Monday, November 25, 2013

Caught the Cats!

Lovely Daughter #1 caught Mama Cat last night! 

Then she caught two of the kittens this morning, and the last kitten just a few hours before midnight. She used humane traps and plenty of stinky, yummy food:

Early this morning Lovely Daughter #1 and I took Mama Cat to the vet to be spayed:

She was not pleased. But her life now that she is fixed will be so much easier. Tonight Lovely Daughter #1 released Mama back into the garden. Daughter will continue to feed Mama and give her a safe, dry place to sleep on rainy and/or cold nights.

I took this photo while Mama was at the vet waiting to be processed. She looks so young!

When she wasn't giving me the Stink Eye, she gave me a lot of the back of her head:

All three kittens are safe and in the house, ready to start the process of "gentling" them so they can be adopted into loving homes. LD#1 caught the first two kittens with canned tuna fish. The last kitten--the most timid one--wasn't having any of it. So LD#1 brought out the Big Guns--fried chicken. That did the trick. 

Tomorrow starts a new chapter in my life--sitting for hours with three kittens, teaching them to trust humans, to accept head skritches, to not freak out when a gentle hand is extended. I'm more of a dog person; I don't really gravitate toward cats. But I will do this because it's the right thing to do.

It's not the cats' fault. Somebody let Mama get in this predicament. LD#1 and I were there to help her and her little family out of a bad situation.

Meanwhile, here's a sobering thought. I saw this handbill in the vet's office today:

Please, spay and neuter your pets. Tell all your friends to, also.

It's the right thing to do.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Dont. Want."

As I was walking the dogs a few days ago, I spied a brown-paper grocery bag by the side of the road, not near anybody's house. On it was scrawled in large, black letters "Dont. Want."

The punctuation may be iffy, but the message was clear enough. Inside the bag lay a jumble of glass and china items:

The foundlings included two mismatched wine glasses:

A nice-sized Pyrex casserole dish:

Some mismatched little saucers:

And an equally mismatched collection of espresso cups:

Including these three. The photo makes them look like big coffee mugs, but they're actually petite: 

Also there was one full-size coffee mug in English bone china:

I took them all home to give them a wash and pack them off to Goodwill.

As I walked home, I wondered: Is my neighborhood overrun with lazy people who can't be bothered to taking their castoffs to charity?

Or has my neighborhood figured out I'm the crazy chick who will take care of their household orphans for them?

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Smitten Kitchen" Breakfast Bars

Granola bars, breakfast bars, and energy bars are perfect for today's "grab-n-go" lifestyle. But honestly, some of the ingredients in a typical storebought bar give me the creeps: Preservatives, artificial color, and guar gum? Ugh!

That's why I love "Smitten Kitchen" breakfast bars. Within minutes I can whip up a batch, and all week long I have a preservative-free, homemade alternative to those shiny-wrappered granola bars.

These babies are delicious and so easy to make. In a mixing bowl you combine dry ingredients, including rolled oats, chopped dates, sliced almonds, and a bit of wheat germ and cinnamon:

In a smaller bowl you stir together some almond (or peanut) butter, honey, almond extract, and--surprisingly--olive oil. Don't be tempted to substitute corn or canola oil. The olive oil lends a subtly sweet, almost floral note to the bars that is simply superb:

 Stir the contents of two bowls together:

Dump the mixture into a baking pan lined with parchment paper:

(Ack! Photos of my hands always look so weird.) Press the mixture down into a solid, flat mass:

It will look like this when it's ready to pop in the oven:

After the mixture has baked to a golden brown, remove the pan to a cooling rack until it reaches room temperature. Pop the still-uncut bars in the fridge; cut into squares when chilled. The hardest part of this recipe is waiting for the mixture to get cold enough to cut them:

Here's the recipe. Once you taste these, you may never go back to store-bought bars!

Almond Date Breakfast Bars from "Smitten Kitchen"
1 cup (150 grams) chopped dried pitted dates
1-1/4 cups (110 grams) quick rolled oats
3 tablespoons (22 grams) barley or wheat flour
1/3 cup (35 grams) wheat germ
1/2 cup (55 grams) thinly sliced almonds
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (65 grams) almond butter
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1/4 cup (85 grams) honey
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing the paper to go up the opposing sides. Do the same in the opposite direction. This parchment "sling" makes it easy to remove the bars from the pan in one piece.

Stir together the dates, oats, flour, wheat germ, almonds, salt, and cinnamon in the bottom of a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, honey, orange zest, and almond extract until smooth Pour the wet ingredients over the dry mixture, and stir them together until the dry ingredients are evenly coated. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, pressing the mixture firmly into the bottom, edges, and corners to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan. I like to use a piece of plastic wrap to protect my hands as I do so.

Bake the bars for 20 to 25 minutes, until they're brown around the edges--don't be afraid to get a little color on the tops too. They'll still seem soft and almost underbaked when you press into the center of the pan, but do not worry--they'll set once completely cool.

Cool the bars in their pan placed on a cooling rack or in the fridge. (Alternatively after about 20 minutes you can use your parchment "sling" to lift and remove the bars, and lace them in their paper on the rack to cool the rest of the way. This can speed the process up.)

