Thursday, March 5, 2015

Learning in Comfort

The other day I showed you how Harris absorbs knowledge by osmosis when he sits on a stack of books.

Possum wanted me to remind you that there is another, more comfortable way that cats learn. Here he's demonstrating it by curling up on me as I'm reading. Now, I'm probably on Facebook, Redfin, and eBay more than I'm on thought-provoking news sites, but Possum doesn't care. Like all the cats, he enjoys lying on my fuzzy cardigan and joins me whenever he can. He knows I'm sure to land on some food and travel writing sooner or later, which he always finds interesting.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Recent Adorableness

The little Lion may have lost his mane and turned into a medium-hair on us, but he still has leonine gravitas — and a pink nose that I can't resist.

A Sign

The magnolia trees on the sunny side of Commonwealth Avenue look pretty determined to bloom one of these months.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Harris Studies

Harris decided to pay attention to Possum, who is always haranguing the others about the importance of education. As I've explained before, cats absorb knowledge by osmosis — by sitting or sleeping on top of books and periodicals. It's why cats gravitate to newspapers and why they try to sit on laptops and keyboards. (The jury is still out on whether they can absorb whole websites that way.)

Since Harris is no ordinary cat, he is not content to study one book at a time. Here he's absorbing a full course load simultaneously. No wonder he looks a little alarmed: a massive amount of information is entering his furry little head all at once.

And what has he chosen to study? Anjelica Huston's memoirs, 1930's and '40's jewelry by Trabert and Hoeffer-Mauboussin, how to write formulaic Hollywood screenplays, Oxford University, poems by Lissa Kiernan, historic Egyptian postcards, "Storybook style" cottages, The Idle Rich (mid-century photography of this peculiar species) and a Swarthmore College commemorative.

Possum would have preferred that Harris settle down on some big, fat art history books, or classic literature, but one can't have everything. At least he is getting some mental stimulation. But, as you can see, all that education was exhausting:

The poor little guy. Now his head is touching Indiana Authors and Their Books. There is no rest for the weary. I thought Toffee had bored everyone to death after spending weeks "rereading" that book last spring. Either cats have short memories or they think Indiana authors are fascinating. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Adieu, Petit Robert Bistro

After many years in Kenmore Square, the Petit Robert Bistro closed on Saturday. We often went there when we were in the mood for an especially nice lunch... or were wishing we were in Paris rather than Boston. The dining room was simple but elegant, comfortable, and quiet — a rarity these days. The service was always charming and professional.

Not having fancy palates, we often ordered the "Parisian Hot Dog," a long, tasty frankfurter on a hot, house-made baguette with an excess of melted cheese, served with perfect fries and mustardy mesclun salad. (They'd bring us a little boat of fresh mayonnaise for the fries, which we loved.) The onion soup, roasted chicken, steak frîtes, tart tatin, chocolate mousse, and many other classics were equally delicious.

Bistro tables covered with white paper to protect the linens and set with classic French tableware.

We were there last weekend for hot dogs, onion soup, and tart tatin, and I went again with friends this past Friday (onion soup, a creamy chicken-and-leek crepe, and tart tatin) and again on Saturday with my husband (onion soup, croque monsieur because they were out of hot dogs, and — how stupid in retrospect! — no dessert).

Onion soup, alcohol-free but marvelously rich, in a traditional crock.

A perfectly toasted croque monsieur, with our favorite fries and salad.

Once, a few years ago, we were having breakfast in Paris and reading our pink International Herald Tribunes when we spotted this headline (approximately): "If You Want an Authentic French Meal, Go to Boston." It was a rave review of Petit Robert. We saved a Trib and brought it to Petit Robert the next time we had lunch. They were delighted to read it and we were happy to make them happy for a change.

The thing is: that article was not an exaggeration. It is not easy to find very good versions of classic French dishes in Paris. At least we rarely succeed, but then we are always trying to pay American-style prices rather than, you know, 30 to 40 Euros apiece for a simple lunch without wine.  (I dare you to locate an equally delicious roast chicken in St. Germain as was served in Kenmore Square, and you may double the price. Good luck.) Even the "Parisian hot dogs" of Paris, while affordable, aren't anywhere close to as elegant or delicious as the ones in Boston.

Since even tiny amounts of alcohol and large amounts of cream disagree with me, I can't have most of what's offered in Paris restaurants since both ingredients are integral to so many French dishes. This is why I'm always hunting for a simple roast chicken, etc. But, somehow, at Petit Robert I always had plenty of choices.

There is still a Petit Robert Bistro on Columbus Avenue in the South End, although we heard they are redecorating it and changing the menu. Here's hoping they don't tinker too much... we never loved it as we did the one in Kenmore Square, but we're grateful for it now. There's another PRB in Needham but that will be a last resort.

Our waiter told us that a "contemporary" French restaurant, will open in the Kenmore location later this month. "Contemporary" might sound appealing to you, but I'm wary. To me, it often translates to "weird," as in, "take a perfectly nice dish and then do something bizarre to 'update' it." I will bet that the PR for this restaurant will include the phrase "...with a twist." Run away.

Hmm. I just did a little Googling and found this. It's called Josephine... and note the fourth paragraph! What did I tell you?

