Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In My Next Life, I Want To Come Back As My Cat.

Last night, our indoor cat, Lionel, escaped. Twice. This, despite the mantra of my every waking moment: You're an indoor cat, you're an indoor cat, you're an indoor cat.

The word cat, I suppose, is key. Our furry feline undoubtedly hears me as if I'm one of the adults in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Wah, wah-wah, wah-wah.

Anyhow. He slipped out. Bedlam ensued. Children scurried. Flashlights flickered. Catnip scattered. After a few panicky minutes, though, I had to wonder, “Exactly why is this a crisis?”

Honestly. When I was growing up, pets came and pets went – indoors, outdoors, around the block, in the lake. Wherever. Not that I didn’t miss them when they were “gone,” like Mikey, the parakeet we had when I was a toddler, who reportedly “flew away,” but in truth, had been found earlier that day on his little birdy back, rigor mortis-stiffened feet in the air. Or Snowball, my first cat, who reportedly “ran away,” but in truth had taken a long, one-way car ride. (I learned both these truths on a visit home as an adult, after more than one tongue-loosening glass of wine. Rough night.)

In the 60s and 70s, dogs were not only unleashed -- I didn’t know a family who even owned a leash.

Lassie didn’t have a leash. Neither did Tiger, of The Brady Bunch fame. We might have seen a leash sometime on TV. But only on a fancy dog. Like a poodle. In a fancy city. Like New York City. Or Paris, France.

Our family dog, Snoopy Bonaparte Fountain, was no poodle. He was a loud, quarrelsome, battle-scarred black dachshund who had no idea that the only animal closer to the ground than him was a Palmetto bug (a.k.a., roach). He didn't need no stinkin' leash. He didn’t even have a collar -- unless you counted the occasional plain white plastic Hart’s flea collar looped around his neck. I wasn’t a bully as a kid, but if I’d ever seen a dog with an engraved "My Name Is SNOOPY" tag, I’d have been forced to call that dog a sissy. Or worse.

My similarly collar-less childhood cat, Smokey Jo, was also free to come and go. Except for that night she kept yowling and yowling and yowling and rubbing herself on the furniture, and my parents said, “Do NOT open the door for that cat. Under ANY circumstances.”

Being an obedient child, I did NOT open the front door for Smokey. Or the back door. Or the door to the garage. Eventually, though, I did open my bedroom window for her.

Funny story. Turns out my parents were right. There WERE boy cats out there that night. Or, at least one. Because a few months later, Smokey (nee “Minuit” – French for “midnight” -- which my bullheaded family refused to call her) gave birth to four spicy kittens, Ginger, Pepper, Nutmeg and Cinnamon.<

Shortly thereafter, we paid a visit to Dr. Murray's veterinary clinic to get Smokey "fixed."

I never knew she was broken.

So last night, when Lionel tried on the life of a refugee, I didn’t panic. I knew he’d be back. He may see himself as a rebel, but in truth, he’s one pampered pussycat. Outside was hot, dirty and dark. It didn’t take long for Lionel to reveal his true Mike Tyson personality. Fierce. Belligerent. With a ridiculously tiny, high-pitched voice. Lionel responded loud, clear and pathetically when we called him. Unlike the notorious pugilist, though, our pampered indoor cat didn't lisp.
So welcome back, Lionel. We knew you’d return. The only question now is whether you came back because you missed us -- or because we were having Shrimp and Grits for dinner.

Wah, wah-wah, wah-wah.

I probably don’t want to know.

Super Simple Shrimp & Grits
This zesty casserole version of shrimp and grits is perfect for supper, but I like it even better for breakfast. If you do too, you can save time by making it the day before and keeping it refrigerated 'til morning.
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup regular (not instant) grits
1 8 oz. package grated cheddar/jack cheese, divided
2 tablespoons butter
6 green onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. shrimp (smaller is better), cooked and peeled
1 (10 oz.) can diced tomatoes with mild green chilies (Ro-Tel), drained

Bring chicken broth to a boil in large saucepan; stir in grits. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Stir in all but 1/4 cup of grated cheese. In a separate skillet, melt butter; add green onions, bell pepper, and garlic, sauté 5 minutes, or until tender. Stir green onion mixture into grits. Add shrimp and tomatoes. Pour into a lightly greased 2-quart baking dish. Top with remaining 1/4 cheese. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes. If refrigerated, adjust cooking time (as grits will be cold) accordingly. Serves 6-8.

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