Monday, September 22, 2014

Fables about Black Cats

       Set aside the fables and fallacies about black cats. It’s time to focus on the reality of these engaging, fun loving felines. Earlier in my life I always wanted one, but kept coming up with grays. No complaint:  my first gray was Star, who adopted me. My second was Ari Mithral Shannonn, who was almost a blue Oriental colorpoint. (His mom was a gray and buff calico, and I never figured out how she managed to birth a kitten of his coloration, unless his father had a major recessive gene somewhere.) Finally black Canth Starshadow, son of a barn cat, came into my life. He was followed by two other rescued black cats, Tabirika Black Onyx (Brika for short), and Syrannis Moonstone (Syri). Along with a gray tabby named Bastjun Amaranth, these midnight darlings have made up my feline family over the last 25 years. And after adopting Canth, I vowed never to be without a black cat again. They’re special.
    I’ve always had a certain fascination concerning the stories that accompany the sometimes horrible history of these beautiful animals. People whisper them to one another as if they were great secrets, looking askance at black cats on the streets and in cages at adoption agencies as if they might carry plague. Most of these tales are fiction, such as a black cat walking across one’s path gives bad luck. I know people who go out of their way to pet an ebony feline when they see one. None of them has had unusual difficulties afterward. I’ve had a bigger problem with my 25-pound unabridged dictionary (buff and gold), which gets into an argument with my feet occasionally because it by necessity lives on my office floor. The situation can become dangerous when I try to move quickly in its vicinity. The dictionary obviously lies in wait for my unsuspecting feet. So far, that score stands with the weighty tome causing two broken little toes in the last four years. My black cats claim no comparable accidents. They’re both too soft and yielding to cause such damage.
    Another fiction is that they’re difficult to see in the dark. Truth is, black cats are no more stealthy than gray cats. I tripped over gray tabby Bastjun Amaranth many more times than I have Canth, Brika, and Syri in total. Brika presents the only current tripping possibility:  because she’s the Princess of the World, she enjoys a stately procession from room to room on a regular basis. These parades usually occur in daylight and impede any traffic behind her. And of course, she MUST be exactly in front of me. At night, Brika is vocal enough she announces herself wherever she is, and also purrs loudly, so her location is seldom in question.
Syri does not normally invite tripping because she has a tendency to stay in one place for extended periods. She does, however, like to lay behind me on the kitchen floor while I’m cooking without letting me know she’s there. A sudden turn on my part sometimes results in a surprised yelp from me, accompanied by a quick two-step to avoid collision with the unexpected furry rug with big gold eyes. These encounters also occur mostly in daylight, in what my apartment owners consider a “well-lit area”. I differ with their description, but it’s never tough to see a black cat on a pale kitchen floor.
    They’re evil. How can a natural color connote inherent evil? If this is true, it means every black sheep, goat, dog, horse, water buffalo, wooly worm, and any other animal (ok, and some insects) producing plenty of melanin belongs to a peculiar category that causes everything bad on this planet, including (perhaps especially) global warming. If any of my black cats have ever practiced dark rituals, they’re doing it in their sleep. Syri is a Chantilly-Tiffany, a gorgeous rare breed renowned for their sweet natures and deep affection for a certain human of their choice. Sometimes she does talk during dreams, but in the almost 16 years I’ve lived with her, she’s never cast a hurtful spell or uttered a spiteful word. Any black cat having her very soulful and spiritual gaze can’t be bad. She’s seems able to look into the next dimension when she gazes fixedly at the corner behind the couch.
    When fed a good diet not based on corn, black cats have glossy, soft coats. It’s a pleasure to help them groom, or just pet them. And the longer cats are studied by scientists and medical professionals, the more benefits are discovered for their owners:  lessened tension and blood pressure, better healing and rest because of purring, unconditional love, fostering a sense of responsibility with minimal demands, and the support of another consciousness during times of grief or depression. Then there’s a cat’s unique sense of fun. I don’t think anyone can resist smiling when watching an exploring kitten, or empathize with an adult cat pouncing on a ball or chasing string. Inventive felines like Brika occasionally plop into a few inches of warm shower water draining from the tub to warm her feet.
    Another thing I don’t understand is the cruelty of some people against black creatures, in particular cats and chickens. Many animal shelters ban the adoption of cats with midnight and sable coats from sometime in September through Halloween, just because of possible feline mistreatment. I adopted Brika in September 1997, and had to fight hard against the assumption that I might want to inflict horrible retribution on a four-pound cat whose only crime was being clad in black fur. I laud the adoption agencies for doing this, but decry the necessity. There are always reports about such viciousness in the news around the end of October. Apparently, the pathological cruelty of some individuals does not stop with animals. Mistreating pets has been proven to escalate into crimes against humans in forensic profiling.
    So forget about the stupid stories and bad reports. Put away the shadows left by the Inquisition and other organizations born of hate to foster hate regarding a color or a type of animal. Black cats are gorgeous, loving creatures who, like any other cat, want to be a special part of our lives.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Featured Author: Clive Cussler

