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A Discovery In The Wild, The First Magnolia Imported To England, Magnolia Virginiana

A day or two after my post on local spring flowers and plants, the magnolia tree being one, I took a walk with my camera down a road near where I live.  Looking for mossy growth and interesting plants to photograph I found a surprise awaiting me in the trees and undergrowth beside the road.  Here is a picture of this surprise:

This tree is the Magnolia virginiana, or more commonly named Sweetbay magnolia, or Sweetbay.   It was the first magnolia sent to England by horticulturist and missionary John Banister in 1478 and grown there although it was soon less popular when the larger flowered evergreen, Southern magnolia (M. grandiflora) was introduced.  It grows in moist, wet soil which explains the many dead branches since past summers have had drought conditions.  It is still cultivated today and has also been hybridized with other magnolia species.  It is an evergreen depending on the climate.  The flower has a very strong vanilla scent, different from my neighbor’s magnolia flower which has a flowery lemon scent.  The perfume can be detected from these trees several hundred yards away!   The wood has a scent similar to bay laurel is soft, straight grained and easily carved.  It is used to make boxes, containers, furniture, veneer, lumber and pulpwood.

The drawing is by Mark Catesby (1731).  The bird pictured getting ready to eat a seed is the Blue Grosbeak.

Of the flowers pictured below the one closest to the camera is white while the older flower is a vanilla color.  These flower measured approximately six inches in diameter, much smaller than the magnolias I am familiar with.

Just to give an idea of the size of the larger magnolia species this is a huge flower from a neighbor’s tree up the street.  It measures a foot across!  These flowers are approximately two inches larger than my next door neighbor’s magnolia.

Springtime In The South – Chesterfield, VA

I took some pictures of spring flowers and new growth in my neighborhood.  I thought it would be interesting, especially for those who don’t live here.  The above picture of moss is in my yard where there are a lot of trees.  The spring rains have made the moss even more beautiful.  I’m going to do a post on moss soon.

Some early history of Chesterfield County; the Citie of Henricus founded in 1611 on the James River in hopes that it would replace swampy James Towne as a healthier alternative.  When Pocahontas was captured she was first taken to James Towne but Henricus was considered safer from Indian attack and her capture, so she was then taken to the Citie of Henricus.  It was there she converted to Christianity and met John Rolfe whose tobacco plantation, Varina Farm (Varina, VA), was just across the James from Henricus.  There were important coal mines here also (Mid-Lothian Mines Park).  They were one of the first major industrial sites in the country.  The coal supplied the furnaces at the ammunition factory at Westham near the present day Huguenot Bridge, crossing the James into Richmond, which supplied ammunition for Revolutionary War cannons.  Union troops during the Civil War considered them a main target for capture.  The mines have since played out and have been filled in.

Plantings surround the mail box up the street.My neighbor’s magnolia tree.  It’s really grown and branching over on my side.  How fortunate!a flower bud…

This magnolia bud is about to blossom.  The heady perfume fills the air, it flowers all summer long. This is the same blossom the next day.The insects are attracted by the sweet odor.Almost all the petals have fallen on this one and by fall the stamen will become full of red seeds.

Lovely irises against a white fence.  This neighbor has a vegetable garden on the other side of the fence in his back yard.

Another view of the irises and the fence.Creamy miniature roses climbing on one of the cedar trees in the backyard.

A closeup of the roses.Pink petunias at the grocery store.multiple colors…hydrangea…another view…And more petunias…

The largest azaleas I have ever seen.   The owners must feed them regularly!

This will give you an idea of their size.weeping willow down the street…

Wisteria along Midlothian Turnpike.

A Historic Building With A New Beginning in Powhatan, VA

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon when I started out on my bike to visit Gather, a unique retail store housed in an old country store that was in operation in 1851.  When I spoke with the owner, Melissa, on the phone about writing a post on her store, she expressed concern that it was dark in the back of the store where her paintings were.  I told her I use a simple point and shoot camera. The SLR camera I recently purchased, I’m still on the learning curve and can’t use just yet.  My P&S camera’s low light pictures usually don’t turn out very well, although the “low” light situation didn’t turn out to be a problem thankfully.

Flowers in a nearby yard greeted cheerily me as I peddled my way out of the neighborhood,The present owners (Melissa and her husband) live next door in a lovely white and cream tin roof farmhouse that will be appearing in the magazine, Fresh Cottage!  They rescued the derelict old store and repurposed it as an art gallery for Melissa’s oil paintings.  On the Gather website it says they discovered the old store in much need of repair, when they were riding their bikes – their home next door came later.  The building has probably had  different owners and uses over the years.  It now has a new purpose and a new life!  I feel certain the neighbors and other Powhatan residents are grateful for the change and to see their store with a new face.  The store also has antiques, vintage and new furniture, accessories, jewelry, soaps, aromatherapy and other items, many of them hand crafted.   

