Still Life, With Cats

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Eye spy

Why yes, decorating a Christmas tree with a whole bunch of lightweight plastic ornaments in a house with a quartet of extremely energetic kittens who all like to scale the tree and view ping pong balls as one of the Best Toys Ever was a BRILLIANT decision, why do you ask?

I’ve picked up at least 20 so far and I keep finding more as I walk around.

Last night when we were decorating, Guffaw was going absolutely crazy, charging up and down the tree and smacking ornaments off as if we’d basically given him the Coolest Toy Ever (which, admittedly, we did). So I have a feeling that every morning we’re going to have to make the rounds and collect and rehang a whole bunch of ping pong balls (or else alternatively we could just put them in a bag and then perhaps by the time the tree needs to be put away again for another year, he might have single-handedly (single-pawedly?) removed all the decorations for us.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

He sees you when you’re sleeping

Richard and I were watching one of those decorating competition shows the other day and one of the judges mentioned how Theme Trees are super in right now, and we collectively rolled our eyes because it seems more than a bit ridiculous to go spend a ton of money on matching ornaments just to fit a particular theme, which always ends up looking more like something you see in a store window than something that’s meant to be gathered around with family and presents. But then one of the teams made some ornaments as part of their specific Theme Tree, and we looked at each other and then….

…then we had an Idea.

Roughly thirty bucks worth of materials via the miracle of the internets later, and two nights spent doing a wee bit of crafting, and I present to you Our Theme Tree.

I’m calling it Eye’ll Be Home for Christmas. You’re welcome.

Want a close-up of the actual ornaments? Sure, here you go.

(Googly eyes stuck onto ping pong balls, in case you are super jealous of our tree covered in eyeballs and want to replicate the fun)

So there we go. If only one of us had even the remotest engineering skill they would all also be moving, so you probably should be glad that’s not our forte.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

The return of the self-decorating tree

We finally put up the tree. We’d actually been dithering about whether we wanted to do any sort of decorating at all since Thanksgiving, considering the state of the world (waves hand vaguely), and also the number of excitable foster kittens still in residence, but then we came up with An Idea (which I will talk about tomorrow), and so tonight the tree went up.

Foster kitten Chantilly and resident cat Guffaw took on the roll of Tree Inspection Brigade as we attempted to unpack the pieces.

Once completed, foster kitten Pickle joined the Inspection Brigade to make sure that the tree was assembled correctly.

And then we sat back and waited. Want to take a guess who was first up the tree?

Nope, it wasn’t who you think.

Yes, that would be Timmie, the largest cat in the house, who launched herself halfway up the tree. There are many reasons why we are glad we switched to a fake tree lo, those many years ago, but one very important reason is that they are extremely sturdy.

Don’t worry, though. Guffaw made *quite* sure to live up to our #GreyOnesAreTrouble lifestyle.

And thus, the self-decorating tree continues for another year.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Winter weekend

It’s been a very cold, and occasionally damp weekend. So except for a couple outings (another cookie exchange with friends, and taking a sickly foster kitten in for a check), I have stayed inside where it is warm and cozy and dry.

The cookie exchange assortment. There were a lot of cookies!

Also I made a few things

Apple pancakes with boiled cider sauce, because when one makes boiled cider and also purchased an entire case of apples, one needs to then find ways of using those ingredients up. I shred the apples instead of chopping them because I find that makes them more likely to cook all the way through in this sort of application. They turned out super delicious and we’ll be eating these for breakfast for the next couple days.

Lemon Soup. We add sliced carrots to ours, but otherwise follow the recipe as written. Paired with homemade biscuits, it is the perfect comfort lunch for a cold day.

This awesome jigsaw puzzle. It’s ‘The Winter Fair’ by Jan Van Haastaren, and someone on my local Buy Nothing group was giving it away. Since these are my absolute favorite types of puzzles, I threw my name into the hat, and I won. I managed to assemble this in one evening, despite the ‘assistance’ of several excitable foster kittens.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Hot off the needles

Oh hey, so occasionally I do make things that don’t involve flour and butter.

Last night I finally wove in the remaining ends, so ta da, I made myself a sweater.

