Still Life, With Cats

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Jennifer

Baking Sisters: Alaska

When my sister and I discussed what to do for Alaska, we tossed around a couple ideas. Technically the official recipe is a salmon pie made with a puff pastry crust, but my sister is not a fan of fish. So instead we decided to make sourdough the over-arching theme, since that’s a common thing up there.

Obviously we had to make sourdough bread, but if you’re doing true sourdough, you do not use commercial yeast, but instead use a starter that you’ve either nurtured for years by carefully feeding it (cough cough, kept in the fridge and fed once every month or three when I remember it’s there), or something you throw together quickly because your old starter died (my sister).

I got my sourdough sponge started Saturday afternoon. Before I went to bed, I mixed up the dough, then put that into the fridge. After that, it seemed like a good idea before the fact to plan to get up at 5am and pull it out of the fridge…except that I forgot that it was Daylight Saving Time day, and that meant it was actually 4am (no matter what the clock said) and since I’m going through another round of super fun insomnia, that meant I was riding on roughly 3 hours of sleep. Fun times!

But anyway. Dough comes out of the fridge, then gets shaped, then gets set aside for another couple hours, so that by the time we were ready to meet via video call, all we had left to do was pop it into the oven.

This is where things got interesting for me. For years my oven has taken just a couple extra minutes to bake things. But during an attempt at making cookies last week, things were taking more than twice the normal time to bake, and after we bought a hanging thermometer, we discovered why. The oven is now heating roughly 100 degrees lower than the dial says.

So I turned the oven up as high as it would go (500), put my boules on the bottom rack, and crossed my fingers.

Thankfully, they baked, although they aren’t as browned as I might have liked.

But one cannot live on bread alone (ha!), so we also made cake and cookies, both of which used sourdough starter, and also soup, which did not use sourdough starter, but was instead to join the bread for lunch.

First up was the soup. I decided to make this Cheesy Broccoli Soup based solely on the fact that we had a lot of broccoli in the fridge that needed using up. So while I was waiting for the oven to come to temperature, I threw all the soup ingredients together and got that simmering. I also stirred in some leftover chicken sausage, because soup is an excellent way to clean out the fridge.

Next up was a Sourdough Chocolate Cake. This cake involves a sponge that’s stirred together a couple hours before you’re ready to bake it, with sourdough starter, flour, and water. Once it’s baked, then it’s topped with an espresso buttermilk glaze. It’s also supposed to be drizzled with some melted chocolate, but I decided that that was a bit overkill, so left that out.

And finally, the cookies – Sourdough Soft Ginger Cookies from Ruth Allman’s book Alaska Sourdough. These are spiced with molasses, ginger, cloves, cardamom, and lemon zest. They were supposed to be cut-out cookies, but by the time we got to them I was starting to wear out, so I just pulled out a cookie scoop and made ginger lumps instead.

So how did everything turn out?

The soup was super tasty – the addition of the sausage worked really well, plus since I doubled all the veggies it was quite filling and substantial.

The cookies will not win any prizes at a beauty contest, but they’re actually really tasty. I would definitely make these again – super quick to stir together and they hold their shape really well so would work for either scoops or cut-outs.

Aside from being slightly burnt on the sides (see above for my oven temperature woes), the cake was delicious. The addition of the buttermilk and the espresso powder kept the icing from being too sweet (which is usually a problem with glazes).

Oh, and because all of that wasn’t nearly enough, I also made Sourdough Cinnamon Crumb Cake for breakfast before the official baking extravaganza started, primarily because I’d doubled my starter in preparation and had a lot to use up to get it back to a manageable amount before it goes back to lurk quietly in the fridge for another couple weeks.

This was…a lot of crumb topping (and I didn’t even make the full amount the recipe called for), but it’s delicious and so I can forgive the mess involved in eating it.

Overall, this was an extremely successful baking day, even if I did have to do a bazillion adjustments with oven temperature in order to get things to cook.



The sweetest things

So I know technically I am not the one who made these, and also technically it happened yesterday, but I am going to use this anyway.

Friday we picked up a very pregnant, extremely friendly little foster cat. Late last night I went in to check on her and noticed that she was having contractions. So for the next hour or so, I sat on my bathroom floor next to her (occasionally offering her pets because in the beginning she kept shoving her head into my hand) and watched her give birth.

