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Adventure in the kitten papoose

 Yesterday I decided to strap Dorian into a backpack-type cat carrier and carry him to the SPCA hospital for his shots. He howled sadly for three blocks and anxiously piped down. Dor was quick to realise that shifting his weight in any one direction would cause me to tilt, so he tried to stretch out and balance his weight as much as possible. Good job, cat!

This kitten papoose thing is really neat. Technically it has a telescopic handle and wheels, but I don't trust our pavements with it. I also think that having the cat against my back goes some way towards calming him down. It is pretty big though. It's built tall enough for cats to sit up in, and in theory it's large enough for a cat to curl up rather than constantly sit in a loaf. I felt really tiny carrying this thing uphill. If it were an emergency, we could probably chuck both cats in here and go... slowly.

I don't consider carrying my cat eight blocks a terrible hardship. And it's much cheaper in the long run than maintaining a Zipcar account for those three times a year we drag the cats kicking and screaming to the vet. It also saves the amount of times I need to apologise to cabbies for my sad kitten. Mind you, I have large cats and they aren't light -- I haven't had to carry a backpack this large or heavy since secondary school, but I need the exercise. It will be... interesting when Sif's turn in this comes up. Dorian is a champion vet visitor. Sif we've heard trained technicians yell for spare hands to hold down the wailing beastie with for routine shots. 

Either way, I like the walk to the SPCA. It's nice broad sidewalks through the industrial edge of the Mission, which reminds me I have always wanted to catch a show at the local theatre companies in the area and put my name down for the Charles Chocolate hot cocoa high tea. I kept maneuvering around to keep the sun out of Dorian's face, but the weather was nice. Seth met me at the vet's to help carry Dorian home, which made it easier to share the load. 

It was the worst day ever for Dorian. But I think the seven consecutive treats went some way towards atoning for my sins...
So, Melbourne CBD. It's a weird place. Within the span of a four block radius, we've found more game, comic and anime stores than either of us could have guessed would exist in one city. The laneway shops and upper storey stores that stack haphazardly upon themselves sometimes rely on the smallest of signage -- if such a thing is even visible at street level, so more often than not, we literally walk past a store before we know it's there. Once, I spotted a guy carrying what was clearly a fresh comic store-labelled bag. A few doors down, we spot the signboard that lead us up the narrow stairwell that went totally not into a small comic store in the wall. The shop was gigantic and alphabetical, with a Previously Owned/Discounted bin bigger than the stock in some of the (what I previously thought were) large stores would have. You just wouldn't see it past the narrow stairwell from street level unless you were looking for it.

Seth found a place called Dungeon of Magic on Google Maps, which turned out to be literally a dungeon store of Magic: TG. We wandered down another basement to Minotaur, which is what I can only describe as a Tower Records of all the merch there ever was. They had sections for novels, models (anime, TV and random game franchises), DVDs, manga, a large shop in itself of comics (excellent indie section) and the best part was that it was all patronised. Like, not by a bunch of old guys people our age poking around the corners, although we were clearly represented, but also schoolgirls shopping in groups for the latest anime, families with kids buying cards and other women just picking up models to put on their shelves at home. In the span of the next 3 hours, we walked out of a Hungry Jack's and up the decrepit lift to a tiny anime store whose dusty signboard was smushed between ads for beauty parlours, and passed by what we thought was a closed board game store on the way to dinner. By our reckoning, the tiny anime store was probably surviving on mail orders, but even that store was patronised, albeit by a much more specialised breed of Idolmaster fandom than the average bear.

The closed game store, Mind Games, which we visited during business hours the next day, was definitely worth the look. a) What we thought was just another board game store was really a board and card game store, role-playing bookstore (with models) and tabletop wargame specialist (with everything); b) The wargame stuff took up a whole separate floor we once again didn't immediately spot at street level; c) Never before have I seen all the Citadel paint colours together in one store, alongside at least four other brands of model paint and equipment. I picked up two Gloom add-ons (Nightmare on Cthulthu Street! Something to do with vampires!) and Seth picked up a Warhammer40K novel, and both of us tried not to bring home 24 colours of unusual pastels or something. Yes, we could and should just mail order the paint, but they're right there in a jar if we wanted.