Clive Eric Cussler, known as “the Grand Master of Adventure”, was born July 15, 1931 in Aurora, Illinois.  His family soon moved to Alhambra, California, where he grew up.  Clive became an Eagle Scout at age 14.  After attending Pasadena City College for two years, Cussler joined the US Air Force, serving as an aircraft mechanic and flight engineer in Korea.  Returning to the States, he worked as a copywriter, then as creative director for two of the country’s most successful advertising agencies.  Clive married Barbara Knight in 1955:  the two lived almost 50 years together until her death in 2003.  Their children Teri, Dirk, and Davna have delighted their parents with four grandchildren.

Clive wrote and produced radio and television commercials:  many won awards, including the top prize from the prestigious Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.  He started writing fiction in 1965 when Barbara worked nights for a local police department.  There was nothing to do and no one to talk to after Cussler made dinner for himself and the children, ascertained their homework was done, and put them to bed.  Larger-than-life character Dirk Pitt leaped from his imagination, but sidekick Al Giordano was based upon a war buddy who is still a good friend. Clive’s first book was published in 1973—his novels have since been translated in more than 40 languages and appear in over 100 countries. He has been on The New York Times Bestseller List 17 times.  Cussler’s first nonfiction work The Sea Hunters was accepted in lieu of a Ph.D. thesis by the State University of New York Maritime College in 1997.  He has also written more non-fiction and children’s works.

Clive is fascinated by undersea exploration.  After becoming a success, he founded the National Underwater & Marine Agency (NUMA), a non-profit company instrumental in discovering over 60 historically significant wreck sites, including the C.S.S. Hunley (the first submarine to sink a ship during battle), and the U-20 (the submarine that sank the Lusitania).  Cussler is a fellow of the Explorers Club of New York, also a member of the Royal Geographic Society in London.  He collects classic autos, some of which are featured on the backs of his book’s dust covers. 
Author Quote   Cussler’s advice to writers: “Study authors who write in your genre, and who are successful…Ernest Hemingway studied and used the style of Tolstoy.  Thomas Wolfe delved into James Joyce.  I used Alistair MacLean when I started out, eventually moving into my own writing style which is now copied by other authors.” 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Featured Author: Patricia Cornwell

She was born to Marilyn and Sam Daniels in Miami, Florida June 9, 1956.  Her father was a highly-regarded appellate lawyer who claimed  abolitionist writer Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and other works) as an ancestor.  Patricia and her two brothers were moved by their mother to Montreat, North Carolina in 1961 after being abandoned by Sam, who was dying.  Patricia attended King College in Tennessee, then transferred to Davidson College.  She graduated with a B. A. in English and began working as a reporter for The Charlotte Observer in 1979.  Her first book, the award-winning A Time for Remembering, was published in 1983.

Patricia’s literary focus changed when she landed jobs as a technical writer, then a computer analyst, at the office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia.  She later volunteered with the Richmond Police Department before her first Scarpetta book was published in 1990.

Her popular novels involve a great deal of forensic science, and are believed to have influenced such television series as “Crime Scene Investigation” and “Cold Case Files”.  Patricia’s first novel Postmortem won the Sherlock Award for best detective written by an American author.  In 2011, she was presented the prestigious French Medal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters.  She has a handful of other writing awards from all over the world as well.  Her books, now translated into 36 languages, are known for her meticulous research and accuracy.

Patricia became intrigued with Jack the Ripper in the 1990s, and spent considerable time and her own money researching the forensic evidence.  She wrote Portrait of a Killer:  Jack the Ripper—Case Closed in 2002.  Her findings are controversial.

Patricia appears often as a forensic consultant on television, and is an active member of forensic organizations from New York City to Virginia.  She is also a well-known philanthropist.

Author Quote:  Among other feats, Patricia has become a licensed helicopter pilot, a certified scuba diver, and has also qualified for a motorcycle license.  “It is important to me to live in the world I write about.  If I want a character to do or know something, I want to do or know the same thing.”

