A New First

IMG_0205I think Spring weather may actually be here to stay now. It was here in February, which was just weird. Early-March was pretty mild, too. Many of the flowers and trees bloomed early, and then it got cold. Freezing cold. So now lots of the flowering plants are coated in blooms that look half-dead. That means actual Spring days like yesterday won’t appear as bright and cheerful as they should.

Oh well. Even if the days are not visually appealing, I’ll take the Spring temperatures. Yesterday, the highest reading I saw on my thermometer was 78.8 F (26 C). There were lots of clouds in the sky, but they held their moisture, so we had a dry, warm day for riding. There was no chill in the air at all. It actually felt a little weird at first, feeling warm wind through the mesh of my jacket.

Hubby planned a circuitous route for us to get a late lunch at our favorite fast-foodish burger joint in Front Royal, Spelunkers. Part of that route involved the northernmost third of Skyline Drive, from the Thornton Gap entrance on US 211 to the start/end of the road in Front Royal. So we got to twist the throttles a bit further than we should have and enjoy our favorite local twisties as we climbed Thornton Gap.

It can be a dangerous stretch of road, as evidenced by the warning signs specifically addressed to motorcyclists at the top and bottom of the mountain that say “High Crash Area.” There’s a 35 MPH speed limit, too. But that’s because of the descending radius turns that catch many riders off-guard. We’re used to the turns, though, so didn’t think twice about having some twisty fun before hitting Skyline Drive.

Line of vehicles waiting to enter the park.

Our enjoyment didn’t go unnoticed. One man was so impressed, he decided that I deserved a performance award in recognition. In truth, he said we both should have been similarly recognized. I was the one in the rear, though. So I’m the one who got to sit on the side of the road, admiring that line of vehicles, while the man from the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Department recorded and then presented me with physical proof of my not-so-prestigious award.

He was nice, though, and used the lowest speed he’d recorded. And that’s a good thing, because Virginia has some hefty fines for speeding. Exceed the posted speed limit by 20 mph or exceed 80 mph no matter the posted limit, and that’s considered reckless driving. That’s a criminal misdemeanor. You could be sentenced to as much as a year in jail, have your driver’s license suspended for six months, get assessed up to $2500 in fines, and have a criminal record that could follow you around for the rest of your life. Also, the points stay on your driving record for 11 years, and we all know what that does to insurance premiums.

I really need to keep that law in mind. I don’t feel bad, though, because I know I was riding cautiously and well within my comfort zone. Plus, I’ve been riding for a lot of years and that was my very first “award.”

It didn’t spoil the mood even a little bit. It really was lovely. People were out in droves enjoying the many attractions Shenandoah National Park has to offer, such as the scenic views, hiking, cycling, waterfalls, bird-watching, etc. The parking lots near the most-popular trailheads were literally overflowing. There were lots of motorcyclists and bicyclists out, too.

A large portion of the northern section of the drive appears to have been recently repaved, too. Another plus.

We topped the day off with a fabulous lunch at Spelunkers in Front Royal.

Yes, it was as fabulous as it looks.
Yes, it was as fabulous as it looks.

It was a co-worker of Mike’s who clued us in on the deliciousness at Spelunkers.

The burgers are always fresh and perfectly cooked, as are the fries. They’re so good, we’ve never eaten anything else. The Philly cheesesteak is supposed to be their signature sandwich. Sadly, we’ve never have room for ice cream. That’s a “first” I can happily look forward to.

All in all, it was a lovely day.

Welcome Escape

Not only did Hubby and I get out of the house yesterday, we got to ride our motorcycles.

These boots were made for riding.

Imagine a big smile on my face, ‘kay?

The weather has been rather crappy round here. Lots of cold, but little snow.

I know you folks in the Northeast have probably about had it with snow, but we haven’t seen much here.

It could be my fault. I finally decided to buy snow boots for my dogs. And weather-proof coats. So, now that they’re fully equipped, we won’t get snow.

That’s just how my luck works.

Anyway… temps actually got into the 70s (F) yesterday. Can you believe that? So, even though poor Hubby now has the cold I’ve had for a couple of weeks, and he’s hacking and coughing like crazy, we decided to go for a ride.

On a day like this…

Yesterday afternoon, after the ride.


We would have been crazy NOT to go.

