Friday, December 25, 2009

In Memory of Mr. Data, Kitty Extraordinaire




Mr. Data, Kitty Extraordinaire, Supreme Glorious Ruler of the Feline Universe passed over to the other side today at the age of 18 1/2 years.

Considering what he was going through with a failing heart and fluid building up in his system, it was the only Christmas gift I could give him . We spent all day yesterday at the vets, taking xrays and giving him IV fluids to rehydrate him and knowing that there wasn't much time left. There was less than a 5% likelihood that keeping him in the hospital overnight would have helped so  I took him home last night  to spend some hours with him cuddled together on the bed. And at 6:00 am he started to have trouble breathing and I knew he was ready to go ahead. We were lucky to have a nice ER vet who let me have as much time with him in the exam room before and after the injection to help him cross over to the rainbow bridge and when he carried Data out of the room afterwards, it was with all the respect and gentleness he would have given to a member of his own family.

Data and I met 18 years ago, when I was living in a strange little apartment with a strange landlord and neighbors who bought roaches along when they moved in.  I had been walking up to Walgreens to buy roach spray and we met. He was a homeless kitty who let me pick him up and carry him over my shoulder just like you would with a child for almost an entire mile and while crossing busy streets.

When he first met his brothers, there was chaos. He liked Brandy, who had the same coloring as him, but Brandy wanted nothing to do with him. Our other kitty, Hobbes, was immediately smitten with him but Data wanted nothing to do with him. And he got his name when I realized that here was this kitty who wanted somewhere to belong, just like the character Mr. Data on Star Trek.

Only my Data was prettier with the tufts of fur on his ears and a striped whorl on top of his head. He loved scritchies under his chin, having his chest rubbed and his neck massaged. He hated vets, figured I was out to get him when I clipped his back nails, made it very clear when anyone but me was allowed to pet him and when it was time to put down the hand and back away now.

Data was famous for always getting into or on top of things. He  managed to open the fridge and get into kitchen cabinets and scatter oatmeal across the length of the apartment. I've seen him jump on top of the kitchen table, hop over to the fridge and walk across the length of the hot water pipes like a balancing beam until he was able to wedge himself on top of a tiny kitchen cabinet. He loved to sleep in the closet and considered everything and everywhere to be his personal bed that he was gracious enough to share with me.

His favorite fun was to flush pigeons off the balcony usually ruining a methodical stalk by his brother Brandy when Data would take a mad dash straight at the balcony door until the pigeons flew off and left his brother thwarted from a stalk yet again.

And he loved food. Data had a  serious jones for McGriddles and bacon, and even in his last weeks when things were starting to hurt more, he'd jump on the back of the couch and walk behind me to get at ice cream. I could put 10 plates of food down around the apartment, but if he saw me going into the kitchen he'd hustle over and start up with that plaintive, "Feed me woman, I'm starving" meow. If it had a spoon, he was convinced it was something he wanted and had to have.

And no, I never ever of course saw him snuggling with his brothers and enjoying it. Never ever did I see that.

Now my apartment seems so quiet and empty without the sound of a meow. It's the first time in almost 21 years that I haven't had a kitty to share my space with. Data, was the baby of our feline family, and I am grateful to have had him in my life for all these years. But now, it's so still that it's not home anymore.

I may not be blogging much for awhile. It's hard to talk or think right now. And I'm going to have to miss cooking with the barefoot bloggers or Cooking Italy as I don't have the energy or strength to do the recipes.

Godspeed Mr. Data. You're free now. There's no more vets, pills or nasty tasting antibiotics. So until we meet again at the rainbow bridge, play with your brothers and run through the universe, flushing pigeons, scattering oatmeal across the clouds and make sure to sit down for that never ending McGriddle. I will miss you boo boo kitty.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Traditions




 Going into the holiday season is always a bit tricky. There's always the goals of baking and not getting around to it, deciding that I'm going to take the tin of cookies my coworker gives me and passing it off on my family until I eat half the tin before christmas, and avoiding any type of store until several days after christmas, preferably the new year. Then there is sitting through football games on Christmas Day with my mother the sports nut, eating too much, explaining that I am not taking the el train at 4:30 in the morning to catch the early amtrak as the trains are crawling with mostly crazy folks, and watching A Christmas Story. And my personal favorite, the competition I have with a neighbor across the street(whom I've never met) as to who will leave their Christmas lights on the longest (2 years ago it was late march).

