How Do You Say Goodbye? by da-AL

The good vet kept my little friend warm, wrapped in a special heating pad…

This week I’ve been looking after a friend’s two elderly cats. While one shows her age only by her lack of teeth, the one in this photo was thin and slow.

A couple of nights ago, this little guy was listless. My husband and I massaged him, got him to drink some broth, turned up the room’s thermostat, and made sure he was comfy on his pillow throughout the night.

The next morning he was back to looking awful.

A couple of months earlier he’d appeared to be on the brink of death, yet pulled through. Now, given how he’d perked up somewhat the night before, I took him to the vet optimistic that some intravenous fluids might perk him up.

Unfortunately, the vet affirmed that there was remote hope that the kitty had any more good days allotted to him, probably not a single day left without constant pain and nausea.

Of the few pets I’ve had, I’ve never had to decide whether to euthanize them.

In the case of this sweet boy, my friend decided. I did, however, decide whether to be with the kitty when the final injection was administered. The vet’s caveat was that the cat wouldn’t care either way. Given that, he suggested that if I stayed, I might always remember the cat at his worst.

After considerable deliberation, I opted not to be there.

Have you had to make such a decision? If so, how and what did you choose?

Do’s and don’ts for if your friend has lost a pet.

Here and here are professional links about pet euthanasia.

Bah! Humbug! is Perfectly Fine by da-AL

burnt gingermen cookies
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

It’s quite alright to say, “No!” to a holiday. It’s ok to write off an entire season. Sometimes holidays are worthy of looking forward to. Sometimes they’re not.

tray of burnt cookies
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

It’s perfectly fine to ignore the myriad external messages elbowing each other to influence us. People, companies, cultures, they all would love for us to spend, do, and feel exactly as they think we should.

Never mind them. Really. Sometimes some holidays (and/or seasons) are best ignored.

tray of burnt cookies
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Do whatever works for you. Mark time, survive, thrive. Before you know it, it’ll be holiday-free January.

Photo courtesy Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com

Whatever any one of us does, we’re never alone. We’re all unique yet all human. Be good to each other. Take good care of yourself!

Photo courtesy Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com

What do you do when you want to ignore a holiday?

Dear Cousin Diana’s Tiramisu by da-AL

Crunchy + Soft + Airy + Bitter + Creamy + Sweet = Diana’s Tiramisu Bliss

If angels exist in everyday life, my cousin Diana was one. Her life was far too short, but such is the case with angels.

Cousin Diana
I’m fortunate to have known her.

These photos are generously provided by Stefano Ruberti, my first cousin and Diana’s son. She was born in Argentina. Recipes are a wonderful way to remember good times with loved ones.

Recipes are wonderful memories.

From Diana’s teens on, she resided in Italy with her family. Then with her husband and their three children.

When my husband and I visited some years ago, she made a fantastic multi-course meal that ended with the amazing tiramisu here. As soon as my husband tasted the dessert, he asked Diana to teach me how to replicate it.

Making tiramisu is as much art as it is technique. It took several phone calls to work out the variances of ingredients across the seas and much trial and error to get it just right.

Tiramisu Recipe

  • Makes 9-12 servings
  • 8” x 8” x 2” pan
  • 3 eggs: Find the freshest ones, keep them cold, and use them quickly.
  • 2 cups strong coffee: regular or decaf, lukewarm or cold. Instant works great.
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules to stir into pudding
  • 24 regular-sized ladyfingers: Experiment with finding the perfect ones, neither too stiff nor too soggy. I tried making my own but had no luck. A box of Trader Joes’ works magic for me. The local grocery chain (which is as known for its quality and great prices as it is for its fair treatment of employees) carries them only during the winter holidays, so I stock up for the year.
  • 8 ounce mascarpone
  • 3.5 ounce bittersweet chocolate bits: Anywhere from 72% to 99%. Graters and food processors work fine. I prefer the uneven chunkiness from chopping it with a knife or putting the squares into a bag and whacking them with a wooden mallet until they’re a mouth-pleasing combination of small chunks and powder.

