Still Life, With Cats

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These past eighteen months have been just so weird. I’m a hermit by default, and was already working fulltime from home, so the lockdown didn’t impact a lot in that regard, but even with that I did *occasionally* leave the house – to go to rehearsal, for example, or to some random meeting place for my knitting group.

Things have improved a little – instead of rehearsing online, we’ve been rehearsing in person (and had our first actual real, live, in person concert this past weekend – which will be available for streaming next weekend if you’re interested in something more than the same old boring holiday carols for your seasonal music), and my knitting group has been able to gather once or twice. But it still feels a little strange to consider planning any sort of gathering.

That being said, as we’re all vaccinated and boosted, and masking up everywhere and being smart, the knitting group decided we would give our annual cookie exchange a try again, in person (Last year we did the exchange but met outside just to hand over little bags of cookies while staying the requisite six feet apart).

It was a small group of us, but it was lovely. We all nibbled cookies and drank mulled cider and hot chocolate and (decaf) coffee, and snuggled kittens and even broke out the knitting (which is harder to do while simultaneously snuggling kittens, but everyone made it work).

It is late now, and I should be going to bed, but the house smells delicious and there are still kittens to snuggle, and hopefully by this time next year it won’t feel so strange to think about gathering together in person again.

Baking Sisters – the 2021 Cookie Edition

Yes, yes, I know that we’re all done now with the Great British Baking Show for another year, but there’s just one more baking-related catch-up I need to do. At least this one is more recent, as in from this past weekend.

Each year since we’ve been doing our monthly Baking Sisters video bakes, my sister and I pick some sort of general theme. But then we hit December and we’ve already got a lot of holiday-related baking to do, so December usually is just cookies – whatever kind we feel like making. This past Saturday we baked our cookies together over video chat, and had a lot of fun.

This apparently being the year of ignoring traditions, I asked Richard if there were any cookies he absolutely had to have at Christmas, and he and I agreed that it might be nice to have something ginger-flavored but otherwise no. So since I’ve got two cookie exchanges going on this year instead of the usual one, I decided I’d take this opportunity to try out a bunch of new recipes, to see if any of them might work.

Conveniently, King Arthur Baking Company recently posted a list of 14 new recipes, some of which sounded super interesting, so I picked four:

I made the chocolate molasses dough first, since that had to chill for a couple hours, and then moved on to the alfajores, which only had to chill for one hour. Next I mixed up the rye ginger dough and got those into the oven, and then moved on to the lemon shortbread…except that the recipe calls for masa harina, which I don’t have and didn’t want to have to go buy (there’s only so much room in the freezer for flours that don’t get used very often), so instead I did some quick Googling and found these Whipped Lemon Shortbread cookies and decided to try those instead.

After the rye and the lemon cookies were cooling, then I made the chocolate molasses thumbprints, filling them with a molasses and chocolate ganache after they were cooled. And finally, I rolled out the alfajores, and once they were cooled, sandwiched a couple with some of the dulce de leche I made earlier that morning.

So how did they all turn out, you ask?

Well, as tasty as chocolate and molasses might *sound*, I did not actually like those at *all*. Nor was I a fan of the Rye Ginger – there was something very off-putting about the texture of the rye in those cookies. As for the Whipped Lemon Shortbread, something was wrong with that recipe because they literally crumbled into pieces when I tried to remove them from the pan. Delicious pieces, mind you, but somehow I doubt anyone in either cookie exchange would be happy to get a bag of crumbs, no matter how tasty they might be.

The alfajores, however, were a success. The cookie is thin and has a delicate flavor of spice (interestingly the coffee didn’t come through much at all) and the dulce de leche added just the right amount of creamy texture and sweetness.

As for the rest, well luckily Richard liked them, so they’re all his.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Two for one

I had a plan for yesterday’s orange thing, except that yesterday morning we got a call that our new-to-is car had arrived. We scheduled a time after dinner to drive out the CarMax in Roseville to pick it up, and figured since everything had already been taken care of, it would be a quick trip – plenty of time to make orange things once we got home. Ha. NOT.

On the plus side, buying a car online means significantly less time spent getting the hard sell for all the extra stuff they want you to pay for. On the negative side, we were still stuck there for several hours, because they took it off to be detailed and that took soooo long. So by the time we got home it was super late and I just didn’t feel like trying to tackle anything in the kitchen.

But at least now we have a car – a 2017 sea foam green Prius. I drove it home and it felt just right – everything where I expected it to be (unlike the rental), with a couple huge improvements over my old recently squashed 2004 Prius – backup camera! Automatic bluetooth synching with my phone! Heated seats!

Anyway, today I made up for missing yesterday by making two orange things. The first was this scrumptious Orange Walnut Bread, which I didn’t photograph because I got distracted by work and kittens, and ah well, just take my word for it, it’s super tasty and if you happen to have some oranges floating around in your fridge that need using up, you should whip up a loaf of this right away.

