Monday, 30 April 2007

Kitchen Audit and a Menu Plan

Old Mother Hubbard looks in the cupboardToday is the last day of the month, obviously and, tomorrow, Tuesday, will be a holiday here in Spain. The dog and cats have almost no food left (I know my priorities) and, when it comes to human food too, my cupboards are beginning to look a little like Old Mother Hubbard's, so it's off the shops for me. This month, with unprecedented planning!

Whilst I do have the habit of buying ahead - at least non-perishable items - for a month or more, I don't usually have a planned menu. The reasons for this are, mostly because you can't always guarantee what you'll be able to buy here and, secondly, because I prefer to see what's available first.

So I go shopping with the idea that I need "so many" meals and buy those things that look freshest and best. But, having said the cupboards are getting bear, they're not completely empty and I've ended up with a few odds and ends that want using up before I buy anything new, so instead of my normal habit of checking cupboards for spaces to see what needs to go on the shopping list, first I went round and did a "kitchen audit"" to see what I've already got:

What's lurking in my cupboards?

  • A bag and a half (about 1.5 kilos) of rice
  • 2 bags (1 kilo) of green lentils
  • 1 large bag of Capellini a Nido pasta
  • Packet each of frozen prawns and mussels
  • 4 fillets of cherne (grouper, white fish)
  • Frozen broccoli, peas and green beans

Sure, there are a few other things lurking that are less consequential, but those are what stand out as being items around which meals can be based and, just to practice some of what I preach, what I did next was to come up with a list of 7 reasonably varied meals - with some help from food sites and Google - that utilize what I've already got first, in conjunction with the additional items I will now go shopping for.  Paella inglessa

  1. Lemony Lentil-Spinach Stew
  2. Capellini Al Pomodoro
  3. Broccoli Risotto
  4. Revuelto con Gambas y Triguero
  5. Simple One Pot Fish Dish
  6. Paella a la inglessa
  7. Chicken Casserole

By my calculations, that's one culinary visit to Morocco (which for me is only next door), two visits to Italy, three to Spain and the Canary Islands and one to Anglo-American comfort food land. It could have been more varied, to include something from a little further east, perhaps. Each of those 7 meals had to be quick and dead simple, not because I can't cook anything else, but because I am bone idle and, probably like you, pretty busy and want to do this to save time.

Plus, the whole idea was to be able to present you some dishes you might like to use. I plan to make these meals either for four in advance and store 3 portions or, make it once a week for four weeks, making 28 meals in all, which will take me virtually right through the month of May.

Well, it will get me all the way through the month, because there are bound to be days when eat out, or make something else "one off."

Week One

1A 2A 3A 4A 5A 6A 7A
Week Two
1B 2B 3B 4B 5B 6B 7B
Week Three
1C 2C 3C 4C 5C 6C 7C
Week Four
1D 2D 3D 4D 5D 6D 7D

Based on this list, if the meals are cooked in that order, I'll only have to cook on all seven days during the first week and, then only quick meals, twice a week in the subsequent weeks: 13 of 28 days (bolded).

On the remaining days, all I have to do is heat up the extra portion, made in the first week, in the microwave. I count that I need 15 freezer and microwave-friendly, one portion size plastic containers or bags (depending on what's most suitable for the food in question). I do have that number already and, I think I can squeeze them in the freezer.

The maximum cooking time quoted was around 40 minutes for the lentils, probably a little more for the chicken casserole, but neither of those need to be attended much once they've been thrown in a pot. The other dishes take considerably less time to cook.

Rationale for the choices

Usually, I make lentils in the Spanish style, Lentejas con chorizo with potatoes and spicy chorizo sausage, but I'd already seen the recipe for Lemony Lentil–Spinach Stew at Yumsugar and thought that would be nice for a change, as well as adding some more healthy green veggies. Thank you Mr. Google, for finding me the Italian recipe for Capellini Al Pomodoro, pasta with tomato sauce and cheese, that just takes 5-6 minutes to cook. To be honest, I'm not a great fan of pasta in tomato sauces, but I thought this made a better contrast with the other dishes and adds another source (or sauce) of vitamins.

