Still Life, With Cats

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Happy Molasses Bar Day!

I am very excited about this because I love the combination of molasses and all the dark, sweet spices that usually go along with it, and prior to this little challenge I had never even *heard* of molasses bars, so this is a brand new (to me) recipe. Is it a regional thing? I don’t know! Who cares! Let’s make some molasses bars and then eat every single one of them in one sitting!

A quick search of the internets finds a variety of things called ‘molasses bars’ so I am not actually sure if the one I made is the ‘true’ molasses bar, or if there is such a thing as a ‘true’ molasses bar, but I digress. Basically this comes together like a stiff cookie dough – the sort that is usually rolled out and cut out with cookie cutters, except that for these, you grease and flour a cookie sheet (did they provide a size for this? No, they did not, which is a bit frustrating as cookie sheets come in a wide range of sizes) and then you press the dough into the cookie sheet (this will be messy! Use lots of flour) and then you bake what is essentially a ginormous soft molasses cookie. The recipe calls for raisins, but as previously discussed on this site, raisins are Not Food, and thus, I ignored that ingredient, because why sully such a delicious morsel with those grape abominations? Why?

Here they are in all their molassesy glory.

Verdict: Absolutely delightful. I am saving this recipe and will definitely be making them again. Like most things made with molasses and those spices, they need time to sit, so the flavors come through, and are thus likely to be much tastier the day after, than fresh from the oven (although fresh from the oven is also quite delicious). Also one batch makes a bunch, so it’s convenient that Richard’s writers group met at our house tonight, so that the bars could be distributed among a larger group of people and thus were not left to sit on the counter to tempt me.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

When a cow and a rabbit become very good friends…

Today is both Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, and Carrot Cake Day, so obviously we had to celebrate both.

Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, according to Wikipedia (which as we all know is the absolute *epitome* of factual accuracy, cough cough), was invented in the 1960’s by an exasperated mother. I have a sneaky feeling that Ice Cream for Breakfast Day was actually invented a lot earlier than that, (in fact I’m pretty sure it came into being the morning after the invention of ice cream in the first place), but the formal designation of it as a National Day is a more recent thing, if only because the ability to submit weird and wacky food-related days via the internet to a gathering house sort of website wasn’t around back when ice cream magically popped into being. Think what all those ancients were missing out on.

I like ice cream, obviously, but I am ambivalent about carrot cake. On the one hand, it’s usually a lovely, moist cake and there is usually cream cheese frosting involved. On the other hand, it is far too often used as a vehicle for raisins, which are a horrible thing to do to a grape and are therefore Not Food. Luckily if I’m making it myself, I can avoid the Not Food parts of the recipe. Ah, the power of being a home baker.

I admit I did go Googling for recipes for carrot cake ice cream (and trust me, there’s quite a few out there) but then I got to thinking about how ice cream by itself isn’t a very filling breakfast, and cake would be a much better option, and also there’s still vanilla bean ice cream in the freezer so I really didn’t need to be making *more*…all of which is to say that this morning, we started the day with some vanilla bean ice cream and a slice of this Carrot Cake Coffee Cake, which covered both bases.

The recipe calls for 2 cups of shredded carrots. Therefore one serving totally counts as a serving of vegetables for the day. Yum.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Ooh la la

Today is La Chandeleur, which is a French holiday where they eat crepes (I am sure there’s probably a lot more to it than that, but the only part I care about is the crepe part, because yum, crepes!). Today is also National Tater Tot Day, except that I couldn’t figure out a way to incorporate tater tots into crepes, nor did I really want to because ew, so actually let’s just forget I mentioned the tots. Today is all about the crepe!

I’ve made crepes lots of times, because they’re kind of fun and also tasty. Basically crepe batter is really just pancake batter with extra liquid stirred in, so you could probably make them with any standard pancake recipe, with some minor adjustments (well, any pancake recipe that doesn’t include a lot of chunky bits; you are aiming for thin, smooth batter, after all). You don’t need a special pan; all you need is a regular frying pan and a non-metal spatula (I use a silicone one – the type you use to scrape down the sides of a bowl) because a metal spatula is more likely to tear your delicate pancakes.

