On January 19th, we said goodbye to Ariel, our scrappy little tabby cat.
Ariel first came into my life in 2003. She was already two years old by then, but so small and scruffy that I first mistook her for a kitten - a scant 8lbs of pure stubbornness, with a scrappy personality that far outweighed her tiny size.
Despite my best efforts, she was never much of a snuggler, though she'd begrudgingly accept a little scritch under the chin or behind the ears if she was feeling particularly generous. And every once in a blue moon, she'd jump up into my lap, though she'd always stay tightly wound and ready to spring away at the first sign of unacceptable affection.
You could say we grew up together, Ariel and I. She followed me from a tiny one-bedroom basement apartment in Wychwood, to a second-floor apartment in the Annex, to a cozy little house in Greektown. And she followed me as my four-year going-nowhere relationship finally ran its course, through the messiness of dating in the big city, and eventually into meeting and settling down with the Mister.
Over the years, she grew a little scruffier and greyer, but never quite lost her kittenish looks. (I, on the other hand, am just scruffier and greyer, and have long since lost any claim to kittendom.)
There are so many stories to tell from those 13-ish years we spent together.
Like how she was so jealous of the Mister when he first came into my life that she decided to express her dislike by jumping onto the bed and peeing on his foot. Twice.
Or how she once jumped into my bed in the dead of the night to gift me with a very dead, slightly chewed-on mouse.
Or how she'd follow us into the bathroom and perch on the edge of the tub, just so she could watch the water swirl down the toilet bowl.
Or how she curled up beside the Mister to stand guard when he came home from an outpatient procedure, stoned out of his mind of Propofol, and fell fast asleep on the couch.
But most of my Ariel stories revolve around her insatiable obsession with human food. And not just the usual things cats are supposed to love, like roast chicken and canned tuna, but also some unexpected things, like white sandwich bread, sweet potatoes and canned corn.
But best of all, she loved chickpeas. Even weeks later, I still half-expect her to come galloping into the kitchen when I open a can.
Nothing was safe from her stealthy food-thieving abilities - muffins buried at the bottom of my purse, sticks of butter left to soften on the counter, the last few specks of bacon grease on a pan left out on the stovetop. One time, she even managed to wrangle a cherry strudel from its box, leaving behind a trail of crumbs leading to a hollowed-out pastry shell.
And on one especially memorable evening, she managed to steal an entire pork tenderloin we'd left to rest on the kitchen counter.
That tenderloin was easily as long as our itty-bitty kitty, but she wasn't going to let that stop her... She dragged her hard-won prize from one end of the house to the other as we chased her, hissing and growling all the way, until she made one last dash for the shelter of her litterbox.
I guess she decided that if she wasn't going to get to eat pork tenderloin that night, we wouldn't either. Either that, or she felt that a little cat litter would add a little je-ne-sais-quoi to the finished dish. I strongly suspect the former, though.
But over the last few months, so slowly and gradually that we almost didn't notice, our spry little cat stopped sneaking onto counters and stealing food. I chalked it up to old age until, one morning, she simply stopped eating altogether. We knew then that something was horribly wrong.
The diagnosis of lymphoma came on what easily qualifies as one of the worst weeks of my life. We did what we could to slow the progress of the disease, to steal just a few more weeks to love her and spoil her, but we knew it was only a matter of time before the cancer fought back.
On a grey Thursday morning, almost a month to the day from the initial diagnosis, we took one last walk to the vet and said our goodbyes. There's been a giant hole in my heart ever since.
So long, my darling girl. You were a grumpy little weirdo, but you were mine. I miss more than words can say.
- 1 pork tenderloin,
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp sweet paprika
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp dried chili flakes
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
- ¼ cup dry sherry
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 can (400 g / 14 oz) diced tomatoes
- ½ cup chicken broth
- 1 cup diced sweet potato
- 1 can (540 ml / 19 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Pat the pork tenderloin dry with paper towels. In a small bowl, stir together the cumin, paprika, salt and pepper, and rub all over the tenderloin.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the olive oil and sear the pork tenderloin on all sides until well-browned. Transfer to a baking sheet and set aside.
- Add the onion to the pan, and saute until it starts to turn soft and translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic, and continue cooking until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes longer. Stir in the paprika, chili flakes, salt and pepper, then add the sherry and tomato paste and cook for another 1-2 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as you go.
- Add the diced tomatoes, chicken broth and sweet potato to the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes start to soften. Remove from heat and stir in the chickpeas.
- Gently rest the pork tenderloin on top of the stew. Roast in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the tenderloin registers an internal temperature of 145F. Transfer the pork to a cutting board, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and set aside to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into slices.
- Meanwhile, give the stew a stir, and return it to the oven to bake for another 5-10 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are very soft and the sauce has thickened.
- To serve, divide the stew between four shallow bowls, and top off with slices of tenderloin. Finish with a sprinkling of parsley, and serve immediately.