Clearwater Marine Aquarium

While in Florida we visited the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  If you have small children, you have probably seen this place in the Dolphin Tales movies.  It was all new to us.  This is a wildlife rehabilitation center that rescues and releases marine animals.  There are a few permanent residents that couldn’t return to the wild due to their injuries.  The most famous is Winter the dolphin, who has a prosthetic tail.  When she was about two months old she was found with her tail flukes wrapped tightly in a crab trap rope and they ended up having to remove her tail.  Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics worked with the aquarium personnel to develop a new tail for Winter to help her swim normally.

Winter the dolphin enrichment
The staff engages the dolphins with enrichment activities daily.

Nicholas is another rescued dolphin who came to CMA when he was a tiny baby with severe sunburn on his back from beaching himself next to his mother.  Dolphins must be taught survival skills by their mother and unfortunately, his mother didn’t survive.  He did recover from his injuries and is now a permanent resident at CMA.  He lives in an outdoor tank.  You might see him here on his webcam.

There are many educational presentations going on during the day.  One of these is Tail Talk with Nicholas.  If he feels like participating, he does some high leaping out of the water-the first three rows are a splash zone.

Nicholas the dolphin

Nicholas the dolphin

There are also resident otters, sea turtles, stingrays, pelicans, and sharks at CMA.

Because this is a working animal hospital it is unlike other aquariums.   You can observe medical procedures through glass windows.  When we visited there were many cold-stunned sea turtles in the surgical suite.  Since our visit, they were able to release several of those turtles, as you can see in this video:

We took a Sea Life Safari boat tour after lunch.  (We packed along some cold cuts and cheese and ate in the parking garage). You can get a combo ticket for a boat tour and CMA admission.  This tour goes through the intracoastal waters where they do a net pull to collect sea creatures (they identify them, pass them around, log them and put them back where they were found at the end of the day).  We cruised out to a tiny shell island and hung out for about 15 minutes, collected a few shells, then headed back.  It was a very fun and informative trip.

Sea Life Safari Boat
This is the boat pulled up to the tiny island.

Puffer fish Sea Life Safari
A couple of puffer fish gathered during the net pull. They had settled back to normal size at this point.
Critter from net pull, Sea Life Safari
Another critter from the net pull.
Sea Life Safari Tank
This is the tank they put critters in after they are removed from the net.

If you visit the Tampa Bay area, don’t miss this aquarium.  They are in the process of expanding the facility.  The staff and volunteers are obviously very dedicated and are focused on educating visitors.  It is also kid-friendly, but there are a lot of stairs.  The Sea Life Safari was a lot of fun and I highly recommend it as well.

CMA can always use financial support, so if you would like to donate to help support wildlife conservation, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

St. Petersburg Mural Tour

 

 

In early January we went on a family vacation in Florida.  One of the highlights of our visit was a walking tour to see just a few of the murals in downtown St. Petersburg.  A good friend of mine from high school lives in St. Pete and when she found out we would be in town she set up this great tour for us.

St Pete mural tour

The tour company is called Tour St. Pete.  They offer group and private walking tours.  There are a few different options, so check out their page and see what sounds good to you.  Their website has a slideshow with lots of fun pictures.  We enjoyed the mural tour.  Greg, our tour guide, is extremely knowledgeable about the murals and the artists who create them.  I believe he said there are something like 400 murals at this point, and they add some every year.  I definitely want to go back and do the Sunshine City Tour, which is about the history of St. Pete, and would love to take another mural tour sometime.

Our friend and her family came along with us and we had a great time catching up while we checked out the amazing art.

St. Pete mural tour

St. Pete Mural Tour Cat

No one will ever mistake me for a photographer, so try to imagine how great these murals look in person based on my not so amazing photos…

Peacock mural St. Pete tour

 

St. Pete mural tour

St. Pete mural tour

Up close you can see all the layers of color the artist used to build the final product…with spray paint, ya’ll!

St. Pete Mural Tour

The obligatory “run from your imminent destruction” shot!  Note the end of an old “Coca Cola” ad they incorporated into the mural.

