Sunday, March 28, 2010

In Memory of Pokey the Cat

At the ripe age of eighteen, Pokey Goodman (nee Damler) has passed away. Born in La Jara, New Mexico, Pokey was adopted as a kitten by the guitar playing sea captain and harmonica expert, Fritz Damler. First dubbed “Slowpoke,” she spent her youth engaged in mousing duty on the ranch.

When Fritz’s craving for adventure lured him from ranch life, Pokey moved to an elegant condo in Santa Fe, where she grew fat and comfortable lounging on the heated brick floors in the company of art lover, Connie Dempsey. It is perhaps here in Santa Fe, that Pokey developed her fondness for the word marvelous and her smoker’s meow.

It was during her stint as museum cat at Tinkertown Museum, that Pokey met Tanya Goodman (nee Ward) and a partnership would be formed that would prove to be lifelong. Tanya and Pokey moved back to Los Angeles together and into an apartment in the hills of Echo Park. Tanya’s fiancĂ©e, David Goodman, former cat hater, was soon won over by Pokey’s loving nature.

David was not the only one whose heart was melted by this small cat. Handsome Italian actor Allesandro Mastrobuono proved a passionate soul match for Pokey. Until she was found out, she crept from the Goodman bedroom each night, squeezing herself through a loose air-conditioner vent, leaping from a balcony rail to a narrow window sill and into Sandro’s humble yet romantic cottage.

As Pokey moved with the Goodman family from Echo Park to Silver Lake to Los Feliz, she did not waste time by slinking around under the sofa or shivering in the closet. She welcomed each new experience with a loud meow and a healthy curiosity, consistently endearing herself to realtors, contractors and moving men.

When the Goodman family expanded, Pokey was delighted. She was patient enough to withstand the rough, yet loving attentions of a baby and a toddler. She attended tea parties, wore numerous doll dresses without complaint and was only too happy to share a large cardboard box with Sadie Goodman. Sadie and Pokey formed a tight bond. Sadie designed many hats, collars and necklaces for the cat and consistently celebrated her with cards, drawings and parties. “Pokey might have been the best thing in my life,” Sadie said, after hearing of Pokey’s passing.

Pokey never met a person she didn’t like. She was just a cat, yes, but she had an open, kind heart and a kind of knowing gaze that made her a friend. She will be missed.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Filthy Cupcake

My children were born in the autumn so, for me, the “holiday season,” begins in September and continues right on through January 1st, at which point, I take a long hard look in the mirror and see just why it’s become so arduous to zip my jeans. Birthday cakes, Halloween candy, stuffing, pumpkin pie, latkes with sour cream, Christmas roast, (because we’re a mixed faith couple), pie and pie and pie, all washed down with wine and capped with a Champagne toast.

Thus begins the yearly urge to eat “clean” food. Every woman’s magazine at the checkout line touts a New Year’s cleanse. The newspaper health section offers helpful hints to clean out your kitchen cupboard and Oprah urges us to clean up our acts. And for the most part, I’m in favor of all this cleanliness. It feels good to eat steamed spinach and lentils and roasted vegetables and tofu. It’s lovely to spritz a bit of lemon juice over a plate of greens; so darned satisfying to munch up a bowl of brown rice…

Maybe it’s because my college boyfriend turned vegetarian only slightly before he turned celibate that at a certain point in my clean food crusade, I have to get just a little bit dirty. It starts small. I’ll have a square of dark chocolate. For the antioxidants, I’ll rationalize. A midweek glass of red wine is helping my heart. That slice of white toast spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar is a trip down memory lane. How can something so comforting be dirty?

And then, slowly, but slowly, I begin to construct solid defenses for more and more food that, at first glance might appear suspect. Home baked chocolate chip cookies are not as dirty as those that are store-bought. And, by the same token, a grilled cheese sandwich toasted to gooey perfection on your own stove can’t possibly be as naughty as one made by a complete stranger at your local diner. Seeking to right further injustice, I spend a day stirring ground beef, veal, milk, wine and tomatoes together until they marry in the perfect sauce Bolognese. It would be a crime to serve this over anything but the most hearty of egg noodles.

