Do you love your rodent? I bet you don't love it more than Mathijs Van Der Paauw loves his hamster. Van Der Paauw (yes, that's really his name) cooks for his hamster Lucy. He makes teeny tacos for her, and itty bitty pizza, and pine seeds in a tiny bell pepper bowl, and micro-cheeseburgers, and little banana split cakes.
When he isn't busy fending off Richard Gere gerbil jokes, he runs the website Hamstertracker.com.
He spoke to us from his home in the Netherlands about his new cookbook Happy Hamster (Chronicle Books, 2010). It is not, as some might imagine, a book on how to cook your hamster, but a book on how to cook for your hamster. A very important distinction for both sides of the chef-diner equation.
Squid Ink: Which of the recipes is your hamster's favorite?
Mathijs Van Der Paauw: I'm guessing her favorite is always the last meal I served her.
SI: Has anyone ever made fun of you for liking hamsters so much? They are not a typical manly pet, after all.
MVDP: I suppose I've heard EVERY hamster joke/remark you can make ever since I started. Fortunately I've never been offended by all this, it was always made in good spirit and fun. The remarks and jokes were, and are, generally very funny. I recently discovered at work (Tilburg University) that I am a.k.a. 'the Hamster-Man'.
I picked my first pet (Jamie) when my then daytime job required lots of travel abroad. A hamster in that way, is an ideal pet; you can leave them alone for a couple of days (if you make sure the food/water supply is sufficient for that period), without needing a 'hamster-sitter.' They're great low maintenance pets.
Personally I find the experience of taking care of a pet, however big or small, is a very enjoyable activity as well as a rewarding experience.
SI: Do you cook for Lucy every day?
MVDP: NO! It's not safe to feed your hamster vegetables every day. I read somewhere that you can 'train' your hamster to eat fresh vegetables every day but I never tried that, so I am not certain it's true.
I serve my hamster a spoonful of hamster-food (dry food) every day, the cooking is for very special occasions. Of course I 'spoil' her with tiny treats; Pine-Seeds (her favorite!) as well as tiny commercial treats that are generally available for hamsters (yoghurt drops, crunchy bars etc. etc.), the choices are endless.
SI: I see that you are on your fourth Lucy hamster. What happened to Lucy 1,2, and 3?
MVDP: Unfortunately they are all (hopefully) waiting at the rainbow bridge. I've tried to give them the best life possible while documenting all their moves on HamsterTracker.com. Lucy2.0 and Lucy3.0 are blogged on an almost daily basis (!). Since I find taking care of one hamster at a time challenging enough all my hamsters I did take care of sequentially.
SI: Did you ever feel like you are going overboard or being too obsessive while you are cooking for your hamsters?
MVDP: My hamster hobby is my favorite thing to devote my (precious) spare time to. Taking care of a pet is a very rewarding and fun thing to do. From that, HamsterTracker.com was born; a combination of hobbies; hamster-care, photography, blogging, electronics, software engineering, etc. The challenges I experienced doing all this are all dear to me.
From all that the Happy Hamster book evolved; a very exciting (new) adventure! The experience of working with Chronicle Books is a very enjoyable one. They coached me during the writing process while always listening to my remarks and (sometimes crazy) ideas. To finally have a physical copy of the book in your hand is an indescribable and very special feeling, something I hope that I've earned 'bragging rights' on this subject for life!
I could write a book about this exciting adventure, it would now include this exciting new chapter; my interview with LA Weekly, a newspaper I am responding to from the other side of our globe! Pretty cool that my love for my hamsters caused all of this!
SI: Has Lucy ever rejected any of the meals you prepared for her? If so, is it devastating for you?
MVDP: If it would, I suppose you should blame the chef; if your audience doesn't like your cooking, you may have picked the wrong ingredients, or simply prepared it the wrong way.
With hamsters it's hard to know if they *truly* like it; when they're presented a new recipe they generally go into pouching-mode; stuffing it all in their pouches to quickly bring to the place they sleep. A quick night snack is not only for humans, as you may also know.
I always do a full cage clean the day after I serve a meal like this. I have never found any food remains in the bedding. Job well done, I suppose.