Isabella & Theodore Parker at Rest

Isabella and her birthday kitten taking a moment to chill. These two are thick as thieves and rarely can be found stationary.

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Pandemic Kitten Revvved Up 4 Action

Who could attack this adorable kitten? Theodore Parker has taken fire all morning from the household’s big cats. He’s ready to open a can of WhoopAss on their trifling behinds.

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The Birthday Girl and Kitten Nap Out

The birthday girl and her new kitten, Parker, are sacked out. They played super hard.

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The New Kitten Has A Big Day Out

Theodore Parker making the rounds.

Our new kitten, Theodore Parker, has exhibited an adventurous personality early into his 8-week old life, and taken well to venturing outside. Recently he went for a car ride, where he wedged himself between my shoulder and the car seat headrest, offering him some balance and support. After returning home, Parker felt the need to explore the interior of Maia’s handbag, which he fit quite handily inside. He is a rather portable fellow. After all that excitement his little 8-week old batteries ran low, and a serious kitten nap was in order.

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A New Kitten Enters the Household

Theodore Parker @ 7-weeks.

It was a simple equation. My 7-year old daughter, Isabella, was turning 8 in April. A kitten was all she talked about since the loss of our most senior cat, Uni, in January. Locating a suitable feline family addition became a necessity and a welcomed endeavor to focus constructive attention upon in these uncertain times. Thus “Operation Furry Kitten” was launched in mid-February.

I was thinking a long-haired critter would fit the bill. Perhaps of the Persian or Himalayan persuasion – something puffy. A Ragdoll or Ragamuffin breed might work too. Or a Maine Coon.

I wasn’t hung up on it being pure bred or having papers. That being said, this likely was not the type of creature I would run across at the animal shelter or a pet rescue spot. I spent about a month combing through the peculiar world of online catteries and local breeding websites.

These ideal kittens were depicted in costume settings, wearing tiny bows & bonnets, posing on miniature kitten beds, like preadolescent beauty queens. It was creepy. No animal forced into that situation would come out developmentally normal. Not to mention this level of pure bred cat ran $500 – $1,200 each.

I was having no luck. Then on an early March evening just before midnight, I took one last peek at Craigslist before heading to bed and found a post for an adorable Himalayan female, seven weeks old.

I texted immediately. You can’t wait on these things. I apologized for the late hour – but if one doesn’t jump on something that fits the parameters this closely, the critter will get got.

To my surprise the breeder texted right back. A person from Ohio had secured first dibs on the female, and was driving down at 1PM the next afternoon to complete the purchase. But her brother was available. The boyfriend of the breeder had designs on keeping this cute creature, but I was offering cash money.

I started conversing with this breeder again early the next morning. I had a scheduled meeting/conference call at 9:30AM. By the time it was over at noon, the deal was set.

I had one hour to jet home, clean out a cat carrier, hit my bank, and drive 50 miles to Louisville for a clandestine handoff in the parking lot of a Dollar General store.

Yes a little sketch. Yet the price was right at $250. The mom had papers. The dad did not. I was good with that. This balance can help decrease the inbreeding and make the cats potentially more properly adjusted.

The breeder was a smoker. Her car reeked. But my new friend was riding in style in a minuscule kitten carrier, and appeared fit and able for a new adventure. At 7-weeks old, he was just a tiny fur puff, and needed all his shots yet.

A Himalayan is basically a cross between a Persian and a Siamese. This guy featured a blended coat of cream and mocha, with a doll face, where his nose pointed out instead of being flat, and darker brown swept across his nose, ears and paws. These are often referred to as seal point features. What really set him off were his sharp blue eyes against the soft mocha fur.

Upon returning to Frankfort, I took fur-bearin’ over to my folks for a meet-and-greet, and to kill time. I needed Isabella to make it home from her after-school activities. Then I smuggled this little banshee inside for presentation to the birthday girl as an early gift.

Once home, I went back out to the car to supposedly bring a blanket inside. I folded the blanket in half, then rolled our new friend up in the middle so just his brown mocha face and blue eyes were visible when I spun the rolled blanket to the side.

I came back in and asked Isabella if she was still psyched about wanting a kitten for her birthday. “Yes, yes, most definitely!” And is your birthday soon? She did the math and it was like a month away. Then I spun the blanket around and the kitten and Bella locked eyes.

This huge smile spread across her face as joy ignited in her eyes. The jazz hands started going off as she prepared to hold him for the first time. This actually couldn’t have been more perfectly timed, as the whole COVID-19 situation worsened. Non-essential businesses began closing as Kentucky was placed under a “Stay Safe at Home” order by Gov. Andy Beshear.

If I had waited to find another kitten closer to Isabella’s birthday we never would have gotten one. This turned out to be the last week Kentucky kids went to school before heading home to start an early spring break that doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.

Everyone in my house has points during these cloistered quarantine days when “kitten-time” is a necessity. Rubbing your face across his warm furry belly makes everything better. He loves nibbling on noses and offers daily kitten comedy relief to assuage stress.

His name has proved a bit problematic. We had a divide in the house over the top two final choices. “Theodore or (Theo)” versus “Parker.”