The Broccoli Risotto takes care of the broccoli and some of the rice. The Revuelto con Gambas y Triguero (Scrambled eggs with prawns and triguero asparagus), will take care of half of the prawns. And my Simple One Pot Fish Dish will use the cherne fillets.

Casa RamonThe simplified Paella a la inglessa, using just prawns and mussels, with peas and red pepper, actually isn't my purely English invention, or cheat. That is the way Doña Lola makes it at the restaurant, Casa Ramón, in Garachico in Tenerife.

This method makes it easier to produce in smaller quantities than it would with a host of varied ingredients and it is something I make fairly regularly, but normally, I'll eat it three or four days consecutively. What I have never done before is to attempt to freeze it, so I'm crossing my fingers here that it works. We'll see. Don't sue me if it doesn't! :) That just left one meal to find. So far, you'd almost think I was a vegetarian and, it does happen that mostly I do eat vegetarian and fish at home and only eat meat when I go out, but I wanted something that contrasts with the rest and I fancied chicken for a change.

Whilst I could have been more adventurous in the chicken department, as this also needs to be something that will keep, my plan is to make a simple, comfort food, one pot chicken casserole, with potatoes, carrots, onions and throw in the frozen green beans near the end. The pasta and the revuelto will need to be made on the day they are eaten, but I'm fairly confident that the lentils, the risotto, the fishy dishy and the chicken casserole will all freeze successfully.

And off to the shops: Thus, ignoring all the other things I need to buy like that ever most important cat and dog food; staples like milk, tea and coffee, household products and so forth, running down the lists of ingredients for the above seven meals, all that I need to buy to complete them is:

  • Olive oil
  • 24-36 small-medium potatoes (5 kilos ish?)
  • Spinach (fresh if possible, frozen if not)
  • Cheese (we can cheat, grated in bags, two of)
  • Tomato sauce (or tomatoes, if feeling less lazy)
  • Triguero or small green asparagus
  • One sweet red pepper
  • One green pepper
  • 4 chicken quarters
  • 4 large or 8 small carrots
  • 1 kilo of onions
  • 1 dozen eggs

El PanIn addition, there's breakfast (cereals, oatmeal) and I get fresh bread delivered to the door daily, which I have as a sandwich or with something for a second, light meal of the day. To up the fruit and veg intake, I'll have side salads and mostly fruit for deserts.

And, if there is any risk of going hungry, one thing I did not list is that my freezer is still full of about a million frozen bananas (give or take), that can be made into smoothies, cakes, puddings, etc.

Now, I'm no nutritionist, but whilst there are carbohydrates and it seems generally not bad in the fat department, with a reasonably healthy range of vitamins, at a glance, I think the balance might be a bit light on protein. Maybe I'll throw a few walnuts on my salads to add some? All in all, do you think that Maria Jose Sevilla would be proud of my cocina de aprovechamiento - the efficient use of available ingredients - that she refers to in Spain On A Plate? I certainly hope so. :) Of course, you may not have the same items lurking in your kitchen, nor like the dishes I came up with, but I hope you can extract some method from my madness to plan your own meals and make use of what you do have, as well as saving time by cooking ahead (where possible) and buying in quantities that are more economical. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Are you a genetic mutant?

The Telegraph ask, "Do you have the after-hours gene?" in response to this story, "Gene explains why people are night owls". Left to it's own devices, which mostly it is, my body clock is mostly nocturnal. I was never good at getting up in the morning, even when I was a child. Not being able to get me up infuriated my mother and caused friction, but this wasn't my fault.
Steve comments, "I've been able to make my own hours for several years now. Often I will work through the night and go to sleep at 7 or 8 am for 6-7 hours. I'm either a night-owl or a vampire, I'm not yet certain."
Yep, that would be me too, which is great, because I can drift off to sleep easily in the early morning after watching some crappy Argentinian soap opera that's been consigned to the "graveyard shift", or Bob the Builder that's been scheduled for the early morning brats, neither of which require much concentration and are certainly more sleep inducing than the violence and horror they put on TV for adults at night.

In summer here night time is the only time when it's cool enough to think to be able to work efficiently and I concentrate much better in the quiet, when I know that nobody is going to disturb me.

Trying to conform to a normal day job used to be torture.

