Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Nose in the Roses

Guess whose pink nose that is?

Harris, of course. My husband has taken to referring to him as "Doctor Evil," a term of endearment. Harris just can't leave anything unexplored, including these roses from Wilson Farm. The bunch was huge and they didn't all fit in the vase I use in the bedroom. Harris immediately spotted the extras on the living room mantel, and that was that.

From here on, the soundtrack for these photos was me saying, "No Harris!" or "Stop that!" Emphatically and repeatedly.

You can tell I'm annoying him because his ears are back in most of these photos.

Saying "NO" and urging Harris to remember his better nature are rarely effective deterrents.

He doesn't like being told he can't do something.

At some point during his crimes, Harris inevitably pretends to be (briefly) uninterested in whatever he's after, in hopes of fooling me into leaving him alone and going off to bother someone else:

But he can't control himself:

If he could talk to us, I bet he'd say that his investigations are of a purely scientific nature.

But I think his real goals are to eat my roses and disobey me. My exhortations kept him from chomping away on the flowers but he refused to surrender entirely.

I can always tell when Harris isn't happy. He has such an expressive face, especially when he's peeved:

He thinks the world is a cruel and unfair place. Yes, it is, Harris. But not for you.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring is Here

Spring arrived cold and breezy in Boston, but the brilliant sunshine and cloudless skies reminded me that soon I'll be hot, cranky and dependent on sun hats. I walked home from a doctor's appointment along The Fenway this morning and wished the snow would stick around. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The New Growly

I took pity on Harris (and myself, since he tortures me every morning by pushing things off my desk and clawing at our jackets on our coatrack) and unwrapped the back-up Neko Flies Kittenator pole toy attachment, aka Harris's "Growly," which I had squirreled away for future use.

Harris at war with my messy desk because he wants to play with his Growly.

After only a few days, it's ready starting to look like his previous one — that is, how it looked after it spend long stretches of time in Harris's mouth but before Lion ate 14" of its string and put it out of commission. This is the old one. It's made of fox fur, I think, and it is irresistible. I don't dare try to photograph the new one because it will be attacked if it sits anywhere for more than a few seconds.

Kittenator showing signs of being digested

I wish I could show you Harris's intense focus and feats of athleticism as he chases his new growly. I work hard to keep it from him; it flies high and darts all over the room with just a few tempting pauses to challenge him into running after it. He's a match for me, though — talented at grabbing it when I least expect it, often when it's in the air. And we play where HE wants to play. He usually likes to play in the bedroom, so he will race in there and wait for me to follow.

I wish I could film him victorious, strutting around with it in his mouth. He drags me from room to room, growling and proud, with ears flat and eyes narrowed. He especially loves to jump into the Amazon box we kept around for him, which he thinks is the perfect spot for growling over his Growly.

But I can't photograph him because I won't take my focus or my hands off the pole toy even for a few seconds after what happened with Lion. I'm no longer letting Harris spend several minutes at a time with the toy clenched in his jaws, either. I want this toy to last and it won't if his saliva dissolves it. So I pry open his jaws, which is a struggle, and I yank it out after a short time as he fights me off with his paws. Growling.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Talking Tea: Part 4, The End!

When it finally sank in that my husband hated our kettle, which he'd been using many times a day for years to make our tea, I felt bad. I wanted to fix the problem quickly. I like problems that can be fixed with shopping.

After some scouting, I confirmed that there was no stovetop kettle we'd both love. He has to use it but I have to look at it. I'm unusually fussy about kettle functionality and aesthetics. I rejected everything out there. 

A kettle should have a pleasant, clear whistle; most do not. A kettle should be easy to fill and pour, and have a handle that doesn't get hot (or melt) and a lid that stays put. Its interior should stay spic-and-span or be easy to clean. It should not turn alarming colors, as ours did. 

A kettle should also be beautiful, since it sits on the stove, attracting attention. Our Simplex is beautiful — it just, you know, annoys my husband and might be poisoning us. No other kettle can beat it for looks, though. I'm not a fan of colored enamel (Chantal, Le Creuset), or black plastic handles (practically everybody). Copper kettles are lovely until they tarnish, and they sure tarnish. All stainless kettles (All-Clad, Cuisinart, Alessi, Oxo) look grayish and dull compared to our silvery, chrome-plated Simplex. 

Staub makes a cast-iron one that looks like a weird little cookpot. According to its Williams-Sonoma blurb, it heats water slowly. That's a plus? When we want tea, we don't want the water to gently simmer. We want it to boil like hell. We want fast

"Aha!" I thought. "People like us use electric kettles." But, in my mind's eye, I saw my scale-encrusted $5 hot pot from college. I saw the cheap, grungy plastic and metal kettles from True Value that sit on elderly relatives' countertops. None of those would do, but was their a nice electric kettle? I began looking. 

