Umami and the Apple in the Tomato Slayer’s Eye


“Stop embarrassing yourself.”

We have made it through an entire tomato season having only woken up a handful of times to a mauled tomato on the living room floor. This is progress. I think the progress is mostly due to the habit we’ve developed of hiding our tomatoes like Easter eggs rather than any real rehabilitation on the part of Oscar (a.k.a. The Tomato Slayer). But progress nonetheless.

The other day, while Oscar was busy seducing the top of a soy sauce bottle, I hatched a new theory about his unnatural tomato love. Maybe he is so nuts about them because of umami, that mysterious fifth taste that English has hard time capturing in words. Most people say it corresponds to savory, the taste of meat and MSG and ketchup (and…tomatoes?!) A quick Google search had me feeling smug; there were multiple reports of carnivorous housecats attacking non-meat items that are rich in that umami taste, particularly mushrooms. Oscar has never shown a particular taste for mushrooms, even the ones that I grew on my windowsill, but he does have a discriminating palate, so I decided to rehydrate one of our fancy Chinese black mushrooms and run a little experiment. Perhaps I had finally plumbed the secrets of the Tomato Slayer’s inner workings.

But the response was… Continue reading

What Will Oscar Eat?: Arugula vs. Cannellini Edition

taste test

Dylan, poised to steal Exhibit C

Were you a fly on the wall of our apartment, it would not be uncommon, of late, for you to witness a seriously weird scene near dinner time: a human voice screaming “Oscaaaaaaar!” from the kitchen as a black and white cat hauls tail through the living room with a massive, floppy arugula leaf clutched in his jaws as though he just pulled off a highly impressive capture the flag victory. Oscar is the preeminent gourmand among our cats, but even for him, the frequency of this new trick is alarming, not to mention hard on our supply of salad greens.

sensei cat

Meditating and contemplating the Mysteries of the White Bean

It made me wonder if arugula had supplanted cannellini as his favorite food. There was a time when merely opening a can of white beans would send him into near-hysterics, yowling and rolling around on the floor like Beyonce at the Super Bowl halftime show. But human tastes are said to change every seven years, so perhaps cats experience something similar. I decided to devise a taste test to find out.

Let me begin by saying that trying to run a feline taste test in a small New York apartment is not an easy task. I first tried to do a comparison of different kinds of beans, but the other two cats kept dashing into the room and stealing them, leading me to the theory that beans are the salt and vinegar potato chips of the cat world. Finally I managed to divide them so that Oscar (known aliases: Tomato Slayer, Mr. Fofoscar, Fuzzle Face) was left nervously glancing at the door where Dylan (known aliases: Dyl-Sack, Dyl-Hole, Dyl-Bag) was meowing petulantly at the audacity of being shut in the bedroom. Continue reading

What Will Oscar Eat?: Discriminating Palate Edition

The Tomato Slayer has, in defiance of all that I have known of him up until this point, begun to show a bit of discrimination.

Those of you who read PitchKnives regularly or know us personally are aware that Oscar is generally a cut-rate food whore, though one capable of strategy.  He’ll eat constantly and is beyond tubby, but also has the sense to wait patiently until our backs our turned to go cheerfully push Bruce out of the way and go to town on his food.  He is in general our trash compactor: if there’s a crumb of kibble or a slight slick of canned food left uneaten in a bowl, Oscar is on the case.


Until Saturday, that is.  After going to see Amour (meh), we decided to bring home the remnants of our popcorn.  Surely Oscar would be partial to junk food above all other kinds.

Au contraire.  In a shocking display that turned conventional wisdom on its head, Oscar sniffed at the bag, only to turn away in favor of double checking that no scrap of breakfast remaining in his bowl had escaped his attention.  No amount of cajoling or enticement made a lick of difference.  Just look at Shannon.  She’s bereft!

Thankfully Dylan, the dimmest of the bunch and equally food-focused, was there to pick up Oscar’s slack. Continue reading

What Will Oscar Eat?: Antipasto Edition

oscar olive 1The Tomato Slayer is at it again, but this time he has moved onto another Mediterranean delicacy: olives. The other night, Jason was holding an empty olive container, and Oscar, drawn to its briny traces like a moth to a flame, began lavishing affections on it to a degree approaching lewdness. His eyes took on a blank, glassy look as he became increasingly mesmerized by his single-minded pursuit, and he remained undaunted by dozens of camera flashes. This continued for about ten minutes, and the spell was only broken when we became nervous that he was choking on an olive pit and had to pry apart his beastly jaws and shake it out.

Which begs the question, I suppose, of whether Oscar’s strange food proclivities are really good for him. He does seem blessed with a remarkably strong constitution, but it’s also true that he is becoming rather zaftig. Over the weekend, Jason dreamed that I called Oscar fat and that, in response, Oscar picked up a pencil in his paw and flung it at me.  In reality, though, pleasantly plump though he may be, he remains unable to launch projectiles and will have to resort to the more passive aggressive but time-tested revenge of coughing up nighttime hairballs in places where I might step in the morning before putting my contacts in. I fear for my soles should a stricter diet be enforced.

oscar olive 3oscar olive 2oscar olive 4

What Will Oscar Eat?: The Slayer Strikes Again

crossword cat

The slayer at rest: "What tomato? I was just doing this crossword..."

I suppose we had become complacent. Long weeks had passed since we experienced any incidents of my cat Oscar snagging tomatoes from the upper shelves in our kitchen in the middle of the night and slaughtering them in what, judging from the aftermath, was similar to a scene out of Kill Bill. So when a wealth of juicy tomatoes started rolling in from our backyard and from our CSA, we were less than diligent about hiding them. And, once again displaying a curiously gourmet sensibility, the smell of all those heirlooms and beefsteaks became too much for him.

violated tomatoWe had long ago given Oscar the middle name Tomato Slayer, but even so, it was a little disturbing to find a thoroughly violated tomato in a bowl of vegetables last Sunday morning. What was strange was that this occurrence went against his usual MO of knocking the tomato to the floor and having his way with it, thus eliminating any possibility that he was really just using it as a toy and not eating it. This time he had simply sunk his teeth into it, chewed out a big hole and lapped up all the juice and seeds. If I looked closely, I could still see the fang marks, and the thought of him perched above the bowl like some fat furry succubus, red liquid dripping from his chin, made me shudder. Continue reading