Happy Holidays from Mr. Data & I to everyone who is and has been a part of my blog. Your comments and encouragement and humor has made the last 6 months a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to more blogging adventures in 2010 with all of you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bloggers Beware of PetitChef.Com Comments

I am slightly paranoid by nature. Normally it can totally mess me up. This time some good actually came out of it

I'm pretty sure a lot of people like me get very happy when we find someone has commented on our blogs. And the instinct is to sometimes hit approve before we think twice. Today "Vincent" from Petitchef.com posted a comment on my blog saying they had stumbled across my site, how they loved my recipes and wanted to invite me to join other bloggers to promote my site. It was one of those compliments that really works the ego over good. So I googled for other people's experiences and came across a very horrific experience after linking with them  by Erin of Mrs. Cox's Slice O'Heaven. I highly recommend reading her story before having anything to do with petitchef. 

Definitely a day when I'm glad I have comment moderation to reject it before it actually hit my blog. 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

TCS: White Chocolate Layer Cake




 When I first found out we were baking the White Chocolate Layer Cake from Nancie McDermott's "Southern Cakes" I was slightly disappointed as I'd really been hoping for Tipsy Cake to win. I mean, we're talking layer cakes soaked in sweet wine which seemed like a win win situation to me.

Now I should go on record as saying I like white chocolate. But I was a tiny bit dubious about this recipe with the white chocolate in the frosting and cake. Normally I like my cakes to have some kind of flavor contrast, like white cake with chocolate frosting or chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.  But, I figured I'd step outside my baking comfort zone and give this a shot.

Apart from my usual egg white anxieties, the assembly of the cake wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.Considering I'd recently bought a very nifty mini square cake pan, I decided to go with that instead of the traditional three layer cake the recipe called for.

But I had to pick up some peppermint candies. I mean, I'd been fairly well behaved in general with the cake considering I'd initially planned on adding peppermint extract and tinting the cakes red and green until I saw the store was a zoo and hightailed it out of there.

The addition of the crushed peppermint candies didn't quite give the effect I'd been hoping for. I'd been thinking it would give the cake a slightly minty flavor but all it did was give it a slight pink tint. So I sprinkled the rest of the crushed candies on top of the cake and topped it off with an andes mint candy. Nothing gets in the way of my mint obsession when it hits. So I'm not sure how to rationalize the topping with the suggested winter type theme over at the Cake Slice, unless we're talking a box of peppermint candies that dropped off the back of a truck during a snowstorm and were then run over by another truck immediately after.

I liked the texture of the cake a lot. Very moist and tender with a nice flavor. However, I wouldn't have known it had white chocolate in it had I not been the one baking it. Overall, it was a pretty good cake indeed. For the complete recipe, check here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Attacks of Holiday Practicality

So, I had one of those practical grown up moments when it came to Christmas gifts this year.

My mother had asked what I wanted and I promptly said a particular cookbook I'd been drooling over for awhile since I'd checked it out at the Library.

She said okay, my sister ordered it for her online as my mother doesn't do computers and I figured that was the end of it.

But my family has a tendency every so many years to go a little overboard with gifts and this year she wanted to give me something more. And either I gave her something to buy or I was threatened with her buying me clothes which is a very scary prospect. Case in point, the time I asked for a very simple, elegant silk dress the time she went on vacation to Jamaica and she returned with a cotton, white two piece with black lettering and fringe.

So I said an electric skillet. Not that I have room for it. Just one of those casual spur of the moment decisions.

Which lasted until yesterday when I called up, suddenly stricken with a unmistakable case of grownupness and said that what I could really use was a warm pair of winter gloves, thermal long underwear and thermal socks for the upcoming Chicago winter.

Yep. Unmistakable signs of becoming a grownup.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Catmas Carols (No, Not a Typo)

As I have suddenly been inspired by the Christmas spirit, I bring you one of my favorite Catmas Carols. Feel free to sing out loud with all of your felines.

WRECK THE HALLS
Catmas Carols by Laurie Loughlin

Wreck the halls with two cats running
fa la la la la....la la la la.
Fur goes flying, lamps get done in,
fa la la la la...la la la la.
Tumbling swiftly down the stairway,
fa la la, fa la la, la la la.
Woe to those who get in their way,
fa la la la la...la la la la.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

MSC: Gingerbread Cupcakes



 This month's recipe for the dedicated bakers of the MSC was hosted by Kayte over at Grandma's Kitchen Table. And as Martha's recipes go, part of it was fairly simple while the rest of it was way over the top. For awhile I had vaguely thought of giving it all a shot while cheating just a tiny bit (store bought gingerbread cookies) but in the end, with time running out, this is all she wrote.

