Knock, Knock, Knock on Wood

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Yes, I again taunted the Universe, tempted those clever Fates, and forgot to buck off any superstitions that had yet to mar my October. In a house in which ample wood surfaces appoint almost every turn or seated vantage, I forgot to knock where braver men would have dared to overlook. As I commented on the month’s near tragic run on calamity and hurdles, and fool-heartedly looked to November’s fresh start, I left the last days vulnerable.

In the grayest of afternoon’s hours, Jon and I advanced cautiously steer through the winding, overgrown, and pot-holiest of driveways. Jon was in his usual state of half sleep while I was basking in the recent saga of modern zombies, cockney ne’er-do-wells, and the various brands of haughty Hampton bitchiness that typifies each point of a compass. We were finally returning with our Nigel, a Jeep XLT that required an organ transplant of its own. Naturally, such a procedure is costly and never covered by automobile insurance or Medi-Car. We went for an entire season without wheels so that we could, once my “disability” kicked in, pay both the piper and the Universe’s tithe.

We feared the worst, the unspoken dread that would indeed make a month (that just couldn’t get any worse) in fact worse. Nigel, our beloved Jeep, was about to be ripped from the only home he has ever known and towed to Benson, not to be confused with Lizard Lick which, although in this same market, has its own reality show. There was little we could accomplish at 3AM or, for that matter, in the few days that it would take to gather the funds as well as the various processing fees and daily storage.

I won’t elaborate as to the hoops that the Universe held high or the speed at which it urged: “JUMP, dammit!” But after a week of negotiating its discharge, Nigel was finally released today at three.  As we inspected the “refurbishing”, if not renewal, the jeep glistened and flaunted the return of its original pristine aura and bouquet. Oy vey. I am knocking wood as I post and will do so again once I am settled in bed. Although I am by no means a martyr, I do feel as though some “Bad Seed” has been sticking her arrows into me, with hopes that I drop my penmanship medal, Sr Edward Patricia’s class of ’65.

There are four hours left in this Godless month and I’m no longer taking chances. Jon has made certain that we even have Halloween candy on hand this year, even though we’ve only had one “trick or treater” over the dozen years. There is at least one perk to being known as the two crazy men that live down that dark secluded driveway. Come to think of it: that child who came to the door on the Halloween of 2004 was a prissy lass of nine or ten who haughtily complained about her candy options. Her name might just have been Rhoda.

(Image: “The Third Heart” by Andrew Ferez.)

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We are the Walrus

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“The time has come,” the walrus said, “to talk of many things: of shoes and ships, and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.” (Lewis Carroll)

Sleep well, my friends, and savor tonight’s moonlit journey.

Let’s throw a few essentials into an ancient well-worn Aubusson bag and head on a holiday, to some elegant and sun-drenched paradise. We certainly deserve the getaway and anticipate perfection from our travel agents: our loyal and overworked psyche and that maven of such strategies, that slightly naughty Morpheus.

I rather imagine the sandbox can float as we set sail on steady moonbeams, perhaps docking once in a glimmer on a distant star.
Dancing. Shuffleboard. Libations. Merriment. And the requisite misbehavior.

Meet me on the Lido Deck at a quarter to three and we’ll sing obscure ’60’s pop ditties and toast this blasted week that has begun all too soon. New bartendress, Semolina Pilchard, knows the secrets for the perfect J&B Rob Roy and a madly refreshing elixir, the Blood Orange Martini.

For now our sandbox can float in the sky with our dreams. I trust that it will secure the formidable iron urns filled with yellow peonies. If in case you should need moonscreen, I’ll bring an extra tube of a special blend. Be generous with its application; the benefits are delightfully multifocal.

Sheer lunacy. And I love it, friends. “Goo goo goo joob.”

(Image: Illustration for Richard Hughes’  “Gertrude and the Mermaid” by Nicole Claveloux, 1971.)