I think at some point, we might want to pick up souvenirs for friends. I'm told the proper way of things is to get people Tim-Tams.

Note: On the way home from dinner, a giant pink signboard happened across the street that read: "Nekocards -- Trading Cards". I now feel like there are roaming armies of M:TG and Future Card Buddyfight players all around us seekritly prepared to pull out their spell circles at the drop of a hat.

Jun. 29th, 2014

Ah, Masseuse Cat. By day, he is a fearsome predator and guard cat, killer of vermin, eater of bugs. At night, I am to be scolded to sit still so he can knead up my arms with all four feet while climbing backwards then stick his bum in my face. And then we repeat that for each arm, until he is convinced I am suitably macerated, based on his vast knowledge of Traditional Cat Medicine. Interestingly, if I have a sick belly, Masseuse Cat will make sure my stomach is carefully kneaded of its ills. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but Masseuse Cat knows best.

Meanwhile, Sif rolls luxuriously into old age, being quite happy with four meals and a nap. And belly rubs. And chin rests. And treats. And love. More love. All the love.

I plot many things I do not quite get to. I think I have frozen enough berries to last us a year. But most days I lack the energy to cook, much less make mythical cherry pies. Trying to keep us in home cooked meals is going to take rather more effort than I'm putting into this right now.

I am hoping to make a pie this week. Or brownies. I have a diabolical plan of garnishing the brownies with a small amount of shaved hard cheese and sugar. I can attest to the fact cream cheese tastes awesome in brownies. So, salted caramel cheese topping isn't that far fetched. When I do make this thing, and if it turns out good, I should bring some to the cheese guy at the farmer's market. His cheeses are magical, he chats much about cheese pairings and won't stop feeding people samples. Someday, he intends to bring out his bottle of chocolate syrup to prove that cheese really does go well with fudge sauce. Don't hate the chocolate-cheese. I convinced Seth sliced pears and cheese go well together by making a pear and cheese sandwich for dinner once. I wonder where the really bored Chinese dude who sells pears at the farmer's market went to? He's the most bored pear seller ever, but if you ignore that, the pears themselves are amazing.

You know those organic cherries in fancy bags you get from the greengrocer's? The stone fruit guy makes cherries that, pound for pound, make any cherry organic or otherwise look like green peas. Seriously humongous cherries. I could not pass those cherries and not buy them. They're twice the size of the average cherry and I swear they're just normal Rainiers and Bings. Also, he sells very nice peaches and apricots, and plums close to summer. I'm not a big fan of plums (well, in puddings and meat sauce maybe), but I do really like cooking with peaches and apricots. A long time ago, my friend desertwolf coined me up to stir frying peaches with chicken. Garlic, peaches and chicken really work. Actually, I can't think of any meat at this point that tastes bad with peaches.

Someday, I will buy a whole duck from the local organic market. Those darn things mock me from the chiller case behind the butcher every time I visit. Also, store-made bottarga. They sell duck fat by the tub. It is utter deliciousness. I bought a tub to make pie with, but I actually haven't made pie crust with it yet because I get distracted and use it in other foods. Hopefully, I make the pie before I go buy another tub. This could be a challenge.

Also, dulce de leche is caramel sauce in a can. I consider this a form of genius. Instead of butterscotch nibs, I can mix it into chocolate chip cookies, replace the sugar and satisfy my poor husband's love of caramels (they're too sweet for pure burned sugar!) all at the same time.

Did you know it is remarkably easy to write ramblings about food? It is.

Now, I must go sit on a couch and become limp, because Masseuse Cat is bored and if he gets any more bored, he'll knock things off shelves.

The secret Muslims

Two men came to my door today. They were bearded, wore cotton kaftans, one even came complete with skullcap, asked for me by my first name and wanted to let me know there was a mosque round the other side of Bernal Heights. I should feel free to visit sometime.