It cracked the birthday girl up that she could point to her dad and say, “Peter,” and look to the kitten and say, “Parker.” The rascal is a web climber of early promise, and the Spiderman reference has merit. Theo works as well, but the whole chipmunk thing is a problem for me. Regardless, he is officially recognized as Theodore Parker.

Now our other two adult cats are not as enthralled with the new family addition. Theodore Parker is a marked man. Both big cats stalk him constantly, and pounce when his back is turned.

He already scored a vet visit for taking a claw swipe to the eye. Squirt guns were deployed to family members for use as deterrent measures, and I bought a NERF Rival soft-assault weapon to light up would-be attackers.

It’s a bit like the Serengeti in my house. Larger cats waiting to attack distracted, weaker prey, but the newby has begun to stand his ground and hiss back.

Theodore Parker and his maturation is exactly what the doctor ordered for a homebound family on the front-end of a never before seen pandemic.

Happy 8th Birthday Isabella!

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Sea Scallops and Shrimp in Jamaican Curry Sauce Warm A Chilly Valentine’s Day

A cold snap gripped the central Kentucky region on Valentine’s Day. Residents awoke to snow flurries and a balmy 15 degrees. This necessitated hearts grow fonder if for nothing else than to keep warm on such a chilly morning.

Valentine’s Day may be primarily a figment of the greeting card industry’s imagination, but it has its fun aspects as well. There’s nothing wrong with expressing to those special people in our lives, that we appreciate them, however that may come about.

My daughter Isabella, 7, put serious effort into selecting cards and a candy surprise for all her classmates. A little personalized doodling goes a long way. The first words she uttered Friday morning, with eyes still closed, was “It’s Valentine’s Day,” as a grin spread across her face.

It’s an excellent day to be indulgent. Whether that be love, hugs, food or drink – go for it. The kids and I picked out flowers, cards and wine for their mom. I took it upon myself to come up with a meal that would complement the situation. I needed something all would appreciate, and an offering that hopefully would warm our hearts.

In a previous life I resided in Washington, DC. In the early 1990s there was a fantastic lofi Caribbean restaurant located in the lower Georgetown neighborhood called the Hibiscus Cafe. It was brilliantly painted, served white tablecloth level food at a fraction of the price and spread the love of the Caribbean people through its cuisine.

The following recipe was one of my favorites from Chef Sharon Banks. My apologies to Chef Banks for any liberties I took riffing off her original. It’s nothing but love.

I approach “Sea Scallops and Shrimp in Jamaican Curry Sauce” in the same way I do gumbo or jambalaya from down New Orleans way. There’s wiggle room for a pinch of this and a pinch of that to satisfy experimentation, and the dish will turn out just fine. It can be an everyday meal, or dressed up for special occasions. It’s one of those core types of menu offerings from a region, like gumbo in Louisiana, that is more than just food. It speaks to a region’s culture and is bursting with pride. This was just the ticket for a chilly Valentine’s Day dinner.

Sea Scallops and Shrimp in Jamaican Curry Sauce

1 Pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 Pound sea scallops

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 Tablespoon Old Bay seasoning or to taste

6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1 Sweet onion

1 Tomato diced

3 Teaspoons Indian curry powder

2 1/2 Cups chicken stock

3 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream

1 Sprig fresh thyme

1 Habanero chili pepper (optional)

1/2 Cup coconut milk

1 Cup jasmine rice (uncooked)

1 Loaf sweet Italian bread

1 Bottle Sauvignon Blanc (chilled)

#     #     #

Turn oven on to 250 degrees.

Place the remaining 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock, along with coconut milk in a pan on the stove over medium high heat, or same in rice steamer. Add rice once contents reach boiling and cook according to package instructions. Add additional coconut milk if necessary. Salt and pepper to taste. Usually cooks for 20 minutes or so. Set to the side with lid on to keep warm.

Season shrimp and scallops with salt, pepper and Old Bay. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil, and melt 4 tablespoons butter, in a skillet over medium heat. Add seafood to skillet, cooking for 3 minutes on each side, or until just cooked through. Transfer seafood to a platter and keep warm.

Dice the tomato and onion. Add remaining olive oil and butter to skillet. Sauté the onion for 5 minutes, add tomato and sauté another 3-4 minutes. Add the curry powder, stirring for a couple minutes.

Pour in 1 cup of chicken stock, stir and bring to a light boil. Dice the habanero pepper, discarding the internal seeds. Be careful as those with sensitive skin might feel a slight burn when handling this once cut. Do not wipe your eyes until having thoroughly washed and dried hands. Add the pepper to the skillet (optional). Let the mixture simmer for 3-5 minutes.

Pour the contents of the skillet into a blender and purée until smooth. Add the heavy whipping cream and pulse for a few times to blend into the sauce.

Take the sweet Italian bread and cut in half. Butter both sides, and sprinkle lightly with garlic, salt and pepper. Place into oven on cookie sheet and bake 5-10 minutes.

