Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Pluto Story: Pumpkin gingerbread (makes two loaves)

Pluto understood "Don't touch."
Here, he waited for permission to eat a green bean.
I used to cut out new recipes from the newspaper on a regular basis, and at one point I really liked getting new cookbooks, too. Over the years, I have come to embrace the fact that I am not an organized cook. Nor am I an enthusiastic one.  About a year ago I began to wonder if I was wasting my time ever looking in any cookbooks at all, save one: The Joy of Cooking.  This is the cookbook I learned to use as a teenager, when I first made cookies and cakes. I have a pretty recent edition, which I bought when it was new, in 1997. I had to go through a period of adjustment to this edition, as sifting has gone out of style in favor of whisking, but the changes were minor. Mine has notes in the margins from successful endeavors, and failures.  I gave SpƤtzle another shot on Christmas Eve, and was very pleased with the results, and the next day our Crispy Roasted Duck was perfect, thanks to the Joy.  I dislike making anything I can’t find in there, having concluded that being able to find 2.39 million results for an online search for “pumpkin gingerbread” is completely useless. Give me moderated content, or give me nothing. But that’s another story.
I used to have a handwritten recipe for “Pumpkin Gingerbread.” I think it came from a parent who served it at a baby playgroup, which would date it to 1991. I can say for sure that under the title it said “Makes two loaves,” because for years I made it from the hand-written recipe. Rather infamously, we never got to eat the second loaf.
Pluto was big for a Vizsla, and had issues with bolting his food, eating things which were not food, and stealing food. He had what we described as a telescoping neck, since he was able to pass by a table set with food, and snatch food items as large as his head in one motion. Many quick breads, like pumpkin bread, are actually improved by spending a day wrapped in plastic wrap. The first time I made this pumpkin gingerbread, Pluto stole one and ate it and was working on the second when I interrupted him. On this and many other occasions, I would yell at him and he would hold his ground. To put him in a time-out, I would have to chase him out of the kitchen and into the basement with a chair, as a lion tamer would. 
Another day, I would attempt pumpkin gingerbread again, and using my superior powers of reasoning, I would find a higher shelf inside the cupboard to rest the bread for a day. I never saw how he got to it, but he did. We never, ever got the second loaf of pumpkin gingerbread as long as Pluto was alive. We believed, based on how it passed through his digestive system, that he ate that second loaf in one mouthful, plastic wrap and all.  I always thought Pluto would eat something that would kill him, and he came close once, but in the end it was just cancer.
Today, I use the pumpkin bread recipe in the Joy of Cooking, increasing the amount of pumpkin and skipping the nuts and raisins. 

A Pluto Story: the Catholic Vizsla

Capitol Hill is a big neighborhood in Seattle, but our corner of it is dominated by largish square houses set closely together and built just after the turn of the last century.  For many years, large Catholic families have lived in this area, attending both St. Joseph’s Church and K-8 school. When we first moved to Capitol Hill, Pluto was young and had no experience with paved streets or sidewalks. He was also hard to control and rather enthusiastic. One Sunday morning he bolted the front door when I was gathering the Sunday newspapers from the front porch.
I was wearing a flannel nightgown and no shoes. I gave chase for perhaps half a block before turning back. I ran back into the house for car keys, got in the car and headed out to find him.
He was only two blocks away, in the middle of the intersection of 19th Avenue East and East Aloha, an intersection controlled by a flashing red light. It was early enough that traffic was pretty light, plus it was Sunday. Pluto had his mouth agape, excitedly barking at the cars as they drove around him. I pulled over nearby, opened the passenger door.  I called his name, and he bounded over and hopped in. I pulled his door shut and drove him home.
The next day, I ran into my neighbor Pat from across the street. “You know,” he said, “Pluto came to mass yesterday.”
“Oh, really?” I asked, disbelieving.  A funny idea, but I caught him pretty quickly.
Pat continued. “He trotted down the main aisle of St. Jo’s, greeting everyone, panting with his huge tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. He had to be escorted out.”
This detail, the huge tongue, led me to think that Pat was not making up the story. Pluto panted wildly when he was excited, and he had a tongue much larger than what you’d expect to see in a vizsla’s mouth. “Well,” I told Pat, “He’s a Hungarian dog. Maybe he’s Catholic.”  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


When you love animals, one of the things you must learn to deal with is that they can sometimes seem very cruel. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I will never know who was responsible for removing the key that held the lid of Basil’s cage closed.  Maybe it was incorrectly replaced by me.  Maybe it was knocked loose by a child.  Maybe it was removed by Schwartz himself.  We never saw the cage opened. One day I found Basil on the floor of another room, injured and cold.  

