Photo Girl Travels

Taking the Road Less Traveled


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Nantucket Island,the Gray Lady

The car rattled over the old cobble stone road and I made my way into the historic town of Nantucket. Tourists stroll along the sidewalks dripping with dense flowers in window boxes. I’m fresh off the red eye from San Jose to JFK and then JFK to Nantucket so feeling a little tired. The smell in the air is a mixture of fresh roasted coffee and the ocean.  I’m in love.  I find my way to Union Street and into a tight parking place on the Union Street Inn property and sigh, I finally feel like I’m on vacation. The hotel is a mid 18th century B&B and it’s lovely.  One of my favorite parts of the town are the cobblestone roads and the brick laid cross walks. It’s like stepping back in time. Here are a few photos from my first day on the island…

 

I’ll write more on the hotel in a separate post. But now I want to take you through the town with my photos. I wish I could send you the smell of fresh cut grass and sea roses. Here are some photos from my first day 💗💗💗

Vegetarian BACON Lasagna!

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For those of you who know me – you know I LOVE bacon. I’ve been in this relationship since I was a child. It wasn’t one I had to constantly work on.  No, no, no… It seems to always just be there. In my drawer, at the store, on a plate on my desk….So it just made sense one day, bacon would be the perfect 5th food group – in lasagna! And hence it was born… My special Vegetarian Bacon Lasagna.

I hope I’m not posting this too late for those of you trying to decide what to cook for Super Bowl Sunday. As I sit at my desk it’s early morning on that exact day. I’m sure men and women had sleepless nights, tossing and turning, and dreaming the color of the team they are hoping to win. But as you check your email, Facebook, Linked In pages – wrapped under your covers, I hope this will give you the perfect recipe. Imagine sitting in front of the TV with a huge plate of steaming Bacon Lasagna, ice cold beer in your hand, watching your favorite team play. This recipe is packed with fresh vegetables, multiple cheeses and a few surprises, capers being one.

My Vegetarian Bacon Lasagna Recipe

Your shopping list:

  • Package of bacon – cooked so it’s crispy (pre-cooked, microwave ready, or standard is fine)
  • Lasagna noodles – 1 box – I like the kind you don’t have to boil but if you like to boil then go for it
  • Ricotta cheese – larger sized container
  • 2 eggs
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Jar of capers
  • Vegetables: Whatever you like but here are some ideas: These are ones you’ll want to sauté first: Eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini, onion, garlic. I also love spinach but don’t cook it first. You’re just going to layer it raw.
  • Pasta sauce: Either make it yourself or get a jar. I like Newman’s tomato basil
  • Can of chicken broth to sauté things in
  • I think that’s it

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How To:

  • Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
  • First I prep everything, sauté onions, add sliced zucchini, mushrooms and whatever else you think you’d like
  • I slice the eggplant into thin discs and sauté them with a little chicken broth
  • Cook the bacon (I guess you could cook it first and then use the oil to sauté the veggies but that just doesn’t seem quite right)
  • Prepare the Ricotta cheese by adding 2 eggs and mixing it up
  • Once everything is ready, you just layer. I put the pasta sauce on first, then the noodles, then the ricotta cheese, veggies, bacon, other cheeses, a few capers, spinach, a dollop of sour cream.
  • If you use the no boil noodles you need to make sure they are by something moist (pasta sauce or ricotta cheese)
  • The last layer should have pasta sauce and cheese on top.
  • Save out a few pieces of bacon to put on top

Cook!

  • Cover with a sheet of non-stick foil and place the dish on a cookie sheet. I do that so that if it bubbles over, your oven still stays clean
  • Bake at 375 degrees for around 30-45 minutes. It’s hard to say because it depends on how large your baking dish is. It should be bubbling. I also take the foil off when it’s ready and let it cook just a bit longer to brown the top.
  • Let it sit for about 10 minutes to let everything absorb together
  • Put your bacon garnish on
  • Voila! You’re done!
  • Serve with a fabulous red wine or super cold beer!!!  And of course, GO NINERS!!!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Purge…Seriously, Do You Really Need That Much??

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Outside at my old house

Outside at my old house

I recently had to move.  There are many four letter words and “move” is right at the top.  I’ve been told that moving is one of the most stressful things you can do. That, along with selling a home, buying a home, divorce and starting a new job.  Oh, and a really bad hair day when you see your ex (why is it I never see him when my hair is perfect!?)  Anyway, when I got the call from my landlord letting me know he was selling “my home”, I spiraled down the rabbit hole, bumping along the many stages of grief. Nooooo!!!!  This wasn’t happening to me. I LOVED this home.

