Musings from Quince

Kosmo – Cat Extraordinaire, and then some….
March 14, 2012, 5:54 pm
Filed under: Essence | Tags: , ,

Hi, it’s been way too long since I’ve posted a new blog! I could offer a zillion legitimate excuses, but this time there’s no bailing out.  Kosmo deserves at least some semblance of a tribute recalling what made him truly one-of-a-kind, and I’m very sure he would expect this acknowledgment at the very least!  It’s so hard to believe he’s not around….Kosmo was quite the exceptional kitty, and I’m very sad that he’s “crossed the bridge”, so to speak.  But, it was his time, after 18 years of a near-perfect life, to peacefully “move on” after a pretty rough year, health-wise.  So, here are some of the high points of his life which illustrate what made him so darn special.  All of you fortunates who have been on the receiving end of his affection already understand exactly what all of the hoopla is about.  Back in 1994, after semi-agonizing over whether or not I could actually take responsibility for…a pet…. I decided to go ahead and check out the CASPCA, figuring that I’d know “it” when I saw “it”. I went every single day for a week, all dressed up in fancy business attire, making my way through a semi-stinky, wet series of rooms which housed dozens of cats. I was getting impatient until, on day 7, I rounded the corner and there he was, in a corner cage, waiting patiently for me to show up.   Just brought in by someone who found him in the bushes along Rt. 29, about 6 months old, tuxedo on, gorgeous, ready to come home….yes!  We locked eyes, and I knew he was it; unfortunately, he had to remain there for another 5 days to rule out any weird bug, germ, etc.  So, I visited every day, and he couldn’t wait for me to get him out of there!  I brought him home, and that night had about 6 people over for dinner….trying to figure out a name, someone suggested “Kosmo”, and bingo, that was it! I also realized, at that point, that he had chosen me.

So, basically he had this “air” about him; if he could wear a smoking jacket and smoke a pipe, it would have been so right.  His facial expressions ranged from debonair to aloof, and when he wasn’t tormenting Babs, his counterpart who joined him a year later, he was very busy lounging in front of huge windows, watching the cardinals, snowflakes, and bees twirl around outside…snoozing on the porch, choosing the warmest lap for a nap, or supervising all activities throughout the house (whew, busy schedule!).  While he seemed like he was in such control over so many things, he was downright greedy for hugs and love – he never, ever got enough!  He made it a point for his entire 18 years to greet every visitor, whether a new friend, old friend, repairman, houseguest, etc. to be sure they had everything they needed throughout their stay.  If there were 2 people or 10 people seated in the living room, he would travel from lap to lap for some petting and reassurance that everyone was happy – I’m not kidding, he continued this practice right up until his last week!  People were amazed, and immediately melted – even cat non-enthusiasts (and you know who you are, gentle reader(s)).

Of course, being feline in nature, there were many opportunities for him to push the envelope.  I remember very clearly the night he went up in flames (literally!).  I had just finished a complete renovation of my master bathroom and was celebrating with a glass of wine by candlelight, the cell phone in hand, while enjoying an inaugural bubble bath, on the way to a party.  The votive candle was set on the toilet tank lid, out-of-the-way, or so I thought.  Koz decided to investigate, gave it a sniff and turned away, his tail brushing the flame, and within 2 seconds, he was COMPLETELY engulfed in blue flames!  He took off, I dropped the phone, and I, dripping, buck naked, found him sitting under my bed, probably the most flammable thing in the house!  The flames had extinguished, but the stench of burning fur was horrible.  I lunged for him and he took off, this time, running under the dining room table….My windows provided any UVA student next door (I was living on U-Circle at the time) a full range of comical shots of a crazy naked cat woman chasing her charred cat around the house.  Luckily, the only damaged he sustained was to his ego….that was a close one!