Sunday, August 18, 2013

First Mate's Favorite Fritatta Sandwich

Another slippery sandwich.

A stovetop frittata is just as easy to make as a baked one--you don't have to turn on the oven and heat up the kitchen to accomplish this tasty gastronomic feat.  Use any type of veggie you like for filling:  I vary mine on a regular basis so Bruce (Captain and currently Head Writer in our creative wacko place) doesn't tire of the taste and texture.  The cats love the smell, but haven't yet explored the taste; Syri has played a short round of soccer with a garbanzo bean!

First Mate's Favorite Fritatta Sandwich

3 eggs, well beaten  (or use 4 egg whites)
1/4 cup carmelized sweet onion* (optional)
1/2 cup cooked mixed vegetables
1/8 cup of rinsed black beans and/or garbanzo beans
several slices of Pepperjack or cheddar cheese (to taste)
sliced ripe tomato
2 leaves (at least) Boston or Romaine lettuce, washed and patted dry
Pinch dry parsley
Pinch dry basil (or thyme or rosemary, if you prefer)

Dijon mustard
Greek unflavored yoghurt or olive oil mayonnaise
2 Miami onion buns (or just onion buns:  whole wheat buns also work well)
Olive oil

With fingers, coat 8" non-stick pan with a tiny amount of olive oil (mainly for flavor).  Begin heating pan, add eggs.  Immediately drop in veggies and beans, scattering them across the surface of the eggs.  Sprinkle with herbs. Cover, reduce heat to simmer (you want a nice thin crust on the bottom of the eggs with only a little browning).  Cook until set, about 5-7 minutes.  Eggs may puff a little, almost like a souffle.

Meantime, toast buns.  Add mustard to the bottom inside, put yoghurt (healthier) or mayonnaise on the inside top.  When the eggs are completely dry, divide them into three or four portions with a non-scratching spatula depending on the size of the buns.  Put one portion on the bottom of a bun, add cheese to taste, and layer the next portion of egg on top of the first so it softens the cheese.  Tomato and lettuce come next.  Close with top of bun, and enjoy.  Relatively fast, and hearty.

* If you prefer, add the caramelized onions
atop the mustard instead of with the rest of the vegetables in the eggs. Works well either way.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Trip to the Sprecher Micro Brewery

Very Interesting Places…

Sprecher Micro Brewery
Hmmmmm.  My partner Bruce’s son is on the western side of the Atlantic puddle with us for six weeks, a little summer vacation from France.  I’m wondering about things to do with a teenager who focuses on computer games, eating, and sometimes practicing his flute.  My oldest and smallest cat Brika won’t let Noel play with her as much as he wants--she gets tired of lying on her back with ears, nose, tail, and paws in the air, eventually righting herself with a dismissive “Trrrrurrr!” and a through shake, and stalks off beyond his reach.  She is NOT a toy, even though she looks like one.  There’s only so much television to watch, especially considering the amount of repetitive ads between shorter and shorter plot segments.  Going out would be good to get Noel some fresh air, but there has to be a goal—where, what…

Aha, eureka, a tour to see/hear about/taste one of Noel’s favorite things, Sprecher Root Beer!

Bruce called the company, and found that they offer several tours per day for a small per-person fee.  So we left Burlington with the car air-conditioner blasting, in the middle of a torrential thunderstorm, for north Milwaukee.  The trip took nearly an hour and twenty minutes.

Sprecher has moved from the industrial complex near the landmark Rockwell clock tower to a one-story building confronting a residential neighborhood in Glendale.  It was, according to our tour guide, once an elevator factory.  (They must have had quite a basement to test their product, or a trans-dimensional tower!)  We arrived early.  That was good, because parking was at a premium.  The small lot holds 12-15 visitor’s cars; otherwise, street parking is available.  One vehicle left just as we got there, and Bruce pulled in.

Sprecher Griffin Griffon Milwaukee Beer Brewery
The rain had stopped by that time. Two black Sprecher griffins guarded the entrance, allowing the precipitation to drip from their beaks and wings.  We walked between them into the gift shop, which resembles an aging area for kegged beer.  Around the walls were things to buy:  clothing, caps, and glasses featuring Sprecher’s black and yellow logo.  And case after case of soda, including something none of us had ever seen before:  hard root beer.  Bruce checked us in at the register, where we received odd-looking fluorescent orange wristbands.  We adults fingered the tabs on ours, marked in black “Beer Sample Stub Void if Detached”, and compared them with Noel’s plain one.  He could sample all flavors of Sprecher soda:  Bruce and I could get four tastes each of fire-brewed beer.  (Being the designated driver, Bruce intended to limit his choices.)  And oddly enough, the place doesn’t smell like a brewery:  only a slight tangle in the conditioned air belied we were within rock throwing distance of major beer production.

