About two years ago, my cat Bess and I embarked on a culinary adventure. One boring afternoon as we sat together on the couch reading Jeffrey Steingarten's essay "The Man Who Cooked for His Dog," Bess shot me a pointed look from her big green eyes, and the message she had been trying to send me for months finally penetrated my thick human skull: It gets really, really boring eating the same damned kibbles day in and day out.
The series of blog posts that followed, Cooking for Your Cat, chronicled my attempts to add a little variety to Bess' diet. As often happens with culinary experiments by the culinarily ungifted, some of the results were pretty painful. (And I know, because, in the spirit of equality, I tasted them, too.)
Cooking for Your Cat ended without much ceremony last August. There was no particular reason. Bess and I had just had enough of cooking experiments.
I'm thinking of this now because when Bess died early Sunday morning, the first thing I did when I got home was turn on the computer and start reading those blog posts. It was mostly to get the sound of the vet saying, "Your cat -- what's her name? -- Bess? -- Bess didn't make it," and the image of her face frozen into a pained, wide-eyed, very un-Bess-like expression out of my head. (I tried to close her eyes, but cats don't have lids.)
For the record, Bess died of natural causes, not because of my cooking. Her last meal was Purina One salmon and tuna flavor, which she preferred to chicken or turkey (and she would rather have gone hungry than eat the anti-hairball variety). If I'd known I would have fed her Evanger's Organic Braised Chicken Dinner or Beef Tips in Gravy. Evanger's was our one great discovery from the Cooking for Your Cat project.
Some natural-cat-food advocates may say she might have lived longer if her lifelong diet had been something other than Purina. She ate it for eleven years, dutifully but without any real enthusiasm. But she never developed diabetes or gout or any other diet-related illnesses. The vet thinks she either had a blood clot or her heart gave out, which isn't uncommon in cats; I have to admit that by this point I wasn't listening too closely.
For the first time ever, the apartment was empty when I got home. It was dawn, actually quite beautiful. The blog posts were a series of snapshots of one chapter in our life together: how she liked to climb up on top of the refrigerator, how she'd spend hours sitting in her favorite window, how perilous it was for me to leave extra food out (she was especially brazen about licking the rims of glasses full of orange juice), the little noises she'd make when she was happy, how we'd read together on the couch.
Besides the Evanger's, Bess liked salmon burgers, pet cookies, sardines, bone marrow and her birthday cake. She also liked oatmeal and scrambled eggs, but only when she could steal mine. She made an honest attempt to try Match meat. She hated shrimp frozen yogurt (by far our most odious concoction) and was confounded by a fish head. (To be fair, so was I.)
After Cooking for Your Cat ended, Bess and I discovered a shared love of roast chicken prepared according to the Zuni Cafe recipe. (You can find it here. It's fairly idiot-proof; the only thing to remember is that you have to prep the chicken at least a day before you intend to cook it.) It was almost like the communion through food I'd envisioned when we discovered Country Captain, except we both liked it so much, we gobbled it too fast for articulate thought. (At least I did.)
As I read, I half-expected her to come in and jump on my lap or parade in front of the laptop and brush the tip of her tail under her nose, which was her favorite way of getting my attention. Every time I heard a creak, I listened for the jingle of her tags.
Her bowl is still sitting out. I can't bring myself to throw it away yet. It's half full of Purina One, salmon and tuna flavor. And there's plenty of water. I won't roast a chicken again until the weather cools off. Maybe by then I'll be used to the idea that she won't be there to help me eat it.