The second was the thing I intended to make yesterday – Orange Sesame Brittle. The concept sounded very intriguing – who doesn’t love a good brittle, after all. You toast the sesame seeds and zest an orange, then you make a caramel, and then you stir the seeds and zest into the caramel with some butter, and finally you pour it onto a pan and let it cool.

It certainly *looks* pretty.

But once it was cooled and we broke off a piece to taste, we both looked at each other and shrugged. It’s just….eh. It needs *something* – maybe some salt, or some additional flavoring? No idea, nor am I motivated to try to figure out what was missing. Ah well, not every recipe we try can be a winner. And at least the bread was a smashing success – yum!

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

It’s the little things

Things that make me happy today.

This arrived, yay!

My sister got hers too. So between now and Saturday I’ve got a cake to bake and some rice krispie treats to form into specific shapes, in preparation for the main, live, virtual decorating event, but at least now I don’t have to worry that this box (like some others) somehow got lost in the mail).

I get to cuddle with these for nearly one more week.

Of these four kittens, I bottle fed the front three, and the one 3rd from the front is a kitten I have raised since he was only 1 day old, making him my youngest bottle baby ever. So it’s going to be especially bittersweet to send him off to the adoption center next weekend, but it’s okay because this is why I do what I do (fostering).

And the very best thing of all today – news that the Electoral College confirmed (yet again) the Biden-Harris win for 2020. I admit I’ve been holding my breath, waiting for the despicable orange shitgibbon to screw that up somehow, but he couldn’t. I’m not sure how many times this means the Biden-Harris ticket has won (and more importantly, that Trump has lost), but every time it happens again I feel a sense of giddy relief. January 20th can’t come soon enough. I expect I speak for the vast majority of the entire planet when I say that.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Unintentional hot rod

Yesterday afternoon I headed out to my car, got in, started the motor, pulled out from the curb, and then stopped because holy moly it sounded like I was trying to rev up a jet engine, and since this is a (very, very old) Prius, something was very wrong.

Several neighbors popped their heads out of their doors, drawn by the unexpected noise, and a few nodded their heads.

“You’ve had your catalytic converter stolen” my next door neighbor said, as he got down on his hands and knees and peered underneath my car to verify.

So I reversed my jet engine back to the curb, and then went back inside and started the process of setting up an insurance claim and filing a police report.

Turns out, catalytic converter theft is a big problem right now, especially for older model Priuses and Hondas (I had no idea!). The police officers who came to take my report last night said it’s usually a two-person team – one jacks up the car just enough so the other can slip underneath and saw it off – and the process takes only a couple minutes.

Thankfully, since Richard’s currently working from home, I can use his car (technically mine is driveable but seriously, my neighbors do not need to have to listen to that racket any more than necessary!), and my insurance company is awesome, and I’ve already filed the claim and scheduled a time to drop it off at a body shop tomorrow. And in the grand scheme of things for the year, this is small potatoes. But that doesn’t make it any less annoying to have to deal with. Ugh.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Unforeseen hazards

One of the things about kitten fostering is that even if you have one room solely dedicated to the kittens, sometimes you have to separate some out for whatever reason, and then there will be kittens in the bathroom. Due to a kitten recovering from a leg amputation (her femur was shattered prior to her being found and brought to the rescue through which we foster), our upstairs bathroom has been a secondary kitten holding space for the last few weeks.

The thing about having kittens in the bathroom, of course, is that then any trip to use the facilities takes significantly longer.

Usually this is because it’s really hard to just zip in and zip right out when there are adorable kittens demanding attention right there in front of you.

I mean, honestly, how are you supposed to resist sitting down and giving these adorable little cuties a snuggle?

But other times it’s because, well….

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Let the hall decking begin

In the past eleven years we haven’t done much decorating for Christmas, primarily because we got Rupert and Ingrid in the fall of 2009 and that Christmas marked the beginning of the self-decorating tree trend, which began with Rupert and Ingrid, and continued on with Sherman, Nutmeg, and finally Timmie.

But this year, now that Rupert is eleven and fairly calm, and Sherman is eight and also showing signs of slowing down, we thought that maybe, just maybe, we could try decorating like normal people. Also, there’s this pandemic raging through the world outside and having a little extra sparkle and cheer in the house would be nice. So we bought ourselves a new tree (and donated the old one to someone who was thrilled to get it), and this past weekend we put it up.

In years past Sherman has been extremely involved in tree assembly, but this year he was mostly interested in the box.

Cornelius M. Peabody, however, was all in on helping to make sure the top was perfectly straight.

So far the furry contingent have left the tree (mostly) alone, so this might finally be the year we can drag out the nice stuff that’s been gathering dust in the attic for over a decade.


Fingers crossed.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

For you have slipped the surly bonds of earth to dance the skies

I have wanted to write this for months, but have been unable to find the words. Perhaps the first day of Holidailies isn’t the best time, but here we are. There are so many things that will burn 2020 into our memories, but for my family, the one that burns the most is that this is the year my dad died.

