Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Charleston, SC - Friday's Agenda

Our first full day in Charleston starts with the Chef's Kitchen Culinary Tour. It's a 2 1/2 hour walking tour that begins with coffee and pastries and we'll visit 'several great restaurants' and get to visit the kitchens!

The tour is only on Friday mornings and has been featured in Southern Living, Bon Appetit, Cooking Light and the Michelin Guide among others.

BlossomSince no food except those early pastries is provided on the tour we plan to Lunch at Blossom after the tour. Turns out Blossom is owned by the same restaurant group as Magnolia's - where will will have lunch the day before.

Blossom's menu has tasty offerings like 'Buttermilk Fried Artichoke Hearts with red pepper remoulade' and a number of wood oven pizza options. Their sandwiches come with rosemary fries - and they mention daily lunch specials served with soup or house salad for only $9. An inexpensive way to try a great restaurant.

After lunch, we are planning for a bit of shopping (likely mostly window shopping considering my budget) on King Street. Upper King Street is the 'Design and Dining District', the Fashion District falls in the middle and the Antiques District is found on lower King Street.

28 South Battery
We'll wander around the residential Historic District (perhaps seeing up close some of the things we saw on Thursday during our carriage tour) and according to Pamela's research there are 3 excellent cemeteries near St. Philips Episcopal Church.

Starting near the cemetery at the Unitarian Church, the Gateway Garden Walk opened in 1930 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of Charleston. The three block walk connects Archdale Street and Philadelphia Alley.

The idea of the walk came from Clelia Peronneau McGowan who found that a garden walk in the busy city of Paris was refreshing. As the president of the Garden Club, she suggested the idea to members upon her return to Charleston.

I'm also told that while we're there we need to check out 28 South Battery (see picture). This house was built by George S. Cook, a noted photographer in 1860. George S. Cook is an ancestor of my husband, Dan's - and I suspect also the source of his middle name 'Cook'.

Pavillion Rooftop Bar
After all that wandering around, we'll need a drink. So Friday's Sunset drink will be at Pavilion Rooftop Bar (assuming they don't have a table minimum, a packed house and no heaters in case there is a chill).

After a drink, it's time to stroll the cobbled streets and gas lit alleys for the French Quarter Art Walk (is this starting to sound a little like our last trip? New Orleans?). The art walk is free and open to the public but only happens a few days each year.

Participating galleries on Meeting, Church, State, East Bay, Broad, Cumberland, Queen, Chalmers and Tradd Streets will be open with artists on hand and refreshments. The French Quarter is located within the original walled city of Charleston and the art walk is from 5 to 8 pm the first Friday in March, May, October and December.

Food. Is. Good. Dinner at F.I.G might include some of the following tasty menu items: "Capers Blades" on the half shell with cabernet mignonette, lemon agrumato and pickled garlic. Or Pan Roasted Scamp Grouper with braised fennel, roasted tomatoes, cerignola olives and lemon. Perhaps the Suckling Pig Confit with sauteed young greens, roasted beets, mustard jus and smoked bacon.

I'm glad to see FIG described as 'laid-back, eclectic and unpretentious' as some of the bars we've researched seem to think quite a bit of themselves. FIG is another Charleston eatery that uses local source products and their menu changes daily. Yum.

That evening, before turning in we have several bars on our 'to do' list: Enoteca, Torch, Chai's, Bin 152. The first 3 are about 7 blocks north of our hotel, Bin 152 is about 4 blocks south. I'm not sure of their proximity to dinner at this point. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that some of these were selected purely based on pictures.

Enoteca is a new 'wine bar' in Charleston. It's tiny, only about 24 seats, and some bar stools. Self described as a 'sexy little space at night with the soft lighting giving the woodsy interior a warm glow". The focus is Italian wine, beer and cheese (they're owned by Trattoria Lucca just down the street).

Torch is another on our list, certainly more of a 'lounge' feel and they also seem to be following the 'hooka bar' trend. Chai's is Asian inspired, but describes 'fusion tapas'. Too bad we will already have eaten...

Bin 152
Bin 152 is in the French Quarter and fairly close to our hotel. They are also a wine bar, feature 35 different cheeses and have freshly baked bread. Sounds like dessert to me! Bin 152 has a very Country French look. Maybe we'll have some room left for a cheese and wine pairing.

So that's the agenda for our first full day in Charleston. I'm tired and full just thinking about it!

Eating, drinking and walking through Charleston, SC - Thursday

Pamela and I are off to Charleston, SC for a 5 day / 4 night trip in early December.

(Thank you American Express points for making this trip possible!)

