It’s been an eventful couple of weeks in the Sloan household, hence the lack of activity on the blog. On the one end of the good news/bad news scale, I somehow managed to bag a two-year apprenticeship at The Telegraph starting in January (!!!!); I’ll be working in all departments within the lifestyle section, helping out with proofreading, annoying everyone in the surrounding desks to me and, with any luck, gracing your Saturday morning paper with a tiny piece on meatballs variations around the world/the process of making ground cumin/something equally as obscure and fascinating only to someone like me.
On the bad news end of the scale, after 20 years of staring disdainfully at me from across the room, obsessively washing himself of the obviously repugnant odours that we smeared onto his fur whenever we managed to catch him for a stroke, and eating his sister’s food when we weren’t looking, our obese, gloriously groomed cat, Monty (aptly nicknamed ‘Fatcat’), has taken a leave of absence. With 6 days having passed, and considering his usual aversion to the outdoors and suspected dementia, we’ve come to the conclusion that he has entered another realm and probably won’t be coming back for dinner. So as a tribute to the animal that I shared a house with for 9/10 of my life, I thought I’d write about the many lessons that you learn from living with a cat that you think hates you.
Before I begin, a disclaimer to all dog lovers; dogs are great. I am invariably a dog person; I spend my evenings looking at videos of dogs sitting in puddles and I get a little teary when I see a golden retriever that looks like the one that we, three years later, are still mourning the loss of. But I am also invariably a cat person; they prepare you for life. You work for their love, and even then they will only dish it out when it suits them or in exchange for fish/cheese/a lick of cream from your spoon. Dogs are great, but today I’m a cat person.
The first lesson to be learned from living with a cat that you think hates you is that no matter how stupid the cat, it will use whatever learned behaviours it has to manipulate you to his advantage, the advantage often being food-related. After learning that when Monty turned his nose up at a particular food saché, we then bought a more luxurious one for his next meal, he suddenly began turning his nose up every few days. He didn’t particularly dislike the food he was being given; he’d eaten it for the first 14 years of life. But after a month or so of strategically choosing days to stubbornly sit next to his food and look up at us with metaphorical raised eyebrows, he had managed to work his way up to receiving tinned tuna, leftover steak and fish boiled in milk for dinner. Lesson one to be learned from cat that you think hates you: you can get whatever you want if you remain stealthy, patient and above all, a manipulative little shit.
Onto the next lesson; establishing your place. Monty was a creature of comfort, seeking out the best spots in the house to commandeer for himself. The latest of Monty’s acquired spots was the chair in my study, lined with a furry blanket, warmed by the radiator and kissed by the sunlight for the majority of the day. This spot also happened to be the long established favourite of sister cat, Millie (I think I renounced ownership of my own study chair about 5 years ago; homework had to be done on the floor while Millie sat and watched from above). The solution to this dilemma? Out-lazing her. Like a German on a sun lounger, he sulked over in the early hours of the morning, settling down and imprinting the chair with a distinctly Fatcat-esque arse print. Here he would stay for the majority of the day, coming downstairs only when he heard the metallic clang of the food bowl on the floor. After a week or so of this, all attempts by Millie to re-establish the chair as her own were abandoned and Monty reigned King of the chair in the study. Lesson to learn here: outstay the opposition. Be the German on the sun lounger. Establish your spot.
The next lesson is more of an observation I came to realise in the last few years with Monty; there is nothing more amusing that invading the personal space of a cat that doesn’t like to have its personal space invaded, but wants to remain polite enough to still receive tidbits. My favourite game in the evening became lying on the floor and spooning Monty whenever he took his position on the corner of the rug, and watching his reaction. The expression in his face could be read as a mix of shock at the sudden human contact he was receiving, confusion as to why I felt the need to lie on the floor right next to him when there’s an entire rug laid out before us to me to lie on, and indecision as to what to do next; he needs to get away as quickly as possible, but also needs to remain subtle so as not to offend – we had roast chicken and he might get scraps if he cooperates. And so begins a series of polite shuffles away from me, inch at a time. By the end of the night we would work our way from one end of the rug to the other, Monty leading with his barely perceptible scoots away from me, and me following a minute or two after. Endless fun.
My final lesson/observation/reflection on living with a cat I think hated me; food could heal all manner of sins. In his life he’s been wheelbarrowed around the hall, dressed up like Santa, stuffed into a Christmas stocking, unwillingly been the subject of multiple photoshoots, short films and portraits, forced to endure cuddles for hours on end, and accidentally locked out on many occasions. All, however, is forgiven with a bowl of tuna, a chunk of cheese or a few strands of spaghetti (why this was a favourite we have no idea). He may have looked at us with disapproval and rarely initiated a cuddle, but every morning you would still find him sat between my parents watching morning TV, and every evening he would still take up his place on the corner of the rug, just out of reach for a stroke, but nevertheless in our presence, purring softly.
Farewell to Fatcat, the living embodiment of ‘hard on the outside soft on the inside’; an egg cat; a walnut cat. If I can eat as much, do as little, live as long and look as good as you did, I’ll die a very, very happy person. Today’s recipe centres around one of Monty’s favourite dinners; cod. He may not have been as favourable towards the turmeric, lemongrass and coconut yoghurt marinade, but you never know. Adapted from Alexandra Dudley’s brilliant Land and Sea, this dish is great served with brown rice/any grain of choice and some charred broccoli or sugar snap peas.
Turmeric, Lemongrass and Coconut Baked Cod for 2
2 large cod loins
6 tbsp coconut yoghurt (coconut yoghurt is pricey so you can use normal greek style)
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1/2 thumb of ginger, grated
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised (pounded a bit) with the butt of a knife and then finely chopped
A sprinkle of chilli flakes (depending on how hot you like it, I only did a pinch)
A handful of basil, torn
Seasoning to taste
- Preheat the oven not 180 degrees. To a baking dish, add the coconut yoghurt, turmeric, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chilli and basil, stirring to combine. Season to taste.
- Add the cod loins to the baking dish and coat with the yoghurt sauce. Leave to marinade for 30 minutes.
- If serving with brown rice, begin boiling the rice and preparing any veg you want to serve with. When the rice is nearly done, put the cod in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes.
- Serve with whatever rice/grains and greens you went for, spooning over the yoghurt sauce.