I hold my grief deep inside. I cried once – when my older sister called, before it was certain (although I think we all knew the final outcome), but otherwise I grieve dry-eyed and quiet. Loss is a thing that sneaks up on you when you least expect it, and I have found myself looking for memories of him, wanting to remember him how he was, years ago before his slow decline.

There are so many things that connect the two of us. The analytical makeup of our brains. Our fear of heights. The shape of his eyes that stares back at me from the mirror. Every time I write something down, there is his handwriting – eerily similar enough to have fooled (inadvertently, usually) more than one person over the years.

The memories keep sneaking up on me, these past few months. Riding in the back of that ancient VW bus, that would pour cold water from the cooling system onto those of us in the back seat every time it went uphill. Building things in the garage. Laughing until we all were crying. Playing duets on the piano, or gathering together as a family to play together, on whatever instruments we had on hand. Him teaching us to ride bikes. Singing together in the car. Playing together in the recorder ensemble – both the one he formed, and then later the one in Sacramento. All the instruments he built over the years; all the ones he taught himself to play, just for fun – including banjo and bagpipes, among the dozens of others.

He told me for years I should try programming and when I finally, in desperation, did so, it turned out he was right. His gentle nudging shaped my entire adult career.

This is the year my father died. Perhaps at some point it won’t feel so strange and wrong to write that. I’m not sure I believe in the traditional version of heaven, but I do hope that somewhere out there, some part of him still exists. And if that’s the case, I hope that wherever he is, there is music.

*Title is taken from High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

This is the world we live in

When you think about plagues and pandemics you think of the dark ages; of times when they didn’t know much of anything about medicine and thought that illness was brought about by vapors and immoral living. And so it is strange to realize that here we are, right smack dab in the beginning of one.

We here in California are no strangers to being told to stay indoors, due to regular fire (and its accompanying smoke) season we get every year. But this time it’s different, since while we can go outside and walk around and not have to worry about the air quality, we can’t gather together in one place. The entire state is now under a mandatory ‘shelter in place’ order. And this makes me so incredibly glad that I live in California, where at least the government seems to get it, and is taking steps, even if it has been a crazy jumble of changes over the past few weeks. And, panic buying of toilet paper aside, it has been nice to see people rising to the challenge, forming volunteer groups to make sure the elderly and infirm have access to what they need, checking in on each other, and generally recognizing that society works best when we all chip in. Yes, there will always be those few who try to find a way to profit off the misfortune of others, but humanity could not have survived as long as it has without the vast majority of people recognizing that working together for the common good is the better way.

It would be interesting to see how this pandemic is written about in the history books, hundreds of years from now, where countries like South Korea are held up as shining examples of how to respond (mass testing, etc.), and where countries like the US are held up as prime examples of how to do everything wrong, where the government is being systematically destroyed by the GOP and their orange sock puppet, they deliberately withheld both vital information, and access to tests (offered willingly by the World Health Organization), because it was more important that Trump keep the total numbers artificially low so it wouldn’t impact the stock market, or his chances at reelection. I hope history treats him and all his despicable cronies no better than they deserve for everything they’ve done that has led up to this.

A whole new world

When we bought our house, back in 2007, it had a huge second-story deck off the back that was in really bad shape (massive dry rot in some places, wobbly railings, etc.). Over the years, it slowly went from bad to worse (railings broke off, stairs collapsed), but we left it alone because there were more pressing projects to address inside. We blocked off the door to the deck so no one could even go out there, and figured we’d deal with it some day.

Eventually though, the whole thing started to sag, to the point where we realized if we left it much further, it was going to come down on its own, and take part of the wall with it. So a couple months ago we finally bit the bullet and had it redone.

The next step, of course, was to turn half of it into a catio, because we do not believe in spoiling our cats around here, nope, not at all.

So here it is, in all its finished glory. I freely admit we’ve already been having our coffee out here since the frame and doors were put in place, and the cats have been able to start investigating.

These are views from the kitchen door. The screening above the railing is all chicken wire, and there’s screening over the top, so they can’t sneak out that way (and nothing can sneak in). We had the benches added because 1) the space is huge and this way there’s plenty of seating for when we have people over, and 2) it’s a way to give the less agile cats (cough, Nutmeg, cough) a way to get up to the higher levels.

And this is the view from the far corner. There’s a set of double doors, so we can open it out onto the rest of the deck.

Action shot (with Sherman and Timmie)

It’s exactly what we were hoping for, and so far the cats seem to be just as happy. At some point we’ll get another light put in, and possibly an electric outlet so maybe I can bring my work laptop out there every once in a while, but for now, it’s done.

As for the citrus things, today’s was Tuscan Lemon Muffins, made with ricotta.

Pretty tasty. I’d definitely make these again. We enjoyed them with our coffee this morning in the catio, while watching the cats enjoying the outside world.

Citrus used so far: 6 lemons, 5 tangelos.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.