I found us a hotel at a great price (we'll be staying at the Renaissance in the Historic District), but Pamela has been working hard on the itinerary and researching restaurants and bars - so all this detail and deliciousness is thanks to her.

Here is the plan so far:

Thursday we'll leave Raleigh in the AM, check in at our hotel and walk to Magnolia's for lunch. Magnolia's is known for 'upscale' Southern cuisine. Their lunch menu includes a number of enticing menu items including salt and pepper buttermilk fried shrimp with a jezebel sauce, fried green tomatoes with white cheddar and caramelized onion grits, country ham and tomato chutney and blue crab, sweet corn and smoked bacon ravioli. mmm...

After lunch we'll start some walking (going to have to get some exercise at some point, we're shooting for between meals).

Our first planned stop is Rainbow Row. I last saw Rainbow Row as a kid visiting Charleston with my parents. Rainbow Row is a series of colorfully painted historic houses on East Bay Street.

They were first painted these colors in the early 1900s. After the Civil War, this particular area of Charleston had become rather 'slummy'. They were purchased by a woman, Dorothy Porcher Legge, as part of a renovation plan. The houses she purchased were painted pink, like the colonial Caribbean color scheme. Other owners followed the trend creating the Rainbow Row of today.

The coloring helps the houses stay cool inside during the hot, Southern summers - and has given the area a name and made it a popular tourist destination.

Next stop will be the Waterfront Park to view the often described pineapple fountain. The park and pier run along the Charleston Harbor entry. There is talk of intimate garden "rooms" and spacious lawns, and it should be quite lovely. The pineapple is a symbol of hospitality, for which the South is well known.

From there we'll be off to enjoy a Classic Carriage Tour. The tours go through a residential portion of Charleston's historic district. After the tour, it's off to City Market. City Market consists of four blocks of open-air buildings - I personally hope to see some of the traditional Gullah style sweetgrass baskets. I bought a small one as a kid that I still covet, but I understand the prices are a lot higher than they were 30 years ago - so a new purchase is not likely. But hopefully they'll still be making the baskets there in the market.

The baskets are coil-sewn; typically using needlegrass bound with strips of saw palmetto stem. They are decorative and unique to the South Carolina Low Country. A true Gullah style sweetgrass basket will retain its pale green and brown color, it will not be gray. They are flexible, they don't crack and fray. Mine looks as it did the day I bought it at least 25 years ago!

At Sunset we plan to have drinks at Vendue Rooftop Bar. Vendue advertises itself as having "perhaps the finest harbor view of any Charleston restaurant, as well as dramatic views within the historic district". So we'll do as they suggest and sip a cocktail as we take in Charleston from the hotel's rooftop bar. I'm happy to report that they have heaters in case the weather is chilly!

McCrady’s is our stop for dinner. They were the recipient of the 2010 James Beard Best Chef Southeast award and they're known for using local ingredients. On their website they also state that they specialize in pre-Prohibition cocktails.

The location itself is beautiful (see picture). Built in 1788, the four-story Georgian manse served as a collective retreat for notable Charlestonians after the Revolutionary War. A 'manse' is a term for a house inhabited or formerly inhabited by a minister.

What is now the bar was once horse and buggy stalls. Arched brick frames small rooms, a gas lantern marks the entry way. Certainly we expect the ambiance to add to the quality of our meal.

Our plan, pending reservations, is to do the Chef's tasting menu at McCrady's. (I hope I can still get bi-valves if they are part of the menu even though Pamela has an allergy - but if not, oh well!) With chef's tasting menus it is typically required that the whole table participate. I'm hoping for some wine pairings as well. Since the menu changes daily, we'll wait to decide until we see what is offered. Right now it lists 'Stone Crab, Orange, Coconut, Sour Mix' and 'Scallop with Courgettes, Cucumber and Bonito'....but i'm not sure I'm as into the lamb heart... organ meat is not one of my favorites.

They also have a market menu for $39 that has three courses made of products indigenous to the region. The first course selections are "A Salad of Beets, Watercress, Goat Cheese and Almonds" or "White Gazpacho with Smoked Sunburst Trout".

Their current menu has some wonderful food: Summer Fruit Gazpacho with Stone Crab and Summer Herbs, Grouper with Chanterelles, Corn and Bay Shrimp, Beef Tenderloin with Allium, Potatoes, Duxelles and Foie Gras Hollandaise, Corn Soup with Shrimp Spaetzle and Basil Puree!

I wonder what exciting changes Fall and Winter will bring to the menu?

After seeing and hearing so much about it watching Food Network, it will be one of my first experiences with molecular gastronomy and I'm looking forward to it!

After Dinner, we will be off to some of the bars on the Market. Mercato is an Italian Restaurant that (oddly?) has Jazz at night.

