Still Life, With Cats

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It’s the little things

Things that make me happy today.

This arrived, yay!

My sister got hers too. So between now and Saturday I’ve got a cake to bake and some rice krispie treats to form into specific shapes, in preparation for the main, live, virtual decorating event, but at least now I don’t have to worry that this box (like some others) somehow got lost in the mail).

I get to cuddle with these for nearly one more week.

Of these four kittens, I bottle fed the front three, and the one 3rd from the front is a kitten I have raised since he was only 1 day old, making him my youngest bottle baby ever. So it’s going to be especially bittersweet to send him off to the adoption center next weekend, but it’s okay because this is why I do what I do (fostering).

And the very best thing of all today – news that the Electoral College confirmed (yet again) the Biden-Harris win for 2020. I admit I’ve been holding my breath, waiting for the despicable orange shitgibbon to screw that up somehow, but he couldn’t. I’m not sure how many times this means the Biden-Harris ticket has won (and more importantly, that Trump has lost), but every time it happens again I feel a sense of giddy relief. January 20th can’t come soon enough. I expect I speak for the vast majority of the entire planet when I say that.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


To round out our unofficial Year of Rainbows for the Baking Sisters, this month my younger sister and I decided to do something with a mirror glaze. Originally we were going to do the Walnut Whip from the GBBO finale, but make it peppermint, but we also wanted to do the glaze, and so eventually that just sort of combined into one thing that had no relation to a Walnut Whip at all. Or, for that matter, a rainbow, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves too quickly.

Anyway. We started by making a chocolate ganache, because that needed time to chill in the fridge before scooping. That’s fairly simple – just heat up some cream, stir in enough chocolate to get to the right consistency, plus a little butter for creaminess, and then set aside.

Then we made white chocolate peppermint mousse, which was also super easy – heat up some cream, stir in some white chocolate and peppermint extract, then once that’s reached room temperature, fold that into some more cream that’s been whipped to stiff peaks.

Then we remembered we’re supposed to be taking pictures, so here’s both of those.

Then I scooped the mousse into my tiny little dome molds, added a little dollop of the ganache, added a little bit more mousse to the ones I hadn’t filled quite enough, and popped those into the freezer.

Next it was time to make the cookies. We decided to go with a vanilla sable cookie, into which we stirred some crushed up peppermint candies.

While those were cooling on the counter, then it was time to do the glaze.

Mirror glaze is made of white chocolate, gelatin, and weirdly, sweetened condensed milk. We both used this recipe, which seemed pretty straight forward. Since we were both doing peppermint, we figured picking red and green and white would make total sense. Right?

So, glaze made, divided into three bowls, and food coloring assembled. So far, so good.

Next the instructions said to pour the colors together into one bowl and just barely stir, before pouring. And this is when things went horribly, laughably wrong.

“I can still see some of the white,” Richard said, wandering into the kitchen.

“Yes, because that’s where I accidentally dropped the bowl and smashed them,” I replied.

I think the problem is that we were using a recipe that is meant to make a galaxy sort of swirl, where blues and silvers and blacks would all merge together and it’d be lovely. Let’s just say that red and green weren’t the best combination to use for that particular technique. They look….well, perhaps this color combination would have been an excellent choice if I was going for zombie guts. Hmm.

It was pretty amusing, however, since there was hysterical laughing from both sides of the camera. At least with mine you can tell there were supposed to be more than one color (the white just completely disappeared). My sister’s colors just merged together automatically into a muddy brown that made them look a bit like, well, see for yourself.

To top it off, she sprinkled hers with edible glitter, to make them sparkly, but which instead had the unfortunate effect of reminding me of when the cats accidentally ate some tinsel, leading to a very sparkly litter box surprise. I think we were all just about crying from laughing so hard.

Anyway, on to the tasting part of the program. I picked the prettiest one of mine to highlight. All alone, on a plate, it doesn’t look…bad. I mean, the appearance is not remotely what I was going for, but at least it’s (mostly) dome-shaped, and the glaze is definitely shiny.

