Still Life, With Cats

This content shows Simple View



Every year for a while now, Richard and I spend a bit of time in October looking for some fun new advent calendar (one for him and one for me). In years past we’ve had one that was all caramel, one that was all coffee, one memorable one that was all cheese, and even one that was all jigsaw puzzles. This year, however, we decided to go for a theme – escape rooms.

The one on the right has been a huge disappointment – it’s all pencil type drawings with minimal instructions that only serve to confuse instead of assist, so after the first couple days we have given up on that, but the one on the left has been absolutely fantastic.

The premise: you’re an elf in Santa’s workshop. A huge storm and earthquake has caused a lockdown of the entire premises, and you have to move from room to room, opening a new door each day. Each day you have a puzzle you have to solve, that will tell you where the next door is in the calendar (they are labeled with codes, not numbers). The fun bit is that the ‘rooms’ themselves, despite being only about 2 inches square, are extremely detailed (see below as an example – there’s details on all sides, plus ceiling and floor, behind each little door you open), and sometimes the puzzles are interactive (for the room displayed below, we had to ‘sew’ a button – don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler as that’s part of the initial instructions for the room).

Admittedly, we had to use a hint for the first two days, as we figured out just how the whole system works (also I am blaming this just a little on COVID brain, because after avoiding it for the past three years, guess what we both came down with at the end of November, sigh) but this morning we got it with no hints at all, phew, so I think we’ve finally gotten the hang of it.

It makes each morning that much more fun, opening a new door and checking out what’s hiding behind. I think this advent calendar might actually be my favorite one yet.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


I love our house in Sacramento a lot, but one thing I really miss about the old house in Dixon, every year around this time, is that the roof was configured so that Richard could climb out above the porch and put up Christmas lights. We didn’t bother putting lights around the entire house, but at least around the front porch we could be festive.

This house, however, has a much steeper pitched roof around the edges, and as both of us are very much not a fan of heights, this means any roof lights just haven’t happened since we moved (15 years ago).

This year, however, I wanted to do *something*, because sometimes it’s a bit sad being the only house on the block without any holiday decor. So this afternoon we dug up some old lighted garlands and wrapped them around the railing and posts of the front porch.

In the grand scheme of things, I know just a couple sparkly garlands isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing.

Now we just need to get some lights up inside the house (since the Christmas cat tree doesn’t have any) and it’ll feel a little more like Christmas.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Lardy, (not) lardy

This year, once again, my little sister and I watched the Great British Bake Off together (Great British Baking Show in the US), and did our version of a bake-along. Every week we picked one of the challenges and attempted to bake it, within the time constraints that the challengers were given.

Yesterday was the finale, and while we were very sad that our two favorite contestants (Tasha and Saku) didn’t actually make it to the finale, we were both quite happy with the person who won.

Options for the finale included eclairs, which was, eh, mainly because we’ve both made choux pastry a bazillion times in the past so it wasn’t going to be any sort of challenge, and a three-layer fancy cake, which neither of us wanted to make because that’s a lot of cake when there’s only two people in the house. The third option, however, was something neither of us (or the contestants, for that matter) had heard of: Lardy Cake.

Lardy Cake is a yeast-based dough that is laminated with a mixture of butter and lard. The recipe the contestants were given, however, sounded absolutely revolting, as it included (yes you guessed it) lard, as well as a bunch of dried fruit. On a whim, though, I started poking around on the internets, and lo, the internets graced me with recipes for lardy cake that not only did not include lard, but also did not include dried fruit. Specifically, this recipe.

Normally I would have been timing myself, but because we veered significantly from the GBBO approved recipe, I didn’t bother setting a timer. So this morning, after the usual round of cat-related chores (filling feeders, scooping litter boxes, giving the diaper-clad incontinent cat a butt bath, why yes, my life is super glamourous, why do you ask?), I set up the dough. An hour later, I rolled it out and spread two thirds of it with a mix of softened butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Lardy cake dough, rolled out into a rectangle, with spiced, sweetened butter.

