taming the wild beast; building a scratching post for cats

When we packed up and moved from Nashville to Williamsburg, we took the pets with us.  Two of our cats were indoor cats but the third one, he was a wanderer and a hunter; converting The Captain to a life indoors has been tough.  If he sees a chance, he makes every attempt to get out.  The biggest problem we face is his need to sharpen his claws.  When he was going outdoors, he needed those claws to defend himself, not anymore.  Unfortunately, he still feels the need to sharpen them and it is taking a toll on things here.

 Our living room has a vaulted ceiling that is supported by columns.  He marked one pretty quickly.

If you thought cats could do damage to just soft things, think again.  This is a solid wood cabinet and look at the damage he has done to it.  At some point, I will have to sand that out but it will require a complete refinishing since it was stained at least 20 years ago.

 This is the door way to the bathroom.  He made quick work of the new paint on the jamb.

Here he is in our previous yard going to town on a black locust tree.  If you look closely, you can see the areas of the bark that he marked as they are a different color.

If we were going to live together successfully in this new home, I needed to give him something to call his own for sharpening his claws.  My decision was to build a box that would go around one of the support columns and then to cover it with a natural fiber rope to mimic the rough texture of the tree bark he was accustomed to.

After wandering the lumber aisle at Lowe’s, I asked one of the guys working there to give me some advice.  We settled on precut shelving made of pine which is a soft wood but more than capable of forming the frame of the scratching post.  If you visit Lowe’s, they sell 4′ shelf boards, a little longer than I wanted but in the end, it meant that I would not be stuck with a bunch of leftover wood.  Since the column is rectangular in shape, I chose two 4’x10″x1″ boards and two 4’x8″x1″ boards.

Have you ever heard the saying, “measure twice, cut once?”  So that I wasn’t going back to Lowe’s to buy more boards, I measured carefully before I drilled holes.  My plan was to make three holes and attach the boards at the corners by putting a screw completely through one board into the end of the board next to it.

 If you look closely at the photo, you can see how I joined the boards.  Once the box was assembled, I began to apply the rope.

My choice was a 3/8″ twisted sisal.
 Look at all of the fibers-nice and rough and barklike!

Initially, I used a staple gun to attach the rope.  It did not work very well, most of the staples would not go into the wood and I spent a lot of time pulling them out.  It was very frustrating!  On my next trip to Lowe’s, I picked up poultry staples.   They need to be hammered in but once they are in, they aren’t coming back out easily.  The staples would bend and go in so unevenly that some could be pulled out with my fingers.  In order for this to work, the cat needed to put his full 15 pounds behind the act of sharpening his claws without the staples popping out.

The post took a lot more rope than I thought it would.  So far, I have wrapped it with seven 50′ coils and I still need at least 1 more.  The good news is that he will go to it and sharpen his claws.  We still need to work with him on this, he is not using it exclusively but he is using it.  If it means I will not be refinishing every wood surface and replacing furniture in the house, it is a success.  The down side, it is not a cheap project.  The rope is $9 per coil plus the cost of the lumber.  In my opinion, if it means less damage, it is cheaper than a new couch!

 The Captain in his former life in Nashville.  Doesn’t he have such pretty eyes?
His favorite seat-in the window looking out and dreaming of his escape…

twd: french strawberry cake

what’s not to love about a cake loaded with strawberries and whipped cream?  i can’t think of anything.  if you are smart and save the juices strained off of the macerated berries and make strawberry-basil martinis, there is even more to love.  so why the frown on my face?  one word-genoise.  they are so finicky and temperamental to make and i did not have a good time with this one.

this weeks tuesdays with dorie-baking with julia challenge, french strawberry cake-page 273, and it is hosted by sophia of sophias sweets and allison of think, love, sleep, dine.  visit their pages to read the full recipe.

 first things first, genoise.  it is a classic sponge cake and that should set off warning bells.  now don’t go jumping out a window or running away.  it is just a cake, albeit a difficult one but still a cake none the less.  follow the rules and you shall have cake.

i followed the rules.  my cake turned out like a rubber disk.

 trudging along, i poured it into the pan hoping for success. after carefully folding in the flour and melted butter, the batter seemed so thin to me and you can see that it isn’t much.  it came out of the oven like a rubber disk-i set about mixing up batch #2.

 round 2; i over whipped the eggs and stiff peaks stood stock still rather than dissolving.  i forged ahead anyway.  batch #3 worked out better.  since i have made genoise before, i knew i could omit the butter and still get a proper sponge cake.

my first attempt-a thin rubber disk that was very dense at the bottom-there was no way to get 3 layers out of this thing!

 my second attempt was over beaten and it sunk in the middle and again, i wasn’t going to get 3 layers from this cake.
third time was the charm!!!
 josie couldn’t believe it either
 first cake-very dense with a fine crumb-it went into the bird feeder.
 second cake-a little better, still a little finer crumb than i would like to have but it was a lot lighter than the first cake.

the third cake had what i think was a perfect light and open crumb that you need for a proper genoise.
the key, not over or under whipping the eggs.  that is a challenge and just because the recipe said to whip for 4-5 minutes, it’s not set in stone.  the only way to know if you have the right consistency-check the ribbon and see how long it takes to dissolve.  to get the 10 seconds, i had to whip for about 6-7 minutes.

