It’s Kitten Season

Typical morning: I wake up, put on a pot of coffee and feed my cats. And Instagram my cats while waiting for my coffee. Then I see a little fluffy head pop up at the glass window of the back kitchen door.

It’s Sweetie. We named her Sweetie for her friendly disposition. She’s a black American long-haired, around 7 months old. She began visiting regularly two months ago. I’m able to pet her which means she may have been domesticated as a kitten. If you’ve been reading my column for a while now, you know I dabble in cat rescue when the need is present. And so, here I go again.

But unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the ASPCA and similar Trap Neuter Release (TNR) services have been shut down, only recently opening on a lottery appointment-based system. It’s been a waiting game to get Sweetie in to see the vet for vaccinations and spaying.

One morning when she arrived for breakfast I noticed she was lactating. Sweetie was a teenage mom! I went into high alternate – MUST FIND KITTENS.

A week went by and the kittens just appeared in the backyard, goofing around and exploring. Matt saw them nursing and took some pics. There were four babies! I kept a close eye on Mama those few days and discovered where they were staying. My fear was taking the kittens and Sweetie but leaving a kitten or two behind. We needed a head count. All the kittens being black with no markings made this a challenge but we determined that only three of the original four made it.

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The following week the family was out again in the yard. Matt and I needed to get them “off the street”. More so for Sweetie’s sake. Females are sexually mature at four months and they can get pregnant again two weeks after giving birth. Time was of the essence. Without much trouble we scooped up two kittens from the garden and took Sweetie in too.

We were missing one kitten.

The kittens were still nursing, but also nibbling on solid food. But 6 weeks is far too young for a kitten to be on it’s own … this was a high pressure situation. The next morning I called on The Sisterhood of Cat Rescuers – a few friends of mine that do underground TNR work. They helped me set up a kitten trap and a drop trap. A drop trap is a simple metal cage with a string attached. You sit far away holding the string and wait and when you see the cat, pull like hell! It sounds primitive but it’s very effective for catching multiple kittens at once or ferals nervous to enter a three sided trap. Also kittens are so light, often they don’t trigger regular trap mechanisms.

I sat there for three hours with no “bites”. The ladies in the sisterhood suggested I bring mom out in a carrier so she would meow and alert the missing kitten. After another two hours, I brought Sweetie back in, she was stressed. I abandoned the trapping site to bring her back inside. I went into the house for a glass of water and I heard a very loud meow. I ran outside to the trap, no kitten. I called Matt, “I hear the kitten!!” He looked in the garden where we found the others the day before and the last baby was there! I do believe hearing his mother’s cry lured him out. Matt picked him up from under the plants and he rejoined his family.

It was so stressful but now all are safe and doing well. I still couldn’t get into the ASPCA but booked an appointment at Faithful Friends Animal Hospital (2455 McDonald Ave, Brooklyn – 718.339.7387), which works with rescuers. We are on the path to adoption! In fact, it looks like I have already found all three kittens forever homes!

If you have feral cats on your block that are not spay/neutered it’s important to take care of the situation before it gets out of hand. If you see cats with their left ear tipped, that means they have been fixed already. Here are some helpful resources on TNR: animalalliancenyc.org and www.alleycat.org

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Glenwood Mason Supply – Rock Solid

I made a 4,000 pound mistake. As a member of The Beach 91st St. Community Garden’s leadership team, was tasked with purchasing gravel for a special project. I called Glenwood Mason Supply as suggested by one of our members. I told them I needed two square yards of pea gravel.

The delivery came earlier than expected, this was last Saturday. The driver was concerned about dropping the 2 ton load. His machine only worked on solid ground and the garden is soil and grass. But I couldn’t leave two tons of stone on the sidewalk!  We needed plywood. Miraculously, we found some and with the help of neighbors, rigged a solid path. Mission complete.

Or so I thought.

As the driver was turning the corner, I took a closer look at the “gravel”. What I was looking at wasn’t gravel, rather stones, 2 inches long by 1 inch wide. This was for ground cover and needed to be comfortable to walk on.

