The first book I ever read was an alphabet book by Dr. Seuss. But the second book I ever read was very, very dangerous indeed. It was intended for adults and nearly pushed my mother over the edge.
The book was called Animals Can be Almost Human. It was part of a Reader's Digest series of books full of tales culled from the famous magazine. The stories were simply-written enough for me to understand.
As the title suggests, the stories were about inspiring human-animal relationships. They were all true, or at least as true by Reader's Digest standards. (I can't vouch for its fact-checking). They featured children who fostered abandoned songbirds and taught the creatures how to perform singing and dancing tricks and save a home from carbon monoxide poisoning. I remember several anecdotes very well, including one about a broken, friendless, sickly boy who trained an abused horse. And a chickadee taught to whistle popular tunes while the London Blitz burned outside. A descented skunk that was as tame as a dog. A Pekinese that loved cake. A boy who got a pony for Christmas.
I would scour my yard, looking for an abandoned bird I could teach to tie and untie my shoes or a puppy without a collar in need of a home.
And, can I just write that again: A boy who got a pony for Christmas.
Eventually, I graduated to pet care books. "Look mom, it's so easy to make a dog bed out of a discarded paper box! Or a hamster cage out of chicken wire!" I tried making some of these items myself, the only time I showed interest in making anything practical. I was the type of child who had a messy room but a spotless dollhouse.
The books at my school library were very old, and featured girls with big hair bows and boys with knee socks, so some of their suggestions, like keeping a flying squirrel for a pet or baby goats in the shed, were a bit ambitious for the NJ suburbs. I got very angry at my mother when she muttered about zoning laws, salmonella in turtles, and rabid raccoons.
Although my father was so fastidious he insisted we all remove our shoes at the door of the house and literally threw a fit if I left jacks in the middle of the living room, eventually I proceeded through fish, gerbils, mice, rats, a guinea pigs, and a parakeet. Every pet was getting me closer to what I really wanted: a dog.
I think what pushed my parents over the edge was this:
The comic Garfield began to become very popular amongst little girls: Garfield diaries, t-shirts, cartoon books, stuffed animals. As my bed began to fill with images of the fat orange cat, next to my Snoopys, my mother began to fear that I would ask for a cat, instead of a dog.
My mother hated cats. She cleaned my grandmother's house after it was rented by some unneutered toms and the family that loved them (but not enough to change the toms' litter box on a regular basis).
So off we went to the ASPCA to get an adult, housebroken dog.
I have only had dogs ever since (this is a photograph of my current animal). However, I have always found the cat people-dog people divide to be a bit silly. I love all animals.
Black cat chocolate cookies are tasty and adorable--an unusual combination in holiday cookies. Just don't feed them lasagna.
Note: This is adapted from Taste of Home. However, I strongly suggest using Hershey's Dark unsweetened cocoa powder to avoid a brown-colored cat. Also, instead of using red hots for 'noses' I used chopped bits of candy corn. This is both easier and, in my view, a more harmonious flavor than cinnamon red hots in the middle of a chocolate and candy corn cookie.
Black Cat Cookies
|Black Cats to the left, Sweet Potato Bread to the right|
1 cup butter (2 sticks), room-temperature
2 cups of granulated sugar
2 large, beaten eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa (I suggest Hershey's Dark because it gives a nice black hue to baked goods).
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
candy corn for decorating
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Cream butter and sugar. Fold in eggs and vanilla.
3. Sift flour, unsweetened cocoa, baking powder, baking soda together.
3. Incorporate sifted dry mixture into 'wet' mixture.
4. Form 24 dough balls.
5. Flatten cookie. Use a fork to make 'whiskers' on the left and right of the 'face.' Press two candy corn pieces, white side down, onto each flat of the cookie for eyes.
6. Chop up additional candy corn. Press a 'nose' right underneath the pointed 'eyes.'
7. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes on the parchment sheet before transferring to a cooling rack.