Monday, July 6, 2015

            The old barn stood deserted in a huge field overgrown with yellow, blue, and pink wild flowers. It had been abandoned years ago. No one repaired it because it didn’t belong to anyone. What once was the large door for horses to go in and out was now completely covered with ivy and moss. The people in cars that rushed by on the highway did not see the small opening in the far corner that led inside to a wonderland where CaliClaus and her faithful felines were preparing for their Christmas miracle.

Huge baskets filled with clusters of catnip dangled from a thirty foot high ceiling.
            Twinkling lights from the rays of the sun danced on green leaves through the overhead skylight window, and the tiny cracks in the roof dripped just enough rain to make them grow until they almost touched the floor.

            The barn was sectioned off with everything a cat needed for a happy life. Squeaky fur mice, dangly string toys, and assorted colored balls filled huge boxes. Comfy beds and pillows made of denim and velvet, wood scratching posts, litter boxes and perfumed cat litter were sorted into bundles. And hundreds of bags of dry kibbles and canned wet food were piled in the center of the floor surrounded by kitty treats.
            Cali counted her workers. There were eight in total. They were her pilot team, well trained and reliable. They had gathered enough food, bedding, and toys during the year to accompany two hundred cats and six dozen kittens on their journey.
Bombie and Angie were the leaders of the team. They traveled together as a pair. Bombie, the gentle, well-mannered, elegant black cat that resembled a panther from the jungle, had eyes the color of copper pennies and was a purebred Bombay. Angie, the long-haired white Angora, could trace her breed back over four hundred years to 1600. She was strikingly beautiful and danced like a ballerina. Both were highly intelligent and believed that every human deserved a special cat to love and be loved.
            OK, commanded CaliClaus, Is our team ready?
Yes indeed, answered Bombie and Angie, as they moved toward the door together.
Yes indeed, purred Bali the Balinese, who always had something to say. Yes indeed, sang Ragamuffin, the affectionate cat that loved everyone. Yes indeed, Chirped Munchkin, trying to stand tall on her short legs.
Yes indeed, cooed Dollie, the large mild-mannered combination of the Persian and Siamese cat that became the Ragdoll breed.
Yes indeed, lilted the Scottish Fold twins in their soft voices, their little ears folded tightly into their heads.
            When there were no cars in sight they ran across the highway one at a time so as not to be noticed by any passersby. In the distance, they could see the animal shelter where stray and unwanted cats were taken.
The Shelter was tightly secured with wire fencing and a gate that had a combination lock. Using a pair of wire cutters, CaliClaus clipped an opening for them to squeeze through. Then they found a window that was slightly cracked open.
Dollie, since you are the largest of us, wedge underneath and push the window open.
The 16 pound obedient Ragdoll did as she was told and, with a huge effort, pushed the window upward just enough to let the others through.
            What they saw caused them to stop in their tracks. There were cages from floor to ceiling filled with cats and kittens. CaliClaus whispered, Over half of them will be put to sleep before the week is over.            The Scottish Fold twins wrapped their paws around each other, holding each other tightly.
            Why can’t we take them all, and set free the ones that can’t live with people, mewed
Bali, who always had something to say.
            Because they will only be killed by cars or be attacked by raccoons or foxes or
Bobcats, meowed Bombie, her penny colored eyes half closed with sadness.
Enough of this! We have to choose 200 cats and six dozen kittens to place in homes
tomorrow night. It’s time to interview and bring them with us as quickly as possible,
commanded CaliClaus.
            It was a difficult job. Most of the cats chortled, Take Me, Take Me, while the kittens just cuddled together sleeping peacefully. But there were also a large number who said they were street cats or wild Feral cats and were happy living together but not with people.
Then there were the old cats and the sick cats. They were in a separate area, waiting to be put to sleep. Every cat in the team stayed away from them, while they slipped open the bolts of the cages and grabbed the chosen by the scuffs of their necks with their mouths to drop them down to CaliClaus.
            All except Ragamuffin. She tiptoed past the others, stopping to look into a cage that held a single black and white old male Tuxedo cat.
You look like me, said the gentle, affectionate Ragamuffin. Are you a thoroughbred?
No, I’m just a mixture with good markings. I’m twelve years old. The elderly lady who loved me died. I have arthritis in my legs and back and I move very slowly. No one wants to adopt an old cat that cannot jump or play, so they  are going to put me to sleep tomorrow morning. I do not mind, really. I will be at peace because I have had a very happy life and miss my human.
            That’s terrible, replied Ragamuffin. If you’re part of my family, you were still a kitten until you were almost five years old. We live a long life. You could be happy for at least another five years. And, saying that, she ran back to CaliClaus to ask if there might be a home for this unfortunate feline.
            CaliClaus studied her list and found an old lady who lived all alone. She had no family and no pets. She had arthritis and it was difficult for her to walk or go out. So she sat alone and lonely in her rocking chair waiting to die.

