Still Life, With Cats

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Baking

Stroopwafel Saturday

My younger sister is a baker – not just a baking enthusiast like me, but a ‘went-through-training-and-knows-what-she’s-doing’ baker. So she’s who I contact when I have questions about why my bread is doing things it shouldn’t be doing, or what sort of cookie dough one should use when one is going to do cut-outs with patterns, and that sort of thing. She also, like me, loves to try new recipes, and on a recent trip up to Seattle to visit with her, we took advantage of the fact that we were both in the same place with access to a kitchen, and tried out a couple recipes – chocolate-filled hand pies, and homemade Tagalongs (the chocolate-covered peanut butter-filled cookies one can usually only get from Girl Scouts). It was messy and silly and tasty and a lot of fun and when I got home I got to thinking that if she and I lived closer, we’d likely be getting together on a regular basis to try out recipes and play with butter and sugar and flour.

So a week or so ago I sent my little sister this recipe and said, hey, even though we’re not in the same place, maybe we could try doing these together over Google Hangouts. She was game, so we checked our calendars, and today was the day.

The recipe itself is pretty straightforward – you mix up the dough and let it sit for a bit, and then you make the caramel (both of which smelled absolutely delightful while going together), and then you make the cookies themselves. And then the next step is to split an already-thin cookie into two even thinner pieces, while still hot (possibly there was a tiny bit of swearing and uttering of ‘ow, ow, ow!’ during that process), then dollop a generous amount of caramel in the middle and finally, smoosh the two pieces together, spreading the caramel syrup between them. Then you set those aside to cool and when they are done, you have stroopwafels!

If you happen to have a pizelle maker, which my sister does because she scored it for $10 at a garage sale years ago, then you can smash the dough in there and it will come out nice and thin with gorgeous patterning on both sides. However, if you do not have a pizelle maker (like me), you can jury-rig a dough-smashing system via the clever combination of an electric skillet and a saucepan. Put the dough on the skillet, grease the bottom of the saucepan, and then use that to smash it down into a flat thing. Pro tip – a regular waffle iron doesn’t work (I tried) – the divots are too deep and your dough won’t smash thin enough.

Here are my finished stroopwafels. I know they look a lot like lopsided pancakes (see above re. ‘don’t have a pizelle maker’), but trust me, they’re actual cookies, with delicious brown sugar maple caramel syrup in the middle, and they are quite, quite yummy.

The end result of the whole thing is that we both had a lot of fun, laughing and chatting over the video call, showing each other our dough and our cookies and our caramel, and we have decided we are going to try to do this on regular basis. Because after all, we live in the future now, with webcams and laptops that can be propped up in the kitchen, and living two states away from each other should not be the deterrent to doing something we both love to do, together.



Two little wins

Two recent ways in which I am winning at this whole ‘adulting thing’:

1) Yesterday I *really* wanted some sort of baked good, except I didn’t want to actually have to *bake* it (because sometimes I am just not in the mood, yes, I know, I too am shocked by this, and also sometimes all I want is just one little piece of a thing, and not an entire giant batch of thing – see above regarding the ‘adult’ part of this equation). I suppose one of us could have gone out to purchase a thing, but we were both tired and needed showers in order to go out in public, so that was my excuse to lounge, slug-like, on the couch and simply whine about the lack of baked goods without actually doing anything constructive about it.

Today I was feeling the same need for baked goods, and then it came to me – mug cakes! Single serving size, doesn’t require heating up the oven (it’s been roughly 5-bazillion degrees outside for the past several weeks, after all), and once it’s done, there aren’t any other servings lurking in the kitchen to tempt me.

So I made myself a nutmeg spiced mug cake…uh…I mean…’mug breakfast muffin’, thereby satisfying the craving for baked goods while not actually having to go anywhere *or* dirty more than a couple mixing utensils and a bowl, and thus it was a win.

2) This one may only be relevant to some of you – the sort who either currently live with, or have lived with, small creatures prone to making messes. In this scenario, the mess-making creature is, of course, a cat.

I was sitting on the couch, knitting, and I heard the tell-tale sounds of a cat about to hurl. I looked up, to see Sherman perched atop the tiny little end table by the window, head angled so as to achieve maximum mess-making potential once he let loose.