He always loved to investigate bowls containing any kind of liquid or food – he lapped up water, most beverages, butter, bowls with remnants of food in them, whatever.  I always had to be on stand-by, ready to shoo him off the kitchen counters or dining table.  One New Year’s Eve, I had a party and had the house all spiffed up.  Some guests (ironically his vet. was in attendance) noticed he seemed to be staggering around….couldn’t figure it out until later until I noticed the essential oil I had poured into a vessel was bone dry…seems he had lapped it all up…again, luckily no harm done.

Throughout the years, I had some misgivings about confining Kosmo & Babs to the house.  Was I being cruel by denying them the delights of running around freely?  Well, I think not – I wanted them to live longer, and my neighborhood wasn’t exactly prime for safe roaming….on occasion, however, Kosmo would bolt when he had the chance.  He once got out after a snowstorm, and all I could see was the tip of his tail making its way down the driveway towards the street, along a narrowly shoveled pathway….another time, I followed him to a neighbor’s garage at the end of the street…the most embarrassing time was when I was going to a black tie event, waiting for 3 people to show up (yes, Cindy & Sanjiv).  My date was a blind date (forever the last one I will ever have) and I was dressed in chiffon and sequins….we had a few drinks and as I opened the door (it was now dark outside) for us to leave, Kosmo ran out, straight down a very sharp incline in my next door neighbor’s lot.  Well, that wouldn’t do, so I took off after him, slipped and landed, face first, in a pile of leaves and mud. Nice!  I managed to retrieve Koz, but I was a messy wreck.  All 3 stared at me in disbelief as I marched into the house, with cat, to freshen up.  They swear I was drunk (no way after 2 drinks), but I was not, only afraid Koz would be run over or kidnapped by UVA undergrads.

Three years ago, Millie & Dexter, 2 black & white shelter kittens, took up residence with Kosmo, and it was a very slow transition.  After about a month, he finally gave up and allowed them to be part of the family, but I know they tired him out with their energy and playfulness.  We moved from Ivy back into the city last summer, and he, in his curmudgeonly way, seemed to be content.  So, he was a cat.  Big deal.  Yes, he was, actually, a very big deal!

Thank you, Kosmo, for all your charm, personality, and everything else that made you so absolutely fabulous!  You had a great run, and will be sorely missed!  If any of you readers would like to comment on Kosmo, he and I would love it!

Aunt Lucy’s Legacy

Corn Puddin'

Here comes the holiday season!  We’re into Fall full swing:  crisp air, blue skies, piles of leaves, fireplaces ready for action, perfect excuses for entertaining, and the opportunity to shine as an invited guest….how does one shine?  Well, by bringing, as requested or offered, an outstanding side dish which will stand on its own as part of a huge gathering or small dinner party.  I just happen to have a very yummy dish, Aunt Lucy’s corn puddin’ which is not only easy to prepare, but is so delicious people may end up swooning at the table as they reach for seconds and thirds.  By request and permission (given by Aunt Lucy’s great-niece), I am providing the recipe, complete with Aunt Lucy’s special terminology (i.e. “stir real good”)…..for maximum effect, please read recipe aloud with the most southern drawl you can muster:

1     2 quart casserole dish

1     can cream-style corn

3     eggs

2     tablespoons flour

2/3 cup sugar

2     cups milk

1/2 stick butter, melted


Beat eggs well – add sugar and flour.  Add corn and beat well.  Add milk and stir real good.  Sprinkle a very small amt. of nutmeg over the top.  Put in dish and pour melted butter on top – stir again.  Sprinkle a little more nutmeg over the top, and put in the oven,  400 degrees for 20 minutes, then turn oven down to 300 degrees and continue baking 20-30 minutes more, until done.  Knife in middle should come out clean.  Enjoy!!

With love, Aunt Lucy

Note:  Feel free to double recipe if feeding an army.  Also, please provide feedback on how well this went over at your festive event!  Gotta run…time to rake some leaves!

Easy as Pie? YOU be the Judge!