Bostonians are going to miss their coq au vin.

We also heard that there will be "family-style" seating in this new restaurant, meaning diners will share long tables and sit next to strangers. Conversation at meals has been a basic shared human experience since we first began breaking woolly mammoths and, later, bread together eons ago... but when you're stuck next to unknown quantities, it's by no means guaranteed to be convivial. There is plenty of casual restaurant seating like this in France, of course, but the French are used to it and understand how to conduct themselves accordingly. In general, Americans are not brought up to have such manners, especially when it comes to treating strangers graciously. Witness the recent parking-spacer saver dramas, the way people behave on crowded buses and the T, and the collective style of driving in Greater Boston. This new restaurant may need to provide haz-mat suits instead of linen napkins.

We will try out the new restaurant but I'm feeling a bit less than optimistic. Adieu, Petit Robert.

Update: Check out the Facebook page.  Oh dear god. It looks like an upscale university dining hall. It also reminds me of Shake Shack. Revisiting my upbeat, "we'll give it a try" thinking.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

So That Was February

I think Possum's dramatic pose symbolizes the trials of the last month.

Or maybe this is how he's looking forward to March, another month that never did much of anything for me.

"Oh, cheer up," I said to him. "At least cats don't have to deal with income taxes."

Friday, February 27, 2015

Possum & Popcorn

Possum discovered popcorn last night.

I discovered it last week. My husband loves popcorn but I've always considered it an organic packing material unless it's covered in caramel or chocolate. I'm not one for buying specialized kitchen gadgets, either, but I got him a Lékué silicone microwave popcorn popper for Christmas and he loves it. It's faster than making using a pot on the stove, and it's easier to clean up and requires less oil. And the bowl collapses to be about 2" tall, so it's easy to store in our tiny kitchen. He uses it several times a week.

I also bought him a bag of popping corn from Trader Joe's after one of the guys there told me it's really good. I tried some last week, and it is. The shells are not as tough and annoying: they don't make me choke or get caught in my teeth. I also got him some fancy, expensive popping corn with tiny kernels, and that's wonderful — hardly any shells at all. But it's hard to microwave it without burning it.

My husband has been making me my own little bowl of popcorn lately, as we've been binge-watching the first two seasons of House of Cards before tonight's premiere. Last night, he made it early, when I was still working, and I put the bowl aside. Then I looked up to see Possum's head in the bowl. I complained to him and he gave me a dirty look and stuck his head back in the bowl. I took it away from him and fished out the cold, soggy kernels he had been working on, and decided to let him have them. He loved them. Harris was interested, too:

A few pieces of plain popcorn with a bit of table salt will not harm an adult cat, I later read online — after having second thoughts and mildly panicking. Cats fed poor-quality food consume a lot of corn, so my initial thought was that a couple of pieces of popcorn would be fine as long as they weren't a choking hazard or covered in chemicals and creepy oils from a microwaved packet. And it turns out that I was right.

When Possum finished his popcorn he tried to get more from my bowl but I didn't let him. I received another baleful look and he went away.

This morning, I asked my husband if Possum had ever tried to eat his popcorn. He's made himself hundreds of bowls. while I've probably had about four. He said no, Possum has always left his alone. I thought that was odd, since Possum seemed to think my bowl also belonged to him. My husband pointed out that Possum loves me. But Possum spends much more time purring on my husband's lap these days than mine, even when there's a laptop already on it. I've been rather jealous of all their together time. My husband says it's easier for Possum to sit on him than on me because my armchair is too small for the two of us. I don't know about that.

My theory is that Possum thinks he owns me, and that what's mine is his. I will have to ask him, the next time he's in the mood to talk to me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wendy Warming Up?

I may be imagining it, and it may be a temporary whim of hers, but Wendy seems to hate/fear me less than usual these days. I've been able to pet her when she's lying on the bedroom window sill and on a chair under the table. Normally, she would flee in terror. Now, I would say — using the verb in the old-fashioned sense — that she "suffers" me to pet her, so I only do it for a few seconds. But then she doesn't run away. Also, when I talk to her, she seems more relaxed and curious, and her pupils seem less dilated. And, if I hold my hand out to her when we're eating and she's on the table or nearby on the floor, she'll sometimes come over, sniff my fingers, and walk slowly away. 

Believe it or not, this is all progress, although I will probably slip up in some way I can't possibly understand and return to being Evil Mommy in Wendy's little mind. In the meantime, it's nice having five cats who tolerate me, more or less.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Self-Portrait as a Potted Plant

I'm the one on the left. You can be the one on the right if you want. 

We had some thawing yesterday, when it was  a sunny and near-tropical 39 degrees. Icicles came crashing down and sheets of snow slid off roofs in noisy avalanches. We chopped some ice from our alley parking space but not enough to inspire us to try driving anywhere. We haven't used the car in more than three weeks, and it doesn't look like we'll be able to get it out of the alley anytime soon. 

Then last night all the melted snow refroze, and today the sidewalks are more treacherous than ever. I gave up and walked in the streets, but that's also dangerous since they are still reduced to single lanes banked with huge snow piles. 

The high will be 17 degrees tomorrow. I think I'll be staying in. I miss my shearling coat.