Still Life, With Cats

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For you have slipped the surly bonds of earth to dance the skies

I have wanted to write this for months, but have been unable to find the words. Perhaps the first day of Holidailies isn’t the best time, but here we are. There are so many things that will burn 2020 into our memories, but for my family, the one that burns the most is that this is the year my dad died.

I hold my grief deep inside. I cried once – when my older sister called, before it was certain (although I think we all knew the final outcome), but otherwise I grieve dry-eyed and quiet. Loss is a thing that sneaks up on you when you least expect it, and I have found myself looking for memories of him, wanting to remember him how he was, years ago before his slow decline.

There are so many things that connect the two of us. The analytical makeup of our brains. Our fear of heights. The shape of his eyes that stares back at me from the mirror. Every time I write something down, there is his handwriting – eerily similar enough to have fooled (inadvertently, usually) more than one person over the years.

The memories keep sneaking up on me, these past few months. Riding in the back of that ancient VW bus, that would pour cold water from the cooling system onto those of us in the back seat every time it went uphill. Building things in the garage. Laughing until we all were crying. Playing duets on the piano, or gathering together as a family to play together, on whatever instruments we had on hand. Him teaching us to ride bikes. Singing together in the car. Playing together in the recorder ensemble – both the one he formed, and then later the one in Sacramento. All the instruments he built over the years; all the ones he taught himself to play, just for fun – including banjo and bagpipes, among the dozens of others.

He told me for years I should try programming and when I finally, in desperation, did so, it turned out he was right. His gentle nudging shaped my entire adult career.

This is the year my father died. Perhaps at some point it won’t feel so strange and wrong to write that. I’m not sure I believe in the traditional version of heaven, but I do hope that somewhere out there, some part of him still exists. And if that’s the case, I hope that wherever he is, there is music.

*Title is taken from High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

A cautionary tale, told in pastry

Once upon a time there was an unassuming population of cream puffs*, just happily going about their business.

One day, a couple of opportunistic viruses** noticed that the cream puffs were very complacent.

So they called a bunch of their friends.

They managed to infect one of the cream puffs.

As the virus spread through the cream puffs, chou pastry scientists begged them to stay inside, and wear masks. But the cream puffs thought it wasn’t going to be that bad, so they ignored the scientists and kept going out in crowds, insisting that it was fake news, and a hoax.

The viruses spread rampant throughout the cream puff community, making them highly visible to giant monsters, who came along and gobbled them all up.

Of course, then the giant monsters also gobbled up the viruses too, but that’s a story for a different time.

*Cream puffs are made with chou pastry, filled with vanilla pastry cream, and decorated with chocolate chips

**Viruses are made from Oreos and cream cheese, coated in white chocolate. Decorations include chocolate chips and pretzel sticks.

This is the world we live in

When you think about plagues and pandemics you think of the dark ages; of times when they didn’t know much of anything about medicine and thought that illness was brought about by vapors and immoral living. And so it is strange to realize that here we are, right smack dab in the beginning of one.

We here in California are no strangers to being told to stay indoors, due to regular fire (and its accompanying smoke) season we get every year. But this time it’s different, since while we can go outside and walk around and not have to worry about the air quality, we can’t gather together in one place. The entire state is now under a mandatory ‘shelter in place’ order. And this makes me so incredibly glad that I live in California, where at least the government seems to get it, and is taking steps, even if it has been a crazy jumble of changes over the past few weeks. And, panic buying of toilet paper aside, it has been nice to see people rising to the challenge, forming volunteer groups to make sure the elderly and infirm have access to what they need, checking in on each other, and generally recognizing that society works best when we all chip in. Yes, there will always be those few who try to find a way to profit off the misfortune of others, but humanity could not have survived as long as it has without the vast majority of people recognizing that working together for the common good is the better way.

It would be interesting to see how this pandemic is written about in the history books, hundreds of years from now, where countries like South Korea are held up as shining examples of how to respond (mass testing, etc.), and where countries like the US are held up as prime examples of how to do everything wrong, where the government is being systematically destroyed by the GOP and their orange sock puppet, they deliberately withheld both vital information, and access to tests (offered willingly by the World Health Organization), because it was more important that Trump keep the total numbers artificially low so it wouldn’t impact the stock market, or his chances at reelection. I hope history treats him and all his despicable cronies no better than they deserve for everything they’ve done that has led up to this.