            Ragamuffin ran back to the cage, unlatched it, and helped the old fellow out. Then she pointed her paw at Dollie.
Please, Dollie, he cannot walk a great distance by himself. Will you carry him
back to the barn on your back?
            When they returned to the barn Bombie and Angie wrote the names of a family or person on tiny tags they fastened around the neck of each cat and kitten chosen to belong to them. When they finished, they saw it was almost Christmas Eve and they had not yet rounded up the dogs to pull the Contraption they had been working on all year.
            The back part of the contraption was a huge crate made from the wooden planks that had once separated the horse stalls. This would be filled with the heavy supplies that would require eight strong and loyal dogs to pull.
The front was put together with pieces of wire fence that once surrounded the field. The cats and kittens could look out while CaliClaus kept a watchful eye on them.
The entire odd-looking structure was attached to a brand new shiny Harley Davidson that CaliClaus had borrowed from the motorcycle showroom when no one was looking. It was quite simple to do. She quietly strode into the outdoor area where the bikes were lined up, jumped on to the seat as though she was going to take a nap and then, with a quick stab of her front claw and her magical meow, the bike lifted into the air and sped away. No one thought anything unusual about a cat in the showroom until they saw the empty space where the bike had been parked.
            After she returned to the barn, she and her team worked through the night, loading the beds and toys and food into the back of the contraption and the cats and kittens into the front.
            All right, Ladies, announced CaliClaus, it’s time to gather up the dogs. You will find them at private homes where they have been well-trained and can be depended on to listen to commands. Now, go and bring back eight strong, smart canines to do the job. But first, sharpen your claws to protect yourselves in case of attack.
            One by one, they exited through the little door and lined up by the big oak tree. One by one, they stood on their hind legs and furiously scratched the heavy trunk. When their claws were well sharpened, they scattered in different directions to find the dogs.
            One hour later, they returned.
Bombie and Angie brought the leader of the pack, a huge Rottweiler with a powerful body and mean muzzle, and a Doberman Pinscher they chose as his running mate. The Doberman immediately attacked the Rottweiler, growling that he was going to be their leader.
The Rottweiler bared his teeth.
Don’t you guys dare bring your baggage into my barn, commanded CaliClaus. We felines are about to embark on a magical miracle mission. So, get rid of your macho aggressiveness or go home. Do you understand? Rott and Pinch sat down.
Now, the rest of you: Raise one paw when I introduce you.
            BEAGLE: You are part of the Hound family and, although you’re not too bright, you are a good family dog. As a hunting dog, you are a tireless runner. A happy paw went up.
BOXER: You are a great athlete with your lean, muscular body and strong legs. You
are also sensitive and proud, but tend to be very stubborn. A large brown fist of a paw shot up into the air.
DALMATION: You were bred to run with the horse and carriage. You have super
energy. You have been a hunter, firehouse dog and circus performer. Don’t get goofy or even think about tearing apart my contraption. An elegant spotted paw went up.
 YORKSHIRE TERRIER: Although you are a tiny fellow, you are highly intelligent. However, you are difficult to train because you want your own way. Your original job was in the coalmines getting rid of the rats, so you are clever and confident and strong for a little guy. A small fluffy paw went up.
SAMOYED TWINS: You have endurance and power from your days as reindeer
herders in Siberia. You are gentle and dependable. Try not to bark too much and don’t chase my cats. You will be at the back of the line to push the others on. Two white furry paws went up.
Ok, put on your helmets and get into line to tie up to the Contraption, ordered CaliClaus.
I won’t wear a helmet. It’s for sissies, growled Boxer.
Oh, yeah, hissed CaliClaus. It’s time you found out that cats – not dogs – are in charge of this event. Smart sissies are invited to the party. Dumb arrogant boxers are not. Go home and take your Attitude with you.
            Boxer slumped toward the door, stepped half-way through, stopped, turned around, put on his helmet, and took his place in line.
Meanwhile, CaliClaus had other problems.
            Which one of you lifted his leg on the Cat Contraption? Seven heads turned to look at Yorky. You stupid terriers are all the same. You refuse to be housebroken. If you can’t hold it in, find a tree. The next time you hit on my Cat Contraption, you’re dismissed. Do you understand?
            Now, where did Beagle go? Has anyone seen Beagle? In the corner was an empty
bag of cat food with Beagle asleep in the middle. Get up, you bottomless chowhound. You are about to work this meal off.
            With all the dogs in line tied together, CaliClaus secured the ropes to the Cat
Contraption. In a flash, she shot out her front claw and quickly tapped each of their noses, being careful not to draw blood. The dogs were stunned but not hurt.
            Then, the eight feline members of her team fastened their helmets decorated with pink bows and jumped onto the dogs  ------- Bombie on Rottweiler, Angie on Doberman, Bali on Beagle, Ragamuffin on Boxer, Munchkin on Yorky, Dollie on Dalmatian and the Scottish Fold twins on the Samoyed twins.