The first bump was denial.  My poor crew at the coffee shop were polite enough to glance sideways as I calmly explained that I “might” be moving.  All along thinking – this must be an April fool’s joke.  As far as I was concerned, I would grow old in this home. Then came anger.  How could my landlord sell “my home”??  Of course, that’s the life of a renter. You never know when you’ll have to leave.  That same patient coffee crew again looked over to one side or the other allowing me to wipe that one hot tear from the cheek as I explained this tragedy in my life.

Bargaining was next. Maybe I should buy it!?? But the one thing I like about renting is that I can generally rent a home that is worth more than I could buy.  Depression?  Oh yes.  Evenings were spent in my favorite swing enduring even more tears.  For those of you who listened while a babbled and sobbed (and you know who you are) I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  And a special thanks to my coffee crew for enduring the highs and lows of this experience. As you can tell, I really loved this place.

All of these emotions were scattered over a month’s time. But once I got past denial, I knew I needed to get my act together. My world was rolling into a new chapter whether I wanted it to or not.  I realized that this was an opportunity to simplify my life.

Me on the day I moved...I look happy but actually I was jumping off STRESS!

Me on the day I moved…I look happy but actually I was jumping off STRESS!

Ok, Do I Really Need That???

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this but I have stuff.  I mean, a lot of stuff.  I realized I might have a problem when I discovered I own about 40 rolls of tape. Not the same kind mind you, I have painters, scotch, masking, packing, that silver heavy duty tape (I’m not even sure why I have it as I can’t remember ever using it) x many rolls of each.  Every time I opened a drawer, box, I found more tape.  I thought I was more organized than that, but apparently not.

Also, my garage was FULL.  Boxes, boxes, everywhere.  I had no idea where to start.  And I realized this can’t just be me. We live in a world where we store old books, water stained towels, chipped glasses, badminton sets with only one racket and a tangled up net, in our garage. And our cars? They are left to battle the elements. Wind, rain, sun.

Purging started out as a daunting task.  At first, I just found myself moving things around.  Opening boxes, looking inside, and then closing them. Where to start? A very good friend of mine explained his “three year rule”.  Essentially, if you’ve not used it or worn in in three years, give it the old heave-ho.  And I think he’s right.

Even though I was armed with this three year rule, I still felt like I didn’t know where to start. So here’s how I got over my paralysis.  I picked a room, in my case it was the garage, and just got started. I wanted to create a place where I could store boxes that were going to be moved. But first, I had to get rid of things.

For those of you reading along and nodding your head as you envision your garage, home, closets.  All packed with things you’ve not seen or used in years, I’d like to invite you to join me. Let’s all purge together. Let’s eliminate the old and keep only the things that are important to us.  I promise it will feel good!  How do I know? I just went through it 😉

So the first thing you’ll want to do is pick a room, closet, drawer, or the garage.  You might start small and work your way up.  Say the junk drawer in your kitchen for example. Next, follow these three steps.

Step 1.  Take everything out.  I mean everything. Every box, bike, game, bag stuffed with stuff.  Once you’ve removed everything it’s a good time to clean, vacuum, etc. Also, if you’re cleaning the garage, start early because you don’t want to get stuck in the heat of the day sorting through things.

Step 2.  Create three piles.  One you throw away. One you donate. One that goes back in.  You can add the larger items to these piles as you remove them.  But where it gets tricky is when you get to the boxes. My boxes weren’t well organized. They seem to have an assortment of things. Tape, cords that didn’t seem to go with anything in the box, towels, a sock, etc.  After unpacking the boxes I started to create sub-piles of things that were similar. Cords for example.  Tape.  Light bulbs.  This feels good by the way because all of a sudden you know where things are.  And you realize you don’t need to buy another roll of tape.  Also, you may find you have stacks of old documents.  Those can be added to a “to be shredded” pile. The photo below shows you the incredible amount of documents I had shredded!

Ok, I know you're shocked but yes, this is what I had shredded!

Ok, I know you’re shocked but yes, this is what I had shredded!

Step 3. Throw away, donate, put back.  You will feel really good at this point. And believe me; it gets easier as you go.  I also recommend going back to the “keep” pile once you get done and see if you really want to keep it after all.

After the garage, I moved to my house. I used the same philosophy but applied it to a closet, drawer or room.  I’m serious when I say you need to take everything out.  Otherwise you may find you’re just moving things around. Also, as you move through your house, you may want to have a series of shoe boxes that are staged in an area where you can easily add to them. I promise you you’ll find multiple pairs of scissors around the house and you can put them all in one box. Same with tape, pens, cords, etc.  You can then store the boxes in an area and you’ll always know where to find these things.