After all these years fostering, I’ve only managed to catch a glimpse of the birthing process once before. It was amazing, and disgusting, and holy crap did my lady parts cringe in sympathy at how quickly a momma cat can go from normal to fully dilated (we’re talking minutes here). Also the sound of the mom eating the afterbirth is….not pleasant. At *all*. But it’s all part of the process, and momma and her five brand new babies are doing great so far. And best of all, I get the bonus of having super tiny foster kittens without the usual work of bottle feeding, because they’ve got an excellent momma to do all the heavy lifting.

Momma is named Valentina, because she is the sweetest, friendliest little cat who is desperate for all the love, and we named all her babies after the different types of love (in Greek).

You can follow their progress at House of Floof (look for the hashtag #LoveLetterKittens) if you want to watch them grow.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



Baking Sisters: Alabama

This year for Baking Sisters, my sister and I decided that we would try making the official (or unofficial) foods of each state. Initially we toyed with the idea of picking and choosing and skipping around, but after January’s bake, we decided to focus on one state a month. And since we’re going in alphabetical order, that meant Alabama was first.

All the ingredients used for today’s session

Not all states have an official food, but in Alabama’s case, it’s the Lane Cake. This is a four-layer vanilla sponge, filled with a mix of dried fruits and pecans soaked in bourbon and cooked into a sort of caramel, and frosted with a cream cheese and whipped cream frosting. The recipe also calls for coconut but we don’t like coconut, so both my sister and I decided to leave it out.

We didn’t want to make a ginormous cake where we were unsure about the flavor, so we decided to quarter the recipe, which made for some fun with calculator apps when trying to work out measurements. I still did four layers, but used my little 4-inch springform pans, while my sister did larger pans, but only two layers.

My four cute little cake layers

While the cakes were baking, I made the filling. I soaked chopped dried apples and dates in some bourbon, then cooked egg yolks, sugar, and butter until thickened, and mixed it all together with some toasted chopped pecans. That was put into the fridge to chill.

The final step was to make the frosting, which consists of cream cheese, powered sugar, and whipping cream, all blended together until light and fluffy. Then I assembled the cakes and frosted the whole thing. Ta da! Look, it’s a very small Lane cake!

Coffee cup included for scale.

Here it is, sliced, so you can see the layers of cake and filling.

So how did it turn out? Well, the cake itself is tasty, and the frosting is absolutely delicious. The filling is…different. It’s not a bad thing – there’s a caramel sort of feel to it, and it’s tasty enough, but the bourbon was a little overpowering, so I’m not sure it was all that necessary. Still, it was fun to make, so I’m counting that as a win.

Next up, cookies. Alabama Cookies, to be exact. And yes, this is another recipe that calls for coconut except we left it out because coconut is Not Food.

There’s a bazillion variations of this cookie recipe on the internet and I don’t think it’s necessarily unique to Alabama, although maybe it’s the pecans that makes them claim it, who knows. It’s basically a Jumble Cookie, in that it’s a standard cookie base into which a bunch of random extra things get mixed – in this case oats, chocolate chips, toasted pecans, and weirdly, Rice Krispies.

These are not the prettiest cookies in the world, clearly, but they’re certainly tasty, and super quick to throw together. Definitely worth making again.

And finally, we decided to tackle something savory – the Alabama White Chicken Sandwich, which is basically shredded chicken on a bun, with White BBQ Sauce, and topped with coleslaw and pickles. We both started with precooked chicken (Richard picked up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store), and store bought coleslaw (since none of us are big coleslaw eaters), then stirred up the sauce (which is a new-to-both-of-us thing – we’d never actually heard of white BBQ sauce before this). It is white, by the way, because of the horseradish and the mayonnaise.

Here’s my sandwich, all assembled.

I admit I was a bit hesitant about this recipe because I am not normally a fan of horseradish, but this turned out actually super tasty (and in fact I added in a bunch more horseradish because I felt like the sauce needed a bit of an extra kick).

So overall, this month’s bake was a delicious success.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



A head of the pizza game

Today was National Pizza Day, so I suppose we could have just made pizza, which we have done oodles of times in the past. But a random Twitter thread a week or so ago had me pondering, because someone mentioned that they had made calzones in their mini skull cake pan. And I thought, hey, *I* have a mini skull cake pan. I should make calzones! Or perhaps I should call them skullzones instead.