But we didn’t go far. We rode for about 30 minutes to this taqueria I’d sampled before, but Hubby hadn’t tried.

Tacos! Clockwise from top, Cecina, Carnitas, and Barbacoa de Cabra.


It was delicious. We’ll be going back to the Taqueria Jasmine in Bealeton again for sure.

It’s gotten cold again. And rainy. I’m still hoping we get some snow soon. You know, so the girls get to use their spiffy new boots outdoors some more.

Here’s a shot of the girls in their new hi-vis, weather-resistant coats.

They’re not crazy about getting wet. And I’m not crazy about drying them off.


As for the boots… some folks think they’re silly. My girls don’t mind being bootless in the snow on grass, but when we’re walking on the sidewalks and streets around town, they get snowballs stuck between their toes. And then they limp, refusing to let the impacted foot touch the ground until I stop and clear the snow from their toes.

With eight feet, that gets old pretty fast. When Meg was still with us, I had twelve paws to deal with. She would’ve NEVER worn boots, though. Heck, I could never have gotten them onto her. She hated having her feet touched.

Wanna see the first tryout?


They actually got used to the boots pretty quickly. They love their nightly walks, so I knew they’d never refuse to go. And they didn’t. But they definitely need more practice.

Delicious Dinner and Fun Social Event

I’m a bit behind on my posts about the Europe trip. While this one is sort of about the trip, it’s more about a delicious dinner idea you simply must try. Our Swiss friends, Tammi and Martin, fed it to us for dinner one night during our recent trip while we were visiting their home.

I knew immediately that I HAD to try it here at home. The only question was, would we be able to find the right cheese, or a suitable replacement.

Here’s a group pic from our visit…

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L-R, Martin, Tammi,Annelies, Me, Mike (aka Hubby), Yves, Timo, and Heather

I have the coolest friends. Really. I love these folks.

1385352_10204276547506942_9067904470861050240_nAnyway, back to dinner. It was called Raclette. It’s pronounced like rock-let. Essentially it’s melted cheese and stuff served over boiled potatoes. Not just any cheese, Raclette cheese. It’s actually a type of cheese, suitable for melting. Martin and Tammi thought maybe Gruyere might be a good substitute. Or any similar cheese that melts well.

Everyone figured it was probably available on-line. It is. It’s actually available through Amazon. But when I was searching, I found The Swiss Bakery, which sells on-line, but also happens to be sorta close to here.

Anyone who likes and buys good cheese knows, cheese ain’t cheap. Gruyere, which I tried first, is $20-$25 per pound at our local supermarket. The Raclette sold by The Swiss Bakery is “only” $17 per pound. And two people can easily eat half a pound of the stuff.

There are different tools you can use to melt the cheese. I’ve been planning to get a table-top raclette grill, AFTER I was sure I could get the cheese.

Since I had no plans for yesterday, and it was too cold and windy for a motorcycle ride (in my opinion), I drove my car to The Swiss Bakery for cheese.

Wanna guess what we had for dinner? LOL. It was darn good, too.

Here are some pics from that first dinner Martin and Tammi served.

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Martin & Tammi’s Raclette Set-up

There were eight of us, so they actually had two grills.

Raclette in Switzerland
Raclette in Switzerland


Raclette on my plate.
Raclette on my plate.

It was fabulous, really.

Raclette is traditionally served with cornichons (fancy, itty-bitty dill pickles) and cocktail onions, and accompanied by white wine. Apparently — according to Martin who is a chef and knows these things — the cornichons, onions, and wine all work together to help digest the cheese.

And that’s important. Simply put, picture eating a plateful of hot, melted cheese followed by a cold glass of water. The water would turn that cheese into a giant lump of goo in your gullet.

You start with boiled potatoes. You chop them up on your plate as your cheese melts, adding butter or not, depending on what you feel like. Raclette is also served with toppings, a lot like pizza toppings, that you can add to your cheese as it is melting. Diced bacon, dried beef, sliced grape tomatoes, olives, chopped leeks, diced onions, pepperoni, etc. Once the cheese is melted, you scrape it off of the little melting-tray onto your potatoes and voila, a nice little plate of deliciousness, prepared by you exactly to your liking.

Mike, Heather, and Me


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Raclette grill in use.

