Nerding out with SmoBoT: Part II

There’s really only one question to be answered when you write a post like the one I wrote yesterday: how did the meat turn out? In a word? Delicious. You’re not going to get off that easy, though. There will be more words. But first, a picture.

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Worth a thousand words. The calorie count is much higher, however.

So it wound up being pulled pork and not sliced pork, but it’s not like that’s a problem. The reason is simple. Fatty tissues start to convert to gelatin at around 160-degrees Fahrenheit. It keeps happening as long as you stay above that temperature. The data show that the outer part of the butt hit 160 around 3:30 AM and the center reached that an hour later. I don’t pull it off the heat for another 12 hours. There was no way there was going to be enough connective tissue strong enough to allow slicing. I used Bear Paws to lift it off the grate and it held together just fine. It was when I tried to slice it that it started to shred. So I went with it.

One thing this cook has taught me is that I am now very suspicious of target temperatures. Some temperatures you have to be conscious of. You have to be aware of 40 – 140F because it’s the danger zone for bacterial growth. 140F is the temperature around which meat will quit taking in smoke. I’ve already talked about what happens to fat and connective tissue at 160F. After that? You’ll get browning and the Maillard reaction faster once you get above 170 or so, but it can happen at lower temperatures. In terms of getting the result you want, hitting a temperature is only half the battle. Holding that temperature has an effect as well. Normally people talk about the target temperature for pulled pork to be 190 or above, but I never got close to that. I may have hit the high 180s when it was wrapped and stashed in the cooler, but that was it. But the cook laster 20 hours. Of course it was pulled pork.

I tend to go light on the smoke with only a half-dozen wood chunks in the entire load of fuel. Given their distribution throughout the lump there’s always plenty left. One thing I was happy that I did this time is letting the pit come up fully to temperature before putting the meat on. That let the smoke get cleaned up. It was dark by the time I put the butt on, but the smoke was nearly transparent. That’s really what you want. I hate seeing people put meat on blllowing smokers. You only get heavy particulates with incomplete combustion. A layer of ash isn’t what you’re going for. At that point you might as well eat the lump. I don’t obsess about lump that much. While I’m glad a site like the Naked Whiz exists, I can get by just fine with Kroger lump. In fact, it’s pretty good.

The other component of the meal were the rolls. Here they are.

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I didn’t make them into smooth balls, but the texture was very good. These rolls are starting to turn me into a bun snob. They are tender, but they have some staying power.

The last picture is kind of funny.  As I mentioned before, I used a set of Bear Paws to get the meat off the smoker. While bringing everything upstairs I managed to drop one on the stairs to the basement.  It went bouncing down and I cussed a little about having to go back down later to get it. I shouldn’t have worried.  Our cat Dunkel, for whom everything is a toy, thought it was great that I gave him something new to play with.  So he brought it upstairs for me.

He got some pork for his efforts.

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This one is about the cats

What? Is there food?
What? Is there food?

I’ve been hitting on serious stuff all week and I’ve just about overloaded on it. It’s time to write about the cats. The last time I wrote about them Miss Mia had just decided that maybe we were OK and she could actually stand to be seen with us. I’m happy to say that trend has continued. About the only time she’s not in the same room with us now is if we’re both working downstairs in the basement and it’s cold outside. The basement stays a good bit cooler than upstairs and she hates being cold even more than Porter.

She’s the lap cat Carla’s always wanted. She’ll crawl up onto Carla while she’s on the couch and either sack out or squirm around to extract the most petting possible. Her sweet spot for scratching is right on the back of the neck. If I’m on the couch the same time as Carla I get to participate. She’s trained me to brush her when she nuzzles at the brush we keep nearby. Carla has to be there though, she’s still very skittish around me otherwise. We understand from her foster family that it’s true of men in general. If she’s in the room and I move, she watches me like a hawk. You can almost see the “run or stay” calculations happening. The vibe I’m getting is that over time there will be less running and more staying.  Whatever hesitation she has toward me disappears if I’m mixing her up a treat of wet cat food and dry. She likes me just fine then.

