The bargain we make

It was almost twenty years ago, in the fall of 1999. I was no longer officially fostering with the Yolo County SPCA, although I had been known to take in a kitten here and there when one crossed my path (it’s how I ended up with Rosemary, after all). I was meeting up with some friends who were still heavily involved with the fostering, and we were in the back room at the clinic. One of them opened a cage door and this tiny little black puffball of a kitten launched himself out of the cage, straight at me. As I scrambled to catch him, one of my friends noted idly that he really needed a home.

They told me his story. He had been run over by a car and then surrendered to the shelter by his previous owners due to his injuries. One of his back legs was crushed. The vet – a rather crusty older guy – noted that he really should have just removed the leg entirely, but on a whim, he decided to see if he could save it. So by the time i met him, he was mostly recovered, but just sporting a limp, and a pin in his leg to keep everything straight while he healed.

I pondered. Rosie was the youngest and really needed someone to play with. I said I’d agree to foster him, but only if he and Rosie got along. They agreed to play along with the pretense that he was only going to be temporary, and I took him home. I named him Azrael, after the Angel of Death, because with his injuries he really shouldn’t have survived. Naturally he and Rosie got along famously, and it wasn’t long before he wore down all the others. Clearly he was staying.

Azzie, 2003

He grew up to be a black puffball of an adult, with huge round yellow eyes. He looked a lot like Nermal from the Garfield cartoons, except that unlike Nermal, Azzie was not smart. In fact, he was probably the dimmest cat I’ve ever known. He once got himself lost behind a see-through shower curtain. While the other cats all figured out a cat door in a matter of minutes, it took him over a week, and then he would first only go through when one of the others would go through, as if he wasn’t quite sure that it would work just the same. When we moved into the house in Sacramento, every other cat quickly figured out within days that the upstairs bathroom had two doors, and if one was open, they could just go around to the other side to get in, but it took Azzie over a year.

He may not have been the brightest of cats, but his internal clock was strong. He knew that wet food would come at 5pm, every night, so at least an hour or so beforehand he’d started yelling in the kitchen, just in case we had forgotten.

Azzie in 2017

The last year or two he’d been slowing down a lot – arthritis was definitely taking its toll.

And he’d also been dealing with a chronic upper respiratory infection. Initially we’d take him in and they’d give him a shot, or give us some pills, and that would clear it up for a couple months, but lately, nothing was working.

Azzie, from May of this year

He’d lost a few pounds over the past few years, as is normal for elderly cats, but in the past couple months the weight loss had increased. And it took us a little while to come to terms with what we knew we had to do, because through it all he was still coming for food, and able to jump up on the couch, and snuggle up for attention, but it was time.

It is hard, looking at the pictures of him from the past year, to remember what he once was, all wide-eyed and fluffy, skittering around chasing toys and running up and down the cat trees. I sat in the library this morning, watching our current crop of foster kittens charge around the room, and I thought – this is the bargain we make, when we take on these young things, full of life and energy. We let them into our homes and our hearts and they give us love and entertainment and joy, but in return, along with food and water and toys and things to climb and laps to snuggle and warm places to sleep, we also agree that we will make the hardest decision, when the time comes, to let them go.

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When life gives you…Part 3

I swear this isn’t going to turn into an all-baking-all-the-time blog, although apparently you wouldn’t guess it from this month’s entries. Ah well. Here is our next installment!

When there are still far too many tangelos in the fridge (from the tangelo tree), and you are pondering what to make for a weekend breakfast, you should make Orange Rolls.

They start with a basic sweet yeast dough (I used this one from King Arthur Flour), and as you are mixing it all together, toss in the zest from two tangelos.

Then while the dough is proofing, whip up a quick batch of marmalade. You do this by cutting up one tangelo (remove the seeds!) into chunks, then pulse it in a blender, then dump the ensuing glop into a pan with half a cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of tangelo juice (because you need to use those zested tangelos somehow). Then bring it to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until it is thick. Set that aside to cool.

When the dough has doubled in size, then you roll it out into a fat rectangle (look at all the lovely zest in that dough)

Then you spread the marmalade all over the dough.

Then you roll it up and slice it into 16 pieces and arrange them in two round pans.

Don’t they look pretty with the marmalade peeking out?

Then those rise for a while, and then get baked until they are just turning golden brown.

And finally, while still warm, you drizzle them with icing made from powdered sugar and tangelo juice, and then devour.

These are delicious. I admit I was skeptical about the marmalade, because I am not a fan – I usually find it too bitter. But it works wonderfully in these. There is a slight bitter note from the marmalade, but it is counteracted quite nicely by the sweetness from the dough and the icing.

