Transcription by Colette Arrand. Hire her if you need things transcribed!
Mary Phillips-Sandy: That’s a divisive topic right there, is savory oatmeal. But I am a huge, huge savory oatmeal—
Fany Gerson: There’s a place, like two blocks away from our shop in the West Village that does oatmeal, like that’s the only thing they sell.
Mary: Just oatmeal.
Fany: Well, now they added stuff, because—and they have like cacio e pepe.
Mary: Oh yeah. Well, that would be delicious.
Fany: It’s delicious.
Mary: As much as I love talking about oatmeal, which actually I do love talking about because oatmeal is one of my favorite foods—not to sound too cool—we are in fact here to talk about cats.
Mary: Is that okay with you?
Mary: Okay. Let’s talk about cats!
[UPBEAT, SLIGHTLY FRANTIC ELECTRONIC MUSIC: Let’s talk about cats! Let’s talk about cats!]
Mary: It’s another episode of Let’s Talk About Cats. I’m noted cat lady Mary Phillips-Sandy. Of course my cat is Grendel, and I am here with Fany Gerson. She is a chef, author of three cookbooks, and the brain and the sweet tooth behind Dough and La Newyorkina. And may I say, as someone who eats frozen treats all year round, La Newyorkina is one of my favorite places to go for these things, so it’s very nice to know that there is a single place now where we can go here in New York City’s West Village to get treats all the time. In moderation or not.
Fany: Or not, or not.
Mary: Or not, you know? Make your decisions.
Fany: Thank you. That makes me happy to hear.
Mary: But more importantly, you have a cat.
Fany: Yes I do.
Mary: Can you tell us your cat’s name, please?
Fany: His official name is Leonard Pinole. But we call him Terremoto, which means earthquake.
Mary: Earthquake. Okay. Is Leonard a larger cat?
Fany: He’s not.
Fany: He’s not large, he’s just—he makes a lot of crazy movement and it’s just a bit manic.
Mary: So let’s get to know Leonard a little bit more with something we call the five word memoir. Please, tell us about Leonard in five words?
Fany: Leonard is crazy. He’s sweet. Terrible. He’s loving, and he’s very sensitive.
Mary: Oh, a sensitive earthquake.
Mary: A cat of many contrasts. But we’re going to learn a lot more about Leonard later in the show. But it is time now for the Cat Quiz!
[UPTEMPO, GUITAR DRIVEN ROCK MUSIC WITH FEMALE VOCALS]
Mary: It’s time for our Cat Quiz. Today, how much do you know about sweets and sweet, furry creatures—by which I mean cats.
Mary: Ah! As always, there is a prize at stake, and there is no time limit, but we just ask that you, you know, answer briskly because we don’t have all day, we’ve got ice cream to eat and cats to pet, right?
Fany: Yeah! [Laughter.]
Mary: Are you ready?
Fany: I don’t know!
Mary: You’ve got this. Alright.
[CAT QUIZ MUSIC: FAST DRUMS AND RUMBLING PURR SOUNDS.]
Mary: Question number one: The great state of Maine produces the world’s best maple syrup—I can say that, I’m from there. It also brings us the Maine Coon, a big, fluffy cat that’s known for its friendly, may I even say sweet personality. Now this trait has been mostly eliminated by selective breeding, but many early Maine Coons had an unusual number of what?
Fany: I have no idea. Whiskers?
Mary: Oh, very good guess! And actually rather close. The answer is toes! They were polydactyl cats.
Mary: But the breeders bred it out of them, they’re like genetically modified cats. Let them wiggle their many toes. Okay, question two. Ben & Jerry’s once made a limited edition flavor called You’ve Got To Be Kitten Me. It had cat-shaped chocolate chunks in vanilla ice cream with toffee flakes and a fudge swirl. True or false, was that a real flavor?
Fany: I’m going to say true.
Mary: You know what? It should have been. But that’s false. Ben, Jerry, get at me!
Fany: I think it was wishful thinking.
Mary: Wishful thinking!
Fany: Wishful thinking.
Mary: Okay, number three: The word candy comes from the word qand, which means “lump sugar.” This word comes from a country that is also the birthplace of beautiful, long-haired cats with silky coats and cute little round faces that you just want to squish. What country is that?
