Still Life, With Cats

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Dark in all the right ways

Be of good cheer, my faithful readers, because today I did not make soup! Instead I made focaccia. Chocolate focaccia, that is.

When King Arthur posted this recipe as their bake-of-the-week, I knew I had to give it a try. The yeasted dough is similar to a traditional focaccia recipe, with the addition of black cocoa to the batter (plus a tiny bit of sugar to counteract the bitterness of the cocoa), but then you knead it for 15 (!) minutes before stirring in some chocolate chips. After the first rise, it then goes into a pan prepped first with a puddle of olive oil – focaccia dough actually rises in an olive oil bath, which helps give it that characteristic slighty chewy outer texture. At the end of the rising time, another healthy glug of olive oil is drizzled over the top, then you use your fingers to poke it full of holes (I have no idea why focaccia has holes; I just know they’re required), and sprinkle some pearl sugar over the top.

I wasn’t entirely sure how this would work, since chocolate plus yeast dough isn’t always a winning combination, but oh my goodness, this turned out delicious!

It’s got the focaccia texture and open crumb interior, but with little pockets of chocolatey goodness, plus the occasional pop of sweetness from the pear sugar on the top.

Definitely worth the effort.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

You had me at ‘bacon’

Day 2 of Thingadailies, and it’s time for more soup, mainly because we fell behind and needed to catch up if we were going to stay on track with the one new recipe a week plan.

Tonight’s soup was Chicken Bacon Chowder. While yesterday’s soup was light and chock full of veggies, this soup swings in complete the opposite direction, combining chicken, onion, leeks, mushrooms, and of course bacon, in a crockpot and cooking it all day so that the entire house smells amazing by dinner time.

A crockpot full of delicious chowder

Unlike yesterday’s soup, we were definitely not hungry after eating a bowl of this chowder. I think next time we make it I’ll cut back on the salt, and maybe do a couple healthier tweaks (subbing in coconut milk instead of the cream, for example, or using only half the bacon), but it was exactly the thing for a cold night when it’s been a long day at work and all you want is food that doesn’t require any effort (because all the effort happened 8 hours before).

We did, by the way, eat more of the cauliflower soup for lunch, although this time we paired it with grilled cheese sandwiches made on the Sourdough Sandwich Bread I baked this morning. Yum.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

What lingers

Ever since I had COVID, shortly before Thanksgiving, I occasionally try to take a breath and instead end up coughing. I’m not too concerned because while it’s definitely annoying, it’s a lingering symptom that apparently a lot of other people have also had, so I could see the direct connection and know that eventually that will go away. However, I’ve been struggling these past few weeks with just an overall inability to think – I have felt like I am losing words when I try to speak them and my brain has felt sluggish. And it wasn’t until my sister said ‘Oh, you have the brain fog’ that it dawned on me that this, too, is also a lingering effect of the disease, and I was so very relieved. Like with the occasional shortness of breath, the brain fog is also a common side effect of the disease, that will also eventually clear up (at least in the majority of cases it seems to), but at least now I have a reason, and that makes all the difference.

The thing that has scared me the most about getting COVID, well, after the first couple months, once they were able to find ways to successfully treat it, is not dying from the disease. Even in the height of the pandemic, the vast majority of people who came down with it didn’t die. What scares me the most is what happens after. A huge percentage of people end up Long COVID – damage to major organs, the sort that is going to cause them huge problems later on in life; ongoing breathing issues that never fully resolve, damage to the heart or kidneys; immune system deficiencies. And every time you get reinfected, your chances of long term problems rises.

I know we will both likely end up fine; the symptoms we have usually clear up after a couple months, and meanwhile we’re back to being extra careful about exposure. We both got Paxlovid, which is supposed to help prevent things from getting worse after the initial infection. But still. So many people out there are still getting sick and so many people are still dying, despite how much the media wants to pretend that it’s gone.

Feeling cozy

Every year Richard and I like to watch the cheesy holiday themed rom-coms. It’s the same reason we enjoy watching cheesy horror – we get a kick out of the cheap special effects, or the formulaic plot (and how else would we have ever been able to enjoy the delights that are ‘Llamageddon’, and ‘Zombeaver’?). Holiday cheese doesn’t have so much of the cheap special effects, but they do usually take place on the same movie lot setting, with a lot of the same tropes.

