Monday, January 17, 2011

Cold Weather and Cat Fun

Babs in the purple cabbage patch

This weekend was another crazy cold weekend--and our heat wasn't working in the main house, so Rob and the cats and I had to "camp out" in our Little House, the old detached kitchen that we now use as an office. It was kind of cozy hanging out in such a small place with 11 cats. We slept on the hide-a-bed and ran the heat all day long. We played lots of games with our little furry friends. We threw bouncy balls for them and gave them copious amounts of catnip.

It was so cute to see them all gathered in the toasty Little House, safe from the cold wind. Some were wrestling; some were dozing; some were just kind of rolling around. They were everywhere--on the bookshelves, the couch, the heat vents. It was a total cat party.

"June Baxter's having a slumber party in the Little House," I announced to Rob on Saturday night. "She invited all the cats. And instead of popcorn, they're having some of those Chinese shrimp chips that puff up like pork rinds in the microwave. Yeah, they're making shrimp chips, and then they're watching Strays. "

"But they'll be rooting for the cats, right?" Rob said. "In Strays? They won't be rooting for the humans."

"Right," I said. "Of course. . . . They've got the lights off, by the way, and Elroy is jumping on the hide-a-bed."

When we weren't huddled up in the Little House, Rob and I were outside gardening in the cold. It wasn't really that bad once you started moving around in the sun. I planted two more needle palms in the bed around the pond. Then I mulched another big section of the bed, spreading a layer of old newspaper and then a layer of wood chips to kill the grass and weeds. We planted two peach trees--a La Feliciana and a Floridaking--in the sunny border along North Adams Street. And I planted two little bare-root chinquapins (Castanea pumila) in the backyard; they were so tiny and pathetic, but I kept imagining them in the future, all lush and spread-y and full of tasty nuts for wildlife.

We did a lot of raking and bird watching. There were robins and goldfinches galore.

As I planted around the pond and cut down masses of evil invasive nandina, I was dreaming of the pond-warming party I'm planning for April. I pictured plates of vegan strawberry shortcake . . . and guests in frothy pink dresses . . . and the gardens full of soft fiddleheads and snowy Atamasco lilies.

There are four "feral" cats that live in our yard--Greg, Clark, Maggie, and Babs--and we've become very friendly with them. We feed them and take them to the vet and play with them all the time. But we can't let them in the house because we simply have too many cats in there already. We've installed a cat door in the garage so, really, the garage is where they live.

Anyway, we were hanging out with Babs, Maggie, Clark, and Greg all the while we were gardening, and on Saturday afternoon we sat on the warm, sun-drenched driveway and petted them and served them Party Mix (cat treats) and catnip. Maggie and Babs went nuts for the catnip. I doled out big piles of it and they rolled around in it and got it all over their fur; they looked like they were wearing little grass suits. Maggie got really rambunctious and was wrestling everybody and hogging the Party Mix. And the sun was so comforting in that spot; it was so warm on their fur and my head. I felt so pleasantly drowsy.

On Sunday evening I picked a big basket of kale, broccoli, and cilantro. I had lots of fun crouching in the garden, picking curly, ruffly cool kale leaves and tender, clover-like cilantro. Babs was following me. There were robins hopping around, and silly chicken statues posed about. The broccoli florets were the prettiest shade of blue. Yes, they were blue, not green.

We used the cilantro to make a batch of Spunky Red Bean Dip. (We just stir-fried the kale and broccoli.) The dip is so good; it's super spunky with all the hot sauce and vinegar and cilantro. 

It was freezing in the main house when we were cooking. We tortured ourselves in there for about three hours, making spaghetti and vegan Rice Krispie treats and apple pie. And then we retreated to the Little House again, where we petted the cats and laughed at their antics. June B., who looks like a monkey and is the biggest busybody, was wrestling multiple cats.

"Woo!" Rob cried, cheering her on. "June is taking on all comers!"

Spunky Red Bean Dip
2 cans pinto or red kidney beans
4 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp Tabasco sauce
6 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 Tbsp red wine vinegar
8 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Salt to taste

Blend all ingredients with an immersion blender until smooth. Serve with tortilla chips.

I love the fancy ruffles on the kale.

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