Feline Disharmony

Herbie is a fidget. He has a tendency to overgroom. Sometimes he pulls at the fur on his back so much that thin patches appear. Occasionally he even licks himself raw and nicks his skin with his teeth. On a solid white cat this is very noticeable in vivid red which he then licks across his fur in a pink streak. Although it heals very quickly I am trying to find out why he does this and it is proving tricky.

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My vet suggested I give all 3 cats their flea treatment, in order to rule out the obvious. She also gave him a shot of steroids to stop the itching and possible inflammation. The shot wasn’t really effective, as later on that day, and the day after, there was a new red patch on Herbie’s back. That was a week ago, and there have been no red patches since then, but still plenty of scratching and fidgeting.

It is very difficult to pinpoint a cause, especially as it’s been happening on and off for months. It could be an allergic reaction, so a blood test is an option. Was it a reaction to his first booster vaccination, back in September? Well, he was scratching before this, but in the vet’s surgery he was absolutely rigid with fear, and as soon as he got home he attacked the vaccination site as much as he could and pulled the fur off around it. For weeks afterwards he continued to pick at the fur on his back.

This makes me think it could be stress-related. When Herbie came to us as a kitten, he had to find his feet in our house with 3 other cats (now 2). He did this very well at first but as he matured he seemed unsure of himself and his place in the family. I tried hard to boost his confidence as underneath his bravado he is quite a sensitive soul. His bad experience at the vet last year may have triggered a pattern of behaviour, a neurosis. My vet is very cat-friendly and patient, and I don’t know why Herbie was so freaked out on that occasion.

Then in December my senior cat Barney was put to sleep. This left Top Cat up for grabs. Larry decided he was going for it. Always a confident and friendly lad, he started to throw his weight around a bit too much. Monty took the brunt of it and there was lots of scrapping. Now Larry and Monty, litter mates, who used to be best friends as kittens, can barely be in the same room without friction. Herbie adores both of them and just wants everyone to be happy. He plays delightfully with each of them and he doesn’t like it when they fight – which is nearly every day.

Larry

Larry

Talking all of this over with my vet, she suggested I work on allowing Larry to be top cat, whilst making sure he is not top cat over us. The lads are together a lot, so I should let Larry have more time apart from the others. I could also feed him further away from the other two. He can be quite dominant and I need to come down on him hard when he crosses the line. For example, last Christmas he  lashed out at my hand whilst I was writing a card and drew blood. I was furious and I held him down by the scruff of his neck, shouting ‘NO! NO!’ I chased him upstairs and made him stay there on his own for an hour. I did not allow the OH to go and talk to him. Larry has been a lot better behaved since then…until yesterday when he scratched both my hands for no good reason. This time I was too shocked (and upset) to react. I just didn’t speak to him for the rest of the day. The OH rather unhelpfully says ‘but he doesn’t scratch me’. Well, Larry and the OH have a very close bond, which is lovely. But I feed them, so he has to learn that he can’t ‘bite the hand that feeds’. More to the point, he can’t be a scratch risk to anyone in the house: either myself or any visitors.

Coincidentally, Larry did not like his food yesterday and spent all day howling at me to serve something else. I took to opportunity to show my dominance by refusing to budge.

If anyone has an idea of how to handle this minefield of feline psychology, please pitch in!

Finally, my vet had another suggestion: get another cat. I am not sure if this is wise…

Till next time,

L x

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Butter-free Carrot Cake

As part of the new dairy-free regime, I have been looking into dairy-free baking. I see that you can replace butter in a cake mix with oil, which doesn’t sound very appetising. But then I consider that butter is a type of oil too, which when you think about it isn’t that appetising either. It’s just that it tastes soooo good!

There is absolutely no point in making shortbread without butter, in my view. The whole point of shortbread is the butter. But what about carrot cake? Moist, flavoursome, with brown sugar, cinnamon and sultanas, the butter is not the star here. I found a recipe online which uses sunflower oil and gave it a whirl yesterday.

It turned out really well, and I would definitely make this again.  Next time, I think I would add a pinch of salt to enhance the flavour. As I’m used to baking with salted butter, I found the salt was missing.  Some chopped walnuts would be a good addition.