I came upon this lovely old church, Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, Old Hundred Rd…

I turned into Mt. Herman Rd. and in a few minutes I was at the railroad crossing and there was the old store.  There is a pleasant little garden on the side where you can sit and eat a box lunch prepared by a chef!  Orders for lunch are called in a day or so ahead.

Here is the old store, that’s Melissa on the porch.  This structure was here before the Civil War.

I love the functioning old shutters.

Lots of things to see!  This is the original store counter from 1851.

A very old valise.These enameled wall clocks looked antique but Melissa said they are new!Americana

A wonderful mirror with a barrel for a frame!

This mirror is surrounded by a window frame.At first I thought this was an apron.  Upon closer inspection they are frilly summer table cloths!Some of Melissa’s oil paintings handsomely displayed and by the way, nicely lit by track lighting!

Bright handmade ladies cotton shirts.Darling bibs and summer outfits for toddlers.

Belts and a long summer dress for a little girl.

I liked the industrial ceiling fixture in the old kitchenFrench soap made since 1688.

Fun table ware.

Fast From Scratch Hot Bread In Ten Minutes Max!

Corn muffins

Corn muffins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever wanted hot steaming bread right from the oven dripping with butter and thought it was beyond your reach because of the time and effort involved?   Well think again!  Anyone can have fresh hot bread and it’s only minutes away with simple basic ingredients and your microwave!

After reading this post you will never have to run out to the store or make that extra stop because you have run out of bread for dinner!   It is so good you will feel sorry for anyone that has the retail store as their only source for bread!  At tops it will take ten minutes and you will have hot bread oozing with butter (if you like butter!) sitting on your dinner table!  You will save time, yes time…it is an anomaly that cooking from scratch takes more time!  Not to mention the money and energy savings because you cook it in your microwave and use basic ingredients (gasoline for that extra stop, electricity or gas required for baking in the oven, more expensive packaged mixes) and your bread will have lots of flavor because it’s made from scratch!  It’s a win/win situation!

Most quick bread or muffin recipes will work.  I like cornbread and make it often.   Any number of ingredients can be added; cheddar cheese, sliced fresh jalapeño peppers, blueberries, blackberries, chopped bacon, chives, green onions, herbs or a combination of some of these ingredients.  Cooked ground beef mixed with taco seasoning, onion, jalapeño peppers, cheddar cheese can be put on the bottom of the baking pan and cornbread batter poured on top for a complete meal.  Be creative!

Any container that is microwavable can be used to mix and bake the bread.   I use self-rising (leavening already added  makes it faster, easier) stone ground cornmeal (there is less heat involved with the processing and includes the germ of the corn kernel, making it nutritionally better for you).  I also add self-rising white flour in an approximate 1:1 ratio with the cornmeal.  You don’t have to add the flour, the corn meal can be used by itself, giving it a more rustic look and texture rather than being soft cake-like.

Using basic ingredients usually ensures that a recipe will turn out well.  Ingredients that come already pre-mixed in a package (more than what is recommended here) usually have other ingredients added that affect the flavor, like corn starch, soybean flour (cheep filler), stabilizers, (salt and sugar are added to masque the fact there is no flavor!) and is made to sit on a shelf a long time.

The great thing is you don’t have to be exact with cornbread when it is made with basic ingredients.  It’s hard to hurt the results!  Add oil, melted butter, melted margarine, or a combination of these, approximately 1:4; one part fat to four parts flour.  If you add more or less don’t worry about it.  You can add a lightly scrambled raw egg for more protein for every two cups of flour/meal if you desire.   Add a tablespoon or more of sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, stevia, depending on the flavor you want and how sweet you want it to be.

A serving container that originally had pre-cooked food from the grocer is just the right size for one or two large servings. I can eat one container by myself!

More sugar can be added for sweeter breads.   Just add water, buttermilk, or milk and stir all the ingredients together in the baking dish to make a thick pouring consistency.  Stir approximately ten strokes and you’re done!   Now it is ready to be put into the microwave in the same container!  Depending on the size of your cookware and microwave, it could take between one and a half minutes to five minutes.  If your bread has about two or more cups of flour/meal set the power level on seven, otherwise use full power.

