Still Life, With Cats

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A pound lightweight

Today was kind of exciting. California was hit by a rather nasty storm, with winds gusting upwards of 60 mph in our area, and even higher down in Southern California. We had friends over for an impromptu game day, and halfway through, the power went out. Thankfully it was still light out, so we moved toward the window-side of the table and were able to continue our gaming, but it did mean my plan for (yes, another) soup for dinner was thwarted.

Luckily, however, I had made cake. Or rather, Sandtorte.

A little backstory on what that is and why I picked it. For Christmas this past December, my little sister, my niece, and I all got a copy of B. Dylan Hollis’s cookbook: Baking Yesteryear. If you haven’t stumbled across his baking videos, by the way, I highly recommend you check them out. He’s got a quirky sense of humor and some of the recipes he’s made are absolutely delicious (and of course, some, not so much).

Anyway. Since we all got a copy we decided we’d jointly make one recipe from the book every month, then report back to each other on how it turned out (Why yes, I do do a lot of food-related personal challenges, why do you ask?) In January, we picked the Grasshopper Pie, which I thought was pretty tasty, probably because I used nonalcoholic syrups for the flavoring instead of the Creme de Menthe and Creme de Cacao that the recipe called for, while my sister and niece used the real thing and apparently were not fans (hooray for my accidental better choice!).

This month we picked the Sandtorte, which is from the 1900’s. It’s kind of a pound cake sort of cake, except that you use half flour, half cornstarch, and you whip the egg whites (of the SIX eggs) separately before folding them into the batter, so that at the end you end up with a surprisingly light cake.

The recipe said to place a doily on the top and then sprinkle it with powdered sugar to create a pretty pattern.

Gosh, if only I knew someone who had several dozen random knitted doilies downstairs in a cupboard? Oh that’s right, it’s me!

Anyway. Here is my cake.

The sandtorte

Not the best backdrop, but by this point we had no power anywhere in the neighborhood so I had to make do with wherever the most light was available.

The interior is a cross between a pound cake and an angel food cake, which sounds like a complete oxymoron but I don’t know how else to describe it.

It’s a tasty enough cake, although there’s not a huge amount of flavor. I suspect this would be much improved with the addition of a cream or a sauce. Perhaps some lemon curd. Hmm. If only I knew of a small Meyer lemon shrub that routinely tries to overload me with fruit around this time of year…..

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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.

Healthy start

Oh look, it’s February again, which means another year of Thingadailies. In prior years I’ve had some kind of plan for a theme of what I’ll be making but this year I just haven’t come up with anything so…we’re going to play it by ear. And thus, today, I made Curried Cauliflower Soup.

Last year, I started thinking about the fact that we like soup, but we don’t actually have that many recipes that we make, and wouldn’t it be fun to expand our soup repertoire. So I went back through all the bookmarks in my Recipes to Try folder, and polled my family and friends, and made a list of a bunch of recipes, and then we set ourselves a goal of making one new-to-us soup recipe every week for the entire year (or a total of 52 different types of soup). Obviously not all of them will end up in our favorites list, but at least we’d have tried lots of new stuff and hopefully added a few more to the recipe box.

This recipe is pretty simple. You cook up some onion and some garlic in a little bit of oil, then add vegetable broth and a massive pile of cauliflower, plus a bunch of spices (although weirdly curry was not actually one of them) and simmer that until everything is soft. Break out the stick blender and blend it until smooth, then stir in some coconut milk to add a bit more depth and richness to the flavor.

The recipe suggested serving it with some roasted cashews sprinkled on top, but we skipped that, and instead had it with slices of Granola Bread on the side.

Verdict – it’s definitely tasty and we’d be perfectly happy to make it again, but we were both absolutely starving about an hour later, so this soup would be better as a side dish instead of as the main course.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Baking Sisters: The Christmas Edition

This month, instead of doing our baking date through virtual means, we decided we would actually do it in person. It was my year to host, so my entire family was here (you would not think we could cram eleven full grown adults into our tiny living room but somehow it always works out), and my sister and I figured we could sneak in some baking time then.

We’ve really enjoyed this season of Great British Bake Off – the new host is much better; the format was back to what it used to be; nearly every week my sister and I wanted to bake at least one of the recipes (unlike in years past when we’ve been uninspired), and sometimes we have even struggled with *which* recipe to make because we wanted to make them all.