Here's where it gets odd. I don't have a land line, so I don't think I'm listed in the phone book. My contact info is listed on translation networks online, but none of it would be available to the public. The only place I can really think of that might list me is the business register, but you'd have to be scraping the barrel if you needed to look for Muslim-sounding names in City Hall's records. SF is diverse enough I know just looking for "Muslim-sounding" wouldn't help. People with Arab names out here don't have to be Muslim. People who look Arab don't have to be Muslims. 

Where is this Muslim informant mailing list I'm not subscribed to? More importantly, why would I even be on it? Who would cite me by first name and give my exact address? 

I'm not creeped out yet, but I am worried. There are more than enough reasons why I would never expect to open my front door to the friendly neighborhood Muslims in San Francisco, never mind ones who know and would call me by my first name. I didn't come here for this. And I shouldn't have to deal with this here-- a city I genuinely love and where I feel I am weird enough. I am not something to 'save'. I am not a lapsed  project. So what am I still doing wrong? 
Well, Internet, I have finally joined the ranks of the smart phone people. There's been a few hurdles getting here. First was the cost: How do I justify paying for data and voice per month vs. what I was paying per use before? That finally changed earlier this year, when the sheer volume of texting I do finally made that cost somewhat equal -- in fact, cheaper over time, if I paid a set plan. Let's call this the effect of two writers being married to each other.

I grew up being heavily influenced by my father's love of computers (and computer games). When I was a teenager, I scoured the annual PC Gamer bumper issue for next year's hottest video card (and video games), much to the growing horror of my mother, who realised somewhere when I was 13 that she was never going to have the daughter she'd get to dress for parties. To put it lightly, I enjoy building my desktop so it can play ever-newer games with ever-fancier graphics with ever-more lags-in-the-middle-of-a-castle-siege, with lots of explosions on top. This is in direct conflict with my responsibilities as a green citizen. How do I reconcile a love of fancy video cards with the fact that every new gadget I buy uses up more potentially illegal, exploitative or dangerous underlying metals?

Most of my daily work is for the ad industry. It's given me a healthy cynicism for most corporate green initiatives. However, over the years I've read enough, from different perspectives, to understand the kinds of opportunities our increasing dependence on electronics brings to developing countries. I was born and bred in a country that owed its boom years to this industry. It does, it has and it will continue to raise the standard of living for more people than we could ever know. I was particularly impressed, earlier this year, after reading Leslie T. Chang's Factory Girls, which apart from being a riveting set of narratives, goes into some of the life-affirming aspects of rapid industrialisation for its workforce. The part that struck me most was how each migrant worker nearly always first purchases a new cell phone upon reaching their new town, and the ownership of a smart phone, with all its camera functions, dramatically changes their self-esteem. Making high-end tech products in the developing world, and slowly building the middle classes there that can afford to purchase these same products, is simply part of raising a society's standard of living. That would be the "push progress" message I've seen and heard growing up among the so-called Tiger Economies of Asia from the 90s. The message is so overwhelming, especially if you have lived in any big Asian city in the past three decades, people get kind of defensive when you raise some of the fallouts. Ruining the environment? Exploiting desperate migrant workers? But the developed world enjoys all these spoils, and how can they say we can't too?

One of the other things I keep in mind with this impasse is that for most of Asia, the environmental and social fallouts of all this industrialisation is still new. It makes sense, industrialisation, particularly as pertains the high-tech sector, for us is largely still new, take or give a few decades. The developed world warns about future losses because it's had the gains and reaped what it sowed. The developing world hasn't gone that far yet. This doesn't mean Asia is doomed to be a septic smog pit in the next century. It just means that catching up between the, "Wow, we have shopping malls!" and "Hey, our rivers have gone black!" is going to take time. Imagine if you will that my generation is possibly the first middle-classed and educated enough to indulge in 'organic', 'eco-friendly' and 'energy-saving'. Our parents did not want to live like their parents. Reconciling the genteel pastoral life with healthier living is a new concept. Now, are these ideas moving fast enough? That's hard to tell. It's clear we've already lost a significant amount of our natural resources to propel progress. That may never be recovered. I'm a hopeful person. I don't think we will lose everything. The developed world hasn't lost everything, and its countries were the guinea pigs of the Industrial Age. People adapt to their changing circumstances, it's what they do.

