Saturday, April 30, 2011

Card Shark


Geoff and I were playing cards when Scarlett decided she wanted to join. She was very interested in the cards and nudged them a bit on the table.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Flashback Friday: Scarlett and the Pom Poms

This video is from shortly after I got the cat tree for the new apartment, about two years ago. Melly destroyed the pom poms upon her arrival, but until that sad day, Scarlett enjoyed them in her usual sweet and sedate manner.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes



These cupcakes are like a little explosion of chocolatey goodness. The recipe has a lot of steps, which makes the cupcakes a little time consuming for one person to make, but all the steps are pretty simple. However, if you have an assistant or two (Geoff's daughter was kind enough to help me out), it goes a lot more quickly.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberry Chocolate Ganache Filling and Frosted with Chocolate Glaze and Buttercream

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cupcakes
~16 cupcakes/ 350F oven

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temp
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs, room temp
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
2 Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well combined.
3. Measure the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder into a small sized bowl and whisk to combine.
4. Measure out the milk and vanilla and stir to combine
5. Add about a third of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar and beat to combine. Add about a half of the milk/vanilla and beat to combine. Continue adding, alternating between dry and wet and finishing with the dry.
6. Scoop batter into cupcake cups about 2/3′s full. Bake cupcakes for about 22-25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Strawberry Ganache Filling and Ganache Glaze

4.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (the higher the percentage of cacao in your chocolate, the less sweet the ganache will be. I used 85% cacao, and the ganache was not at all sweet.)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1/3 cup diced strawberries

1. Chop chocolate and transfer into a heat proof bowl.
2. Heat cream until bubbles form around the edge of the pan, pour cream over the chocolate.
3. Let sit for 1 minute then stir until combined.
4. Add vanilla and salt. Stir until combined.
5. Divide the ganache in two approximate equal portions. In the first portion, mix in the chopped strawberries. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill.
6. Leave the second portion on the counter to cool down. You want the filling to thicken up before the glaze. Once the filling is think, fill the cupcakes with it. Then glaze with the glaze. See assembly instructions below.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
I would normally use chocolate buttercream for these cupcakes, but I wanted to dye the frosting Easter-y colors.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 cups powdered sugar

1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy.
2. Add the milk, vanilla extract, and 2 cups of powdered sugar and beat at low speed, occasionally stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, until light and fluffy. Add more powdered sugar to arrive at the consistency and sweetness you like - I use 3 cups, normally.

Chocolate Buttercream
Here's an alternate frosting recipe, in case you want to do an all-chocolate cupcake.

1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup cocoa
2-3 cups confectioner's sugar
~2 tablespoons milk

1. Beat butter on high for about 30 seconds until soft.
2. Add cocoa and 1 cup of confectioner's sugar and beat until incorporated.
3. Add 1 tablespoon of milk and the remainder of confectioner's sugar and beat until incorporated.
4. Add more milk if needed to reach the consistency you want.

Assembly
1. Fill the cupcakes with the strawberry ganache using the cone method (see below for step-by-step instructions).
2. Spoon a tablespoon of glaze on each filled cupcake and smooth. If the glaze or the filling are too solid, you can microwave them for 15 seconds.
3. Top with frosting.

Cone Method
Photobucket


1. Use a paring knife to cut a cone out of the top of the cupcake.










2. Remove the cone and cut the tip off (hint: the cupcake pieces go great with ice cream). You can also scoop out a little bit of the cupcake's insides to make more room for filling.















3. Spoon a bit of filling into the cupcake.










4. Replace the cone.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Catnip Craziness

I spread loose catnip all over the cat tree a little while back, and Scarlett and Melly went nuts over it. They both get a little defensive when catnip is involved, so there was a lot of swatting and growling in addition to the usual nip-induced rolling and drooling.



Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Scarlett Plays

Scarlett has been in quite a playful mood lately, and I frequently catch her bunny kicking her various catnip toys. I think Melly is my favorite part of this video, though - I love how she just sits there and stares at Scarlett.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

Flashback Friday: Halloween

These photos are from Halloween 2006.

"[snore] Don't mind me, I'm just sleeping on your Halloween costume."

"Hey, buzz off, this dark fairy costume is comfy."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Melly and the Straw

A couple of weeks ago when I was rummaging in a cupboard, a bendy straw fell out. Melly heard it fall and immediately came running to check it out. She gave the straw a few experimental bats before picking it up in her mouth and dashing off. She then proceeded to play with it for several hours.


If you only have time for a few seconds of video, start at the 45 second mark. It is there that the hilarity truly begins.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Yawn

Melly leads such a difficult and busy life of being adorable and mischievous that she is often quite exhausted at the end of the day.





Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Helpful Kitties

Here is Melly, assisting with packing for the San Diego trip.


And here she is again, helping pack for the trip East. Although, I'm not sure helping is exactly the right word.




The striped blur in the bottom right is Scarlett's tail. See that crumpled white paper by the top of the suitcase, next to the yellowish ribbon? It's a receipt, and here is what Scarlett did with it:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Home at Last

Boy, does it ever feel good to be home. As I'm typing this, Scarlett is asleep on the couch next to me, purring loudly. Melly has conquered my suitcase, which has not been unpacked and is laying in a corner, by first covering it in white hairs and then curling up in a ball on a corner of it.