Triple Coconut Cream Pie

Aah, pie, wonderful pie…..I don’t bake much these days, but when I saw the Cville Pie Fest coming up, I realized the one pie I do enjoy making which people always scream and swoon over might be a good contender…Triple Coconut Cream pie…yes, there is coconut in the crust, in the filling, and toasted on top (along with white chocolate shavings, of course).   And since it was for a very good cause, PACEM, it just seemed like the right thing to do, so I entered my pie in the contest.  The event was held yesterday, on a Sunday, which is probably the best day to hold something like this as it gives contestants most of the weekend to prepare….unless you happen to be working all day Friday and Saturday….and so my adventure begins…..

This pie is a complicated pie to bake – the steps are mind-boggling, from the crust, right on through to the end. With all the various stages of chilling the pie dough and cooking/cooling the filling, it takes 2 days, from start to finish.  Making a crust seems simple enough….just need the basic food processor, rolling pin, and ingredients, right?….Oh, the ingredients!  When I was in the check out line at the grocery store, people were staring at my cart – a cart full of baking goods…this was only the first trip…there were 4 more trips to the store for things I had either forgotten or run out of. 

 The first hint that making this pie might be an extra challenge was when I noticed my fridge had gone completely dead Friday night, after 9 years of perfect service – not good when everything has to be chilled in stages.  I called a friend in a panic state and we figured out I could take all the ingredients and supplies to Quince (we have a huge refrigerator on site) and continue the process really late at night or early in the morning.  I decided to just pretend everything was OK instead, and left the first pie dough in the fridge anyway, and went to bed.  When I woke up Saturday a.m., the fridge had miraculously come back on (though it was sputtering a bit), so I decided to just take my chances at home.  The first ball of dough had successfully chilled all night, so I then rolled it out, plopped it in the pie pan, and set the oven timer.  Of course, one doesn’t just throw something like this in the oven; the inside of the pie tin must first be lined with parchment paper and weighted down with uncooked rice or beans over the dough, to ensure even cooking.  Well, when I took the crust out of the oven and threw off the beans and parchment paper, I freaked because the crust was a tad too brown for my liking, so I had to make the executive decision to go ahead and make A SECOND pie for judging, offering up the first pie for the silent auction (hadn’t really planned on doing 2 pies)… that point I realized, on Saturday, that I needed another pie tin.  So, I sped to The Seasonal Cook after work, where I purchased one of those super-duper pie plates that is non-stick and weighs a lot…apparently this is the Rolls-Royce of pie tins, and the gal in the store instructed me to “season” the tin before using so the crust would brown evenly…OK, so what’s that all about?  “Well, fill the pie tin to the top with water and leave it in the oven for 45 minutes at 350 degrees…careful taking it out of the oven so you don’t burn yourself!”  At this point I was getting a little anxious – sounds complicated, and what if I drop the whole thing?  I’ll end up in the burn unit at UVA…but, I didn’t know what else to do.  So, when the timer rang, I was a little nervous as the tin was almost completely full with 350 degree water.  In the meantime, my cats really like to place themselves right behind me when I’m at the kitchen counter (I guess they think they’ll miss something), so I constantly have to look before I step.  They are mostly black and always sit on the black painted diamonds on my parquet floor, so it’s really hard to see them; anyone looking at me through the kitchen window will think I’m doing some sort of spastic tribal dance, when what I’m actually doing is trying to keep from tripping over the cats.  Anyway, I clear the area, open the door and in slo-mo manage to get the full pie tin over to the sink without spilling a drop!  Yahoo!!!

I get home from work early Saturday evening and know that I’ve got to hustle to get the second crust baked and the filling done, ready to chill overnight….one annoying feature of the filling is that once it’s cooked, it has to be placed in an ice water bath to cool it down even more before popping it in the fridge.  At that point, I’ve run out of dishes, and coconut is all over the entire kitchen….I manage to somehow get everything done and set my alarm for 5:30 Sunday morning so I will have enough time to whip the cream, toast the coconut, shave the chocolate, and drop those pies off by 10:30am……

Sunday morning I leap into action….I’m really upset because both crusts are a tad too brown (the new pie tin actually shrunk the entire second crust a little, in addition to browning too much….geez…) but there’s nothing I can do about this now.  In the name of being time efficient while I’m waiting for the final stage of cooling, etc.,  I decide to run a few loads of laundry in between things….you’ll love what’s next.

