Sunday, October 30, 2016

vacation: colonial williamsburg

Bob and I went on vacation recently to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.  We haven't been there since our honeymoon way back in 1996.  Now that we own a house from that time period--1700s--we figured we'd take a trip down and call it "research."  I've been wanting to see some houses from the time period firsthand so I can get an idea as to what the window treatments should look like, furnishings, etc. I can see it online, but it's so much better in person.

The first day was spent in the historic area.  During the day the streets are closed to cars (the employees and others live in the historic houses), so it's nice to be able to roam freely without worrying about crossing the street.  We saw most of the area that day, and I had no problem making my daily step goal by noon.  We had a very late lunch at Chowning's Tavern, which is a historic tavern.  The food was good, but I felt it was a bit overpriced for what we got. I had the Welsh Rarebit with salty ham (very salty!) and Bob had the warm roast beef wrap. I think the fact that I was able to finish my plate is a testament to the quantity of food received.  (Although, now that I look back at the menu I realize mine was actually an appetizer.)

The next day we went to the Yorktown battlefield and the new Victory Center. Yorktown is the place where the battle was won that lead to the end of the Revolutionary War. The Victory Center is new, in fact it opened the weekend we arrived. We thought it was great:  it's large, contains lots of artifacts, and is easy to navigate.  They also have a small Continental Army encampment out back, which was partially open. We got to see a canon being fired, which is always interesting. And loud! We also drove around the battlefields and walked the trenches, and also took a small walking tour led by someone from the National Park Service. I bought a book:  Washington's Spies. I love the series Turn:  Washington's Spies, and now I want to read the book.  That night we went on a ghost tour in Colonial Williamsburg.  It was more of a storytelling by actors, but it was fun nonetheless. We got to go into one of the houses, which is what I was most excited about.  Also of note:  we saw the rocket that was launched from Wallops Island in Virginia.  The rocket was sent to the International Space Station to supply the crew that's on board. I took a picture, but it's really hard to see so I didn't include it here.  It was cool to see it in-person, though. Especially in the middle of a ghost walk in a historic town, which was led by women in 18th century clothing.

The next day we took it somewhat easy and visited a few antiques stores and Yankee Candle.  I picked up an old cast iron frying pan at an antiques mall, which had been professionally cleaned and re-seasoned.  Bob bought a small match box for the fireplace mantle.  We're not sure how old it is, but it fits in with the house.  I bought a few room fragrances at Yankee Candle, but not much else.  Later on we took another ghost walking tour in the historic area.  This one was strictly outside and it told true stories of recent ghostly encounters within the historic area. It was interesting.

On our last day we went to Jamestown, which also has a new visitor center. It tells the story of the first English settlers, which arrived in Jamestown in 1607.  It was pretty good, but I enjoyed Yorktown more. Plus it was hot and we'd already had three days of walking and sightseeing. That night we grabbed some fast food and bought a few items in the general store, which was walking distance from the hotel.

We had a good time. Lots of walking. LOTS of walking, gorgeous weather, and nice sights. We also picked up a few odds and ends to bring home with us.  I bought some loose chocolate tea, which is simply roasted cacao shells. It's the first tea I've had the truly tastes like chocolate. I also bought the  chocolate mint tea, which was also delicious and had lots of flavor. I got some Virginia peanuts for my coworkers, a few t-shirts, and some others miscellaneous things. We didn't spend much on shopping.

We saw these guys upon entering the historic area. I guess the second one had had enough of me trying to take pictures and decided to trot away.

The Governor's Mansion

The Governor's Mansion garden. I paid much attention to the gardens in Williamsburg, because I'd like to do something in our large side yard that is period-correct. Gardens were modeled after English gardens and were usually laid out in a geometric pattern. Each side and/or corner mirrored the other sides/corners.

Veiw of the Governor's Mansion from the garden.

The maze in the Governor's Mansion garden. I'm glad I didn't go into it, because we can see from here that there's no way out except to go back the way you came.