The Trio Blooms and Thrives

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Time does march rather swiftly, flailing poised hands and cocked arms. So it seems with my three nieces who, now young women, like all were once infants! At 16, 18, and 20, they assert their independence and maturity. I, for one, readily resist such revelation, with both amusing and dear nostalgia:

1. Sara, age 3, blurts out in puzzlement: “Uncle George?” (her name for the anti-Christ), when she sees Franklin’s image on a $5 bill, noting similarity of a baldness issues.
2. Sophie, age 2, darts down a Fort Lauderdale beach “nekkid” … with me in custodial pursuit, as I was baby-sitting. She laughed uproariously as she just knew how reserved and mortified I was.
3. Sara, age 6, orders a Caesar salad and a wedge of brie, startling the waiter (especially knowing that Sara’s parents and I ordered burgers!)
4. Sophie, age 10, takes the hand of an angry, dying man (in the midst of a tirade) and offers: “let’s go take a walk in the garden”. He immediately calms as all the adults present are still fumbling and terrified.
5. Sophie, age 10, points out sarcastically while the two of us are (ten minutes in) at a Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan movie: “this is so predictable. They always end up together in their movies!”
6. Aubrey, age 6, squeals in delight, when served a sorbet between meal courses at a rather formal and serious feast: “I just love an intermezzo!” Hushed and dropped jaws were in tandem.
7. Sara, age 10, at that same dinner, in response then replies: “intermezzo, i-n-t-e-r-m-e-z-z-o, intermezzo!” Further jaws dropped.
8. Aubrey & Sophie, ages 7 and 9, start a school-wide trend (at their Jewish day School, B’nai Shalom) of wearing shorts and boots in the winter, citing Uncle Mark as their precedent. Said uncle received direct admonishment from school administration.
9. Aubrey, age 7, while spending the day with her uncle at work, inquires of one of his clients: “will that be a charge, ma’am?” I was otherwise engaged wrapping a crystal lamp.
10. Aubrey, age 8, after watching an episode of HBO’s “The Sopranos” (it was disallowed, but available for Aubrey’s viewing in her room) telephones, yes, the very same uncle, inquiring about oral sex, the theme of that particular episode. She apologized but made it clear that it was Mommy’s idea that she call. (Note: I did finally weasel out of that scrape, but only narrowly.)

But alas! These are only snippets of remembrances that continue to diminish and grow further distant. Sara, Sophie, and Aubrey continue to provide joy and amusement … through their kindness, generosity of spirit, and quick wit. All three are now in their twenties and have neither use nor time for us mid-century types.

Tales are for telling and they will soon enough have theirs! Perhaps, they will chronicle their uncle’s dotage.

(Image: “Short Order Cook” by Rudy Fig, 2010.)

I’ll Take Sensible Shoes for $800, Alex

Although I have several cohorts who admittedly have a shoe fetish, I doubt that this is what they have in mind. At least such was the case until the internet stripped us of our naïveté. Some predilections are indeed larger than life, my friends. Others are understated, effortless, and fond of only whispering to any willing ear. Never mind the polishing and the upkeep. Such whimsy is purely good for the sole!

Yes. This is the innocent and unassuming collection that was deemed in violation (by that unnamed social networking site) and thus promptly deleted, without so much as rebuttal or a pout. Yet, I owe them gratitude as it did light the “rhetorical” fire that still burns below my, er uh feet!
“Maybe the Truth of the Meaning of Life, Ancient and Arcane Knowledge of the Great Unknowable Universe is handed down only to persons presenting with the correct brand-name footwear. If you turn up wearing Shoe City knock-offs, you don’t get to pass Go and collect Infinite Enlightenment.”     (T. Engelbrecht)
(Collection by Photographer Paul Graves.)

My Little Red Welcome Wagon

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As most of you have suspected, I am a perpetual fine-tuner, an adjunct adjuster, or (if you must) a restless perfectionist. While I restrain myself from repairing “that which is yet broken”, I anticipate the future breakdown with a litany of plans A, B, and C. And yes, gentle readers, such behavior signifies more than an artistic compulsion, it has become my own self-harnessing energy.

Since February of last year, that focus has engulfed Tartuffe’s Folly, making it the latest of creative outlets to fully reel me in to both the process and the results. A frustrated and, now, unemployed designer, I am constantly trying to improve both visuals and their format. Simply, I want folks to enjoy their time in the “sandbox” while, at the same time, I never want to lose sight of my own aesthetics and interests.