Dexter = Cheetah

  I come up from my basement and throw a huge mound of warm, dried clothes on my bed and proceed to fold things….little do I know that Dexter, my all-muscle cheetah-like cat is revving up to do a major sprint from the far side of the kitchen all the way over to a warm mountain of clean laundry on the bed.  I dropped something on the floor at the same time he takes off, and he manages to slam into my head at full speed, not only bending my eyeglass frames, but scaring the hell out of me and him.  He freaks out and hides under the bed while I loudly moan in pain.  What next?  I slowly recover, give him a few hugs, and can’t wait for all of this to be over with!  I amazingly manage to get both pies done, hope nobody notices the crusts being a little too brown, and get them submitted in time.

My pie didn’t win any awards, but I received the highest bid for a pie during the silent auction.  The nice thing about all of this is that the bidder got to take my pie home for $25 and enjoy it, and I had the chance to help out a group in need.  All 20 of the judged pies were divided up into individual bites and were sold individually at 3 for $1.  I’m happy to say I watched many people enjoying my pie, including a little kid who gave it a thumbs up.  Next time, I’ll watch the crust bake more closely….even after all the drama, I still feel like I have enough momentum left in me to get one more TCCP made sometime this week.  Any takers?

All Quiet on the Chimney Front
August 12, 2010, 4:52 pm
Filed under: Seasonal, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

At Your Service!

Thought I’d add a little “blogette” about the chimney drama going on at home this week.  I am pleased to say the scent of orange-vanilla room deodorizer has diminished greatly, and the once overpowering “scent of squirrel” has now left the building.  So, future dinner guests, there will be absolutely no indication that anything was ever awry in that cute dining room!  I’ve attached a photo of my chimney sweep team installing the chimney cap this morning, which will prevent any critters or botanical bits from entering the flue and causing potentially major problems!!  My advice to you at the moment is to run outside, check for overhanging branches around your roof & chimney which may provide a gateway for critters to come knocking on your chimney(s) door, make sure your damper is closed, and make sure your fireplaces are all fully serviced before the weather turns chilly (yes, that day will eventually get here)… the meantime, figure out a way to keep cool during these dog days of summer…….

No More Squirrels!

Mirkwood Chimney Rescue

Chim-Chiminy….Fun at Home, not really!

Well, well…..just when I was ready to get serious about a few decorating tips, something came up over the last several days which I feel compelled to write about!  Those of us who live in houses, whether owned or rented, indeed are aware that on occasion, certain types of unpleasantries must be dealt with in a timely fashion or else the situation at hand will only worsen, requiring even more $$ and time to correct.  I think it was 5 days ago that sounds began emanating from the fireplace in my dining room.  The damper is always closed, of course, but it sounded like a critter or 2 had found a way to get right down to the grate at the bottom.  My 3 cats were all sitting in a row, right under the damper, staring in wonderment, waiting for something to somehow fly or run out; a couple of days later, a rather nasty odor, downright gross, began to fill the dining area, and I surmised something must be (there’s no delicate way to say this) dead in the chimney.  Ugh….with temps. in the high 90’s you can imagine my dismay….I checked out the basement to make sure it wasn’t the source (no problem) and then noticed outside that a few maple tree branches had grown quite a bit and were now hovering over part of  the roof, providing a natural springboard for critters to use as they scampered about from branch to branch.

Mr. Chimney Sweep, c.1910

Per usual, things like this usually happen at the very end of a work week, or during a holiday weekend, so I figured I’d call my chimney sweep on Sunday to set up a Monday appt.  In the meantime, I solicited advice from an assortment of friends and family on what they would do.  ALL of the male species told me to just open the grate, let the dead whatever fall out, and dispose of it.  Are you kidding me????  Look, I can set a mouse trap with the best of them, and even dispose the mouse & trap when I have to (this acquired skill took me quite awhile to master), but I draw the line on this one. Molted snake skins don’t freak me out either, but this is something I just will not do….I also note that none of the men volunteered to come over and take care of this for me!  All the gals said….”Chimney sweep, of course!”