This was taken at the pond in back of the Governor's Mansion. Very peaceful.

I took these in one of the historic houses, although I can't remember which one at the moment. I've discovered that either shutters or wood blinds were the window treatment of choice, and that four-poster beds with canopies were standard.

This is me in front of the Governor's Mansion. 

An 18th century garden.

I hung out with these guys for awhile at the Yorktown encampment.  

The Peyton Randolph house. Supposedly the most haunted in the area. We went inside and although I didn't witness anything, I did have an uneasy feeling a couple times, especially when I was the last one to leave the room.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

R.I.P. Thomas

I'm sad to report that we've lost another kitty. This time it was Thomas, which was unexpected.

A few months back we brought him in for dental work. Due to his very skittish nature, which meant he was always hiding, it had been years since he'd been to the vet. We got his teeth taken care of, as well as blood work. The blood work was normal; however, the vet found a heart murmur. At the time, the immediate need was to address the dental situation; it was pretty bad.  The plan was to deal with that first, then let him heal fully, then onto the murmur.

Unfortunately, we didn't make it that far. While we were on vacation this past week, the cat sitter called to inform us that she found Thomas dead in the kitchen. Based on the way he was positioned and what we saw (she sent me a picture), my guess is a fatal heart attack or other traumatic event. It doesn't appear to be from a short-term illness, such as an upper respiratory infection.

So, we cut vacation short and came home to bury him. He's out next to the garden, along with Riley and George.

Thomas was about eight years old when he died. He lived a very small, fearful life. He began life as a feral kitten and he never really lost his fear of humans. I found him outside my sister's house in New York and decided to take him home. He was quite difficult to catch, since he was fearful of people,  but eventually we caught him and I drove the four hours home.  

The first four years weren't bad.  Thomas would come out from time to time and hang around, although he would never sleep out in the open. When visitors came over, he wouldn't be seen until long after everyone left.  Unfortunately,  he got out of the house by accident one day (he was an indoor cat) and it took us more than two months to catch him. It was tough because he was too afraid to come all the way to the front door.  During the time when he was gone we took in two other cats, Thelma and Louise. When we finally caught him and brought him back home, he changed. Thelma and Louise were very aggressive towards him and we were never able to solve that issue. So, he spent most of his time upstairs in our bedroom. And then we moved to the new house two years ago. From then on, he spent his life in the back of a closet or hiding under a bed. He also liked the fireplace oven (it's not in use and doesn't have a door!) because it goes pretty far back and the other cats didn't know he was there.

Looking back, I feel as though maybe I should have left him in New York to live his life as a feral cat. The life of a feral cat is short and very difficult; however, I'm not sure it was better for him to have lived a house cat's life. Sure, he was safe and lived a longer life, but what kind of life is it when he spent 95% of his time hiding under the beds or in the back of a closet, only coming out to eat and use the litter box?  He was always in fear and got bullied by a few of our other cats. There were times over the last year when I contemplated just letting him outside to do as he likes. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. I couldn't live with myself if I just let him outside after years of being inside. I also thought about re-homing him. In the end, I decided I should just keep things as they are.

Goodbye, Thomas. We loved you and hope you're now feeling free, confident and fearless at the Rainbow Bridge with Riley, George, and all our other kitties that have gone before you.

Friday, October 21, 2016

antique shop goodies

Sorry for the big gap is posts, but I was away this week.  I'll post about that this weekend. For now, I'll tell you about some recent finds.