Pour the sauce back into the skillet over low heat and add the sprig of thyme (dried thyme is fine if fresh was not available). Let warm for 3-4 minutes. Taste and adjust with salt/pepper/Old Bay. Add seafood back into sauce, stir, and warm for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Place a serving of rice onto the center of a plate, and spoon the seafood and sauce mixture around it. This works great in a bowl as well (especially for kids). Place the rice in the bottom of a bowl and spoon a serving of the seafood and sauce mixture over the rice.

Serve with bread, and a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Kisses & Hugs – Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

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A Super Bowl Eve of Cooking

Nachos!

It was a dogfight in Auburn Saturday night for the Kentucky Wildcats. A fitting apéritif for the Bowl of all Bowls Sunday evening. Really psyched to watch Kansas City and San Francisco with everything on the line. New quarterbacks. New teams. Both scoring machines who employ opportunistic defenses. Let the games begin.

In honor of the Super Bowl, I got my cook on. Saturday evening found me simultaneously prepping three different meals, dinner for that night, the Super Bowl Mexican spread, and chicken & andouille sausage gumbo for Monday.

Preparation for the gumbo required the cooking of a fourth meal. The chicken stock was put together from scratch. That takes a whole chicken going into the oven, harvesting the cooked meat, then using the bones in a stock, built to showcase the gumbo.

Steaks in Brazilian marinade.

Saturday was all about steaks. I selected two 2.5 pound sirloin fillets, dredged them in a Brazilian steakhouse marinade, and served with twice baked potatoes.

With the potatoes out of the oven, I switched to broil and cooked both steaks to a medium rare perfection in 12 minutes. One was for dinner, the other would be re-purposed in fajitas Sunday. We have a family tradition of going full-on Mexican for the Super Bowl, loaded nachos with steak & chicken fajitas.

With the steaks served, and all campers fat and happy, I proceeded to chill out on the couch for a few hours, and work my numbing skills. I dropped the temp in the oven to 350, and popped in our chicken friend for an hour plus. He smelled delicious. Now the chicken needed time to cool down before I could render the meat from his bones without burning myself.

One whole chicken ready to be dismantled.

Around 3AM I got a third wind. For whatever reason, I had a morbid curiosity in watching the Australian Open men’s final, which came on live from Melbourne at 3:30AM. All this athletic prowess gave me the energy boost to get up and throw together the chicken stock for my gumbo. The longer the flavors steep the tastier the end product.

CHICKEN STOCK: 2 pounds chicken bones; 6 quarts water; peeled carrots; chopped onion; chopped celery with leaves; chopped fresh parsley; fresh thyme; 1 bay leaf; salt; black pepper; and white pepper.

Turn the oven to 400 degrees. Roughly peel and chop produce before adding to water. Be generous in the proportions. While waiting for the stock to boil, turn to our chicken friend, and pull off the wings and legs, removing skin and meat, but leaving tendon and hunks of meat that don’t immediately release. It’s best to leave a decent amount of the meat on the bone, to increase flavor in the stock. Pick the bird clean.

Chicken stock, with bones, simmering down.

With the meat removed and placed into a container, place the carcass and other bones onto a cooking sheet. Place this into the oven for 15-20 minutes, till bones and such are browned.

Once finished, dump the bones into the stock and stir. Place a lid offset on the stockpot and allow the liquid to simmer down half way from its original total. I managed to stay intermittently conscious until a god-awful hour of the morning, keeping tabs on the Australian Open. Novak Djokovic outlasted Dominic Thiem in five sets to win his 17th major title.

By the time this was over, I pulled my stock from the burner and placed it outside on the carport, with lid in place. It can sit out there for a day and steep. I’ll place something heavy on the lid to keep any curious critters from investigating.

I went to bed after that for a few hours.

I awoke to Mexican Sunday around 11:30AM. The Super Bowl was kicking today. It might as well be a holiday. In that spirit I made the executive decision to dispense with any usual protocols for a Sunday that might hinder or otherwise constrain perceived merriment. Why not crack a beer with our coffee…

I turned my thoughts to fajitas. These things are a blast to make, and put a delicious aroma into a kitchen. I broke out my grandfather’s carving knife set. Love getting this out. The vibes are excellent. Spiking the meat with the carving fork, I shaved diagonally down the face of the sirloin cutlet. It was like butter.

Fajitas are up!

Chopped chicken from our midnight bird was added to the steak, and both were placed into a sauté pan containing a dense fajita marinade. As the meats warmed, I sliced the onion, red pepper and yellow pepper into thin strips. This combo was sautéed in vegetable oil, cumin, garlic, salt and pepper till tender. With that the fajitas were straight. Accent with cheese and salsa if preferred.

The nachos required shredding two pounds of ground beef and cooking it through; drain fat, and spice with taco seasoning; simmer until cooked down; layer bottom of casserole dish with one bag of Tostitos, topping with ground beef, black olives and shredded cheese; repeat the same for a second layer; place in oven at 275 degrees for 20 minutes; and serve. Done and done. Just don’t fall asleep during the game.

The chicken stock continued to steep into Monday. I’ll drain the stock after work, and assemble the gumbo.

Hope everyone got their cooking finished, and enjoyed the football and festivities!

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