Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Deaf white cats and Innotek pet locator

White cats with blue eyes have about a 50 percent chance of going deaf shortly after birth. For white cats with green eyes, the chance of deafness is about 25 percent.

Fortunately, deaf white cats are spectacular pets--under the right circumstances. Raised in a good home, they are frisky, friendly, pettable, and affectionate. Obviously, they can't be allowed to roam out of doors because they can't hear cars and predatory animals. They do well with other cats and dogs if they are introduced to the other animals while they are still kittens. Adult deaf white cats, however, can be extremely aggressive with other cats and dogs, so if you get a adult DWC, things will be far more peaceful if it is the only animal in the household.

I speak from experience, as we have a five-year-old DWC (Sheba), and I was a member of a now-defunct online DWC owners group. People shared tales of DWCs' fascination with water (one cat turned on the shower every time her owner left for work, flooding the apartment); yowling (they're loud); and desire for domination of multi-cat houses (several of us had divided our houses into zones to protect our other cats from the DWCs).

We finally negotiated a truce among our four cats (one of them actually likes Sheba) but we caved to Sheba's insistance on going outdoors. We moved to a dead-end street and we take her out several times a day, employing a transmitter system, the Innotek Puppy Trainer/Locator, to keep tabs on her. The system, formerly sold by Drs. Foster and Smith, but now discontinued, consists of a transmitter carried by the owner and a collar receiver worn by the pet. The owner uses the transmitter to make the receiver give off either a clicking noise or whooping siren sound. For a hearing pet, this could be used a signal for training. With Sheba, it serves two purposes: It warns all the other cats in neighbor that she's out and they need to hide before she spots them and attacks, and it enables us to find her--under shrubs and porches, inside tarped boats, in the bathroom of a neighbor's house (she dropped in through an open window) and on the roofs of houses and sheds (she's a climber).

These Trainer/Locaters, which we call "Sheba beepers," are about $50 a set, and the tiny battery-powered receiver mechanism, in a plastic sphere housing, is fragile. Sheba doesn't help matters by dipping it into our outdoor fountain when she takes a drink. We go through two or three receivers a year, and try to keep an extra on hand. Sheba without a beeper means hours of patrolling the yard until she takes pity on us and emerges from wherever she's been hanging out watching us. Keeping her in the house is not an option, as the claw-carvings on our kitchen door attest.

We were down to our last beeper, living dangerously, when the new Drs. Foster and Smith catalog arrvied with the Trainer/Locator on sale for $19.99. We ordered four of them.

If you have a deaf white cat, or know someone with one, we highly recommend the Sheba beeper. We've used it to locate Sheba in the heater ducts, trapped in the dresser, or just plain sleeping somewhere obscure. (Calling "Here, kitty, kitty" isn't an option with a DWC.) The only downside is when my husband is looking for Sheba in the basement or garage and she's peacefully asleep in bed with me. The beeper shrieks, he can't hear it, he keeps beeping, it keeps shrieking, I wake up and start yelling "Stop it! She's here! Upstairs! Stop!" Sheba, of course, sleeps through it all.
[NOTE added April 19, 2006: Here is some information on a new type of cat beeper from Cat Locator.]

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Blogging from down the hall

My TiBook has taken ill and my iMac is busy trying to fix it, so I've moved down the hall to use my husband's G4. This office feels oddly familiar. It has the old birch desk Jim Howe and I built 18 years ago when I lived on Evanston Ave. in Greenwood and used a Mac SE. And my custom bulletin board is on the wall! Hmmm...this is an extremely nice office. If I'd know when we moved in here that I'd be working from home, I'd probably have lobbied to get this one, with the bay window overlooking the mountains and Sound, instead of my current digs overlooking the back garden. My office does, however, have a huge closet for storing office supplies, software, all my chargers, books, and a small wine cellar--plus my dance clothes.

Speaking of feeling at home...thanks to my .Mac membership, all of my Safari browser bookmarks are accessible online even though I'm using someone else's computer. Very cool!

Thursday, December 25, 2003


Look for the recipe for a particular dish on the Web, and you often find the results you get quickly divide into two or three categories: People who use pignolis in their pesto, and people who use walnuts; people who put egg in vanilla ice cream and people who just use cream; people who roast the turkey breast down, people who roast it breast up, and people who turn the bird midway through.

Now try looking for a recipe for seafood bisque. There's lobster bisque, crab bisque, shrimp bisque, and every-imaginable-combination-of-seafood bisques--including several recipes for catfish bisque. Hmmm. They range from short versions ("Just combine canned mushroom and tomato soups, milk, and that surimi stuff, hon!") to excruciating versions that involve flaming shrimp in brandy, grinding shrimp shells in Cuisinarts, using eight lobster bodies, cooking in sherry, pureeing in blenders, straining through cheesecloth, and flavoring with Madeira, m'dear.

The version I created by combining the most adventurous recipe with some common sense was, nevertheless, something out of a Flanders and Swann routine. I ended up with crab shells in the dish strainer, shrimp shells in my hair, and warm pureed bisque all over the counters. Plus the kitchen was swarming with cats. I didn't use the brandy in the bisque itself, but it came in handy for after I cleaned up the mess.

Here's my recipe, if you're game:

Melt 2-3 tablespoons of butter or a light olive oil in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven and sautee half an onion (chopped), a chopped carrot, a chopped celery stalk, and a minced clove of garlic.

Toss in two pounds of shellfish (anything but mussels or oysters), rinsed and patted dry, in shells. Hint: If using shrimp, buy large Gulf shrimp. If using crab, look for frozen split crab legs—these refinements come in very handy where you reach the point in the recipe where you are shelling all the cooked fish.

