Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Story of Bianca

Yesterday, after 5 months with her in our lives, we said goodbye to our wonderful Bianca. She was a uniquely confident and stoic cat, who made everyone fall in love with her immediately. This is her story.

On July 6th, before my alarm had even sounded, I got a call from Brian (who wakes up for work long before I do). As he was leaving our house, he had found a sick cat on our block. "You gotta get out here babe; she needs your help." I threw on my clothes, grabbed a cat carrier, and found myself looking at this weak, pathetic little creature covered in dust with a crinkled right ear.

She let me approach her and was having labored breathing. I scooped her up and put her in the carrier. A quick physical told me she was at least 12 years old. Shortly, she was on the way to work with me at Caring for Cats. I talked her through intense car-sickness, petted her head the entire drive, and immediately felt a bond. Working with cats every day and loving every single one of them, I know when there is something more. I felt that spark with this little white cat. I found myself calling her Snowflake.

After a more thorough physical at work, it became clear that this cat had had an owner at some point. She had a spay scar but no microchip. She was deaf. She was clearly a senior kitty and wouldn't have lasted on the streets of Philly out on her own for that many years. From her physical I suspected she had chronic kidney disease and hyperthyroidism at minimum. She was very thin and her heart was racing. I imagined how worried her owners must have been and my heart broke.

We drew some blood, gave her a bath, some food (which she chowed down on), and she promptly went to sleep.

Needless to say, she came home with me that night and snuggled with Brian and I in our guest room bed. We put up fliers, posted on our neighborhood forum, and hoped to find her owner.

The next day, her bloodwork showed that she did have hyperthyroidism and kidney disease, so we started her on treatment. Her high thyroid hormone could have explained her fast breathing, but after a few days of treatment, it didn't resolve. Being the worrier that I am, I took some x-rays of her chest and found that she had two tumors in her lungs. I started her on a steroid for the inflammation. Still no responses to our lost cat posters, but our little girl was eating great, gaining weight, breathing better by the day, and snuggling better than ever. We were starting to selfishly hope we wouldn't find her owner...

Brian had made a post about her on the ACCT Philly Lost and Found Facebook page. In 24 hours it got over 2000 views.

One of the comments held a promising lead!

After a series of phone calls...we found the owners! Thanks to the post, we were able to track down the kind, elderly 83 year old Italian lady who cared for the kitty for 17 years after finding her as a tiny kitten in her garage. The cat started acting different a couple of months ago, and she was voraciously hungry all of the time. She became extremely difficult to manage, and she ended up escaping out the back 2 weeks prior to when we found her. She and her son searched for days, but it is hard to summon a deaf cat! She wandered 0.8 miles due north to land on our street. It all began to make sense; the reason she was acting differently and escaped was because she had hyperthyroidism. After explaining to her owner her various diseases and that she would require medication twice a day and bloodwork monitoring for the rest of her life, her owner concluded that she would be unable to care for her, given that she was elderly and disabled herself. We promised to care for her and love her as our own. Thats how we ended up with an open adoption. We learned that her name was Bianca Neve, Italian for Snow White.

They sent us an amazing photo showing how well-fed (ahem) she used to be!

By this point Bianca was very happy and had already gained a pound. She was making herself right at home, but our cat Beeb hated her. We also had discovered that one of her great joys in life was peeing on soft things. In my line of work, I deal with cats peeing outside the box on a daily basis. We did every work up for a medical cause. We tinkered with her litterbox options more than I ever thought possible. We had four boxes with clay litter, one with wheat litter, one with a pee pad in it, and various pee pads all over the floor. She used all of them, but because her kidney disease caused her to pee about 7-8 times daily, she also would gleefully pee on pillows, blankets, towels, mattresses, papers, you name it. At the end of the day it really just came down to Bianca loving to pee on soft things. Loving it.

