30 November 2012

Feline Friday: A FIRST!

 Lily and Tinsel have sort of a LOVE-HATE relationship. Lily LOVES Tinsel, but Tinsel HATES Lily! Lily spends a lot of her time trying to get close to Tinsel...but Tinsel won't have any part of it. Tinsel does NOT like to be touched!

But Tinsel has been GRADUALLY -- and I do mean GRADUALLY -- becoming a tiny bit more tolerant of her pesky little sister. I recently found the two of them getting ready for a nap, with just a few inches between them.

Later, I found this remarkable scene. They're actually touching! It's a FIRST! Poor Tinsel. I'm sure she was quite alarmed when she woke up!

Maybe they'll be good friends after all! 
I wish, but somehow I doubt it.

26 November 2012

Thanksgiving Cooking Adventures

 The month of November has been very busy for me and I realize I've almost completely neglected my blog. This is not pleasing to me, and I certainly hope that soon I'll be able to get back to blogging more frequently. It's not that I lack for material. Read on...

 On Tuesday of last week, I decided to make my "famous" cranberry walnut sauce (see the recipe HERE) in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner. I had to work on Wednesday, so I felt rather smug that I was organized enough to make it a couple of days ahead of time. 

While the cranberries came to a boil on the stove, I set the timer on the microwave for 20 minutes so I wouldn't let them cook too long. As I stirred and listened to the pleasant little "pop-pop-pop" of the cranberries, I started to smell something burning. Liquid had spilled in the burner and was starting to smoke. I turned on the fan over the stove and grabbed a cloth to cleaned up the spill, only to notice that the smoke was becoming heavier and heavier. Thinking something more significant must have spilled inside the burner, I moved the cranberries to the side so I could inspect the burner. By this time, the smoke was so heavy that I was pretty sure something more serious was up. I called to Bailey (upstairs, just out of the shower) to come downstairs (and get out of the house!) because something must be on fire in the kitchen.

As soon as she rounded the corner, she noticed the problem: Instead of turning on the microwave TIMER, I had turned on the microwave itself. DUH!!! The day before, we had stashed a Tupperware container of cookies in the microwave to keep them out of Lily's reach (she opens plastic containers). The bottom of the bowl had melted and portions of it were stuck to the glass microwave plate. Bailey grabbed the oven mitts and opened the microwave door. She set the plate outside on the step. Daughter of Incompetent Mother to the rescue!

The odor of melted plastic was terrible. We stashed the kitties in the basement and began to open all of the windows. Unfortunately, the smell had gone through the entire house -- upstairs and downstairs. We turned on all the fans and tried to blow it out, but a gray haze hung in the air. I could even see it outside of our house and down the street! Even my hair and shirt smelled like plastic. It was awful!

See the cookies in the bowl?

We are not sure how long I cooked the Tupperware, but it was probably 7-10 minutes. This was an older bowl which was obviously NOT SUITABLE FOR MICROWAVE USE! Days later, we're still trying to get the odor out of the microwave.

So my Thanksgiving meal preparations were not off to a good start. Nonetheless I trudged ahead and am pleased to say that the rest of the meal turned out just fine, thanks largely to the fact that Bailey made the stuffing and the green bean casserole! :)

As I've done for the past several years, I made the turkey the night before Thanksgiving. This was suggested to me by a very experienced cook and it works GREAT. It's nice to have it done ahead of time, and it frees up your oven for other dishes. But most importantly, it's the most delicious, moist turkey EVER!

This year, I bought a fresh (not frozen) turkey. This was much easier than trying to thaw the bird and realizing at the last minute that it's still frozen in the center. I put parsley, sage, onions, and celery in and around the turkey, placing it in a bag for easy cooking and clean-up. (And as everyone knows by now, I need EASY.)

After about 2.5 hours, this 14-pound turkey was perfectly cooked.

After letting it rest for about 30 minutes, I cut up the turkey and placed the pieces into the small pans from our roaster oven (the kind you find in church basements). I covered the turkey pieces with turkey broth, adding a bit of chicken broth as needed, placed foil over them, and popped them in the fridge overnight. The next day, about three hours before we planned to have Thanksgiving dinner, I filled the large roasting pan with water and plugged it in, heating the smaller pans of turkey and filling the house with the most wonderful smell of turkey cooking! (Trust me, this is much better than the odor of melting plastic!) We have found that letting the turkey rest overnight in broth makes it very moist and flavorful!

