Sometimes, in my house, the lions actually do lay down with the lambs.  In our case it's a full grown cat laying down and a small female rat shivering behind him, but you get the point. 

Rats.  I would never, EVER have thought that I could tolerate my sons having a pet rat.  The beady eyes, the snake-like tails, and a little thing called the Black Plague had biased me against rats.  HOWEVER, when your eight year old son really, really wants a pet for his birthday, you try to accomodate him.  So, a little over a year ago we threw on jackets and headed to Petco to purchase a furry pet for Joe.

My requirements for his pet were that it be a mammal, that it be kid-friendly, and that it fit in a smallish cage.  I was thinking a hamster or a gerbil would fit that bill nicely, no?  No.  When the Petco associate asked us why we wanted a hamster or gerbil I stammered, "Because they're sort of cute and I think I know a little bit about what mammals require to stay alive (seeings how I am one myself and all).  She said that if we were considering a small mammal for a pet she would recommend first a rat, then a mouse, then a hamster, and last (and least) a gerbil.  Hmph.

So we took a look at the small female rats.  We were informed that rats are clean, low-maintenance, intelligent and very friendly.   They become very attached to their human owners and are trainable.  I was warming up to the idea.  Slowly.   Our smiley Petco helper took us to the "Small Female Rat" terrarium.  It was then that we first layed eyes on the rat that would change everything, Winky.

Winky is about 6 inches long (not including her tail) and is white with a fawn colored "hood" over her head.  Unlike many white rats, Winky has dark eyes, which to me make her seem less ratty.  She is the perfect pet.  In fact, in their behavior rats remind me of very friendly, silent and tiny cats. Winky rides on my son's shoulder while he plays outside and hangs out in his hoodie when he watches TV. She will hold still so that you can stroke her chin, ears and back.  And I don't need Pat Robertson to tell me that  Winky has made a pact with the devil so that our cats don't even bother to eat her. 

Since purchasing Winky we added two more rats to our brood, all females:  black hooded Scabbers (named after a Harry Potter rat) and a blue fancy rat named Stella. 

Buying a pet rat is a choice you can feel good about in many ways.  First, mothers-in-law, as a rule, do not like rats (reason enough to buy one in my book).  When you purchase a rat from a pet store you can feel a little smug about the fact that you are rescuing her from death by snake.  Pet store rats, for the most part, are "feeder rats".  Most of these poor dears end up dropped into a snake's tank where they meet their speedy (hopefully) demise.  When your company gets a snooty look on their face when they see little Johnny running around with a rat on his shoulder, put them in their place by telling them that it's a "rescue rat". 

Are you sold yet?  Well here are two more pro-rat tidbits.  Rats cost about $3.00 and live 3-5 years which, by the way, is the perfect lifespan for a child's pet, as children themselves have very short attention spans.  Do you KNOW how long a bearded dragon lives?  Too long.

So, consider the rat. 

What I love about a Pain d'Epi is that it is almost as easy to make as French bread but you don't have to slice it, just pull one of the grains off.  I butter my loaf with an herb butter both before and after baking, making it similar to the delicious rolls served at The Common Grill in Chelsea, Michigan, or Daryl's in Jackson, Michigan. 

This recipe is an adaptation and amalgamation of many recipes within Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a book that has revolutionized bread baking for many people.  Using rye and whole wheat flours might make the "grains" of the Pain d'Epi less well-defined, but you gain great flavor, texture and more fiber.

Make the dough well in advance so that you can crank out a batch of this on a weeknight.  Your family will think you're a rock star.

Epic Pain d'Epi

(Makes 2 Pain d'Epi)

3 cups of lukwarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 cup rye flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 1/2 all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (or more) of salted butter
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 clove garlic, cracked
Poppy seeds

Whisk together water, yeast and salt in a lidded 5 quart bowl (Saran Wrap counts as a lid).  Mix in the flours with a heavy spatula or wooden spoon.  The dough will be softer than normal bread dough.  Allow it to sit on your counter at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (about 2 hours).  Place the dough in the refrigerator for use later.  This dough will only improve with age and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 14 days.

When ready to use, dust the top of the dough with flour.  Cut the dough inside the bowl in half and remove one-half of the dough, dusting it with more flour.  With a rolling pin roll the dough into a rough rectangle about 3/4" thick.  Roll the rectangle into a baguette.  Place dough on a cookie sheet lined with a silicon baking mat.  Cover and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
While the dough rises melt the butter in a small pan, adding the thyme and clove of garlic once the butter melts.  Allow the garlic to soften in the butter, taking care not to burn it.  Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. 

With a pair of sharp scissors, make a diagonal cut in your loaf, cutting nearly all the way through.  After cutting, fold the roll you have formed to the side, alternating sides.  You're making a wheat stalk! 

Now that you have finished forming your loaf, brush it with the herbed butter and sprinkle with poppy seeds.  Pop this lovely baby in the oven for about 25 minutes or until golden brown and firm. 

Once out of the oven, allow to cool for a few minutes and brush again with the melted butter.  Yes, we are guilding the lily here a bit, but you won't be putting any butter on it at the table, right?  Right???