For yesterday’s Raclette test here at home, I just put a cast iron frying pan under the broiler. Once it was hot, I removed it from the oven, laid the cheese, in 1/4″ slices, into the pan, added some diced green onions and dried beef, and then put it back under the broiler. By the time I’d put the boiled potatoes onto our plates, cut them up, and added butter, the cheese was ready. It melts well, so that part goes really fast.

Of course, I basically had a giant pan of melted cheese to portion out evenly between two plates, which is harder than having your own little Raclette tray, but I managed.

Here’s what my improvised Raclette looked like…

Improvised Raclette

I served it in a pie plate to make it easier to eat in front of the TV. A regular plate would have been fine had we been dining at the table.

I wanted to get some air-dried Swiss beef — bundnerfleisch — but that’s hard to find locally, so I settled for Bresaola, which I found at Wegman’s. You could also use American dried beef, but the American version is much saltier. And drier. Prosciutto would work, too. So would pepperoni.

I’d really like to find some Speck (an Italian bacon from the South Tyrol region of Italy, which is rubbed with a mix of salt, pepper, juniper berries, other garden herbs, then dry cured, lightly cold smoked over beechwood chips, then stacked in aging cellars, where it is slow dried). Speck is similar to Prosciutto, but I think it’s better.

You can read a bit more about Raclette here, if you like.

Guess what I did before writing this post?

Raclette Grill
Raclette Grill

I ordered that Raclette grill I’ve been wanting. LOL.

You should try Raclette for yourself. But remember, the cheese is important. While the experiment with Gruyere was tasty, it wasn’t nearly as good. The Raclette is just a bit more-flavorful. Although boiled potatoes covered with melted Gruyere was far from the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, and I would eat it again in a pinch. But, if you REALLY like cheese and want to enjoy a more-authentic Raclete experience, buy some Raclette cheese. It’s worth it.

Sharing a Crabby Experience

A couple of weeks ago, I was really craving a crab cake. Not just any crab cake, a Maryland-style crab cake. The kind you eat all by themselves, on a sandwich, and/or accompanied by corn on the cob and fresh tomatoes.

Not the sort many VA restaurants serve. They are cakes of crab meat, but are often drowned in some sort of chutney, sauce, or other un-Maryland-like and insulting substance.

I was desperate. It’s not easy to find fresh Blue Crab meat around here (Central Virginia), so I used a can of the pasteurized stuff.

Yuck. It tasted like I was eating a fish cake. Crabs don’t taste like fish, they taste like crabs!

Blue Crab (Male)


Blue Crab (Female)


Blue Swimming Crabs

If the pictures of the critters themselves don’t help, this might…

Blue Swimming Crab

You recognize that, right? Know why? Because it was Phillips Seafood that started importing the stuff.  There’s a very interesting article here about Phillips’ Seafood and the Blue Swimming Crab.

Have a look some of the fresh-out-of-the-can meat from the Blue Swimming Crab…

Blue Swimming Crab Meat

I actually like using it in soup, but it makes yucky crab cakes. Unless you have the right recipe, perhaps, which I don’t.

Here’s what Blue Crab meat looks like…

Fresh Blue Crab Meat
Fresh Blue Crab Meat

I just happened to stumble across some at Costco last week. It was $23.99/pound, which may sound expensive, but it was fresh, jumbo lump, Blue Crab meat. That was a steal.

It usually comes in containers like this.

Photo 2(1)

Sometimes the pasteurized, Blue Swimming Crab will come in plastic, too. You have to read the label carefully. And look at the meat.

I made crab cakes with it last night. They were DIVINE. Really. There’s world of difference between the two.

I liked it so much, I drove back to Costco tonight for two more pounds. 🙂

I have no idea if it is sold at all Costco stores. But, if you like crab, and there’s a Costco near you, I would highly recommend that you go and buy some. It was that good. Very few shells, either.

I see some Crab Imperial in our near future…

Great Day for Soup

Unless you live under a rock, or at least away from a TV, you know the Northeast US was hit with a rare October snowstorm yesterday. As far as accumulation goes, we didn’t get much. But it was still a cold, wet, nasty day.

Cold, Wet, and Nasty

You know what it means when the weather is like that, right? It’s a great day for soup!

I actually did quite a bit of running around in that nastiness. I went to Chantilly to visit a furniture store I’d been wanting to check out: Bare Woods and Home Furnishings. It was awesome. And overwhelming. That had so much very cool stuff, I didn’t know what to buy. So I didn’t buy anything.