My stomach dropped, “What just happened??” I was so worried about getting the material inside the garden gates, I overlooked inspecting the stone. I called the driver immediately,  “Turn back around, this is not the right material!!!” He checked the invoice and it was the product that I agreed too. Furthermore, he didn’t have the right equipment to get it back on the flatbed. My intention was to order pea gravel. The invoice said pearl gravel. I didn’t review the invoice closely. I was furious with myself.

I told the garden members. They were dismayed but understanding.

That night I had a dream. My fellow gardeners were zombies, walking down the street to my house, with pitchforks. Some were throwing the pearl gravel stones at me. It felt like a deranged version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

How the heck was I going to return two tons of rocks? And even if I could, it was going to be very expensive. Matt was unmoved. “Call them and give them some sob story about the garden being a non-profit or something.” So I called my contact at Glenwood Mason Supply. Tiffany was surprised to learn about the mistake. “We normally don’t accept returns” she said, but promised that she’d contact her supervisor.

“Hi Rudy, I’m a member of a non-profit community garden in Rockaway. I made a really really big mistake on my order…”  I went on to explain the situation. He was brief. “Please come down to the facility and we’ll see what can be worked out.”

The following Friday I walked into Glenwood Mason Supply. There were a handful of burly construction guys looking very busy. Extreme dudevibe. Above the counter in big red letters it says “NO RETURNS or EXCHANGES” I felt pretty intimidated.

Rudy Berrios*, Vice President of Operations walks towards me. He looks like the type of guy you don’t want to piss off.

I began my desperate plea. I think he realized how nervous I was even behind my masked face. We walked through the showroom into a huge warehouse and we looked at different types of gravel. I found the correct one. “Wait, let me wet it for you, it looks beautiful!”  Rudy agreed to  exchange the material and at no additional cost. I was so relieved and grateful to him and Glenwood Mason Supply for their understanding. They didn’t need to help me out, but they did, and that reflects their integrity, dedication and  commitment to their customers!

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I was so fascinated by the facility, Rudy offered to take me on a tour!  Their retail operation in Brooklyn spans 12 acres between offices and stockyards, supplying a full range of masonry materials. The most exciting part of the tour was the cinder block facility! What a process! As we walked further through the d stock yard Rudy shared with me the long family history of Glenwood Mason Supply. Owner Constance Cincotta learned the business from her father and continued the tradition of his trade, growing the business exponentially. It was inspiring to hear that in an industry you’d think was dominated by males, was actually dominated by women! Glenwood Mason Supply is certified by NYC agencies as a Woman-Owned Business Entity (WBE).

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There is so much more to learn about Glenwood Mason Supply, visit their website www.glenwoodmason.com. Call for more information on mason materials – 718-859-6500. Or visit their showroom  located 4100 Glenwood Rd, Brooklyn, NY 11210

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*I later learned  that before joining the team at Glenwood Mason, Rudy Berrios, had a long career in law enforcement, including a position as Special Deputy U.S. Marshal with the Fugitive Task Force. I knew this guy was hardcore!

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Beach Hacks

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the beach. Where else would I be this time of year? And I’m sharing the sand with some of Rockaways’ pro beach-goers. These local folks set up at 10am and break down after sunset. The vibe by me in the 90’s isn’t showy beach swag, it’s the opposite. Use what you have, recycle, live frugally….  the Rockaway hippie mentality.

I learned some useful beach hacks from the crew this weekend and I want to pass along these pro-tips:

  1. The jar cup. My friend Beth Perkins started this trend. Instead of a cup, bring a jar filled to the brim with ice. By the time you set up shop on the sand, your water is melted, ice cold and ready to drink. And the big benefit of the jar cup is the cover. No spillage of your rose or rum punch when using this vessel.

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  1. Shot Glass: Before Covid, it wasn’t uncommon for the locals to pass around the bottle of tequila while the air cooled and the sun set. Now that’s a hard no. While plastic is shunned in Rockaway, every so often you do come across a plastic bottle. And then we’ll reuse or repurpose. A great example of this is Kevin Tavarez’s shot glass hack. Last week on the beach, he showed me a sweet method to make a shot glass… “ when you’re in a pinch”. Someone in the group will have a knife in their cooler or something of the sort. Just cut off the top part of a water bottle, flip it around, pour, cheers and down the hatch.