Two things to keep in mind to make a successful crepe are low heat, and oil. The pan needs to be lubricated (nonstick spray works just fine here) and it can’t be too hot, because once you pour in the batter, you then need to very quickly tilt the pan around so that the batter spreads out as thinly as possible. Too high a heat, and the batter will cook too fast, so your crepe will end up too thick, or lumpy. The oil is because these things are really delicate, since they’re so thin, so you want to prevent them sticking, or else your lovely smooth crepe will turn into a shredded, sad mess.

Crepes are extremely versatile and work just as nicely with savory as well as sweet fillings, so one batch takes care of both dinner and dessert. With that in mind, for dinner tonight, we had crepes stuffed with ham, mushrooms, and swiss cheese.

Cornelius M. Peabody, III was quite excited about his. He’s a big fan of crepes.

And for dessert, we decided to light things on fire!

Or in other words, I made Crepes Suzette, which is a fancy way of saying I mixed orange juice, butter, and sugar in a pan until it reduced, and soaked the crepes in that, and then poured some alcohol over the crepes and set it on fire. Which, by the way, is another thing that would have been a whole lot easier to do if I only had a kitchen torch. Ah well.

The crepes were all quite tasty.

The cats were all, as usual, unimpressed.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Cloudy with a chance of ice cream

Hooray, it’s February, which means it’s once again time for Thingadailies! In years past I’ve knit dishcloths and crocheted teeny tiny snowflakes, but I was having a hard time coming up with what to do this year. Despite the fact that there are plenty more snowflakes in that book, I wasn’t really feeling the snowflake love for a third year in a row, nor was anything knit jumping out at me.

Then my little sister shared an event for Ice Cream for Breakfast for this coming Saturday (why yes, that *is* foreshadowing!), and curious, I started tracking down why this was apparently a thing, and it turns out there are entire websites devoted to all the weird days of the year, and I started looking through all the National Days for February, and thus, my plan for 2018 was born. Every day for the month of February, I will be making something having to do with whatever that day’s National Day is.

Luckily we’re starting off with something easy, because February 1st is National Baked Alaska Day. This is a dessert that looks complicated but it actually isn’t, because all it requires is cake, ice cream, and some meringue. No sweat!

First you start with some cake. Any cake will do, but for the purposes of tonight’s bake, I used this recipe, because there are only two of us and Baked Alaska isn’t really a thing that keeps well, and also last Saturday was National Chocolate Cake Day (go on, Google it, I’ll wait), so technically I made the cake for that, except I put it into two little mini tart pans and saved one of the cakes for today.

Then you pick some ice cream and you shape it into an appropriately sized blob. I used vanilla bean, because that pairs well with chocolate. I’m sure there’s some fancy schmancy way to form an ice cream blob to go atop your cake, but I just stuffed another mini tart pan with ice cream this morning and tossed it into the freezer and figured that would work.

Finally, you need some egg whites and sugar, which you whip into meringue. This takes several minutes, which means you have plenty of time to chisel the ice cream out of the mini tart pan (pro tip – line your tart pan with plastic wrap before filling it with ice cream, which is a thing I did *not* think to do until after the fact, hence the chiseling part of the equation), but you also have time to then lick all the extra ice cream out of the tart pan once you’ve extracted the vaguely tart-pan-shaped blob and placed it on top of the cake.

Next you stuff all the whipped meringue into a piping bag and if you are a trained pastry chef or someone who is actually good at decorating you cover your ice cream-topped cake with a beautiful array of meringue rosettes. Or if you are someone like me, you sort of blob meringue randomly all over the place until it looks like someone melted the head of the Staypuff Marshallow Man on a pan (because you have to make sure the ice cream is completely covered), and then you either torch it (if you happen to have a kitchen torch) or else you stick it under the broiler until the top is golden brown and hopefully not burnt, or until you notice that ice cream is leaking out the bottom and you hastily extract it from the oven before it all dissolves.

Here is my *beautiful* Baked Alaska. I totally meant for it to look like this. Um. Yeah.

You may note the ice cream, leaking out at the bottom there. Oops.

