I’m going to bravely go on the record and say that I’m not much a pet person. In a land where some folk have declared to me that they love their pets more than their kids, I realise mine is a potentially blasphemous statement. After much analysis of my position on pets, I have decided that this is not the fault of my parents, but it does in fact stem from my childhood. Felix, a cat (who would have thunk it), whom these noodles are named after, didn’t dramatically change this, but proved to me I wasn’t completely immune to pet love.
I didn’t always feel this ‘meh’ about pets. As a little one, my best friends were the family cat, Cognac, and my invisible friend, Dino the Dinosaur. The three of us were inseparable. There was no telling where my unruly brown curls ended and Cognac’s luscious fur began. Then Bessie came along. Bessie was a great big German Shepherd, who I decided was really a horse and would be perfect for rides. A few years later, Bessie devastatingly disappeared, and my parents tried to soften the blow by bringing home a crazy spaniel named Chester. I think this was when the withdrawal set in, and my sister, the animal whisperer and more recently, a successful pet store owner, came into her own.
After Chester came a slew of pets. Flossy, the cat, who produced too many a litter to mention, guinea pigs, more dogs, fish and a lizard named Evil, all become a part of our family over the years. A family driving holiday sealed the deal for me, when I was chased to the van by an emu after peacefully trying to eat my lunch. It had singled me out, possibly smelling my fear, and proceeded to hunt me down for my sandwich. The persistent emu stood watch outside the van, waiting for me to give in. But I didn’t move.
Then there’s the fear of rodents whose actual name I dare not type. A full-blown phobia, this one! I know the exact moment when to leave the room and block my ears in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indi ventures under the library in Venice and encounters hundreds of them. My dear little brother and sister once left a dead one outside my bedroom window as a Saturday morning surprise. Well, I nearly passed out when I laid eyes on it. Then there was the time the siblings raided my laptop and changed my desktop background to a full-screen picture of one with its mouth open and teeth aggressively exposed. My trauma was so great that I fell back in my chair, hit my head on the wall behind me and fell to the ground.
So, when I was asked to house sit for friends Paddy and Tory, owners of Felix, there was a tiny part of me that was dubious about minding a cat. On arrival at their gorgeous, über boho North Melbourne pad, I found Felix in the corner of the front room – a big, black fur ball. We weren’t an instant team. I diligently read the thorough notes Tory had left me, welcoming me to ‘Patory’ hotels and instructing me to feed Felix a cup of food, once a day. The first couple of days were fine. Felix ate and pooped in a manageable fashion. And then I left for work on Monday morning. Not coping with abandonment twice in one week, I came home to a trail of presents, nowhere near the litter box. It’s ok, I’d thought. The cat’s traumatised – it’s to be expected. But the next night it happened again, and it was a little harder on the stomach and the patience. By the third night, I cracked it. Felix knew she’d pushed a little too far.
And then came the scratching. An innocent visitor who tried to play nice with Felix was shown the wrath of its claws when he tried to pat her. One night, in an attempt to snuggle up to me, I got the fright of my life when the cat sank its claws into my leg. And then one evening it happened, for one night only (well … maybe a few nights) I became the cat lady I vowed never to become. There we were – me, my blankie, a chamomile tea and Ewan McGregor on TV, with Felix draped over my legs, purring.
By the second week we were old pals. Most nights I’d come home after work to be greeted by Felix rolling around on the floor in the corridor. I’d sing a little song I made up called ‘Felix Cat’ (très creative), and rub Felix’s belly with my shoe. On the nights I stayed in, I often cooked up eclectic rice noodles in the tiny kitchen, with ingredients from the local supermarket, a good glass of Merlot on the go, and some very loud Frank Ocean to dance to and upset the hipsters next door with. Felix would watch me with her large green eyes, a crazy cooking lady possessed by Frank’s smooth voice and too much chilli! And then I would turn Frank down a few notches and sit down to my strange concoction of rice noodles, Thai seasoning, cabbage and beef or tofu, which was oddly delicious. Felix would faithfully sit on the armrest next to me, nodding in approval at my dinner … hmm, not quite. But Felix came to approve of me, and on my last day, after two weeks of singing, poop collecting, patting and fussing, I was leaving Felix Cat to her own devices for 24 hours, until her owners arrived home from their Japan trip. I was actually a little sad to be leaving my enigmatic friend. When I finished packing up the car and checked all of the doors one last time, I knelt down to pat her, but not being one for goodbyes, Felix trotted off to her warm corner of the front room, back to where I had originally found her on that first day.
I doubt I’m in much danger of becoming a crazy cat lady anytime soon, but I do miss my fair-weather friend. Thanks Paddy and Tor for letting me call your home my own for a couple of weeks, and for trusting me with your Felix.
250 – 300 g rump steak (or 150 g firm tofu for a veg version)
sesame or vegetable oil
4 spring onions, sliced diagonally
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
good pinch dried chilli flakes or fresh chilli
150 g flat rice noodles
1 small knob ginger, chopped finely
1 good teaspoon pad kaprow (spicy garlic and Thai basil paste – I used the Valcom brand variety)
2 small carrots or 1 large carrot, julienned
¼ cabbage, finely shredded
2 eggs, lightly beaten
tablespoon plum sauce (white, Thai variety)
1 teaspoon fish sauce
juice of one lime
handful fresh coriander, chopped
3 tablespoons crushed peanuts
Trim the steak of fat and then finely slice. Place in a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, a quarter of the spring onions (use the white ends for this), a drizzle of sesame oil and touch of chilli. Combine, then cover and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes. If using tofu, cut this into 1.5 x 1.5 cm cubes.
Prepare all of the vegetables listed and then cook the rice noodles according to the packet instructions, but only cook until al dente so they do not turn into a big mush when combined with the rest of the ingredients. Drain most of the water from the noodles in a colander then quickly throw them back in the pot with a little of the water, so they do not stick together. In the meantime, prepare the eggs and coriander, so that everything is ready for you to quickly stir fry and then assemble.
Using a large pan or wok, pan fry the beef or tofu in a little oil (vegetable or peanut oil is good for this as sesame oil tends to burn quickly) on a high heat, for only a few minutes until your beef is seared and pink in the middle, or your tofu is crispy and golden. Remove and set aside.
Add a little extra oil to the wok and then the ginger and pad kaprow (crushed garlic and chilli is fine if you don’t have this). Fry for 30 seconds or until fragrant, then add the cabbage and carrots. Cook on a high heat until the cabbage has wilted a little, then add the plum sauce, remaining soy, fish sauce and a squeeze of lime juice. Stir fry until the carrots are tender and then add the noodles to the wok. Quickly combine the noodles and vegetables, and then add the beaten egg, distributing this evenly around the noodles. Allow this to cook for just under a minute, without stirring so the egg just sets, then add the beef or tofu, 2 tablespoons of the peanuts and another quarter of the spring onions to the mixture and stir. Check for taste and adjust as necessary for the right balance of flavours. I usually add a little more soy or plum sauce at this point.
Cook for about a minute more, being careful not to overcook the beef or overly soften the noodles, then place generous serves of the noodles into two bowls and top with chilli, coriander, the remaining spring onions and peanuts. Then, find a large black cat to sit with you while you enjoy your tasty noodles in your very own hipster hood!