I’ve decided our adopted cat Mouse, should have been dubbed”Blink” instead. Every time I look at this beautiful little animal she returns my stare with a slow blink and offers me a gaze filled with the kind of pure unabashed affection I’d like to see on my kids faces on Mother’s Day. It’s as if she were trying to communicate. This morning I returned her slow blink in a “we mean you no harm” kind of way, and she upped my blink with two of her own and raised me a one-eyed wink. Really? I can see it now, Susie Nelson, Cat Whisperer. Stints on Ellen and Letterman can’t be far behind.
Catnip, is Mouse’s drug of choice. Boo, the Queen of Cats, the senior of our two cats by forty-two human years, treats catnip with the same disdain she holds for most things in her life, and wouldn’t waste a moment of her allotted twenty-two hour a day nap time in pursuit of it. Mouse, on the other hand, when offered a toy filled with the fragrant herb dances with gleeful abandon across the living room loving and caressing her toy as if she was Pepe le Pew and the toy the ever reluctant object of his affections, Penelope Pussycat. Too silly.
On the downside, Miss Mouse, being somewhat feral, has a highly developed taste for bird. I would keep her inside to diminish her habit of single-handedly culling the bird population in our yard, but having been an outdoor cat before breaking camp and moving in with us, I can’t in good conscience totally restrict her outdoor activities. My other half says she’s “just being cat”. He’s right, of course, and this is certainly not the first cat I’ve seen be an ardent predator, but I wish she’d stick to lizards instead. My apologies to the reptiles now shuddering in the ivy.
I ended up in Massachusetts in my early twenties with my husband and two young children. After spending an unforgettable year traveling across the U.S. and eastern Canada packed with as much fun and freedom as a lifestyle with few boundaries provides, we found ourselves on the eastern seaboard with only enough money to carry us a couple of months. With insufficient funds to move forward, nor enough to return to the west coast, we stopped where we stood and dropped anchor in Lynn, Massachusetts. After locating temporary housing and stocking a few supplies, we began to get serious about our finances as well as seeking employment. Not having bothered ourselves with such mundane activities as shaving during our road trip (calm down, we did bathe daily), I saw the back of my husband’s neck for the first time in fourteen months. His ponytail, as if scalped, was proudly displayed on the wall as a reminder of those carefree days now left behind us. With nothing but faded jeans and tee shirts in our duffel bags, we stretched our paltry budget to include several work appropriate outfits from the second-hand store in town.
After creating viable resumes, and spending several weeks interviewing, we both were extended and accepted job offers in Boston. Home, at the time, was an eclectic apartment building populated by a cast of characters who made the Addams’ family appear normal. Trash, collected daily, was gathered by a stooped old gentlemen with a patch over one eye (true story here) who dragged one leg behind him and if asked a question responded in Beatles’ lyrics. He, was probably the least odd of the group. Besides several musicians, a starving artist or two, and a fortune-teller named “Madame Rita”, there were several tenants I suspect were hiding from the law and one very old woman sporting a Tom Selleck moustache named Pearl. Pearl was a long chested woman, who wore her nylons rolled tightly at the knee, and always smelled vaguely of moth balls and vinegar. As we passed in the hall she always said a cheery “good morning, Lila”, no matter how many times I mentioned Lila was not my name.
Lynn was an old town, but a quaint one, located on the shores of Massachusetts Bay. Our building, and it’s mirror image next door were built in the late 1800’s. At the time they were built they were considered high-end accommodations, but their beauty had faded over the years, and now the large airy apartments rented for $28/week including the much touted trash pick-up.
Our apartment was on the third floor. Windows had been installed on all sides allowing ample light. Screens, assuming there had been some, were now absent. Beyond the glass, chunky boughs of leafy trees were visible lending the rooms a sort of “treehouse” feel. The only elevator in the building had stopped working some thirty years prior. That being the case, we kept in excellent shape dragging groceries, strollers, and tricycles up and down the stairs as needed.
After our second month there we made friends with a couple our age in the next building with a new baby. Furnished sparsely with a card table and four chairs, a mattress, a tv and four sleeping bags, our apartment wasn’t exactly Martha Stewart’s idea of a dinner party venue. Nonetheless, I invited our new friends to join us for just that on what turned out to be a particularly hot and humid summer Saturday. Our kitchen was small, but ample, and we had added to the plates and pots and pans we brought with us.
In spite of a lively insect population, all windows were open to allow at least a slight breeze. Dinner was to be Italian, the ingredients purchased from the mom and pop grocer on the corner kind enough to run us a tab until our first paycheck arrived. The owners, having five children of their own all sharing the small apartment over the deli, had a firm understanding of struggling to make ends meet.
While working on dinner preparations, my son played on the floor at my feet. Stopping banging his pans together he pointed a chubby finger toward the ceiling and said “birdie”. Looking up I saw two small birds perched on the light fixture. Within seconds what seemed to be a flock flew in the open window like Alfred Hitchcock had said “action”. Grabbing my dish towel I began herding them back where they came from . Suddenly crouched in the window like a Masked Avenger appeared a huge tabby cat with a decided gleam in his eyes. Tail wagging and with lightening speed he leapt toward the circling birds leaving two large paw prints in my lemon meringue pie when he pushed off. It was like a dog fight with the parts filled by cats and birds. In total panic the birds flew tail to nose in formation out the window with the cat stepping lively in my cooling pasta in hot pursuit. One straggler was left behind, which my husband rescued in our goldfish net.
Dinner, if a bit furry, was excellent accompanied by salad and crusty bread. We worked around the paw prints in the pie and shared a bottle of incredibly cheap chilled wine that should have been served in a brown paper bag. All good, all the time.
Prawns with Spicy Mayonnaise
2 lbs. large raw prawns (about 24)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
Pinch white pepper
Pinch black pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
3 Tbsp. fresh coriander, chopped fine
Lime wedges for garnish
1 red capsicum pepper, small
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 Tbsp. EV olive oil
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
Wash, peel and devein prawns, leaving tail on.
In small bowl combine garlic, red pepper flakes, peppers cumin, lime juice, and coriander. Place prawns in a large resealable bag and pour marinade over top. Refrigerate for min. 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut red pepper in quarters, remove seeds and membrane. Place on cookie sheet with garlic and drizzle olive oil over all. Cook for 30 mins. until pepper is blistered and garlic is soft but not burnt. Check often. Place both in bag and cool. Peel both when cool.
In food processor combine red pepper, garlic and mayonnaise until smooth. Transfer to serving bowl and add lime juice. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat an oiled heavy based pan (cast iron works perfectly) until it begins to smoke. Drain prawns. Discard marinade and cook prawns in batches about 2 mins. on each side. Do not overcook! Serve with chilled mayonnaise and lime wedges.