Because my parents were born in the Midwest and traveled with the carnival, I believe myself to be a kind of expert on dirty food. Chocolate chip cookies skim the surface. I’ve dug deep, through the loam to the hard clay below. Cheese curds, for example, with their earwax shapes and squeaky exteriors, are most certainly dirty. For family picnics, my grandmother made what was known as a “dump cake,” an ungodly (yet delicious) combination of fruit cocktail, yellow cakemix, and melted butter all dumped unceremoniously into a pan and baked. On the midway, we ate corn dogs and chilidogs, and candy apples with their burnished red sheen of a classic car. We devoured churros and funnel cake fried in oil the color and texture of a prehistoric tarpit.

My father’s father passed to him a taste for canned corned beef hash and he, in turn, passed this love to me. And it’s a dirty love. Mary Kitchen Hash comes in a big can with a red label. With the first plunk of the can opener blade, the salty, sweet scent of chopped corned beef wafts through the air. When the lid is finally cranked open, the meat, studded with waxy cubes of potato stares up at you pinkly. Congealed fat holds the meat and potatoes together in a cylindrical shape that is so solidly packed into the can, it must be scooped out with a heavy spoon. This step of preparation can be slightly off putting because at this point, the hash has the aroma and texture of dog food. Forge on. Scrape the last stubborn bits into a frying pan and let it sizzle. When the hash has browned and bits are sticking to the bottom of your pan, do what my dad always did and crack a few eggs over the whole mess. Let everything cook together and then scrape it all out on two plates. We always enjoyed the hash with raisin toast and a couple of good laughs.

A fancy schmancy coffee house in my neighborhood serves up the most divine scrambled eggs with house-cured salmon and spring asparagus. I love it, but I would gladly pass up this bowl of organic, free-range goodness for life if I could pull up a chair next to my dad and dig into one more plate of his hash and eggs.

Clean food is good for the part of the heart that pumps the blood, but dirty food seems better for the heart’s more sentimental workings. When I think back to that college boyfriend, I remember once when we argued, he threw a piece of broccoli at me, but I don’t remember the taste of his steamed broccoli. What I do remember is his French toast. I think fondly of his floppy blonde hair and the lobster rolls we ate in Maine. I imagine the rough wool of his favorite sweater against my skin and I can almost taste a plate of blueberry oatmeal pancakes we shared on spring break.

It isn’t that I don’t enjoy cleaning up my food act. I actively like lentils. I love kale. My cupboards are filled with mung beans and black beans and grains of all kinds. I harvest fresh chard from my garden and my husband has, on occasion, had to ask if we could have a meal that doesn’t include squash. Brown rice is better than white, and the whole grain is a good grain. These foods will keep me strong and healthy, but truth be told, it’s the filthy cupcake that keeps me young.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A walk up the hill this morning revealed a clean scrubbed city and vibrant green grass. There were three tiny clouds floating across the mountains to the east and nothing but blue sky overhead. Pretty gorgeous stuff.

Nearly every day, my husband and I walk up our street and into Griffith Park. Our loop begins with a long, steep hill and ends on a street lined with magnolia trees so large and they seem out of a fairy tale. Every morning, we see the same people -- the lady in the red hat with the big, brown dog, the guy with the beagle, the serious young girl with the I-pod. My favorite dog is named Tiger. He's some kind of pit bull combo platter with really short legs and a huge head. If a dog could laugh, this dog would laugh all the time.

Our walk gives us structure. It helps reset our brains after the hurry-scurry of getting the kids off to school. Our mornings lately have been hectic. The kids are intense. They don't want to get dressed, or eat or pack their backpacks. They are tired and cranky. They are loud. Today, they both started screaming for no reason other than to see how loud they could scream, how wide they could stretch their mouths. They jack up the volume on the stereo, bounce tiny rubber balls ten thousand times in a row and pour the box of crayons out on the floor. In the single hour that between the second they open their eyes and the moment they walk out the door, they never, ever stop moving. They never move toward anything practical like breakfast, clothes or a warm coat.

It is good to walk. The blue sky, the clean city, the tiny clouds want nothing from me. The short dog laughs, the woman in the red hat waves hello and my feet are almost silent on the ground before me.