A few months ago, I changed the overall page design to one that reads, perhaps, more like a magazine with snippets and artwork to “click” for further reading. While it may pander to the skilled skimmer, it presents text, I believe, in a more palatable unfold. A reader at once can turn to a post that indeed holds interests, rather than scroll with the zeal of a television viewer pressing “fast forward”.

The other modifications have been more subtle and less obvious. The subscription tab, profile, and “sub-mission” statement have been moved to the lower realm of the home page. Tags, although still available, are neither readily found nor deftly maneuvered.

The results may not be altogether successful. Readership statistics are inconsistent and inconclusive. Some posts indicate over 3,000 views while others abruptly halt at 200. For those Facebook readers that follow links to Tartuffe’s Folly, they are no longer incorporated into statistics compiled by Google Analytics.

So I humbly ask you, friends, to comment when you feel so inclined. Please feel free to suggest improvements or topics for posts. Let me know if you have difficulty navigating, or if a function isn’t functioning.

Finally,  please subscribe if you haven’t done so yet. The tab is on the bottom of the Tartuffe’s Folly homepage. You will get notifications on posts. Most importantly, your email address will become a part of my database. I can then notify you should I start a new blog or, perish the thought, if Facebook again censures and deletes me, thus repealing my identity. Since that particular social networking site offers negligible advocacy and little, if any recourse, I will likely not return should I again be cast out from the garden.

In that unfortunate event, I shall channel all my efforts into my blog and my daily life at Marklewood. Although they may protest and suggest otherwise, the pusses, I assure you, have never been consistent and reliable followers. That’s the “tall and short” of it!

(Image: The Birdking” by Naoto Hattori, 2013.)

A Nostalgic Tidbit: So Many Lives Ago

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Ishkabibble Sieber-Markle

Proudly announces the birth of
Her first “official” litter:
Funyon & Cheetoh
(Solid gray & marmalade colors respectively)
Total weight of three ounces
Father unknown but narrowed to five roguish toms
on Sunday, the thirtieth of April, 2006.

In effort to make the baby pusses more adoptable
Within “high-fallootin’” Raleighwood communities,
Their given names will be recorded as
Clive and Clovis.
No gifts please!

The elder sibling puss, Spike Lee of Oakwood,
Is thought to be the result of a wanton and carnal romp
In Fuquay-Varina on a steamy tin roof.
Subsequently, his birth records have been destroyed
And he has been quietly adopted by a proper Jewish Family.

This announcement, sadly, never made it to print in the “News & Observer”
but will always make us smile and think of Ishkabibble.

Naturally she’ll face the same challenge as the date for their Cat Mitzvahs nears.

(Reprint of a rescue’s birth notice from 2006!)

(Image: “Widget as Bacchus” by Melinda Copper.)

More than a Humble Umbel

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“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (Anaïs Nin)
To those of you who today celebrate, atone, welcome, or simply express the joy of found love:

I offer you humble blossoms in both spirit and image, and wish for you a release from stress and gleeful reflection.

Be safe. Be kind. And, each day, be gentle. We only learn of snippets of each other’s life. We are each much more than the other could possibly imagine or, for that matter understand!

(Image: “Bouquet” by Marion Peck, 2007.)

Cats Today: Bye, Bye, Birdie

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With due respect to the rather late Paul Lynde, “What’s the matter with cats today?” They, of course, may think they are acting graciously mindful, duly responsible, and properly genteel, but their behavior points to otherwise. This new generation of pusses, both feral and indoor clowders, seems to have abandoned the many lifetimes of carefully honed traditions. Naturally, such transgressions are first fueled by the “legendary” feline curiosity and, later, indeed ignited by a hormone-enhanced rebellion, often found in a pubescent puss and especially in the Siamese and Main Coon varieties.

The times, “they are a-changing” quickly as real estate development, internet speed, and the water level at Lake Wheeler are all trending upward and onward. In all the chaos and turbulence, the pusses are often “lost” in a sea of twitchy whiskers. At Marklewood, we have experienced first-hand the many manifestations of such a nonchalant, arrogant, and elitist generation. (Please notice that I mentioned neither the cat’s issue with entitlement nor its lack of concern for other creatures.)

The cats’ daily regimen begins each day with a few of them licking my face and, then, walking up and down my body. The latter embraces the reflexes of a lumberjack rolling logs or the cockiness of “America’s Next Top Whatever”. These little four-legged “perps” are persistent, focused, and with honed skills. As the ever-demure Pat Benatar would offer: “Stop using tongues as a weapon.”