I only had seconds to respond. Leaping to my feet, I grabbed a small box that had been left on the coffee table, and charged over toward the cat. At the last possible moment, I reached out, box in hand, and CAUGHT EVERY SINGLE BIT OF IT. Said box was then closed up and stuffed into the trash, mess free. Definitely a win!

The fact that a different cat managed to hork in exactly the same place several hours later without me being able to make a similar save, thus requiring the exact amount of clean-up I was trying to avoid in the first place, is not relevant here. Shh. Leave me my joy.



Staging

Technically I am off work this entire week, except that yesterday I had a conference call and some stuff I had to send out, and some updates to do, and this morning I had another conference call and so on, but I made it very clear that after 10am, I was going to be out of reach. I suspect my inbox will be in a mild state of panic by the time I return, but oh well.

I picked up my little sister and her family at the airport this morning, by doing my usual double-loop around the airport, because ever since they put in the new parking garage and reconfigured the parking, I get confused every single time I go there. The signs do not help, as they point to the different terminals, and thus make it seem as if there is different parking for each terminal, when in reality there isn’t and would it kill them to put up a sign saying ALL parking?

Anyway. I am at least smart enough to give myself extra time for the inevitable ‘how do I get to the damn parking garage’ kerfluffle, and was there waiting for them at the bottom of the escalators as they came down to get their luggage. Then we headed home, after making a brief stop to get coffee for my sister (who likes a little blood in her caffeine system).

When we got home, my sister and I (okay, primarily it was her, while I occasionally handed her things and shooed the cats off the kitchen island, where technically they are allowed to be because we gave up years ago when it became clear that allowing them on the island meant they were less likely to then try to get onto the counters, except that they aren’t helpful when one is trying to roll out dough) made several batches of gingerbread while my brother-in-law cut templates out of cardboard and then cut out all the pieces. We also made chocolate crinkles and here is where I have to giggle because when I travel, I make sure to always bring yarn with me, while when she travels, apparently she likes to bring baking paraphernalia with her, like her favorite cookie scoop, and pastry bags and tips, and so on. I did manage to appall my sister (heh) by the fact that I only own one whisk (because most of the time I don’t ever need more than one at a time).

By the time Richard got home from work the house smelled delightfully of gingerbread and chocolate and yummy things. We ate lasagna for dinner stuffed with veggies, and ate cookies for dessert. Everyone camped out in the living room with the cats and various laptops and Kindles and so on and we chatted and laughed and oh, I wish they lived closer so we could do this more often. Sigh.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



Tart

Yesterday was technically my Friday off, which is of course why I ended up working anyway, except while sitting in my sweats at the dining room table. Ah well. I suppose I could be upset about it except that I really do like the project that’s been sucking up so much of my time, and also if one is working from home in sweats, one can also zip into the kitchen from time to time and whip up some cookies.

For the last few years I’ve made a huge batch of gingerbread men for the annual cookie swap, but this year I pondered the fact that the Meyer lemon tree in the backyard is once again determined to blow us away with the sheer volume of fruit (for a tree that is barely four feet tall, it is disturbingly prolific), and so instead I made Almendrados, because hello recipe that calls for 4 teaspoons of lemon zest per batch! As an aside, grinding almonds in the food processor is really, really loud and the cats do *not* approve.

Of course the downside to requiring a vast amount of lemon zest is that then one is left with a lot of naked lemons lying about on one’s kitchen counter, and so this morning I decided to ask Google what to do about it. Google obligingly provided a recipe for Lemon Pancakes, although it also required lemon zest which meant that I *still* have naked lemons on the kitchen counter (but fewer than before, so hooray for that).

I am…ambivalent about the recipe. They were okay, but I prefer a thicker, more cake-like pancake and these were a thinner, floppier sort of affair. So this one isn’t going into my ‘to keep’ pile, but hey, if you are the thin, floppy sort of pancake lover, I can highly recommend it.

In the meantime, all this cookie baking and pancake making means I have now made it through roughly 1/100th of the lemons on the damn tree. Okay. Perhaps I exaggerate. Maybe it’s really closer to 1/99th.