With all that said I survived the move.  And you know, they say things happen for a reason and I actually love my new home even more!  Besides, change is good and living in a new location is already opening up new adventures.  I’m just 4 miles from my old home but everything feels fresh and new. I hope you’ll try a little purging and let me know how it goes.  With that I’ll leave you with a photo from my new back deck.  Cheers!

Same feet...different view...

Same feet…different view…

Decorating Early

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Ahhhh…yes…..I love the holidays! It’s early…and I’m owning it. Its time to crack out the decorations! 😉 Hope you decorate early too!

BaconUrkey: You Know You NEED It! (And Can it Make You Smarter???)

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Bacon wrapped turkeyIt’s one week before Thanksgiving and thousands of free range turkeys are blissfully running around barnyards. Donning buffed out legs and chests, they are well oiled, gluten-free machines. High on endorphins, life couldn’t get any better. Even “fresh” sounds good until, well…”their” holiday rolls around.

In fact, many of them must think they’re safe.  I mean seriously, every store is decked out for Christmas and Thanksgiving seems to be forgotten.  I truly believe these fair feathered friends are jogging side by side, planning their New Year’s celebration when they will toast with “grain” alcohol cocktails and drumsticks (ice cream, not…).  With all that said, I’m sure one or two will be able to outrun the Whole Foods and Trader Joes trucks, spinning their legs like egg beaters to help get them over to the bushes.  As for the others? Well, Thanksgiving, here you come.

So you’ve ordered your turkey either fresh, frozen, brined or Butterballed. Either way, you’ve got a week to figure out how to set this Thanksgiving apart from the rest. And that’s where I come in (along with my bacon obsession). Today I am going to help you wow and amaze your friends and family – while keeping them healthy at the same time.  It’s all about “Baconurkey”, and yes, this will change your world.

Last year I shared my bacon-wrapped turkey recipe along with a few factoids.  First, did you know that in a “lighthearted” survey 23% of men ranked bacon as their favorite fragrance? They didn’t qualify this but I’m fairly certain it’s cooked vs. raw so thought it was important to add that disclaimer.  That factoid makes total sense. But in my heart I knew there MUST be something healthy about bacon. I’m sure you’re thinking, how could adding bacon ever be healthy??? Well I’m glad you inquired because I believe it’s my responsibility to find a way to help relieve any guilt you might have, every time you reach for that perfect strip.

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After weeks of research I was finally able to find one healthy fact about bacon. And you know, just as in bad dates, it only takes one 😉  Here’s the one healthy fact I could find about bacon – “Pregnant women should eat bacon because it contains choline which helps fetal brain development.”  What’s confusing is that if it helps fetal brains, why can’t it help ours? I’m sure it’s quite intuitive to take a flying leap, allowing us to assume you’re smarter, if you eat more bacon. (If that’s the case, I swear I must be a genius) So get ready to host a table full of brilliant people. To test them, see if they know what this means before and after dinner: Minutus cantorum, minutus balorum, minutus carborata descendum pantorum. (translation below)

So how to start…Today, I want to take you into my kitchen where people become smarter. Yes, I am here to introduce you to Baconurkey (“bacon wrapped turkey” – if you were unsure what that word meant, please have 2-3 helpings) I will add a disclaimer – By no means am I licensed to provide cooking instructions, but I’m willing to “chance” it.

So this idea came to me 2 years ago. The thing about turkey is that we really only cook them once a year. Because of this, every November we find ourselves hovered over our computer keyboard typing out the words “how to cook a turkey”. Last time I looked, this search brought over 580 million results! Well, no more. This blog is going to solve any anxiety you may have about next week’s Thanksgiving dinner and make you a superhero at the same time. Out with the plain old browned up turkey. It’s time to put a little sass on your table!  I’ll keep this simple and use photos to describe how you can make a bird like this.

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How to Cook a BaconUrkey (Bacon Wrapped Turkey), 101

  • Defrost or use fresh – typically it takes 5 hours per pound to defrost
  • Scrub that poor bird inside and out
  • Dry the old bird off
  • Stuff your bird with cut apple, onions, celery, parsley, rosemary, garlic (a great time to clean out your fridge)
  • Open a 1 -2 pound package of good bacon (feel the love wash over you)
  • Carefully lay the bacon on top of the bird – note, you can use 2 pounds if you want to completely suffocate it (legs, wings, oven, et al)

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  • Dump a few cans of chicken broth over everything
  • Add and drink 1-2 cups of white wine
  • Cover with a large piece of foil
  • Follow standard cooking instructions
  • Once your sassy bird hits the correct temp ( ~180⁰, take or give a few), pull the foil off and let that bacon brown up
  • When the bacon is golden brown –  get-ur out of the oven
  • Let your beautiful, amazing bird stand for 30 minutes
  • During this time you’ll need to protect the bacon. I’ve lost a few strips during the waiting period.
  • Secret tip: Remove the bacon (and hide it), pop the turkey back in to brown the skin. Then place the bacon back on top for your family photo.
  • A quick note on the gravy – drain off the fat and make it like you usually do. The bacon will give it a divine flavor.
Baconurkey!