CaliClaus mounted the Harley, gave a loud magical meow, and the contraption
lifted into the air, climbing high above the trees and houses, and flew into the clouds pulled by the dogs and cats.
Checking her map, CaliClaus directed her team to 272 homes of the families they had chosen to give these special gifts to.
            As they landed on each roof to bring the cats, kittens, and supplies inside the houses, people gathered below on the lawns to point and exclaim, “That’s not Santa Claus
and his reindeer. Those are cats and dogs. And, that’s not a sleigh. It’s some sort of strange contraption.”
            It was almost midnight and all but one cat had been delivered. The contraption struck the ground with a loud thud in front of a small house where an old lady was sitting alone, rocking in a wooden chair. Ragamuffin let Tuxedo out. He walked slowly up the porch steps and looked at her. When she saw him, happy tears filled her eyes. She reached down and lifted him up into her lap. He cuddled against her, knowing that both of them had found something to live for.
            The empty Contraption rose again and soared through the sky. Its mission was completed. When it landed, CaliClaus directed her team to take the dogs back to their homes. Her team untied them, removed their helmets, and guided them into their kitchens. It would take several hours for the magic to wear off. They would not remember their adventure but would find a whole steak as a reward for being good.
            The contraption was broken in pieces and piled in the corner of the barn. There was only one chore left. CaliClaus flew the Harley back to the dealership and returned it to the exact spot she had taken it from. She wished she might be able to see the confused salespeople explain to the police that their missing Harley was back where it belonged.
            When she entered the barn, her team welcomed her with a celebration. There was broiled fresh fish the restaurant owner had given to the beautiful Angora and sweet Scottish twins when they came to his door. And there were sautéed chicken breasts the hotel chef had given to Ragamuffin, Munchkin, and Dollie after Bali charmed him with her voice.
           They ate heartily, then lazily dipped their heads into saucers of warm milk as CaliClaus raised her paw in a toast to her faithful felines.
You have done well, my Team. Sleep soundly in the catnip plants because tomorrow we must begin to collect what we need for our voyage next Christmas.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