Optional Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
  • 1 teaspoons grated orange rind
  • unsweetened cocoa powder to dust over the final layer

Before You Begin

  • It takes roughly an hour to assemble, especially when you’re just learning.
  • Add another six to twelve hours for tiramisu to set before serving. I prepare the night before, then serve it the following afternoon. Pairs nicely with milk, coffee, or wine.
  • Review everything entire recipe and visualize the most efficient way to organize everything for yourself. The recipe calls for raw eggs and chocolate melts when it’s manipulated too much, so I like to keep things cold and work relatively fast.
  1. Lay out all ingredients and tools, including bowls, pan, whisk or mixer, whatever you’ll use to grate chocolate, etc. Unwrap ladyfingers and put them into a separate bowl.
  2. Prepare chocolate as described in the ingredients list above.
  3. Crack eggs: egg whites into one bowl, egg yolks into another.
  4. Whip egg whites until stiff.
  5. In a bowl with only yolks: beat in 1/2 teaspoon instant granulated coffee, mascarpone, and sugar. If preferred, now add anything listed under ‘optional ingredients.’
  6. Into the bowl with fluffy egg whites, fold in yolk mixture.
  7. Layering tiramisu into a pan – two layers:
  • 1st Layer: One by one, dip ladyfingers and line bottom of the pan. Careful: dip them too quickly and cookies won’t soften up enough — dip too slow and they’ll make the desert too liquid.
  • Spread half of the egg and mascarpone mixture over the cookie layer.
  • Sprinkle half the grated chocolate over the cookies and pudding.
  • 2nd Layer: dunk and layer another twelve cookies, all in the same direction as the first layer.
  • Fold any loose sugar from the cookies into the egg and mascarpone mixture, then spread mixture over the second cookie layer.
  • Sprinkle what’s left of the chocolate evenly over the top. If desired, add a final dusting of unsweetened chocolate powder to even out any gaps.

Cover and refrigerate at least four hours (longer is better).

Serving

a) The remaining liquid is super yummy. Spoon it over sliced pieces.

b) Raw eggs must be handled carefully. Keep the tiramisu cold and either eat the whole thing within three days or freeze it. It freezes wonderfully and tastes heavenly frozen or thawed too!

* Scroll over photos or tap them. *

Voila!

Diana was a loving mother, wife, and cousin.

Do you have special recipes that remind you of loved ones?

Panettone Makes Every Day a Holiday by da-AL

Jeff and Zoë's panettone
Jeff and Zoë’s panettone

Panettone, or pan dulce as my Argentine mother calls it, is one of my family’s favorite things that I make. For those of you who don’t already know, panettone is the queen of holiday fruit bread. Shaped like a chef’s hat, fragrant and puffy with yeast, sweet with fruits and honey.

My panettone success is thanks entirely to the melding of my two favorite no-knead bread baking books:

Bread in 5 Minutes book coverPanettone recipe from: “The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking,” by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoë François

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"My Bread" by Jim Lahey book coverBaking technique from: “My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method,” by Jim Lahey

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Heavenly Panettone that even my cousin who lives in Italy says is the best she’s ever tasted!

My loaves aren’t cookbook perfect and I never make the exact same twice. All the same, each of the dozens of times I’ve made this, it’s come out divine.

Deviations, substitutions, and notes about what works for me:

  • I use Lahey’s baking technique of using a covered pot. For the first half of the baking, I leave the lid on. For the remainder, I take the lid off.
  • Instead of a pot like Lahey uses, mine is the ceramic interior and glass lid from my electric crock pot.
  • I don’t wrap the baked loaf with fancy printed paper.
  • I use parchment paper to line the baking pot.
  • Half a recipe works equally great, though leftover baked panettone freezes well.
  • Whole wheat flour substitutes nicely for half of the white flour.
  • More fruit and/or nuts, less fruit and/or nuts — it’s all delicious!
  • For a lighter loaf first measure dry ingredients into a separate bowl, including the dried fruits and nuts. When I tried adding the raisins into the butter as it melted, it made the loaf denser.

Here’s my post on “The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking,” by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoë François.

Here’s my post on “My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method,” by Jim Lahey.

 

Arthritis Remedy for Pets that Really Works by da-AL

Senior geriatric dog with arthritis
One of my great old dogs.

“Just get them through the winter,” my vet told me when I recently took one of my 14-year-old lab mixes in for arthritis pain.