*****

Today’s amusement is the 2015 Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog. For some reason I was not aware of this annual tradition until now. How could I live with myself if any of you readers were also similarly unspoiled? #BARKYEAH.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



Don’t blink

Somehow it is nearly Halloween, a fact which didn’t quite hit me until a day or two ago. Yes, yes, people have been decorating their yards with various graveyard paraphernalia, and giant spiders have been popping up all over the place, and there are pumpkins everywhere we go, but still, wow. Almost Halloween. Where did October go?

Halloween means parties – the neighborhood one, and then the ones at work – and parties means I have to come up with some kind of appropriately themed food. In years past we’ve done Litter Box Cake for Richard’s work party, but it’s kind of a pain to make and one recipe makes a LOT of cake, so we always have a ton of it leftover. I’ve also done ‘finger’ cookies (cute and tasty) and cat poop cookies (disturbingly realistic, and not really tasty enough for the effort) and so on, but this year I was pondering ideas and then remembered that I now possessed a set of food color pens, and then I figured out immediately what I was going to make: Monster Eyes.

I started with a basic almond cookie. I have been making almond cookies for years and years (it’s something my mom used to make). If you do a Google search for ‘Chinese almond cookie’ you’ll find a bazillion versions of the recipe so I’m not going to bother posting all the details here (although if you really want to know, I used this recipe primarily because the recipe I normally use uses shortening and I didn’t have any in the house). Also, although most of the recipes online don’t call for it, I rolled the dough into logs and tossed them into the fridge to chill for a couple hours, because it is then *so* much easier to slice them evenly so you end up with exactly the number of cookies you need.

Usually I do not bother to use blanched almonds because we pretty much always have a giant bag of raw almonds in the freezer (handy for baking / snacking), but if one is to decorate cookies, one needs blanched almonds. After consulting Google (all hail Google), I discovered that it is stupidly easy to blanch almonds yourself, so armed with 120 almonds (because yes, that’s how many cookies I churned out in one day – three dozen per party, plus a couple extra for….uh…quality control testing), and some boiling water, and two huge batches of cookie dough, I baked up a huge batch of Monster Eyes.

I am quite pleased with how they turned out. Decorating them was extremely simple (which is good because my artistic skills when it comes to food decorating are pretty much nonexistent), and consisted of waiting for the cookies to cool and then drawing a little black oval ‘pupil’ onto the middle of the almond. Poof. Monster Eye.

MonsterEyeCookies

In retrospect, I could have really had fun and stirred in some food coloring, but I didn’t actually think about that until after the third batch was in the oven, so ah well, maybe next time.

Posting for Horrordailies. Boo.



W is for Waylaid

I often make a lot of plans for what I am going to accomplish in an evening after work, or on a weekend.

And then I come home and I sit down at the computer to do a quick catch-up on my email, or on the couch to do a few rows of knitting and…I am waylaid.

Sometimes it is only one cat.Waylaid5

Usually it is two.
2015-04-25 Waylaid1
2015-04-25 Waylaid2
Waylaid4

And every so often, it is three.

2015-Waylaid3

The letter W is brought to you by the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.



The scent of ginger; the screams of the damned

Today, according to the days-of-the-year calendar I found when I was, once again, scrambling to throw together enough prompts for Holidailies for the whole month of December, is Cookie Day. I have no idea who designated it Cookie Day, but hey, I’m not going to fuss. This is a yearly event I think we all can stand behind. Especially based on the nifty little present Richard’s mom got for him and his two sisters this past weekend.

She says, when she saw this in the store, that she thought immediately of her children. I cannot imagine why.

WalkingGingerDead

Okay, maybe I can imagine why. Just a teensy weensy bit.

Anyway. In honor of it being Cookie Day, we decided to make ourselves a tiny little army of Walking Gingerdead cookies. The first thing I noticed, upon turning the box over to read the instructions, is the chirpy, happy little box of text at the top of the box (click the picture to make it larger). Clearly this is something they probably put on every single box of cookie mix, but it seemed a wee bit more amusing considering that we were about to whip up some zombies.

