Friday, July 31, 2009

Florida Food Favorites

In the past I've blogged a few times about how much I miss Chicago cuisine. There are certain restaurants that I just have to visit whenever I return to the city of my birth. That got me to thinking the other that I am a Floridian, what restaurants in the Sunshine State would I miss most if I were forced to return to the Windy City? I came up with a few:

Sonny's BBQ
Sonny's is a chain, but it doesn't have any locations in Illinois. It's good old-fashioned Southern BBQ at amazingly reasonable prices. We don't have a Sonny's close to Celebration, but my husband and I visit Busch Gardens pretty frequently and there is a Sonny's on the way. When we go to the shopping area at I-4 and 27, we sometimes head a little further down 27 as there is a Sonny's out there too. As an added bonus, we discovered a place that drew us in with a sign announcing "Goats Milk Fudge." The fudge was just okay, but we discovered that they sell wines from our favorite Key West winery.

Most of Sonny's meals are below $10, and that includes two sides. They have crinkle-cut fries, which I adore, and I usually choose corn on the cob as my other option. They also have a salad bar which I typically add even though I know better; the portions are huge, so I end up bringing part of my meal home.

We have a place called Famous Dave's near our Chicago home, but Dave isn't fit to shine Sonny's shoes.

Good Mexican food is one of the things I miss most in Chicago. Abuelo's isn't as good as Pepe's, my favorite authentic Chicago chain, but it comes darned close. Like Sonny's, Abuelo's is amazingly reasonable on many of its prices, especially its lunch specials. I almost always get an enchilada combo, although I like their tacos too. I get 'em with a soft shell and insist that they use corn tortillas, not flour.

We still like Chevy's, although I don't consider them particularly authentic. But Abuelo's is much easier to get to (the Loop shopping area vs. the special hell that is the Crossroads at Lake Buena Vista), so Abuelo's is our latest Mexican food rut.

We used to have an awesome Polish restaurant near our house in Chicago, but alas it closed down many years ago. Polonia is actually better; besides pierogies, it also has kieshka and poppyseed cake, among other authentic delights. It also has chicken paprikas, which threw me off because that is a Hungarian dish. I haven't tried it yet, but it's on my list because my grandma was Hungarian and I ate many a bowl of paprikas in my youth.

Alas, Polonia is all the way out in Casselberry, but it's worth the trip. There is a German restaurant next door that is quite good, too, but I wouldn't miss it if I went back to Chicago because nothing can beat Die Bierstube in my old stomping ground.

I know it sounds crazy, but I would also miss Sizzler. Yes, I know it's a generic steakhouse chain but I love their Malibu Chicken. They abandoned the Chicago area years ago, so when we first moved to Florida it was a real treat to savor my old favorite dish again. I still go there every now and then for lunch, although I am leery of that unsanitary Orlando equation: out-of-control kids + salad bar = germs germs germs.

I would miss the good old Publix grocery store too. Even though I grew up going to Da Jewel's, Jewel can't compare to Publix because it doesn't carry sushi. I was rather surprised the first time I saw the fresh sushi section, but I've come to rely on it as the source of quick and tasty lunches.

The one thing I would not miss is that stinkin' sweet tea that is so pervasive here in the South. I always order unsweetened tea, but my husband can confirm that I still get served that nasty, teeth-jangling sickly sweet stuff at least 20 to 30 percent of the time. Specifically ordering unsweetened tea is so engrained in me that I even do it when I'm back in Chicago. That always earns me quizzical looks, like, "What the heck are you talking about?" Hey, I can't help it...I'm a pseudo-Southern girl now. I know what sweet tea is, even though it never passes my lips whenever I can help it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Naked Mole Rats Aren't Just at Animal Kingdom

Out of the four cats that reside at Duloc Manor, three are nice, friendly creatures. Sadly, the fourth is a demon cat that will sink his teeth into your flesh without a second thought. He hides under the bed or in the closet 23 1/2 hours a day, which is actually a mercy. He comes out to put food in and let it out, and once in a while he will have a flash of normalcy and actually solicit some putting. Unfortunately, when he's had enough he won't actually let you know in an appropriate way. You'll just get a snarl and a chomp.

For the most part we just leave him alone. He was the son of a feral cat who spent too much of his youth without human contact, so he's not redeemable. No one else would want him, so we consider him our "special" boy. We keep him fed and let him do this thing.

Unfortunately, he has long fur that tends to get matted. If I try to cut the mats, I end up being the one to get cut. Lately the mats have gotten so bad that his rear end was all poopy. The poop was building up to the point where he was so gross and rank smelling that we knew something had to be done. The "something" was a shaving, but I sure as heck wasn't going to do it myself.