Monday, January 17, 2011


When he wasn’t being a dog, Schwartz did plenty of cat things, like watching the snake Basil in the cage.  Snakes do very little on a regular business, but enough to be interesting to a cat.  Being a cat, Schwartz knew that he needed to spend some time analyzing the situation and to get as close as he could so he was ready to get it when the opportunity arose.  More than once we found him sitting on top of the cage, looking in. And, unfortunately, the opportunity arose.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


From the beginning, Schwartz loved to sleep with the dogs.  Sure, he loves having the dog-bed all to himself, but for him, it’s better with a dog.  He also really likes to climb the book shelves to push things off and watch them fall.  Once he broke a spiky animal Max made in ceramics class.  I thought he was hiding because it was loud when it broke.  It turned out that he was hiding because one of the spikes on the ceramic animal had cut his leg open: a wound of at least 1 ½ inches in length.  When I got him to the vet—the vet knows us awfully well—she said he’d lost a lot of blood and was lucky to be found in time.  We were sent home with a cone for him to wear on his head so he wouldn’t eat his stitches, but when we set him on the floor he simply went backwards until the cone was pried off of his head.  After that, I told him he had to keep from licking the stitches, and he agreed.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Schwartz came to live with us at a time when I had promised my husband no more cats.  Cats are lovely; they are beautiful; they are amazing.  They claw the furniture; they don’t always have perfect litter box habits.  They sleep on your face.  We have enough going on.  But, really, he’s as much of a softy as I am, and he didn’t say no.  That little black kitten came into a big messy house with three kids and two big bouncy dogs.  He met the young dog Cherry face to face, stood up on his hind legs and grabbed her by the head.  We named him Schwartz for his powerful nature.  

Friday, January 14, 2011


I went about my busy day, only to find myself stopping by a second time to see him.  This time he was sound asleep and not nearly as outgoing as before.  I asked a salesperson what it would take to adopt a cat.  Not being the sort of person who gets a cat on impulse, never mind from a big-box pet supplies store, I called my vet.   Surely they could talk me out of it.  This veterinary practice has cared for seven of my pets, and seen me through four cremations.  I asked the receptionist if I were interested in adopting a kitten who would the reputable shelters in the area be. The receptionist said he liked Purrfect Pals because they are a no-kill shelter, so a permanent home for a cat makes room for another.  On my third trip to the big-box pet supplies store that day, I picked up the cat that we would name Schwartz.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Origin of the Tiny Ninja

Once, I had a long sit in the waiting room at the pediatric dentist, where there was a woman trying to deal with her two children, a boy and a girl. The mother had a piercing voice, and her young kids were equally loud.  In stead of going to the play area to unload the buckets of blocks and animal figurines, the children spent a lot of time standing near their mother pushing each other and exchanging strange requests for hugs or space. It went like this: Boy: "I want a hug." Girl: "No." Boy hugged girl, pinning her arms down. Girl struggled free and pushed him over. Girl: "Sorry." Boy: "Meanie." Girl: "Ok, I'll hug you." Boy: "No. I don't wanna." Girl chased boy around mother's chair until he fell. The mother would tune in and out, looking up from the waiting room copy of Mothering magazine to demand an apology from one or the other.  Mother: "Children, get along. You love each other."
In time, the kids went to their appointments and when finished the trio filed out together. At this dentist, along with the tiny container of floss and a new toothbrush, patients were also given a golden token to use in a special vending machine as they leave.  Somehow the boy had obtained two tokens, perhaps because he had required a bribe for cooperation.  The girl protested that this was unfair, and was ignored by the mother, who was directing the boy in his use of coins in the vending machine.  The girl expressed her objection by laying down on the floor under the machine stand, within view, but went unnoticed. When she had her turn at the machine, she discovered that it delivered her a tiny ninja, just as it had twice done for her brother. She held it in her hand and thrust her fist up as high as she could hold it. Boy: "Lemme see!" Girl: "No." Boy: "Lemme SEE!" Girl: "Nuh-huh!" The girl took off, out the door, down the hall towards the elevators. The boy took off after her, dropping his prizes and his coat in his wake.
The last I heard of them came from the hall. Mother: "Brandon, you are responsible for your own ninjas."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


One day, I was on my way out of a big-box pet store, loaded up with a very large bag of dog food, snake bedding, and mouse-intended-for-food.  Sometimes big stores like this have adoption cages near the registers, and on this day there was an all-black kitten with yellow eyes who was hollering at me and waving me over with one paw.  I did go over to his cage, but I couldn’t pet him since my hands were so full.  He gave up trying to get me to pet him and satisfied himself rubbing back and forth across the bars.  The card on his cage said he came from Purrfect Pals, a no-kill shelter in Arlington, and that his name was “Tiger-Boy.”

Monday, January 10, 2011


When you have a variety of pets, as I do, you end up going to the pet food store on a regular basis, and even if you are the sort of person who avoids the big-box pet food stores, you might end up going there to buy mice.  Mice intended for the feeding of snakes come in fresh or frozen, and even when you have a regular supplier of them, they don’t always have a regular supply.  Small snake meals require the purchasing of “pinkie” mice, which are frozen new-born baby mice.  Larger snakes eat more pinkies or larger mice, depending on what you can get.  Frozen seems like a nice option until you have to defrost them, and the microwave is no place for a mouse, dead or alive.  So eventually you come the to the point where you buy live mice, small ones, and experience the thrill and joy of my much younger self, coming home with a critter in a tiny cardboard box with holes.  When you ask the sales people for help, they always want to know if the mouse is to become a pet or food.  I’ve never understood why. I did on more than one occasion have the mouse escape in the car while I was driving back from the pet food store.

An Incident on Sunday

I believe that spiders lead short, furtive lives and should be left alone whenever possible. I like to let the big fat ones build webs on my front porch in the fall, but then when I try to take a picture I remember that I am not patient enough to be a good photographer. Sunday morning I uncovered a spider in the basement when I was doing laundry. I stood and moved away so it could scramble to safety. About an hour later, I was driving on Avondale Road in Redmond, and a young squirrel panicked in my lane as it tried to cross the street. I hit it with my left rear tire, and flattened it. I have never killed a squirrel before and a day or so later I still feel terrible about it.