Then as soon as I stand, grab my robe, and struggle for my trusty phone, both Henry and Sam fight for strategic positioning on my side of the bed. Henry ultimately wins and sleeps for the rest of the morning with his head on my Tempurpedic pillow. Sam slips in a ripple of the duvet cover about a foot away. It is approximately 5:00am and I am wide awake to prepare for a job that doesn’t require me for five more hours. Jon, naturally, is deep in slumber and randomly screaming in his sleep until 11am or so. Sam and Henry will likely luxuriate all day … until I return.

The most frustrating feline habit concerns their eating habits. Is it not miserable enough that they eat like a Basset Hound wearing dentures. Daily, they leave a tiny trail of “mixed seafood grill” morsels on the stairs that ascend just above the food bowl. For a long time, I’d sweep up all that food and toss it right into the bowl, relieved that I had at least preserved a few precious pennies. To Sam, Henry, and Pfluffer, one would assume that the bowl was thus tainted, and replace the kibble “pronto”!

If in our haste to save money or utilize a coupon, Jon or I purchase a generic or inferior 25lb. bag, they simply boycott the food. For several days, their strike becomes a stand-off, then a power-play, and finally a battle of wills. Just as with staring contests, we know to ultimately acquiesce and give the kitty his due: “Kibble & Bits”, which I assume is the “junk food” for indulgent pusses. To compensate, Jon and I must then eliminate an item from our grocery list.

There was a time when the outdoor cats would go hunting and catch their “meals” of cardinal, squirrel, and rabbit “tenders” (our term, not theirs!). Over the years, we have subconsciously trained them to be lazy, unmotivated, and greedy. They lounge on the wrought iron garden furniture, in decorative urns amid the plantings, or atop the Jeep … and wait restlessly for the next meal. Hell, several of them haven’t wandered off more than twenty feet from our front stoop.

The outdoor pusses also have a rude and aggressive “habit” of chasing away other “gang” members, Eve especially. I often call her Lindsay since she has a certain “mean girl” aura about her. She ran off both Precious (who was about five and neutered for four) and Muffin, who was passing by and decided to remain for a while. Eve picked skirmishes, swatted them as they strolled by her, and prevented them from getting in close proximity to their non-generic dried cat-food. There are likely other victims of her bullying and taunting; we simply lack any evidence.

Of course, the most frustrating habit of these modern, free-thinking, and demanding souls (who were all born during the last of the Bush years) concerns the litter box. The five indoor kits — Henry, Pfluffer, Sam, Hermione, and Claudja — refuse to step into the box if it is not maintained to their own discriminating preferences. They also prefer only one brand. Period. One brand. All, but Sam, are rather fond of those high-tech, world-altering crystals that promise more efficient scooping while breathing in a blend of gardenia and cedar wood scents.

Well, they lied on both counts as Jon and I learned what might happen … should we misstep in proper maintenance of refuse receptacle and its removal. Late afternoon propriety prevents me from sharing any details. Trust me, though; Henry and Pfluffer certainly mean business. He even gets snooty and dismissive if I move his latest issue of “Kitten with a Whip, Confessions of a Modern Sex Kitten”. He prefers to tuck his “kitty porn” behind the litter box … for his amusement during long stays or sessions.

I could continue my tear for hours yet, but must soon prepare dinner: hamburgers, farfalle with garlic, olive oil, and herbs, and peas. All three are among the favorite dishes of the Twelve Noble and Apostolic Pusses of Marklewood. I am more than certain that Sam and Henry will join me in the kitchen, remain under-foot, and get quite petulant if they are deprived of any of tonight’s people food.

The previous cats, who graciously allowed me to care for them, have never been this finicky, stubborn, and erudite. I blame the internet. And now I shall have that damned “Bye, Bye, Birdie” tune in my head all day:

“Cats!
I don’t know what’s wrong with these cats today
Cats!
Who can understand anything they say?
Cats!
They are so ridiculous and immature!
I don’t see why anybody wants ’em!
Just you wait and see.
Cats!”

Kuriositätenkabinetts. Collezioni. Dánlanna.