She gets along with Porter and Dunkel great. I’m pretty sure Porter would be grooming her routinely if she’d only let him. The skittishness she has with me extends to Porter to some degree. It’s breaking down, but she’s got to decide we’re OK on her own schedule. It’s different with Dunkel. They may not remember they’re litter mates, but they’re wired the same way. They play. The same sorts of things are attractive to them. They shadowbox with each other and take turns chasing the other.

Tomorrow we get to take all of them to the vet for the first time as a group. That should be interesting. Don’t think Miss Mia is going to be terribly happy with us when it’s all said and done, but at least she’ll be able to commiserate with the boys.

It’s a happy house full of cats.  I love it.

Miss Mia joins the family

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Yesterday we had a ghost in the house. Today we have another family member.

One of the appeals of cats is that they are independent. They have their own minds. I don’t get into the “dog person” or “cat person” thing because anyone who doesn’t like animals is probably a very bad person. I don’t like making absolute statements, but I’ll stick by that one. While I adore dogs, I gravitate to cats because they’re not enablers. Dogs love you no matter what. That’s a great thing. It puts them into the top five carbon-based life forms easily. But I need someone to tell me to bug off sometimes. Cats will do that for you.

So yesterday Mia was still hiding from us. We’d see her, be she’d be heading somewhere else. We’ve ben seeing her a little more often each day. She even climbed into the bed in front of the fireplace yesterday. When Carla and I got up this morning a topic of conversation was if we’d see Mia come out to watch us.

It went a little better than that.

Mia doesn’t meow so much as squeak. She was in the living room when we came out and she ran as she’s done, but she didn’t go very far. When Carla and I settled in with our coffee we heard a little squeak and Mia walks over to Carla and starts loving on her. At any moment I expected her to shoot away, so I held as still as I could. I didn’t have my phone out here, so I tried to get a shot with my iPad. That camera just isn’t very good. Anyway, I didn’t need to worry. In a couple of minutes she was over loving on me. She hasn’t left us all morning. As I write these words she’s sacked out in front of the fire.

I don’t know what switch flipped, but I’m glad it has. We have a new cat!

The boys are doing great with her. They’re more curious than anything else. She still isn’t letting them get too close, but they aren’t pressing the issue. It’ll be a great day when we see them grooming each other. It will happen, I’m sure of it.

Enough of me rambling. This is what you came here for.

Today has started out very well.

Mia update

Miss Mia Milk StoutMy rule for this year is to post every day. We’re not through the first month of the year and I’ve burned all my backup posts and am not staying a day ahead as I had. All of this is to be expected. My rule is one thing a day, there’s no topic or length requirement, and I can write about the cats once a week. Today is Monday. I’m talking about Mia today. Then I’m going to write something for tomorrow.  Consider this me spiking the ball to stop the clock late in a football game.

I still don’t have a better picture than this one. Carla shot some video, but Videopress is giving me some trouble and I can’t get it to do anything but display it at a stupidly large size. It’s backlit, so it’s a little dark anyway. I love the glowing eyes, anyway.

She’s still spending most of her time hiding, but we’re seeing her more and more. She’ll generally announce herself with a pathetic little mewl that has to make Porter pretty jealous.  I’m pretty sure he thought he’d perfected the “Oh, woe is me” meow, but Mia makes him look like an amateur. She’s watching us and, at night, she’s exploring.

The boys are doing great with her. Early yesterday evening we noticed Mia was watching us.  Porter noticed her and did the puff-up-the-tail thing as he went over to her.  But he didn’t hiss and he didn’t do anything but watch her. Dunkel, being Dunkel, seems to be all “Do you want to play? No? OKThanksBye” when he sees her. She has not integrated herself with them yet, but she’s only been here a couple of days. We keep reminding ourselves that we’re ready for her, but she may not be ready for us yet.

Carla has spent time with her down on the floor, petting her and giving her treats. She purrs and enjoys the attention. I think my size scares her when I’m standing or moving, but she liked it when was petting her when she was hiding behind the bed.

Last night I was just dropping to sleep and I heard what for all the world sounded like wind chimes. Which would be really cool, but we don’t have any. I realized the sound was wine glasses in our wine tower clinking together. It happens when cats are up there. I got up, and sure enough I see a small Mia-sized sillohuette zip across the floor.

It’s just a matter of time.

