Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Ugh, holiday weekends get me so confused. Is it Monday? Tuesday? Friday? With taking off time last week and an extra day this week, I feel like I've been out of the loop for two weeks. I'm in a time warp.

Chaz seems to feel the same...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Visit to Lynchburg, VA

I wasn't here yesterday to post my usual, Monday kitteh post because hubby and I were wrapping up a glorious, long weekend in Lynchburg, VA. After the whole ordeal with the cats, professional development, and stuff going on around the house, we needed a break. Once we found a pet sitter that would come out to the boonies where we live, we were ready to go!

We've wanted to go down to the Lynchburg area to visit some of the local sites for a while. Lynchburg, VA is about 45 minutes south of Charlottesville and a beautiful little town surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's a college town too, with Liberty University, Lynchburg University, and Randolph College as the big hitters. We like going to places like this, as college towns seem to be more active and modern, with interesting places to eat and drink.

Old City Cemetery
Our first stop was the Old City Cemetery and Arboretum in downtown Lynchburg. We were there at the perfect, peak time of the year, as the place was entirely in bloom with old garden roses. Their heady scent was the first thing we smelled when we got out of the car. Heaven!

This is a garden cemetery, which is a wonderful and beautiful thing to behold. Many of the antique roses growing have been there for many, many years and serve as a historical record for the types of old garden roses planted in the 19th and 20th centuries.

There were walls and walls of them. So beautiful and hauntingly romantic. My favorite was a hybrid multiflora purple rose named "Veilchenblau". Oh, to have such things in a garden!

Besides the flowers of course, the cemetery itself is a wonderful, historical landmark with many of the graves dating back to the Civil and Revolutionary War. But you can tell I was there for the flowers!

National D-Day Memorial
After the cemetery, we drove west of Lynchburg to Bedford, VA where the National D-Day Memorial is located. The memorial is located in Bedford, VA as this town had the highest number of deployed casualties lost on D-Day than any other town in the United States. Of the 30 men who were deployed from this tiny, southern town, only 7 of them remained alive after the invasion of Normandy in 1944.

Blue Mountain Barrel House Brewery
Virginia has hundreds of local wineries to visit, but their breweries and distilleries are becoming more and more numerous and popular. We didn't plan to visit this brewery, but just saw the sign on the side of the road and decided to stop in. We are glad we did, as Blue Mountain Barrel House Brewery has the most amazing beer! Our favorite by far was their Dark Hallow Stout, which is aged in bourbon barrels. It was like drinking an after-dinner "bourbon beer".

The day we visited (actually the whole weekend) was really overcast and rainy. It seemed like you could reach out and touch the low-hanging clouds on the Blue Ridge Mountains. Blue Mountain Barrel House is located about 30 miles north of Lynchburg.

Local Cheese Farms
Besides wineries, breweries, and distilleries, Virginia is starting to get a reputation for making great cheese. What with all those lush, green mountains and pastures, it's no wonder.

The highlight of our trip was a visit to Caromont Farm in Esmont, VA. We didn't get any pictures at the farm, as it was too rainy and muddy, but we did bring home this:

The holy grail of goat cheese! Let me tell you, we have had some amazing goat cheese in our time, but NONE of it has compared to what these people make! We first tried and bought their cheese from a small cheese shop near where we lived and were hooked. In fact, we haven't been able to find it since and made a specific point to visit this farm. Fortunately, most of this can be vacuum-sealed and frozen. A visit to Caromont is not for the faint-hearted or lack of conviction. The farm is about 30 miles north of Lynchburg, deep in the woods, and at the top of a mountain. We were glad we had our truck!

Lastly, that large, red wheel of cheese in the middle came from Our Lady of Angels Monastery, which is about 15 minutes outside of Charlottesville.  Yes, this is a real monastery where nuns make this gouda everyday. There are no pictures again, as it's really a ring-the-doorbell-and-buy-some-cheese sort of thing, but it is worth it. When we were there, they were doing construction to expand the monastery, plus it was raining - AGAIN - so maybe next time we can get some pics.