1. The lesson I learned yesterday was even when I don't feel like it because I'm tired and grouchy, I really benefit from a night chatting with a girlfriend.
2. Funerals, weddings and baby showers are where friends and family meet.
3. All these years and I still haven't tried foie gras or conch.
4. My mother was always so happy to see me when I arrived.  She told me that whenever I came home she would think to herself, "Yeah, Gail's here!"
5. The truth is you can't handle the truth.
6. The joy of meeting Sam for the first time on the day he was born is what I remember most from that day.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to going out to dinner with my friend Amy, tomorrow my plans include laundry, um, and more laundry and Sunday, I want to try making homemade chorizo with my dad!
Winter nights are long, but they are never long enough.  All day I look forward to crashing on my couch with a book, my laptop, a crochet project, a movie (and yes, sometimes even American Idol).  Winter evenings are the reward I earn after long summer evenings spent canning and freezing (and even longer holiday evenings spent shopping and cooking).  There are never enough of those few precious hours on my couch (which, I suppose, is what makes them so precious).  

Every day I whine inwardly, feeling sluggish and suffering an unquenchable thirst for caffeine.  I promise myself that tonight is the night I'm going to get to bed early and catch up on my sleep.  But night falls and suddenly I'm awake, excited about all of the possibilities that await me on my couch.  I love those quiet hours when my kids are asleep and I'm left to my own devices.  I have books to read, mittens to crochet, and blogs to scan!  I'm alone.  Oh, Dave is home doing his winter night things.  (In child development this is called "Parallel Play".  Sometimes I wish we never outgrew this stage.)  Others complain about it getting dark too early.  Not me.  Bring on the cozy night, the cold, the wind and the snow. 
1. There are places I remember so vividly that I dream about them over and over again.  
2. It will take a big straw to blow those clouds away.
3. Standing in the shower, that is where I sometimes have a good cry.
4. When I look at my four sons together, I take a deep breath and say, "Oh boy."  And sometimes, "Oh shit."
5. He went out tiger hunting WTF, he went out tiger hunting?  Anyone who's read Prodigal Summer knows how disruptive hunting predators is to an ecosystemHunt herbivores, dumb ass.
6. Everyone is safer when I keep my mind from wandering .
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to take out Chinese, tomorrow my plans include getting our new bedroom furniture and Sunday, I want to get groceries, bake enough bread for the week and put away every Christmasy thing in my house!

Today my mom would have turned 59.  Happy birthday, mama.  I miss you.  (And happy posthumus birthday to you too, Elvis.  RIP)
Kheema is a terrific weeknight meal that can be made with things most people have on hand or in their pantries.  Ground lamb is traditional, but ground beef is a good and inexpensive substitute.  I like to serve this with rice, naan and raita.

2 pounds ground lamb or beef
1 small onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 green chili, diced (or some ground cayenne, a dried chili or red pepper flakes)
1 1/2 half tablespoons Pataks Curry Paste
Tomato- this can be a small can of tomato sauce, diced fresh or canned tomatoes or a small can of crushed tomatoes
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 to 1 cup plain yogurt
Salt, pepper, sugar

In a Dutch oven saute the onion, garlic and chili in vegetable oil until the onion is translucent (salting the onions will prevent them from browning).  Add the ginger and ground meat.  Brown the ground meat, breaking it into very small pieces.  After the meat is browned, drain off any excess fat that has accumulated.  Stir in the curry paste, tomato and frozen peas.  Let simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Gradually stir in the yogurt.  Taste and season with salt, pepper and sugar, adding more curry paste if desired.   My sons love this over rice or wrapped up in warm naan, kind of like an Indian sloppy Joe.
1.  Jamaica is NOT gay friendly.
2.  There is a reason we tip bartenders in America.  Jamaican resort bartenders don't earn tips and they are assholes.  Guess I would be an asshole too if I had to wait on drunk Canadians and Americans while earning $60 a week.
3.  Coral is an effective exfoliant...too effective.
4.  Pina Coladas are freaking delicious, I don't care if they are a frou-frou drink. 
5.  A lot of people don't care about sitting in the shade or wearing sunscreen and are perfectly happy to sizzle like sausages in the sun.  You could smell them cooking.
6.  Sunny, eighty-five degree weather is great and all, but I wouldn't want it every day of the year.  Michigan summers are so amazing because we know they are temporary.  Same thing with tropical vacations.
7.  The Jamaican people we met were meticulously dressed.  Pants rather than shorts were the norm, shirts tucked in, nails and hair done.   They are a sharp dressed people.  Except for the rastas.  Ew. (I know, not very PC of me.)
8.  Jamaica's beaches are stunning, but Lake Michigan's beaches are nothing to sneeze at.
9.  Jamaicans drive on the left side of the road.  The right side is the suicide, mon. 
10.  Jerk chicken and pork are so delicious that I will eat it until my nose runs, my lips burn and my ears smoke. 

1. I enjoy cooking, reading and sleeping more than anything else.
2. Blogging satisfies my need for reflecting on all of the ways that I am fortunate
3. When I look at a full moon, I feel small and insignificant, yet connected to the millions of other humans that have moon gazed over the centuries.   
4. If I want a snack, I usually reach for something salty.
5. The most recent movie I saw, Disney's A Christmas Carol made me want to read Dicken's book.
6. If only I had a 3 day work week and 4 day weekends!
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to dinner at the Jamaican restaurant at our resort, tomorrow my plans include getting a little more sun and Sunday, I'm flying back to chilly Michigan!  Brrrr!