Stuff and Nonsense: June 2019


6.30.2019

Around Connecticut: POA Summer Social Cat Café

Spent a few hours today cuddling strange cats at the Protectors of Animals' Summer Social Cat Café in East Hartford. The Protectors of Animals is a no-kill, non-profit animal shelter and rescue that has provided safe refuge to homeless and abandoned cats and dogs in Connecticut since 1975. The POA  hosts cat cafés several times a year as a fundraiser and they all have different themes. This one was brunch-y with mimosas, quiche, and some kind of ridiculously delish chocolate and peanut butter bark, among other things.

And there were cats. So many cats. Shy cats. Friendly cats. Big cats. Little cats. Young cats. Old cats. Cats who hunted the red dot. Cats who preferred feathers on a stick. Cats who just wanted to sleep. Cats who wanted to climb on all the things. Anyway, I petted many kitties and took a few of the ones I spent the most time with.

Marigold

Justine

Monkey

Alex

Olivia

The Husband spent a lot of time fawning over two adorable stripy kittens, but everyone loves kittens and they will easily find permanent homes. It's the shyer, older cats I worry about. Riley, for instance, is an intensely shy and gentle FIV positive senior cat. She was either a stray or a dump and has had some dental issues. Will someone look at her and see the sweetheart she is?

If you are inclined to become a cat's person, Protectors of Animal has many available for adoption and is open to the public Saturdays from 10:30 AM to 4 PM.

6.27.2019

Strawberry, Jam, & Cream Cake


After I'd made two batches of jam and two loaves of strawberry nut bread, I still had four pounds of perfectly ripe strawberries left. I turned some into strawberry vinegar and then decided the rest should be eaten with cake. I mean, cake is always a good solution to the "problem" of too much fruit.


I admit I used a white cake mix as my basis for this cake, preparing it as directed on the box except I used sparkling wine in place of the water/milk. Why sparkling wine? I wanted to be fancy? Also, I thought the carbonation might help the cake bake up light and fluffy. I couldn't taste or smell the wine after the cake had baked and, while it was light and fluffy, cakes from mixes generally are.


Strawberry, Jam, & Cream Cake

Yield: 6 generous servings

Ingredients

  • white cake layers, prepared from mix
  • really good strawberry jam
  • extremely fresh, ripe strawberries
  • freshly whipped cream

Instructions

  1. After cake has cooled, stack layers and cut into six wedges for a total of 12 pieces of cake.
  2. Whenever you are ready to eat the cake, spread a cake piece with strawberry jam, then top jam with chopped strawberries, and spread with freshly whipped cream.
  3. Top with another piece of cake, add more whipped cream, and garnish with additional chopped strawberries.
  4. Repeat as necessary until everyone has had enough cake.

I would pick more strawberries just to make this cake again.

6.26.2019

6.22.2019

Strawberry Picking, Memories Old & New

My Dad and I used to go strawberry picking every June, returning home with large baskets full of strawberries Mom would turn into jam, shortcake, and bread. I had a love-hate relationship with strawberry picking. I loved strawberries and all the things my mother would make from them, but I hated being out in the fields at the crack of dawn when they were still a bit misty and the mosquitoes were waiting. However, there was usually a sweet spot when the mist and mosquitoes left, but it had not gotten so warm my sweat attracted the horseflies. Then I loved picking and raced to see it I could fill my basket faster than Dad could fill his.


Once I went away to college I wasn't home for strawberry picking and it was all up to Dad. My parents found other things to do on June weekends and, eventually, strawberry picking stopped altogether. My mother put up fewer and fewer preserves and pickles and, while she still had all her canning accoutrements when she died, aside from a batch of pickled green tomatoes, she hadn't put up anything in a decade or more.

And yet when I think about my mom lately, my heart is full of memories of preserving and pickling. The humid kitchen heavy with the scent of hot jam which no amount of window-opening or fan use would shift. The kitchen counter covered with towels and quilted glass canning jars glowing like gems. The taste of still-warm strawberry jam on a slice of buttered white bread. And much later, in the autumn, the top shelf of the fridge door lined with a row of half-pint jam jars and quarts of pickles.


As I can't seem to stop thinking about jam making, I visited Lyman Orchards last week and, after an hour or so, picked almost thirteen pounds of strawberries. I could have picked faster, but the field was full of excited young families and adorable elderly ladies and it was pleasant to pick slowly among them.

Thirteen pounds of berries is quite a lot of berries and, as I'd picked the reddest, ripest fruit I could see, I was quite anxious to get them home once I filled cardboard flat. I was quite concerned about jam making, because it had always struck me as such a huge production that could so easily run amok. The jam might not set. The lids might not seal. I could bollocks the whole thing up.


But I didn't. I made two batches of strawberry jam -- one a traditional high sugar recipe and the other a reduced-sugar vanilla bean infused one -- from the instruction materials that came with the Ball freshTECH Automatic Home Canning System I'd purchased on clearance from BJ's Wholesale Club back in January at a delightful discount. Everything came together flawlessly with minimal fuss. The jam set. The lids sealed. I am now filled with confidence and want to jam all the things.

I used Mom's half pint jars and when I look at my jams, glowing ruby in the light from the kitchen window, I feel pride of accomplishment as well as a sense of continuity and permanence. While these are not my mother's jams, I imagine her twenties teaching herself to can and preserve, worrying about whether her jam would set or the lids would seal, and I think we share this.