The pattern is Recalibrate, since I know some of you will ask. It’s an interesting construction, in that you make the front and back panels first, then do the sides vertically, then join those with side panels.

For all the individual pieces, there’s a minimum of ends to weave in, plus the use of an icord bind off means that the edges don’t curl or flop. And while it’s done all in garter stitch, using a lighter yarn (sock weight) means it’s not too bulky. Plus, the pattern is one of those that looks flattering on any body shape (look at all the Project pictures on the Ravelry page – seriously, there’s a reason it’s so popular!).

I am very pleased with how this turned out (and not just because it used three skeins of yarn from my rather large sock yarn stash), so hooray, I finally made myself a sweater that I will actually wear!

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


These past eighteen months have been just so weird. I’m a hermit by default, and was already working fulltime from home, so the lockdown didn’t impact a lot in that regard, but even with that I did *occasionally* leave the house – to go to rehearsal, for example, or to some random meeting place for my knitting group.

Things have improved a little – instead of rehearsing online, we’ve been rehearsing in person (and had our first actual real, live, in person concert this past weekend – which will be available for streaming next weekend if you’re interested in something more than the same old boring holiday carols for your seasonal music), and my knitting group has been able to gather once or twice. But it still feels a little strange to consider planning any sort of gathering.

That being said, as we’re all vaccinated and boosted, and masking up everywhere and being smart, the knitting group decided we would give our annual cookie exchange a try again, in person (Last year we did the exchange but met outside just to hand over little bags of cookies while staying the requisite six feet apart).

It was a small group of us, but it was lovely. We all nibbled cookies and drank mulled cider and hot chocolate and (decaf) coffee, and snuggled kittens and even broke out the knitting (which is harder to do while simultaneously snuggling kittens, but everyone made it work).

It is late now, and I should be going to bed, but the house smells delicious and there are still kittens to snuggle, and hopefully by this time next year it won’t feel so strange to think about gathering together in person again.

Chocolate – the new fruit

Today was cold outside, and I had originally planned to be driving kittens places, except that that changed so instead I stayed home and did laundry and pet kittens and knit, and also I baked, because hello, have you met me.

I made another batch of the Alfajores because I’m apparently not rolling out my dough thin enough or else the number the recipe claims is a giant lie (there is no way it makes 42 filled cookies (two cookies per sandwich) – that would be 84 cookies from one batch and I definitely did *not* get that many cookies!). I’m not going to bore you with pictures of that though, because they’re not very exciting to look at yet – just pale brown discs that are now resting in the freezer until it’s time to assemble.

However, I also made panettone, because my sister and I decided to extend our little Great British Baking Show bake-along to include the two holiday episodes they released to Netflix (which technically were from 2020, but eh, who cares, it’s more baking!).

I’ve never been a huge fan of panettone because 1) it tends to be kind of dry, and 2) it usually includes a lot of dried fruit, which I don’t like (raisins and all their wrinkly little counterparts are Not Food). But it looked intriguing, and when compared to the other two possibilities (a mincemeat pudding – which is chock *full* of the Not Food things) or an illusion cake (neither of us was in the mood to deal with an entire full-sized cake), panettone was the natural choice. Plus, by making it myself I could replace the fruit with something far more tasty, like, say, chocolate.

Technically we were supposed to make 12 individual panettone, but I pondered trying to turn a muffin tin into a set of panettone molds, and gave up and made one big one instead.

Panettone is basically just an enriched bread dough, but you mix stuff in (dried fruit or nuts or chocolate) after the first rise. Otherwise it’s really not that much different than any other bread dough out there.

I used a large metal bowl because I wasn’t entirely sure what else would work, and it was clearly too big, so when it was finished baking, it….does not look like a panettone.

A loaf of panettone

But it tastes fine. I might have added a little more chocolate than it called for because I wanted to use up the remains of the bag of semisweet chips in the cupboard, so you definitely get chocolate in every bite, which helps because oh hey, what do you know, apparently a main characteristic of panettone, even if you bake it yourself, is that it is dry.