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I have always been a collector although, over the years, my interests have obviously evolved and changed. Over the last two decades, I have amassed an extensive assortment of majolica, especially figural humidors. I have a bookcase crammed with Roseville Pottery, particularly in the pine cone and luffa patterns. In the upstairs sunroom, there is a curio cabinet, literally teeming with what I refer to as “grotesques”. On three shelves, sit over two hundred small porcelains of odd, unexpected, and often extremely rare “men” … 18th and 19th century humidors, shelf sitters, Toby jugs, and figurines.  Now, each time I focus on any of these ménageries décoratifs, I, with neither prompt nor urging, start thinking dollar signs and what adventures could be indeed financed if I were to liquidate.

And the walls? Almost every square inch of wall surface is filled with paintings, photographs, and antique plates acquired over my 57 years and Jon’s 67. I even have a stack of prints and some sconces that I had to secure in the shed … solely because there wasn’t room here at Marklewood. Downsizing has always been a dirty word here but, today sadly, it has become a necessity.

Yikes. I am winded just from the mere mention of such passionate and obsessive acquisitions. There are indeed others, including Jon’s huge and thorough gallery of Frankoma, but I am certain you get my drift. The sport of collecting was rather rewarding, distracting, and time-consuming when I was in my thirties and forties. Today, however, I feel almost bogged down and dominated by possessions.

Yes, I worry about retiring and having such a multitude of stuff. Occasionally, I’ll walk past a cabinet and simply shake my head, wondering: “how will I ever get that into a retirement home?” or “how much money have I invested in those whatevers?” Such thoughts are often overwhelming and can readily leave me dizzy.

The issue of dusting is obvious, especially in an old house out here in the hinterlands. Jon and I attempt to keep everything orderly, but I doubt that we could ever adequately dust, especially downstairs. I am certain, my friends, that you can understand the challenge.

So in this hour of celestial transition, as Jon and all the indoor pusses nap soundly in our bed, I offer this gallery of images. Most are paintings of collections and galleries, prompted by my recent fascination with the concept of Kunstkammerstück, as it evolved through the Renaissance, Baroque, and Victorian eras. Perhaps I was born too late. Perhaps my spirit has survived previous eras. Or perhaps, I am simply a hopelessly obsessive man that is at last growing up and is trying to race some latent calendar of pragmatism.

I think I’d be quite happy with just a few books, my iPod, and a computer. Such streamlined surroundings have become an ironic fantasy that will surely haunt me. I often taunt myself by determining the cash value of a particular collection at which point I start to brood, sulk, and sigh. There is a certain shame in such indulgences and their subsequent burden.

In any case, please enjoy this portfolio of paintings. I, on the other hand, will likely head to the outside stoop to ponder transplants, the Federal Furlough travesty, and Pfluffer, who seems to need medication for his frazzled nerves . The outdoor cats are are all asleep under the house, so I shall savor such a rare moment of solitude. Of course, I’ll ultimately ponder Christmas and its trappings … and start visualizing our tree ornaments. Back when Jon and I were both working we’d put up four Christmas trees, and still not have room for all of them. Oy ve! Here I go again.

Il ya de la joie dans une maison sans désordre et minimaliste. Ahh, ces rêves insenséset les collections poussiéreuses!

Note: If you should collect Roseville, Majolica, or porcelain creamers, please feel free to contact me.

(Image: “Muzicant” by Zamfir Dumitrescu, 2008.)

Embracing the Ebb: My Empty Basket

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In these times of economic, political, and spiritual unrest, it is indeed tragic that a moment’s joy is often a luxury we can no longer afford. Happiness is thus an indulgence. And a smile can be interpreted as a folly, gloat, or mask.

When is the end to be sighted so that we may cast down our oars of pretense and swim to shore?

Meanwhile my left oar has snapped. Can I believe the pundits and the politicians when they assure me a new oar is anon? Or perhaps a humble motor? Or will such an oar simply heal itself and reset my course? I am dizzy from the circles of one-handed rowing.

Dreams bring me ashore where life can once more be satisfying, productive, and human by its embrace.

I shall ponder the best course. It’s assuredly “high tide!” Ooooops. Henry corrects me: “High time!”

Life is indeed a beach.