next came the berries.  i macerated them as the recipe instructed only i added a little vanilla bean and rose water to really punch up the flavor.  the maceration process takes about 3 hours and is well worth it.  the juices that remain after assembling the cake make awesome martinis!  we made them with basil from the garden and i could have had 2 or 3 myself-luckily we ran out of the juices!!!

 the whipped cream frosting is a little different;  it has sour cream added to it to give it a little something, kinda like creme fraiche in a way.  when i whip cream, i wrap plastic around the machine to prevent splashing.

 perfect soft peaks

strain the juices off by lifting the berries out with a slotted spoon.  spread them over the top of the layer.

 a thin coat of whipped cream frosting covers the berries

 then you do it again.  finally, the third layer is placed on top and the cake is frosted all over.

i think the recipe should call for the full 2 cups of cream in the carton rather than 1 1/4 cup.  i didn’t have anything left to pipe rosettes with.  i brought the cake to a dinner-i was lucky to get a sliver of a taste-they did give me back my dirty cake plate though…

many thanks to sophia and allison for hosting, well done ladies!

share the shot #5-orange

 another week has zipped by and i found this share the shot assignment to be a real challenge.  i am not a fan of the color orange and finding it in my house and garden was tough.  the only plant that blooms orange in my garden is an iris and it has not done so yet.  as i wondered what i could possibly find to take pictures of, i decided to just go and bake a cake; in my world, almost anything can be solved by baking a cake to share or eat by yourself as you ponder…
 clementine zest
 my not so smart cell phone-hey it makes calls and sends texts, that’s all i need
 wait for it
 we went hiking and found these-any idea what the are?  tell me cause i’m stumped…
 mushrooms-unknown species of polyspores
my little girl on my favorite reading chair-twice the orange!
many thanks to amy of she wears many hats for the wonderful challenge!

share the shot#5-red

 i am really having fun with the share the shot challenges.  taking the time to look for things that might make a nice subject and then actually getting the shot-it is a real opportunity to learn something about staging a shot and getting the effect you are hoping for in the photo.  many of my shots come from the garden and red is a tough one.  obviously, there are red flowers but i do not have any in my garden.  i do however have red in the vegetable garden.

rhubarb chard-it has overwintered nicely and i love the red/green contrast.

 shot in late afternoon and back lit by the setting sun, this leaf positively glows!

 i love red leaf lettuce

 my assistant, the captain, he follows me around and i think he actually began to pose for me.  he would get up on the chair and look at me almost as if saying-“i’m ready for my close up…” having a red nose doesn’t hurt-it goes with the theme.

what i was really after-a shot of the wood grain with the fading red paint on the chair

and it wouldn’t be spring without red tulips-from the lawn and garden show, i don’t have any red ones, just pink this year.

thanks to amy for a great challenge!  be sure to check all of the entries for the red challenge by clicking here.

share the shot#4-green

 for this weeks assignment-green, and kermit was right, it ain’t easy being green…i decided to go out in the yard to see what i could find, i found out that i need to be spending some time weeding in the garden.

 late winter is a tough time to find flowers blooming-usually.  with the warm winter we have had, lots of flowers are up.  but there is one that only blooms in winter-hellebores and many of them are green.

 cabbage is so pretty that it could be a flower

 moss is an amazing plant-now if i could only get rid of the weeds growing in it my patio would be perfect!

 my jade spends the winters indoors and it isn’t too happy about that, with this mild weather, i can put it back outside for some sun.

my favorite part of gardening-the captain helping me out.  such pretty green eyes on an beautiful grey cat

be sure to check out the other entries and a big round of applause to amy of she wears many hats for a true challenge.  stay tuned for the next assignment-red!

i’m the captain, i run this ship

i’m the captain, no really, that’s my name-the captain.  my humans gave me this name because they let me run the ship.  well, they don’t really let me but i don’t give them many choices.  i’ve worked hard to get them trained just right and they do just about anything i want them to do.  especially if it means i get to eat something-they always give me tasty treats.

today, i noticed that my lady human was busy with her lap heater-she kept tapping the little button thingys. then came out the picture making thingy.  off to the garden she went.  i always go to the garden with my humans.  someone needs to keep an eye on them and the birds and the squirrels.  i like to sneak up on my lady human; when she is walking across the grass, i like to run as fast as i can straight towards her and when i get close enough, i smack her on the back of the legs.  it usually causes her to laugh but i am sure i saw her leg bendy thing almost go out from under her-soon, lady human, soon and then all the pretty birds will be mine!!!

when the lady wasn’t looking, i took some fabulous photos of my beautiful self but this stupid yeller daffy dill kept getting in the way

 for pete’s sake, they are everywhere!!!