I'd have loved to have been able to claim a medical condition to explain my inability to arrive on time, which merely had me labelled as lazy.

My schedule still makes life difficult when, occasionally, I have to go somewhere and rejoin the "normal world." Trying to conform stresses me. Alarm clocks give me the jitters so I spend all day feeling like I've just had a mild shock, so I avoid them as much as possible.

One of the main reasons that life suits me at this latitude though is the almost equal length of days between winter and summer, because it doesn't matter if I do get up and see it or not, when faced with months without much of a glimpse of the sun further up the hemisphere, that does have a negative effect on my state of mental health. So, the report's findings look feasible to me, but also worrying.
One commenter, Steve Murphy MD, Clinical Genetics Fellow at Yale University, points out that all the study explains is "why mice may have altered sleep wake cycles". He also states in his blog post on the article, that the studies were carried out "in conjunction with Merck". Now, I guess science costs money and it's highly unlikely that any gets done without someone sponsoring it, but just 'spose they do prove that this "mutant gene" exists?

Will we "night owls" be considered as abnormal and expected to take the cure or, as another commenter suggests, "have us waking around with lobotomy scars on our heads because we did not conform to the statistical norms."

I've always liked being different. I thrive on it. I couldn't deal with "normality", mediocrity, boredom, monotony, conformity. I don't think society could either, but I bet too that it'll be hell bent on trying.

Gene explains why people are night owls

Sheepish discoveries

734031_51807017 It's a right "animal farm" here today, from llamas to owls and now onto sheep. (Being in the Canary Islands, we bring you the comical, but true, goat on a moped story too.)

One story that has suddenly being doing the rounds is that of the Great Poodle Scam of 2007, an urban legend, it turns out (fairly logically), in which it was claimed that a scam, where sheep were sold as poodles, was uncovered after they didn't bark in the night and refused to eat dog food. (With all the pet food recalls going on, I wouldn't blame 'em.)

The fact that one of the original chip wrappers (I hesitate to call it a newspaper) in which the story ran was The Sun, that wonderful source of good taste and truth, with the headline of Ewe've been conned ladies and a lede that begins "Wool I never ...", should have been a small clue into just who was trying to pull that over whose eyes. But whilst I have absolutely no trouble imagining that it would be dead easy to dupe Sun readers into believing that the story were true, what seems unbelievably comical is that, before it was revealed as a hoax, "the story has since been reported internationally by newspapers and websites in the UK, America, New Zealand and South Africa."

Folk whine about the dodgy information being promulgated around the blogosphere. Don't journalists know how to fact check any more? It seems bloody certain that they don't now how to use Google.

Sheepish gift for goal scorer

However, not knowing the word in Croatian for "sheep" (nor rumour, or legend), I can't really check this story out either, but the sources seem to be (who also worryingly (pun intended) ran the Ewe've been had story) and Reuters and, it's been reported in the Guardian.

(Is there anything significant, do you think, that Ananova list "Sex life" next to the "Animal tales" in their "Quirkies" categories?)

Anyway, so the farm animal bonus story goes:

"A Croat footballer turned up for work to find a flock of sheep waiting for him. Defender Ivica Supe scored 16 times this season for third division Zagora FC unaware that the club's sponsor, Josko Bralic, a local shepherd, had promised a sheep for every goal scored by a defender."
Welsh footballers must be feeling a bit jealous right now!

Friday, 27 April 2007

Llama parking

651432_34245302  This story amused me no end. AFP (via Yahoo) report that, "An English pub is trying to beat the imminent ban on smoking in public places by asking for consulate status from the Peruvian embassy in London, the landlady said Friday. She pledged that staff would learn Spanish, celebrate Peru's national holiday and may even get a pet llama if they secure consulate status. Perks of that could include free parking, diplomatic immunity -- and being allowed to smoke on the premises." Even if their chance of success might be a bit thin, you can't fault them on creativity. Can't you just imagine typical British punters turning up to park llamas, wearing Peruvian traditional dress, such as ponchos?