This is the cut view. The ice cream was really starting to melt by this point so I’m sure it could be a lot prettier but oh well!

Verdict – it might not look like much, but it was quite, quite delicious. The meringue was soft and airy and was not too sweet, which I was admittedly a bit worried it would be. I might actually be tempted to try this again.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

The word of the day.

A long time ago the fats of choice for baking (and for cooking) primarily came from animals, because frankly, that’s what was available. It wasn’t until more recent history that we decided that animal fats were bad and started making fake fats that act the same as animal fats (and turn out to actually be worse than the original anyway), and the good stuff (at least in America) fell out of favor.

Yes, I’m talking about lard here. Lard, lard, larrrrrrrd (let’s face it, now you’re saying it in your head, ha, my work here is done!). I’ve played with it ever so briefly before, when a friend sent me a jar rendered from her own animals, and as long as that jar lasted I had a fierce discussion in my head every time I used it, which consisted mainly of ‘is this baked good lard-worthy?’ Because lard, I am here to tell you, makes some *delightful* baked goods. You want a super flaky crust? Bring on the lard! Biscuits that are soft as pillows and yet still flaky? Lard is your friend. Hooray for the lard!

Anyway! All this is to say that ever since I watched my first season of the Great British Bake Off I have been wanting to try hot water crust pastry, which uses lard but also hot water, which as any baker knows is the antithesis to flaky food. Except that apparently it isn’t! Because lard? I don’t know! We just don’t do this sort of thing in this country!

So for this month’s #BakingSisters challenge, we decided to tackle hot water crust pastry. And not only that, but we decided if we were going to do this, we were going to go all out, and so we did free-form, hand-raised pies, of the sort that are baked without any mold at all, just like they did back in the old days.

Cat interlude #1: Here, have a picture of a Sherman being cute!

So. We made our hot water crust pastry, which was really, really, *really* weird to work with. Since neither of us has ever done this before, we have no idea if we were doing it right, or if the consistency was correct, but we mixed up the weird goo anyway and then dutifully formed it over some pint jars, as per Paul Hollywood’s excellent instructions. Because the beauty of doing this sort of thing when one is *not* on a baking competition is that one has access to a recipe with *all* the steps, and not just vague hints.

I didn’t take a picture of the jars before they were chilled (that was the next step) but here are the pies after I carefully peeled them off their jars (easier said than done) and then spent about fifteen minutes doing clumsy patchwork so as to avoid any structural failures later, and then stuffed them with filling. My sister made one around a jar, and then put the other into a tiny springform pan so technically only one of hers was truly free-form, but okay, if I actually owned a tiny springform maybe I would have done that too.

The filling was from a different recipe and is really just meat, meat, and more meat, with some salt and pepper and a bunch of other spices mixed in. This is because these things were originally designed for people who were heading off to do a full day of manual labor so they needed something that would be calorie dense and would also keep in decent condition wrapped in a cloth and stuffed in a pocket or a sack. Also meat is less likely to lose a lot of water and lead to a soggy bottom and we all know that the *last* thing you want is a soggy bottom!

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right, building my pies. Next you stick lids on top of the pies, into which you have carefully cut holes for the steam to escape, and you crimp (HA HA HA) it into place (the laughing is because neither of us actually *measured* our lids so they didn’t fit but luckily they were too big and thus provided extra dough for the structural spackling required earlier). Pro tip – make sure you cover the plate on which you were chilling the lids with plastic wrap or else you might have to chisel it off said plate prior to placing it atop the world’s ugliest hand raised pies. Ahem.

Then into the oven they go, for roughly an hour, during which you realize that the recipe makes wayyy too much meat filling, so then you decide to use the lard (lard, lard, larrrrd!) to make *more* pastry dough. Except without the hot water because that was just nasty.

Interlude #2! Here’s a cat in a box! Said cat spent the majority of the entire baking session *whining* because I have no idea why except cats.

Finally the pies came out of the oven. I am pleased to report that my pies did not leak, nor did I have any significant structural failure (unlike my sister’s free-standing pie, which had a rather impressive blow-out on one side).