I was somewhat taken aback when I pulled the cupcakes out of the oven and found they were rather squat, dense, slightly crispy and a tiny bit burned on top. Now the squat and dense makes sense considering there was no baking powder in it. But the cooking time of 25 minutes that Martha calls for is definitely too long. I'd recommend starting to check around 20 minutes for doneness and go from there.

I love gingerbread, so I added extra giner, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves so I ended up with a slightly spicier cupcake. To alleviate the spiciness, I went with an alternative topping and used Penzy's Raspberry Enlightment Sauce in lieu of the frosting. Yum. Major yum. Makes me glad that I made only 1/3 of the recipe or I'd be seriously in trouble right now.

Just a word of warning: these are not very moist cupcakes and they will not keep very long. I took my pictures the day after I made them and they were definitely at the end of their shelf life. I think I would make them again but add baking powder this time around. .


Wordless Wednesday






Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms


 
Today's culinary challenge comes from Marcella Hazan's book "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" which has probably done more to push me out of my food comfort zone than any cookbook has for awhile. I've dabbled of course with cooking, but somewhere along the line, you start to think "Oh, I don't do this" or "I don't do that." Like when I decided I didn't like pepper and found that given the opportunity, pepper could do some lovely things for dishes.

So I was actually looking forward to this recipe because I love mushrooms. At least I thought I did. Turned out that I have actually led a very mushroom sheltered life. Because by loving mushrooms, what I really meant was white button mushrooms or if I was feeling particularly daring, maybe portobello mushrooms.

Now time to be honest. I'm not sure if I really cared for this recipe because it's somewhat of a pain to make with the constant, constant stirring not to mention the whole process of adding broth, waiting for it to evaporate, and then adding more. I'll admit it. I like Rice a Roni and Uncle Ben's styles of rice more than Risotto because of the simplicity. But the flavor was not what I had been expecting. Turns out Porcini mushrooms have a very distinctive flavor that the jury is still debating on as to whether I'll like it. I'm thinking it might work better when paired with other flavors. Alone with the Risotto it just wasn't my cup of tea. Or cup of shrooms to be specific. Even with a lot of extra parmesan on top, it was not coming together for my tastebuds to accept.

Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms
from "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" by Marcella Hazan

5 cups homemade meat broth or 1 cup canned beef broth diluted with 4 cups water
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp onion chopped very fine
2 cups arborio or other imported italian risotto rice
1 oz/small packet dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted
Filtered water from the mushroom soak
Black Pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
Additional cheese for table
Salt if required (which it was for me)

  1. Bring the broth to a very slow, steady simmer on a burner near where you'll be cooking the risotto. 
  2. Put 1 tbsp butter, the vegetable oil and the chopped onion in a broad, sturdy pot and turn the heat to medium high. Cook and stir onion until it becomes translucent, then add the rice. Stir quickly and thoroughly until the grains are coated well.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of simmering broth and cook rice until liquid is evaporated, stirring constantly so rice doesn't burn. Add more broth and continue to repeat. 
  4. When rice has cooked for 10 minutes, add the reconstituted mushrooms and 1/2 of the filtered water. Continue to stir and  when there is no more liquid, add more of the mushroom water, stirring and letting evaporate and adding more until you have used all of it. 
  5. Finish cooking rice with broth. If you have no more broth, use water. Cook rice until it is tender but firm to the bite with no more liquid remaining in the pot. 
  6. Remove from heat. Add a few grindings of pepper, the remaining 1 tbsp of butter and all the grated parmesan and stir thoroughly until the cheese melts and clings to the rice. Taste and correct for salt. Transfer to a platter and serve promptly with additional grates cheese of the side.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Peanut Sausage Chicken Surprise



Nothing like a good fright to set you straight a little bit. After hearing my doctor tell me my blood pressure was high (according to my internet research, stage 2 hypertension) I kind of got a wakeup call. Especially when every article recommends losing weight and eating right. It scares me in particular because most of my immediate family has blood pressure issues. I was always the only one who didn't.  And after finally settling down and realizing I was not going to die immediately from it, and spending another two days indulging like it was the last supper ever, I think things have settled down a bit.

So tonight, instead of ordering out for Chinese food and it's mega sodium levels, I figured I would cook in and save some money as well as get some frustrations out of my system by getting back into the kitchen. This recipe was for all extents and purposes, randomly throwing in different ingredients that sounded good and hope for the best. And to my surprise, it actually tasted pretty good, even the part of adding the Raspberry Enlightment sauce (Penzy's) on top of the chicken which amazingly melded some very odd flavors together.

It didn't look as pretty as I had hoped it might but it tasted quite nice in the end.