Besides all that, we also managed to visit a few wineries and eat some great food. Lynchburg, VA turned out to be the perfect, little mini-vacay that we both desperately needed. We'll definitely be back!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

How to Make Hummingbird Nectar

It's been so cold and wet these past few weeks that my poor little "squeakers" (hummingbirds) haven't been around much. Over the past 3 weeks, we've had exactly 4 days of sunshine with no rain. We're even still running our fireplace on chilly mornings and evenings.

Any day now, I know I'll wake up and it will suddenly be 85°, hot, and humid as hell. But my squeakers will love it and the "hummer wars" will be back on in full force.

I usually note in my garden journal when the hummingbirds arrive and leave each year. When they show up, I start making nectar for my feeders. It's super easy to do and MUCH cheaper and healthier than purchasing store-bought, dyed nectar.

Incidentally, you should never add red food dye to hummingbird nectar, as it serves no purpose, often is petroleum-based, and is not metabolized by the hummingbirds, which could cause health problems.

Not to mention, it's expensive!

Hummingbird nectar is a simple 4-to-1 ratio of cooked water and sugar. I usually make a batch 1-2 times a week, depending on the weather, which is enough to fill one of my hummingbird feeders twice. Any amount that is not used is refrigerated for about a week and then it is tossed if not used.

Important note: Hummingbird nectar should be changed-out regularly, depending on the outside temperature! If not changed regularly, the nectar will actually start to ferment, which can make the hummingbirds sick, or even kill them. The hotter is it outside, the more often the nectar should be changed. During peak summer temperatures, nectar should be changed-out every 2-3 days.

Also, rinse your hummingbird feeder out with hot water when changing nectar (don't use soap) to help control yeast and bacterial growth. At the end of the season, thoroughly clean your hummingbird feeder out with a diluted bleach and water mixture.

Hummingbird Nectar

4 cups of water
1 cup of sugar

Fill a 6-8 cup measuring cup with water first, as this gives you a true measurement, then add the sugar. Give the sugar and water a light stir with a spoon. Place measuring cup in the microwave and heat for 5 minutes. You don't need to boil the sugar/water mixture, but heat it enough to dissolve the sugar. After 5 minutes, remove the measuring cup and stir until the sugar is dissolved and the water is clear. Cool completely before using and refrigerate leftover nectar for no more than a week. Refrigerated nectar should be brought back to room temperature before using.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday - Grieving

I had a conversation with a lady recently, who like me, had to rehome a beloved kitteh due to a redirected aggression episode. We both agreed the grieving associated with rehoming a pet is in many ways worse than losing a pet to death, as you often don't have closure.

You constantly question yourself or second guess if you made the right decision, or could you have done something different. For me, I wonder where Leo is, has he been adopted, is he happy and loved in his new home?

What really gets me is the thought of not knowing, or even worse, what if he's still in an adoption cage somewhere at some pet "superstore".

Such a handsome boy!
The non-profit rescue/adoption agency we gave him to can't tell me what happened to him. He was just a number in their system and that kills me. I did a little investigative work and found the store where he was sent to, but they lost all the paperwork we gave the rescue organization and they renamed him "Ralphie". Gag! 

After that one call, he was gone. Did he get shipped to another store? Did he get adopted?

The new owners wouldn't know or don't know anything about him. We wrote a small biography about him to help with his adoption, we provided all his medical records, his rabies tag/info, and his microchip information. It just kills me that all of this was lost in the flood of unwanted pets.

Leo had the most gorgeous Roman profile
Leo wasn't unwanted. He was loved and adored. He had a home and a story. My husband and I figured that we spend somewhere around $2,000 on Leo between adopting him, getting him healthy, and spoiling him. I half expect a phone call someday from the microchip tracking company telling me that they have "found my cat".

I know I am torturing myself with all this and I need to let it go, but it is really hard. Wherever you are Little Man, know that we love and miss you greatly - Love, Mom.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How to Control Voles in Your Yard

I've been in denial about having voles on our property for the past 2 years. We'd occasionally step on some "squishy" areas in the yard, which means the beasts have tunneled under the grass, but they were random. Once in a while, I'd spot a hole in a mulched area, but didn't want to admit to what was secretly being whispered in the back of my mind...VOLES!