English pub wants Peru's help to beat smoking ban

Photo: takatuka

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Buy Less Crap

"Many big ideas have struggled over the centuries to dominate the planet,' begins the argument by Jonathon Porritt, government adviser and all-round environmental guru.' Fascism. Communism. Democracy. Religion. But only one has achieved total supremacy. Its compulsive attractions rob its followers of reason and good sense. It has created unsustainable inequalities and threatened to tear apart the very fabric of our society. More powerful than any cause or even religion, it has reached into every corner of the globe. It is consumerism."
Living here in the wilder part of Tenerife (wild as in rural, not as in party) and the non-availability of much choice in shops has pretty much cured me of the need to shop. And just as Hannah in Ibiza says,

"Life is a lot cheaper and far less stressful now that I do not feel the need to go shopping every Saturday. I'm quite happy with what I've got."

Porritt adds, "Shopping has become a recreational activity. There's a lot of evidence that people really do see shopping now as an amenity pastime."

And, whilst this is pretty obvious, one does not grasp the full extent of western society's brainwashing, until you live outside of it. Once, I too went to shops for something to do. Now I'm cured. I shop because I need essential groceries and, I don't do that any more than I have to.

By contrast, my mother, still lives in the UK. Whilst I wouldn't call her a "spendthrift" and, indeed she comes from a background and generation that didn't grow up with much money or opportunity for it, nevertheless, she reminds me when she comes for her annual visit, of just how influenced people are in the UK to be "consumers". What are her favorite places for "sightseeing" in Tenerife, with all it's beautiful nature? The inside of the Al Campo shopping mall, or the main street in Icod de los Vinos, dotted with smaller individual shops! Beach, nah. Nature, almost no appeal whatsoever. Museums, horrid dark dingy places, according to her. Eating out is a passtime she's into, she'll go to some cultural things, but mostly, she just wants to go shopping.

Even Buenavista del Norte high street with all dozen shops will do, because there is a "everything for a euro" shop full of crap! This idea of fun is what's considered "normal"? I call it superficial. Of course we need superficially fun things in our lives, just that acquiring things for the sake of it, is not a way that adds any meaning. So what do we do, when mother comes to visit? We go shopping, of course. Yeah, I know, but suffering the pouts and tantrums of a 80+ year old "child" denied access to her "toys" is just too much to bear!

She also assumes that, because I do not buy crap things, that I must be in need of things. Well, this is not entirely untrue: maybe there are things I would buy, if I had more money, but I also find myself constantly having to say to her that I do not WANT nor need, this, that and the other that she seems to think my life is the poorer for not having. We also buy far more food luxuries - part of the reason is that my mother usually visits at Christmas and another is that I don't have the money for these things until she arrives, credit card in hand - but, the waste and the amount of trash generated far more than doubles and my dog soon learns to beg for all the new titbits that she certainly doesn't get normally, but that "nanny" hands out at three meals a day.

A side issue here, depending on your own habits and what's available in your new location, is that it highlights just how out of synch expats immigrants and their friends and family become. Those who have moved away understand the folk back 'home' for a while, because that's how we used to live, but it's a life we consciously chose to change to something, that is, for us, better. Those who have never lived outside their home countries have no points of reference to fully understand the differences in the way of life. (Would-be, first-time expats would settle in better too, if they were not expecting life "as it was in Britain, but with added sun".)

The worst thing is that whole economies in the west rely on rampant consumerism to keep them going. That's why financial news carries terms like "consumer confidence", to indicate whether we're all psyched up to spend enough (or not) to keep economies buoyant. Porritt is right. We must shop less, but what incentive is there? What chance is there that governments will promote sustainable measures, truthfully, if their very survival depends on them NOT doing so? We do have a choice, we can destroy the economy, or we can destroy the planet. What we can no longer do is avoid some pain or change.

Expats are, I think, in a better position to understand, even when we live in one of those places that, paradoxically, relies on the "impact of hundreds of thousands of tourists descending on some destination somewhere in the world", for our livelihood. Now, how do we educate those who have never been outside their shopping comfort zones?

Stop shopping ... or the planet will go pop

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Warm Iran

Warm Iran

I'm sure they are very warm people and not at all soaked.

Photo by Nikita Kashner

The Police state formerly known as Britain


Any expat who chooses to no longer live in Britain can probably give you 1001 reasons why not and, here are another 266 of them ...

