everybody needs a cooking kitty…

…and Leonard Cohen….and a spider ladle.

I made 3 scrumptious dinners this week and they were easy, culturally varied and just really, really good. We will talk about food in a minute, but first, I’d like to spend some time reflecting on companionship…but not the human kind. Because of the late unpleasantness, we spent far too many months in semi-isolation learning to be alone without being lonely. My solution was turning my kitchen into a miniature social network, complete with a conscripted feline audience, a melodic background accompaniment and a collection of inanimate friends. Wow…you know it honestly didn’t seem so bat-shit crazy until right this very second.

I realize I had a full nest with Food Taster, Sous Chef and Husband, however I truly thrived in my escapist culinary ecosystem. But pandemic life slowly evolved and now everybody is back to work or back to school; and I am here with the cat. My kitty and my music and my funny little tools are still very much a part of my daily life, they just don’t have to carry the load of companionship anymore.

Thursday tonkatsu

My first fun recipe is Japanese Tonkastu, a tender, fried pork cutlet with a savory piquant sauce. But before I get into details, I’d like to back up and introduce Loki the cat, my sidekick and partner-in-crime most nights in the kitchen. Loki knows that prep time begins around 5pm so every afternoon he sprints to his observation stool like clockwork. He doesn’t really help in the traditional sense, like actually doing anything beyond gazing and purring. But he can track a salmon filet with amazing acuity and when I need anything swatted off the cutting board onto the floor, he’s totally my guy.

The wonderful thing about Loki, our third black rescue kitty, is that he is grateful. He is grateful to be out of the shelter, grateful to be loved and adored, and grateful to share in some of the most human rituals, like cooking. He shows this gratitude by not licking, sniffing or sampling the ingredients and in return he has been dubbed my official Cooking Kitty.

Cats get a bad rap primarily because they are constantly compared to dogs. I do love dogs, so we raise our kitties with very doglike expectations, like coming when called, playing chase and tolerating long tummy rubs. I think Loki is a pretty cool dude for a fickle feline. There was a lot of chatter about pandemic pets and I get the draw – to have the faithful, unqualified companionship of another soul is a gift…even if that soul can be obtuse, arrogant and selectively loyal sometimes. I think friendship is vastly underrated and far too often taken for granted, and Loki understands that better than some humans I know.

Saturday farmer’s stand haul for two

Then over the weekend I riffed on a fresh tomato and basil pasta recipe with some buttery seared scallops and our now-standard caprese. But first I should mention there is this thing I have about music, for which I can mostly thank Daddy. It’s not musical ability or mathematical understanding of composition and theory, and I have no deep knowledge or trivia-level recall. It’s simple, basic love and something I’d nearly forgotten, until I needed it the most a few years ago. Armed with Spotify and Apple Music I created a mobile soundtrack for my life and even wired my house to follow me from room to room. But it’s in the kitchen where I am most inspired by the musical companionship I’ve collected over 50 years.

My musical preferences have always been eclectic and almost impossibly juxtaposed. At 15 it was Dylan and Bowie, an unlikely pair. But I grew up on Little Feat, Taj Mahal, Steely Dan and of course a solid dose of Leonard Cohen. Daddy must have had 500 vinyl albums and when I finally aged into music, I could sit in my room and spin records for hours. He gave me his old speakers and a new turntable for my birthday, along with my very first albums, A Flock of Seagulls and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. This was a pretty swell present, except I had actually asked for Rick Springfield’s Working Class Dog. Daddy knows best I suppose, because today Bruce and his contemporaries are much more representative of the crazy musical catalogue I’ve assembled. Still, I do love a little cheese and bubblegum, so buyer beware.

“When things get really bad, just raise your glass and stamp your feet and do a little jig. That’s about all you can do.”

Leonard Cohen
Monday’s Greek chicken with white beans & artichoke hearts

By Monday Sous Chef was back at my side for a simple a Greek skillet dinner that rightly assumed I had artichoke hearts and white beans in the pantry. Quick side note: as I began to progress in my cooking, and by that I mean putting in the time to read and learn, gathering good, fresh ingredients and daring to be daring, I also began to collect favorite tools. As I made this list I laughed out loud because I began to sound like Steve Martin in The Jerk. If you are a favorite tool, you are stored within arms reach, you are always hand-washed and you are named. Remember Stanley, my standing mixer? Personifying my weapons was silly, but remarkably strategic. When times seemed dire, I knew I could get a smile from Sous Chef by asking him to toss me Jed Clampers.

  1. bench scraper (Crapey Crapey)
  2. kitchen shears (the Snippers)
  3. digital meat thermometer (the Done Stick)
  4. spider skimmer (Spidey-Sue)
  5. tongs (Jed Clampers)
  6. mallet/tenderizer (the Bammer)
  7. micro plane grater (the Finner Skinner)

These guys are the best, but I’m really only adding to a basic tool palette: cutting boards, 4 decent knives, measuring cups and spoons, cookware, garlic press. Yes, a garlic press is basic. It all makes my little photography habit seem tame by comparison. Assembling this posse I was never once tempted to buy a set. By the time I realized I needed/wanted a tool I had very distinct options and preferences.

I learned from Mother to always hold a kitchen tool first, practice and see how it feels in your hand. If it didn’t suit her royal left-handedness, it was destined for the penalty drawer. (We all have that drawer – it’s at the bottom, doesn’t open all the way because of the potato masher and you usually close it your foot.) It is a very “Princess and the Pea” approach, but quite effective. So I built my stash one by one and perhaps that’s why they all have their special names.

“I’ve named everything that I’ve ever owned. Real or inanimate, I have to give it a first and last name. Everything in my apartment comes alive at night.”

Amy Sedaris

Hopefully you’ve realized by now that I have absolutely no intention of discussing those recipes. Credit goes to Louise of the West who gently teased me about my yarn-ish storytelling. Maybe it falls somewhere between meandering and manipulative but you read this far didn’t you? Seriously, you all can click, you all can read and you all can make any of these. Like I said, they are easy, varied and really good. Plus, I’m obviously still unpacking the last two years. I feel like Loki has so much to add to the discussion, but you know…he’s a cat.

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