Considering how prolific that tangelo tree is getting, I will definitely be making these again. Yum.

Tis the season for Holidailies.

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When life gives you…Part 2

Oh look, it’s that time of year again when the lemon shrub has gone completely insane with fruit and I am desperately trying to come up with ways to use them up.

This year, because I need to make lots of cookies for a cookie exchange, I asked Google for help, and lo, did Google provide (all hail our robot overlords).

So today I spent the majority of the day making Meyer lemon cookies.

It is a rather tedious sort of recipe because the dough on its own is fairly soft, so there was a lot or rolling and freezing and cutting and freezing some more, and then after they were cooled, they were topped them with a lemon glaze, which (bonus!) used even more lemon juice and zest, so then there were cookies all over the counter all day, waiting for the glaze to set

But on the plus side, the cookies are absolutely delicious – a lovely light lemon flavor without being too tart.

Also three batches of cookies used up 8 lemons, so there are only about 573 left on the tree to go.

Tis the season for Holidailies.

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When life gives you…part 1

When there are a lot of tangelos on the tangelo tree that all come ripe at once, and you also need to make something for a gathering, you should make tarts.

First you make some tiny little tart shells, using a mini muffin pan.

Then you zest and juice some tangelos and whisk that with some butter and sugar and eggs over a pan of simmering water for about 20 minutes, until it becomes tangelo curd.

You let that chill, then dollop it into the tart shells and then you top that with some meringue, which you hit with a kitchen torch because that makes it fancy.

And then you eat them because yum.

Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Prelude

We put up the tree today.

There are currently two extremely energetic foster kittens rampaging around the house, plus the usual tree-climbing suspects.

I am sure this will all work out *just* fine.

Mmm hmm.

Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Cheestasticity

A thing that I may or may not have mentioned here about Richard and I is that we take great delight in watching really bad made-for-TV movies. In the past, it’s primarily been the made-for-SyFy movies that we would watch and gleefully mock, but as it’s the holiday season, we’ve decided to expand our repertoire to include cheesy holiday romances in our ‘watch and gleefully mock’ queue. I freely admit this is being driven primarily by the fact that we saw that Netflix had made a sequel to last year’s so-bad-it-was funny The Christmas Prince (which we watched last year with horrified laughter and much mocking).

So far this month we’ve seen How Sara Got Her Wings, The Christmas Wedding Planner, The Princess Switch, and The Holiday Calendar. Of all of these, only The Princess Switch was remotely redeemable, primarily because Vanessa Hudgens’ acting skills were the sole thing that saved it from the travesty it otherwise would have been. Also so far I think How Sara Got Her Wings is the clear winner in the ‘how awful can one cheesy holiday romance be’ category, but it’s early days yet!

So, my readers, and fellow fans of holiday cheese, tell me, what else should we watch? Right now it’s specifically stupid holiday romances we’re after, although if you manage to also dredge up any holiday equivalents of the made-for-SyFy movies we used to watch and gleefully mock, that would also be SO AWESOME.

(And don’t worry, we’ll definitely be watching the sequel to The Christmas Prince, but I think that one is going to have be saved for later, like maybe even Christmas Day!)

Cats also like cheese. The eating kind, though, not the movie kind.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Crisp

Hooray, it’s December 1st, which means it’s time once again for me to make an effort to post daily for an entire month, for Holidailies. How convenient I have a whole bunch of stuff stored up to talk about because I have been ever so lax in updating this thing (oops).

But instead of updating on all the stuff that’s been going on the last couple months, instead I’m just going to talk about baking. Because this morning, on a whim, I decided that I really needed to spend several hours tied to the kitchen, and so along with several other things, I made croissants, from scratch.

I’ve worked with laminated dough before – you have to follow the directions and not chill the butter too much, or let the dough or butter get too warm – but the primary reason why this isn’t something one does on a regular basis is just time. The actual hands-on time isn’t all that much, but you have to pay attention to the clock, because with the folding and the rolling and the resting, the whole process took about four hours from start to finish.

I used the King Arthur Flour recipe because they’ve never steered me wrong yet when it comes to baking, and this time was no different. An interesting twist in this recipe I haven’t seen in other laminated dough recipes is that you mix the butter up with a little flour, which keeps it a little bit more pliable for the lamination process.

The recipe makes two dozen croissants. I stashed half the dough in the freezer for later, uncut. The remaining dozen I rolled, but stashed half of *those* into the freezer for later, leaving six croissants, plus the scraps from the edges that I just spiraled into a little bun.

When they baked, a couple lost their ‘curl’, and also I forgot to eggwash the tops, but no matter, they still browned up nicely.