Once cut open, you can see all the distinct layers, so I’m pretty pleased about that.

As for taste, while it may look a hot mess, it’s absolutely delicious. The peppermint in the mousse was the perfect amount – just enough to be cooling in the mouth, but not enough to veer into toothpaste territory. The ganache helped cut the sweetness, and the crushed peppermint in the cookie gave a little bonus texture. Yum!

So overall, this was a nice way to end our year. We’ve definitely learned some very important lessons about what not to do with mirror glaze (do not attempt to swirl red and green – learn from our fail!), and after all, it’s the taste that matters more than the presentation (no matter what Paul and Pru might say).

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

It’s beginning to smell a lot like…

We might not have done much decorating yet (except for the tree, the rest remains in the attic), but when it comes to holiday food, I’m all in this week.

Tuesday morning I peeled and sliced two pounds of fresh ginger (I am here to tell you that when people tell you you can just remove the peel with the edge of a spoon, they are lying, because that has never once worked for me, and also ginger has a lot of awkward corners, also what’s one more cut on my finger from the vegetable peeler, fa la la) and then after it boiled for a bit I mixed it with its own weight in sugar and cooked that until nearly all the liquid was gone, until poof, only candied ginger remained. I do this every year now because candied ginger is a delightful ingredient to keep in the freezer, ready to grab at a moment’s notice when one wants to make some scones, for example.

Thursday night I turned 16 lemons from our extremely prolific Meyer lemon tree into candied lemon peel. Pro tip – do not start this at 8pm on a weeknight, because not only does it take 3 separate boilings to prep the rinds, but then the actual candying process takes up to three *hours* and also if one happens to doze off waiting for the stupid lemon peel to finish candying, then one ends up having scrub a LOT of lemon-scented caramel off the stovetop the next morning when the pot inevitably boils over. Ahem.

And then today I made Ginger Spice cookies, because it just so happens I have this giant bag of candied ginger in my freezer and why not.

And also I made some Peanut Butter Fudge, because ’tis the season and all that.

Most of it’s going to go to other people (because even if we can’t all be together, I can still share the baked good joy), but there’s still enough left for nibbles here and there, and the house smells wonderful, and that will have to be enough.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Unintentional hot rod

Yesterday afternoon I headed out to my car, got in, started the motor, pulled out from the curb, and then stopped because holy moly it sounded like I was trying to rev up a jet engine, and since this is a (very, very old) Prius, something was very wrong.

Several neighbors popped their heads out of their doors, drawn by the unexpected noise, and a few nodded their heads.

“You’ve had your catalytic converter stolen” my next door neighbor said, as he got down on his hands and knees and peered underneath my car to verify.

So I reversed my jet engine back to the curb, and then went back inside and started the process of setting up an insurance claim and filing a police report.

Turns out, catalytic converter theft is a big problem right now, especially for older model Priuses and Hondas (I had no idea!). The police officers who came to take my report last night said it’s usually a two-person team – one jacks up the car just enough so the other can slip underneath and saw it off – and the process takes only a couple minutes.

Thankfully, since Richard’s currently working from home, I can use his car (technically mine is driveable but seriously, my neighbors do not need to have to listen to that racket any more than necessary!), and my insurance company is awesome, and I’ve already filed the claim and scheduled a time to drop it off at a body shop tomorrow. And in the grand scheme of things for the year, this is small potatoes. But that doesn’t make it any less annoying to have to deal with. Ugh.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Comfort and joy

Two short things for today.

First, if you need a smile, then this video is definitely for you.

Timmie loves the foster kittens, and there are big gaps under some of our doors because it’s an old house. Put those two things together and you get scenes like this. There are two separate foster kittens reaching their adorable little feet under the door at Timmie.