Baconurkey!

Good luck and let me know if you’re going to try it! And if you do, and you love it please post a comment. If it doesn’t work out for you, I’ll just remind you of something my Momma used to say… “If you don’t have something nice to say…don’t say anything at all.”  Happy early Thanksgiving everyone!  PS: Mark your calendars!  Bacon Day is less than a year away – August 31, 2014 (the Saturday before Labor Day)! That’s right, even bacon has its own day.

PS – What does “Minutus cantorum, minutus balorum, minutus carborata descendum pantorum” mean?  Translation: “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.” I mean, just because we’re all baconurkey-smart, doesn’t mean we can’t be fun…

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Me – pre-bacon wrapped turkey …. No more boring – Today, I’m living the life of bacon! Are you?????

If you’d like to purchase a print to remind you of this beautiful bird, cooked or not cooked, please click on “Contact”.  My photography is printed on aluminum. Utilizing an advanced process which infuses dyes directly into the metal, the colors / saturation of the bacon and bird are really amazing. In addition, your print will be displayed using mount blocks which float the image ½ inch off the wall.

©2013 Shelley D Spray – No content on this site (including all photography) may be reused in any fashion without written permission from the author.

Biltmore Estate Decked Out

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People who know me know I LOVE the holidays. It starts with Halloween and my giddiness extends through Christmas. Yes, my house is the one decorated for Halloween in September and Christmas in November. Unlike many if you I gasp in delight when the Christmas decorations are decked out in the stores in September. So when I was looking into a trip location in November I was thrilled to find out one of my favorite places would be decorated for the holidays: The Biltmore Estate. The photos below are ones from my visit. The first one is of the tree in the dining room. Here’s a close up.

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The tree is a 40 foot fresh cut tree a and the smell is incredible. They said that they decorate so early that on December 3rd they will take this one down and put a fresh on up overnight. They would decorate the tree hanging the presents on the branches so the estate keeps the same tradition which you see in the above photo. It you’re lucky they will be playing Silent Night on the organ and the music will float throughout the house. Here are some more photos.

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Above are the trees across the room from the 40 foot tree by a massive fireplace. You have to stop and imagine what the room was like with the fires a blaze and the lighted and decorated trees glowing on Christmas Eve….

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The library.

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Many of the rooms have period dress which is very interesting to see. The women must have been no taller than 5 feet tall. The dresses are tiny!

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After your tour, head over to the area with the shops and order a hot chocolate and stroll through the gardens and shops. Me, by my favorite lion.

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The first day photo with my lion.

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Actually during the first photo I got photo bombed by the cutest kid 😉

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Second day… Yes I am obsessed with this handsome guy.

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And the last day the put a bow on him!❤️❤️❤️

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If you are able to tour the Biltmore Estate over the next two months I hope you do!!! You will not regret it. Also, now they are doing evening candle light tours who’s must be incredible. We will your the grounds in my next blog and also take a walk out to bass pond throughout the wooded forest. Sending everyone early holiday cheer!

Some links for more information:  http://www.biltmore.com/ and http://www.biltmore.com/visit

 

#BACON Anyone? My Breakfast at the #Biltmore

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While staying at the Biltmore Inn, I am on what they call the bed and breakfast package. I have to confess I usually don’t eat breakfast and consider the large amounts of cream that I pour into my coffee to be enough. But the Biltmore Inn has one of the best so I splurge and load up for the day. The photos below are a combination taken over the last two days.

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I personally LoVe the buffet which offers a lox area with everything you could ever want to load onto a slice if salmon.

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Fresh fruit.

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You can also have them make a custom omelet (I always order everything with extra spinach). And the bacon is some of the best I have ever had.

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And my lox plate.

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Finally, the topper is that the have cheese grits which melt in you mouth!

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Here’s the omelette bar where they will cook it to order. And some photos of the restaurant where can either sit by the window and watch the sunrise, or maybe you’d prefer to sit by a crackling fire, perfect for a fall morning.

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This is where I’m sitting right now, I’ll finish and then one last walk to the Estate. So sad this is my last day.

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Sorry, the omelette bar didn’t upload and I’m attempting all of this on my phone and can’t figure out how to insert an image above 😉

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And finally a photo of the most amazing bacon ever! (Not including Vermont bacon.) off to the Estate!

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