Brachtune, a love letter

In the wee hours before dawn, many, many, many years ago, friends and I were sitting in the courtyard of their apartment building, quietly talking. Across the way, a single light was on in a building that backed to my friends’. The walls of the lighted room were painted red and there was an American flag and a Nine Inch Nails poster hanging on the wall. On the window sill there sat a cat. It was too far and too dark for me to make out anything but a cat-shaped silhouette, but I felt comforted someone else was up as late as us and that they had a cat, and I wondered aloud what the “flag people” were like.

About a year after that night, my roommate, Lisa, and I moved into the apartment complex across the street from my other friends. Tigger, still a kitten, moved with us. As we were moving things in, some guys came around and invited us to a party later that night across the way. So we went to the party, happy to already be making friend with our neighbors. As I was standing around the dining room, marveling that all four walls were lined with beer cans, floor to ceiling, Lisa came racing up to me from a hallway and told me I had to go into one of the bedrooms, where the “most beautiful cat” was hiding from the party. So I followed Lisa to the bedroom and you guessed it: red walls, a flag, and a NIN poster. And the most beautiful cat in the world sitting in the middle of the bed, seeming a little put out by the party but accepting pets from me and Lisa.

Some months later, the owner of the cat announced he was getting rid of her. I couldn’t figure out why, but begged him not to take her to the pound and instead took her myself, planning to find her a home. I quickly realized part of the reason he didn’t want her was probably because she was in heat, which was really pretty annoying. I also quickly found her to be very aggressive: she tried to kill our senior citizen cat, Eishel, and sparred with Tigger. This also made it hard to find someone to take her in, so I called some no-kill shelters, but I have this condition where it’s near impossible for me to tell a lie, and when I admitted she was aggressive, the no-kill shelters refused to take her. Eventually, although we didn’t want three cats, especially three that couldn’t get along, it became clear we were stuck with this beautiful but somewhat annoying cat, and I made an appointment to get her spayed.

I’ve often joked that the animal hospital got it mixed up and gave her a lobotomy when she went in for her spay, because Brachtune (by the way, the origin of her name is in this post) returned home a completely different cat. She was sweet and loving and not aggressive at all. Eishel was sort of ousted by Tigger and Brachtune and went to live with my parents, and I went on to spend 15 more years with Tigger and 16 with Brachtune, convinced I had the two most perfect cats in the world.

Regular readers know Brachtune’s been sick for a while. Like many cats, her kidneys started to fail, and she was hyperthyroid and anemic on top of it. She hadn’t been herself for a week or so and had stopped eating, so I took her in to the vet on Wednesday. After simply examining her, the doctor gave her only a couple of days to live, and after doing some bloodwork, urged me to delay no more than a day or two putting an end to her suffering, warning me her body was going to start to drastically fail very soon. So I took off work today and am spending all day with her, and am indeed watching her body shut down. She and Mark and I have to go to animal hospital at 7. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Part of the reason I loved Tigger so much was probably because I identified with him. Of the two cats I’ve had in my adult life, I think I am most like Tigger; our personalities were similar: independent, feisty, suspicious of strangers but fiercely loyal to loved ones, loud and gregarious at times but introspective at others. Convinced we’re always right. Proud, perhaps to a fault. Uncaring and largely unaware what other people think of us. A bit dual natured. Adventurous. Risk taking. Brachtune, on the other hand, is who I strive to be. It sounds corny, but I learned a lot from Brachtune, and it was mostly this: calm down and enjoy yourself. Love everyone. Tigger had a hard time making friends outside me and Mark, but everyone that met Brachtune loved her. She is just sweetness personified. Friendly, laid back, loving, affectionate, warm, caring…if everyone were like Brachtune, or even half as sweet as her, we’d have no wars. Tigger judged you. Brachtune only judges you on your propensity for petting her.

I just keep thinking a single thought: She’s too nice to die. I need her, true, but the world needs her. The world is a better place with her in it and will be missing something without her. She may have been small – by the end, tiny – but her value as a living being is so much bigger than her physical size. Sometimes it’s hard to see the good in the world around you, but Brachtune radiates goodness. I think it’s so hard for me to deal with because she was so happy, all the time, to be alive. I hate seeing life extinguished from someone who just enjoyed it so much.

Mark and I would constantly joke with Brachtune as she wedged herself between the two of us while we were watching TV or something: “Brachtune, cheer up. Why are you so depressed all the time? Why must you hold all your emotions in?” As she sat there purring like a machine and pawing at us if we stopped petting her for a single moment. Brachtune always seemed ecstactic. I think she may have had an MDMA problem. Except Brachtune didn’t need chemical bliss. It is just her nature to eminate – and soak up – love.

I have a favorite reading chair – regular readers have seen it in numerous photographs because Brachtune liked to share it with me – and I can be found in it almost every evening. When entering the sunroom where my chair is located, from the doorway at the opposite end of the room, Brachtune would saunter into the room, make eye contact with me, and start walking towards me, then start trotting, finally racing toward me at full gallop, holding my gaze the entire time, until she reached my chair and leapt onto my lap. I’ve tried and I can not think of a single more endearing thing in the world than the thought of Brachtune picking up speed as she got closer and closer to me. Every time.

A few years ago, Brachtune got underfoot and I stepped on her, breaking her leg. I felt terrible. The day I brought her home following her surgery, she was hopped up on painkillers and had to learn to walk with a pin in her leg, which had to hurt. I had to take her kitty carrier apart and lift her out of it because she couldn’t walk out of it. I did so and sat on the floor a few feet from her, feeling upset and hideously guilty. Brachtune looked me in the eye and dragged herself over to me, unable to use her hind legs, until she got to my lap, which she collapsed in, purring. I’ll never forget that. It’s rare you feel that loved.