Second, because today is apparently National Pastry Day (or something like that), this evening I whipped up these Hand Pies, except instead of blueberries, I used leftover cranberry curd in the middle.

They turned out delicious. Yum!


For the comfort and convenience

A couple years ago we got a cat tree for the kitten room, which is perfect for all but the very small ones – lots of levels to make things easy to scale, several different cubbies for the shy ones to lurk, and the best part of all, a hammock. All the kittens love the hammock.

Alas, the original hammock could not stand up to a constant onslaught of extremely energetic kittens, so eventually it ripped badly enough I could no longer repair it. I decided instead of trying to come up with a fabric replacement, I’d knit one.

My first prototype wasn’t great – I ended up making it took large – but it worked just fine until a recent batch of fosters managed to tear actual holes in it. So this weekend I knit up Prototype #2.

It looks a bit like an extremely round hot water bottle cover, but here’s what it looks like once it’s been installed.

And here is an action shot (starring current foster kitten Pop).

If anyone is faced with a similar issue, I wrote up my notes on what I did here – this is primarily so I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel next time this has to be replaced (since history clearly tells me there will be a next time).

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

First of the season

I had a lot of things to try to get done today, least of which was to finally deal with the remains of the 20 lb box of apples sitting on the kitchen counter (half of which had already been turned into pies and apple butter). But instead I remembered that I’d bought a bag of cranberries for Thanksgiving, intending to turn them into a cranberry curd tart, but that never happened.

So I put the cranberries in a pan with the juice of an orange (which I zested first because one should never pass up the opportunity for some citrus zest), simmered them until they popped, then strained them and put the resulting pulp into a pan with some butter, eggs, egg yolks, and sugar. That was then cooked down into a lovely purple curd.

Next I pulled out the little dome molds my sister and I bought a year or so ago, and painted the insides with some melted white chocolate. Then I baked up a dozen sable cookies, with the orange zest included, and made a batch of marshmallow with the egg whites left over from making the curd. And finally, I scooped a little marshmallow into the white chocolate shells, dolloped in a tiny scoop of cranberry curd, and then topped them all with a cookie.

An interior shot, so you can see the layers.

The idea for these was inspired by the Walnut Whirls from the GBBO finale, but I started thinking about all different kinds of flavor combinations besides walnut and chocolate, plus the cranberries were just sitting there, waiting to be dealt with, so…why not?

Verdict – they’re not the prettiest of cookies – I could certainly work on my chocolate technique – but overall I’m pretty pleased. Admittedly if you took a bite with your eyes closed you would never guess that cranberry is involved (or orange, for that matter), but there is a decided ‘citrus’ feel to them, and the tartness of the cranberries in the curd tempers the sweetness of the marshmallow quite nicely.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Unforeseen hazards

One of the things about kitten fostering is that even if you have one room solely dedicated to the kittens, sometimes you have to separate some out for whatever reason, and then there will be kittens in the bathroom. Due to a kitten recovering from a leg amputation (her femur was shattered prior to her being found and brought to the rescue through which we foster), our upstairs bathroom has been a secondary kitten holding space for the last few weeks.

The thing about having kittens in the bathroom, of course, is that then any trip to use the facilities takes significantly longer.

Usually this is because it’s really hard to just zip in and zip right out when there are adorable kittens demanding attention right there in front of you.

I mean, honestly, how are you supposed to resist sitting down and giving these adorable little cuties a snuggle?

But other times it’s because, well….

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Let the hall decking begin

In the past eleven years we haven’t done much decorating for Christmas, primarily because we got Rupert and Ingrid in the fall of 2009 and that Christmas marked the beginning of the self-decorating tree trend, which began with Rupert and Ingrid, and continued on with Sherman, Nutmeg, and finally Timmie.

But this year, now that Rupert is eleven and fairly calm, and Sherman is eight and also showing signs of slowing down, we thought that maybe, just maybe, we could try decorating like normal people. Also, there’s this pandemic raging through the world outside and having a little extra sparkle and cheer in the house would be nice. So we bought ourselves a new tree (and donated the old one to someone who was thrilled to get it), and this past weekend we put it up.