The other thing I really liked about this recipe was that it was so much easier to mix by hand than a butter mixture.  With butter baking, unless you are using a food mixer, it’s quite heavy-going. I don’t have a food mixer, because I really enjoy the process of baking by hand. I like getting up close with the ingredients, and feeling the rhythm of it all. Firstly, the butter has to be soft enough to beat, so you have to remember to take the butter out of the fridge and soften it before you can get started. Beating the butter and sugar by hand is quite hard work. Then folding in the flour properly takes a little time. I always think of those remarkable ladies, the cooks in the great houses in past centuries, who did all this mixing and beating by hand. They were strong women with stout arms!

With the butter-free recipe, light stirring is all that is needed. The egg does not curdle with the oil. When you add the dry ingredients, you just ‘lightly mix’, and it’s ready to bake.

Mmmm, carrot cake!

Mmmm, carrot cake!

I had a cup of coffee yesterday, mistakenly made with semi-skimmed milk instead of soya milk. It tasted surprisingly rich, but not in a good way. I drank it, but would have much preferred the soya milk. It’s as if my body is quietly on dairy alert.

I am also trying to think of dinners to cook which are free of red meat and dairy products. Unfortunately the OH likes red meat and creamy sauces. At the very least, he will want to chuck a knob of butter in. So we are looking for compromises at the moment.  Last night I devised a dish of spicy couscous with chargrilled chicken, roasted vegetables and salad. Well, it was a nice dinner, but the subtlety of flavour I was trying to achieve (lemon, coriander, spices) was rather swamped by the extra chilli powder he threw over the chicken. Still, I was pleased to have achieved another dairy-free dish we both like.

Till next time,

L x

Shortbread Is My Favourite

Sure is. I love it. Such a simple treat. Only 3 main ingredients: sugar, butter, flour. But it tastes wonderful. I have sussed out the best commercial varieties (Walkers Scottish brand is the best). I have also discovered that ‘all-butter shortbread’ may not actually contain that much butter.

As with a lot of things in life, if you can work out how to do it yourself, you are more likely to get the result you want. There is also the added bonus that you can take all the credit for it. Home-made shortbread is the best of all. Through trial and error I have honed my recipe to perfection.  Here it is:

250g salted butter, softened

125g caster sugar

300g plain flour

50g cornflour

Flavourings: a teaspoon of vanilla extract, or a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Combine the butter and sugar. Mix the flours and add gradually to the butter/sugar until you have a smooth dough. Add vanilla or cinnamon along the way.  Roll dough into a long cylinder shape, wrap in cling film and leave to rest in a cool place for a while.

When you are ready to bake, prepare 2 baking trays and pre-heat the oven to a medium heat. My oven is like a furnace so I only put it on 120 degrees. Take the dough and using a sharp knife, cut it into slices of about 5mm thick. Lay them out on the trays (they won’t spread much). Finish with a sprinkle of caster sugar and bake for 10-15 minutes. You don’t want them to colour too much. Let them cool on the trays for ten minutes before removing them to a cooling tray. They will be soft at first but will harden as they cool down.

These biscuits are melt-in-the-mouth delicious and they are great with ice-cream for dessert, or just on their own with a cup of tea. Here’s a batch I made the other day. I sprinkled brown sugar on top as I didn’t have any caster sugar to hand. I rolled the edges in brown sugar too.

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Herbie was watching my every move, no doubt hoping to get a lick of the bowl. I got my storage box out to put them in, and before I knew it, Herbie was in it.

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So much for my dairy-free diet eh? The shortbread biscuit could be the very last bastion of dairy for me – in fact it could be a bridge too far. Once the biscuit is baked, you can’t see the butter, so it isn’t really there, right?

Till next time,

L x

Mrs Bunny’s outfit is complete

I finished Mrs Bunny’s jacket and here it is with the dress.

But whose feet are those poking out?  Not Mrs Bunny’s, surely!

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Oh, I see now…

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It’s Shelf Cat modelling Mrs Bunny’s outfit for the photo shoot!

I am going to give Mrs Bunny her new clothes as soon as I can arrange a visit. I will be sure to take pictures of her in all her glory. That’s if they actually fit her.  Here’s hoping!

Till next time,

L x