Before I proceed, I pose a question. Do felines suffer from mental illness? For several years my son’s cat was prescribed Prozac for anxiety, but I believe, Mouse, our adopted cat, might be schizophrenic. Either that, or we haven’t completely ruled out demonic possession. Mouse stares endlessly at the walls in her room as though something was there. We see nothing, but after long periods of staring, she chases whatever it is she apparently sees batting at it with her paws and meowing loudly. Mouse peculiar. (Sorry, sometimes I can’t stop myself.)
Boo, the senior member of our feline squad has taken up with the ceramic cat on our dining room shelf, as captured in the attached picture, appearing to be trying to communicate with it in a “we mean you no harm” kind of way. As far as we can tell, the ceramic cat has made no effort to reciprocate, but this is pure speculation on our part. Anyone got the name of a good kitty exorcist?
Today is Fat Tuesday. By that, I do not mean that the last two chocolate chip cookies I sneaked last night are showing on my hips. Fat Tuesday signals the beginning of the fast of lent, and the six-day countdown to Mardi Gras. On my bucket list over the years I have always included attending both Carnival in Rio and Mardi Gras. Dangerous these days in Rio, if I was to choose one now, I would probably confine myself to New Orleans.
I have been to New Orleans three times. Two for pleasure, and the last on business. Both my pleasure visits occurred during the intense heat of the summer months. To say it was hot would be as much an understatement as describing Shaquille O’Neal as slightly above average height. During both summer trips we ventured out in the early morning to explore, enjoyed the air conditioning midday, and came alive again when the sun took pity on the earth and retired for the night.
On my first trip, Bourbon Street was a “must see” for me. Fueled by images derived from movies and books, I had built it up larger than life in my imagination. In reality, I found it to be a relatively run of the mill street, not significantly more remarkable than many others in New Orleans. Differentiating itself perhaps with the inordinate amount of strip joints, bars, and voodoo shops offering a wide variety of paraphernalia guaranteed to satisfy even the most ardent of curse throwers bent on revenge. Oh, and the music, Lord, you can’t forget the music.
On my last trip I traveled alone. Recently hired at a dot-com company as their graphic artist and trade show liaison, I was also the point man for their trade show group. Basically, the title included being the first employee on the tarmac before the show and the last one to leave when it folded its tents. At the time, I had traveled across country unaccompanied on many occasions but this was to be my first time going to a strange city with no one waiting to greet me upon arrival.
Landing early on a fall evening at Louis Armstrong Airport, I gathered my luggage and hailed a cab. Giving the driver the name of my hotel, I was pleasantly surprised to be dropped off in front of the lobby of a lovely old building bordering on the French Quarter. Once inside, I noticed the lobby had a subtle but not unpleasant musty smell mingled with an exotic insence. Greeted by a warm and welcoming southern staff I was soon following the desk clerk’s directions to the elevator. Waiting for the door to open I caught a whiff of enticing smells emanating from the direction of a sign pointing down the hall reading “dining room”.
Part of my job included manning the beautiful hospitality suites the company arranged for V.I.P. visitors and upper management. In this case, my electronic key inserted in the elevator allowed me access to a floor several floors above the regular housing. The staff had set up a coffee station near the elevator with plates of delicious looking Danish and cookies. In the corner a FAX machine busily churned out sheets of printed paper.
Once in the luxurious room and settled, I contacted the kitchen to discuss catering. Shortly, a man introducing himself as Baptiste was standing at my door. Beneath his name on his chef’s jacket was printed Head Chef/Catering Manager. At first sight he brought to my mind the saying, “Never trust a skinny chef”. If this indeed was true, this perpetually smiling young man who obviously enjoyed eating as well as preparing his food, could have well been trusted with the Hope Diamond. A sampling from his varied menu was set out on the bar for me to taste, including a shrimp and tasso appetizer that would have gotten a nod from the gods themselves. Yum.
Finding we had much in common, we were soon conversing like the oldest of friends. Meeting the following morning to discuss final menu selections, Baptiste suggested that since I was alone in the city, I might accompany him and a visiting friend for a French Quarter Phantom Tour that same evening.
With the misty, gloomy weather helping to set the eerie mood, I met them at a bar which was where our tour was to begin. Our guide, turned out to be an excellent storyteller and well versed on the local spirit legends. Our tour included walking through the famous haunted graveyards of the French Quarter. New Orleans provides the perfect back drop for mystical spiritual manifestations, so the informative and appropriately creepy tour, for an old ghost hunter like myself was fascinating. Tombs seem to be scattered as if tossed there by the wind, and ranged dramatically in design and size. There was an otherwordly feel to the place that made me shudder slightly beneath my warm coat. It seems as well as spirits of the human variety, visions of dogs and cats reputed to have belonged to former graveyard caretakers, have been seen roaming the grounds searching in vain for their long dead masters. In reflection, I believe in a dark, dark corner behind the lingering shadows I got a glimpse of a black and white tail whisking around a gravestone as I passed by. Hmmmm.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. – William Shakespeare
Sausage/Vegetable Bake with Basmati Rice
Sausage and Vegetables
1 ring of Polska Kilbasa or smoked sausage cut in thirds and scored diagonally
2 hot links or any sausage you prefer
1 red onion, cut in large chunks
2 medium green pepper, chunked
2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut in 3/4″ slices
1/3 each yellow and orange peppers, chunked
15 cherry tomatoes, halved
Freshly ground black pepper
1/8 cup soy sauce
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place vegetables and sausages in 13 x 9″ casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Grind black pepper over top and sprinkle with garlic salt. Pour soy sauce evenly over the top. Bake for 30-35 mins. turning sausage once and stirring vegetables at the same time until sausages are browned and veggies tender. Serve over rice.
Creole Boiled Rice
1 quart of Boiling Water
1 cup Basmati rice
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped fine
1 Tbsp. butter
The key to cooking Basmati rice is to soak it in water before cooking, preferably three times, draining and rinsing in between soakings to remove excess starch.
Place the water in a medium saucepan and add the bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Add the salt and rice giving it a good stir to prevent sticking. Return to a boil. Partially cover and continue cooking for 10-12 mins. or until rice is tender but still has some bite. Note here: If you stir Basmati rice repeatedly it will go to starch, so as tempting as it might be do not stir. Drain rice and remove bay leaves. The difference with this method of cooking rice is that is more follows pasta cooking instructions than traditional rice recipes. There will be excess water to drain off.
Place in casserole dish and top with butter. Sprinkle butter with parsley flakes. Bake for 15 mins. in 400 degree oven.