I soon arrived at and their excellent article, The Best Home Electric Kettle. They did everyone's homework and analyzed all the major kettles. However, their criteria weren't the same as mine. We agree that a kettle should be affordable, safe, fast, easy to fill and pour, and should shut off automatically. But they prefer variable-temperature kettles that heat below boiling for brewing green, oolong, and white teas. We only like black and herbal teas, so we just need a kettle that boils. Their top-rated Cuisinart is a big, boring steel pot with too many buttons and options.

Electric kettles get bad reviews because they leak, fail, don't boil, overheat, or have parts that melt, discolor, shatter, or break off. As with all foreign-made electrics, there's always a chance you'll get a dud or doozy. Always read product reviews for the disaster and success stories others have had. Most people are satisfied but there are always a few who end up with melted kitchen cabinets or strange skin rashes.

With an electric kettle, it's most important that your water doesn't come into contact with a reactive material. Steel and tempered glass are good, but rubber, adhesives, and plastic are not. Most kettles have a least a few plastic parts that come in contact with the water, even if it's just while you're pouring it. Those parts ought to be BPA-free, of course, but there's no guarantee that BPA-free plastic is less toxic; BPA is the only chemical that's regulated but there are numerous similar chemicals — too many to regulate.

I decided I could live with a little plastic in an electric kettle. At least we would no longer be poisoning ourselves with copper or blackened tin. 

The Sweet Home recommended one glass kettle and the photos looked cool. Then I remembered seeing one at a friend's house and being surprised at how quickly it worked. So I looked for glass kettles on Amazon. Glass sort of disappears on your counter. Glass lets you watch the water roil and boil, and you'll always know how clean your kettle is, or not. You never have to peer into a cloudy little window to check the water level.

Then I discovered one other feature, which had nothing to do with quality, purity, speed, safety, or anything at all, but it made up my mind. Some glass kettles LIGHT UP BLUE as they heat. I knew we were getting one. 

I knew my husband to be a guy who likes things that light up, especially for no particular reason, and especially bright blue. I mean, LOOK:

I presented him with a few options and he chose a small, simple one with double-walled glass so it won't burn us (or cats jumping on the counter). At $53, it was an affordable experiment. 

So far, he completely loves it. It's fast, clean, and easy to use. While it is far from some gorgeous, high-end design, I find it relatively unobtrusive on the counter, despite its big white plastic handle. And it's fun to turn off the kitchen lights and enjoy the kettle's bright glow as we wait for it to boil. We've only had it about a month, so we may get tired of that, but not yet.

If a more elegant model comes along, we'll get that. As long as it lights up blue. 

I still keep the Simplex on the stove because I like to look at it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Talking Tea: Part 3

This is now a four-part tea series instead of three because an update on Simplex tea kettles is long overdue. In my last "Talking Tea" post, I'll tell you about our newest kettle, which we love.

My husband makes almost all of the tea we drink while I research and choose all of our household equipment. This means that he is stuck using the kettle I choose. This isn't right if it makes him suffer, and it took us both until last month to figure that out.

From the late 1990s to 2010, we used a Bodum steel kettle with gold-plated trim, a wood handle, and a pretty blue ball on the  lid:

Our scary-but-pretty Bodum kettle, left, and the Simplex Heritage chrome kettle, right.

My husband thought this kettle was fine. I hated it. I'd heat water in the microwave or drink something cold rather than use it. The handle had swingy golden hinges so the kettle would sway and try to burn my hand as I poured it. The lid liked to pop off and burn me as I poured, too, no matter how firmly I'd pushed it down and prayed for it to stay put. And it didn't whistle, so we sometimes forgot it was on the stove. In fact, we'd destroyed our first Bodum kettle, an expensive copper one, that way within days of receiving it. (I think it had been a wedding present; I know it was a bad day.)

By late 2010, I was tired of being afraid of a kettle. I did my research and wrote about it here. I settled on a Simplex Beehive, made in England. Simplex kettles, in copper or chrome, had been made by the same British factory since 1903. They earned almost uniformly rave reviews everywhere I looked, and their happy owners promised they'd last a lifetime. Naturally, as soon as I decided we had to have one, I discovered that the company had unexpectedly locked its doors one night the previous summer and ceased production. Retailers were selling out of them and couldn't restock. I'm a relentless hunter-shopper, but Simplex Beehive kettles were no longer available anywhere. 

I decided I'd settle for their other model, the Heritage. I got on the phone and tracked one down in the stockroom of a Sur la Table in Michigan. The kettle (dated 2007 on a slip of paper inside it) arrived just before Christmas 2010. At $150, it was far more expensive than most kettles (except maybe those cutesy Alessis), but I believed it was worth it, since we'd never need to replace it. 

It turns out that Simplexes don't always last a lifetime . . . if you turn your stove up a little too high, or scrub at what you think is gunk on the interior but is actually the fragile, discolored, and essential tin plating over the copper core of the kettle. You need to handle a Simplex with care; my husband didn't. Alas.