St Pete Mural Tour

 

St. Pete mural tour payphones

We also found some old payphones!

St Pete Mural Tour

This one is stunning in person, look closely at the different textures going on within the shapes.

These are just a few of the murals we were able to see.  I highly recommend you visit and go on the tour if you get the chance.  As with any walking tour, dress sensibly for the weather, wear good walking shoes, put on that sunscreen and hat, pack along some water, and don’t forget your camera!

This tour was on a Sunday afternoon, and SpaceX was going to launch a rocket at 8pm CST that night…we finished the tour and set off across the state of Florida toward Cape Kennedy…but that’s another post.

Many thanks to my friend Stephanie, her family, and Greg from Tour St. Pete!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Turkey Pot Pie Soup (Low Carb and Keto Friendly)

Do you still have some post-holiday turkey lurking in your freezer?  Here’s a tasty way to use it up.  Back in the day, I would have made a fabulous turkey pot pie using a Pillsbury pie crust…but our new way of eating doesn’t call for wheat.  I do have a mighty good low carb pot pie recipe, but a turkey pot pie soup is yummy and less work, and it’s definitely soup weather here.

turkey pot pie soup low carb

This soup has no potatoes or flour to thicken it, and I don’t use cauliflower, that darling of the low carb community, because my husband kind of hates it.  I use the standard frozen veg mix with carrots, peas, green beans, and corn, but only two cups so the carbs are spread out over several servings.  If you don’t want even a tiny bit of corn, peas, or carrots, you can substitute low carb veggies of your choice.  Homemade turkey broth, butter, and heavy cream bump up the fat content to make this creamy, satisfying, and keto friendly as well.  I put in a half teaspoonful of xanthan gum to thicken–this is completely optional.  The state of your broth is very important to a good soup, so you will need to taste it and adjust the salt and other spices so it isn’t bland.  Be sure to taste BEFORE you add the salt.  A word of caution, be sure it’s cool enough to taste.  Burned tongues are no bueno.

turkey pot pie soup low carb

 

I hope you enjoy it!

Turkey Pot Pie Soup (low carb and keto friendly)

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup onion chopped
  • 3 stalks celery chopped
  • 1 tsp chopped or crushed garlic
  • 6 cups turkey broth or stock
  • 4 cups shredded cooked turkey
  • 1 tsp salt to taste; may need more! check your broth for saltiness
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp rubbed sage or poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum OPTIONAL
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables

Instructions

  1. Melt butter in large dutch oven.  Saute onion and celery until tender.  Add garlic and cook briefly (don't let it brown).  Then add broth, turkey, salt (if needed), pepper, sage, garlic and onion powder.  If using xanthan gum, sprinkle over the top and whisk thoroughly.  Add the mixed vegetables.  Simmer for about 20 minutes.  Add cream and simmer another 10 minutes or so.

Recipe Notes

One cup of this is remarkably filling, so you might even have leftovers, which are FABULOUS the next day.

 

 

Nutrition per 1 cup serving:  Calories 201, Fat 14g, Total Carbs 3g, Fiber 1g, Net Carbs 2g, Protein 13g

DIY Peanut Butter Bird “Suet”

 

 

It’s winter in Oklahoma.  We had a long very warm fall but the bottom dropped out in late December.  It is flat COLD today and it’s not going to warm up for a while.  I have filled our bird feeders with black oil sunflower seed.  The birds and a very fat squirrel are loading up on it.  When it is this cold, extra fat and protein will help birds keep warm so it’s a nice thing to offer during a cold winter.  Traditionally beef suet is the fat of choice but I don’t happen to have any of that.  I used to make bird food using peanut butter, bacon grease, and cornmeal, but the latest research from Cornell Ornithology seems to indicate that bacon grease isn’t the best thing for birds due to the sodium and nitrate content.