This morning I woke up and made pizza dough and ate some leftover orange pancakes and pondered the day ahead of me. The house needed cleaning and there was a meeting to go to, and friends coming over in the evening, and I was feeling very uninspired as to what to do for the the day’s citrus thing. But then I remembered I’d seen a recipe for Lemon Crinkle Cookies, and I figured, hey, why not give those a try.

They only use one lemon, which didn’t seem like much, but which turns out to be exactly enough. The cookies may not be much to look at, but they are a delightful bite of sweet and tart. The lemon flavor is present, but not overpowering, and it helps cut through the sugar. This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Citrus used so far: 7 lemons, 8 tangelos, 2 mandarins

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

A light crumb

What do you do when you pick the first three mandarin oranges of the season off your tree?

Well if you’re me, you turn a few of them into scones.

I like scones – they’re pretty simple to make and I’ve done them in a variety of flavors over the years. In fact, I made lemon scones last year (which were pretty tasty, even if the bulk of the lemon flavor ended up in the glaze on the top). But these will not be my favorite.

Here’s the thing with citrus. The only one I don’t mind eating is grapefruit, and even then I have to be in the mood, because most citrus comes with lots of pith and stringy, chewy bits that I find very off-putting. Yes, I am the sort of person who will strain orange juice before eating it, even the stuff that claims to be pulp free (spoilers – it isn’t), because I find pulpy juice absolutely revolting. I thought maybe these scones would be fine, because the mandarins were chopped up fairly small, but nope, getting a chunk of orange in my mouth just killed it for me.

Luckily Richard absolutely loved them, so he’ll be eating the rest for breakfast the next couple days, and I shall just stick to leftover orange pancakes, where nary a bit of pulp is to be found.

Citrus used so far: 6 lemons, 8 tangelos, 2 mandarins

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Breakfast tails

Because the current batch of foster kittens have been so active, we’ve been letting them out in the mornings, to run around the kitchen (thereby doubling their space, and giving us a chance to clean out their room with slightly less kitten ‘assistance’).

This morning I headed around the island to refill my coffee, and looked down to see that two of the kittens were industriously investigating one of yesterday’s lemon muffins. I was baffled at first – I know for a fact that neither of these kittens is big enough to get onto the kitchen counter where the muffins were stored (wrapped and covered and, we thought, safe). It wasn’t until later, when I saw Timmie bounce nonchalantly onto the counter and head straight for the muffins, that I realized what had happened. This was doubly reinforced when she ran off with the remaining whole wheat soda bread. Turns out someone is a bit of a carb fiend. Goofy little cat.

Anyway, back to the citrus things. The few remaining tangelos in the fridge were starting to look a little sad, so I turned the three that remained into pancakes.

The orange flavor definitely comes through, and they’re nice enough pancakes. I think I prefer a heartier pancake though, so I’m not sure I’d bother with this specific recipe again (although I’d certainly be game to swap out the milk for fresh squeezed tangelo juice in one of our more preferred recipes, next year when they all come ripe again).

Citrus used so far: 6 lemons, 8 tangelos.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailes.

A whole new world

When we bought our house, back in 2007, it had a huge second-story deck off the back that was in really bad shape (massive dry rot in some places, wobbly railings, etc.). Over the years, it slowly went from bad to worse (railings broke off, stairs collapsed), but we left it alone because there were more pressing projects to address inside. We blocked off the door to the deck so no one could even go out there, and figured we’d deal with it some day.

Eventually though, the whole thing started to sag, to the point where we realized if we left it much further, it was going to come down on its own, and take part of the wall with it. So a couple months ago we finally bit the bullet and had it redone.

The next step, of course, was to turn half of it into a catio, because we do not believe in spoiling our cats around here, nope, not at all.

So here it is, in all its finished glory. I freely admit we’ve already been having our coffee out here since the frame and doors were put in place, and the cats have been able to start investigating.