Do Be a Don’t Bee

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Yes. At some point in the 70’s and generally and quite officially ending in the early 80’s, I partook of the occasional reefer. Dope. Pot. Grass. Ganja. Weed. School Supplies. Even the all too clinical Marijuana. Reminiscing about such misbehavior may still coax a smile and the the very rare chuckle.

However, I shall not rationalize my actions by offering that:
I was a young adult, given to experimentation (which is true!).
It was more acceptable “way back then” (which it was!).
Many of the harmful effects had yet to be publicly isolated (and they hadn’t!).
Society as a whole was far less health-aware (uh huh, no DUH!). And …
The 60’s were but a few pages back in the history books and we as a culture were still collectively curious and open to transcendent exploration!

All of that seemed to adequately justify my choices back then but let it suffice to say that I alone made such a decision, wholly without pressure, but assuredly with expectation.
As I recall such carefree tokes and thus embarking on a spiral with a counter-culture, I travel down so many well-trodden paths. I almost simultaneously and in some unseemly unconscious stream, my happy memories start to challenge any justification or excuse. Pot’ll do that, you know!

What interests me most today is the concept of the munch: not the snack that the word today might signify, but rather the hybrid of uncontrollable food craving and the snack that satisfies that urge. Most of you have probably felt such an intense hunger that a single item, combination, preparation suddenly seemed so glorious and satisfying. Often, such munchies might include foods that were otherwise disliked, abhorred, or even vilified. That is, if not for being stoned, primed with appetite, and a wee bit pixillated.

So I ask you, comrades, what unusual munchies were you at such weak moments given to sample? Was there anything in particular that whet your hunger when and if you similarly partook of said weed?

Admittedly, during most of that era, I was a struggling young adult. As seniors in college, my roommate and I would often prepare Bermuda onion and grilled cheese sandwiches. Once my cupboard was at its barest, yielding only “Raspberry Figurines”, which ultimately and surprisingly were delicious and somewhat tantalizing. Rula Lenska would’ve been proud of our discriminating taste!

When 49, my mother smoked pot her one and only time and experienced the miracle that is Pepperidge Farm’s coconut cake. She devoured the better part of it. Folks that knew her back then would’ve been shocked not from the fact that she actually “got high”, but more so in the knowledge that she was so very petite and possibly anorexic. Her senses returned the next day. The younger man that she had been seeing and his little bag were but a memory. Years later, however, that cake became legendary within intimate family circles as we referred to it as the Great Cake Awakening of 1981.

I am further convinced that it was indeed the creation of many a noble munchie that has led to widely accepted menu items. Take for example deep-fried pickles! Need I say more or offer any explanation thus whatsoever?

So I beseech you to seize the moment to clear the cookie sheet of any haunting crumbs of memories. Share with us your favorite or most unusual munchie. None of us will judge, but we will always smile. I am rather certain that a few of you will become rather ravenous and filled with “ideas”! For some, such nostalgia may be even recent.

“The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.” (Carl Sagan)

Exchanging Peasantries: A Recipe

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As I sit in the sunroom pondering those worries that prevent a steady slumber, the kitchen gods often whisper to me. This would indeed be a perfect late summer’s eve for a cassoulet. It is unseasonably cool, damp, and we have survived yet another torrent. And, of course, Jon and I crave a familiar creation that at once comforts our cockles and restores our hearth’s dominion.

As with other such recipes and traditions, mine is borrowed, augmented, and made more appropriate for our odd lifestyle and tired taste-buds. What was once a French country peasant staple is now a Marklewood delight, and further one that allows for great freedom of expression. I also find that such a creation allows me the opportunity to “gently” clean the icebox of neglected ingredients!

Cassoulets are, by tradition, a crocked meal, at once combining meats, beans, herbs, and sauce, although I usually add rice. Rice is my current starch trend as I prefer its texture (and Henry, who adores “people food”, is awfully fond of the saffron variety!) As with all well-intended and pragmatic one-pot meals, I begin with selection of the perfect vessel, in this case a ceramic and lidded cooker. Friends, I urge you to verify any such choice to ascertain whether it is indeed oven-worthy, as I have oft let an assumption lead me astray. Of course, such a ducky preparation would be divine if the cats would hike down to the lake and rustle up some fowl.