 maybe if i smack them around a bit, show them who is boss-the real captain of the ship, they will leave

 maybe not…
 this is getting a little annoying
but they are almost as pretty as i am…

day four and counting

it was monday and day four of the shoot and there is not a word in the english language that can describe how hot it was. do you remember the scene from the end of the wizard of oz when the wicked witch gets wet? she slowly shrinks down while saying “i’m melting”. we dripped, we drooped and we swatted flies and gnats. well that along with a few sound effects should just about cover it. even so, the day was rather eventful and we accomplished a lot.
one of the shots was of mini strawberry rhubarb pies. the gang trudged on over to the cabin, swatting gnats (and swallowing a few too) and braving the heat to take photos of the pies. they included the airstream trailer in the photo and i must admit, it’s one of my favorites!
back over at the barn on the large porch, karen and dave took photos of the lemon tunnel of love cake. it didn’t like the heat either and as the cake sat out in the intense heat, it got shorter and wider.
still trying to capture that perfect shot of the tunnel of love cake. (and they did!)
so, after a 14 hour day, i headed home to bake a few things in order to get ahead for tuesday. and since i am no different than anyone else, my “best laid plans” fell by the wayside… in other words, i am pretty good at messing up in the kitchen, just like anyone else!
blueberry peach cornmeal buckle, also known as the volcano cake.
this cat will do anything to get darry’s attention. here she is laying on the table with her head resting on the keyboard as darry surfed the internet.
two more days to go-keep watching!

mmm, strawberries…

you know that spring has sprung when you see strawberries on sale in the grocery store. this is especially true around easter. i have moved on from cakes to cupcakes this week and first up is strawberry. strawberry cake is a traditional offering in the south. many birthday and wedding cakes are flavored with strawberry but not many use the real deal-fresh strawberry puree. this recipe does! i gathered up my scoops, my favorite tool for making muffins, cookies and cupcakes, and started scooping out the batter.

if you go to the grocery store, you can find the little paper cups in a couple sizes and sometimes in different colors or foil. i wanted the little mini cup liners and all they had were decorated with swirls in green. for the two other sizes, standard muffin and giant, i used plain white paper.

out of the oven and on the rack to cool, these will get dressed with a strawberry buttercream. another wonderful recipe that uses fresh strawberry puree. it is so easy to make and it tastes so much better when compared to the sludge sold in the plastic tubs in the baking aisle.
a nice long whipping time allows lots of air to be incorporated and makes the frosting nice and light. (i’m ignoring the snickers, what you do on your time is your business-me, i prefer to beat the hell out of a bowl of frosting…)
by using a piping bag, the frosting job is a quick and easy one that anyone can do-yes even you with a little practice.
lots of pretty little cupcakes in different sizes all from one bowl of batter and one batch of frosting.

seeing red

working with food color is not a favorite task of mine. inevitably i end up getting it all over my hands-even with gloves, don’t ask how. so it shouldn’t be a surprise that i was never a big fan of the southern classic, red velvet cake. why would anyone want to flavor a cake with food color? then i found myself staring at the name of that cake on my to do list. (insert a long groan here) here comes another cakewreck. my kitchen will be showing the stains of my efforts for weeks. honestly, it has never appealed to me because the recipe is either made with shortening or oil, has hardly enough cocoa powder to make a difference and contains enough artificial color to paint an elephant. does it have to be this way? not if i am the person controlling this fantasy…

and so it starts
seeing red all over
forgot the gloves, big surprise
red cake with a hint of cocoa
southern belle, all dressed and ready for the party
too dark for good photos, redneck cake dome keeps it moist and safe for the night
probably why the health department frowns on pets in the kitchen. honestly, this cat has a cake magnet-ginger mooch, dessert detective.
daylight is better for photos
and i did not eat that cake slice…i only tasted it, just a couple of bites…put down the plate and step away from the table!!! after a few minor substitutions and additions, i am no longer afraid of the cake and i will eat it, this recipe anyway.

and today’s clues are…

our neighbors know better than to ask. they just quietly watch and wonder until we realize that we have an audience and begin explaining ourselves. one fall day, we discovered that our persimmon tree had a load of ripe fruit on it. there were lots of them on the ground but we could see all of the little fruits hanging on the branches and we wanted them…onto the ground went a large sheet and out of the tool box came a mallet. darry began hammering the trunk of the tree and as the fruit fell onto the sheet, i collected it in a bucket. it was a strange sight. i will admit if i was the one watching, i would wonder what was going on. but it wasn’t me watching, it was my neighbor and he was rather concerned. it seems that he thought darry was using that mallet on me, on my head specifically. from his vantage point it looked that way and when he came over to check on me, we all had a good laugh.
a southern baking book would not be complete without at least one good recipe for a persimmon dessert. since pie and pudding seemed so obvious, i decided to combine it with a few of my favorite things; caramel, pecans and warm cake.
warm caramel glaze with a generous helping of pecan pieces will form the glaze and the top the cake as it is unmolded.
since my supply of persimmon puree was a little thin, i decided to test recipes with sweet potatoes and only use the persimmon puree for the final test. the top is sweet potato and the bottom is persimmon puree.
josie was thoroughly unimpressed with the whole thing and she wasn’t too crazy about today’s musical selections either.

twitch was taking notes for me

the finished cake, warm from the oven and unmolded onto a large plate

a little kitty porn…ginger loves to roll over and show her belly