WGD-back panel

We mixed up the dough and rolled them out and tossed them into the oven to bake. Then later, once they had cooled sufficiently, we decorated them. Or perhaps I should say we tried to decorate them. Let’s just say that there’s a reason neither of us has ever attempted a career in the bakery arts.

So here are our Walking Gingerdead cookies. The 3 in the middle are from a regular gingerbread man cookie cutter. When one has a zombie horde, it is crucial that one also provide them with victims.

WGD-done

Shortly after this picture was taken, two of the zombies were promptly eaten. Because even gingerbread victims need to have a fighting chance when faced with the gingerdead.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies!



Cookie math

Cookie swap and upcoming charity thing at work for which we are to bring cookies.

Calculation: six cookies + one dozen people + extra cookies for nibbling beforehand / after + cookies for charity thing at work later this week = bazillion cookies.

Butter + sugar + sour cream + molasses + ginger + baking powder + flour + more flour + even more flour + dump more flour on counter and roll them out + cutting out a bazillion cookies + inhale dinner + raisins  + red hots + baking + huh, these aren’t turning out quite like I remember them.

Subtotal cookies (not quite enough)

Subtotal cookies – subtotal cookies after discovery I used baking powder instead of baking soda in first batch and that’s why they are all dense and look kind of weird.

Sigh.

Butter + sugar + sour cream + molasses + ginger + baking soda + flour + more flour + even more flour + dump more flour on counter and roll them out + cutting out a bazillion cookies + cat for the love of all that is holy, please STOP WHINING I cannot hold you right now + raisins  + red hots  – red hots because what do you MEAN they are out of them at the store how can they be out of red hots? is this the end times?  + tiny little flower things as poor nose substitutes but at this point I no longer care + Sherman get OFF the counter right now + this is insane next year I am making drop cookies + baking.

Cookies + bags + containers= done.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

 



Long proof

Nothing much happened today beyond going to work and knitting. So instead I shall tell you about this year’s Sisters Only Weekend, which actually happened back in July.

For those of you who are new to my little corner of the internet, my two sisters and I have been going away for a weekend (just us, no husbands and no kids) for 11 years now. We started it because we all live relatively far apart (one sister lives in a completely different state, and one sister lives a few hours’ drive away from me) and are all busy with our own lives and it was hard to try to keep in contact and maintain some sort of connection. Now, each year, the emails start flying back and forth in January, and we find something fun to do that is within a short drive or plane flight, and that can be done over a weekend. In years past, we’ve gone to Vegas,  rappelled into a cavern, wandered through pitch-black lava tunnels near Mount Saint Helen, and explored Sacramento on Segways. Each year we try to do something different, with the added caveat that the weekend has to include something a little out of the ordinary – a mandate which was started the first year, when on a whim the three of us did kareoke (something none of us had ever done before).

This year, my older sister and I flew up to Washington, my younger sister picked us up at the airport, and we all headed off to spend the entire weekend baking.

The baking part is not necessarily something new for all of us. My younger sister is actually a trained baker, and I do a lot of baking just because I really, really enjoy it. My older sister, however, hasn’t played with yeast quite as much as us (although we all grew up learning how to make bread from my mom), and we all figured whatever our initial skill level, it would be a lot of fun (and also delicious).

We got there a bit later than expected, since traffic on the freeway was all manner of rush-hour exciting, so we missed the first round of mixing up sponges for a lot of the doughs we’d be working with over the weekend. But we didn’t miss everything – once we’d dropped our suitcases off upstairs, we came immediately back down to the kitchen and were put to work mixing up whole wheat dough, and working on bagels, because we had a *lot* to get through over the weekend. The bread was baked that night, but we put all the bagels onto trays and then played refrigerator Tetris trying to get them all tucked away for the night.

I was really excited about doing the bagels, because I have tried them several times at home and they always turn out flat and disappointing. Alas, these ended up over-rising, and even though we boiled and baked them in a wood-fired oven the next afternoon, they just didn’t quite work out. They were still quite tasty, though.