But now I have made panettone (and will be gifting large chunks of it to other people) so I can check that one off the list and never bother again.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

All is calm

Last year, during the full lockdown, when we couldn’t sing together in person but were still trying to find ways to create music, Vox Musica, the group in which I sing, decided to do carol-o-grams. We divided into quartets, with each quartet doing a specific set of songs. We all recorded our parts individually in our homes, and then a couple of the more tech-savvy members assembled the videos into something that could be sent out to anyone who bought one.

This year we’re back to being able to sing together, albeit while wearing masks and with very limited audience numbers, but we still wanted to do the Carol-o-grams, because it’s a fun way to be able to send music to people as a unique holiday gift. At least this year we could record the audio for each group in our usual rehearsal space, but we still had to do the visual piece at home, following the same rules as the previous year – sing against a light colored background with no visual distractions in the frame.

Here is the thing about our house – the only white walls are the doors, and the lighting is, in general, pretty crappy everywhere except the kitchen. So in order to do this, I have to hang a white sheet on the wall, then sit at the island in the kitchen and attempt to record.

Let’s just say that it’s a good thing that I didn’t have to record actual audio this year. While I was doing my recordings, I could see the white sheet occasionally waving behind me as one more kittens dashed behind it. Around my feet, kittens tore back and forth, playing with every noisy toy they could possibly find. It is a miracle no one knocked over the light ring that was holding my phone but I did have to restart at least once due to a kitten careening across my keyboard.

So if you are looking for a unique gift for someone who has everything, how about sending them the gift of music – a quartet of Christmas carols. And if you happen to choose Package A, which is the one from the group I was in, and see the background behind me billow occasionally, just try to imagine the sheer level of kitten chaos that was going on, just off screen.

‘Tis the season for Holidailes.

Baking Sisters – the 2021 Cookie Edition

Yes, yes, I know that we’re all done now with the Great British Baking Show for another year, but there’s just one more baking-related catch-up I need to do. At least this one is more recent, as in from this past weekend.

Each year since we’ve been doing our monthly Baking Sisters video bakes, my sister and I pick some sort of general theme. But then we hit December and we’ve already got a lot of holiday-related baking to do, so December usually is just cookies – whatever kind we feel like making. This past Saturday we baked our cookies together over video chat, and had a lot of fun.

This apparently being the year of ignoring traditions, I asked Richard if there were any cookies he absolutely had to have at Christmas, and he and I agreed that it might be nice to have something ginger-flavored but otherwise no. So since I’ve got two cookie exchanges going on this year instead of the usual one, I decided I’d take this opportunity to try out a bunch of new recipes, to see if any of them might work.

Conveniently, King Arthur Baking Company recently posted a list of 14 new recipes, some of which sounded super interesting, so I picked four:

I made the chocolate molasses dough first, since that had to chill for a couple hours, and then moved on to the alfajores, which only had to chill for one hour. Next I mixed up the rye ginger dough and got those into the oven, and then moved on to the lemon shortbread…except that the recipe calls for masa harina, which I don’t have and didn’t want to have to go buy (there’s only so much room in the freezer for flours that don’t get used very often), so instead I did some quick Googling and found these Whipped Lemon Shortbread cookies and decided to try those instead.

After the rye and the lemon cookies were cooling, then I made the chocolate molasses thumbprints, filling them with a molasses and chocolate ganache after they were cooled. And finally, I rolled out the alfajores, and once they were cooled, sandwiched a couple with some of the dulce de leche I made earlier that morning.

So how did they all turn out, you ask?

Well, as tasty as chocolate and molasses might *sound*, I did not actually like those at *all*. Nor was I a fan of the Rye Ginger – there was something very off-putting about the texture of the rye in those cookies. As for the Whipped Lemon Shortbread, something was wrong with that recipe because they literally crumbled into pieces when I tried to remove them from the pan. Delicious pieces, mind you, but somehow I doubt anyone in either cookie exchange would be happy to get a bag of crumbs, no matter how tasty they might be.

The alfajores, however, were a success. The cookie is thin and has a delicate flavor of spice (interestingly the coffee didn’t come through much at all) and the dulce de leche added just the right amount of creamy texture and sweetness.

As for the rest, well luckily Richard liked them, so they’re all his.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.