Just even mentioning the word "vole" around some gardeners or farmers is enough to send chills down their backs.

For the very lucky and uninitiated, unlike MOLES, which are carnivores, VOLES are herbivores and will decimate your yard and most of your landscaping if not kept in check. Sometimes they are called field mice, but that is not necessarily true, as a vole has a short, stubby tail and burrows in the ground. They multiply incredibly fast and frequently, but seem to have cycles in their population from year-to-year.  Moles can be controlled...you remove their food source, like grubs in the lawn, and the moles go away. With voles, they eat most plants and grass, which is basically your entire yard, so there's no way to "just get rid of" that, right?

You either fight or succumb. This year it is bad and desperate times call for desperate measures.

I had to face the music when after this past winter, I noticed that a lot of my perennial plants didn't make it through the winter. When pulling them up from the ground, the whole underside of the plant/root ball had been devoured and a telltale tunnel underneath the root ball made me face the facts. I had voles, and a lot of them.

Enter exhibit A:

Voles particularly like to tunnel around areas that are covered with mulch, as that protects them from being spotted by predators. Unfortunately for me, all of my mulched areas are also my garden areas, including my veggie garden.

I've been using an arsenal of methods to try and control/kill them: Castor oil with dish soap, poison, and "chain mail" for plants.

Before you get upset, that Kaput Rat &  Mouse Bait is Warfarin based (blood thinner) and the least harmful of the rodentcides to other, non-targeted animals. Basically, a vole would have to eat this bait for several days straight to have enough of it in its system to kill it. Unlike regular mice or rats, voles take their food down to their dens and will stay there to eat and die. If for some reason, a hawk or cat eats one of voles that has eaten this bait, it would not hurt them. A dog would have to eat 5 or 6 voles at one time, that have eaten this bait for several days, for it to have any effect on the dog.

I am using these authorized bait stations. It is baffled system and prevents other animals like raccoons or opossums from getting to the bait. So far, I am unsure of it's effect, but it can't hurt. The castor oil, mixed with dishsoap, and then applied using a hose-end sprayer, seems to be having the most effect. The castor oil makes the voles' skin itch, so they leave the area. You have to really soak an area well to get the best effect.

So, knowing all this, I bought some hostas last week. Apparently, hostas are vole candy and I am a glutton for punishment.

But, this time I am planting them using these Digger's Root Guard Speed Baskets. They just roll up over the root ball like a sock before you plant them. I like to consider them as "chain mail" for plants.

There is a concern the root guards will restrict the root ball as it grows, but they are a little flexible and I'm thinking the feeder roots will be able to grow through the holes. If these work and the hostas need upgrading to a larger size at a future date, I'll just do it then. I guess it's no difference from transplanting a plant to a larger pot.

Considering where I am planting these hostas, I am either playing with fire or conducting a science experiment. Remember that earlier picture with all those vole holes? This is where it is and this is where I am planting my hostas:

I saturated that area with castor oil and soap last week, so we shall see. Until then, the battle continues...

Monday, May 09, 2016

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Well, now that things are back to normal, Chaz decided to let his fur down a little last Thursday for Cinco de Mayo. He's a lightweight...

Friday, May 06, 2016

Roasted "Piggy Back" Lobster Tails

What do moms want to eat on Mother's Day? Well, according to this survey, it's seafood! Not only that, but they'd rather eat it at home - with someone else doing the cooking and cleaning up, of course - than go to a crowded, expensive restaurant.

Well, you're in luck! Last night, hubby and I celebrated both of us getting very difficult professional certifications that we've worked on for the past year. I was finally awarded mine last month and he got his yesterday. We said that when this day came, we were going to have lobster and champagne!

Up until last year, I've never really cooked with lobster. When we finished our kitchen remodel, we decided to celebrate with lobster and champagne and I found the easiest, most impressive, and delicious way to prepare them.