Fortunately Celebration Veterinary, the clinic where we take our normal cats, also has grooming services. Crazy Tooncinator has never been out of the house since we moved to Florida, but we decided the time had come to finally take him in. The vet could sedate him, give him his shots, do some bloodwork, and then the groomer could take care of the mats.

Since our crazy beast is around 20 pounds due to lack of exercise, we had to buy a dog carrier to transport him. Then came the trick of getting him into it. This task fell to me, since he hates me somewhat less than he hates most humans. On the appointed morning, I dug him out of the closet and picked him up amidst growling and hissing. Somehow I managed to stuff him into the carrier before he realized what was going on. I could see that he wanted to shred me, but the door was already latched so he could only glare with deep hatred as the voices in his head whispered, "See? See? We told you that you can't trust humans."

SheiKra was loaded up next, as he was due for a shot. He's come a long way from the sickly, worm-infested, road rash-riddled kitten we rescued a few weeks ago. No hissing or growling from him, just a look of resignation.

We dropped off Tooncinator, who had howled and growled the whole way. As we left, I wondered if vets or groomers ever filed lawsuits after being savaged by vicious pets. Fortunately, they managed to get him sedated and he slept through the shaving. He did start to come around, but they got more anesthetic into him before he could attack anyone.

When we arrived to pick him up, we heard his wails from the lobby. It took several people to get him into the carrier, but they managed to do it without bloodshed and presented us with...a naked mole rat. A really, really big naked mole rat. I've seen them many times at Animal Kingdom, and that's all I could think of when I saw our poor kitty. He was done in a lion cut, so his head, legs and tail tip still had hair, but the rest of him was fully shaved. Here are some photos:

Meanwhile, even Farquuad has decided that SheiKra is okay:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Three Little Kittens

When we rescued SheiKra the kitten from I-4 in Tampa, I thought we were only adding one kitten to our household. Little did I realize that we were going to end up with three little kittens...or rather, one genuine kitten and two sumo cats in their second kittenhood.
Out of our current brood, Tooncinator is 12, Stitch is somewhere around 10 (we adopted him as an adult so we're not sure), and Farquaad is almost 7. We got Quaad as a kitten, and Stitch immediately adopted him and mothered him, as you can see in the photos below:

Now they're both old and crotchety, and we had no plans to add another cat to our household. But fate dropped SheiKra (literally) into our laps, so we figured we had to integrate him with the others. We didn't really count Tooncinator, since he hides most of the time anyway.

When we first brought SheiKra home, we limited his initial contact with the others because he didn't yet have a clean bill of health. He had the runs, worms, and fleas, and he hadn't had his feline leukemia test yet. The boys weren't too thrilled with him, even with limited contact. He ran right to Stitch, much as Farquaad had done years earlier. When Quaad did it, Stitch immediately started washing him and they were inseperable buddies from Day One. With SheiKra, Stitch wanted no part of him. I wonder if he sensed that the poor kitten was sickly (Quaad had been healthy when we got him, other than being half starved).

Many vet appointments and medications later, SheiKra was pronounced healthy. He had been living in the shower, but now we released him into full run of the house. Last night was his first night outside of the shower, and he spent part of it playing chase games up and down the hall with Quaad and Stitch before finally curling up with me.

I noticed that all of a sudden the oldsters were acting like kittens too. Not only were they playing with SheiKra, but they also had to horn in whenever I tried to play with him with a string or feathered cat toy or ball. My 20 pound sumos suddenly wanted to jump and leap and do acrobatics at playtime. I wonder if they were worried that one of them was going to be voted out of the household now that new blood had moved in. Or perhaps they had seen the Adams Family movie in which Wednesday convinces Pugsley that because there is a new baby, one of the current children has to die (Grandmama reassures them, "That's just not true. Not anymore."). Tooncinator was his usual crazy self, but the other two reverted to full kittenhood. When I would open the shower to give SheiKra some out time, they would even sneak it and eat his Kitten Chow and try to shove their huge bodies into his tiny kitty condo.

Now that he was out and about, their kitten antics continued. SheiKra loved it, but he still wanted to befriend them for something more than just playtime. Not much more than a week ago he was no doubt cuddling with his mom and littermates. Now he was on his own, and he wanted the warmth of another cat. I doubted that would ever happen, but my husband insisted that Stitch's nurturing side would take over now that SheiKra was healthy. Sure enough, we came upon the following scene in the family room:

SheiKra was snuggling up to Stitch just as Farquaad had once done. As you can see in the first of the three photos above, Quaad stayed close at hand to monitor the proceedings. We even caught Stitch meticulously washing SheiKra.

It's rather exhausted having three (not so) little kittens...and one insane the household, but it's fun too. At least it wasn't hard to integrate SheiKra with the big boys, and it's fun to see their antics as they try to prove they're just as cute and loveable.