One has to be careful when feeding fat to birds.  If it is not frozen solid it can get on their feathers and they lose their insulating power which can cause birds to freeze.  Basically, if it’s above freezing out, pull your “suet” feed so the birds don’t get it all over them.  If you put it in an old onion or fruit bag to hang, little bird feet could get tangled in the mesh.  A wire feeder is a better option.  Fat in an easy to access place could attract more undesirable yard visitors.  If you start to notice critters you don’t want in the yard, pull that feed.

I happened to have a block of frozen beef fat left from my bone broth making and I used it to make some bacon-free bird “suet”.

Here’s how.

1 cup peanut butter (natural preferred)

1 cup beef fat OR lard, needs to be soft enough to mix

2 cups cornmeal

1 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup raisins, optional

Mix all ingredients well…I use my Kitchenaid.  I love that thing.

I pack in into old butter containers and freeze solid, then unmold and put on the platform feeder.

If the weather warms up above freezing, don’t leave it out.

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Bone Broth in Electric Roaster

Bone Broth made in an Electric Roaster

 

Bone Broth

Making bone broth isn’t a new thing, but here’s my latest version.  One of the problems I have had in the past is keeping the broth simmering but not boiling for several hours.  I have made broth in the slow cooker a few times and it works pretty well, but your volume is limited by the size of the cooker.

I picked up a shiny red electric roaster this past November after I found out I had three turkeys to cook for various events.  It worked great for the turkeys, and I got to thinking…this has precise temperature control and holds a LOT.  Why not see how some bone broth comes out?

Electric Roaster
Oster Electric Roaster

My bone broth is very simple.  I don’t add vegetables or anything but a little apple cider vinegar and some kosher salt. (Note, in the picture below there is a rack under the bones.  Mistakes were made…don’t use a rack.)

I put about 5 pounds of beef soup bones in the cooker and roasted at 400 for about an hour.  Mine went in frozen so I added a little time.  If yours aren’t frozen, adjust accordingly.  Browned is great, black not so much.

I turned down the heat to about 150.  I then added 2 gallons of cold water and 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and 2 teaspoons of kosher salt.  I let this sit for an hour to let the acid from the vinegar begin to pull minerals from the bones.  Then I turned it up to about 250 and covered.  I let it go for about 48 hours.  I will NOT add any more water.  If it is more than a bare simmer, I turn down the heat.  Generally, right around 200 or under is where I keep the temperature.  Check every so often to make sure things are going well.

Evaporation is not a bad thing here unless you start to boil dry.  Reducing the volume of fluid will concentrate the flavor of your final broth.  This time I went 48 hours and ended up with right around a gallon of broth.

After 24 to 48 hours, strain your broth using a fine sieve.  There will probably be a lot of fat on top.  If you place in a nonreactive container and cool in the fridge the fat will solidify on top and you can lift it off.  Discard or save to use for cooking, or make some nice cold weather bird food.  Don’t put it in freezer bags until it is completely cool; they always seem to leak when you put in warm or hot liquids.  I like to cool overnight in the fridge and then place in labeled quart freezer bags, then place on large baking sheets in the freezer to freeze flat.  They store better that way.

Gelled Bone Broth
Gelled Bone Broth

If things went well, your cooled broth will gel, just like Jello.  It is basically meat jello, because your long slow cooking process extracted the natural gelatin and collagen from the beef bones.  If it didn’t gel, don’t worry!  It’s still good bone broth and fantastic for soups or what have you.  You will need to add salt and pepper to taste (I like to add a generous amount of Lawry’s Seasoning).

Bone Broth

Simple Bone Broth

An easy way to make a lot of bone broth in an electric roaster.

Servings 16

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds grass fed beef bones
  • 2 gallons filtered cold water
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat electric oven to 400 degrees.  Place bones in an electric roaster and cook for one hour or until browned.  Reduce temperature to 150 degrees.  Add water, vinegar, and salt.  Let sit for one hour.  Raise temperature to 250 degrees and cover.  Bring to boil and adjust heat to keep at a low simmer.  Cook for at least 6 and up to 48 hours.  The volume will reduce by quite a bit.  Watch to make sure it doesn't get too low.  Let cool a bit then remove bones and strain broth through a fine sieve.  Place in a non-reactive container and refrigerate until cooled.  Remove fat from the top.  Will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or place in freezer bags or containers to freeze.  