Saturday was pretty much a crazy whirlwind of baking. We got up, ate breakfast, and then immediately set to work. First up was white bread with cranberries and walnuts (although I opted for only walnuts in mine because I am not a fan of cranberries). We also made foccacia dough, which is an involved process involving a bazillion turns in an oil-filled container. In fact, most of the breads involved a whole lot of turning and resting, turning and resting, and the majority of them started out a much stickier, softer dough than I’m used to using. The lady who runs the place trained under German bakers, so it was definitely fun to learn some new techniques.

Here is where we also inadvertently got to do a thing we’d never done before. Friday night we’d been talking about how we do this weekend every year and mentioned some of the crazy stuff we’ve done, and somehow the possibility of taking rides in the bucket truck came up (there just so happened to be a bucket truck on the property because they were doing some work to one of the barns). I thought we were all just joking around, but Saturday morning, the handyman showed up and then before I knew it, we were all standing around outside, taking turns going up in the air in the bucket truck. I suspect the older gentleman who was also part of our class had never imagined that a 3-day course in baking would include a side trip up into the air in a bucket truck, but he jumped right in and had a blast.

After that was done, though, it was right back into the kitchen, mixing up even more dough for the next day, as well as for that night’s dinner. Perhaps the easiest of the yeast doughs we made the entire weekend was the one we used for the pizzas we made for dinner, shaping the dough and then rolling it out onto peels and sliding those into the wood burning brick oven she had on the back patio. Dinner was eaten outside, at a table set up in a gorgeous field, where we could see alpacas in the distance and enjoy the breeze.

Sunday was a rushed day. We tackled scones pretty much as soon as we got up. I’ve done scones before, and learned early on that the key to avoiding a tough, chewy scone is to work the butter in by hand, and then just barely mix in the rest of the ingredients. Her recipe was even lighter than the ones I’ve made – in part, I suspect, because of the inclusion of heavy cream. Everyone got to pick what type of scones they wanted to make, so there was quite an assortment of flavors to nibble for breakfast and the rest of the morning. Then we immediately tackled sweet breads, twisting dough that had been started the day before into complicated shapes filled with cinnamon sugar. And finally, we made beignets, starting with a sweet brioche dough and ending up with a maple and pecan glaze.

This is when it occurred, belatedly, to my older sister and I that we had no clue how we were going to get all this bread home with us (note to self – when attending a baking weekend, bring an extra suitcase next time). So they somehow scrounged up a huge box, and she and I fit every single bit of our baked goodies into it (there was a LOT), and then it was time to head back to the airport and catch a plane home.

I don’t know how long everything lasted at my sisters’ houses, but I stashed most of what I brought home in the freezer and then Richard and I worked our way through it for more than a week after. And also, the following weekend, using the recipe she’d given us, I finally managed to make perfect bagels.

BucketSisters

My sisters on the left, me on the right, and the poor guy who was in the class with us (I think he was a bit overwhelmed – my sisters and I tend to do a lot of being goofy when we’re off on our Sisters Weekends).

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



Eggs. Stir. Mix. Bake.

For Richard’s 40th birthday, 5 years ago, I threw him a surprise party and made him a Cthulhu cake. For this most recent birthday, I decided to make an army of Daleks.

We used a recipe I found on the BBC website as a jumping off point (yes, I made Richard help me, but only because assembling these things took a lot longer than I’d been expecting). The day before the party I made 2 dozen cupcakes and one regular sheet cake. Then we peeled all the papers off the cupcakes and used an appropriately sized biscuit cutter to slide out 24 cylinders from the sheet cake, and I whipped up a batch of chocolate butter frosting and applied a crumb coat to all of the cupcakes and the cylinders, and then we stuck them in the fridge overnight to set. The day of the party I made a second batch of frosting and assembled all the bodies. Richard was in charge of applying peanut butter chips down the sides to mimic the side bolts of the Dalek body, and I assembled arms and eyestalks out of pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate.

dalekcupcakes

As should be painfully obvious from both the Cthulhu of five years ago, and the Dalek cupcakes of just a few days ago, no one will ever accuse me of being a cake decorator. But it was fun to put together something a little out of the box that fits into Richard’s nerdly sensibilities, plus pretty much everyone there recognized what they were right off the bat. Also they were tasty, which is really the most important qualification when it comes to cake.




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