It's time to Blog again. My latest book MY BEST LIFE, launched this spring and I want to share some of it with friends, foodies, and historians, who also believe four-legged furries have souls. MY BEST LIFE is the autobiography of Sakie, an eighteen year old historian and food aficionado, who just happens to be a cat. In detail that is both humorous and poignant, she describes her present life as a cat with an American family and the three other lives she remembers. The big white dog has been a part of her other life when they traveled together as the pair of good fortune to the Indian tribe. Cats she meet along the way tell of their past existences as protagonists that saved civilization. Sakie's first life was as the revered mau of Ramses II favorite daughter. There is the cat that remembers her life as the pampered feline of Marie Antoinette's daughter, Madame Royale, and the terror of the French Revolution. Blackie tells his story of how he saved Siena from the bubonic plague. And, the handsome SAR cat, Tabby, describes how he was responsible for winning the battle that changed the tide of the American Revolution and freed us from the wicked king of England. In her dreams, Sakie leads the army of cats on the Spanish Armada and jumps into a mirror with the Cheshire cat for an adventure in Wonderland. And, in real life, she visits the eclectic SoBe area in Miami Beach and finds an old cat that remembers South Beach. Her life changes when she moves upstate to a small town in central Florida and discovers the magnificent St. John's River. And, the interloper mutt that wrangled his way into her home and tried to take her place, brings real life humor and drama into the book. Each adventure is followed by recipes of the times and regions to create a combined novel-cookbook. This is a book to enjoy, in and out of the kitchen.

(From MY BEST LIFE - Archway Publishing from Simon Schuster)

Kentucky Derby Favorite Foods

Kentucky cuisine centers around old fashioned, mouth watering southern style cooking: Fried chicken with cream gravy over mashed ‘taters with buttermilk biscuits, Catfish and Frog Legs fried in cornmeal batter with hush puppies, Burgoo Stew with meat and veggies, and, of course, the breakfast favorite Biscuits and Cream Gravy thick with breakfast sausage. Although Mint Juleps are the sacred tradition of the Derby, you won’t be ostracized if you order ice tea, as long as it’s Sweet Tea.

Yield: to fill 12 shells
Purchase a box of Old El Paso® Crunchy Taco Shells and Soft Tortillas (6 each)
1 pound lean ground beef
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Fresno chili peppers (or of choice), minced
1 red onion, diced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
6 ounces tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 ¼ cup (10 ounce can Campbell’s®) beef broth
2 large plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Package 8 ounces Mexican chopped 4-cheeses
Optional: Sliced black olives

1.      Put the ground beef in a heavy bottom pot and cook it in its own fat over medium heat until slightly brown, breaking it up as it cooks. Discard any excess fat.
2.      Add the garlic, chili peppers and onion and stir to combine. Stir in the cumin. Stir in the tomato paste and lemon juice.
3.      Stir in the beef broth, ¼ cup at a time, as sauce thickens.
4.      Bring to the bubbly stage, stirring. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook uncovered, stirring often, until sauce is thick. (10 minutes)
5.      Remove from the heat. Stir in the diced tomatoes. Allow sauce to stand 30 minutes or longer. Taste for seasoning. Reheat.
6.      Heat the tacos and tortillas according to package directions. Place a large spoonful of the sauce into each. Top with the shredded lettuce, chopped cheese and olives.

Yield: 8 juleps

½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
12 or more tender mint leaves
Cracked or crushed ice
12 ounces Bourbon (or more to taste)
8 silver julep cups or hi-ball glassses

1.      Make simple sugar syrup: Heat the water. Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved. Remove from the heat. Refrigerate until cold or overnight.
2.      Place cups or glasses into the freezer 30 minutes to frost.
3.      Pour the sugar syrup into a glass or silver pitcher.
4.      Add the mint leaves. With a muddler or back of a long spoon, bruise the mint gently, blending it into the syrup by stirring and pressing. Do not crush the leaves, because they will release bitter juice.
5.      Pack the pitcher with cracked or crushed ice. Add the bourbon and swirl gently with a spoon, bringing the mint leaves up to the top.
6.      Pour into individual cups or hi-ball glasses. Insert a straw and garnish with fresh mint.

Yield: Contents below make 1 drink.  Multiply for more.

1½ ounces tequila
½ ounce triple sec liqueur
3 ounces sour mix (For 4 drinks, combine 1¼ cup sugar with 1¼ cup hot water until sugar is completely dissolved. Add 1¼ cup fresh lime juice and 1¼ cup fresh lemon juice and refrigerate.
Lime wedge to garnish
Salt or sugar to rim the glass
Margarita or martini glasses

1.      Chill the Margarita glasses in the freezer.
2.      Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice cubes and shake well.
3.      Pour salt or sugar or both into a bowl. Turn each glass upside down into the salt to coat the rim. (They should be moist from the freezer. If not, turn upside down into cold water before coating with the salt)
4.      Pour the drink with its ice into the glass. Garnish with lime.

sandwich bread, topped with another slice of bread. Cut into finger sandwiches.