Once they''re cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. If bars seem crumbly, chill them further in the fridge for 30 minutes, which will set the "glue," then cut them cold.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Letters from the Past

Lately the past has spread itself out all over my family room.

I'm sorting through a huge box of letters that my dad wrote to his mother and his siblings during World War II. He was in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in England, and flying bombing raids over Germany. A lot of the letters he wrote were on these little forms--"V-Mail":

 I've been separating the letters into piles by year, and within year by date:

I plan to read through every letter line by line, but for right now I've just been glancing over them quickly. Already it's so intriguing!

I've seen enough to know I'm going to learn a lot about my father as a young soldier, father, and devoted son. He writes about his hopes and dreams, his growing skills as a pilot, his fears for America if it doesn't win the war. It's fascinating.

When I was young, Dad never talked to me much about the war years. But now, in a way, he is.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Super-Easy Leek-and-Potato Soup

My friend C.C. told me of a super-easy homemade soup she made recently. I made it yesterday, and boy, it's a snap to make--as well as being delicious! (recipe at the end of this post.)

Just chop up some leeks:

And some peeled, chopped potatoes:

In a big soup pot, sauteé the leeks with a couple of tablespoons of butter or oil (I prefer butter):

When the leeks are glisten-y and softened, toss the potatoes on top of them and add some broth:

Bring to a boil, then drop down to a simmer and cook until everything is soft:

You can serve the soup just like this:

Or if you have an immersion blender or a regular blender, you can buzz it to a smooth pureé and serve it like this:

Whether you make it vegan, vegetarian, or meat-based, this soup is absolutely delicious!

Super-Easy Leek-and-Potato Soup
(Makes about 2 quarts)

2 Tbsp. butter (or extra-virgin olive oil, or a combo of butter /olive oil, if you prefer)
2-3 large leeks, washed and chopped in 1/3-inch "half-moons"
2-3 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into roughly half-inch pieces
6 C. (approximately) broth (vegan, vegetarian, or chicken--homemade or canned)
salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, melt the butter, oil, or butter/oil mixture, then add the leeks. Sauteé the leeks until they are glistening and soft. Add in the potatoes and broth; bring to a boil, then drop back down to a simmer. Cover and simmer until everything is soft--this might take 35-45 minutes or more, depending on the size of the vegetable pieces.

Remove soup from flame and taste to see if any seasoning is needed. If you use a well-seasoned stock, you may not need to add any salt or pepper. Serve as is, or pureé using an immersion blender or a conventional blender (do the soup in three or four small batches so you don't overfill the blender).

Garnish ideas: Right before serving, add one or two of these:
A dollop of sour cream or sour cream substitute
Chopped crispy bacon or "bacon" bits
A splash of sherry (I like Dry Sack)
A few toasted, chopped nuts or seeds (hazelnuts, pecans, or pumpkin seeds are nice)
A sprig of fresh thyme, rosemary, or oregano

Happy soup-making!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Kittens on the Porch!

New things are happening in the back yard of Lovely Daughter #1. Can you see it? That's a momma cat, in the upper left corner of the photo below:

And this is one of her three kittens, checking out a bowl of kitten chow that LD #1 put out for them.

The momma cat gave birth to the kitten under this deck, roughly at the end of September:

Aaaand, he/she has siblings:

There are two gray-and-white kitties who look almost exactly alike, and one who is a bit more tabby-like, with distinct stripes:

They are feral, and there's a long way to go before they will trust my daughter, allow her to touch them, or walk into a humane trap. She hopes they will someday so that she can take them to a vet to be spayed/neutered. That is our ultimate goal.

But in the meantime, she's having fun watching them, from what they consider a safe distance.

Wish her--and all of them--luck.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Two Pugs, Blue Chair

When The Hubby and I travel out of town, our pugs have a vacation, too. Luckily, they LOVE their boarding facility. 

It has a play room with lots of pillows and low beds for napping on. There's a separate room for mealtime, and another, "overnight" room with wall-to-wall cozy blankies and pillows for sleepovers. There's a guy who sometimes plays music for them on his flute or a drum. And the pugs go on a daily walk with a small pack of dogs.

We get the occasional photo Tweet, like this one, showing us how the boys are having a good time. Here's Pao Pao and Mu Shu, sharing a brotherly moment. Do you think they picked a blue chair because they know it's my favorite color?

Good doggies.

Still Life

Still life with potatoes, quinces, and mini pumpkins, 4:12 p.m.

Friday, November 1, 2013

"Sunset" Magazine's Mushroom & Fresh Herb Lasagna

I'm in love with lasagna, all over again. Sunset magazine published a recipe in its October 2013 issue for a luscious, no-meat version that uses beefy Portabella and Shitake mushrooms, folded in a lavish Béchamel sauce studded with fresh herbs and leeks. It takes a while to cook all the ingredients and assemble it, but...

Yum! Totally worth the time! I made it over last weekend just for The Hubby and me, but this dish is so elegant and rich, it would be great for a party or special occasion.

I suggest serving it with a green salad or simple vegetables, a crust of bread, and a crisp white wine.

You can click to get the recipe, here.


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