I started with our usual pizza dough recipe, then we eyed the contents of the fridge and decided to fill them with some broccoli and some mushrooms. We debated type of sauce – whether to go with a red or a white sauce, so I instead just tossed a little butter and flour into the veggies and made a roux, then stirred in some cheese, and used that as the filling. I divided the dough into six pieces, then rolled each one out and carefully lined the skull pan molds. I filed them, did my best to crimp the tops, then tossed the pan into the oven and hoped for the best.

Ta da! Skullzones!

They aren’t perfect – I think next time (because oh yes, there *will* be a next time) I need to use less dough per skull, and perhaps parbake the cough in the molds before adding in the filling, but they were super tasty, and highly amusing, and that’s what counts.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



Had to be done

Now that I’ve got two headbands done, I’ve been going through patterns pondering new possibilities, and when I stumbled across this pattern, I knew I absolutely had to make it.

I used some yarn I got in a yarn swap a couple years ago, which turned out to be the perfect fit for this. I actually finished it this weekend, but didn’t block it until today.

This is definitely meant for cold weather, instead of just for keeping one’s hair out of one’s face, since it’s a bit wide for my current needs, but it was a fun, quick project to knit, and it’ll come in handy winter.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



We can all agree this was inevitable

What do you do when it’s February and you have committed to making a thing a day, and you have a bunch of random cardboard boxes plus a giant roll of duct tape and minimal construction skills but lots of enthusiasm?

You build your cats a tank, that’s what you do!

And then if there happens to be, in the house, a cat named Sherman, you *know* what the next step had to be.

You’re welcome.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



A loaf of comfort

Today was World Nutella Day (yes really, it’s a thing), so in order to have a vehicle on which to consume our Nutella, I made some soda bread.

There are a bazillion recipes out there for soda bread, many of which include things that are Wrong and Disgusting, like raisins and caraway seeds, but the recipe I used is pretty simple: oats, flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt. Yes, there’s the added step to grind up the oats first, but I find I actually prefer them that way, when used in a quick bread setting, but otherwise you just stir everything together into a shaggy dough, then dump it into a greased bread pan, and plop it into the oven to bake. And when you’re done, you have a lovely, hearty loaf of bread that is perfect for slathering with Nutella, or just some really good butter.

This recipe is just a little heavy on the salt (next time I’ll halve the amount) but otherwise is extremely delicious.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



Once more, with cables

After I made that first headband, I pondered how to improve things. The first one was nice, but a little loose. So I poked around online until I found an interesting cable pattern, found yet another ball of random acrylic in my stash (let’s just say that I’m in no danger of running out of random acrylic yarn any time soon), and while we binge-watched old episodes of Flea Market Flip, I made myself another headband.

No official pattern to link; I just cast on twelve stitches and followed the instructions for the Sand Cable until it was the length that seemed to fit on my head. Then I kitchenered the two ends together, and poof, headband.

Unlike try #1, this one fits perfectly, so hooray for that. However, the nature of the cable means that it curls in on itself. So while this one fits, and does the job it’s meant to, there’s still some improvements to be made (and oodles of yarn in the stash to try).

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



Return of the lemon

Just to show that it is not all yarn all the time around here, today I decided to mix things up and bake something.

Okay, so the truth is I was feeling uninspired to knit, and was very much aware of the plethora of fruit that still remains on the Meyer lemon shrub in the backyard, but hey, baking a thing counts, so let’s go with it.

Anyway. I made Lemon Brownies, because it was a quick recipe that would use up a lemon.

They’re…okay. The majority of the lemon flavor comes from the glaze, while the bar itself is fairly bland. It’s possible the flavor will develop once they’ve had a chance to sit, but overall, we were both underwhelmed. Ah well.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



Channeling my inner princess

This was supposed to be yesterday’s item except I was dithering about what I wanted to make and it turns out, 9:30 at night is not the best time to start a new project when one hopes to finish it before one falls asleep at the needles. So instead I finished it this morning.

After years and years of having super short hair, I’ve decided to try growing it out again. Fine, except that it’s now reached the stage where it’s long enough to hang in my face but not long enough to actually pull back in a barrette, and it’s been driving me crazy. So naturally I decided to knit my way out of this problem, by making myself a headband.

This is the 50’s Knotted Headband. It’s made with some random acrylic yarn from my stash, and except for some minor shaping, it’s basically just a long strip of garter stitch, tied in a knot with some ‘bow’ shaped flaps at the ends.

I wore it all day today to see how I felt. I like it – a lot – except that it is just a hair on the loose side. However, even with that, it worked great for solving the problem of the shag rug on my head, so there will be more headbands in my future, oh yes.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.




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