Still Life, With Cats

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Two and done

There was a horrific wind storm in Sacramento last Tuesday night. These pop up every couple years and every time, there’s a ton of trees or branches down – it’s a hazard when you live in a city of trees, especially when some of the trees are as old and as huge as the ones in our neighborhood. We’ve had ginormous branches come down in our area before – one landed on our neighbor’s boat a few years back, but it usually isn’t too bad. However, Wednesday morning we woke up to see this.

Later in the day I went out to get a better sense of the scope of the damage. This is how big the branch actually was.

It blocked the entire street.

Thankfully the tree it came from did not also fall – that could have taken out a house or two. Thankfully no one was hurt (unlike a lot of other places in the city – there were trees on houses and power lines ripped out all over the place). Thankfully we have awesome insurance. But it’s been a hassle, dealing with inspections and paperwork so on. They finally towed away the blue car yesterday – due to its age and the extent of damage, the insurance company declared it a total loss. That’s okay, we figured – with both of us working from home right now, there’s no rush to replace my car. We can easily adjust to being a one-car family. The red car was towed to the body shop, and we’ve had a rental car, so we would be just fine until it was repaired.

But this afternoon I got a call from the insurance adjustor – there was enough structural damage to the red car that it, too, is being considered a total loss. That was followed by a notification that, now that we’re not waiting for one of our cars to be repaired, we only get the rental until the end of next week.

So…I guess this weekend we’ll be car shopping. During a pandemic. This should be *fun*.

– – – – –

I didn’t get around to making yesterday’s orange thing yesterday, because it was a long day and the last thing I wanted to do at the end of it was bake. So today I made two things – both of which had the unfortunate attribute of using up oranges but not tasting like oranges at all. The first was Orange Cornbread. As cornbread recipes go, this was pretty tasty, but the orange juice addition was a wasted effort, but it made a delicious side to the pork stir fry I whipped up for lunch.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

In this week’s episode of ‘Will It Blend?’

This morning I was in the mood for muffins so I looked online and found this recipe, and the premise was so intriguing I decided to give it a go. Because for these muffins, instead of just stirring in juice and/or zest (the usual way of using up an orange in a baked good), you actually cut them into pieces and then blend the entire orange (yes, peels and all) into the dough. Wacky!

Since we have a giant mound of Mandarins in the fridge, I decided that three were probably the rough equivalent of one regular orange, so I quartered them and added those to all the ingredients (minus the flour) and then pulled out my stick blender and blended (messily) until the oranges were no longer recognizable. Then I stirred in the flour and poured the batter into my skull cake pan, because one should use a skull cake pan as often as one can, after all, and popped them into the oven and hoped for the best.

Note to self: while the skull cake pan works great for some recipes, do not bother doing that with these muffins again. If you squint really hard you can sort of make out the skull, but otherwise they look more like misshapen lumps.

Unconventional appearance aside, however, they tasted absolutely delicious. If you were to guess what the ‘special’ ingredient is, you wouldn’t assume whole ground-up oranges, you’d instead guess cornmeal, since that’s what the interior color and texture reminds me of.

The orange flavor definitely comes through. I was worried that the inclusion of the peel would make them bitter, but that was thankfully not the case. And bonus: it used up another three mandarins from the pile. This is another recipe that we’ll definitely be making again.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Do these count as a serving of fruit? (part 1 of 28)

Hooray, it’s February, and that means it’s time for Thingadailies, where I make a thing a day. This year I’m going to be focusing on citrus, but unlike in years past, this year it’s all about the orange – or at least the orange citrus, since the fridge is overflowing with tangelos and mandarins from our trees.

To kick the month off, I decided to make these Orange Sticky Buns. They have several appealing features – the first being that they’re not yeasted, so they are something I could easily whip up on weekday morning before my long trek to the office (aka, walking downstairs still in my pajamas with some coffee and a cat), and the second being that with half a cup of juice required, they would use up at least several of the citrus mountain that has taken over our kitchen.

The dough itself is more like a biscuit dough – you just mix it together and then pat it out into a rough rectangle, spread on the filling, roll them, cut them, and bake. The filling is similar to the typical sticky roll filling – brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon, but with the addition of some zest. But what makes them officially sticky rolls is the orange glaze, which starts with what is basically an orange infused brown sugar caramel that’s poured into the pan before the rolled buns are added.

The house smelled absolutely delightful while they were baking, and once out of the oven, they did not disappoint.

They took a bit longer to bake than anticipated, and I probably could have left them in just a bit longer, since the middle ones were just on the edge of under baked. But overall, they were extremely delicious, and a fantastic way to use up a couple mandarins.

Yum! I would definitely make these again.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.


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.

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!


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.

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.


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.