Back when I moved into my first house, I liked to visit antique shops to search for odds and ends to decorate the house. Since we were always broke, that usually meant a lot of inexpensive knick knacks. Over the years most of them broke thanks to the four-legged children of the house. Others I decided to get rid of either because I just didn't want them anymore, or I got tired of cleaning them. Basically, I didn't like them anymore BECAUSE I got tired of cleaning them. I then went through a long period where I didn't want to go to antique stores, didn't want any knick knacks, etc. However, now that I own a very old house, I'm starting to go to antique stores again. I should state, though, that I'm not talking about high-end stores that sell mint-condition upholstered chairs for $2,500.00. I'm talking about stores that sell a large mix of items at reasonable prices. Sure, I'd love to have some original 18th century items, but that's not practical with all the cats I have and I have to think about the finances. So, I buy a couple things here and there that I actually like and will use.

A couple months ago we visited an antique store that was closing the current location and moving one town over. The store was in an old two-story house and every room was jam-packed with stuff. (I don't even want to think about how long it took them to pack all the stuff they didn't sell and move it to the warehouse.)  In the kitchen area there were tons and tons of items. They were stacked on top of each other--sometimes three stacks deep--on the counters, in the upper and lower cabinets, on the table and even on the floor.  Oh,and there was a ton of stuff hanging from the ceiling, too.  It was difficult to really look through it the way I wanted to, but I found a few items that popped out at me and weren't difficult to pull out.

Here are the items I picked up.

Sifter:  This is a Jacob Bromwell 5-cup sifter. Your mom or grandmother may have owned one of these. In fact, the reason I bought it is because my mom had one similar to this and I used to love using it. Easiest way to sift flour ever! Just hold it over the bowl and turn the lever.  No mess, unlike using a sieve, and it doesn't tire your hand out, unlike the ones that have a squeeze handle. To buy this new today (they still make this model!) would be $124.99. If you want to upgrade to stainless steel, add $50.00. I'd say I got a huge bargain at $10.00. The bonus is it comes with a lifetime of use already built in. :) I haven't used it yet, but the holidays are coming!

Serving dishes:  I grabbed these two dishes. The one on the left is a 1.5 quart Pyrex dish and was $15.00. I love that it's divided.  I can picture using this at family dinners and serving two different vegetables from it. One bowl, two veggies.  And who doesn't love the durability of Pyrex? 

The one on the right is a LuRay Pastels platter from 1941, which was $10.00.  Apparently the pastel line was made only from 1938 to 1961.  I love the size of the this dish. Seems like it would be perfect for a dinner for two:  a couple Cornish game hens, a couple steaks, or maybe a small chicken. You could even use it as a large dinner plate. 

Corning Ware baking dish:  I admit I picked this up because I have a set of three shallow Corning Ware baking dishes my mom passed down to me and I want to expand the set. It's very nostalgic to me. Plus, I really like the size.  It's a deeper dish at 2.5 quarts and it came with the lid. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

seasoned brown rice in the Instant Pot

Last year I found a recipe for seasoned rice, which I've been using ever since:  it's cheaper than buying Rice-a-Roni and you get a whole lot more.

I recently bought an Instant Pot, which I'm loving, and decided to try and make rice in it.  I Googled to determine the correct rice to water ratio, since I'd seen a lot of people posting that the Instant Pot ratios don't seem to be correct.  The ratio I found that works for me is 1 cup of rice to 1.25 cup of water using this method.  So, I revised my seasoned brown rice recipe to work in the Instant Pot.

It came out great and tasted just like it should. It was cooked perfectly.  I made a double batch and froze most of it.

Seasoned Brown Rice
This recipe can easily be doubled.

3 1/2 TB of Seasoning Mix (below)

2 1/2 cups water
2 TB butter
2 cups uncooked brown rice

  1. Turn the Instant Pot on to Saute. Let it warm up for a couple minutes and then add 1 TB of the butter. Once melted, add the rice and toast for a few minutes.   
  2. Pour the water into the pot and add the other 1 TB of butter.  
  3. Add the seasoning mix and stir. Close the lid.
  4. Press Keep Warm/Cancel on the Instant Pot and then press Manual and set to High Pressure for 15 minutes. Let it cook.
  5. When the cooking is done, let the pressure naturally release, which will take at least 20 minutes or more. Don't use the quick release method, because the rice won't be quite done.  If you want to play around with the rice to water ratio and cooking times, check out this post I found.
Seasoning Mix
Makes enough to season two batches of rice.