So for Christmas we decided we wanted to make a plaited bread. Christmas morning I mixed up the dough for another lardy cake (since my sister hadn’t yet made that one), while she mixed up the dough for a basic white bread. Then once that was ready, we rolled it out super thin and brushed it with garlic herb butter. Once that was rolled up, we then had a discussion of how many strands to do in our plait. The contestants had to do a minimum of 5, but we decided to do six. My sister started cutting the long roll, and then as she finished we realized she’d actually cut it into eight pieces instead. Oops.

Ah well. We roped my niece into helping while my mom took pictures, and we rolled each piece out into a long, thing rope. Then we got to plaiting. My sister wanted to find a video, but I was pretty sure I had an idea of what to do.

Things got a little silly.

Three women laughing, heads back, while forming bread.

Okay, we probably should have watched a video, but once we got started, we got the hang of it.

Two women plaiting a loaf of bread. Picture shows just their hands and the bread in progress.

Ta da!

Two women holding a large plaited loaf of bread

It was a lot of fun to make, and it was nice to be able to bake together in the same place for a change. And bonus, it was absolutely delicious!

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 the past umpteen years some friends and I do a cookie exchange in December. This year I decided that instead of cookies I’d make white chocolate citrus truffles instead.

I’ve made this recipe before, a year or so ago back when I was doing my annual ‘how to use up the bazillion citrus fruit from our trees’ self challenges, and they were such a hit that I have hung onto the recipe to make again. The smooth, creamy ganache in the center has just enough citrus flavor to make these a refreshing bite.

Truffles are actually a fairly simple thing to make, as long as you’ve got space in your freezer for all the chilling steps. First you steep your heavy cream with your flavoring for twenty minutes – in this case, the zest of a lemon and an orange (I used zest I froze in a tiny bit of cream from last year’s citrus crop, since our fruit isn’t quite ripe yet). Then you pour the cream (strained, if you’re using something like zest) over a bowl of chocolate, stir that all together until it melts, and then chill it until firm (this will likely take a couple hours.

Once the ganache is completely chilled, next you scoop it out into individual truffle centers, lined up on a cookie sheet. I use a small cookie scoop to form my truffles, because this allows me to have them as uniform as possible. Pop that back into the freezer for another couple hours, then take them out and roll each one into a ball, before stashing them back into the freezer for a bit longer.

Finally, you melt whatever chocolate you’re using for dipping, plus a little bit of vegetable oil or shortening to help loosen it a bit, and start dipping (I used a fondue fork, but they do make special dipping forks if you want to get all fancy). You’ll want to do this in stages, as you don’t want all your truffle centers to thaw and start to get lumpy during the process. Carefully slide your dipped truffle onto the cookie sheet, where if you’ve done this all correctly, the outer coating of chocolate should set up almost immediately. You might have to do a little patching on the bottoms once they’re set, but otherwise, ta da, you’ve got truffles!

White chocolate citrus truffles

Currently pondering tackling a couple other flavors (peppermint, or espresso, or even salted caramel), because even more sweets is *exactly* what we need this time of year, but ha, when did *that* ever stop me?

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

The infinite pieces of my heart

A couple months ago I was called to the center to pick up a super tiny little kitten, only about a day or so old.

She’d been found, abandoned, in someone’s back yard. They tried feeding her but she refused, so they brought her to a rescue, in the hopes that someone else would have more luck. It was clear she was brand new – still had the umbilical attached, and her eye slits barely visible. She was a tiny little thing, but apparently her lungs were well developed, because that wee baby was LOUD.

I took her home and named her Feuilletine (it’s a baking thing, go look it up) and tube-fed her a couple days, until she finally decided that latching onto a bottle nipple was a more acceptable method of obtaining food.

Her eyes opened and she grew.

And grew

And grew.

She hit the super chompy stage that all kittens reach, so we got her a playmate, Praline.

She and Praline became the absolute best of friends. They charged around the house together, regularly chomped on each other’s faces, and were constantly snuggling during naptime.

Today these two adorable buddies were adopted, together.

And I am so happy. This is why I foster, so that they can grow up and thrive, and go on to fill someone else’s house with purrs and snuggles and love.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.