You really can't go wrong with this method and presentation. Your mom, or anyone you prepare this for, will think you are a Rockstar!

1. First, let's start out with some lobster tails. We buy ours frozen, which is perfectly fine, and more importantly - reasonable in price! Buying frozen tails versus fresh ones will save you money, plus give you more flexibility on when you want to use them.

The easiest way to defrost frozen lobster tails is in cold water in a bowl in your sink. You never want to try to do this in warm or hot water, as that may make your tails tough, and defrosting them in your refrigerator over a few days can potentially make your tails go bad. Here, I am defrosting 4 tails that were approximately 10-12 ounces in size. I paid $35 for 4, nice-sized tails when they were on sale.

You can tell in the picture, these tails have already been split, meaning someone has cut the top shell with a pair of kitchen shears. This is exactly what I want and I'll explain why later.

Defrosting lobster tails only takes about an hour. You don't need to change the water out and you will know they are ready when you can bend the lobster from top-to-tail like this:

2. Next, we are going to pull out the meat from inside those tails and "piggy back" it to lie on top of the shells. This is where buying pre-split tails comes in handy. If your tails are not pre-split, simply take a pair of kitchen shears and cut the top shell from the top to the end of the tail. Do not cut all the way to the end of the tail, stop about an inch before the tail "fan".

To pull the meat out, gently pull the shell apart. You don't want to rip it apart, but give you enough flexibility to reach in a pull the meat up. Pull the meat up from the lower shell/membrane, it should come up easily, and stop where you feel it is attached to the tail.  At this point, squeeze the shell back together and lay the meat on top of the shell. This is called "piggy backing".

Not only does this give an amazing presentation when it's done, the shell gives the meat a surface to cook on.

3. Once you have your tails prepped, preheat your oven to 375°. Take your tails, put them on a cookie sheet, and rub some olive oil all over the meat (on top and bottom). I usually drizzle a teaspoon or so on the meat and then massage it in with my hands. The olive oil prevents the meat from sticking to the shell and from drying out.

Then sprinkle on a little paprika for color and flavor.

4. Next, roast your tails 1 1/2 minutes per ounce of tail meat. So:

  • 8 oz. tails = 12 minutes
  • 10 oz. tails = 15 minutes
  • 16 oz. tails = 24 minutes
At the end of the necessary time, take your tails out and preheat your oven broiler to HI. Place your oven rack 6 inches from the broiler. Spread a pat of butter on top of each tail (approximately 1/2 tablespoon) and place the tails back in the oven under the broiler. Broil for 3 minutes. 

5. After broiling, sprinkle on some parsley and serve with lemon and butter! I didn't have any parsley, but we certainly celebrated!

Is this not the most delicious thing you've ever seen? And it is so incredibly easy! Our meal, minus the champagne, came to about $12 per plate - that's with 1 tail each, 3 stuffed clams, and some creamed spinach. Not bad, huh? If I went to a restaurant for this meal, I would pay at LEAST double that.

So, go show your mom that she's the Rockstar. Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there this weekend!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

No Noodle Pad Thai

I had the flu two weeks ago and my low-carb lifestyle went to hell-in-a-handbasket as far as carb avoidance goes. When I'm sick, I want comfort food! That meant pizza, chips, pasta...you know, all the things I've been avoiding for the past 5 months.

But hubby and I are back on track this week and this No Noodle Pad Thai from Cookie + Kate was just the trick to keep us going:

Photo from Cookie + Kate
I have to admit I was a little skeptical when I found this recipe on Cookie + Kate. I've tried a few vegetable noodle recipes (aka "zoodles") that were just - meh. But this one caught my eye.

It's funny, as this original recipe is from Green Kitchen Travels: Healthy Vegetarian Food Inspired by Our Adventures by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl. Cookie + Kate tweaked this recipe for their tastes and I tweaked it again for my tastes! I love how a recipe continues to evolve and change.