So we decided that she would move into Caring for Cats and become the first clinic cat! Caring for Cats was the perfect place because she would have people to hang out with every day, and given that its a hospital, there aren't a ton of soft things around. She also wouldn't have to suffer through her intense motion-sickness every time she needed her bloodwork checked.

She settled in right away and quickly promoted herself to office manager. She had gained two pounds since we found her (from 6 up to 8). She gave the best lip rubs you could imagine. When she was in the mood for hip hop, she liked to be known as Lil' Baby B. She made herself busy checking on the boarders,

organizing the food samples,

taking x-rays,

doing invoices in the office,


seeing appointments,

and doing the laundry.

Christine, Kortney, Renee, and Dr. Guth loved and cared for her just like she was their own. She received an exceptional level of compassion and attention. She got to dress up for Halloween,

and just for fun.

She got her own pumpkin,

and she even helped catch pokemon.

As we got deeper into November, her appetite started to wane. She got what we think was a paraneoplastic skin reaction and infection that required weekly medicated hot tub soaks. Without her baths she would quickly become dirtier looking than the day we found her and became affectionately known as our little grub.

She was becoming more and more picky since her nausea was hard to control and she was getting food aversion to everything she would eat. She started losing weight and recheck x-rays showed that her lung tumors were growing. Dual anti-nausea therapy, more steroids, and antibiotics helped her some but it wasn't enough. She still felt like herself but was just disgusted by food. She had lost so much weight that she was actually thinner than when we found her. We decided to do a quick anesthetized procedure to place a feeding tube so we could give her nutrition without having to force her to eat. It also allowed us to deliver the medications directly into her GI tract without having to pill her multiple times every day. Not only did she get a bit more energy, but she looked adorable in her fashionable new collars.

The tube gained her two more happy weeks of no pilling. She would still eat temptations treats on her own. This past weekend she started to show signs that she was no longer feeling herself. All she wanted to do was sleep, her breathing seemed worse, and her purr changed from her content purr to what I perceived as a self-comfort purr. After discussing with her large adoptive family, we made the decision to peacefully put her to sleep. She was surrounded by friends, she crawled into my lap before falling asleep for the last time, and that was it. It was beautiful and dignified, just like her life. She was the queen of Caring for Cats, and I'm sure she was the queen of her house for the 17 years before that.

Here we are spending time together on her last day.

Brian and Bianca got to have one final FaceTime date.

Bianca, Princess of the Grubs, you have brought so much joy into our lives. We knew from the moment we fell in love with you little old lady how hard this would be and that our time would be limited. It was worth it.

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." -Winnie the Pooh (A. A. Milne)

A heartfelt thank you to ACCT Philly for connecting us with her previous owner and to Caring for Cats for welcoming her into the family with endless love.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

potato and gruyere tartlets.

here is a delicious recipe that i made with my friend sarah j berg.  we ate it too fast and did not take a photo.  also it was months ago but it was so good that i wanted to share!  the recipe is from a cookbook my meem gave me as a housewarming gift; its the williams-sonoma vegetarian food made fast, and seriously is a really quick and easy recipe.  this makes four servings, so if you have friends over and are ravenous and like to eat lots then probably double it.

potato and gruyere tartlets.

2 T olive oil
1 T fresh rosemary, finely chopped (or 1 t dried)
salt and pepper
1 russet potato, peeled, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
1 small yellow onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed and cut into 4 5-inch squares
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese

1.  preheat oven to 400.
2.  in a bowl mix the oil, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 t pepper.  add the potato and onion and toss to coat.
3.  put the pastry squares on a baking sheet.  use a knife to cut a 1/2 inch border along each edge, being careful not to cut more than halfway through the sheet.  prick the pastry all over with a fork.
4.  sprinkle 2 T cheese inside the rim of each tart.  divide the filling evenly between them, and then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of each.
5.  bake until the rims are puffed and brown and the cheese is golden, about 20 minutes.  let them cool for 10 minutes before eating.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

butternut squash casserole.

the recipe i based this off of calls it a "gratin" rather than a "casserole."  now i don't know if there is a technical difference...but no need to use a fancy pants word in place of the glory that is CASSEROLE.  there are few things i love more than one-dish meals.  oh and did you want one with butternut squash, gruyere, sage, and caramelized onions?  YOU GOT IT.

butternut squash casserole.