  2. You will need to add salt and pepper to taste.  Lawry's seasoning is excellent.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Color for the Dining Room

Our house was built in 1983.  The very first thing we did after we closed on it back in 2004 was rip out the old brown cut pile carpet in the living and dining rooms (yes, carpet in the dining room, it’s an eighties thing).  The second thing we did was take out the strange little pony wall with spindles that was supposed to divide the front door from the living room.  Third, I removed the wallpaper in the dining room (meanwhile husband took out the weird tile in the entry and accidentally broke through to the crawlspace beneath the house, but that’s another story.) I trashed the drywall in the process and we had to texture it.  

And so it was painted boring ecru for a while until I decided I really liked a country French/ Tuscan vibe and painted it “Butternut Squash” (okay, it’s actually safety yellow)…and I liked it until about four years ago.  Then I wanted robin’s egg blue, but how, oh how, to choose. the. perfect. one?  This dilemma went on and on…

Younger son’s birthday a while back…note the safety yellow walls

 Various life type things happened over the years, and finally this past April it looked like I would have the time and inclination to paint that darned room. Really I could hardly stand to see it anymore, which is bad because I am in this room constantly and I have to see it from the kitchen and living room!

 I finally picked a color.  There is lots of excellent advice on the internet about choosing the perfect paint color.  I don’t have much to add.  I hung little paint chips on the wall, popped for a sample sized can of what I thought I wanted and slapped a big 2 x 2 swatch on a couple of the walls.  I didn’t hate it so I bought a gallon and got it done in one 24 hour period, thanks to my wonderful husband moving furniture for me.  I am really happy with the color, and the Clark and Kensington paint went on well and covered nicely.  Two coats and it’s like a new room.  So much better!  And it only took me four years.  

Harbor Lane Paint sample from Clark + Kensington
Harbor Lane Paint sample from Clark + Kensington
Older son’s birthday this year, look, blue walls!
Blue Dining Room
So much better!

The takeaway?  Just go paint the wall already!  Paint is fairly cheap and many stores will even give you a do-over color.  I felt so much better once the yellow was gone.  Is the blue I painted on trendy?  I don’t care, I just love it.  Do what you like and what makes you happy!

 

 

 

 

Four Great Gift Ideas for Young Men

This post contains affiliate links.

It’s Christmas crunch time, everyone!   Hopefully, you are all done with your shopping and can relax and enjoy the season.

I am not, but I will still try to relax and enjoy the season!

I asked my sons for gift ideas and here is the post from my older son, who is a junior in college:

A good flashlight is handy to have around, and something you really wish you had when you need one.

Outlite A100 Portable Ultra Bright Handheld LED Flashlight with Adjustable Focus and 5 Light Modes, Outdoor Water Resistant Torch, Powered Tactical Flashlight for Camping Hiking etc. on Amazon.com

Leatherman is a good company that makes quality products. A solid multitool is something that is useful in a wide range of situations from peeling fruit to fixing a car.

Leatherman – Wingman Multitool, Stainless Steel on Amazon

Fire purifies, and having a way to start a fire is always useful. Plus the sparks are pretty!

Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter on Amazon

No one likes losing their data, and while the cloud is nice and all, it can’t compare to being able to know exactly where your backups are at any time.

WD 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive on Amazon

I hope you find these ideas helpful.  I think they would be nice for just about anyone!

Keto Meatloaf with Chorizo and Bacon

 

My husband travels quite a bit.  Last year he tried some meatloaf that had chorizo in it, and he liked it enough to tell me how amazing it was.  Well, if he likes something that much, I feel a need to try and recreate it at home if I can.  I started playing in the kitchen and have made this recipe several times.  It is pretty forgiving since it’s just meatloaf, so don’t worry a whole lot about exact measurements.