We soon found out that the company doesn’t run on Greenwich Mean Time, but instead follows Sprecher time:  our watches, compared with the clock on the wall, showed the tour started six minutes late.  A blond young man who appeared to be in his twenties finally loped into the room carrying a glass mug half full of water, and encouraged “You guys” should gather near the double door leading to the brewing area.  Us guys formed a full tour:  there were between 30-40 grown-ups and children following him.  I half expected the guide to pull out an instrument and begin playing like a Pied Piper as we trailed him into the next room.

Sprecher Beer Brewery Milwaukee
Owner and Master Brewer Randy Sprecher learned to love European style beer while stationed in the military in Germany.  After his mustering out, Randy returned home to the Milwaukee area, and began experimenting to try and produce his version of German beer.  He was successful, and the Sprecher brewery was born in 1985, the first microbrewery established in Milwaukee since Prohibition.  It is growing, and is moving into several new markets with both root beer and beer.

Several large tanks sat on the concrete floor of the brewing area, with pipes connecting them both overhead and under foot.  We were warned to watch our steps.  There were fewer vats than I expected.  Except for the group, only one man was in the room, caretaking whatever filled the fermenting vat at the moment.  It was also somewhat noisy.  Our guide had to yell his spiel, and often partook of his water.  He passed around mugs of malted barley and pelleted hops so we could feel and smell them.  Some brave individuals even tasted them.  Not very flavorful at this stage.  They needed some encouragement.

Sprecher Beer Brewery Milwaukee
Sprecher products begin with boiling water in a huge vat.  This proves their proud claim to “fire-brewing”.  Little additional carbonation is forced into the beverage just before finishing, which is one of the major differences between European and American beers.  (This is good for me:  many New World-style beers and most sodas give me carbonation hiccups, which I manage to retain between 4-12 hours each time.)  The majority of beer ingredients, except for the more exotic flavorings such as California orange peel, come from Wisconsin.  The main sweetener is local honey.  Members of the tour laughed when our guide reported that Sprecher sells its used malted barley (called mash) after brewing to local farmers for cattle feed.  He claimed this is why Wisconsin cows are so much happier than California cows.  Several tour members applauded their appreciation.

Sprecher Beer Brewery Milwaukee
We paced through the aging room, where vats of beer are allowed to rest and gain character.  It was cold:  exhalations from individuals hurrying through painted pale clouds in the atmosphere.  Felt good to me!  The tour gathered again in the bottling and labeling section, which was MUCH louder than the brewing area.  Our poor guide had to strain to be heard over the constant clink of bottles racked in humming machinery.  He told us the production line itself is an old one from a Coca-Cola bottler.  We noticed three or four loops of things happening:  beer (or soda) funneled into brown glass receptacles, caps affixed, labels slapped on one, sometimes two, sides depending on the beverage, and the bottles slipping gently into cardboard boxes, ready for distribution.  Again, there seemed to be only one person working here.  Fully automated.  The noise from the bottles was oddly sweet, somehow mixing well with the artist-painted mural on one wall representing Randy Sprecher’s memories of Bavaria.

Sprecher Beer Brewery Milwaukee
The tour was released into the tasting room.  We formed a line, consulting our brochure as well as the lists near the bar, to make the best selection.  Of course, Noel chose root beer.  I got a Mai Bock, which is a light spring lager that tastes of flowers and has a long, complicated finish.  Bruce chose the hard root beer, which was exceptional.  We returned to the line for more tastes:  the sodas are served in a paper cup, but the beers are presented in etched Sprecher tasting glasses, which we got to keep.  Not being fond of dark beers, I didn’t favor the Russian Imperial Stout.  The Hefe Weiss was okay, but not quite to my taste.  Noel decided that the Cola flavor was fairly standard, and didn’t like the cherry cola combination.  He’s going to stick with straight root beer, which is one of Sprecher’s top sellers.

One can spend a very pleasant afternoon at Sprecher.  This was both fun and informative.  If you haven't tried it yet, I’d say it’s one of Milwaukee’s Very Interesting Places

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Captain's Apple Salad

Janet Deaver-Pack Salad Apple Recipe
I've been working on this recipe for awhile.  The first dressing was a dijon vinaigrette, which was good.  But this version, which includes a lite raspberry vinaigrette, is even better!  For a cool summer side dish, this is very tasty.  It offers plenty of crunch, and since it replaces mayonnaise with yoghurt, it contains less calories.  The Captain of Games here (Bruce) likes it very much!