1/4 c olive oil
4 c thinly sliced onion
4 thyme springs
2 t dried sage
salt and pepper
6 cups butternut squash, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (see this post for a super trick)
1/2 c flour
2 T chopped parsley (or 2 t dried)
1/2 c grated gruyere
1/2 c grated fontina
1/2 c plus 2 T heated milk
1 c breadcrumbs

1.  preheat oven to 350 and lightly butter a casserole dish.
2.  heat half the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  add onions, thyme, and sage, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes.
3.  season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste.  spread in the dish. return the skillet to medium heat, and add the remaining oil.
4.  toss the squash in the flour.  add it to the pan and cook until it begins to brown in places, about 7 minutes.
5.  add the parsley, salt and pepper, and cook for 1 minute more.
6.  layer the squash over the onions, cover with cheeses, and then add the milk.
7.  cover and bake for 25 minutes, then uncover, add the breadcrumbs, and bake until the top is browned and the liquid absorbed, about 25 minutes more.
8.  get ready to have a food-gasm.

cheese is really hard to photograph nicely.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

vegetarian shepard's pie.

there was a shocking unfortunate oversight in my childhood called i was never introduced to shepard's pie. BUT when Christina described it to me a few years back i was certain i had to get to know this amazing food.  i love vegetable pot pie and this sounded similar but with an amazing twist.  THERE ARE MASHED POTATOES ON TOP.  are you KIDDING me?!?!  mashed potatoes!?  really?!  mashed potatoes are my favorite form of potatoes which are my favorite food.  hence, this saturday called for a shepard's pie making extravaganza with Cait.  and we wanted to adapt it to be vegetarian.  SO this is what was born:

shepard's pie.

1 3/4 c vegetable broth
1/3 c dry red wine
1 heaping T tomato paste
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 T flour
3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2-1 c milk
5 T unsalted butter
1 package (16 oz?) cremini mushrooms (baby bella), sliced or quartered
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
3 parsnips. peeled and diced
1 c frozen corn
1 c frozen peas
2 t dried sage
2 t dried thyme
1 t dried rosemary
salt and pepper

1.  start by reconstituting the dried porcinis.  whisk together to broth, wine, and tomato paste.  add the mushrooms and let it sit for 30-ish minutes.  strain em and save the liquid.  whisk in the tablespoon of flour after the mushrooms are strained out.
2.  while the mushrooms sit, start the potatoes.  boil them for 20-30 minutes or until they are tender.  drain them and mash, adding milk and 2-ish tablespoons of butter until the texture is to your liking.  don't forget salt and pepper!
3.  melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter in a very large skillet/wok or pot.  add the porcinis and creminis and cook, stirring frequently, for about five minutes, or until the mushrooms are a little browned.  set aside the mushrooms.
4.  melt another tablespoon of butter in the pan and add the onion, celery, and garlic.  cook for about 3 minutes or until softened.
5.  add the carrot, parnips, corn, peas, herbs, and salt and pepper.  cook for 5-7 more minutes or until softened slightly.  now is a pretty good time to preheat the oven to 350F.
6.  pour the wine mixture back into the pan and deglaze by scraping all the bits off the bottom of the pan.  simmer for about two minutes or until slightly thickened.
7.  add the mushrooms back in and simmer for 5-8 minutes.
8.  transfer the deliciousness to a buttered casserole pan and then layer the potatoes on by plopping them on in globs then smooshing those down into a thick layer.
9.  bake for 15-20 minutes at 350F then broil for the last 2-3 minutes to brown the potatoes.
10.  FEAST.

i'll give you a photo when i find my camera...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

squash soup ecua-style.

now that it is super chilly out, i have been feelin' in the mood for soup.  everyone loves butternut squash soup....SO i wanted to share a interesting twist on it.  i like to make it like i've had it in ecuador.  don't be put off by the mixture of sweet and savory.  just trust me.  (as usual with my ecua-recipes, this one comes from laylita.)

sopa de zapallo.