Cookie + Kate's recipe calls for raw veggie noodles, but I prefer to cook my veggies, drain, then toss in the sauce. I couldn't find daikon radish when I made this, but when I make this again, I will not cook the radish and add it in fresh at the end. I think the radish would give this a great crunch and spice and cooking it would ruin that. I also didn't like the not-very-fresh available bean sprouts I saw at the store, so I didn't add those either. Again, I'd probably add those fresh. Oh, and I did't have tofu either....I know, right? I basically bastardized this recipe. Anyway, it was still amazing! It was so good, there was none left over for pictures!

The only other change I made from Cookie + Kate's recipe is I added a little fish sauce. I think this addition gives this dish a little more "umami-ness" as well as making it taste a little more Thai.

No Noodle Pad Thai
Recipe Modified from: Cookie + Kate

¾ pound daikon radish, peeled and spiralized
4 medium carrots, peeled and spiralized
½ pound zucchini (or replace with an additional ½ pound bean sprouts)
½ pound (8 ounces) bean sprouts
Olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
4 green onions, finely sliced (white and green parts)
*12 to 14 ounces organic extra-firm tofu, drained and very gently squeezed of excess moisture
1 small handful cilantro leaves, chopped, plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, preferably black, plus extra for serving
4 small wedges of lime, for serving
Chopped, salted peanuts for garnish (optional)

Peanut Sauce

½ cup peanut butter or almond butter
¼ cup lime juice
2 tablespoons tamari or other soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 pinch red pepper flakes
About 3 tablespoons water, to thin

*Note: I did not use tofu in my recipe and I cooked the zucchini and carrot noodles. If you want to have this raw, then that's fine too.

For cooked "noodles" - Preheat skillet  over med-high heat with olive oil. When heated, add minced garlic and green onions, and saute for about 1 minute. Add zucchini and carrot noodles to pan and toss with a pair of tongs. Continue to toss and cook using the tongs for about 5-7 minutes, until noodles start to soften. Remove from heat and drain liquid from pan. Set aside.

Mix all ingredients for the peanut sauce and stir in/toss with the still warm noodles. Add diakon radish, bean sprouts, sesame seeds, cilantro, and tofu (if using). Serve warm with chopped peanuts as a garnish on top.

To serve with tofu - slice and halve your slab of tofu lengthwise through the middle so you have two large, 1-inch thick slabs. Stack the slabs on top of each other and slice them into 4 columns lengthwise, then turn the tofu and slice across the columns to make ¼-inch wide squares of tofu. Gently transfer the tofu to the serving bowl.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday - Reunited

Well, we're almost at a week where these two have been out-and-about together, with full run of the house. Both me and my husband are EXTREMELY relieved! Life is back to "normal"...whatever that is. :-)

They are both wearing their collars with a bell so that neither one is startled by the other. Miss Thang especially, is still easily spooked, and I don't want to take a chance that something spooks her and Chaz is in the wrong place at the wrong time. The bell helps each of them know they are there. In most cases, only the aggressive/alpha cat should wear a collar with a bell when you get to this point, but in my case, both of my cats were fearful/aggressive, with Miss Thang more so.

Some people may see all this effort to be frivolous, but if you love your cats, you would do anything to make it work. And it IS a lot of work. I am extremely lucky that I work from home and was able to work with these two as much as I did. I know that most people do not have that luxury, but it can be done.

What really helped with this healing was Chaz and Miss Thang's bond. They've always been close buddies since she was a kitten.

That makes a HUGE difference. If they weren't that close, then I'm not sure reintroduction therapy would have been as successful. Also, it helps that we don't have other pets (now) or kids, or a very chaotic household. This would have been harder if we had more than 2 cats, or dogs, or small kids. That's part of why we rehomed Leo, as we knew he and Miss Thang did not have a bond and there was potential for those two to have big problems in the future.

It happens - cats area a lot like people in that sometimes they just don't like each other. For what ever reason, they will never be close and if there is extra stress/tension, well that's just a ticking time bomb.

We will keep Miss Thang on Prozac for another 2 months, then slowly wean her off. Now my husband and I can plan to take some badly needed time off and get away for a small vacay without stressing out about these two!

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