In an article entitled, The state has 266 ways to enter your home, Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor at the Telegraph, says: "A report from the Centre for Policy Studies says that an Englishman's home is less his castle and more "a right of way'' for police, local government officials and other bureaucrats."

Masses of new grounds for entry have been added to the law in recent decades, says the article, "some of which have their origins in EU legislation". The wording is not quite strong enough for me to sniff Euro skepticism, but I imagine that has something to do with it. It makes me wonder what the situation is in other countries? None of them, that I am aware of, seem as frighteningly dictatorial. In Spain, just as an example, the right to "quiet enjoyment" of your home is written into the constitution.

Generally, the premise was that, if you know you haven't done anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about, but how can one know if one has not unwittingly violated rule number 265 - I mean, you can't know them all off by heart - or you could become mistakenly accused of any of them?

Add to it, "Laws now going through Parliament will give bailiffs additional powers to enter homes in pursuit of traffic penalty debts." Blimey, they'll be bringing back Dickensian Debtor's Prisons next and I really do think that the whole thing has gotten way out of hand.

The state has 266 ways to enter your home ...

Thursday, 19 April 2007

How to Go Completely Bananas

Completely Bananas
Going Bananas

It's hardly surprising that I have once lived on a banana plantation - since the Canary Islands are famous for them - where these bananas were growing a few feet from the door. It was certainly an interesting experience, but one I only recommend to people who enjoy lots of dust and interminable swarms of flies that make it absolutely impossible to open windows, which is not great in sub-tropical heat.

Anyway, consequently, I often get an awful lot of bananas to eat ...

One problem single cooks come across frequently is the need to buy food in packs or quantities that are too large for single consumption, which can create a lot of waste or a lot of leftovers. But what would you do if you were given this many bananas for one - around 20 kilos of them - as a gift?

My landlady, brought me all of these from her plantation. Well, I abhor waste, so for the last couple of weeks, I've been doing my level best to ensure that they have all been used or stored for later.

Arroz a la inglessaA local speciality and one which I frequently throw together is Arroz a la Cubana (Cuban Rice, which I have on authority, is never made in Cuba!) It's a perfect dish for using bananas that are slightly more ripe than I like for eating raw.

I can happily eat several bananas a day and have done so. (More on that later.) And, fortunately these bananas ripened gradually and not all at the same time.

For more ideas, I turned to the internet. Now, I'm willing to bet that you're highly unlikely to have that many bananas at once, ever, in your lives, but some of these links might come in handy and encourage you to buy whole bunches of bananas and enjoy them, rather than buying them in ones and twos to be able to use them before they become overripe.

With, perhaps the exception of the Banana and Popcorn Salad (ewwww) that Slashfood mentioned recently, the following links have information you can use on storing and using bananas, as well as banana recipes.
Suggest, "The easiest way is just to throw them in the freezer ... yep skins and all. When you are ready to use them for baking, just defrost, snip off the tip with scissors and squeeze out like toothpaste!"
Yes, it's fortunate that I like bananas - and that the dog likes bananas too, but ... One warning: your mileage may vary, of course, but if you do ever have a large surfeit bananas, do please store them instead of trying to eat too many at once. My experience has been that, after an initial upturn in what we shall politely term "human waste production", the over consumption quickly provoked a case of "banana blockage". Sad

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Tip o' the Day: The Solar Dryer - Free

Green Options blog say, "Some call it a solar dryer. Our moms call it the clothesline. Nature's way of drying clothes, and nobody seems to do it anymore. Some say it brings down property values. Others say that only those that "stay-at-home" can do it. We say, give it a shot."

LOL! Solar drier, indeed. Like we need a new name for it. We should do this. I'd love to, but oh, if only it were that simple: Renting means that I cannot make holes in walls to put up an old-fashioned washing line, wherever I like.

Bent TreeStrong winds - I mean gale-force - buckled a whirly washing line within minutes of digging a hole into the incredibly hard, volcanic soil, filling it with cement and getting the thing fixed up. Well, if the wind can do this to trees in this valley, it's hardly a surprise.