6-10 inch flour tortillas
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced (peaches work during season)
1 poblano pepper, seeded and minced
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat grill for medium heat.
1.      Spread half of the tortillas with about 2 tablespoons cream cheese each. Sprinkle mango and poblano peppers over cheese, and press another tortilla on top. Brush butter over the outside of each quesadilla, top and bottom.
2.      Grill quesadillas 5 minutes each side, or until golden brown. Remove from grill, and slice into wedges. Serve warm.

Derby Pie™, a trademark dessert of Louisville's Kerns Bakery, is sinfully rich and delicious, filled with chocolate chips and pecans. The pie has long been a tradition enjoyed on Kentucky Derby Day, the first Saturday in May.

Kentucky Bourbon Chocolate Walnut Pie
Kentucky bourbon chocolate walnut pie is traditionally served at the annual Kentucky Derby Horse race. This pie recipe is similar to the Melrose Inn's famous version which has been served at the race for over 50 years. The name "Derby Pie" is trademarked, and the owners of the name are very aggressive protecting the name "Derby Pie."
 This recipe is so simple!

½ cup flour
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup melted butter
2 tablespoons Kentucky bourbon
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 ¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 ready-made piecrust
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Combine flour and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs and butter. Mix to combine. Stir in the bourbon, walnuts, chocolate chips, vanilla, and salt. Pour the mixture into the unbaked piecrust. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely before slicing. 

Hot Pepper Jelly with Lime and Garlic

I was asked to develop a recipe for HOT PEPPER JELLY because Hot-Hot-Hot to spread over cream cheese and brie cheese for an hors d'oeuvre could not be found in the stores. I Googled dozens of recipes, all that offered instructions that were adverse to my marmalade successes. They said to cook the hot peppers with sugar and then add either liquid or powdered pectin. No-No-No! The jelly didn't jell, and I had to label it "HOT PEPPER SAUCE". So, I shredded all the recipes from the net and developed my own. It is fabulous! Only problem is that my throat is still burning from breathing in the fumes. So, if you make it, wear latex (or latex-free) gloves to protect your hands and Dark Glasses to keep your eyes from tearing. And, here it is: The Champion of Champions HOT PEPPER JELLY WITH LIME AND GARLIC. Sorry, it is not in any of my cookbooks. Maybe next time!!

Yield: 6 half pint jars

2 cups minced combination hot peppers, such as Jalapeño, Habanero, Anaheim, Cubanelle, Rocotillo, Serrano, Poblano, or/and even the hottest Carolina Reaper

A large red bell pepper

Large garlic clove

Handful fresh mint leaves

1½ cups white vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

7 cups granulated sugar

1 packet SureJell® pectin (1.75 ounces)

Optional: a drop or two red food coloring

Plastic gloves

Dark glasses


1.       Purchase a mixture of peppers, depending on how hot you like the jelly. Some stores will have them labeled by degree of heat. Check the recipe index for a list of peppers.

2.       Put on gloves and glasses to protect your skin and eyes.

3.       Slice the peppers. Remove the stems. Remove the seeds from the bell peppers but not from the hot peppers.

4.       Peel and slice the garlic.

5.       Remove peppers and garlic to a food processor. Add the mint leaves and 1 cup of the sugar. Grind the mixture and remove to a large pot. Add the vinegar, lime and orange juices.

6.       Bring the mixture to a boil. Boil gently 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Cover and allow it to stand 15 minutes.

7.       Strain all but ½ cup so there will be some seeds in the finished jelly. Return to the pot.

8.       Add food coloring if desired. Bring to a boil and stir in the SureJell®. When it returns to a boil, add the sugar all at once. Boil hard, stirring, 1 minute only.

9.       Fill sterilized jars according to directions.

Note: For super-hot jelly, go heavy on Habanero chilies