2 TB dried basil
2 TB chicken bouillon granules
2 TB dried parsley
2 tsp onion powder
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried thyme

Combine all ingredients and store in an air tight container.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

hard-cooked eggs in the Instant Pot

Last time I posted I said I'd let you know how it goes with the hard-cooked eggs.  Well, it was very easy, the eggs peeled in a cinch, and they were perfectly cooked.  The only issue was that two of them exploded out of the shell.  Not an actual explosion, really. They just burst out of the shell as they cooked.

All I did was put a cup of water in the pot, put a single layer of eggs on the rack that comes with the pot (I was able to fit 14 eggs), close it up and set the cooker to "Manual" and "Low Pressure" for 7 minutes. I then turned it off and quick-released the pressure. Rinsed the eggs in cold water and I was done!  Total time was about 20 minutes, since it takes about 5 to 10 minutes for the pot to come up to pressure.

The eggs were perfectly cooked. You can adjust the cooking time based on how done you like the yolks. Decrease for moist yolks, increase for firmer yolks.

Update:  Forgot to add that these eggs were SOOOO easy to peel!!  I'm convinced that this is the way to go when making eggs now. Almost nothing worse than a hard-boiled egg that won't let go of it's shell. More than once I've given up and just tossed the egg in the garbage because half the egg white is still attached to the shell.


Here's one of my exploded eggs. Looks funky, but it tasted just fine.

As you can see, there's a bit of a dark ring around the yolk, which is likely because I let them sit 2 extra minutes after cooking. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

my new Instant Pot

Recently the dial on my old slow cooker cracked and fell off. I was kind of happy, because I've been wanting to get a new one. One which has a timer and a "keep warm" setting.  Not necessary, but definitely nice to have since no one is home most of the day. Sure, I could use a pair of pliers to  turn it off and on, or I could scour eBay looking for a new knob, but I used it as an excuse to get something better.

I went online and asked for suggestions. Suggestions ranged from a Hamilton Beach model that has the settings I want, to just getting the same thing I have now, to the Instant Pot. I was intrigued by the Instant Pot and had never heard of it, so I researched the crap out of it. (Just like I always do when I need to buy something new.)

"What's the Instant Pot?", you say?  It's basically a slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, saute pan, and yogurt-maker (yes, it makes yogurt!) all rolled into one. That piqued my interest, because I've been wanting to try a pressure cooker, but couldn't justify spending the money, and I needed/wanted a new slow cooker. A rice cooker is nice, I guess. Never used one or felt I needed to use one, but what the hell?  I also liked the idea of being able to do my sauteing in the cooker and then switching over to the pressure cooker or slow cooker function. What's even better is that it would take up the same amount if space in the cabinet as my current slow cooker, which is important because I have a very tiny kitchen in a very old house with not a lot of storage or counter space. So, yeah, I bought it last weekend.

Looks pretty high-tech!

I ended up with the 6 quart version. They offer an 8 quart, but I'd read on several websites that the 6 quart got more use on a daily basis and might be overkill for anything other than a large family or special events.  

The lid has a venting valve for pressure cooking, and it turns and locks so you know it's closed. It also plays a little jingle when you open and close it.

As you can see, the inner pot is stainless steel, which means I don't have this giant stoneware pot taking up the whole sink and strainer when I wash it. Plus, it's not mega heavy like that other pot. It came with a basket/rack to use when steaming (or something...), a couple spoons, a measuring cup and a condensation catcher for when you pressure cook. And probably one of my favorite things:  the lid fits into the pot's handle so you don't have to stand in the middle of the kitchen with a dripping, scorching-hot lid, looking for a place to put it.