Open the microwave door  after a minute and a half and touch the center.  If the top is very moist then it is done!  If it is check again after another minute.  When it is done take it out of the microwave and let it sit for a minute or two.  Then slice and enjoy!

Hot cornbread slices with melted butter. Total time: from preparation to table for the size of cooking dish used, 5 minutes!

Gourmet Coffee Hidden In A Lower Price Store Brand!

The picture of this can of store brand mid-range coffee is misleading - causing one to believe there is anomaly hidden within the confines of it’s container!  Before you jump to conclusions let me explain!  If you appreciate good coffee then you will understand where I am coming from.  Until recently I worked for one of the largest retailers in the world.  Several years ago I saw the change of  the company that produced their snack line.  If Frito Lay is not the producer now I would be very surprised because they taste exactly like their products, where before they did not.  Not even close!

US Navy 100526-N-9520G-001 Sailors look over a...

US Navy 100526-N-9520G-001 Sailors look over a list of grocery items during a healthy choices scavenger hunt supporting Commissary Awareness Month (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grocery stores and other retail stores are jostling for position in these economic times.  There are four big grocery retail chains within a four mile stretch of the main highway that runs through my community.   Generic brands made by big brand name companies is now the norm.   Large retailers understand  that quality needs to be found at all price points to keep customers coming back.

I  recently bought the coffee in the blue can pictured above from Kroger Stores.  They are the second largest grocery retailer in the US with Walmart being number one (there’s a good chance one of their stores is in your neighborhood too!).   It’s their mid-range store brand with the name of “Premium” and comes in four roasts.  The price is around $8.00 for 2 lbs. 2.5 oz.  I tried the medium roast because the woman beside me in the coffee isle picked that one.  When I asked her if she liked it (why I asked this question when the answer was obvious, I’m not sure)  her not surprising response was “It’s very good.”  I like coffee that is somewhat strong but with no bitter overtones.  Without the recommendation I would have probably chosen the medium dark or dark roast to get the rich flavor I like.  When I bought the coffee my expectation was not very high, I had completely run out of coffee and just wanted something drinkable.  I sometimes buy the more expensive “gourmet” coffee to supplement my stock.

Probat coffee roaster located at Dillanos Coff...

When a day or so later I made some coffee I was not expecting to find it had a deep, rich flavor, without a hint of bitterness and a wonderful aroma that lingered even when there was only a small amount left in my cup.  This indicates to me the coffee beans are very fresh.  I don’t believe I’m being generous by putting it on the taste level of most gourmet coffees I’ve tried, maybe even better!  OK, maybe not  the same as Kona coffee (from Hawaii, an exceptional coffee), although it’s been a while since I had a cup.  I was at a company party at work when I tried it and still fondly remember how good it was, although I may have elevated it in my mind somehow.  I have looked for Kona coffee since, but the two grocery stores I frequent the most don’t carry it.  Maybe Kroger’s Premium is as good…if not, it comes close!

Please understand, all of the stores in my neighborhood have their low-price quality items which I am grateful for and enjoy very much.   You will read about some of the other products on my blog in the near future!  Sometimes you find an item of a very high quality and low price and it really makes you want to Sing!  You want to tell EVERYONE ABOUT IT!  The other products also make me want to Sing!…Dance…Yodel!…YESYODEL! (It’s a cultural thing!)

Vail Coffee and Tea Company

I went on the Internet to try to discover why their coffee tastes the way it does.  I landed on Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea Company’s website Vailcoffee.com and found out Kroger partnered with this small company a couple of years ago to produce their “Gourmet” store brand.  I haven’t tried it yet but eagerly look forward to it.  If it is better than their Premium coffee that would be awesome!  Although I can’t imagine it being much better.   In addition to producing some very good coffee they also support a lot of good causes, some of them being sustainability, fair trade cooperatives and micro estates.  You can read more about them on their website above.

North side of Vail Mountain, and Vail Valley.

North side of Vail Mountain, and Vail Valley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some additional background on the company; it was started by two guys in a storefront in Vail CO in 1989, called The Daily Grind, catering to the world’s élite skiers and snowboarders who stopped by for coffee on their way to the slopes.  Their explanation of why their coffee tastes the way it does has to do with the 8,000 ft. altitude, which allows a lower temperature to roast the coffee beans (altitude causes lower baking temperatures also), eliminating scorched and baked flavors that can occur in lower altitudes (so that’s where those bitter harsh flavors come from!).  The sugars and carbohydrates in the bean carmalize at lower temperatures, creating complex, deep rich favors.  I believe this is true because I have experienced better flavor roasting foods at lower temperatures.  The drier air at high altitudes also helps eliminate moisture to keep freshness before packaging.