But I’ll go back.

Instead, I went to Target to stock up on some essentials, and then I went home to prepare dinner.

I forgot to mention that I’d stopped at my favorite shop before leaving town to make sure I’d have that one key dinner ingredient.

Fresh Spinach Feta Bread

I just LOVE the Spinach Feta Bread from Great Harvest. It is dense, flavorful, and delicious.

I couldn’t decide if I wanted Chili or French Onion Soup. So I made Hubby pick. He opted for French Onion.

I use the Joy of Cooking recipe, which is fabulous, but takes about two hours to cook. It’s worth it. Trust me.

Waiting for Dinner

The dogs waited patiently for me to prepare their dinner while the soup cooked.

And while I took pictures of the bottle of wine I had gotten at Target.

Artful Wine

You gotta love living in a state where you can buy wine at Target.

Isn’t that a cool wine label?

The soup was delicious. Sorry I don’t have a picture of the finished product. But by then, I was absolutely starving and salivating over all the delicious smells.

I do have one final picture to share.

The Younguns

Here Belle and K wait for something. A treat maybe? I forget. This was after dinner and I just happened to have the camera in my hand for this rare moment when they were standing still next to each other and actually looking at the camera.

I would have Photoshopped the redeye out, but Hubby is waiting patiently for me to go cook breakfast like I’d promised. Over-medium eggs with more of that yummy Spinach Feta bread. And bacon. Oh my.

I hope you enjoy your Sunday!


Just in case you were wondering how breakfast turned out.

Eggs Over Medium with Spinach Feta Toast and Bacon

Hubby said it was good enough for company.

Now are you ready for a visit?

On the Rewind Bandwagon

Happy New Year!

I hope all of you had a safe, warm, and happy New Year’s Eve celebration. And I wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2011.

WAY back on December 10, one of my blog buddies (Fuzzy aka Rachel) posted a very cool slide show featuring her motorcycle memories from the year. That’s what first got me thinking of stuff that had happened to us or that we did during 2010. Coincidentally, Rachel and her boyfriend spent some time in the same region in Europe where Hubby and I went in June. Her slide show includes pictures from that as well as stuff she’s done here in the US. Rachel rides a street bike AND a dirt bike. She’s a Mom, too. You go, Rachel! Thanks for entertaining me throughout the year. And letting me do that virtual ride along through the Dolomites.

So I was already thinking about doing a year in review post when I saw that this week’s You Capture theme/assignment is to pick our 10 favorite pictures of 2010. I told Hubby I needed to get to work on that one immediately. Do you have any idea how hard it is going to be and how long it will probably take to narrow that down?

How many pics do you think the ole ToadMama shot in 2010?

A lot!

Ready for this? I shot 10,350 images since January 2010. And that’s just with the digital SLR. I’m sure there were a couple of hundred other images captured with the point-and-shoot.

This is not one of those images, but I thought it was funny. I found it by accident when searching for the party wallpaper I needed for the first image in this post.

I did start going through images yesterday. But then or server crashed. Hubby told me he could rig something up so I could access the files, but you know what? I just don’t feel like sitting here today, staring at my computer. Maybe I’ll do that some other time.

For now, I’ll tell you about the new tradition I started this morning. I didn’t intend for it to be a tradition, but Hubby declared it to be one. So… drum roll please… the new New Year’s Day tradition in the ToadMama abode is a breakfast of Stuffed Blueberry Pancakes and bacon.

Stuffed Blueberry Pancakes with Bacon

I am a decent cook. No gourmet chef, but I can whip up some pretty good stuff. This wasn’t good. This was one of those “Oh My God” dishes.


Blueberry pancakes with big, fresh blueberries in the mix. The stuffing was a thick pastry cream. Think of the kind of cream that’s in a chocolate eclair or Boston cream pie. Only thicker. And richer. It was all drizzled with real maple syrup. And served with baked bacon that was perfectly cooked.

Really. Oh. My. Gawd!

Hubby and I both want to lose weight this year. So we can’t eat like this all the time. But I’m glad we had this today.

Now hurry up January 1, 2012!

I’ll do a year-in-review post one day. Maybe.

For now I am going to relax and enjoy my day. I hope you do the same.