I couldn’t get a dog, so I got a hamster. I know why people buy hamsters. They’re the pets parents say ‘yes’ to to placate dog- and cat-loving kids, because parents don’t want to commit to dogs and cats. Hamsters live for two years at best. And that’s not much of a commitment at all.
But I’m not a parent. I rent a house, and I’m not allowed dogs or cats. But I’ve also adopted small animals before – a mouse, once, and a rabbit – as has my other half. So we got a hamster. And we named him Booker.
Booker was terrified of us from the moment he was scooped out of his glass enclosure and deposited into a cardboard travel box. He scratched and scrabbled against its walls for the full ten-minute ride home. He tried to push himself off our coffee table, still in box, while we assembled his new plastic cage. And when we finally introduced him to his new home, he avoided us like the plague.
But it didn’t last long. We got a much bigger cardboard box and filled it with sawdust and sand so we could handle him, letting him run across our hands. In a few months he was okay with being held. In a year he’d voluntarily crawl into our hands.
He loved food – his food, his treats, and any fruit or veg he was allowed to have. Carrots, spinach, dry cereal, and berries – especially blueberries. He’d stuff his cheek pouches until he couldn’t fit through the tubes of his cage, all for his love of blueberries.
Booker had his own Christmas tree in December. He had a cage big enough to house a whole family of hamsters and myriad tubes, chew toys, wheels, and hiding places. He moved into our first house when we moved into our first house. And he was ours.
On Tuesday, I noticed Booker hadn’t eaten any of his food for the second day in a row. Something wasn’t right. On any other day, he’d have stockpiled the entire contents of his bowl somewhere in his cage, storing up food for an imaginary winter. I knew Booker was gone, but I didn’t want to be the one to find him. I had to go to work, and I couldn’t face what I knew was hiding underneath all that bedding. So when I came home, the news was broken to me. Booker had passed away in the night, at the ripe old age of two and three-quarter years old.
Two years isn’t a long commitment, no. But in nearly three years, we’ve made a house a home, hosted numerous gatherings, shared a lot of food, faced several fears, flown thousands of miles, and developed into our own little family. Booker was part of that family. And now there’s a hamster-shaped hole somewhere in its centre.
Every Saturday morning when I’d wake up early, Booker would sleepily emerge from his nest of bedding and eat while I baked whatever cake I had planned. Last night, I baked a blueberry crumb cake – Booker loved blueberries, after all – because I couldn’t face a Saturday morning cake without my sous chef.
Have a slice for Booker. He’d want it that way.
Blueberry Crumb Cake
For the crumb:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
For the cake:
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
3 cups fresh blueberries
1. Preheat the oven to 375F (190C). Grease a 9-inch round or square pan with butter.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the crumb ingredients with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
3. In another medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
4. Using a stand or hand mixer, cream together the softened butter and sugar until they’re fluffy, smooth and pale yellow in colour. On low speed, add the egg and vanilla and mix until just combined.
5. Starting with the flour mixture, alternately add the flour and milk to the batter. Mix in each addition until just combined. Using a spatula, gently fold in the blueberries, being careful not to crush them.
6. Spread the batter into your prepared pan and top with the crumb topping. Bake for 50-60 minutes until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool before cutting and serving.
Recipe adapted from Just a Pinch Recipes.