But how does any of this have to do with me getting a new telephone? I wanted to put my money where my mouth is. First, I looked for the most "cruelty free" smart phone out there. There's a neat company out there called Fairphone that's trying to make better, safer, greener and socially-conscious phones from the supply chain up. I'd love to get one of their phones when they hit the US, but right now, it looks like they're only catering to the European market. Samsung, it turns out, has a pretty good environmental record according to review sites. Its phones are widely available on US networks, and I have always liked Samsung's monitors. The Samsung Galaxy S4 just came out, and it has the functions I need, namely, a nice camera to post cat photos on the Internet, an intuitive keyboard and GoogleMaps with GPS tracking so I don't get lost everywhere.

Then came the problem of a carrier. Poking around brought up Credo Mobile, which openly donates part of its customers' charges to different progressive social causes as part of its business plan. Most of the causes are things I would support, they offered the phone I wanted and had the coverage I needed. My experience with them has actually been off to a fantastic start. I sent in my purchase order on a weekend, and my phone showed up on the next Tuesday. They worked with me to transfer my old phone number, from a prepaid account at a different carrier, on to my Credo account. I didn't even have to call my old carrier for all the convoluted details when we ran into a hitch, their customer representative did, I supplied some added info, and we were good. I haven't taken any life-affirming selfies yet, and I'm working on those cat photos. But I look forward to walking into Chinatown on Monday and not somehow emerging in North Beach. I might even get not lost enough to come home with tea eggs.

FFXIV Weekend

My first pizza is baking in the oven, along with mini plum and sage pot pies. I am resisting the urge to bake cookies. But you know, the oven is hot, and I might as well not waste heat. The problem is that I can't decide which cookies to make, or make first: Kampar chicken biscuits or chocolate chip?

As the title to this post suggests, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn goes live tonight. The game honestly grew on us, and took a damn long time to at that. MMOs-that-both-us-like-going-live-night is a big deal in our house. Celebration food big deal, and leftovers big deal, because, uh, we won't be able to leave our desks for a few days.

Me and Seth both got into beta (I didn't even know there was a beta till he told me), and we've kind of realised how much we like playing MMOs together, that, and we are both kind of excited about the crafting (and the classes in general). Blame it on our tragic nostalgia for Vanguard's crafting system, which is our gold standard for this sort of thing. FFXIV's crafting is somewhere between Vanguard and the assembly-line stuff that permeates the market. The classy stuff is:

a) Crafting and gathering professions are each a character class, just like all the battle classes. Mastering a crafting/gathering profession is as big a deal as mastering say, being an Archer, or a Summoner. Hitting certain levels of crafting professions opens up areas, just like it would with all the battle classes.
b) There's no limit on what classes you can take, after picking at least one to level up to 10. Cook-Fisher-Botanist-Weaver-Alchemist-Pugilist? Sure!
c) They have player housing. That means we can obsessively craft furniture, tapestries and ikebana till we drop.
d) There's crafting and gathering and battling armour -- that's a lot of crafting and exploring new areas for new ingredients to do. Also, dyes. Seth and I have an obsessive relationship with dyes. We blame it on Warhammer.
e) There are individual skills that level up with you for crafting and gathering. How cool is that?

But wait! Wouldn't it be easier for you to buy a book on crocheting and some yarn?
What. And then how do I add +1 to everything?

Also, also! Moogles! Cactuars! Tonberries...somewhere. There must be.


Dear World,

I have done a terrible thing. I accidentally stepped on a basement mouse. Now, it is lame. I don't know what the right thing to do is. I feel like I should keep it in a shoebox and make a little splint for it until it hopefully gets better. Or let it back out into the wild. Or snap its neck and end its misery. Seth forbade me from keeping it in a shoebox. I let it go near our back fence, where there are trees and not too good shrubbery. Maybe I should have let it go near our porch, so it could hide under our deck. Then I went back inside, and I heard one of the neighbour's cats crying somewhere above our fence. Then I went back outside, and moved the mouse -- who frankly can't walk very far -- behind a tree, where I know Dorian usually hears mices.