Peanut Sausage Chicken Surprise 
4 frozen chicken breasts
3 cut up pork breakfast sausages
1 tsp mustard powder
1/4 cup minced onion flakes
1 tsp white pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup tamari peanut sauce
Parmesan Cheese to taste 
1/4 cup Raspberry Enlightment Sauce (Penzy's)


Combine all ingredients. Baked at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Sprinkle with additional peanut sauce, parmesan cheese and a dollop of Penzy's Raspberry Enlightment.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Opera Cats and the Sleep Deprived Humans Who Love Them

It's been awhile since I've gotten the chance to sleep in. Mornings with Mr. Data, kitty extraordinaire, involve either being patted repeatedly and with increasing urgency on my face or hair with his paw until I wake up or being serenaded with rollicking feline aria's coming from around the house. Which, to be clear, in a sleep deprived state, usually lead me to leap out of bed to make sure nothing is wrong and often result in stepping in something that my foot would rather had not made contact with it. Then of course, since I'm up, he goes to sleep.

So this gives me some time to kill before I run in to work for a little bit. Not that I want to or really need to. But there was something I had promised to do for one of my coworkers yesterday that I never got around to doing for an event on Sunday. It's not earth shattering, at least to me but most likely it would be to them, so my peace of mind will be alleviated if I spare the time to go in. And considering my visit to the doctor last week when I found out  my blood pressure was reading consistently at 180/100 I really need to make the time to do the things that will make my life a little more peaceful even if it's something I really don't want to do.That and I need to learn to relax more and let the sillier things in life and at work roll over me.

Hopefully later today I will finally have the chance to do some cooking and maybe a tiny bit of baking. I feel kitchen deprived lately. 

 

Friday, December 11, 2009

You Will Pay For This Outrage!



Poor Mr. Data.

He puts up with a lot of hovering when I'm worrying about him. And he puts up with my creative whims when I'm bored.

I anticipate feline revenge somewhere down the line.

But for right now, I'm enjoying a relaxing start to my morning. We have an event going on tonight that I'm working at so I don't have to be at work until around noon. Which somehow, despite the fact that I still have to work 8 hours, somehow makes me feel like I'm getting away with something.

Although there is some anxiety about work that I have to deal with. Turns out that not having to work directly with that person who from my personal opinion seemed to thrive on driving me nuts doesn't mean they'll stop altogether. So they started throwing emails to my boss about how I'd messed up on an equipment install and then proceeded to tell them that I had made our company look back by something I had not done at an event that took place recently.

Although that was actually funny as I had nothing to do with said event. And the install issue was so minor as to not even affect this person directly and lasted less than 12 hours.

Still I need to find some coping skills to deal with this person.

They're not going to go away. And I need this job as the market is not great right now so it's not like I can walk away and find something else just like that.

Hence the picture of Mr. Data looking royally offended. Crazy cat mom's need something to cheer them up after a pain of a day at work.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

BB: Croissant Bread Pudding


One of the food loves that I share with my mom has always been bread pudding. My sister, poor misguided deprived woman, does not, at least nowhere near our relationship with it. And considering it's not a very complicated recipe, I'm not entirely sure why I haven't made it more. So I was pretty happy to find that the first recipe for December with the Barefoot Bloggers was Ina's Bread Pudding recipe which was chosen this week by Peggy of Pantry Revisited.

 I made a few changes (of course) to the recipe. Rather than make it with the 6 regular croissants which would have served 8-10 (normal people, 4-5 for people like my mom and I) I went with mini croissants instead so that to avoid a bread pudding overdose. I also added some vanilla sugar into the custard mix to give it a little extra flavor and sprinkled cinnamon on top of the croissants before covering the pans with tinfoil. Then there was the small matter of guessing at the cooking time. I figured that it wouldn't take the full 45/45 cooking times below so I had to settle for peeking at it several times after I pulled the tinfoil off...I probably baked it for another 25 minutes after that before I hoped it would be done. 

For me at least, it tasted good the first night I made it but I thought it was a lot better the next day. The custard flavor tasted richer and smoother so patience,with this bread pudding, is indeed a virtue. And to put it over the top, I drizzled a little sweetened condensed milk to make it pop a bit more. I had some for breakfast the morning after (I figured it couldn't be all that much different from some of the ingredients you'd use to make a pastry) and I loved it. 