Clearly my croissant shaping skills need some work, but they turned out *quite* delicious. The top layers crumbled messily, as a good croissant should, and when I cut one open I was quite excited to see lots and lots of layers, which is exactly what one should see. They are smaller than the ones you might find at your local (good) bakery, so the leftovers made the perfect accompaniment to the soup we had for dinner. Yum.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Posted in Baking, Kitchen Adventures | 3 Comments

Light as air

Oh that’s right, I have this here blog I keep forgetting to update. There’s been a lot going on the last several months, and I will get to it all eventually – likely as blog fodder for the annual December post blitz that is Holidailies, but for now, let’s just talk about meringues.

October’s theme for #BakingSisters was meringues, although technically it ought to have been ‘playing with egg whites’ since of two things we made, one of them wasn’t actually a meringue at all, but whatever, the point is, this month’s baking session / video chat was filled with a lot of ‘I’m going to mute because this stuff has to be whipped at top speed for a long while and we won’t be able to chat over it anyway’.

We’ve done things involving meringue before, of course – there’s oodles of ways to use them (this absolutely amazing multi-layered cake that I still can’t pronounce had a layer of soft, chewy meringue, and this one had a layer of meringue mixed with crushed peanuts), but this time we decided to make meringue the primary focus.

My sister made meringue bones, which she used to create a Graveyard Cake, but since Richard and I were going to be heading down to the in-laws’ house for a very early Thanksgiving dinner later that day, I decided to go with something a bit more suited to that, so I made chocolate-bottomed pavlovas with pumpkin chiffon.

Here’s where I note (likely again, since I’d be shocked if I hadn’t said this before at *some* point on this blog) that while I like pumpkin in things like bread or scones, and I adore the combination of the ‘pumpkin pie’ spices, I cannot stand pumpkin pie itself – the texture of the filling is just (to me) absolutely revolting. So I am always keen to find some other pumpkin-type dessert that might fulfill that pumpkin pie need, yet not gross me out.

The recipe, while time consuming, because that is the way of meringue, was actually pretty easy. First you whip up your egg whites with some sugar and a little vinegar to help stabilize them, and then you scoop them out onto a cookie sheet. The recipe said to make 8 pavlovas, but I decided to make smaller ones, so I ended up with twice that.

Then with the back of a spoon you create a little cup inside each, since you need a place for the filling to sit.

And then those go into the oven for an hour on very low heat to bake, plus after they’re done baking, you leave them in the oven and turn it off and give them another half hour to cool.

This gave us plenty of time to do other things while waiting for the meringues to bake. I whipped up the pumpkin chiffon, which is nothing more than some pureed pumpkin with spices, folded into whipped cream, and I also made a batch of these scones to use up the rest of the pumpkin, and all the egg yolks left over from making the meringue, because one should never waste the remains of a can of perfectly good pumpkin puree, and what else was I going to do with those yolks? I added 1 cup of cinnamon chips and 1 cup of finely chopped crystallized ginger to the mix, because I crystallized a pound of ginger a while back (it’s shockingly easy to do as long as you’ve got an hour or so to babysit a pot of caramel and minced ginger root), and have been eagerly finding ways to use it up ever since.

While I was doing the scones, my sister was making the cake part of her graveyard cake. And then since we still had time on our hands while waiting for the meringues, we also made marshmallow fluff.

For these, you need a candy thermometer because, since you’re not baking the egg whites, you need some way to cook them, so you use extremely hot sugar syrup instead. You have to bring your syrup to exactly the right temperature first, without letting it burn, meanwhile whipping up a bunch of egg whites into soft peaks. Then, when the syrup reaches the right temperature you slowly pour it into the bowl while still whipping the egg whites, and then it’s just a waiting game as you keep on whipping the whole concoction until the resulting mix is smooth and glossy and looks exactly like marshmallow goo. This takes longer than you think it might, but you just have to be patient.

I was originally going to make just plain fluff, but as I was sitting there, waiting for the stuff to finish mixing, I idly glanced at the bottom of the recipe, where it had some suggestions for ways to flavor your fluff, and I thought wait, what? Flavored marshmallow fluff? This is brilliant! So right near the end of the final whipping stage, I added in half a cup of cocoa powder, and voila, chocolate marshmallow fluff was born.

It is delightful when consumed just off a spoon, but if you have ever had fluffernut sandwiches (peanut butter and marshmallow fluff together), I am here to tell you that fluffernut sandwiches made with *chocolate* marshmallow fluff are even better. And if you make them on thinly sliced homemade whole wheat bread, you can pretend that it’s almost healthy (cough cough).

But anyway, back to those meringues! After my little pavlova cups had cooled, the final step was to melt some chocolate and paint the bottom of each cup.

