Sunday, January 27, 2008

No Cat Shall Go Hungry

I am honored by Kris’s invitation to be a guest blogger on Krisapolis, to share one of my more amazing Christmas gifts. Late fall 2007 Kris’s brother Matt (Peick) invited me to join him and some of his buddies on a three-day canoeing adventure in the MN boundary waters. While the trip was an interesting saga in itself, enduring 40 mph winds and the first snow of the season, the many solitary hours of paddling gave Matt and I another opportunity to brainstorm Rube Goldberg engineering solutions to everyday problems. Kris and I had been doing a lot of 2-day business trips and long-weekend camping adventures over the last year and finding an affordable and reliable way to feed our nameless cat (A.K.A. "Slipper", "Whitster", "Steve", "Electron", "Kitty" ...) had become an issue. I was telling Matt there had to be a better option than the professional cat caretaker who forgot to feed our cat for an entire week or the $50 highly unreliable automatic feeder that covers a maximum of 4 meals (two days for our cat).

Matt is a mechanical engineer by profession and has always been a maker of things. In the past he has created some incredible holiday gifts ranging from fully-automatic rubberband machine guns to kid-size iceboats. Two Christmas’s back I bought him a subscription to Make magazine (, a cross between Popular Mechanics, ReadyMade magazine and Heath Kit ingenuity. Make magazine is all about modifying and building new things from existing components. Getting back to the story, Matt and I both remembered an early issue of Make that contained plans for a cat feeder made out of an old meat grinder. Matt and I discussed ways to improve this design at length eventually discarding the meat grinder, considering the potential advantages of other more accurate mechanisms. The brainstorming ended as we reached our final 270 rod portage to the truck.

Months went by and so did many possible design ideas I had while dozing off at night. For some reason I have always found it to be relaxing to dream up creative solutions and art projects as I drift off.

Fast forward to Christmas day at Kris’s sister Katie’s house when Matt announces he has my name (we draw names for gift giving) and has made me something special. We open presents from oldest to youngest, and when my turn comes around, Matt carefully deposits a large 2’x 4’ x 1’ wrapped box in front of me labeled “This side up” and “This side forward”. He asks me if I know what it is and it isn’t until that moment that it comes to me. An automatic cat feeder!
He smiles and laughs as I rip it open to reveal the Here Kitty, Kitty Automatic Feline Feeder, a tightly designed and engineered King of cat feeders.

The thing is beautiful and industrial strength made primarily of finished oak with burgundy sheet metal enclosures. The brains of the unit is stored within an ominous looking, bomb-proof metal cabinet with a green glowing “on” light, an on/off switch and a Jog (manual feed) button. Inside the metal cabinet is a industrial grade microprocessor, a small LCD display, a digital audio chip, a speaker and a USB connection to allow the programs to be uploaded and downloaded from an external PC. When activated, the feeder plays a digital recording of Matt calling our cat “Here Kitty, Kitty” followed by the machine dispensing a predetermined amount of cat vittles. To take it just one step further, he also had our mutual friend Tony Horning design an excellent retro-looking logo which is printed on the feeder as well as a pair of handsome his and her's t-shirts Kris and I were issued.

The next day, Matt came over to help me get the feeder up and running. We programmed the unit to feed that cat daily at 7:00am and 5:00pm. We have not manually fed the cat since that day. The feeder is a major convenience and has greatly reduced the cat’s relentless begging.

So what does the cat think of it? It’s hard to say… Within the first hour of the feeder’s installation she was on her back with both paws up the delivery shoot trying to figure out how to get the food out. Luckily Matt took cat safety into consideration and there have not been any lost paws. I think the feeder is her new god – the magical thing that produces food. Overall, I’d say she approves of it since it’s more consistent and never forgets like her pet humans sometimes did.

Here Kitty, Kitty!


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tina the Pig

Tina arrived right before Christmas, after being lovingly raised all summer by my friend Bev. Actually, half of Tina arrived, and I split her with my sister. Hop on over to Glitter Goods to see what my sister is doing with Tina. Bev raises a pack of pigs (herd of pigs? Group of pigs? What do you call a bunch of pigs?) and names them all beginning with the same letter, a different one each year. Last year we had Nathan, and Nathan bacon was the best. This year it’s Tina, who inspired a batch of sausage and clams.

I saw Cat Cora serve this on Iron Chef, and I knew I had to figure out how to make it. I have used Italian sausage too, it’s good with two sweet sausages and two hot. If you use plain sausage add some chili pepper flakes to spice it up. I’ve also made this for four people, go ahead and double the recipe if you need to. Next time I make this I’m going to add fennel cut into large matchsticks and sautéed after the sausage but before deglazing the pan. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

Tina and Clams

Serves 2

French baguette or country loaf
2 cloves garlic, put through a press
3 Tablespoons olive oil plus more for browning sausage
1 pound pork sausage or Italian sausage out of casings
¼ cup white wine
½ cup fish stock, clam juice or chicken stock
salt and pepper
olive oil for drizzling
¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put 2 large cloves of garlic through a garlic press and add ¼ teaspoon table salt and 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Set this aside while you tear or cut 2 cups of 1-inch white bread cubes (from a baguette or country loaf). They are going to be bigger than usual croutons, that’s what you want. Put the bread cubes on a baking sheet and drizzle the olive oil through fine-mesh strainer evenly onto the bread, tossing to coat all the cubes. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes, stirring and flipping once halfway through. Set the croutons aside.

Brown the sausage over medium high heat in a little olive oil in a skillet with plenty of room. Once all the sausage is browned, deglaze the pan with ¼ cup white wine, then add ½ cup stock and clams. Cover the pan and let simmer about 5 minutes or until all the clams have opened. Taste a little and add salt and pepper if needed. Discard closed clams, and spoon sausage, clams and broth into shallow bowls. Top with croutons and drizzle a little olive oil over the top of each serving, then sprinkle with chopped parsley and dig in!