Then I did the first of 5 envelope folds, which are how you get the layers in laminated dough. You fold one third of the dough to the middle, then the other outer third over the first third, and let it rest. Turn the dough, gently roll it out into a rectangle again, and then repeat the envelope fold a couple more times. This helps spread the flavored butter out between ever thinner layers of the dough.

After the final fold, I pressed it into a greased springform pan. I did smoosh it into a circle but during the rising process it kind of, well, unsmooshed itself. Ah well.

Lardy cake batter, brushed with egg wash and ready for baking.

Half an hour in the oven and here’s my finished Lardy Cake. It isn’t very exciting to look at, I realize.

Fully baked lardy cake

But look at what’s inside!

A slice of lardy cake, showing off the interior layers. And yes, that ant is part of the plate – it’s Calamityware!

I am super pleased with all those layers.

The cake itself is more like a sweet bread, and is actually very reminiscent of a croissant in that the outer layers were flakey and buttery, and the inner layers are soft and lightly sweet. Cake or bread or whatever you want to call it, however, this thing is absolutely delicious. And except for about half an hour of folding and resting, it doesn’t take all that much effort to put together. It’s certainly not a fast bake, as there were two hour-long rises before it even went into the oven, but oh, it’s definitely worth it.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Oh hi again

Woohoo, it’s December, which means it’s time for Holidailies again! This is the 24th year, and we’re still running it, and every year I’m so happy to see all the familiar faces (plus some new ones) logging back in to their somewhat dusty spaces on the internet to update us on their lives.

Not a whole lot has changed around here since last year. We’re still fostering kittens, I’m still singing with the vocal ensemble, we’re still both working from home, and I’m still doing a lot knitting and baking.

So speaking of cats and kittens, for the past 12 or so years we’ve put up a tree but not bothered to do much in the way of decorating, because ever since we got Rupert and Ingrid, we’ve had cats in the tree and there was just no point in putting anything on it since they were going to climb up and whap it off anyway. We have joked that our tree has been self-decorating, and last year we even leaned into it and basically decorated the entire tree with sparkle ball toys, which the cats then industriously knocked onto the floor and scattered all over the house throughout the month of December. It was highly entertaining for everyone involved.

This year, however, we are trying something different. This all stemmed from me stumbling across this a while back, and on a whim, I posted to Facebook ‘Who do I know who can build this for me?’

Fast forward a couple months and a string of emails with an awesome guy who does woodworking as a hobby and was happy to take on the challenge for a little cash, and here is our new Christmas tree.

It’s multiple wood pieces that can be disassembled for storage. There’s holes in the outer edges of all but the bottom tier, so we can hang ornaments (or in this case, jingle bell cat toys), and there are pieces of carpet scratching material on the main sections of each tier so the cats have something to grab onto when they’re jumping up. Plus we still have a ginormous bag of sparkle balls from last year so I spread out a dozen or so among the shelves.

The cats weren’t too sure at first, because it was different and new, but after a couple days, now we occasionally hear bells jingling and see paws coming up to whap at the toys, or hear someone thunk onto a level in order to steal yet another sparkle ball from the ‘branches’.

We’ve still got our fake tree, so maybe some year we’ll go back to that, but since it’s basically been a seasonable climbing structure for over a decade anyway, now we’ve made it official. Plus it makes the house feel a little more festive, without shedding little plastic needles everywhere, and it’s entertaining the cats, so I call it a win.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


Tonight for dinner I made Lemony Shrimp with Snow Peas and Pasta. I started with frozen shrimp because I am always more than happy to let someone else be responsible for cleaning them, and we used penne pasta since that is what we had, plus we left out the grape tomatoes because they are Not Food.

