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Renegade Chef: Taming of the - squirrel?

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"How does one capture the elusive wild squirrel? It is not so difficult - one must simply climb into the lower boughs of an oak tree and act the part of a nut."

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- Socrates, third grade, Athens Elementary

Buddy Love passed away this morning. We found him in his bed next to the Rice-A-Roni.

He, or she, was a 4-day-old gray squirrel, according to our Internet research. My turmeric and Tobasco-laced pickles were the same age and ready to eat, according to my recipe.

My kids found the poor little guy abandoned in the driveway while I was busy making pickles. He was about an inch long and his miniscule paws and mouth were frantically searching for something. They moved him to a safer place in the grass, hoping his mother would eventually scamper by for a quick rescue.

When that didn't happen, we brought him into the house, put him in a hotdog tray with some tattered paper towels and decided to raise him as one of our own. Willie, my youngest, named him Buddy Love, or Sandy Cheeks, in case it was a girl.

My middle son, Albert Einstein, aka Luke, pessimistically informed us that cow's milk didn't work for squirrels unless it was scalded to the exact temperature of 207.3. Even then, success was highly unlikely. Soy milk wouldn't do either, due to the squirrel's natural aversion to tofu. The breast milk of a gray squirrel - not a red squirrel, or an off-tan squirrel, or a flying squirrel - was, obviously, the best bet.

I tried, but I could find no lactating squirrels. And if I would have found Buddy's mother, I would have told her a thing or two.

My eldest son, Jesse - who, in his younger days, was a hired squirrel assassin (defending Grandma's bird-feeders) - suggested we quickly stomp the creature out of its misery. My wife concurred, rolling her eyes more than usual, which is a lot.

I, on the other hand, had the bright idea that human milk might sustain Buddy Love and bring him back from the dark abyss. I overheard a co-worker, just the other day, talking about her daughter, who was in the process of weaning her child and freezing her breast milk. When I asked for "just a smidgeon," she tased me. I can see her point, but I had no idea I was in the middle of committing a crime - and it wasn't for soliciting mother's milk, either. I was in the illegal possession of a wild squirrel

My world is rather surreal. Anyone who reads this column probably knows that. So I was not all that surprised the next morning when a co-worker informed me he'd just heard on the radio it was illegal to have a pet squirrel. Apparently someone's domesticated squirrel bit someone else; therefore, there had to be a law to protect innocent civilians from being attacked by tame squirrels.

Needless to say, I needed to watch my back - maybe even take Buddy Love and go into hiding in case there was a warrant out for my arrest. But he was too fragile to travel.

But we tried. Willie, Poindexter, the assassin, the eye-roller and I took turns trying to drop perfectly scalded cow's milk into Buddy's little mouth. We tried to keep him warm. And for four days Buddy tried to stay alive, as if only to please us and give us some credit for all that trying.

This morning, before I went to work, Buddy was still searching, wiggling - but not as aggressively as before. I tried to feed him but he didn't want the scalded cow's milk. He didn't want the giant acorn, either. I put him and his little hotdog tray in the cupboard, out of the draft, right between the Rice-A-Roni and macaroni and cheese. It was the last time I would ever see him - or her - again.

On a lighter note, someone at Ye Olde Pickle Factory recognized my face from a wanted poster hanging at the post office and I was arrested for illegally harboring a wild gray squirrel. Due to some creative plea-bargaining by my attorney, the judge bought my, "I thought it was a chipmunk" plea and only sentenced me to 10 days, under the condition I come up with some fantastic recipes that don't include squirrel.

R.I.P. Buddy.

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