Keto Meatloaf with Chorizo and Bacon

Keto Meatloaf Chorizo Bacon Baked

Keto Meatloaf with Chorizo and Bacon plated

Keto Meatloaf with Chorizo and Bacon

This makes around 12 4-ounce servings.  In reality, it's hard to only eat 4 ounces of this, so I calculated 8 servings.  

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes
Servings 8

Ingredients

  • 2 lb ground beef
  • 9 oz chorizo beef or pork
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese grated (from the green can)
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream or almond milk
  • 1/2 tsp Onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Cumin
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire
  • 1 tbsp Pizza sauce May sub ketchup or BBQ sauce here
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pound Bacon raw (enough to cover meatloaf)

Glaze

  • 2 tbsp reduced sugar ketchup I like Heinz Reduced Sugar
  • 2 tbsp sugar-free BBQ sauce I like G. Hughes Sugar Free Hickory
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 tsp Black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Cumin
  • 1 tbsp Yellow mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Molasses
  • 1 tbsp sugar substitute of choice equivalent to 1 tablespoon sugar

Instructions

  1. Saute onion and garlic until tender. Combine with all other meatloaf ingredients except bacon. Mix well, shape into flat loaf and place into foil lined pan.  I use a baking pan, not a loaf pan so I can make a thinner loaf.  Cover with strips of bacon. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes to 1 hour (should test 160 degrees in center).  Time will vary depending on how thick you shaped the loaf.   Before glazing, carefully spoon off the fat that has rendered and discard.
  2. Combine all glaze ingredients well and brush over meatloaf.  Bake 10 minutes or until glaze is slightly thickened.

  3. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Recipe Notes

Macros calculated from MyFitnessPal based on 8 6 ounce servings:  374 calories, 26 g fat, 8 grams total carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 6 net carbs, 33 g protein  

I would love to try making this in the smoker at some point when we have time.  Yum!

Keto Snickerdoodles

 

Keto snickerdoodle cookies

My husband and I are following a ketogenic diet, and it’s Christmastime…we don’t want to go off plan but we like a few “legal” treats now and then.

This man loves snickerdoodles.  Seriously.  The other night we were watching Elf and a commercial for some new TV show came on with a young couple arguing about whether snickerdoodles are just a type of sugar cookie or are they a cookie in their own right…after six repeats of this, I asked my husband if he would like some keto snickerdoodles, and of course he said yes.  We are highly suggestible people.

Anyway, I looked to my favorite source for recipe information, Pinterest, and found several recipes that I didn’t quite like.  The thing about snickerdoodles is they traditionally contain some cream of tartar.  This adds just a little “tang” to the flavor.  Many of these recipes didn’t have any.  I finally found one that seemed very authentic from Averie Cooks, called appropriately, “The Best Snickerdoodles.”  All her cookie recipes look wonderful!  These are full-on sugar and flour, so I had to adapt them to use keto ingredients.

To adapt a regular cookie recipe to low carb, I sub almond flour (prefer Bob’s Red Mill, I can get it at Sam’s Club) for the regular flour.  You usually need to increase the amount of almond flour.  So for 1 1/2 cups AP flour, I use 2 cups almond flour.  Then see how much sugar is in the recipe and sub an equivalent amount of your preferred alternative sweetener.  I am really liking Pyure Organic Stevia Blend (this is stevia extract and erythritol).  Pyure Blend is twice as sweet as sugar, so you need half the amount.  This is good because too much erythritol is NOT good.  Sugar alcohols can wreak havoc on your gut, depending on the amount you ingest and your own personal tolerance level.  I like to combine sweeteners to enhance their effect, so I added 6 drops of liquid sucralose to up the sweet factor to 3/4 cup total sugar equivalent.  You could use another tablespoonful of the Pyure instead.