First you get the pasta started. Then you sauté the snow peas in just a little bit of oil. Once those are heated, they get put into a bowl on the side, and then you cook the shrimp with some garlic, salt, and pepper. And while the shrimp are cooking you mix up the dressing, which is just lemon juice and zest, a bit of the water the pasta was cooked in, olive oil, and some seasonings. Finally, everything gets combined into one pan (I added just a bit of cornstarch to thicken the sauce a bit) to stir around until the sauce coats everything.

Verdict – two enthusiastic thumbs up from both of us. Everything is bright and flavorful, with just enough lemon flavor to make it pop, without being too tart or acidic. I could see swapping out the snow peas for other veggies, like perhaps some broccoli. This would also work just as well served over a side of rice or orzo instead of stirred into pasta. This is one I’d happy make, and eat, again.

Citrus used: 1 lemon

Total citrus used so far: 9 mandarin orange, 17 tangelos, 14 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Sweet and light

I had plans to make something different today but it’s been a long week and we were tired, so instead we ordered pizza and I made these lemon cookies, which are basically a lemon crinkle cookie in appearance.

They were quick to throw together while we were waiting for the pizza to be delivered (and yes, I do realize that I could have just as easily made the originally planned shrimp dish in the time it took, except neither of us was in the mood for it).

The cookies are soft, slightly sweet, and have a pleasing scent of lemon, although I didn’t actually taste it. I did feel as if they could have benefited from the addition of just a bit of salt, and perhaps twice as much zest to bring out more flavor, but in general, they were a perfectly acceptable cookie.

Citrus used: 1 lemon

Total citrus used so far: 9 mandarin orange, 17 tangelos, 13 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Pucker up

I really like orange chicken – you know, the stuff you get from places like Panda Express, that has a hint of tart and a hint of sweet, with the chicken coated in a lovely sauce. So when I found this recipe, I was excited to give it a try, especially since it calls for two entire cups of juice and one is trying to use up a plethora of fruit.

The chicken is fairly simple to make; it’s just cubed and tossed in some flour, then pan fried, and then you bring all the sauce ingredients together and simmer them until slightly thickened.

It looks like orange chicken, doesn’t it? However…shudder. I took one bite, shuddered, and then went and made myself a sandwich instead. I’m not sure what exactly was the problem, but there’s an extremely unpleasant bitter note to the entire dish, that lingered unpleasantly on the tongue for quite some time.

Richard didn’t mind it, however, so at least we’ve got his lunch sorted for the next few days, but it’s safe to say I won’t ever be making this recipe again.

Citrus used: 7 tangelos, 7 mandarins

Total citrus used so far: 9 mandarin orange, 17 tangelos, 12 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

A use for my kitchen torch

Happy Valentine’s Day!

In honor of the occasion, I made Lemon crème brulee.

Crème brulee is one of those deceptively simple desserts that looks much harder than it actually is. It’s basically just a rich custard, baked in a water bath, then chilled, and topped with sugar that gets torched for that characteristic hard topping right before serving. In this instance, lemon zest is added to the mixture to add a little bit of citrus flavor, although it was pretty subtle.

I might have let it bake a hair too long, but it was still pretty tasty. We enjoyed it after a dinner of the leftovers of the salmon and risotto from Friday.

Oh and by the way, that weird potato salad from Sunday might not be the best sandwich filling, but it actually works fantastic as a breakfast when warmed up and topped with a sunny side up egg. We’ve had that for breakfast the last two days and I suspect it will be breakfast for the rest of the week.

Citrus used: 1 lemon

Total citrus used so far: 2 mandarin orange, 10 tangelos, 12 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Early valentine

Because tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, which is usually marked with chocolates, I decided to make truffles. White Chocolate Citrus Truffles, to be exact.

I actually made these yesterday, because a work day is not exactly conducive to making chocolates (due to the multiple steps involved), but they were meant for today, and this is my own challenge, so I say it counts.

