Tuesday
May032016

The Blacker One

Apparently it's Animal Week all up in this place, so can we talk about the clownfish mystery for a minute? If you linger around the Instagram part of the world, you've seen the punchline to this story, but it's worth filling in so that later when the whole thing takes another twist, I can clearly recall how it all started.

So. The beginning. About a two years ago, the evil maroon clownfish (finally) died and in it's place came two regular clownfish. They were all sorts of Nemo, so much so that one was named Nemo. Alexis named the other one, too, but I've never paid attention long enough to know its name or which fish was which. Instead of playing by the rules, I've always called them "The Blacker One" and "The Not Blacker One" because one had more black on it.

I'm very fancy with my naming.

When the clownfish first moved in, they were roughly the same size, but then The Blacker One went and got bigger. I learned a long time ago that bigger in clownfish land means female. The crazy little things can change back and forth, but generally they're all male except the largest one.

So! The Blacker One was a girl! I knew that a while ago, but that was confirmed when she suddenly got super fat. Like, SUPER fat. One thing led to another and she laid eggs somewhere in the middle of the rocks. I couldn't see them, but based on her behavior, they were right below a piece of coral. If we pull out our Guide to Making Baby Clownfish, after eggs comes about a week of waiting and then babies.

Annnnnnd ... a week went by. And nothing. Which, that wasn't surprising at all. There are a ton of hermit crabs and predatory shrimp and basically I have quite the clean-up crew in the tank. I do that because I am too lazy to actually clean the tank. Given that I haven't cleaned it in ... um ... I'll get back to you on that. A while, anyway. I don't clean -- I leave the clean-up crew just hungry enough to clean up all debris.

I assumed "debris" would include eggs. The snail eggs have always disappeared that way, so it makes sense that fish ones would, too.

But I didn't count on a whole fish suddenly disappearing.

One night, The Blacker One was there. The next morning, she wasn't. There were no signs of foul play. There were no signs of death. There were no signs of ANYTHING. It was the most mysterious of mysteries because how does a fish disappear in a super small tank? Did she call her Seagull friend and make her way back to the ocean?

I still don't know.

What I do know is that the remaining fish, The Not Blacker One, is acting like he's on a leash and can't move more than an inch from the coral where I'm relatively certain the eggs were laid.

I could swear I've seen this movie.

I'm going in this weekend. Come hell or high water, I'm cleaning that tank and I'm going to move the rocks. If I find a baby fish with a gimpy fin, I'm calling Ellen Degeneres. I'm going to need her to narrate the extended tale of The Black One, The Not Blacker One, and their spawn.

Monday
May022016

Another Year. Another Nest.

My neighbors already know I'm nuts, so I have no qualms about lurking around my own yard in search of bird nests. I've hit gold pretty much every year since I planted the tall evergreen arborvitae at the front of the house. While the deer manage to turn said trees into giant penis-shaped greenery over the winter, the birds find the tops of the penises to be just fine for raising a family.

And, thus, I lurk until I find eggs then I watch baby birds grow up.

This year was no exception. I was getting attacked by birds every time I walked into the front yard, and there was a reason. There were nests on both sides of the sidewalk. Sadly, the nest nearest the driveway fell prey to some deer who returned for snacks and knocked it out of the tree. But! I still had the nest on the other side!

Except that it was up HIGH. It was way at the tippy top of the tree, so it was a struggle to get a photo of the birds, or even to see them. That didn't really stop me. I kept finding things to climb on, even going so far as to drag a footstool to the front yard, because BABY BIRDS! ME LOVE THEM!

Then one day I was walking through the dining room and a cat lost her fool mind lunging at the window. I followed the commotion and HELLO. BABY BIRDS. ONE FOOT FROM THE WINDOW IN PLAIN VIEW.

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Photos taken through a window can never be as good as those taken without a window in the way, but no matter. Being able to watch baby birds all day every day wins!

So we all settled in. For a full 10 days, we were able to watch the babies get bigger and more alert. The cats and I thought it was the best thing ever. (They probably could have been nice enough to tell me sooner. Cats are jerks. Jerks who keep secrets.)

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The fun has come to an end as the last of the babies flew away today. I managed to catch the first one take to the air for the first time, so while I'm sad it's done, I did make the most of it. So did the mom and dad birds.

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Somewhere in that ten-day window, Mila figured out that there was something happening outside the window. It took her a while to notice the babies since they didn't move a lot and sort of blended into the tree, but once she did, it was GAME. ON.

"Bird! Bird!" every morning was the same.

Yesterday morning, though, I had important things to do (read: eat cereal), so I made her walk through the dining room without stopping. She corrected that while I cut a banana for her cereal, which isn't entirely unusual. Mila tends to have the run of the house because she's Mila. She can't be stopped.

Nor does she have any common sense.

When there wasn't anyone standing at the window to help her get to the baby birds, Mila took matters into her own hands. She did everything she could to climb the curtains, all the while screaming, "BIRD! BIRD!"

And there's your explanation for why the babies who seemed like they were going to stay FOREVER suddenly up and left. It was pure fear. Pure, justified fear.

At least I got to see the smartest of the birds leave while Mila tried to climb the curtain.

Sunday
May012016

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

Let's cut to the chase, shall we?

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Working from the bottom up, we've got a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter filling. It's topped with a whipped cream frosting, melted peanut butter, hot fudge, and chopped nuts.

And ZOMG is it good.

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This kid hasn't learned how to hide her emotions yet, so when she took her first bite out of one of the cupcakes, she literally groaned with happiness.

Which, THAT is how you tell your mom "thanks" for giving you a cupcake. It was pretty much the best.

These cupcakes are a rendition of an old favorite. They got a peanut butter twist because a good idea is a good idea. Also, there's no reason for me to ever find another way to make a basic chocolate cupcake. I'm entirely too happy with this version.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

Peanut Butter Filling
1 cup creamy peanut butter (Skippy works well)
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Chocolate Cupcake Batter
3 cups flour
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
2/3 cups vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar (yes, really)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whipped Cream Frosting
1 8-oz package cream cheese
1 cup heavy cream (you can buy the small carton, use the 2 tablespoons in the filling, and use the remainder here, even though it's not quite a full cup)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Peanut butter
Hot fudge
Chopped nuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and throw cupcake liners in two pans. You're making 24 cupcakes.

2. To make the filling, mix together the peanut butter and 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. Set aside.

3. Place the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Stir it all up with a whisk.

4. Add the water, butter, vinegar, and vanilla. Stir with a fork until the chunks are gone. It took me about two minutes.

5. Place the chocolate cupcake mix in your cupcake liners, filling each one about 3/4 of the way.

6. Carefully add some peanut butter filling on top of the chocolate cupcakes.

7. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes.

8. While the baking is happening, make your frosting. Throw the cream cheese, heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla into a bowl and mix at high speed until well-blended. It should form peaks.

9. Once the cupcakes are done baking, place them on a cooling rack until they are cool to the touch. Then it's time to frost them. So do that.

10. And now for the best part -- melt a few tablespoons of peanut butter in a small storage bag. It should only take about 15 seconds. Cut a corner off the bag and then squeeze the peanut butter across the top of the cupcakes.

11. Repeat that with some hot fudge.

12. Garnish with some chopped nuts.

13. Alexis says this frosting tastes like ice cream, except better. Feel free to test that theory often.