Today, I am using a teal hand-sculpted three-quart work of art that my friend Patricia, a dear and rather Bohemian pottress, created for me years ago. It had a domed cover with a peculiar and thus engaging finial. I begin the layering process (I adore creating levels of taste in such meals) by meticulously placing a vegetable along the bottom of the pot.

Although a cassoulet would by tradition call for white beans, I am using Brussels sprouts, as I have fresh ones on hand and, although Jon doesn’t quite understand them, he will tolerate them in certain preparations. I ready them by quartering them and sautéing them with butter and garlic, and then line them up like attentive soldiers, back to back or a similar formation.

I then spoon a melange of similarly sautéed onions and mushrooms and make every attempt to cleverly conceal the waiting sprouts.

Upon this layer, I add about four cups of rice. I offer “about” as one perk to this concoction is that exactness of quantities is unimportant, as the flavors compliment in any sensible proportion. Henry prefers saffron rice, as it melds mild flavor, texture, and butter, which is intoxicating to an indoor puss.

The final layer is that of substance, or meat if you must. I prefer sausages as they contribute full flavor. Today I am taking the ever appropriate Summer sausages, browning them in a skillet, and then slicing them for ease in placement. Sometimes it is all about such ease, lest I forget an unfortunate creation of last year. That incident will safely go unposted and forever unshared.

Once all of the layering is complete and I am certain that there is absolutely nothing else I can add, I place the cover … ultimately cooking the cassoulet for forty minutes at 375 degrees. Again, with such a preparation, there is no need to be exact so even a half hour longer will not overcook the dish … just allow you more time on your favorite social networking site before dinner.

What I adore about this hearty meal is that the flavors essentially trickle down: The mushrooms and onions position themselves between the sprouts, sharing in the garlic, and filling any gaps. The rice fills similar gaps thus created by the mushrooms and onions, absorbing butter. And the juices and herbed flavors from the sausage similarly infuse the rice.

As I wait for the dish to complete and the timer to chime, I ponder two other reasons for my fondness.  First, I can use the same sauté pan for the Brussels sprouts, ‘shrooms, and meat, thereby creating only one such pan to wash. Secondly, the cook time allows me the opportunity to wash and quickly put away that very pan and any utensils or holding bowls. I so enjoy having only one cooker to clean after dinner!

One final note, my friends: when spooning and “plating” your cassoulet, use the largest spoon you can find. Gently ease it towards the bottom of the dish and simply scoop. Never try to mix the ingredients. Sometimes it is best to allow the flavors and aromas to gently transition while on the plate and, thus, avoid offering instead just one big ole complex taste! There is such an effort as “over-mixing” as I have been vehemently accused on many a night!

In closing, oh comrades in cookery,  Jon and I anticipate a warm and hearty dinner, worthy of an Arctic evening, or the weather of a storm. Someday, perhaps you will join us, although there may not always be a cleared chair. However, there is indeed always plenty of food to nourish and savor.  Usually.

As they say in the South of France: “Bon Appetit, Y’all!”

(Note: Such a dish goes well with almost any robust wine, although I prefer a pinot noir. More importantly, I would put a Karen Akers CD on the carousel and turn the volume a little higher than is customary.)

 

(Image: “Untitled” by Zamfir Dumitrescu.)

The Revolution’s Resolution: Final Notes and Rubs

What a gray day the Universe has squired into the hinterlands this morning. As we are low on kitty kibble yet again, the outdoor pusses have ranked themselves the all too familiar “haves and have nots!”  There simply wasn’t enough to satisfy and nourish all that answered the breakfast chime.

Of course, that reminds me of, perhaps, the most famous of all of the coupled “Haves”: Louis XVI and his indulgent, exuberant, and yet tragic betrothed … Marie-Antoinette. Their fate is legendary and narrated with both fact and fable, as their execution in 1793 indeed “sealed” the agenda for a new and improved France.

The two featured engravings depict the pair’s silhouetted profile, created with their own words — his will and a letter to her sister-in-law. Naturally, the lettering process had to be reversely cut to be legible. Mon Dieu! 

My timepiece ticks trouble. I must scoot to the Market for provisions. Meanwhile, I trust that the pusses will read this brief musing and count their blessings. Even with nine lives, each is precious and seemingly premature. Alas, I scurry.