Waiting for Mia

Miss Mia Milk Stout
Not amused by flash photography
The danger of writing a blog post a day is that you start to see everything as a metaphor for everything else. So it is with the arrival of our newest member of the family. Miss Mia Milk Stout came home late Thursday morning. That’s our perspective, anyway.  From her perspective she was taken from the warm comfortable home where she was very happy, thank you very much, and taken out into the cold and taken to a completely strange place. A strange place where there are two other cats and very, very few familiar things.  There were cats and dogs where she was before, but she knew them.  These are different cats. There have been many disruptions in her short life, and now there’s another one. We know this is the last one. We don’t know how to tell her that.

We are in a time of waiting. That picture over there is the only one we’ve managed to get since she came home. She’s in the space between the head of the bed and the wall in our guest room. It’s pretty much where she spent Thursday. We had the room prepped before she came home. Food. Water. Litter pan. She explored some when Carla was in the room. She hid when I was in the room. We kept the door closed to keep Porter and Dunkel out, but they were remarkably blasé. Normally shutting the guest room door is a crisis. Not this time.

Yesterday we pulled the mattress back to we could see her down in the gap. We could tell she’d used the litter pan and there was plenty of reason to think she’d explored in the night. Throughout the day Carla and I would go in and talk to her and pet her.  Carla picked her up and took her on a tour of the condo. She seemed to enjoy herself. While being very shy, she sure didn’t mind the attention. When I’d stop reaching down to pet her on my visits, she’d reach a paw up to attract my attention. Early in the afternoon we decided it was time to open the door and see what happened.

Porter and Dunkel have both seen her. They’ve seen us interacting with her, so they seem to know at some level that she’s OK.  Porter is a little skittish.  His tail will get all puffed up, but it really seems to be more an effort to figure out what’s going on. “Are we going to have problems here?” Her response is, well, nothing. So he eventually walks away looking not just a little confused.

If there’s any awareness on Dunkel’s part that Mia is his littermate, we’re not seeing it.  Then again, Dunkel isn’t exactly a complicated cat.

“Play with me!”

Um. Not right now.

“No, play with me!”

Can’t, dude.

“OK, then just pet me. A lot. I demand nothing of you other than your complete attention.”

Do I have another choice?

“No.”

What has been interesting is that Porter seems to be a bit protective of Mia, skittish as he is. Dunkel can play rough. When Dunkel got his first clear view of her, he didn’t charge at her, but he started approaching her cautiously. Porter hissed.  At Dunkel. And Dunkel backed off.

Last night I couldn’t sleep. This is the part where the metaphor comes in.  A couple of times I heard Mia crying, just a little. Her vocalizations are completely different from Porter and Dunkel.  There’s not a chance this wasn’t her.  She was exploring. At one point I’m pretty sure she came into our room. But I have no idea where she went.

I’m finishing this post about half an hour before it goes up.  As I write this I have no idea where Mia is.  We haven’t left the house since the last time we saw her, so we know she’s here somewhere. We haven’t heard a peep. She’s small and clearly likes tight places to hide.  None of our cats have been hiders.  

We clearly have one now.

I’ve done a bit of a search with no luck. Porter and Dunkel are showing no curiosity whatsoever. We’ve had cats long enough to assume there’s no place she can get into that will be much of a danger to her. Carla keeps telling me that she’ll come out when she’s ready.

So we wait. There’s a lot of waiting going on in my life right now. I can’t really talk about that. It’ll come out when it’s ready. But I can talk about the cats. I’m OK with that.

(I’ll update this post when there’s a sighting.)

UPDATED: Under our bed. Her camouflage is very good. 

Home is where the cats are

We’re finally both home.  Our one week of vacation turned into two weeks of dealing with stuff as it came up. The good news is that Carla’s dad is doing great and we were able to come home. Last night Carla slept in our bed for the first time since New Year’s Eve.

Miss Mia Milk Stout
Miss Mia Milk Stout

The cats were, of course, waiting for us to scold us for abandoning them. That is their job, after all. We are their staff and they don’t like it when we leave them to fend for themselves against the cruel world stocked with large amounts of fresh water, food and multiple litter pans all inside a house that’s kept warmer than it would be if there weren’t cats in residence. But that is the nature of cats. I admire them for how quickly they deign to forgive us. In all seriousness, we miss the boys terribly when we travel. It’s always good to come home. We tend to come in and get some cuddle time in before we go out and unload the car.  Priorities.