However, this year we’ve inadvertently stumbled across a couple movies that, while marketed as the usual Holiday cheese, turned out to be anything but. So if you’re in the mood for some holiday warmth, try one of these movies.

Last Christmas
This movie was marketed as the usual trope of girl meets guy, who helps her learn the true meaning of Christmas. Except that’s not actually the plot at all; it’s more that she has been through an extremely traumatic event that impacted both her individually, and her friends and family (who are all dealing with their own unrelated traumas), and that she has to learn to let go of the expectations that they had for her, and more importantly, that she had for herself. Yes, there’s a romantic subplot….except there’s a twist, which I won’t spoil (although I figured it out about halfway through the movie and was totally fine with). Don’t watch if you’re playing Whamageddon, but otherwise, don’t pass this up. If you’re looking for the usual romantic happily ever after, you might be disappointed, but I thought the ending was significantly better for not requiring that.

Rescuing Christmas
The tagline is that a woman wishes Christmas would disappear and then the meet-cute guy helps her find it. But again, this is not the usual cookie-cutter romance – in fact, the romance is only a minor subplot to the rest of the story. There are elves (but not the cutesy kind), a rather delightful North Pole Board President, a Santa, and yes, the meet-cute guy, but the main point of the story is more about the main character getting out of her own way. I admit the room got a tiny bit dusty at the very end, but sometimes the best movies are the ones where there are some (happy) tears.

Round and Round
This is a extremely enjoyable take on the time-loop idea, but the main holiday is Hanukkah, not Christmas. It’s a Hallmark movie, yes, so of course there is a romance, but it’s more nuanced, with lots of moments of humor, and a big loose-knit collection of family (both related and not) who all are there to support the main character with whatever she’s going through. The movie has a different sort of twist than the usual time-loop, and while the romance is definitely a central subplot, the primary focus is, once again, for the main character to get out of her own way. Track this one down if you can – it’s delightful.

‘Tis the season for Holidailes.

Taking notes

Have you ever had a day so mentally exhausting that you can do nothing but come home and stare blankly at the TV? Well, that would be the past two days.

Since the pandemic the group in which I sing has done a professional recording of our concert the weekend prior to the actual live performances. This not only counts as our main dress rehearsal; it also makes it accessible to folks who don’t live in the Sacramento area.

This year, we’re performing at three different venues (all churches), and one of them was willing to give us a discount if we also came and sang music for their service. So yesterday’s very long day kicked off at 10am. We sang, then went and grabbed lunch, and then came back to do the recording…which we finished at shortly before 8 pm. By that point we were all completely exhausted, but at least it was finished.

Today I felt like I was moving through a fog most of the day, and at rehearsal this evening it was clear I wasn’t the only one. Thankfully tonight’s rehearsal was more about blocking (although we still did a full run through of all the pieces). Usually I come home from rehearsal exhausted, but mentally wired, but not tonight. I love the music we’re doing, but oof, all I can think about right now is getting some sleep.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


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.

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.

Flavor, and the lack thereof

This morning for breakfast I made Lemon Poppy Seed Scones.

I’ve made scones oodles of time in the past, but I believe this is the first time I’ve ever put poppy seeds in them. Otherwise, they came together pretty much the same way as all the other scone recipes I’ve tried – you mix your butter into your dry ingredients (you could do this with your fingers, or a food processor), then stir in the wet ingredients only until just mixed, then form into a circle, cut into 8 pieces, separate slightly, and bake. Then you make a glaze (lemon juice plus powdered sugar) and drizzle that over the tops once they’re cooled.

My scones always look a bit slumped – I suspect I should chill the formed dough prior to baking it, except that I am usually in a hurry and don’t have time for that.

Anyway. I was rather disappointed by this recipe. The scones themselves have almost no flavor; the only flavor (such as it was) comes from the lemon glaze, which although lovely, is just not enough to make eating a tasteless breakfast pastry worth it.

Citrus used: 1 lemon

Total citrus used so far: 1 mandarin orange, 10 tangelos, 6 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.