(Images: “Dernières paroles de Louis XVI and Dernières paroles de Marie-Antoinette” by French engraver Alphonse Pélicier, c.1830.)

Litter Boxing and Kitty Porn

mrdragotsyeni

Women always seem less bashful and squeamish than their male friends whenever a conversation shifts topic to that of bodily functions. We men blush, roll our eyes, and rifle through a litany of inhibitions whenever there’s a mention of: “play by play” flu-like symptoms, comparative irregularities, or a review of some profound diaper changing scenario. The same, it seems, is true with pusses, at least here in the hinterlands of Marklewood.

The female cats, Hermione and Claudja, are by all accounts well-adjusted, remain task-oriented and focused whenever they visit the litter box, and reserve their traumas and foibles for more serious matters. The boys are an entirely different matter.

Sam the psycho-kitty is one of those pusses who insists on tip-toeing around the issue, not getting his furry paws soiled. He perches like a bird on the box’s rim, often teeters, and usually falls. It doesn’t help his efforts that he’s a few ounces heavier than his suggested weight. He simply positions himself like some white, puffy bird, and awaits just the right moment. Further, as he is given to a form of feline Turret’s Syndrome, he starts making spasmodic, guttural, and rapidly paced moans. It took several years for me to realize that this might be some subconscious form of passive pussy aggression, directed to ensure privacy.

Henry is the most persnickety about his toilette. He makes certain that no one is within view. He never, ever over-stoops, over-squats, or misses his mark. If for some reason the litter is not quite as fresh as he would prefer, he simply waits until such time that it meets his standards. Yes, he loves the lavender-scented variety but, sadly, does not understand our need to scrimp.

Pfluffer is like the little schoolboy who waits until everyone has vacated the boy’s room, clearing the “rhetorical” coast. He usually waits until no one is in view or hearing, then positions himself so that he is facing the wall. Once finished, he obsessively shakes his huge furry feet to rid himself of any clay or crystal particles. If any of the other four pusses should perchance interrupt his regimen, he stops short and returns later to finish, again in full privacy.

Sadly, Tartuffe has been gone for more moon’s than we’d care to note. However, his litter box habits were legendary. He usually spent a great deal of time waiting, circling, digging, and burying. I always suspected that he kept an issue of “Kitten in Whips” or some other “kitty porn” hidden in the tight space between that grey rubber, pride-sized box and the wall. He was just that type of cat … sassy and indulgent, with vivid memories of his once and former libido.

Of course, their are always circumstances that rewrite the routine of those silly pusses. Whenever the litter is changed, within minutes the five have formed an impromptu line, with Pfluffer usually last to guarantee his privacy. It is quickly time again to sift the box.

There have been times when Henry and Pfluffer meet up at the litter box entirely without premeditation. They simply go in together, like beer-swelling, stogie-puffing buddies, do their business and leave … with Henry fastidiously tiptoeing away and Pluffer shaking his paws free of any residue.

Then there was that embarrassing, inconvenient, and certainly uncomfortable phase that Henry went through back in ’08. Whether he did so out of consideration for he who “cleans the messes” or for fear of having to wear diapers, he started napping in the upstairs bathtub. I was proud of Henry’s responsible attitude but he wouldn’t hear any talk whatsoever on the subject. (As I mentioned earlier: we boys are squeamish about such matters.)

All in all, those five four-legged wards of Marklewood are well-trained and never vindictive, at least not when it comes to litter box “issues”. I credit Jon who always spends a great deal of time with kittens, talking them through the steps with full and detailed explanations. There was a time I was certain he demonstrated various techniques and perhaps engaged the newbies in role-playing. But as he is an ardent behavioralist, he surely focuses on their motivation and practice. Of course, I had made that assumption long before the first time I heard Jon purr.

By now I am certain, my friends, that you have either stepped away from my post, both aghast and a-gasp. Or you’re shaking your head with dismay. Tssk. Tssk.

The boys tried to warn me: it’s never appropriate to discuss such matters. One’s litter box is sacred, private, and never fodder for a Thursday evening post. And on that note, it’s time for the hourly inspection of their facilities.

(Image: “Mr Dragotsyeni” by Stephen Mackey.)

http://www.stephenmackey.com