Something the extra travel meant was that a family reunion has been delayed. Another cat is joining our family. Mia is Dunkel’s sister. She was part of the litter born in the attic of a doctor’s office that also included Dunkel.  She’d been adopted, but it didn’t work out. The wonderful family who fostered her when she was a kitten had arranged to take her back if something like that happened.  When we heard about it we pretty much knew we were going to take her. Porter has really come out of his shell in the last six months or so and has become much more affectionate and a bit more outgoing. Dunkel is still a hirsute ball of energy. He can get a little rough sometimes. We had begun playing with the idea of a third cat merely to split Dunkel’s attention.

She has been Mia from when she was adopted. Given that she’s 2.5 years old, it seems to be a little late in the game to give her a new name. We have, however, a pretty strict rule about beer names for cats. Her markings are remarkably like a Holstein cow. That is reason enough to name her Miss Mia Milk Stout.

She will be joining the family on Thursday. We can’t wait.

 

A riddle: How is our cat Dunkel like Times Square?

Answer:  They both made it 23 days into the new year with only one ball dropping.

Someday we’ll have two healthy cats around the house. Maybe by next week? That’d be nice. Porter’s back to his old self. He talks, he purrs, he rolls over on his back to beg for belly rubs (feet preferred, but hands are OK).  He does this yoga stretching routine when he gets up and he attacks the scratching posts (and furniture) with much gusto. I guess I never mentioned it here that the vet called and his blood work was fine.  “Perfect” is the word she used, and I’m never going to argue with that. We kept the painkillers going until yesterday and I’m not seeing anything in his behavior that makes me think he still needs them. I did the thing this morning where I dug under the bookcase downstairs with the long spoon to dislodge what’s been put under there.  There was a healthy supply of twist ties.

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As a medical device it makes a great cat toy.

Dunkel, on the other hand, got snipped yesterday.  Unfortunately for him, one testes didn’t descend and they had to go into his abdomen to get it. He handled the surgery just fine and the anesthesia didn’t seem to bother him.  There was no throwing up or anything. It wasn’t really obvious until this morning, but he was clearly still pretty doped up when he came home yesterday.  He’s moving around pretty stiffly today, to say the least. He was licking his incision, which was OK, I guess, but he was also biting at it. Carla went back up to the vet’s to get a cone-of-shame which wound up being almost, but not entirely, useless. We have a hard enough time keeping a collar on the little guy. A cone? Not gonna happen. There hasn’t been much of an issue since the drugs wore off.  Porter isn’t the roughhousing type, really. He’s more the “chase me, chase me, chase me” type. Dunkel is sore enough today that getting into a position to bite at the stitches isn’t really something he can do. He’s definitely been slowed down by all this.  He’s walking gingerly and he doesn’t like jumping onto things. Stepping gently is more his speed.  Except he’s managed to get up to the top of the tower. That’s pretty impressive. Sure hope he’ll be able to get down.

I want to make sure I mention that we knew going into this that we’d likely be dealing with this. Typically pets you get from the shelter are already fixed. We knew he wasn’t and why and we were fine with it. We got a voucher to cover what the cost of a typical procedure would cost, which was nice, but we would have taken him anyway.

The cold weather is holding on and I’m looking forward to the day we can just snuggle with our cats rather than running a feline health clinic. Of course, so are they.

 

Quickie: Porter Update (and Bock comes home)

It turns out Porter probably is mourning, but the 105-degree temperature he’s running isn’t helping. I thought I’d noticed him limping yesterday and earlier today I saw him land awkwardly when he jumped off the desk. We decided pretty quickly that running him up to the vet wouldn’t be the worst thing for him. I can accept a cat in mourning, but I’d hate for it to be something else and miss it because I was too busy projecting my own problems on him. Cats can run temperatures when they’re stressed, apparently, but the vet thought this was a little high for just that. She’ll call with the results of some blood work tomorrow. She gave us some mild painkillers for him. There was nothing really wrong with his front paws, but you know how you just kind of hurt all over when you have a fever? It’s probably that. He’s not dehydrated, so that’s a load off my mind.