Then after *that* dried, then you top each with a generous dollop of the pumpkin chiffon and ta da, you have a lovely little dessert.

These turned out surprisingly delicious, and I am glad I made them half-sized, because one little cup was plenty for a dessert. You get the light flavor of the pumpkin and spice, combined with the crispy/chewy texture of the meringue, and then just a little hit from the dark chocolate at the end. This is a recipe I would definitely make again.

Here we are at the end of our #BakingSisters session, my sister with her bones, and me, looking weirdly crazed, with two little pavlova cups. Yum.

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Smooth

Do you know what time it is?

If you guessed Tour de Sock time, you’d be correct! My friend and I had so much fun with it last year we decided to do it again, because knitting(!) and socks(!), and also why not!

I made sure my sock yarn stash was completely stocked up, and have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the first pattern. Luckily it was scheduled to drop at 6 am on a weekend day on which I had nothing whatsoever planned.

So I set my alarm to go off at 5:30 this morning, to give myself enough time to get up, get coffee, get the computer going, and do all the other regular morning chores prior to getting started. Then at 6 am on the nose, the instant the pattern appeared, I printed it, grabbed the first ball of sock yarn I saw in my stash, and then cast on and started knitting.

Aside from a couple breaks to inhale some food, I knit pretty much nonstop for roughly 10 hours straight. At just a couple minutes after 4pm, I had a brand new, completed pair of handknit socks.

The pattern is Plan A, and it has a couple interesting features. The cuff is actually twisted, in that you cast on all the stitches, knit them straight for a couple rows, then twist every few stitches, before joining.

In addition, while it uses the very familiar heel flap construction, the heel gusset decreases take place in on the bottom, not on the sides.

I came in third for this heat (out of probably around a thousand or so, assuming everyone who signed up this year actually takes part), which is actually far better than I was expecting, considering there’s a whole mess of incredible knitters in Finland who routinely sweep all the top spots for this on a yearly basis. Phew!

Since knitting for 10 solid hours is a wee bit hard on the wrists, I didn’t do much else productive the rest of the day. Luckily, however, I’d had the foresight to recognize I’d want something with which to celebrate, and made a batch of these peanut butter pots de creme the night before.

‘Pots de creme,’ by the way, is just a fancy name for a baked custard. If you sprinkle sugar on the top and hit it with a kitchen torch, it then magically transforms into creme brulee, which is what we did last night for the first two servings (the recipe makes four), but this evening I decided to stick to the script for the remaining two , and topped them with a thin layer of chocolate ganache, which turned out to be a most excellent and delicious decision.

Oh, and completely unrelated, we’ve got a new batch of kittens in our foster room. You can follow the antics of these 8 adorable purrballs here.

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Baking Sisters – the unofficial version

A while ago I found this recipe, and I sent it to my sister in an email with the subject line that said ‘We need to make this.’

She agreed, and we did toy with the idea of trying to make it while I was up there for Operation Kitten Delivery. But then we took a closer look at the recipe and realized that it would take a lot of time, since there’s a lot of ‘make this piece and then let it sit for several hours’ steps, and also it was unseasonably warm, so instead we made a no-bake layered dessert consisting of crushed Oreos and two different layers of mousse – a cream cheese and peanut butter one and a chocolate one – and also mini peanut butter cups because why not.

(It was just as delicious as it looks)

But it was still at the back of my mind so I decided I was going to make it this weekend. And then she decided she’d make it too, so even if we weren’t doing an official #BakingSisters video chat, we’d still end up with roughly the same thing at the end.

Overall, the recipe is actually not difficult – it’s just time consuming. First you make the layers of meringue, which includes peanuts, and you let them set for a while.

Then you make a lovely peanut butter mousse, and you stash that in the fridge because that also has to set for a couple hours.

Next you make a chocolate glaze, and once that cools a bit, you glaze two of the layers of meringue and then you let them set for a while to allow the glaze to firm up.

And then, finally, you stack everything – a layer of glazed meringue, half the mousse, another layer of glazed meringue, the rest of the mousse, and then the third layer of meringue, which then gets glazed as well.

The recipe actually calls for glazing the sides as well, but I was worried that might end up being too much chocolate, and it would overwhelm the peanut butter flavors. So I skipped that step (which is why my completed dessert looks a wee bit more…uh…rustic…than it should).

After the entire thing is assembled and allowed to, you guessed it, set for a while, then you can finally cut it into pieces and consume.

Verdict – this is absolutely delicious and something I would definitely make again, despite how long it takes to come together. The peanuts in the meringue layers give it a nice texture, and leaving off the glaze on the sides was a good decision, since the peanut butter mousse could then shine through. Yum!

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