Mary: You know what, I’m going to give it to you on a technicality. It’s actually Iran, but it was sort of the Persian Empire—
Fany: It was the Persian, yes—
Mary: We’re going to give that to you.
Fany: Alright, alright. [Laughter.]
Mary: Excellent work, alright. Number four: in 2014, an Indiana bakery went viral after making a decorating error on a customer’s cake. Here’s what happened: They wrote “Congratulations Laura.” Next, there was a nice portrait of Laura, you know, one of those photo transfers you can do on top of the cake?
Mary: Here’s the problem. On top of Laura’s head, they drew a cat in icing. What should have been there instead?
Fany: A flower?
Mary: That would have been beautiful. The answer is a cap. A graduation cap.
Fany: A cap!
Mary: You know what? I would take a cake with my picture and a cat on my head. Any time anyone wants to do this for me. Alright, our last question. A divisive sweet, black licorice: You either love it or you hate it. In the Nordic countries, of course, people love it, and candy companies there make licorice in all kinds of cute shapes including cats. Some of it just tastes like licorice, but some black licorice kitties have a more unusual flavor added. What is it?
Fany: I want to say something crazy like sardines.
Mary: We’re going to give it to you. The answer is salt. They make savory, salty licorice in the shape of cats.
Mary: And they feed it to their children. You did a fantastic job on today’s Cat Quiz, and you win today’s prize. It is a salt and pepper set.
Fany: Oh my God! [Laughter.] I love these. These are so cute!
Mary: You can use that to season your licorice.
Fany: Maybe I should try to do a version of that in ice cream, you know?
Mary: You could.
Fany: You never know.
Mary: For all the Scandinavian customers.
Fany: Tap in for all the Scandinavian customers. We haven’t tapped into that market yet.
[FAST ROCKING AWESOME GUITAR MUSIC]
Mary: Okay, so it is time for our Hot Topic debate. This is where we resolve a divisive feline related issue once and for all. And Fany, I know you are a small business owner and entrepreneur. So here’s my question, it’s real simple. Would cats make good small business owners? If so, why? If not, why not?
Fany: I guess it depends on the kind of business.
Mary: Okay, tell me about this.
Fany: Cats in general, they’re leaders, but they’re not necessarily team players.
Fany: So I think they’d be very ambitious if it was something that only required them to do. Like they were the only sort of member of the small business. What do you think?
Mary: They don’t take no for an answer, and that often is a thing that small business owners have to do. You’ve got to keep pushing and pushing, you know, there’s red tape, there’s obstacles, you can’t let that stop you.
Fany: Yeah, they’re very stubborn, which is good.
Mary: Stubborn, yeah. And you know, you can’t give up, you can’t give in easily.
Fany: But at the same time, that would mean they wouldn’t be open to sort of important suggestions. But I think they could be lured.
Mary: That’s true. I guess my real concern would be the customer service, right? If it’s a customer service type of business, you know the saying customers come first? I don’t know that a cat would buy into that because the cat would come first.
Fany: Yes, exactly. Maybe if it’s not like a forward facing customer service. It could do well.
Mary: Right. Like selling ice cream I don’t think a cat could do very well.
Fany: No, I don’t think so.
Mary: And then you’d get fur in the product.
Mary: I guess that is the other concern though is right, like depending on what the product was, they could possibly eat or destroy the inventory.
Fany: [Laughter.] Although they would keep rodents away. And so you would save some money in that department.
Mary: Yes, that’s true. Very efficient. And every dollar counts in a city like this.
Fany: Exactly. And you know, they would attract customers, because they’re super cute.
Fany: And you always need sort of that extra something to bring people in the door.
Mary: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a hook, right? Like you get press coverage. It’s like oh, it’s not just a store that opened. It’s a store run by a cat. Like that gets you press.
Fany: Exactly. Exactly.
Mary: I mean, you really need to differentiate yourself these days.
Mary: Maybe it’s more like cats would be good business consultants to small business owners. I mean, here’s the thing, right? They essentially have been working alongside us for a long time.
Mary: They’ve been apprenticing, they’ve learned. In bodegas, in museums, libraries—breweries have cats. That’s a thing, brewery cats. So maybe they could sort of become independent consultants that small business owners can hire, right?
