Saturday, March 31, 2012

• 2nd Rodent Recipe Challenge: Broccoli

Midnight at the Oasis. It's a great name for a recipe, don't you think? Unfortunately, the concept scared Maggie, my hamster. I created "Midnight" for the Rodent Recipe Challenge, brainchild of Inky the Hamster Mommy. The ingredient for March was broccoli.

My original plan was to julienne a colorful medley of vegetables—broccoli, carrots, red and yellow peppers—and drizzle something on top, perhaps baby food. Hamsters like baby food, probably because of all the sugar in it. But that seemed like a lot of work.

I got Plan B when I looked at Onion's march entry. Halves of hard-boiled eggs were the oases. Broccoli, the palms. Voila. Maggie was fond of both ingredients. I placed the plate in his (yes, Maggie's a boy) play area, knowing he could smell it. Was it the plate that disturbed him? The bulbous green protuberances? Or was it his human mom, kneeling in the midst of everything with camera in hand, tensely waiting for the perfect shot? And yes, I was humming Maria Muldaur.

My baby huddled in a corner, scratching his back on magazine spines. Feeling guilty, I turned off the camera. The point was for Maggie to enjoy the food; I needed to leave him in peace. As we do every night, he ran about as I scooped out dirty bedding from his cage and refreshed his water.

When I came back, Maggie was nibbling on the "oasis" I'd placed in the section of his area that's most private. I took one quick shot and turned off the camera for good. A little egg and broccoli—deconstructed—went in his food bowl for later.

Maggie requested something less structured for April.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

• One Year Later . . .

@MerleChloe - @EmmySits
On March 11, 2011, an earthquake off the coast of Japan sparked a massive tsunami. That day I signed up for Twitter.

My eyes were glued in horror to my television. Wanting to know more, I checked my friend Brenda's Twitter feed, then that of her friend Merle, who lives on the island of Hawaii. Merle posted every five minutes on conditions in Japan, as well as a situation in which she had a vested interest: the impending impact on Hawaii.

@BrendaMantz @DarcyMantz
Between the images on my TV screen and the rat-a-tat-tat tweets from Merle, I was mesmerized. I'd heard about Twitter for years but it sounded superfluous, a bunch of dithering people sending choppy half-thoughts to strangers. But suddenly I saw the meaning and power of connection. I wanted to understand what was happening in Japan. Tweets helped. How big was the wave? How many towns were affected? Did people have warning? I wanted hope.

So I entered Twitter as EmmySits, a reference to my pet sitting business. I had little to offer. Twitter was confusing: symbols, weird names, and gobbledygook in blue letters. But I learned a lot. Tsunami videos appeared on Twitter before they aired on the news. Through Merle I followed the earthquake's force as it snaked across the Pacific. The news told me it was raining in Hawaii. Twitter told me the streets in Hilo that were flooded; people posted cell phone photos of flattened foliage and iron-gray skies and I felt as though I were standing next to them.

I followed Brenda, her dogs (@ArloMantz and @DarcyMantz), and Merle; they followed me. I found @BlogPaws, of community of people who write about animals, and went to one of their conferences. You know what people say about a conference: "I met so many great people, blah blah blah." But really, I met great people, some of whom have become friends. Through Twitter, I joke with a policewoman-author in Arizona. More often than is polite, I solicit advice from a veterinarian in Rhode Island.

Remembrances of the tsunami are being held today. The mood is somber. The loss is staggering, too much to comprehend. In this context, it feels sacrilegious to talk about the disaster and Twitter side by side. But those are the facts. God bless.

Monday, March 5, 2012

• The Rodent Recipe Challenge

I've owned hamsters for more than seven years. I love the little guys. So when Inky the Hamster Mommy announced the Rodent Recipe Challenge, I was game. Pasta was the ingredient for February.

I found medium shells in the cupboard. For myself, macaroni and cheese. For my hamster, Maggie, I decided to stuff a shell with walnut and melted Parmesan cheese. How hard could that be?

As I discovered, it was a bit tricky.

I thought of pasta as being warm, but a single piece cools and dries quickly. When I microwaved the shell so it would melt the cheese, the heat turned it the color of creme bruleĆ©—not a good hue. I laid pieces of walnut in the middle of the shell, then covered them with strips of Parmesan. The cheese drooped but didn't melt. I squeezed the crusty, mushy mound with a toothpick, put it in the refrigerator, and silently thanked the universe I wasn't competing on Top Chef.

At 11:00 p.m., when Maggie usually awakes, I took the dried brownish shell out of the fridge to bring it to room temperature. Would he eat it? (Yes, despite his name, Maggie is a boy.) He ignored the concoction for several minutes, and then . . . he picked it up and began to nibble.

Success! I knew Maggie liked walnuts and cheese, but feared the pasta, which I suspect had the texture and taste of cardboard, would repel him. Leftovers don't lie. When he stepped away and commenced his after-dinner grooming, a ragged, brown form remained. The walnuts and cheese were history, but he rejected most of the pasta.

And did you know that a pasta box makes a great hamster toy?