For all I know, I have doomed it in territorial combat with some other mouse.

I am filled with terrible feelings.

The End.


Made baked beignets again yesterday. This time, the yeast sponge, bread dough and cut dough all rose well, but something was off in the final product. You know how health foods try to taste like normal food but don't? Not even in the way some alternative foods taste good in their own right, but things like health-food crackers, which look similar to crackers yet have the brittleness of shale and a flavour not too far distant. Beignets should taste like Paula Deen food. They should be like little squares of suicide notes that you can't stop eating. Think of funnel cakes. Beignets are the bread versions of funnel cakes.

My baked beignets tasted like leavened bread squares, lacking in any richness and which powdered sugar could not save. I think that baked beignets are still possible, but only if we reverse engineer them to make up for the fat that goes into deep frying. I'll be frank here -- I like deep fried foods, but I don't have a kitchen that would fare well with deep frying. Too much wood flooring and 100-year-old plaster than I care to wipe down. This would be seriously beyond the capacity of any spatter-proof lid to hold back as well. So a reverse engineered baked beignet would require a few modifications. Heavy cream and evaporated milk instead of just 'milk'. Lots of butter. Eggs. Enough eggs to make challah. Really, I imagine the ideal baked beignet to be closer to mini-brioches with sugar on top. Like so.

The recipe I linked to, above, calls for shortening. I can't abide Crisco -- it just smells and taste weird. So we're looking at either beef tallow (time to collect broth fats...) or butter. Given how I felt the beignets didn't rise enough both times I baked, we're looking at tallow. Or combination tallow and schmaltz? Oooooh.

Fish eyes for the kitten gods...

So, the 'chicory' I was growing turned into tomatoes. I thought something was suspicious when the adult leaves grew into no chicory I'd ever seen. I mean, with a stalk and leaves, rather than a lettuce-esque radial of leaves coming out of a suitably turnip-like root. This is remarkably disappointing, since it means my entire packet of seeds was probably mislabeled. I've kept the three tomato plants around. They've begun to flower. While I am deeply dubious I will get tomatoes, my garden experiments have been odd in general.

As the tomatoes wait to become what they are, I've lined the boxes with spring onions and the mustard greens I am now trying to get rid of the seeds for. The mustards never grow to full size on my porch, making them effectively slow salad greens. More importantly, we were visited by the polite raccoon again last night, resulting in many slightly crushed and bruised mustard plantlings. Polite, mind you, not because it's ever tipped its hat to me -- though that would make me like it more -- but because it manages to carefully dig in my boxes without spilling any crumbs. I am beyond an ability to be angry here. It's just thinking of the raccoon as a sort of Dorian with opposable thumbs.

I think the irony of this is that just the other day, I was looking at Coles Hardware's raccoon repellent rack and wondering if I should get some pellets, given that I'd not been foraged by a raccoon for about two months straight.

If I have been quiet lately, it's partly because it's hard being a hikkikomori with social obligations, and also because the spouse and I developed a damaging relationship with classic ironman XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Oh, XCOM, I hear you go. That old game. No, not quite. You see, they remade the original XCOM so that everything you once had to imagine in 256 colour is now brilliantly smoked and shot through with light in HD. Also features streamlined commands (no 100-page manual!) and all the fiendishness of setting up cover only to have it grenaded away by the next passing Muton. It even has troop-killing, game ending-fail bugs, which makes it extra charming, and like, old school. But don't mind me. Playing 58 games (that's 'game' as in campaign, not 58 maps) of ironman (read: no saves), watching people miss shots on 98% hit chance for aliens as big as a wall makes one... a little bitter. I highly recommend XCOM. Because it's awesome.

My two most recent quests are to somehow make ten minutes of walking a part of each day, and baking bread. Yesterday, we walked to Sun Fatt Seafood where the really nice Fish Uncle (he's the one with the moustache) actually remembered I hadn't been there in a while. That made me a little guilty. I love Sun Fatt Seafood. They recently upgraded their store to have sushi-grade fish, about 20 different kinds of oyster and uni. So it's totally rad. I am experimenting with buying whole fishes instead of fillets. No, I don't know what I'm doing with all that fish stock yet. I walked out of Sun Fatt with a Fish Uncle-recommended snapper for steaming and a whole mackerel to grill in salt. The snapper was lovely! Tender, sweet flesh, not too many pin bones. Bringing home a nice fish for dinner makes me smile. After carefully scraping off every bit of meat I could from the bones, I gave the cheeks to me and the eyeballs to the cats. They seemed pleased.

Baking, unfortunately enough, is not one of my crafting skills. My mother, an excellent baker, might be ashamed. I finally caved and got new yeast. I had this yeast, see, that had been living in my freezer for four years, and stuff doesn't rise with it because yeast is not eternal. I was partly motivated to try this bread-baking stuff after watching the fascinating history of bread according to Humanity has Declined (a show that shares both an Afi-like title and an Afi sense of humour -- you were warned). Thanks to my new yeast, I got four mini loaves of the closest thing I've ever made to bread yet. The crumb was a bit dense, close to rye bread, but it was bread. Bread in my mind should be fluffy, puffy clouds of yeasty dough slathered with butter and sprinkled with sugar on top. Thanks to my mother's macrobiotic phase, I know that bread can also taste too healthy. Bread that is too healthy is not really bread, it is a health food. The local bakeries make a lovely challah, so I don't know if I want to even try going down the cloud bread route (although...fluffy buns shaped like Sif...) But I would like to make pretzels, maybe, or the baked beignets that failed last time because of not-eternal yeast.

My ten minute walk for today should be to the supermarket for bread flour...

The cook and the hunting cat

Made cheesecake for the first time on Friday. The process was remarkably easy, something mokie mentioned a long, long time ago. Unpacking the butter and cheese was a fascinating process for Dorian.

Butter! Let me lick the stick of butter! I wish to gnaw it and run away with it and lick it like the stick of butter that it is!

Comparatively speaking, crushing up crackers for the base got far less attention, until I brought out the melted butter.

Butter! It has a liquid form! Does it still taste like butter? I need to find out!

I used purely honey instead of sugar in the cake, resulting in a smooth, delicate sweetness. Not too sugary. I also substituted half the cream cheese for yoghurt and extra lemon juice, so there's a good taste of actual cheese and dairy, without being too rich. My first slice was served with a cherry-sake reduction, and fresh Rainier cherries. That drove up the sweetness quotient somewhat, although there was honey in the reduction. I might try straight up cherry juice and sake next time, or just the fresh cherries. This was the first time I've had Rainier cherries -- found them at our local grocerer, and they are delicious. Like wee peaches, softly sweet and quite gentle, not nearly as robust as Bings. When eaten alone, my cheesecake is everything I miss about cheesecake.

I do have to work on my cake crust. I buttered together some leftover ginger snap crumbs and unbaked crumbly bits I'd frozen off a very dry cookie dough. The crust is nice, but a little hard on the knives to cut through. I don't have a cake knife, and since all the cakes I've made before are very soft cakes, I've never needed one. My solution thus far has been to run my cake with a pizza cutter (needs to be sharpened), then carefully try to lift whole pieces by nudging and slightly cracking the pieces of crust away from each other. I also overbaked the cheesecake, not trusting my instincts to take it out when I thought it was done about 10 minutes before my timer went off.

Dorian got cream cheese and butter wrappers to lick, and bonus mac and cheese from my dinner plate. A little bribery goes a long way with Dorian. After an evening of helping me bake (and eat things), he spent an age kneading my arms into a soft, velvety purr. Sif, oddly enough, has not yet figured out I have cheesecake. She's usually very fond of the pastries and cakes. I wouldn't wave it around under her nose, but I wonder.