A few tips to ensure nice puffy cookies:  Don’t melt your butter to a liquid consistency.  It should be soft, not runny.  Cream the butter and sweetener well before adding your egg, then blend that some more until it’s really fluffy.  Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to mix well.  At this point, you should pop your dough into the refrigerator for a half hour or so to get it firm (longer than that is fine).  Softer dough has a tendency to spread.  If you want crispy cookies, this can be a good thing, but for puffy snickerdoodles, chill it.  On this baking occasion, I did not chill the dough and they came out a little on the flat side.  I was in a hurry.  😀

I use a tablespoon size cookie scoop to shape the balls but you can certainly use your hands.  This recipe makes at least twenty cookies.  Roll the balls in the Pyure/cinnamon mix and place on parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Keto Snickerdoodle dough

Bake at 350 for 10 or 11 minutes.  They should be just set but not really browned.  I suggest letting them sit on the baking sheet for a few minutes to cool and firm up before moving them.

Keto Snickerdoodles
Keto Snickerdoodles

We are big cinnamon fans here, so I increased the cinnamon to sweetener ratio for the rolling mixture.

I hope you enjoy these as much as we have!

Keto Snickerdoodles

A soft, sweet, cinnamony cookie.  Sugar, grain, and gluten-free.  

Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 11 minutes
Total Time 51 minutes
Servings 20 cookies
Calories 72 kcal

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ¼ cup Pyrure Stevia Blend 1/2 cup sugar equivalent
  • 1 egg
  • 6 drops sucralose 1/8 cup sugar equivalent
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp molasses
  • 2 cups almond flour

Rolling mixture

  • 1/8 cup Pyure Stevia Blend
  • 1 T cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter and sweetener, add egg and blend until fluffy. Add sucralose, vanilla, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, molasses, and combine. Add almond flour and mix well. For puffy cookies, chill for at least 30 minutes. Form into 1 Tablespoonful balls and roll in 1/8 cup Pyure and cinnamon mixture. Do not flatten. Bake on silicone mat covered baking sheet for 10 to 11 minutes.

Recipe Notes

These are very fragile until they cool a bit. Makes about 20 cookies.

Adapted from Averie Cooks.

Macros per cookie: 72 calories, 6 grams fat, 6 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 1 gram protein, Net Carbs 3    Calculated from MyFitnessPal based on a total of 20 cookies.

 

Colonial Williamsburg in December

Last December, as our Christmas present to each other, my husband and I took a weekend trip to Colonial Williamsburg.  We stayed at the Parkside Williamsburg Resort, which is just a few miles from downtown Williamsburg.  We had visited in April 2009, and I had always wanted to see it again during the holidays.  CW has many events, programs, and activities every day of the week, so you have to plan ahead and choose what you want to do.  Their website www.colonialwilliamsburg.com has a detailed calendar and a printable PDF of the weekly events.  After checking out the schedule, we decided that we could see what we wanted to on one very long Saturday.  HOWEVER, if you go and have time, you could easily fill three or four days seeing and attending all that is available.  I had to prioritize for this visit.

A big tree in the “snow” room at Yankee Candle

On Friday afternoon we drove down from Richmond and decided to hit the massive and amazing Yankee Candle store in Williamsburg.  It was surprisingly not very crowded, which made it even better.  This store is huge, with every Yankee candle scent they make available to sniff and purchase.  They also have Christmas decorations galore.  There are Christmas villages on display, a room with permanent Christmas trees where it snows every few minutes, gifts of all kinds, and in December kids can visit Santa! If you visit, give yourself lots of time to browse all the goodies.  Our tip:  if you find something there you think you want, don’t wait until Sunday morning before you are heading out of town to drop in and pick it up…that’s when the entire population of Williamsburg brings their kids to see Santa (and buy tons of candles).  The lines get long, but the staff is super efficient and they keep it moving well.

Look, it’s the Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!

A pleasant surprise was Rick’s Cheese Steak on Prince George Street.  It isn’t fancy, but the cheesesteaks were way better than what we had in Philly.  Sorry, Philly!