In years past Sherman has been extremely involved in tree assembly, but this year he was mostly interested in the box.

Cornelius M. Peabody, however, was all in on helping to make sure the top was perfectly straight.

So far the furry contingent have left the tree (mostly) alone, so this might finally be the year we can drag out the nice stuff that’s been gathering dust in the attic for over a decade.


Fingers crossed.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

When in doubt, loaf

(For those of you who might be new to this site, my younger sister and I both love to bake, and try new things (she’s got actual training in it; I just muddle through as an amateur). However, she lives two states away, so once a month for the past couple years, we’ve gotten together via video chat to do a bake-along. More recently, for this year’s season of Great British Bake Off, we decided to also pick one recipe per week from what the contestants had to make, and give it a try ourselves.)

This month, for our Baking Sisters video bake-along, in honor of the recent food-related holiday, my sister and I decided to make Leftover Loaf. Technically, we’re supposed to be doing rainbow-themed things this year, but it’s nearing the end of the year and we’re getting a little tired of rainbow things, so we decided layers was good enough.

If you go online you can find all manner of lovely recipes for a Leftover Loaf, but I will save you the effort. Basically you are assembling a terrine, which is a layered dish packed tightly into a container, chilled, and then sliced and served so that you see all of the lovely layers.

First you pick a thing to use as the liner. My sister used stuffing, but I used mashed potatoes because I wasn’t sure the stuffing would hold. Then you just start adding in layers – I put in turkey, stuffing, and the leftovers of this amazing Roasted Vegetable Crumble that we make every year (minus the crust because it doesn’t really add anything except hassle). Finally I covered it up with the rest of the mashed potatoes, covered it with plastic wrap, and set it in the fridge to chill.

Here is the Leftover Loaf in all its wonderful glory.

Mmm, doesn’t that look appetizing.

Here’s the view of the layers.

Pretty, yes?

This was actually pretty tasty. Granted, Richard and I are both fine with having our foods mingled (and it helps that all the herbs and spices involved are quite complementary), but as weird experiments go, this one was a success.

But speaking of layers, we aren’t done yet! Friday night was the finale of the Great British Bake Off (in the US), and my sister and I couldn’t choose between either the Custard Slice or the Walnut Whirls, so we decided to do both – one this week and one the next.

Up first, Custard Slice, which is a layer of thick custard sandwiched between extremely thin slices of puff pastry. It isn’t really a thing here in the US (at least that we’ve seen). The closest might be mille feuille, which is cream and other things between flattened puff pastry, but those tend to be much fussier, whereas I get the sense that Custard Slice is more of a common sort of dessert.

We both decided to make a recipe made by one of the GBBO contestants – Dave’s Caramel Latte Slices – because we thought it looked absolutely amazing. Also we forgot to set timers so we have no idea how long it actually took for us to make, which is good, because my first two puff pastry attempts were epic fail (my homemade one crumbled to bits while rolling and then I tried with some leftover puff pastry in the freezer but that basically burnt up in the oven, and then Richard very nicely went to the store and bought me some more, and that finally did what was expected, phew).

Anyway, you make the pastry (or in my case you send your husband out to the store for the pastry, oops), and then you make the custard, which gets a little gelatin added to make sure it sets up firm. Both of us topped our Custard Slices with a little leftover caramel instead of what the recipe called for because when one has caramel in the fridge, one should use it at all moments possible.

So after a yummy dinner of Leftover Loaf, dessert was this delightful Caramel Latte custard slice.

Verdict – even more delicious than it looked on the show. The coffee flavor comes through nicely, the custard was delightfully rich and creamy, and the salted caramel added just the right amount of contrast to the sweet. I would happily make this again (and store bought puff pastry worked *just* fine!).

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.