Frequent rain and constant low-lying cloud and mist mean that several months can pass when nothing will dry outside here. This rain and fog (it's really low cloud) used to be confined to the winter months, which was something, but in recent years, this has even occurred throughout the summer and now, in spring, it has become erratically changeable so that one day can be dry and sunny, the next misty or the morning can be warm, then cloud descends - by surprise - in the afternoon. Yes, I know this is constantly warm Tenerife - Island of the Eternal Spring - but this is a fertile valley in the north, where "horizontal rain", brought by the trade winds, condenses onto the mountains.

That's how we get our year round greenery and Spring flowers. 

And the house is unheated and so damp that you cannot dry clothes indoors.

If you try to bring even mildly damp clothes inside, even just overnight, they get that horrible moldy damp smell that you can never get out again and that requires you to simply throw the items away. You should smell the perfectly dry stuff that I brought here when I moved in. The move was made on an incredibly hot day, direct from the desert south of the island. All I did was put things in the wardrobe: you know, where you expect to put clothes. Thousands of pounds worth of quality clothes; classics, designer suits, leather and suede items, boots and shoes, all went green, moldy and were ruined.

Anyway, it means that to dry a towel, for instance, I have to be able to absolutely guarantee at least two full, consecutive days of dry sunny weather, before I dare to do the laundry, if I wanted to hang it outside.

Well, you can't guarantee the weather, so what options did I have?

None. I had to buy a tumble drier. But, having been forced into this, there are other considerations: One, having a dog and four cats, is that the drier sucks all their hair off of clothes, bed linen, etc. Pharmaceutical companies would get richer and use more energy to treat my allergies without the drier - not to mention that it is healthier for me not to be "on drugs."

The electrical supply in this house is so weak that I can't run any other appliances at the same time or it all "trips" off, so I'm not using extra and would hardly call this a "convenience". Running the drier is costing less and must be using less resources than constantly replacing clothes.

Another benefit is that I haven't used an iron in over decade. That must have saved energy (mine and electrical), so it's "swings and roundabouts."

Now, if only I could run the drier off solar energy ...

British Bank Robbing Old Folk

Diary from England say:

"A high street bank has sparked fury amongst local people in the seaside town of Canford Cliffs, Dorset, by restricting the services of its local branch to wealthy customers only. In the future only customers with £50,000 in savings, a £200,000 or £100,000 mortgage or an annual income of £75,000 will be able to use the bank’s services. All other account holders will have to make do with using the cash machine outside. The only way they will be allowed to use the branch is by paying the princely sum of £20.00 per month for the privilege!"

That area of Britain does have a high population of old folk, as it is close to where my mother lives. She refuses to use cash machines, because she's heard too many stories of people being robbed after using them (either from having PIN numbers spied on, or robbers laying in wait for those less able to defend themselves to emerge with cash.)

She's not alone and, as well as the horrible message this "class system" gives out, this really only changes the identity of the robber.

So much fairer is the rule (which is frequently broken when the branch isn't busy), at my bank in Spain. They ask customers - both rich and poor alike - to use the machine to withdraw amounts up to €600 (around £400).

Larger amounts - for one's security - they will serve at the counter.

We pay a fee of €7 (a fiver, give or take) per month.

EU 'does not need constitution'

According to the this report from the BBC, "The British and Dutch prime ministers have said the European Union does not need a "whole new constitution", just limited changes to existing treaties."

Quite possibly right (for once), just so long as the end result has the effect of being like a constitution (whatever name you call it) that gives me a proper European nationality and rights, I'll be happy.

Just stop playing with terminology and get on with it. Thank you!

EU 'does not need constitution'

Friday, 13 April 2007

Friday the thirteenth, part deux

Friday the 13ths aren't supposed to be a problem in Spain. Here it's when the 13th falls on a Tuesday that you need to worry. (The same as look out for jokes on the Day of the Innocent Saints, December 28th, not April the 1st.) And all of my cats (and the dog) were born and bred on Spanish territory, sooo why do I get the impression that they were having a late April Fool / Friday the 13th joke on me yesterday with their constant mischief?

By the way, "... the superstitions about this day stem from 13 Friday 1307, when the King of France, Philip the Fair, had all Knights Templar arrested in France. They were tortured, made to confess and, almost to the man, killed. That's what giving all for your King and country will do for you." [Source]

The day had started with Balu and Kitty being decidedly reluctant to being photographed for their 6th birthday and, degenerated rapidly from there.