My first experiment was beef stew, since I had a big package of stew meat sitting in the freezer.  I found a recipe, which you can find here, and adapted it for my own use. (It's a paleo diet recipe that calls for arrowroot flour, which I don't have and am not about to go out and hunt down, and either lard, ghee or avocado oil, none of which I have; I used regular flour and a bit of olive oil.) I have to say, it was so awesome to brown the meat in the pot, throw all the other ingredients in, and then switch it to pressure cooker. I only had the one pot to clean. And the stew was great. It tasted like it had cooked for hours, but the meat wasn't totally falling apart and the veggies weren't disintegrated as they would be in a slow cooker. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the finished stew. Sorry! But it looks like your standard beef stew, so use your imagination.

I was worried about the pot not being hot enough to saute, but that was a needless worry; it did just as good as a frying pan for the most part. And it got up to saute temperature very quickly, so don't go sticking your fingers in to test the surface. (Not that I did that or anything...) The other thing I was worried about was the release of pressure after the pressure cooking was done. I used the natural release method, which means letting the pot sit on "keep warm" for 15 or 20 minutes and allowing it to depressurize naturally. After 20 minutes it didn't show any signs of releasing, so I turned the vent very, very slowly and released the pressure myself. I was worried the thing would explode, because I know that it's heated ingredients under pressure. I was fine though. Nothing happened. No explosions with beef stew on the ceiling or all over myself.

This weekend I plan to try making hard-cooked eggs, and maybe some seasoned rice. I'll let you know how it turns out.

If you want to check out this cooker, here's the link:  Instant Pot.

(And, yes, as soon as I got it home and then went to Walmart for something, I found at least three other brands that make the same kind of thing for less. Story of my life.)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Pure Protein Crunch, Double Chocolate

I saw these in the grocery store and decided to give them a try. They remind me of candy, so I thought this would be a good substitute since I really don't need to be eating candy.  It's a new product by Pure Protein.  I don't care for their protein shakes, as they're quite sickeningly sweet. I also don't care for their bars, either. But I thought I'd give these a try. 

I tried the Double Chocolate flavor. Apparently they make a peanut butter flavor, too, but my store didn't have them.
As you can see, they're small, but there's a lot of them in the bag. This is about 1/4 of the bag I'm holding in my hand.  I felt like the portion size was good for the price. I want to say they cost $1.99, but I can't remember. It wasn't more than that, though.

I really like these. They're crunchy, very chocolaty, and satisfying. Are they filling? Nah, not really. But they will likely satisfy your sweet tooth.  I can see myself bringing these to the movies. Before my surgery, I would stop at the drug store on the way to the movies to grab a huge bag of M&Ms. Then when I got to the movies I'd get a big popcorn and a diet soda (yes, I know, but I actually LIKE diet soda).  Nowadays I get a small popcorn, sometimes get a small bag of M&Ms (or none at all), and bring bottled water with me. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

WLS before and after pics

I posted this on Facebook once, because I think it's very true in regards to what our bodies look like after massive weight loss. Might not look like it to the average person, but there are usually undergarments, such as Spanx and padded bras, that smooth everything out and put things back where they're supposed to be. I don't personally use Spanx because I don't want to feel like I'm bound up in a sausage casing, but I do buy molded cup underwire bras. Never thought I'd buy molded cups, but I need to now, as the girls are looking a bit deflated.  I tell people I'm "putting my boobs on" when I put the bra on.

I thought it would be cute to post what I think my body would look like after the abdominoplasty and panniculectomy. No, I'm not a cat, but you get the idea. (Kind of wish I was so I could lounge and sleep all day, and have people make and serve my meals.)

Before weight loss surgery:

Fluffy, round, and robust.  This one never misses a meal.  Or a snack.

After weight loss surgery:

Pretty sleek and healthy, but lots of saggy skin.

 After a tummy tuck:

Svelte, soft in the right places, and oh so proud to show it off. She's lovin' life. 
(This is Tiffany, by the way.)