3 T olive oil
1 white onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 t cumin
4 roma tomatoes, chopped
6 c vegetable stock
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks**
s and p to taste
shredded cheddar cheese to garnish
avocado to garnish

1.  heat the oil in a large pot and add the onion, garlic, cumin, and tomatoes.  saute for about five minutes or until the onions are translucent.
2.  add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
3.  add the squash, return to a boil, then let simmer for about thirty minutes or until the squash chunks are very tender.  (right now the word tender is really weirding me out).
4.  let the soup cool a bit to prevent injuries (we already conquered the squash) then puree it using an emersion blender.  if you aren't lucky enough to have one of these totally awesome items, then just use a regular blender and work in batches.  but be annoyed that it was inconvenient.
5.  add salt and pepper to taste.
6.  serve topped with grated cheese and avocado slices.

this immediately made me want to eat this again.

**ever lost a finger trying to peel and cut a butternut squash?  never again.  boil water in a large pot.  take the whole squash and put it in the boiling water (covered) for 3 minutes.  remove it from the water and let it cool til you can handle it.  NOW you can just peel it like a potato with a regular peeler and cut it with a regular knife and not worry about blood and frustration.  BEST TRICK EVER.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

cranky distracted dinner.

tonight i got home from work cranky and tired.  and of course hungry.  i immediately poured myself an enormous bowl of trader joe's o's and scarfed it.  it was one of those nights where i stare grumpily into the fridge then close the door.  try the freezer.  close the door.  back to the fridge.  close the door.  and so it continues.  as i was eating my cereal i decided i wanted something warm and comforting so i decided to make muffins (had some frozen cranberries).  as the muffins were cooking i decided that this meal was lacking in protein (the milk wasn't enough) SO i decided to make hard boiled eggs.  (i only like the white part).  THEN as the eggs and muffins were cooking, i was impatiently looking in the freezer again and noticed these vegetable gyoza i had from trader joe's and decided to make those too.  so to recap, what did morgan eat for dinner tonight?

-huge bowl of cereal
-a cranberry walnut muffin
-vegetable gyoza
-two more cranberry walnut muffins
-two white parts of the eggies

i am much less cranky though...

oh and what did gypsy eat for dinner?

-her cat food
-amanda's crumbs
-beeb's crumbs
-a muffin top (she always manages...)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

a fun way to eat tofu.

i happen to be one of those people who likes tofu.  however, i am always looking for more fun ways to eat tofu!  today i found one!  it comes from the cookbook "the enchanted broccoli forest" which was an awesome gift from my friend marianne.  i switched things up a tad from the original recipe by using a variety of nuts even though it calls for almonds only.  the book tells me even kids will eat tofu in this form and i believe it!

tofu-nut balls.
(ha, i said nut and balls)

1/2 c uncooked brown rice
1 c water
2 T soy sauce
1/2 lb firm tofu, mashed
1/2 c ground walnuts, almonds, and cashews (i used perhaps a 2:2:1 ratio here....improvise!)
1/2 c bread crumbs
salt to taste

1.  cook the rice (i use a rice cooker...just follow the package).
2.  preheat the oven to 350F.
3.  put the soy sauce, half the mashed tofu, and about 3/4 of the rice in a blender or food processor.  blend to a thick paste (this sounds really gross, but just go with it).
4.  put the remaining tofu and rice in a medium bowl and add the blended mixture, the nuts, and the breadcrumbs.  taste for salt.
5.  form the batter into 1-inch balls and bake on a greased cookie sheet for 30 minutes.

i ate these (really quickly) with lots of ketchup!!

next time i'm doubling the recipe.