Fany: I think that’s the way to go.
Mary: Would you, as a small business owner, hire a cat as a consultant?
Fany: Yes, definitely.
Mary: [Laughter.] Alright. So, ambitious young cats out there listening, you know what to do. [Laughter.]
[FAST ROCKING AWESOME GUITAR MUSIC]
Mary: It is now time for the real reason that we are here. Fany, let’s talk about your cat. How did you and Leonard meet?
Fany: A few months before I met Leonard, I had a cat—they were siblings, Mingus and Charlotte. So Mingus had passed away the year prior, and then Charlotte passed away. And I was completely heartbroken. They were with me for over 15 years, both of them. And about a month and a half or two months later, my husband and I went to Mexico to get married, and when we came back, a friend of ours, she basically gave us Leonard as a wedding gift.
Mary: Wait, so you get back and she’s like, congratulations, here’s a cat, like with a bow?
Fany: No, it was like, it was very strange, like we came back and we had some friends visiting from out of town, and she texted us, you know? She said I have your wedding present for you, I want to give it to you, and we were like, okay, let’s meet during the week. And she was like no, she was very insistent that she wouldn’t tell us, and we’re like, we’re out to dinner with our friends. Then we were in the movies, and she was like, I’m in the neighborhood, I need to leave, you know, I want to see—and we were like, so, just leave it in the foyer. We were already in the movie theater, like with the popcorn and everything. So she ended up really insistent, texting my husband. So he was really annoyed. He went out, and then he never came back. And I was like, what the hell happened? So I get to the house, and he looks at me, and he says um, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Annie gifted us a cat. I said, what? And then I started sobbing, I was crying, because you know, I was still heartbroken, the wound was very fresh from Charlotte, and I said, I don’t know if I’m ready to have a cat. I don’t know, where is this cat? And the poor kitten, you know, was tiny, and I didn’t even see him for like the first four days. I could hear him in the middle of the night, and I would go out, you know, quietly from the bedroom to try to find him, and I could just see eyes, and he was just really scared at first. And then after about a week went by and I said, okay, I guess he can stay, because I don’t even see him, you know? And the moment I said that out loud, he came out and he started running around like crazy and he ran around my neck, and I started to get hives, which I’ve never—I mean, I’ve always had cats, and I’ve never had hives and I was like, what, you know, so we bathed him, and then the rest is history in the making.
Mary: Where did the name Leonard come from?
Fany: Leonard Cohen had just passed, and we felt it was, I don’t know, like there was something, the energy about him, and then Pinole is like this toasted, ground corn beverage, and I don’t know, there was something comforting that reminded me of it, and I liked the name. And then at first we actually called him Fantasma, which is ghost, because we didn’t see him. And then, you know, it’s funny to think that now he’s Terremoto.
Mary: So once you decided you were keeping Leonard, did you eventually end up thanking the friend who gave him to you?
Fany: I have to say that it’s been very different than all the other cats, because it was so painful to lose Charlotte and Mingus that I’ve definitely—I definitely feel that I have put kind of—not a wall, but like, you know, I’m protecting myself. Like I haven’t allowed myself to fully give in, you know what I mean? And then I was pregnant. But there’s been some really difficult moments where he’s been there in a very—in the way that cats know how to be there, right? So I kind of pretend I’m resisting, but he’s totally won me over. He knows.
Mary: Yes, and you are a new mom. Congratulations.
Fany: Thank you.
Mary: What does Leonard think about the baby and vice versa?
Fany: Well, at first I think he was a bit scared of him, and sort of like, what the hell happened? Because also, you know, we needed to get him… you know.
Mary: Leonard had surgery.
Fany: Leonard had surgery, and we could not get him in the carrier to take him to the vet, and they only do this once a week. So we tried for a few weeks before and we literally couldn’t do it. So we had to get somebody the day I went into the hospital, somebody from the vet had to come help us to put him in. So I’m, I feel terrible. I feel like the worst mom to Leonard because he came home, you know, with the cone, none of us were there, probably like what the hell just happened, and then when we came back from the hospital, I thought oh, I’m going to go home and it’s just going to be so peaceful and quiet and we came back and it looked like there was like a bloodbath, all over our bed. It was—I mean, it looked like a crime scene.