Coffee berries Polski: Owoce kawy

Coffee berries Polski: Owoce kawy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They also produce their coffee in small batches - I say “AMEN” to that!  It’s hard to believe that companies produce packaged food items with shelf expiration dates often three to six months or even a year and consumers buy them!  That means the food in the package is only in production two to four times a year!   Ever notice the dates say on snack items?   The larger bags (not the smaller ones you pay a lot more for) have different dates – don’t believe it! The bigger bags are only produced four times a year!  That’s why the smaller bags are more flavorful (you pay for those smaller batches) unless they have been sitting in a snack machine longer than a week or two.  Have you ever eaten a potato chip that is tasteless, leaving you unsatisfied?  It’s probably because that yummy “fresh from the fryer” oozing with oil and flavor, only lasts about a week, after that the oil dries up and so does the flavor!  Think about it, if you baked something and put it even in an airtight bag, would the flavor be the same after seven days?  It doesn’t take “rocket science” to figure it out!  It becomes obvious after some years of tasting.  That’s why I rarely buy chips anymore unless I can catch them the week of production and that’s hard to do!   I don’t want to sound too fanatical, some foods are still OK for longer but for most items (unless it’s sugar or pickles) are not the same after even one month and that also includes canned goods!

potato chips photographed by stu spivack

potato chips photographed by stu spivack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kroger appears to be sensitive to quality with their own gourmet coffee store brand and have apparently incorporated some of these same qualities or always have, in their coffee production plant in Cincinnati for their Premium brand, judging from its superior flavor.  Producing their own coffee gives them more control over quality.  Not all coffee beans are created equal.  Freshness of a bean also depends on how long it has been sitting in a warehouse or grocery shelf.   Even if the bean is ground at the store or at home, it may not be at it’s peak flavor if it has been sitting in storage for very long!

Why would Kroger have gone to the trouble to find a small high quality coffee company in Vail CO to produce it’s gourmet coffee if there wasn’t some kind of commitment to quality and an understanding of what makes a good cup of coffee?  As the saying goes “The proof is in the tasting!”

Is This Vienna?…Paris?…Rome?…Would You Believe. . . .

Can this be Vienna?…Paris?…Rome?…A beautiful Renaissance palace in Florence, Italy?  The Palazzo Medici Riccardi of the Medici family?  Mmmmmm…Possibly…Renaissance?…Yes…Only fast forward from the 15th century to the late 19th century.  It is Italian Renaissance Revival, not Florence, Italy, but Main St. Station, Richmond (1500 East Main St.) Virginia, USA!  The Medici family wanted to live a low profile since their return from exile, rejecting Bunelleschi influenced architect Bartolomeo’s earlier plan, but inside the Palace was another story!  Main St. Station is possibly closer in looks to the architectural plans that didn’t happen!

Facade of Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence,...

Facade of Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It does have connections to Europe, it was the British Embassy in Vienna in 2004 for the television series Alias.  I have been wanting to return to the handsome “Renaissance Revival beauty” to take more pictures.  I got my chance when I dropped my sister off to catch the Mega Bus (inexpensive bus travel for those that have more time on their hands but can have long delays), Amtrak is faster and more expensive with no delays. The travel options are increasing, a high speed train is in the not too distant future.

I took about ten pictures my first visit.  This week, I took about thirty-five, including the interior. A great photo-op for any picture taker.

The Station (1500 East Main St., Richmond, VA)built in 1901 in the Beaux Arts Style was adapted to what is termed the Second Renaissance Revival Style.  54.1 million dollars was spent on the renovation, transforming a partially fire gutted building with additional problems, but what a transformation!  I understand the Train Shed may become a shopping area once again, but that is tentative.  In its recent past it housed government offices.  What’s for certain is the Station is to be the northern terminus of the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor. It will become a very busy place!  Currently Amtrak commuter trains to Washington D.C. use the station.  There didn’t appear to be much train traffic for a weekday afternoon.  Only one other person besides myself, a gentleman waiting for a train for the hour I was there, although several travelers arrived as I was leaving.  All that will change with the high speed train! I hope the appearance of the station doesn’t change too much.  My advice would be to visit it now.

As you can see by the photos below it is a beautiful building that rivals many old buildings in Europe, with an American flair!  Something else about this building, the Stations’ huge rooms can be rented out for weddings (yes, for the entire event!) (railroad enthusiasts take note), parties, etc.  It’s an incredibly beautiful interior, even more so in person.  It has an honest American elegance without being “over done.”.