Feeling somewhat redeemed from my microwave cooking disaster, I saved the turkey carcass to make broth on the day after Thanksgiving. I cut it up and put it in a large stock pot along with parsley, sage, onions, celery, and carrots. As it simmered, I added a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

After about 4 hours, it looked like this. I realize this is not all that appetizing in appearance, but underneath the GUNK is some wonderfully flavorful broth.

After straining the pan, I let the broth cool and skimmed off the fat.

The next day, I used the broth to create turkey noodle soup. I diluted the broth with a bit of water, then added small red potatoes and carrots. I let them simmer a bit and then added frozen noodles. I CAREFULLY (!!!) set the microwave timer for 20 minutes while the noodles cooked, adding thyme, salt, and pepper to taste. The soup was GREAT, and I'm happy to report that no further cooking mishaps have occurred!

23 November 2012

Feline Friday: Where's Tinsel?

 When Tinsel starts making towel or blanket tunnels, you know colder weather has arrived! We find tunnel formations all over the house.

Back view:

Side view:

Front view:

There's no Tinsel to be found!

16 November 2012

Feline Friday: The EARS have it!

 Have you ever noticed how expressive your cat's ears are? According to the internet (source of all knowledge!), a cat's ears can adopt several different positions for several different reasons. Under normal circumstances, a kitty's ears will be erect and forward – alert, with attention focused ahead. But if a kitty senses danger or prey, this will be reflected in her ears! 

I noticed this behavior recently while Lily was watching out the window. She noticed something moving (most likely a ground squirrel) right outside our sliding door. Look at the position of her ears: rotating like radar dishes – listening carefully in an attempt to find the source of the sound. See how one is forward and one is back? This can also indicate ambivalence -- uncertainty about the source of the sound.

As soon as she spotted the ground squirrel and determined it might be a fun friend or a tasty treat (as opposed to a threat!) her ears swiveled sideways to indicate that she was on the offensive. A cat in an extreme defensive position will have ears pressed backward onto the head – folded back to protect them from harm.

  And this is the "nose and ear pressed against the window position" for the kitty who simply wants to see better!

Watch your kitty's ears and see what they communicate!

09 November 2012

Feline Friday: Miss PICKY

Like many cats, Tinsel is the pickiest of eaters. Conditions have to be "just right" for her to eat -- and her definition of "just right" seems to change without notice. This is a really big problem when we're out of town and the kitties are left in the care of our cat-sitter. Sometimes Tinsel hardly eats at all while we're gone! As a senior cat, she needs to eat regularly and well.

But I recently came upon a solution which seems to be helping us all -- Fancy Feast APPETIZERS!

Tinsel does not care for most canned food so when I initially bought a container, I was fairly certain Lily would end up eating it. (Lily will eat ANYTHING.) But as it turned out, Tinsel LOVES the flaky fish blends. She has a spoonful of it in the morning before breakfast...

...and then she's ready to move on to her main course! When we visited Bailey at college recently, I had the cat-sitter give Tinsel a spoonful of appetizers every day. Tinsel ate ALL of her food while we were gone!
If you're not a cat person or have never lived with a picky cat, this may seem like a little thing. But if you've ever struggled to get your cat to eat, you know that it's such a relief when you finally discover something that works!

Happy Feline Friday, everyone!

03 November 2012

Our Latest Visit to IU

It's way too long between the beginning of August and the end of October! That's how long we had to wait to see Bailey since dropping her off at Indiana University for the start of her junior year. But due to our weekend activities and her schedule, it was the first opportunity we'd had for a visit.

 We left on Thursday evening and spent the night in Bloomington, Illinois which is the half-way point in the 8.5 hour drive. Splitting the drive like this allows us to arrive at IU much earlier the following day. This time we wanted to get there in time to attend a rehearsal on Friday afternoon.

On the way to IU, we always pass a series of "Neil Street" signs near Champaign, Illinois. This time I happened to have my camera handy to take a few pictures of the signs for Bailey's boyfriend, Neil!