First, you zest one lemon and one orange (I used Meyer lemon and Mandarin orange, since that’s what’s on our trees) and you simmer that zest in the cream for a bit until it takes on the flavor. Then you strain out the zest, stir the infused cream into some melted white chocolate chips, and mix that together until smooth. That goes into the fridge to chill for a couple hours.

Once the ganache is chilled, that gets scooped into balls (shout out to cookie scoops, which are perhaps on of the best things I have ever gotten for my baking adventures), and the balls go into the freezer to set firm.

Once the balls are firm, then each one is rolled so that it’s smooth. Back into the freezer for another hour or so to chill again, and finally they then get dipped into yet more melted white chocolate, which if you have tempered it correctly, should set almost immediately on the cold pan.

I had intended to top them with pieces of candied peel, but during the process of boiling the peels, I lost track of time and managed to scorch the peels to the bottom of the pan, and by that time it was getting late in the evening and I didn’t want to start that whole lengthy process again, so….naked truffles are what we’ve got!

I am extremely pleased with how these turned out. The ganache inside is perfectly creamy and soft, while the white chocolate coating was just the right thickness to hold it all in place. There is a nice tartness from the infused cream that helps keep them from being too overly sweet, and overall, it is a lovely bite.

I took them to rehearsal with me (which is why I wanted to have them for today) and they were hit. This is a recipe I will definitely be making again.

Citrus used: 1 lemon, 1 mandarin orange

Total citrus used so far: 2 mandarin orange, 10 tangelos, 11 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

One potato, two

Today was Baking Sisters, and since we’re still meandering our way alphabetically through the states, this month it was time for Idaho. Or rather, this month it was time for all things potato.

The official pie of the state is Huckleberry pie, but as berries are Not Food (and also huckleberries are both not in season, and nowhere to be found around here anyway), we skipped that one. However, the official cookie of Idaho is the Potato Chip Cookie, and the official sandwich is the Potato Salad Sandwich (no I am not making that up), so clearly we had to give both of those a try.

Oh and also because of my need to use up citrus, plus my recent acquisition of a madeleine pan, we also made Lemon Madeleines.

So this morning shortly after I got up, I zested and juiced some lemons, and then mixed together the madeleine batter and got that into the fridge to chill. Then, once we started our video call, and after we got the potatoes into the pot to boil for the potato salad, I filled my madeleine pan and put that back into the fridge to chill some more.

The recipe for the potato salad includes carrots and eggs (which get boiled in the same pan as the potatoes), and also chopped celery and cubed cooked ham. The dressing was just mayo, salt and pepper, and seemed on first glance that this was going to end up pretty bland, but we pressed on, deciding to follow the recipe exactly. Neither of us thought to halve the recipe because it didn’t seem like it was going to make all that much….at least until we started mixing everything together and realizing that no, this makes a TON. Hmm, guess what we’ll both be eating now for days!

Technically we should have used white bread, but instead Richard and I put a scoop of the salad on some leftover Lemon Buns from yesterday for lunch. It was…okay, although my sister and I were correct in that it is extremely bland and is in desperate need of *something* (she stirred in some pickle relish, and I am thinking that a large dollop of mustard might be needed for mine, but we’ll see). I feel like this whole concept might have potential, but possibly not as a sandwich, or at least not without a whole lot of additional help.

As for the potato chip cookies, it’s basically an oatmeal cookie with crushed potato chips mixed in. They’re a perfectly acceptable cookie, I suppose, and there’s that same aftertaste that you get from potato chips (slightly greasy, slightly salty, a hint of something fried), but this isn’t a recipe I’m ever going to be wanting to make again.

And moving on to the madeleines – well, they puffed up perfectly, they all had the requisite hump, and they tasted fine….but they got a little too brown (they should be a pale golden brown, oops).

They were fun to make, however (despite the multiple chill times), and since I have this pan, I will definitely be making madeleines again, although perhaps I’ll try a different recipe .

Citrus used: 2 lemon

Total citrus used so far: 1 mandarin orange, 10 tangelos, 10 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.