In 2011 and 2012, I kept tabs on future of the Simplex company and reported here. They pledged to reopen under new management; eventually they did. In the meantime, this blog got lots of hits from people trying to track down a new kettle. Used ones were selling for a small fortune on eBay. In England, my blog was said to appear at the top of Google search results for "Simplex."

In the years after the factory reopened, American companies, including Amazon, Williams-Sonoma, and Sur la Table restocked the kettles, but customer reviews were generally negative, if not horrible. Issues with rust, the tin lining flaking, dead whistles, defective lids, etc. were widespread. And these bad kettles now cost twice what I'd paid, about $300. Soon they all stopped selling Simplexes again — but by choice this time.

In December 2015, I was evaluating all of our shabby, old cookware with an eye to replacing it. I bravely peeked into our kettle and thought I saw copper instead of tin. The interior was reddish and blackish, streaky and evil-looking. Boiling water in copper is not considered safe. There are differing opinions on just how unsafe it is, but it's probably never a good idea. Our kettle had probably been that way for years. I mentioned this during a visit to the liver specialist and she eagerly offered to subject me to a battery of tests for copper poisoning. I said no, and pulled our Bodum kettle out of storage. I also took photos of the kettle's interior and emailed them to Simplex's customer service, with links to relevant old blog posts of mine. 

They sent me a replacement kettle for free. It arrived in time for Christmas, packed in a fancy carton and wrapped in a soft fabric bag. At first I was delighted and planned to writing a glowing update here. Upon further inspection, the kettle's tin lining was already mottled black and gray. It looked almost as unwholesome as my old kettle. I suspected they'd sent me a reject or a refurb. When we used it, it had a sickly, half-hearted whistle we could barely hear. 

Simplex still wasn't making decent kettles, it seemed. I felt awkward complaining about a freebie or asking if they'd sent me a reject. I decided not to blog about it; bad reviews were already speaking for themselves all over the intertubes. (You can still find some on Amazon.)

In January, I talked to a guy named Jim in Rhode Island who does copper re-tinning. I sent him both kettles. He re-tinned the interior of our old one and shipped it a few back months later, and sold the new one on consignment. 

Re-tinning is expensive. I exhorted my husband not to overheat the kettle in future; he obeyed. But its dull, rough, gray interior soon was covered in a black bloom that looked like mold, or tiny lichens. I told Jim, who said this was normal tin discoloration; as long as copper wasn't showing through we would be okay.

Okay. But making tea in a blackened kettle seemed far from pleasant. My husband wasn't happy about it, especially as it continued to look worse as time passed. He claimed it was probably poisoning us (while offering no evidence). He also complained that he'd always had trouble filling the kettle* and that it took forever for it to boil, now that he had to use less heat. He said hated the kettle. 

And here he was, using it as often as three or four times day. 

I finally realized this was not nice at all. So last month I went kettle shopping again. 

In closing, I need to report that the Simplex Kettle Company has changed hands, or something, once again. They are now calling themselves the Richmond Kettle Company and they sell four "Richmond kettles" that look identical to Simplex Heritage kettles —for around $300, in copper or chrome, and for gas or regular stoves, just like before. (They also make a silver-plated Jubilee edition for $350 to honor HRH QE2. )I discovered this just last month. They are on Facebook.

It remains to be seen whether the Richmond kettle is as good as the old Simplex kettles were/are. Let's hope that they aren't as bad as newer Simplex kettles. I'll be checking reviews when American shops start carrying them. And if anyone in England wants to send me one, I'll be happy to put it to the test. 

It's a gorgeous kettle. It's the Mrs. Patmore (Downton Abbey) of kettles. It's the Mrs. Bridges (Upstairs-Downstairs) of kettles, too. There's no kettle I've ever admired more. 

But we've had to move on.

* I have never, EVER spilled drop of water filling that kettle. The opening is wide; the handle is NOT in the way. I observed my husband in action and spotted his problem. He filled kettle with water from our Brita filtration pitcher  — right after he'd overfilled the pitcher. He always adds more water than will fit in its reservoir, so there's extra water on top, which overflows from under the lid instead of the spout when we pour. He refuses to stop overfilling it. So, when he pours it, he gets a waterfall. I pointed out that his problem was with the pitcher and not the kettle. He didn't care.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

So Much for a Big Snowstorm

I'm not impressed with today's so-called "blizzard," which promised up to two feet of snow and delivered about six inches. And now it's just raining and turning to slush.

Still, it was an excuse to lounge into the afternoon in PJs, sitting by the window and toasting my feet on the radiator while reading The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, by Judith Jones, who was Julia Child's editor. Delicious. There were grilled-cheese sandwiches and tomato-basil soup with for lunch, when the snow was still coming down hard.

Others didn't pay the slightest attention to the white stuff: