Make Merry

…And Then The Other Shoe Dropped

It seems that you aren’t allowed to laud a perfect day without something happened to straighten out the yin and yang of our lives. There is no good without some drama, and my life is indeed a case in point.
My dearest friend is taking care of my family cat. And when I say family cat, I mean the cat that my parents and I picked out 17 1/2 years ago and is truly a member of my family (my son adores her. He keeps coming back for more even after she’s bitten him more than a few times). A few years ago, my parents sold their house and moved into a motorhome (It’s their life, okay). Because this motorhome is by its very nature very small, they couldn’t care for both the family cat and their dog. And because I already have my Southern, white trash souvenir cat who hates any other animal (though she loves my son and tolerates almost inhuman punishment from him), I couldn’t take Bad Cat. So my friend offered. He kindly agreed to abide by my mother’s rules of gourmet canned cat food and expensive dry food. He agreed to give her special medicine for her arthritis every day. He agreed to coddle her in her very old age. And he did. Bad Cat lived a life of luxury at my friend’s house.

However, she is old. And old things die. So she did.

I got this news as my son, my husband, and I were leaving the white trash Christmas party. I had no other plans than to fall into my bed and sleep off what would undoubtedly prove to be a very potent hangover from Boon’s Strawberry Hill. (Cue the dramatic music) Fate had other plans . . .

When I talked to my friend on the phone I heard, “My cat just died.” Thinking he was talking about his cat, Pancho, who has stopped eating and drinking a week ago because of a fierce liver infection, I instantly (and incorrectly, I might add) summed up his mood: distraught, bereft, inconsolable.

“I’m coming right over,” I declared, thinking I would be able to comfort him in his time of loss.
“What about your son?” My friend asked.
“He’ll be fine. I’ll put him to bed,” I replied, thinking “why is he so concerned about my son? My son doesn’t care about Pancho.”

We arrived at the house, and I leapt from my car, grabbed my son, and rushed to my friend’s aid. Only to walk in on my cat dead in the middle of the floor.

“Oh. It was Bad Cat.”
“I said, ‘your cat was dead.'”
“I didn’t hear you.”

This is a typical response of mine. I have a horrible propensity to just not hear people when they talk to me. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I hear something. It’s just not what they are saying. Somehow my mind manages to write its own script, and everyone else refuses to follow it. I am perfectly sure that my friend did indeed tell me that it was Bad Cat on the phone. I am also perfectly sure I heard “Pancho.”

So the rest is boring and usual: death inevitably happens and you clean up after it. I quickly rushed my son upstairs to his pack n play (Him: “I want to play with Bad Cat.” Me: “No, baby, she’s sleeping. We have to let her go night night.”). Then my husband, my friend, and I sat around with glasses of wine and discussed how best to get rid of the body. Are there laws about this?

After spending some time in NorCal, my first inclination is to dig a hole in the back yard. However, that really doesn’t fly in San Diego when you rent your home and own only a snow shovel (for those freak blizzards…). So my friend took her to the vet, and for a paltry $30, they disposed of the body and even sent a consolation card the next day.

Finally, I was able to get to bed and sleep the sleep of the . . . hmmm, well you can fill that in. Until, that is, I was awaken at 130am by my ringing doorbell.

As a mom, I am highly trained to leap instantly refreshed and ready for action at the slightest noise no matter how little sleep I have gotten. I rushed to the front door, thinking in my dream state that it must be my friend again and his other cat has now died. To the sound of torrential rushing water, I envisioned his standing on the front porch, soaked and saddened by the night’s events. That is until I ran into chilled, ankle deep water in my living room and answered the door to my downstairs neighbor.

We confusedly discussed the rain (which in my mind was pouring) and leaks. I tried to figure out where in the world this leak could have come from, when I noticed that it. wasn’t. raining. By this time, my husband had gotten up and ran into the guest bathroom and turned the torrential pour of water off.

My next thought was that I had left the faucet running in that bathroom (though I haven’t been in there in about two days) and that somehow this flood was all my fault. Then my husband announced that a pipe had burst. I have to tell you, readers, the immense relief I felt when I learned that the mess wasn’t my fault was almost worth the immeasurable guilt for that relief which followed.