Here's a rundown of what I've been up to over the past couple of weeks (from a slightly cat-centric perspective in deference to my audience):

First, a conference I'd been working on coordinating for months finally took place. I was a heavily caffeinated bundle of nerves for the week or so leading up to it, but fortunately, everything fell into place the day of the event and it went fairly smoothly.

The day after the event, Geoff and I left for San Diego. It was beautiful.


I always miss my cats when I travel, but I did get to see some other animals on the trip. For example, this is Scott Baio, the pet of Geoff's brother and his girlfriend.


We spent an afternoon at the San Diego animal park, which was amazing. This baby elephant was one of the highlights.


As we were leaving the park, we happened to walk by a presentation on cheetahs, and had the opportunity to see one up close. She was purring!


After the San Diego trip, we had one day at home before heading out again, this time back East for a week to visit my parents. There was a warm spell when we first arrived, so the flowers in my mother's gardens started to bloom.


As you may remember, my parents' cat, Star, passed away in February (his brother Comet died last summer), and this is the first time I'd been back since he died. It was strange being there and not seeing the food bowls on the kitchen floor or the towels on the couches for Star to sleep on, or hearing Star's insistent meow. I really missed the little guy.

On the last day we were there, Geoff and I spent the afternoon playing tourist and happened into a little boutique. While I was checking out the jewelry, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye and turned around to see a fluffy cat heading toward me. I squatted down and extended a hand for her to sniff, but she bypassed it and settled herself in my lap, purring happily.


When we got back to my apartment after a very long trip home (and one that involved a sprint through the Chicago airport), the cats were mostly unfazed by our appearance and proceeded to ignore us while sniffing every inch of every piece of luggage. When I climbed into bed, though, they were on me in minutes, one on each side, purring like crazy. It was an excellent, if delayed, welcome.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Flashback Friday: New Cat Tree

When the new cat tree arrived, it took a while for Geoff and I to assemble it. Scarlett was not amused by the chaos in her domain, and when the tree was finished and moved into place, she remained skeptical of it.

But once I coated the whole thing in catnip, Scarlett became more interested.


She had to try out every level...


...and test out the pom poms. (These are the same pom poms that Melly later tore from the tree.)

She was also great fan of the little house, which allowed her to survey her kingdom in comfort and style.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Observations

What are you looking at, Scarlett?

Ah yes.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Happy Gotcha Day, Melly!



Yesterday was the first anniversary of Melly's arrival at chez Natalie, which was also the first anniversary of this blog. Melly, as many of you know, started out as Sally Dickens on Pitter Pats of Baby Cats.


I used to coo and squee over the adorable baby kitties on Sue's blog on a daily basis, and even though I was happy with Scarlett as an only cat, something about tiny, precocious Sally just called out to me. And so, little Sally came to live with me, was quarantined in the bathroom, and was renamed Melly.


If you've been with us since the beginning, you know that the transition was not easy and I had serious second thoughts. Scarlett was miserable and I was a guilty wreck.


But Melly was such a sweet and happy little fluffball that she managed to charm us all and I could not be happier that she is here. Even Scarlett has mostly come around.


Happy gotcha day, my sweet Mellybean!


Friday, April 8, 2011

Flashback Friday: New Couch

I sold my old couches before moving to my current apartment, and it ended up taking a while to find new ones, so I was couch-less for several weeks. Scarlett, who spends approximately 50% of her time asleep on various parts of the couch, was not pleased by the lack of living room furniture.

Here she is enjoying the new couch shortly after its arrival.

"Please don't leave me."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Silly Scarlett

This little shelf is where the cats' toys go. I gather them up every time I vacuum, and when they're gathered, I give them all a spritz with the catnip spray. Here, Scarlett had just discovered the freshly catnipped toys, and was drunkenly guarding them.



That big pink mouse with the black tail is her favorite. It came in the Paw it Forward package from Cat, and Scarlett bunny-kicks it to death at least once a day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Another Window Sill

Melly's affection for window sills is not limited to my house. We spent a weekend at Geoff's recently and Melly spent much of her time there relaxing on the bedroom window sill. She was asleep, but as soon as I walked over with the camera, she started posing and mugging.







Friday, April 1, 2011

Flashback Friday: Neighbor Cats


These photos are from a couple of years ago when I first moved into my current apartment. When I arrived, there were quite a few outdoor cats in the neighborhood (most of them had collars, so they did have homes). The block across the street was ruled by a skittish black fluffball; my block was shared by a bob-tailed tabby, a very vocal tuxie, and Ashley, the Siamese who still comes around sometimes.

Here, Scarlett is having a bit of a disagreement with the tuxie:

Yikes, the windows could really have used a wash.


But then, she caught a glimpse of the tabby:


The tuxie took off, and Scarlett followed the tabby around to a different window:

These two cats haven't come around in over a year, so I'm guessing their owners have moved away. I think Ashley is the only outdoor cat on the block currently, but maybe more will come out when the weather gets better.