Next morning we were up bright and early to get breakfast at Colonial Pancake House.  We enjoyed our meal then headed to Historic Colonial Williamsburg.  You can walk from the Visitor’s Center over to the Historic Area, or you can take a shuttle bus.  We opted to walk.  Happily, the weather was fabulous for early December.  It was cold but sunny, and there wasn’t much wind.  Our plan was to walk around and look at some of the historic houses, catch a couple of programs, make absolutely sure we got lunch at the King’s Arms Tavern, pop in to a few more buildings and programs, take the decorations walking tour in the afternoon, tour the Governer’s Palace late in the day, watch the Illumination on the Palace Green, and finish up with another Christmas themed walking tour.

We attended the Rare Breeds program, where they explain about the heritage animals they keep and their breeding programs.

We did make it to lunch at the Kings’ Arms, which is a “refined chophouse” with authentic period decor but a menu that has been adapted to 21st-century tastes, and we knew exactly what to order.  Norfolk Pottage Pye:  “Tender Chicken and aromatic Vegetables made into a creamy Stew and baked beneath a flaky Pastry Shell”, which is a lovely way to describe the very best chicken pot pie ever.  I had this when we visited in 2009 and had to get it again.  It might sound like we came all the way back just for a chicken pot pie.  Well, maybe.  It is really good.  I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture!

The Christmas Decorations Walking Tour was fun and very informative.  All the decorations are fabricated with natural elements or things that would have been available to the residents of Colonial Williamsburg.  Of course, during that time period, no one in their right mind would stick a bunch of apples and pineapples out on the front of their house to look pretty, or indeed even spend time and effort decorating outdoors for Christmas, but times have changed and it sure does look good!  The wreaths are intricate and cleverly designed to reflect the occupation of the building’s owner; for instance, a tavern might include pewter tankards in their decorations.

All the fruit is real and is frequently replaced as it starts to look bad.  There is a dedicated little group of people who go around checking all the decorations and refreshing them so they always look picture perfect.

After this bracing and fun tour, we felt like warming up, as the wind had picked up a bit and it was pretty cold.  We were able to attend the tasting at R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse.  This is a restored building that was once a social hub for all kinds of meetings.  You have a choice between coffee and chocolate–prepared in a more or less historically accurate way.  We opted for chocolate.  This is not “hot cocoa” from a packet.  It is very thick and not very sweet.  They have cream and sugar on the tables and I added both to make it really yummy.  It’s like drinking a candy bar from a tiny cup.

Our next stop was the Governor’s Palace, where we opted to go on our own instead of on a guided tour.  The sun set while we were inside, and they have a few candles lit but it is REALLY dark in there.  I was gawking up at the hundreds of muskets on the wall in the stairwell, missed a step, and pulled a muscle in my calf.  Oh. My. Word.  Had to sit down for a little bit, but there was more to see and we were leaving the next day.  So I limped slowly through the rest of our visit, even though my sweet husband kept offering to go get the car and take me back to the condo.

The Illumination of the Palace Green was exciting.  By then it was totally dark.   Visitors assembled on and around the Green and the CW staff lit the cressets in front of the buildings, muskets were fired, and then the fife and drum corps played and marched down the center of the green as the crowd parted before them.

We had time to kill before our last walking tour so we went outside of the Historic District to Williamsburg proper, past the skating rink, visited a couple of cute gift shops, and had some great pizza for dinner.  Then I hobbled back into the Historic District to join our last tour.  It was interesting and a little sad.  They took us through four time periods on Christmas Eve in Williamsburg and the struggles people went through.

All done (and done in!), we started limping back toward the Visitor’s Center where the car was parked.  Fortunately, we were able to catch one of the shuttle buses halfway and ride the rest of the way back.  It’s a lovely walk but less so in the dark when it’s 40 degrees.

I had borrowed my husband’s Fitbit for the day and logged 9 miles of walking–about one and a half after my little accident with the stairs.  It was all worth it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I would, however, be more careful on the stairs.

If you get the opportunity to visit the Williamsburg area, I highly recommend it.  There are so many things to do and see that you could easily spend at least a week.