Winter, even in the gentle weather of Los Angeles County, is hard on older pets. As soon as it starts to get cold, he said, patients bring him their arthritic pets in droves. “Even if it feels warm to us, they know it’s winter.”

His simplest remedy is doing so well for my dog that I must share it: keep them warm. Day and Night.

An electric blanket, my vet counseled, is perfect for night. Toss it over your pet’s sleeping area. Make sure it’s the type that will stay on at a very low setting all night (some switch off after only an hour).

I’ve tried many, many things and continue to explore ways to make my best friends comfortable. The electric blanket has afforded them most dramatic relief.

Have you found arthritis remedies that work?

Winged Grace: Murmurations by da-AL

Murmuration: A flock of starlings.

I call a flock of starlings Supreme Grace — ballet, music, and nature soaring amid limitless sky.

Murmuration of starlings over a field
From National Geographic’s “Flight of the Starlings”

Yesterday while I was driving, stopped at a traffic light, I held my breath as I found myself gazing at a flock of birds dipping and soaring, looping and circling again and again.

I went online to find out why and how they do it, only to get more questions than answers. There was this about when they do v-formations, but little about their swirly kind of flying in flocks. No one knows whether each bird is flying solo, trying not to hit each other while capitalizing on safety in numbers, or whether they’re truly focused on unity.

Three short videos of starling murmurations I thought you’d enjoy…

Beautiful Barcelona, Spain by da-AL

Heading off to La Rambla

This is the first of several posts on my a-w-e-s-o-m-e vacation to Spain and France.

Barcelona is wonderful off-season. In October, the weather was mild and the densely populated ancient city offered my husband and me a great start to a Spain/France adventure. We arrived a Friday evening, bleary-eyed from an overnight flight. Once at our rented room in a centuries-old flat, we stepped outdoors for a quick unexpectedly gourmet dinner. Upon return, we tumbled into bed where stupor overtook us. Fourteen hours later, we woke at two the next afternoon. Our self-imposed itinerary, not to mention our equilibriums, was already thrown off kilter. After sandwiches across the street, we set off for Barri Gòtic, (the Gothic Quarter).

The Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia Square) was the first of the gorgeous sites we enjoyed over the next few days. Barcelona is part of the larger community of Catalonia. At the square, an unfinished upside-down staircase towers over Catalunya’s first president, Francesc Maciá, representing Catalonia’s ongoing history. The monument was designed by artist Josep Maria Surbirachs.

The Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia Square) was the first of the gorgeous sites we enjoyed over the next few days. Barcelona is part of the larger community of Catalonia. At the square, an unfinished upside-down staircase towers over a bust of Catalunya’s first president, Francesc Maciá, representing Catalonia’s ongoing history. The monument was designed by artist Josep Maria Surbirachs.

da-AL at the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia

The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia is an eye-popping church still under construction since it began in 1835, scheduled for completion in 2028. Cranes continue to erect the innovative structure, its spires akin to the most amazingly intricate candle on the verge of melting heavenward back to the fantastical spirit world from whence it came.

Revelers after pro Spain rally

The cultural and economic arguments for and against Catalunya becoming independent from Spain are beyond the scope of this post. The weekend before we visited, a rally for succession ended in police brutality. Many worried that a subsequent pro-Spain rally scheduled for the Sunday when we were there might end badly too. Fortunately for everyone, the gathering was peaceful and we enjoyed a walk along the La Rambla neighborhood.

skateboard park - rennovated warehouse district

An ally near La Rambla

Throughout Barcelona, art reigns supreme, from the Museu Picasso (Picasso Art Museum) to architect Antonio Gaudi’s many buildings, to street art including this music/graffiti/skateboard park.

da-AL with cousin at Barcelona Cathedral

Our vacation started with a highlight: reconnecting with a cousin I hadn’t seen in far too long and meeting her lovely husband.

Catedral de Barcelona

After they guided us through the vicinity of the Barcelona Cathedral, they drove us up Montjuic for a delicious meal and an impressive aerial view of the city.

dinner at Montjuic

The following morning, we woke refreshed. We rented a car and let the GPS lead us to Basque Country, which lies half in Spain and half in France.

Learn more about Barcelona, the monument at Catalonia Square, Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, the Picasso Museum, the Barcelona Cathedral, and Montjuic.