Normally they just get on with the serious business of sleeping and let me work. Most of the time you wouldn't even notice that there are multiple cats in the house.

Today, one after another, or in pairs, my cats wanted to spend time on my lap (Betty insisted on this and when Betty insists, you obey, because she bites and scratches and anyway, if you put her down, she just bounces back up again), on the desk, on the printer (that I've given up on being able to use and turned into a cat bed anyway), on my mouse arm, playing "musical chairs" with the basket on the dining table - first the two boys, Mico and Balu, then Kitty and Balu huddled in it, then ...

Finally, the fluffy feline on his own curled up tightly in a ball, paw over nose and it looked like we'd get some peace. It didn't last long.

I'd also done a little spring cleaning and had stuff drying in the spare room that I wanted that fur person kept away from. You're right, what I wanted and what I got were two entirely different things. Whatever you want kept away from cats is the very thing they become absolutely determined to get into. And they hate closed doors.

The Old Ruins of El PalmarIt's convenient here to understand how traditional Canarian cottages are built. They were mostly built of just two rooms, one of those previously being the kitchen / dining / living room and the other being the entire family's bedroom.

(Plumbing and bathroom facilities, such as they were, were added outside.)

Lots of these typical thick walled cottages still exist, though the uses of the rooms have changed, they've had a coat of plaster and had iggldy-piggledy extensions added over the years, but one feature that remains - mostly out of the interests of economy - is that the doorway between the original two rooms does not have a door fitted in it. Despite the cosmetic changes, this type of dwelling is terminally damp, virtually unfit for human habitation, but "purrfect" for fools on a budget who want to rent an ideal location to keep a family of cats.

In the interests of warmth and privacy and, because there are other doors in and out of these rooms now, I have the gap closed with a wardrobe across it.

Ha, but, of course, the flying feline makes light work of jumping up onto the top of the wardrobe, squeezing his fat ass through the small gap at the top where the wardrobe is not quite as high as the doorway, shimmying right down the back of the wardrobe and into the spare room - right where you don't want him and that he now cant get out of because the other door is closed.

So then I put some cardboard fruit boxes on top of the wardrobe to close the remaining gap. He sat on the bedside table for a few moments, looking up and thinking. Then he just jumped (flew) up onto the wardrobe, placed a paw behind the "offending" box, hooked it out of the way, shimmied through the gap and back down again.

I added more obstacles. He surmounted them.

He'd go round, I'd fetch him out.

Rinse and repeat. Incessantly.

Balu is bright, he's incredibly determined and he's an absolute menace. (Of course, he's also handsome and I love him to bits and he knows this!)

Meanwhile, I'd put a chair in front of the wardrobe so I could get up there to put these obstacles in Balu's way. Kitty, trying to see if she could use this chair as the quick way to the top, stands up on her hind legs and pushes the bedroom door closed. Just as the door starts swinging, she hops down and dashes through the gap in the nick of time. Thinks it's a game, does she?

The bed in the spare room is on legs, so Balu ran to hide under there. So I go in with the broom to sweep him out. He runs out and in the time it takes me to cross the hall (scant seconds), he's gotten into the basket, laid down and is lounging in there looking the picture of perfect innocence (almost).
What can you do? I was absolutely beside myself with laughter.

Friday The Thirteenth

Balu and Kitty celebrate their 6th Official Birthday today. Maybe "celebrate" is too strong a word. To be honest, I don't think they're the slightest bit interested. I tried having an "official birthday photo-shoot", for posterity, but all I got were some very serious expressions and a bit of a sneer from Kitty.

How they're feeling, I cannot know, but today does bring bitter-sweet memories, as it is their first birthday without their brother Khan, who we lost to kidney failure last November. It might be because Kitty didn't want to be shown with her shaved neck, after she had to have blood tests.

The best news is that this morning, Kitty, who is normally a very independent Miss and prefers to sleep alone, was in bed with me when I woke up, tucked in beside me. Balu was, as usual, sitting on my chest, shouting at me for his breakfast, so some things are normal at least! 


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