on my part, to get to the overlook. It was absolutely beautiful up there, and we sat and enjoyed the cool wind as we ate our pungent buffalo chicken sandwiches, contemplated glaciers, and watched Marmots trundle carelessly across steep snowfields.

A word on marmots- sneaky little buggers- they are roughly beaver sized rodents with large claws and high pitched screams. They are not afraid of humans, and will jump out at you. Doris can personally attest to this nerve wracking experience.

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Trundling Hoary Marmot in the center.

After descending from the overlook, we still had about 6 miles to go, but our legs were getting tired and our feet a bit achey. A brief stop at the pit toilets at the Granite Park Chalet gave us a much needed break, then it was, quite literally, all downhill from there. At first we descended through meadows dotted with pine trees which provided cool shade, but soon we were in a burn zone, exposed to the hot afternoon sun. The quaking aspen and wide array of wildflowers provided some distraction, but mostly we were hot, tired, and ready to lay down. We saw very few people after the Chalet compared to the dozens we encountered on the first half of the hike.

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Hello Doris
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Glacier Lilies Everywhere!

What seemed like hours and thousands of steps later, we finally heard the rushing of cars- a welcome sound after any long hike. We exited the woods at The Loop- a shuttle stop that would bring us back up the 13 traversed miles and drop us off at Logan Pass. Perhaps the most agonizing part of the day was the wait for the shuttle- Thanks to an accident that closed down the Going to the Sun Road, we waited an additional 45 minutes in the blazing sun.  A woman with a big mouth and a short temper kept reminding us just how hot it was and exactly how long we had been waiting for that shuttle. Some people. Remember that sweet bread? I had forgotten mine up until that point, and Doris and I shared my thick slice with the last of our water- A very welcome treat. Despite the heat and the sticky sunscreen dripping into our eyes and the disgruntled fellow hikers- we were in good spirits. The shuttle did come eventually, and even though people were still bitching about something or other, We chatted excitedly about our adventure. It’s astounding to me the things people find to complain about.

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How could you possibly be mad about this?

We returned to our car, tenderfooted and very sweaty. Immediately, we had people swarming us, asking if we were leaving. We told them as nicely as possible that it would be a while- we needed to hydrate, take our shoes off, change out of our sweaty clothes, and make a plan. The crowds were aggressive, even at 4:30 in the afternoon- amazing! We decided our best course of action was to drive to St. Mary for ice cream and firewood. The air conditioned car was luxurious, and the views on the other side of the park didn’t disappoint either. We ended up stopping at Johnsons of St. Marys and eschewing ice cream for bacon cheeseburgers- served with soup instead of french fries and an ungodly amount of coleslaw on a comically small plate.

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The Aftermath

Firewood obtained and stomachs satiated for the moment, we headed back into the park. Our pathetic bathroom paper towel wipedowns did little against the amount of post hike salt and stank buildup we were both experiencing, so objective number one was finding a path down to the water on the 9 mile long St. Mary Lake. We came across a particularly beautiful pull out, where the path to the lake was lined with what looked and smelled like beach plums, trembling aspens, and bear grass. Bathing suits and bearspray in hand, we scrabbled down to the water, ready this time for the shocking frigidity of the glacial runoff water.We both managed to dunk twice (I had to- the first dunk was so fast my ponytail didn’t even get wet!) and scrub off much of the grime accumulated throughout the day.

Refreshed and relaxed, we hopped back in the trusty adventure corolla- Doris took the wheel and gave me a chance to sit back and soak in the views. Not a quarter mile later, the vehicle in front of us stopped abruptly and a lady popped out of the sunroof, armed with a comically large camera. We followed her gaze and were rewarded with a rare sight- a young grizzly cub on the side of the road! Doris snapped a few quick pictures, watched the young cub toddle around for a few minutes, and we continued on our way.

I always find that I see the most active wildlife in the evening- the crowds have diminished, and the animals are around. We ran into a herd of mountain goats at Lunch Creek shortly after our bear encounter. They were scruffy as could be, in the process of shedding their winter coats in favor of shorter, more breathable fuzz. I had been hoping to see a goat before leaving the park, and this was more than I could have ever asked for! They provided the perfect ending to a bucolic and adventurous day.

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Scruffy and content

Doris did an excellent job of navigating the treacherous road back down the pass, and by the time we got to our tent, the sun was set and we were ready for a nice campfire. Thankfully our second batch of wood was much more flammable than the first, and caught in minutes. The flames spat sparks that danced up into the night sky, and we both sat mesmerized and quiet, contemplating either the vast and beautiful world we live in or the scrumptious Texas Toast cheeseburgers we ate- awe inspiring in different ways.

Once again we both slept heavily, waking only to the sound of vehicles cruising the campground loops in search of sites opening up. Unabashed inquiries made prior to coffee were shot down with an evil glare and an adamant response. Eventually we could no longer hide the fact that we were packing up, and when a kind woman took the time to stop in and ask us nicely if she could put our site number on her ticket submission, we said fine. The experience was eye opening; first come first serve is not for the faint of heart, especially on a weekend.

So there you have it, Laurie and Doris survive (thrive) in Glacier National Park. I feel so lucky to live in close proximity to such an astoundingly beautiful landscape. The park will eventually lose the glaciers we see today, but will always have the giant valleys carved hundreds of years ago by ancient, giant sheets of ice. Seeing the current glaciers so small serves as an important reminder to take care of our land, because the existence of such beauty is always finite. Of course, Yellowstone could blow up tomorrow, and ruin everything. perspective is important too.