6.19.2019

6.16.2019

My Best Banana Bread


I had a bunch of brown bananas in the freezer and felt like baking banana bread, but wanted to mix it up a bit so I turned to King Arthur Flour's Banana Bread Interactive Recipe Generator. I'd used the generator before, with good results, and expected the same again.

I was wrong. Instead of good bread, the generated recipe yield the best banana bread I have ever baked.

After I ate three slices with sweet creamery butter and tea for supper, I sliced the rest and took it to work the next day. My coworkers fell upon it like wolves upon a wee, tender lambie and it was gone by the end of my shift. Even those who told me they disliked many of the ingredients I'd used or just hated banana bread in general, definitely found this bread moreish.


It's a sturdy loaf with tender crumb and a perfect balance of flavors. The banana and spices complement each other well, the cranberries add a bit of tartness to counteract all the sweet, the nuts add body, and the crystallized ginger bits are a little spicy flavor bombs. I have zero regrets about eating three slices for supper and I'm thinking it might make excellent french toast ...


My Best Banana Bread

Yield: 1 loaf

Ingredients

  • 2 cups mashed banana
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup chopped toasted pecans
  • ⅓ cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • ⅓ cup chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp coarse-grained, sparkling white sugar
  • ⅓ cup chopped toasted pecans

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center position. Lightly grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the mashed banana with all of the remaining ingredients except any mix-ins (chips, nuts, seeds, etc.) Beat the batter thoroughly, until everything is well combined. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat briefly to incorporate any sticky residue. Stir in the mix-ins.
  3. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle over the remaining teaspoon cinnamon, two tablespoons sparkling sugar, and third cup pecans over the batter.
  4. Bake the bread for about 60 to 75 minutes, until the bread feels set on the top, and a thin sharp knife inserted into the center comes out clean. If the bread appears to be browning too quickly, tent it with aluminum foil for the final 15 to 20 minutes of baking.
  5. Remove the bread from the oven. Cool it in the pan for 15 minutes, then loosen the edges, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool completely.
  6. Store leftover bread, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

6.12.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Gray Treefrog

Found this gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor) hanging out on the patio.

6.07.2019

Arabella by Georgette Heyer


He said there was a great deal of nonsense in such books, and that the moral tone was sadly lacking.

Arabella, the eldest daughter of an impoverished country vicar, is on her way to London to make her debut (and secure a good marriage which will guarantee comfortable futures for her younger siblings) under the auspices of her godmother when her carriage breaks down in the rain. Forced to take shelter at a nearby estate, she is treated coldly by its owner -- that most sought-after of bachelors, Robert Beaumaris. Outraged by his presumption that she is just another conniving miss out to trap him into marriage, Arabella sets herself up as an heiress without peer. Arabella has quite a lot of fun telling whoppers about herself ... until she arrives in London and it becomes clear that her lies have arrived ahead of her!

You will not be surprised to discover that I really enjoyed Arabella. The principle characters were well written (and frequently hilarious), the story chugged along at a good pace with lots of witty dialogue and entertaining interludes, and Heyer’s use of historical setting and detail is always so much delicious icing on the cake.

I must admit, though, that as much as I loved the dialogue between Arabella and Beaumaris, it was Beaumaris’s conversations with Ulysses (the mongrel dog Arabella persuades him to shelter) that stole the show:

Mr. Beaumaris released Ulysses, who shook himself, sighed his satisfaction, and looked up for approbation. ‘Yes, you will, I perceive, ruin me yet, ‘ said Mr. Beaumaris severely. ‘If I am any judge of character, you picked your language up in the back-slums, and have probably been the associate of dustmen, coal-heavers, bruisers. And other such low persons! You are quite unfit for polite circles.’

Ulysses lolled his tongue out, and grinned cheerfully.

‘At the same time,’ said Mr. Beaumaris, relenting, ‘I daresay you would have made mincemeat out of that creature, and I must own that I am not entirely out of sympathy with you. But poor Poodle will certainly cut me for a week at least.’

Arabella by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2009)

6.06.2019

Cooking From Nancy Cho's The Easy Asian Cookbook for Slow Cookers


I borrowed Nancy Cho's The Easy Asian Cookbook for Slow Cookers from my library recently and was so completely smitten with it that I purchased a copy of my own. It's just a wonderful cookbook -- beginner-friendly with accessible recipes and (reasonably) easy to find ingredients. Allergy information (gluten/soy/dairy/nut) is included with each recipe as well as a graphic denoting the country of origin (everywhere from China to Sri Lanka). My only complaint is there aren't enough photos! Each chapter begins with a beautiful photograph, but that's it. If you want to know what a dish should look like, you'll have to google ... or check out the author's Instagram.

Vietnamese Beef Stew

So far, I have made the "Vietnamese Beef Stew," "Spicy Lemongrass Chicken," "Braised Short Ribs," and "Spicy Radish Salad" with consistently delicious results. The Husband, who can be rather choosy when it comes seasonings, enjoyed everything but the (rather fiery) radish salad and that was fine, as I'd made it mostly for myself! As there are only two of us, each recipe made leftovers, but those kept well and we definitely looked forward to eating them.

Braised Short Ribs

I strongly recommend The Easy Asian Cookbook for Slow Cookers if you want to make more Asian-flavored dishes, but have felt intimidated in the past or simply want to get away from the same old slow cooker recipes.

Spicy Lemongrass Chicken

6.05.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Silent Agitator

"Silent Agitator," clock sculpture by Ruth Ewan located on the High Line near 24th Street.