Janet Deaver-Pack Salad Apple Recipe2 large sweet apples, skin on, coarsely chopped (Fuji, Delicious, jonadel, Gala, etc.)
3 ribs celery, strings removed, chopped
1/4 cup Chardonnay (Barefoot, Tisdale, Liberty Creek)
1/2 cup walnut pieces (more or less to taste)
2 heaping teaspoons plain yoghurt
1 teaspoon good lite raspberry vinaigrette (I used Kraft this time, which is a bit sweeter than I'd intended:  I've also used Penzey's Spices Raspberry Enlightenment along with a bit of red wine vinegar and brown sugar)

Put apples in a bowl.  Add Chardonnay and toss until all pieces are coated so they won't discolor.  Add celery and walnuts.  Stir.  Add yoghurt.  Stir thoroughly.  Add raspberry vinaigrette, and make certain you don't overdo it (you want the raspberry taste to come after the apples and walnuts, just a hint of a bloom in the back of the mouth).  Chill for several hours, and serve.  Serves four. Yummms all around!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

When Pigs Fly...and the Roast that caused it

I've invented a new Slippery Sandwich, inspired by Bruce Heard and his son Noel:  "It's noon, and we're hungry.  What are we going to eat?"

I just happened to have half a pork loin roasted and ready, so...but I need to tell you what I did to that piggy before making the sandwich!

Positively Scrumptious Pork Loin

Cut the fat from the top and bottom of a drained 12-inch length of pork loin.  Grab a Pyrex or ceramic roasting pan and carefully line it with about 20-22 inches of foil, making certain to center it.  Tuck the ends of the foil into a loose roll toward the pan on both ends (you'll use them later).  With a mortar and pestle (or with a battery-operated herb grinder for wimps), persuade some dried Rosemary to fall apart.  Sprinkle about a teaspoon and a half on the top and bottom of the meat.  Do the same with a half teaspoon of dried Basil, and the same amount of dried Parsley.  Add a little more than 1/4 cup of cheap Chardonnay to the roasting pan, making sure the foil contains it.  Put the pork loin in the Chardonnay, and add 5-6 circles of finely cut leek (either white or green) to the top and sides of the meat.  Tuck into a 380-degree oven for half an hour.  Take out at the half hour mark, unroll the ends of the foil, bring them together over the roast, and seal both those and the sides.  (This doesn't have to be a tight seal.)  Roast for another 40 minutes.  Check roasting time with a reputable cookbook, and take your oven into consideration--if it's wonky like mine, desired doneness may take more time.  Remove, and cool.  Ok, serve part of this hot for dinner with mixed vegetables and couscous with pine nuts.  Anyone who's within smelling distance will have his/her nose in the air, wondering how you're getting the kitchen to smell so wonderful.)

The Sandwich:  When Pigs Fly

1 medium Vidalia onion (any sweet one will do)
Large pinches of French thyme, parsley
Splash Chardonnay
6 thin slices of the pork roast (above), cooled
Slices of medium sharp Cheddar cheese (enough to cover bun)
2 Miami onion buns
Dijon mustard
Plain yoghurt
Slices of ripe tomato (Beefsteak or a Heritage variety)
Extra Virgin olive oil

Peel the onion, cut into quarters.  Then divide into narrow pieces starting at the crown or the bottom, using the whole onion.  Put a little olive oil in the pan just for taste, and heat.  Add onion, and saute. Toss with often with wooden spoon. As onion begins to carmelize, add the French thyme and parsley.  When the pan becomes dry, add the Chardonnay, toss again, cover, remove from heat, and set aside.

Cut the Miami onion buns in half.  Toast.  Spread one side with Dijon mustard, the other with about a teaspoon of the plain yoghurt.  Put a heaping serving spoon of the sauteed onions on half of the bun, layer with Cheddar, and add the meat.  Warm in microwave oven for 30-45 seconds (just until cheese begins melting).  Add two or three slices of tomato, top it all with the other side of the bun, and serve immediately.  Eat OVER a plate, or you'll have the insides racing down your chest.  It is a Slippery Sandwich, after all.

Two Yummms on this one from the boys, and a profound Purrr from Brika, who will do nearly anything for some bites of this tender, flavorful pork roast!