After talking to our landlord, I began to assess the situation. My husband (and again I’ll be honest) is pretty much worthless if you wake him up before he’s had his prescribed sleep. Couple that to his innate desire to have everything clean and neat, and you have a man in extreme sleep shock and horror at the swampy mess that once was our house. He aimlessly walked around the house, wiping water up here and there until I developed a plan of action.

[Side Note: At this point in my tale, both my friend and my husband are protesting their portrayals. For clarity, they are both pilots, sexy, smart, and amazingly competent. In no way are they nerdy math or geology people.]

We then approached the house room by room, moving furniture and cleaning water as we went. However, these actions did not save our bathroom nor our kitchen. Nor did it save the apartments below us; they are completely unliveable.

We are lucky. We have a friend to live with (since he lost a cat, he now has room for displaced people) while our kitchen and whatever (the verdict is still out on the complete scope of the damage) is repaired and most of our stuff is perfectly fine.

Also, despite the death of cats and the flooding of homes, there are still good food and good wine and good company in the world. And to acknowledge that fact (and possibly to alleviate the wicked hangover I have), I made the best tortilla soup ever.

This is from Sunset‘s (“the magazine for Western living” or so I’ve heard) “Best Of” cookbook (of course, I don’t measure anything and have added a few things).

Arizona Tortilla Soup
Notes: This soup comes from Donna Nordin, chef-owner of Café Terra Cotta in Tucson and Scottsdale, Arizona. Make the salsa while the soup boils.

  • 4 corn tortillas (6 to 7 in.) 3 tablespoons salad oil [I used olive oil]
  • 1 onion (4 to 5 oz.), peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced or pressed garlic
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot chili flakes
  • 8 cups fat-skimmed chicken broth
  • [add about 5 chile pequins]

Salsa fresca [see below]

  • 1 ripe or firm-ripe avocado (about 8 oz.)
  • 1 lime (about 3 oz.)
  • 3/4 cup shredded jack cheese
  • Salt and pepper

1. Stack tortillas and cut into 1-inch-wide strips. Pour oil into a 5- to 6-quart pan over high heat. When oil is hot, add tortilla strips and stir often until crisp and lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and, with a slotted spoon, transfer tortilla strips to towels to drain.

2. Add onion and garlic to pan. Stir often over medium-high heat until onion is limp, 3 to 4 minutes. Add bay leaf, oregano, peppercorns, chili flakes, [chile pequins,] and broth. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil until reduced to about 6 cups, 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, whirl half the salsa fresca in a blender until coarsely puréed. Pit, peel, and thinly slice the avocado. Rinse lime and cut crosswise into thin slices; discard ends.

4. In wide soup bowls (at least 1 1/2-cup size), arrange equal portions of tortilla strips, remaining salsa, avocado slices, lime slices, and jack cheese.

5. Pour puréed salsa into hot soup, season to taste with salt and pepper, and ladle equally around tortilla strips and garnishes in bowls.

Yield: Makes 6 serving

CALORIES 274 (53% from fat); FAT 16g (sat 4.1g); PROTEIN 17g; CHOLESTEROL 15mg; SODIUM 215mg; FIBER 2.8g; CARBOHYDRATE 18g

Sunset, JULY 2001

Salsa Fresca

This recipe goes with Arizona Tortilla Soup

  •  1 pound ripe or firm-ripe tomatoes
  • 1 fresh jalapeño or Fresno chili
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • About 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • Salt and pepper

Rinse and core tomatoes and cut into about 1/4-inch dice; put the tomatoes with their juices into a bowl. Rinse and stem the jalapeño; shake out seeds and cut out the veins. Finely chop the chili. Add it to the bowl, along with the onion, cilantro, and 3 tablespoons lime juice. Stir gently to mix, and add more lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Nutritional analysis per tablespoon. Yield: Makes about 2 1/4 cups CALORIES 3.3 (0.0% from fat); FAT 0.0g (sat 0.0g); PROTEIN 0.1g; CHOLESTEROL 0.0mg; SODIUM 1.3mg; FIBER 0.2g; CARBOHYDRATE 0.7g Sunset, JULY 2001

This soup is good many days after the fact. It just gets better. It will remind you that all is indeed right with the world when there are cilantro and chiles and avocado to be had.

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