So, I started calling my chimney sweep, (who henceforth shall be known as “Tim”) and finally reached him.  I could hear the lack of enthusiasm in his voice once I told him what I needed help with, but I guess he could hear the state of desperation in my voice….he rearranged his day and showed up this morning…..the stench at this point was nauseating, and he immediately identified the smell as that of a decomposing squirrel…great…I’ll spare you the goriest of details, but I am forever indebted to Tim for “getting things taken care of”!  He admitted this was the worst part of his job and had a few stories to tell about similar situations (again, I’ll spare you the gory details).

I know it seems hard to believe at this point, but the days of frosty mornings and chilly nights are less than 3 months away, so you want to be  totally prepared to participate in the delights of a wood-burning fireplace.  I recommend the following:

1) Make sure all chimneys are capped.  These caps can be installed from the outside, for about $275 in about 15 minutes, and they last a lifetime! (Mine is being installed as soon as the parts come in).

2) Keep dampers closed when chimney not in use.

3) Find a reliable chimney sweep for fireplace maintenance – you’d be surprised at what can collect (creosote, etc.) along the walls of the flue during a typical winter season. 

4) Keep tree branches trimmed away from all rooftops to prevent a fire hazard, and to discourage critters from scampering over your rooftops, potentially creating problems!

Thank God for Tim!

Tim, Chimney Sweep, 2010

I’d just like to say how happy I am that there are people out there to take care of things like this!  Now, if I could only get rid of the orange-vanilla room deodorizer (this is what they use) permeating every square inch of my house….time to turn on the attic fan and let it go crazy!

About 12 years ago, when I lived on/near UVA grounds, the damper of my chimney got stuck and I had to call the fire department…..4 fire trucks showed up en masse after what seemed like an eternity, completely blocking off the residential circle I lived on. The house had completely filled with smoke and I was starting to panic….one of the firemen walked up my driveway in full garb carrying an axe, prepared for most anything!  Even he had a hard time unjamming the grate….it was in December, freezing cold, and we had to open all the windows while the giant fans blew out the smoke.  I remember at one point I had about 6 firemen standing in my living room – one of them was a gal, and she and I started talking about the Christmas wreath I had hung over the fireplace mantel! Imagine that!  Even then there was an opportunity to discuss home aesthetics with another professional.
Well, I’m anxious to hear if any of my readers have had similar experiences with their fireplaces.  I really love those comments, so keep them coming!

Remembrance of Pools Past
July 19, 2010, 8:15 pm
Filed under: Seasonal | Tags: , , , ,

Time Warp!

Here we are in the thick of summer, with days averaging in the 90’s, and the humidity right on up there.  What better way to cool off than a dip (quick or lengthy) in the pool?  Of course, it helps if you HAVE a pool, but many of us don’t, though some of us are fortunate enough to have friends with pools….of course, there’s always the athletic club pool and public pool, but there’s something special about hanging out at a friends’ pool, especially with a fun group, zillions of bottles of wine and champagne, platters of delicious food (some healthier than others), soft fluffy towels, and an adorable gazebo/changing area to boot…not to mention assorted chaise lounges, umbrellas galore, and plenty of seating on teak benches and tables…..a friend of mine has been threatening to put in a pool for quite sometime, and this year she actually did it!

Mighty Close to Eden, c.2010

  Jumping in her pool serves as a catalyst for a trip back in time, where growing up in Miami, we had a pool, which back in the late 50’s, was still slightly novel.  I was about 6 at the time, and I remember my swimming lessons in that pool like it was yesterday.  Within a relatively short time, I sprouted gills and essentially spent every waking free moment playing in that pool – it had a very deep end, and friends from the neighborhood would descend, and we’d spend so much time in the water that eventually we turned into puckery prunes, with bright red bloodshot eyes, and chlorine-bleached hair. Can-opener? Watch out…Watermelon? No problem! Cannonball? Bring it on!