If you like these pictures some of them will be available as prints at; Maisonarmoire.etsy.com, or e-mail me for info on prints.  Usually photography with at least 12X pixels looks better than on a computer screen because of its lower pixel density.

This was taken across Main St. in the parking area. Note the train trestles to the right, some of the oldest in the US.

More of the old trestles on one side of the parking area.

Station without the editing effects

Stairs leading to center front lobby entrance, marble stairway to 2nd floor and left office entrance with stairway to 2nd floor.

Look closely and you will see the “kneeling balcony” effect on the lower part of the balcony, a modified form of the “kneeling windows” of the Palazzo Medici.

The “kneeling windows” feature at Palazzo Medici

Reproduction of original glazed brown and gold tiles at the main front entrance.

Reception desk on the first floor.

Stairs leading to large event, waiting areas and train platform.

Chesapeake & Ohio railroad company logo.

This is the main event area adjacent to the train waiting area. Did you think you were in some palace? Gorgeous with an American style!

Marble topped cast iron table and chairs that surround other wood encased staircase to the first floor, offices and exit. You can see the openings to the waiting area on the right.

Detailing in the coffered ceiling and marble columns.

More detailing…

One of two smaller rooms on either side of large event room. Did I mention, the floors are the original marble and are throughout the building.

Same side room, nice reproduction of wood wainscot and window trim. In 1980's the building caught on fire.

A clubby feel with leather chairs.

Same side room shows wood trim, elevator and ladies powder room.

Working marble fireplace in opposite twin side room to event area.

Balcony in front just beyond the large windows.

Closer view of pompeian brick facade and tericotta embelishments.

Detail of original glass floor of the large front balcony.

Same balcony flooring becomes luminescent ceiling on first floor front entrance overhang

Doors to train waiting area.

Detail of the doors leading into the train waiting area. With the “gas lights” and dark wood, I almost expected to see Mr. Lincoln come walking through those doors! No quite the same time frame but close enough!

Other side of doors in the waiting and platform exit area.

Waiting area just on other side of doors, entrance to train platform is behind me. Iron gate is original.

Detailing of one of the doors near train platform exit to large event room.

Door on left to train platform.

“All Aboard!”

Looking thru door to left passage to platform for Amtrak.

Passage to the right to platform apparently not in use.

Looking from front left entrance, first floor offices.

My Pentax K-20 DSLR Camera Purchase

I have been in a sort of quandry about what I want this blog to be and I am also still deciding what type of white paint and technique to use on the upper kitchen cabinets.  Please be patient with me!  I’ve read you should specialize in one area, but It’s hard for me to stay on just one topic, there are so many things I am interested in – just like Martha Stewart. . . RIGHT!  Someone recently told me to “Just write about what you are interested in.” sounds like good advice to me!

Time 100 Shankbone post - stars and people who...

Time 100 Shankbone post - stars and people who matter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thinking I really needed a camera that was more flexible than my P&S (photographers’ jargon for a point and shoot camera) and be able to change the aperature (speed)  and focusing area,  I just purchased a four year old Pentax K-20 DSLR camera in almost mint condition with 14 pixels and no video.  I’m mainly concerned with getting good pictures right now, if I really need video I can use my P&S.

Little did I know how much some lenses cost for SLR’s until I got on the Pentax Forum site and started reading about cameras.  Fortunately I can use my father’s old manual Pentax lenses that were barely used on the model I purchased, which came with only a camera body, it also uses lenses that focus at the touch of a button.  Pentax is known for being able to adapt older lenses on newer models in addition to being a quality camera for the money (approximately half the cost of a Nikon for the same features!).  From what I understand Canon and Nikon lenses are far more expensive and can not be used on newer models.

SLR’s are new territory for me and I am still working things out.  They require more study and come with editing software CD’s (converting raw images into other formats) that are uploaded onto your computer.

This camera is more like a pro camera in that it is built like a tank, weighs several pounds and weather sealed, for the more serious shooter!  If dropped, in most cases, it won’t break.  You can take pictures in the rain.  I have read testimonies of these cameras falling into swimming pools and not being affected!

My new acquisition, Pentax K-20 DSLR

Only if you are really into photography you may not want to take this camera on a vacation, unless you don’t mind lugging extra pounds around. Bridge cameras (generally have longer telescoping lenses than P&S but do not have interchangeable lenses like DSLRs) are lighter, I understand Nikon and Canon’s Intro DSLRs  and of course the P&S are much lighter also.  Presently I am mostly using my P&S but as I practice with my SLR and get to know it I hope to use it for my blog and other photography interests.

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