We had a great lunch at Upland Brewery, then met up with Bailey when she finished with class. She squeezed us in to the very crowded rehearsal room to watch a Singing Hoosiers practice. It was so much fun to see and hear this talented and energetic group!

We had a brief stop at the apartment where we chatted with her roommate Molly who was on her way to a Halloween party, then Bailey showed us some of her recent projects. She has been a very busy girl!

 Later we planned to meet Bailey and Neil at Lennie's, a Bloomington favorite, for dinner. It had been raining and the late afternoon light on campus was beautiful! This is the main building in her apartment complex.

This is the building where Bailey and Molly live.

The sky was pink!

I turned around and saw a rainbow!

It was a short walk to the restaurant where we met up with Bailey and Neil. We had a very enjoyable evening catching up with these two very busy students! Of course I had to grab a photo, since I've been waiting (as have my friends!) for an updated picture for quite some time!

 After dinner, we went to watch one of Bailey's professors play with his Latin jazz group at a local cafe. The music was incredible! We caught up with a few of Bailey's friends while we were there. Who knew percussionists could salsa dance?
On Saturday morning while Bailey caught up on some sleep, Jay and I stopped at the Farmers' Market. It was a very, very cold day!

Still, there were lots of booths filled with beautiful fresh produce, and lots of bundled-up shoppers!

We've been wanting to stop by the Farmers' Market, so I'm glad it worked out this time.

And sure enough, the local animal rescue group was on site with adoptable kittens! Before I knew it, I was holding one of them!

 He was so adorable that it would have been quite easy to take him home with me! The volunteer shown here really tried to twist my arm (which did not need twisting), but I directed him to speak with Jay. Needless to say, I did not get a kitten at the Farmers' Market. :(

We took Bailey to lunch at Dagwood's, then she headed off to a lesson and practice session.

Killing time at IU is no problem at all for us. There are always recitals and rehearsals to attend. We walked to Auer Hall to watch a Halloween recital put on by members of the string academy, young students who take lessons at Jacobs. Before the recital, we sat in on the last part of a piano/pipe organ rehearsal. It is such a treat to hear the organ in this hall, which was acoustically designed to suit it. It is truly amazing!  

And the kids in the string academy (pre-school through high school age) were incredible. If you closed your eyes, you would not have known that they were children -- they were easily as good as professional musicians.

The kids were in costume for Halloween...

...so in addition to being talented, they were also quite adorable!

After the recital, we took a quick trip to the grocery store and Target (where we insisted Bailey get a flu shot) to stock up on a few necessities. Later that evening, we took Bailey and Neil to Esan Thai, one of many restaurants on our list to try. The food was great, and Bailey's sticky rice came in a cute little rice cozy. We'd never seen that type of thing before.

I managed to sneak in another photo, then we headed to Hartzell's for ice cream. They were featuring pumpkin pie ice cream that evening, which was extremely tasty!

On Sunday morning, we took Bailey for a quick breakfast at Scholar's Inn Bakehouse, then it was time for us to leave. :(

It was so good to see Bailey and many of her friends! Each time we visit, we're reminded that IU is a very special place -- the educational and musical opportunities at the school are just amazing, and we're pleased that she's taking full advantage of them. And although this semester is probably the busiest and most stressful one she'll have during her college career, she's happy, healthy, and doing very well at IU! And that makes us extremely happy, too.

02 November 2012

Feline Friday: Catnips!

 I recently ran across several huge patches of catnip growing in the wild. Like any good cat mom, I brought it home, washed it, and offered it to Tinsel and Lily. Neither one have had much experience with fresh catnip, so I was curious as to how they would react to it.

Tinsel, who loves dried catnip, wasn't impressed by the real stuff. She turned up her nose and walked away.

Lily, who is interested in almost anything edible (and inedible!), was immediately intrigued by the scent.

She was even more interested by the sight of one small green leaf!

She reached up and licked the leaf...

...then she ripped the entire handful from me and began GOBBLING IT UP as fast as she could! I grabbed up the rest of it before she ate it all, as I wasn't sure how she would react to ingesting it. There was no immediate change in her behavior, but she did sleep almost all of the following day!

Woo....this stuff is good!