Mary: Oh no!
Fany: So he was very mad. He was very, very upset, rightly so. Rightly so.
Mary: Yes. Was there a moment that you remember when you sort of realized that you were ready for Leonard, and that yeah, this was okay?
Fany: I think it’s a little moment. The first moment I can think of is after I gave birth, I was really anemic when I went home, and I’m not used to feeling weak. You know, like I feel I’m a very physically strong person, working in kitchens, you know, carrying like 50-pound bags of sugar and flour. So I was not—like I knew I wasn’t going to feel as normal, but this—going to the bathroom was a struggle. So I remember there was one night, and you know, you’re there and the hormones are just out of control, and I’m feeling so weak and just—and also I have to provide and I want to be the best provider to my son. And I remember this one night, you know, and I always have appreciated those moments with my son, even in the middle of the night, even now like when—so when the world is quiet and it’s just us two even if I’m exhausted. But there was this moment where I was just like—it was too much. I was really overwhelmed, and Leonard just sort of came and he just sort of sat there, you know, like laid down next to me. Not wanting me to pet him, because usually if he comes, that’s it. And sort of like, I’m here, so he did that for the next few days. It was a very subtle thing that he did, and I was extremely grateful, not just to have him, but you know, I’ve always felt like they’re very perceptive, and so that was the moment.
Mary: There’s nothing better than having a cat when you need one.
Fany: Yeah, it’s the best. It’s the best.
[AGGRESSIVE, HARD-DRIVING ROCK MUSIC]
Mary: Do you see your son and Leonard as brothers? And how do you see their relationship evolving in the future as they get older?
Fany: Definitely do feel they’re kind of like brothers, and they’re kind of in a discovery phase. Especially my son is discovering himself, and then Leonard is discovering sort of how to be with somebody that’s that little and think, you know, and be okay with it. So it’s been an adjustment, and now they want to play with each other, but there’s been a couple of incidents. Minor, minor, but—
Mary: Scuffles over toys, perhaps?
Fany: Yeah. I never thought about that, but actually they can share most toys.
Mary: Yes. There is very little difference at that age between cat toys and kid toys.
Mary: You just throw it on the floor and let them go for it.
Fany: Leonard lets him get away with a lot more than he lets us do. Like he would never let us pull his tail, for example. So I think they kind of know, like they understand a little bit. It’s just more like, sometimes you know, he does a little too much, so he ends up getting a bit scratched. But he’s just being a kitten, you know? He’s being playful. So I think—I hope that they get to have sort of a bond in the way that I have had with my cats, which it excites me, and then of course when I think about sort of the loss, it does terrify me a bit because he’s so little. But I think they’re going to grow up together. I mean, I’m looking forward to sort of them creating their own little world.
Mary: It is funny to see, you know, what you’d think of as a sibling dynamic, where it’s like one minute they’re best friends, the next minute it’s like go away, leave me alone! And then it’s like wait, where are you going? My son’s an only child, and he’s always going to be an only child, so it’s nice that he has a cat that he can sort of, I mean, it sounds silly to people who aren’t cat people, but it is nice to—
Fany: No, it is. I mean, even now when—my son’s name is Gael, so when Gael is—even though he’s so little, sometimes we have to say, you can’t play with him, like it’s not always Leonard’s fault, you know what I mean? He’s just being a cat. He’s just being—
Mary: Yeah, and it’s good for them to learn. It’s like, you have to share, you have to respect other creatures’ needs and wants. It’s not just about you.
[TRIUMPHANT GUITAR FLOURISH]
Mary: Did you grow up with cats?
Fany: Yes. I had an aunt, I guess there’s something about me wanting—for people wanting to give me cats as a gift.
Mary: Wait, has this happened before?
Fany: Well, my aunt gave me a cat, and my mother to this day is angry at her for it, because my mother doesn’t like pets, you know? She’s not an animal hater, she just, you know, prefers them outside her home. But she decided to let me keep her, because there was always construction around sort of the area, so it was like an indoor/outdoor cat and would keep any kind of unwanted rodents away.
Mary: And so this was in Mexico City, right? Where you grew up?
Fany: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Mary: So did you aunt just show up one day with a cat and say happy birthday, or?
Fany: No, just like, I thought you’d want a cat.