So. Once the pies are out of the oven, you are supposed to then pour in a mixture of broth and gelatin, which is supposed to fill in all the nooks and crannies to keep the meat moist or the pie from collapsing or something. I have no idea. All I know is that mixing broth and gelatin creates a concoction that smells absolutely *foul*. And also there was literally no room at the top of my pie in which to insert a funnel so that I could pour in the meat jello in the first place. So I didn’t end up doing that part.

And how, you may ask, did they taste?


The filling was fine – a bit on the peppery side, but otherwise about what you’d expect if you mix sausage, bacon, and poultry together in a bowl and smash it into a pie crust. The crust is sturdy and yet still a bit flaky.

Overall, it was fun to try, although I have a feeling neither of us is going to be dashing off to work with hot water crust pastry again any time soon. And I am quite happy to report that were no soggy bottoms on either side of the webcam (Mary Berry would be so proud).

Mmm. Lard.

This time around we came up with a hashtag

Because we had so much fun making Stroopwafels, my sister and I started immediately working on what we wanted to bake next. She was in the mood to do something with yeast dough, so a flurry of possible recipes flew back and forth. Since I picked the recipe the last time, I told her she had to pick it this time, so finally she decided on these, which are yeasted buns filled with cinnamon and chocolate, and plaited into a complicated shape. Due to the fact that it’s a yeast dough, we decided we’d both make the dough and set it aside for its first proof, and then join up via Google Hangouts for the next half of the process.

Looking at the recipe, I noted that we were going to be otherwise twiddling our thumbs for an hour during the second rise, which is why we then also decided to make the Cinnamon Star from King Arthur Flour. Conveniently enough, that happens to be the current monthly bake-along from King Arthur Flour (although I hadn’t realized it at the time I suggested it), so that link actually includes lots of details and pictures of the entire process, if anyone else wants to play along.

I made both doughs last night and popped them into the fridge, but the dough for the buns didn’t work out, so this morning I hastily remade it…which is why we ended up swapping the order for what we made, since my dough needed extra time to rise.

Anyway. First up – the cinnamon star. My sister’s made that one before, and she happens to have a lot of apples so she decided to add some chopped apples to her cinnamon mixture, whereas I stuck exactly to the recipe.

Here is my star, prior to baking.

It looks way more impressive than it has any right to be (trust me when I say this was a hot mess prior to the cutting and the twisting step).

So once we had the stars formed and resting under towels, next we tackled the buns.

These were…a pain. The instructions are text only, so both of us were reading them aloud, trying to figure out what, exactly, we were supposed to be doing with the plaiting and the stuffing. At one point I was holding up the laptop, so that the camera was facing down at my worktop, trying to plait the dough one-handed (not very successfully) so she could see what I was doing. Suffice it to say, neither of us has a clue whether we did it correctly or not. But we got them all plaited and stuffed, in one form or another. Here they are, rising.

So once *that* was done, and all the snickering and inevitable comments about ‘playing with our buns’ were out of our system (I kid, those will *never* be out of our system!), it was time to bake the stars.

Here is my cinnamon star, after baking.

It smells as delightful as it looks, and tastes even better!

Here are my sister and I, with our respective stars.

Hers spread out a bit more due to the apples (and took a lot longer to bake because the apples made the dough a lot wetter).

Verdict from both sides of the Google Hangout – yum!

And then about 20 minutes after those came out of the oven, it was time to pop in the buns. Which then proceeded to grow to ginormous size in the oven.

Think I’m kidding about the size? Here we are, both of us posing with buns almost as big as our faces. One of us may or may not have quoted modified lyrics to Baby’s Got Back at this point. Mayyyybe.

Naturally we allowed these to cool completely before we, oh who am I kidding, you all know darn well we cut one of those suckers open and tried it immediately.

The dough itself is quite lovely – it’s a nice light texture and has some good flavor. The filling was…eh. I suspect next time I need to try to get a lot more of the sugar mixture into there (or else don’t use as dark a chocolate as I did). Verdict – tasty, and fun to try, not something either of us will likely do again.

So overall, the second #BakingSisters day was a success.

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.


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.


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.