These are views from the kitchen door. The screening above the railing is all chicken wire, and there’s screening over the top, so they can’t sneak out that way (and nothing can sneak in). We had the benches added because 1) the space is huge and this way there’s plenty of seating for when we have people over, and 2) it’s a way to give the less agile cats (cough, Nutmeg, cough) a way to get up to the higher levels.

And this is the view from the far corner. There’s a set of double doors, so we can open it out onto the rest of the deck.

Action shot (with Sherman and Timmie)

It’s exactly what we were hoping for, and so far the cats seem to be just as happy. At some point we’ll get another light put in, and possibly an electric outlet so maybe I can bring my work laptop out there every once in a while, but for now, it’s done.

As for the citrus things, today’s was Tuscan Lemon Muffins, made with ricotta.

Pretty tasty. I’d definitely make these again. We enjoyed them with our coffee this morning in the catio, while watching the cats enjoying the outside world.

Citrus used so far: 6 lemons, 5 tangelos.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.


I wasn’t really intending to do so many soups and soup-related things this week, but when we were pondering what to do for dinner tonight, I found this chili recipe and decided it looked intriguing enough to try.

Chili is always better if there’s something alongside it, like cornbread, or a hearty toast, to help cut the spice. So dinner tonight was a bowl of the chili, with a thick slice of Whole Wheat Soda Bread slathered in Nutella (since today was also World Nutella Day) on the side.

Verdict: It’s pretty good. You get an occasional hint of orange, but it’s a nice accompaniment to the other flavors. It’s definitely a recipe I’d be willing to make again next year, when the tangelos come ripe again.

Citrus used so far: 5 lemons, 5 tangelos.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Last minute

This morning we went into the kitten room and watched the once-sickly kitten racing around, eyes all wild, tail all puffed, acting just about like any other kitten his age would act. He now has, in fact, more energy than before the crash, which seems to confirm (at least for me) that this was just a relapse of whatever it was that took him down the first time. He’s not thrilled to still be getting medicine, but I don’t mind the occasional glare from a small floof – it’s not the first time and it certainly won’t be the last, and whether he likes it or not, he has to finish up these doses so we can make sure this thing is gone for good.

As for today’s citrus-related thing, I didn’t think about what to make all day, until after dinner when I remembered, oops, I hadn’t made any citrus things yet. So I hastily whipped up a batch of Lemon Ginger Shortbread, using some of the candied ginger I make and stash in the freezer for this sort of thing.

They don’t look like much, especially since we didn’t have any powdered sugar, so I couldn’t make the glaze, but they’re tasty. The lemon flavor is subtle, and you probably wouldn’t know there’s any ginger in there at all, except for the slight heat that follows at the end of a bite. It will be interesting to see if the ginger flavor gets a little more pronounced after they’ve had time to sit for a day or so.

Citrus used so far: 5 lemons, 3 tangelos

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Frost in the air

The temperature gauge on my clock read 37 degrees as I drove out to the surgery center this morning to drop off a kitten for her spay, and when I got there, instead of lining up and waiting for the doors to open, everyone just stayed in their cars, heaters on, trying to avoid stepping outside until the last possible moment.

The fog burned off by mid morning, although it was still plenty chilly out the rest of the day. I spent most of the day huddled downstairs with extra layers, working, but took a short break in early afternoon to go pick up the kitten from the emergency vet, now that he was feeling much better. That’s one huge worry off our shoulders, although I think it’s safe to say that he’s now burned up at least one of his nine lives.

There wasn’t much time for any sort of grand baking today, not with work and kitten schlepping, and rehearsal afterwards, and it’s still pretty cold out there, so instead I decided to make another soup. Tonight’s dinner was Carrot Orange Ginger Soup, or actually Carrot Tangelo Ginger Soup, since I figured those were close enough (and that’s what we had in the fridge), paired with a few leftover lemon rosemary rolls from last night.

I really, really liked this soup. The flavors are interesting and complex – it’s an odd combination of ingredients (carrots, tangelo juice and zest, ginger) but it totally works, and bonus, it’s the sort of thing that’s quick and easy to throw together when you don’t have a lot of time to cook. This one’s definitely joining the rotation for winter meals.

Citrus used so far: 4 lemons, 3 tangelos

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.