Mary: Happy Thursday! Here’s a cat.
Fany: Exactly. I was so excited.
Mary: And this was your mom’s sister?
Mary: Your mother’s own sister betrayed her. [Laughter.]
Fany: Yeah. Yes, she did.
Mary: That’s amazing.
Fany: My sister would, you know, she’s the same way as my mom, and she would kill me if I did that.
Fany: But I’m very tempted to do that with my nieces.
Mary: I just—I think in general you should ask before giving someone’s child a cat.
Fany: Yes, definitely. I mean, we talk about how Leonard came into our lives often, and it’s a unanimous opinion, it is definitely the strangest wedding gift we got.
Mary: Yeah. I think it’s probably the strangest wedding gift probably anyone has gotten, a live kitten.
Fany: It’s like, here’s a responsibility.
Mary: Do you know where—did your friend get him from a shelter, or find him on the street? Do you know?
Fany: No, it was her brother—I guess her brother had a cat. Oh, and that was the thing, like the urgency was because she was keeping the cat, but she’s allergic and she couldn’t, so she was like, who can I give a cat to? Oh, this is a perfect wedding gift, because she knew I was upset about Charlotte. Very strange.
Mary: So Leonard was not around in the earliest days of your business, when you were opening La Newyorkina. But has he taught you anything about running a business since he’s been with you?
Fany: Just his personality is very much the way that business is, you know? Like when he runs around like crazy, I feel I can relate. And then I look at him and he finds a way to be very peaceful, despite circumstances that maybe are not sort of ideal for him, so I think that there’s definitely lessons to be learned from him.
Mary: If Leonard were to open his own business, what do you think it would be?
Fany: I feel like he would want to open a gymnasium.
Mary: For cats or for people?
Fany: Oh, for cats.
Mary: A cat gym?
Fany: A cat gym. With lots of trampolines, you know?
Mary: It could be a combo. It could be for kids and cats together.
Fany: Yeah, yeah. You know what, he’d probably want to open—I take that back. I think that they would want a human café, you know?
Mary: Whoa, yes, where they could just go and climb on people.
Fany: Yeah, exactly. And they could get pet, you know? And fed. And then they’d have all these kind of trampolines for sure, like I said, and different things where they could be cuddled and play, I think that’s what he would open.
Mary: That’s actually a pretty good business idea. I could see that happening. If there’s a store that just sells oatmeal, I think that could happen.
[AGGRESSIVE, HARD-DRIVING ROCK MUSIC]
Mary: Cat ice cream. Should that be a thing? Should you make it?
Fany: Maybe. Maybe I should make it. The most important thing, like what’s the base, you know? What’s the base?
Mary: Right. Tuna?
Fany: Well, more sort of like the liquid. Is it dairy-based, because I remember we were growing up, we would give my cat milk all the time, but then when I had Charlotte and Mingus, the vet was like no. Cats are not supposed to have—
Mary: Yeah, you’re not supposed to. They’re lactose intolerant.
Fany: Yeah, even though my first cat lived 17 years, so.
Mary: It’s like people, some of them are more lactose intolerant than others. Again, I’m pretty lactose intolerant, which is a bummer, but sorbets, fruit-based things, I’m all about it, so maybe there’s an equivalent for cats of some sort.
Fany: Yeah, I mean, I feel maybe—they like kind of sweet things, I feel. So maybe an almond milk base or whatever. But definitely I feel catnip. Catnip is like, a catnip-infusion base.
Fany: And then you could have like a whole line.
Mary: That could be so good.
Fany: You could have like the tuna, the chicken.
Mary: Yeah, salmon.
Mary: You could have shaved, frosty salmon bits on top.
Fany: Yes, I think they would like that.
Mary: Along those similar lines, you mentioned that Leonard has sort of a food-based name, his full name. But you know, if you were to make a frozen treat, let’s say inspired by Leonard, with any ingredients, let’s say cost is no issue, what would it consist of?
Fany: Well first, you know, he’s an orange cat. He’s really cute, you know, and we do very colorful things, so I feel we would have to do, you know, he’s striped, so I feel like something like tangerine.