While I was checking out,  the receptionist — who was working that horrible day two weeks ago — told me that she had Bock’s ashes. She offered to walk out with me with them since I had Porter in the carrier. I took her up on it. It’s a beautiful carved wooden box and, like everything else at Hebron Animal Clinic, everything was done with the utmost class.

It was a hard drive home.

Blessed are those who mourn

Porter Alone

I’ve been struggling for the last couple of days to write a post that has nothing to do with cats or anything terribly serious. I’ve not been having much luck. I’ve got a post started. I’ll eventually finish it. Today has been hard, though. It appears that Porter is in mourning. He’s pretty much done nothing but sleep since yesterday. He’s always been a talker and he’s not had much to say. He’s lethargic. He does seem to be eating and drinking, so that’s good.

It really makes sense. From Porter’s point of view there was a lot of confusion a while ago and he saw us take Bock away in the carrier.  The carrier came home, but Bock hasn’t. We leave for a while sometimes, but we come home. Dunkel has been a distraction, but it’s pretty clear that Porter is ready for Bock to come home. And at some level I think he knows that’s not going to happen. We talk to him. We pet him. We make sure there are plenty of twist ties around for him to play with. He’ll half-heartedly paw at them. There’s a bookcase downstairs that most of them disappear under.  I use this long plastic spoon to dig under it and get them out and that’s turned into one of our little games. Even today he’ll come right over if he sees me by the bookcase. He’ll bat at the spoon while I’m digging around with it. But there haven’t been any twist ties under there today.

Dunkel is a pretty smart kitten. Last night he wanted to play with Porter and Porter was having none of it. He was sleeping at Carla’s feet, which is where he spends most nights now. This was more than the usual teaching moment; It was clear that Porter might have actually hurt him if it had been allowed to continue. I came out to the living room and slept on the couch knowing Dunkel would hang out with me. A couple of hours later I woke up and saw Dunkel walk over to me, yawn and stretch. “Hell,” I said to him, “if you’re sleeping, what the $%@% am I doing on the couch?” So I went back to bed. All day Dunkel has been treading pretty lightly around Porter. Porter, for his part, has been perfectly willing to have Dunkel get close as long as he doesn’t want to play.

I’m sure this will pass. There’s no rushing it. Just like Porter accepted Dunkel in the house because his innate curiosity took over, I’m sure his playful nature will eventually overcome the sadness of losing his lifelong companion and he’ll form a bond with Dunkel.  A different bond, but a bond nonetheless. It’s an adjustment for all of us.

I just wish there were a way we could help him understand.

Give the people what they want: Cat pictures

We don’t have the holy grail yet, the photo (or video) of Porter and Dunkel playing. The only reason is because when they start playing, they’re moving too fast. I’m kind of in the mood to write about something else, but people have been asking for more pictures of Dunkel. So when he came up to snuggle on the couch this morning I went ahead and grabbed a few. I might write something else later, but … well … cat pictures.

Some random thoughts about Dunkel:

  • He sounds like a Tribble when he vocalizes. Given how furry he is, he kind of looks like one, too. All that fur makes him look almost twice the size he is. He has these muttonchops that make him look a bit like a lynx or a bobcat, but when you look at just his face you realize what a kitten he still is.
  • Curiosity and innate playfulness won the day yesterday. Porter has always been the ‘”I want to play: chase me!” cat and Dunkel is a rocket-powered fur delivery system. Yesterday afternoon Carla saw them both stalking some air pillow packing material we left out for them to play with. Later she found them both resting on the bed in our guest bedroom — on opposite sides of a suitcase. Within a couple of hours they had graduated to a game of tag. There is no better sound to me than the one of two cats tearing up and down the stairs. They’re still getting to know each other, but they’re well on the way to bonding.
  • We had to chase them both — together — off a kitchen counter. So Porter is taking his big brother duties seriously.
  • A soon as the Boone County Animal Shelter takes a new class of volunteers, we’re so there. They’re first-class folks doing amazing work. It will be a privilege to help however we can.

Yeah, I know. Enough with the words already.  Here’s your Sunday morning shot of cute:

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