 

CROISSANT BREAD PUDDING 

Ina Garten - The Barefoot Contessa

Ingredients

  • 3 extra-large whole eggs (2)
  • 8 extra-large egg yolks (3)
  • 5 cups half-and-half (2 1/2 cups for the half recipe (2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (3/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (1 tsp)
  • 6 croissants, preferably stale, sliced horizontally (6 mini croissants)
  • 1 cup raisins (1/2 cup)
  • Cinnamon (my addition)
  • Vanilla Sugar (my addition)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, half-and-half, sugar, and vanilla. Set the custard mixture aside. Slice the croissants in half horizontally. In a 10 by 15 by 2 1/2-inch oval baking dish, distribute the bottoms of the sliced croissants, then add the raisins, then the tops of the croissants (brown side up), being sure the raisins are between the layers of croissants or they will burn while baking. Pour the custard over the croissants and allow to soak for 10 minutes, pressing down gently.

Place the pan in a larger one filled with 1-inch of hot water. Cover the larger pan with aluminum foil, tenting the foil so it doesn't touch the pudding. Cut a few holes in the foil to allow steam to escape. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for 40 to 45 more minutes or until the pudding puffs up and the custard is set. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When Chicago Weather Just Can't Make Up Its Mind



 One thing about living near and working in Chicago is that the weather is guaranteed to be interesting. From the time I left work to the time I got home last night, we had rain, sleet, winds, snow falling sideways, back to rain, resuming snow then sleet.  I felt guilty when I got home and decided to order in Chinese food so I tipped the driver extra for having to go out in this oddball sloppy mess.

Of course, everyone at work was jumping into panic mode all day, talking about the big storm that was going to hit and how they all had to leave right then and drive home to avoid it. Apparently my weather report was in a different parallel universe then theirs, as they were insisting we were getting 7 inches and I'd heard two. This is about the time I should explain that severe weather makes all of us at work pretty much revert back to our grade school days when we stand around hoping for a snow day so we can stay at home and watch TV all day. Last year was particularly hard on us as we missed pretty much every severe storm and therefore could not take the boss up on her offer to take the day off if the city was snowed in. At one point, she gave us a pity snow day when it really wasn't too bad just to shut us up for awhile.

But the weather is still nowhere near what most of the country and Canada has been getting so I can't complain. This is a shot of the braver ones venturing out from underneath the station awning and heading down the platform to get away from the crowd.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Well, I Kind of Had a Life This Weekend


 
I mean, at least I got out of the house for awhile yesterday and had a lovely browse over at Penzy's spices. I love Penzy's and am fortunate to live within walking distance of one of their stores. Which really now that I think about it, is about as dangerous as it would if I lived near a discount bakeware store. There's just something about walking in a room wall to wall with spices. I have gone in there many a time with the goal of buying just one pot of spice but ended up walking out with at least 2 more that I saw and realized I absolutely had to have in order to complete my kitchen spice collection. But yesterday was quite fun as they were handing out free pots of their hot chocolate mix which, of course, I had to try and can testify that it is to die for. I will never be able to go back to store bought hot chocolate again.

Today I'm going to be sticking closer to home for awhile as I want to keep an eye on Mr. Data, Kitty Extraordinaire's blood glucose level as he tested at 70 for his pre-insulin shot (Mr. Data is diabetic) and that's unusually low for him. I mean really unusually low especially as he was up in the 400's last night. Which is okay as it means I can rationalizing having bread pudding for breakfast. How I'm not sure but let's not bring logic into the day this early. I'm thinking he should be okay as I tested him about 1/2 hour after his "breakfast" and he was around 100 so it means he's going back into normal range. But being the cat mom that I am, I still worry a bit.

Speaking of bread pudding, I got to make some yesterday for the Barefoot Bloggers post that I'll be posting on the 10th and is a lovely little dessert for a bread pudding fan like myself. Today, as soon as I can whip the kitchen into some semblance of shape, I'll be starting on my first attempt at Risotto for the Cooking Italy post due on the 12(I think).

Now if I could only get the motivation to clean I'd be doing quite well indeed.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Finding More Fun in Life

There hasn't been a lot of time to bake lately so it's left me with time to think. Not so good, when it leads to worrying and stress. Good when it comes to being honest with myself. I know I've been complaining more about work lately, here, there, everywhere. And yes, the stress and worrying is helped and is helping that issue. But it's time to face facts...I am not allowing enough time for fun in my life. Watching TV and sitting in front of the computer in the evenings isn't for the most part doing it for me. I'm talking about turning off the things that don't require a lot of effort on my part (tv and computer) and getting back out into the world like I was doing this summer before my boss got sick and work took over. Using my mind more instead of existing on autopilot because its easier.

So I have to think about some more ways to get out of the house this weekend. and have some fun. My balance in life depends on it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wordless Tuesday



Look into my eyes. You are feeling very sleepy. You want to give me ice cream!