Sautee, stirring, until lobster or shrimp turn pink, scallops and clams open, or whatever.

If you used a skillet to sautee, transfer the sauteed shellfish to a Dutch oven or a stockpot. Add to the seafood 2 cups clam broth, 2 cups chicken broth, 2 cups tomatoes (pureed work well), and one cup white wine. Using either all clam broth or all chicken broth, plus the tomatoes and wine, is also an option.

Bring to a boil, then decrease heat to a simmer (very low) and cover, cooking for 20 minutes.

Now the fun part: Fish out the stuff with shells and remove all the shells and dispose of them, far from any cats. Reserve two or three cups of the shelled shellfish, chopped in small pieces, and refrigerate it.

Return the rest of the shellfish meat to the liquid, and puree in a blender or Cuisinart. In small batches. Seriously: Only fill the blender halfway unless you were planning to hose down the kitchen later anyway.

You can refrigerate the puree for a day or two if you want. By that time you should have removed all the tiny bits of shrimp shells from the cabinetry and the smell of boiled shrimp from the kitchen. When you are ready to serve the soup, heat the puree, slowly stir in 1 cup of heavy cream, and all the reserved shellfish meat. Heat extremely gently (if it gets too warm, the cream will separate out and look curdled!) and season with salt and pepper.

Add a splash of Madeira, or serve with a small pitcher of warm sherry as an optional add-in.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The psyche of the geek

I'm a geek, a girl geek, with electronic gadgets, a woodshop, and those just-bordering-on SCA hobbies like gardening, cooking, and folk dancing. (The folk dance community is predominantly a mixture of male geeks and females in the helping professions--healthcare, social work and education--which is pertinent to where this blog entry is headed. Patience.) For more than a decade I've been a member of a computer user group and its related BBS.

Today's Good Morning Silicon Valley by John Paczkowski ends with a link to Five Geek Social Fallacies, a slightly overwritten but very insightful piece on the principles of geek society. It would be fascinating to see this writer's analysis extended to cover behavior in geek-driven (as opposed to marketing department-driven) workplaces.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Range wars

I like raving about things that are great and ranting about things that stink. I don't like talking about things that are just vaguely creepy. Like our new Kitchen-Aid stove.

I've always taken stoves for granted. As a child, I grew up in houses with gas ranges. They had pilot lights, and at Cape Cod we kept all the crackers in the oven so they wouldn't get soggy in the damp sea air. I think there might have been crummy electric stovetops in a few apartments I rented after college, but mostly there were old gas ranges and they were great. When I finally bought a house 15 years ago--an old bungalow in Wallingford--it had a cheap but adequate gas range.

About 12 years ago I was out for a walk along the Cut (aka the canal between Lake Union and the Ballard Locks leading to Shilshole Bay) with my friend Bob, whose many-faceted career at that point included several years as a chef. We stumbled upon a yard sale in a warehouse occupied by an odd artist and his even odder girlfriend. "The stove," Bob hissed, pointing at a beautiful old range in the corner of the warehouse. It had a nickel-plated cooking grill, big black grates, and a folding cover that either folded down on top of the burners or arched over the range to form a shelf. As it turned out, the stove was not for sale. "Leave your name with them," Bob insisted. "Offer $500."

I did, and two months later I got a call that the stove was, indeed, for sale. My friends John and Jim moved it (Bob was no longer in the picture) and the cooking adventure began. The stove was an O'Keefe and Merritt, one of the Cadillacs of the World War II era. I had the chrome re-chromed, the copper grill re-nickeled, and the grates re-enameled. I learned about gas fittings (in fact, I shipped some of the piping off to The Homestead in Skykomish to be re-done, as well). It was all worth it. That stove really cooked! It made farinata and pizza just as wonderfully as the wood-burning ovens in Italy. The grill was perfect for six grilled cheese sandwiches (you scraped the grease into little trays that could be cleaned later). The gas jets adjusted from a little interior circle of blue flames for melting butter to a roaring inferno for quick frying.

Two years ago we moved to a beautiful house in Ballard that had only two drawbacks: Uncontrolled bamboo in the sideyard and no gas line. Despite pleas from us, and from three of our neighbors, the gas company has no interest in extending the gas line from any of the surrounding streets. Thus, when we built our new kitchen nearly two years ago, we installed an electric stove. It's a Kitchen-Aid, and it wasn't cheap.

I loathe it. I've learned to compensate for the unresponsive electic stovetop by moving pans around to two or three locations to "adjust" the heat. But I can't compensate for the oven, which is pathetic. It roasts and broils adequately. But baking? Everything comes out dry and hard as a rock on the exterior, and raw on the interior. Pizza is pathetic. I've tried using the convection settings, pizza pans with perforated bottoms to let the air circulate, and baking stones that you preheat for an hour. Nothing works. Nothing even helps slightly.

The only clue I have to the situation is that the temperature in the oven fluctuates quite a bit--set it to 375 and it goes back and forth between 350 and 400. That certainly did not happen with my old gas oven. Yet when I called the appliance store where I purchased it, and Kitchen-Aid, the polite reponse was that they'd never heard of such a thing and had no idea how to adjust it. My reading on the Web indicates that oven temperature fluctuation is considered normal in run-of-the-mill ranges and that I'd need a quasi-professional one, or an older model like my O'Keefe and Merritt, to avoid that.

On Wednesday Kitchen-Aid will be sending a repairman out (for $60) to "test" the stove. I'm not expecting much. I suspect they'll tell me everything is normal and I'm crazy. But I'm going to put up a fight, anyway. I just bought two frozen pizzas and am going to bake one before they arrive to illustrate the problem. If they can get one the second one to come out edible, and tell me how they did it, I'll be content. Otherwise, my next call is to the gas company.