Fany: You know? And then also I feel tangerine is kind of like his personality a bit, you know? Because it’s not one note. I think it would be a sorbet at this age. Maybe an ice cream when he’s older. And I think it would be, definitely have some chili—
Mary: Oh, a little spicy.
Fany: A little spicy because he’s definitely, you know—a little spunk.
Mary: Oh, tangerine and chili, this is sounding good, yeah.
Fany: And maybe like in the way that you have creamsicles, maybe with some cream in it. Like a swirl. Yeah, I think something like that because he is very warm and cuddly, but you’ve got that sort of feistiness.
Mary: This sounds delicious.
Fany: You know, Leonard—
Mary: I’m sure people come up to you all the time making flavor requests, but that does sound delicious.
Fany: Yeah, the Leonard Special.
Mary: And you put his little face out there. I mean, again, cats sell product, let’s face it.
Fany: You’re right. You’re right. You’re on to something.
Mary: So in the introduction to your wonderful cookbook, Mexican Ice Cream, you describe yourself as, I want to get this right, you say that you are an eternal optimist.
Mary: Now, I’m assuming you wrote this before 2016. Are you still an eternal optimist, Fany Gerson?
Fany: [Laughter.] Yes.
Mary: You are. Okay, no, I’m just checking, and that’s great. We need that. we need people like that. Do you think Leonard is also an eternal optimist?
Fany: I don’t think that Leonard is an eternal optimist, but I think he’s a realist, and you know, it’s more like a live in the moment kind of person.
Mary: Do you think being a cat person helps you be an optimist?
Fany: Definitely. I definitely think so. I think that having a cat, first of all, especially since that date, unmentionable.
Mary: The day we do not speak of.
Fany: You know, having a cat to come home to is very necessary. You know what I mean? It’s very soothing. And for both, you know? I think it’s an escape from reality and it’s sort of like, it’s going to be okay. And often I talk to him, and now I talk to him and my son at the same time. You know, kind of like in a—think about it, when you go to therapy, often the therapist doesn’t talk much, right? So here is a similar thing, I find, and I just sort of—it helps me talk through things. And I tell them, you know, I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re going to be okay. Still not sure how, or—and this is crazy, and I feel like I do often have to apologize for them being in this world right now. But sort of trying to make sure, well, our little world we’re going to try to make as okay as possible, and they’re a big part of that.
Mary: That’s really great. I like that approach to it. And the great thing about having a cat therapist is they don’t charge you $200 an hour.
Mary: So we always like to finish by asking our guests, what would you like to say to your cat Leonard, who is listening at home?
Fany: Leonard, you drive me crazy, but I love you. It’s not that it’s taken me awhile, but just, you know, bear with me. And be good to your brother.
Mary: Yes, that’s the most important thing, Leonard. Okay, so we have one shoutout to do today. Reminder, if you’d like me to shout out a cat, whether it’s your cat or just any cat that you’ve met who deserves a shout out, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Today we’re saying hello to Angela Lanspurry, who is listening in Pennsylvania.
Mary: Yes. Angela, your mom would love for you to stop playing the piano so early in the morning. Your passion for music is inspiring, but the kids are trying to sleep, so please consider rescheduling your concerts.
[UPBEAT, SLIGHTLY FRANTIC ELECTRONIC MUSIC: Let’s talk about cats! Let’s talk about cats!]
Mary: Fany, if people want to find out more about you and La Newyorkina, where should they go on the Internet?
Fany: They can go into Lanewyorkina.com, which is lanewyorkina.
Mary: Thank you for coming here today to talk about cats.
Fany: Thank you for having me.
Mary: And for more about us, of course you can go to letstalkaboutcats.com, you can sign up for our newsletter that comes out at the end of every month, and while you’re at it, subscribe to the show if you haven’t already. You can also tell a friend about us. You know, we’ve heard from a few people who say, I don’t usually listen to podcasts, but someone sent me a link because they know I like cats. That is music to my ears. So please, if you know someone out there who is a cat person, let them know about the show. It really helps us, and you know what? It will help your friend, too. That’s all for now. I am Mary Phillips-Sandy. My cat’s name is Grendel, our producer is the sweet and salty Lizzie Jacobs. Our theme song is by Poingly with additional music by the English Muffins. Our show logo was created by Julia Emiliani. We’ll be back next week to talk more about cats. Bye bye!