But as much as she loves me, no matter how comfortable she was on my lap, or how fast asleep she was, or how long or short a time she’d been cuddled up with me, the second Mark walked into the room and sat on the floor, she’d bound up off my lap and race to him. Brachtune liked everyone, but she loved us, so much my heart bursts thinking of it.

Brachtune. Brachtunavitch. B-tune. The Toonse. Toonsie. Sweetheart. Sugarplum. Sweetpea. Dollface. Sweetness and Light. Lovebug. Purrbot. I love you and I miss you.

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French Onion Soup

Some months ago I made a French onion soup for Smark that seems to have made a much larger impression upon him than I’d realized. He’s been asking me to make him onion soup again for months, and although I’m usually very glad when he makes requests, I’ve been avoiding this particular one because I don’t remember what I did last time and was therefore unsure I’d be able to live up to his expectations. I’m breaking out of my cooking slump, though, and today felt up to the challenge. I wish I’d baked my own bread for this – I haven’t baked in several weeks – but maybe the fact that I didn’t will make the recipe more accessible to those who don’t bake bread. Caramelizing the onions for this takes a long time – I actually let them cook for two hours – but they can largely be ignored, so it’s not active time by any means. If you turn the heat up a bit higher than I did, you can caramelize them in an hour.

French Onion Soup

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 huge or 3 normal-sized onions, any kind, I used a mixture of white, red, and yellow, thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 tsp thyme
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 cups vegan “beef” broth
crusty French bread, sliced (3-4 slices per serving)
melty vegan cheese, like Daiya, shredded
Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix, if you have it on hand (and if you don’t, why don’t you?)

Bring a soup pot or Dutch oven to medium-low temperature and add the olive oil. When the oil is warm, add the sliced onions and the salt.

Cook the onions over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are caramelized and greatly reduced. Here is what their progression will look like:

Add the white wine, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, and pepper.

Stir in the broth.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Slice the bread into 1/2″ thick slices.

Pop the bread slices under the broiler for a minute and a half, turning half way through.

Ladle the soup into individual broiler-safe bowls. (If you don’t have individual broiler-safe bowls, just broil the whole pot and ladle into individual servings later.)

Float the bread slices on the soup.

Top with shredded “cheese”, then optionally sprinkle with the uncheese mix.

Broil for a couple of minutes – keep an eye on it, the broiler works fast and things burn very quickly and it will probably be no longer than two minutes., depending on your oven.

Serve on individual trivets or other heat-safe surface.

Don’t make the mistake I did and leave the room momentarily in the middle of dinner.

Mark rated this “totally awesome”. Apparently I did his memory of my first French onion soup justice. Whew!

Speaking of Daiya cheese, which is now available in the US at all (I’m told) Whole Foods stores, here is a picture of some mac and cheese made using it – a quick post-swim meal from earlier this week.

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Mustardy Creamed Onions

I don’t generally spend that much time on side dishes; I generally prefer my veggies as close to their natural state as possible and usually serve them steamed or lightly dressed in some manner. Sometimes, though, a recipe for a fussier side dish strikes my fancy. Here is my take on these Gratineed Mustard Creamed Onions from Epicurious. As it was just me and Mark, I halved the recipe and rather than broiling it, finished it off in the toaster oven so I didn’t have to heat the oven up for just a couple minutes of broiling.

Mustardy Creamed Onions

1 lb pearl onions
1 Tbsp vegan margarine
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 cup non-dairy milk
1 1/2 Tbsp cream sherry
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp grainy mustard (I used the balsamic mustard from Jes at Cupcake Punk.)
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste (I used white pepper)
1/4 cup vegan Parmesan or Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add some salt, and then cook the onions (in their skins) until soft (the original recipe says 25 to 30 minutes; I think it was closer to 20 minutes for me).

Drain the onions.

Allow the onions to cool. Meanwhile, measure the remaining ingredients. (My milk is brown because I whisked the sherry into it.)

Melt the margarine over medium heat, then whisk in the flour, cooking for a minute or two.

Slowly whisk in the liquids, then simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until thickened, whisking frequently.

Meanwhile, pop the onions out of their skins.

Whisk the mustards, nutmeg, and salt and pepper into the sauce.

Add the onions and cook another 5 minutes.

Transfer to a small, shallow baking dish and top with vegan parmesan or uncheese.

Bake in toaster oven at highest heat for about 5 minutes or until bubbly and browned.

Serve!

This was good, despite it being a little annoying having to deal with the onions, which were a little too soft to pop out of their skins as easily as I remember it being when I’ve only cooked them for 5 minutes or so. Mark eats a lot faster than me and after he finished his, he was stealing onions from my plate before finally going to get seconds for himself. I will make this again, perhaps even for Thanksgiving. I might also experiment with different kinds of “cheese” for the topping.

Miss Brachtune has had a wonderful weekend, I must say. Uncle Fortinbras came down from Baltimore Thursday afternoon to go to a concert with us and stayed through to today. While Mark and I were at work Friday, Brachtune sat on Uncle Fortinbras’ lap all day, Saturday she spent all day sitting on Mark’s lap while he was working in his office, and today she spent sleeping on me while Fortinbras and I recovered from a late night by watching The Office all day. I don’t know what she’s going to do tomorrow when she finds herself without a lap for most of the day. She’ll probably spend most of it in the surrogate lap – it’s a pet bed I fitted with a heated cushion – I rigged up for her. Here are some pictures I took yesterday of her looking exceedingly cute in it.

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