Aaahh, time for a dip!

Our family really enjoyed the pool and patio….the terrazzo tile was really slippery, so we had to be careful, but it was always the epicenter for entertaining, etc.  The patio was screened in, so it was easy to barbeque and have food around, without being bombarded by flies and mosquitos.  My step-mother, Julia, reigned supreme when it came to whipping up the most delicious meals ever….steaks on the grill, Florida lobster (crawfish), stone crab claws, it went on and on.  And some Sunday mornings, she’d do pancakes and we’d sit outside….those were the days.  My sister, Karen, celebrated her birthday one year when she was in high school shortly after the pool was completed….I remember about 50 kids showed up, and she walked them AROUND the pool (no one got in?!) like it was some sort of mysterious watering hole. However, this was in January, and sometimes it actually became a bit too chilly for a swim.  Did I also mention we had an entire row of key lime trees on one whole side of the pool which provided an endless year around supply of limes for limeade, pies, etc.  Yes!  Was I lucky, or what!

Full Service Gazebo

Anyway, what I find so amazing is that after that first plunge, all the frustrations of the day seem to melt away and all of a sudden you’re engrossed in heavy discussions with really smart people (seriously!) about what George Clooney is up to, or what Chelsea’s wedding dress will look like.  And most importantly, who’s going to refill the wine glasses (or flutes) next time around…and BTW, that little gazebo/cabana houses a changing room, mini-kitchen, a fully stocked large fridge, a large basket of assorted sun blocks for your choosing, and everything else you could possibly need to make your afternoon dip the highlight of your day.  I for one, feel very fortunate  not having to resort to the garden hose and sprinkler in the back yard this year!

Dripless vs. Droopless
July 8, 2010, 6:42 pm
Filed under: Essence | Tags: , , , , ,

Beeswax vs. Wax

Well, this week I’ve learned something about candles….more than I wanted to learn, actually, due to rather unpleasant circumstances inside Quince!  Of all the weeks to lose air-conditioning, this one is probably THE worst, with temps. soaring to 91 degrees INSIDE the store…cooler than 102 degrees outside, but nevertheless extremely uncomfy.  Now, I’m not blaming anyone for this – parts just wear out, and it just happened to be Quince’s turn.

I found these 2 whimsical hare candelabras recently on a journey out-and-about, and just had to have them….in the right setting, they will be fabulous (actually, my house would be the perfect setting, but I just don’t have any room left!)…so, they’re for sale.  They weigh a ton (solid brass) and wouldn’t have budged if left outside during Cville’s recent “microburst”.  In the meantime, I thought I’d add some candles for effect….the ones on the left are beeswax; on the right are wax….both kinds are high quality, burn cleanly, and don’t drip.  But who knew one type would droop severely if subjected to a high room temperature?  Granted, 91 degrees is way outside temp. parameters for comfortable living, but if these candles were outside in a patio setting, let’s say, during a party, the drooping would give way to countless snickers and wisecracks (you get it, don’t you?) which could add a lot of hilarity but may not please the hostess.

I’m casting my vote for beeswax vs. non-beeswax.  I sell lots of beeswax candles in the store in a variety of colors….they all seem unaffected by the temperature spike, thank goodness!

I’m also very happy to say that my a/c has been restored……the parts came in a day early, and the guys have been on the roof of the building for hours in sweltering heat doing their best to get some frosty air blowing around in here again.  The temp. in 2 hours has already dropped from 91 to 86!  So many people suggested I close the store for the week, but I just couldn’t do it in the event someone made a super-human effort to get down here and shop.  Besides, abandoning Quince is something I would never do, and I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone to sit here in agony on my behalf while I escaped to my friend’s brand new swimming pool for a dip and a quick Grey Goose & tonic, heavy on the ice and lime…..

Well, this has been a “Study in Wax”….if you have any similar stories, please comment, and please feel free to suggest a caption for the photo below!

Hmm, create your own caption!