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  1. Sand Pillow: This may be by far the most inventive beach hack in the beach bum handbook. My friend Melissa Draugsvold pulls out of her tote a pillowcase cover, the kind with a zipper. She begins to fill it with sand, zip’s it up, places it on her blanket and lays down. Brilliant! I tested it out and it’s super comfortable.

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The sand pillow (1)

  1. Sand Lounger: Mike O’Toole, Rockaway native and master beach dude, chimed in after I was “wowed” over Melissa’s beach pillow. “My life’s a beach hack,” He said and began making the sand lounger.  “It involves some sculpting, but worth the build out.” he said. So the idea is to build up a pillow sand pile and then dig out a hole for your “beach bum”. From the pillow to the bum spot sculpt a slope for your back. Cover the construction with your towel and you have a lounger, without lugging a chair. This is also excellent comfort.

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In general bringing less is more to the beach. Sometimes I don’t even bother with flip flops. Luging minimal gear is best because you don’t know where the day will bring you and even though we all live steps from the beach, the thought of going back to the house to drop stuff off a bummer.

Summer in Rockaway allows us to live for the joy of living without restraints and we’re in high season soaking it all in, beach bum style.

For more  of  the day-to-day follow me on IG: @theglorifiedtomato

Previously published in The Wave.

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Light And Moisture Are Garlic’s Worst Enemies

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If  you’ve been reading along, you know that I harvested my first batch of garlic two weeks ago but was a little unsure if it was the right time. This is the case with many root crops and it’s a trial and error learning process.

I decided I’d harvest a few at a time for the next several weeks. This would allow me to gauge and record sizing and ripeness based on timing. Over the 4th of July weekend, I collected two more bulbs, carefully from under the soil. They were bigger than the first batch!! So I think I may have been a little early in starting. Removing the scapes was significant. The energy to grow the scape and flower drain from the bulb. Removing them encourages more growth.

Speaking of scapes, I’ve used them in a few meals last week and it worked wonderfully. The flavor is similar to garlic. Just remember if you want pungency, use more scapes. I was talking with a friend on the porch and she mentioned garlic scape pesto. The stem of the scape can be a bit tough. Using a food processor to break them down for making pesto or other spreads works well.

For long-term storage and use, garlic needs to be cured. I didn’t cure correctly for the first 3 I pulled last week. I can tell because a few dark spots, probably mold, appeared on the garlic “wapper”.  I”ve removed those parts so I can still cook with those this week. With this second batch, I need to be more careful. The problem is I don’t have a cool place in the house. We only have AC in the bedroom so the conditions have been a challenge.

According to theslpruc.com this is the best way to cure garlic:

Start by brushing off any soil remnants clinging to the bulbs. Do not wash them off or get the bulbs wet. Leave the stalks and roots on the bulbs while they cure. Tie bundles of stems together with twine, and hang bulb-side down in a cool, dark space, like a basement.

Allow the bulbs to cure for three to four weeks. Keep out of sunlight, as it can change the flavor of fresh garlic. Also note: Light and moisture are garlic’s worst enemies, as they both cause mold to grow. Once the tops and roots have dried, cut them off and clean the garlic by removing the outer papery skin. Be careful not to expose any of the cloves.

And to store:

Keep your garlic in a dark, cool place (32 to 40 degrees) where it will still get some air circulation. Braiding and hanging garlic is a good way to store it. You can also store garlic in a mesh bag. Check periodically to make sure the garlic is not going soft or sprouting.

In total I only have about 10 bulbs. The only interest in curing I have is to  keep two bulbs for next year’s planting.  I have a few more tries to get this process right and I’ll keep you posted on it!

If you missed the first article on garlic harvesting, find it here.

Follow me  for the day-to-day on IG @theglorifiedtomato

Previously published in The Wave.