There's also Henry's House, a relatively new restaurant and bar that describes itself as 'Bohemian style with a French low country flair". They are reported to have a 'double-tiered rooftop deck' (see picture above) that we plan to enjoy a few drinks up there prior to retiring for the night so we can be ready for the Chef's Table Culinary Tour on Friday morning!

Cat Genie Resolved

Cat Genie support delivered!

I called about the problem, mentioned that it was trying to dry at the same time it was still filling.

The man I spoke to decided it was a computer problem, I didn't have to do any trouble shooting with him. Since I had purchased from Amazon, I had my receipt. He emailed me a form, I returned it to him with my receipt and a few days later a new processing unit arrived on the doorstep!

I plugged it in and immediately all my problems were fixed.

I cleaned and packed the other one, the hubby dropped it off at FedEx and all was good!

So I still love the Cat Genie and it's been working like a charm for the last month. It's like a brand new machine.

And support exceeded my expectations. I had heard it was good, but I was very surprised. It was excellent and no hassle. KEEP THOSE RECEIPTS!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CatGenie Diagnostic Mode

How To Enter Diagnostic Mode:
Unplug the CG. Push and hold both buttons on the control panel. Plug the unit back in, holding both buttons. Hold both buttons about six seconds - until you see the lights on the control panel finish the normal power up sequence that you always get when you plug it in, it will then go dark and then start a new sequence of flashing and beeping. Then the "4" will light up, go out and then the "1" will light up. All other lights will be off.

Selecting a Test:

Press and release the Auto Setup ("AS") button. This will advance to the next test. Test numbers are designated by the 1 - 4 lights across the top. More than one light might be on at a time.

To Start/Stop a Test:

Press and release the Start Cycle/Pause ("SCP") button. Pressing once will start a test. NOTE: You have to press it again to stop the test - pay special attention to the arm retraction, it seems that it will continue to try to pull back on the arm until you stop. I always hit stop just in case!

To Exit Diagnostic Mode:

Simply unplug the unit and plug it back in without holding the buttons - or pick up the processor and reseat it on the unit.

About The Tests:

Tests are referred to by the lights that illuminate (1 thru 4) for each test. Press the AS button until the right lights are lit up.

Test 1: Extending and Retracting the Arm
Pressing the SCP button the first time retracts the arm. Press it again to stop. Press again to extend the arm into the bowl. Press again to stop. Press again to retract. Press again to stop.

Test 2: Turning the Bowl
Pressing the SCP button rotates the bowl clockwise, press again to stop, again to go anti-/counterclockwise and again to stop.

CatGenie support says that counter-clockwise is the best direction to rotate for manual drying.

Test 3: Running the Water
Press SCP to start water flow, press again to stop.

Test 4: Dispensing Solution
Press SCP to start the cartridge, again to stop.

Test 1 + 4: Draining The Bowl
Press SCP to start the impeller, press it again when empty. (you can use this to drain a bowl that didn’t drain completely, just make sure you remove any clogs first)

For a messy bowl where you don’t want to use up the cartridge use the Clean-Up Mode (read further down the page)

Test 2 + 4: Blow Drying
Press SCP to start the blower and heater, again to stop. Put your hand in the airflow to see if it's getting warm or not.

Test 3 + 4: Clean-Up Mode
This mode does not require supervision. It will drain, fill, drain again and then dry. Just press SCP.

Test 1 + 3 + 4: Sensor Test
Press the SCP button and then pass your hand slowly in front of the sensors. If the sensors are working the 3 and 4 lights will come on quickly and then go out. Light 2 will stay on for one minute, then go out to indicate the sensors are working.

Multiple Mode You can select multiple modes, one after another to get your desired results.

The one I’ve learned recently is ‘drying granules’. I advance the arm into the granules, start the bowl test so the bowl rotates (hitting SCP a few times so the bowl is running counter-clockwise) and then select the dry cycle, and hit SCP to start the blower. Then just keep an eye on it until it’s dry. Don’t forget to turn it off after 5 to 10 minutes and move the arm back.I hope this helps people, this info was hard for me to find and I wish I had found this when I got the CatGenie - it would have saved a lot of extra cycles!

The CatGenie Drains Me

For a year and a half we've loved the CatGenie and the CatGenie has loved us too.

Lately that has changed and I've placed my first call to technical support. I got a recording that told me to leave a message with my contact number, which I did. We'll see how
long it takes to get a return call.

Basically it started having problems with draining. Or so it seemed. I've cleaned it, checked for clogs and still, water stands in the bottom of the pan. It's frustrating. I learned a trick from You Tube about using a drill (with no drill bit) to drain the pan. (see pictures)

The part that's perplexing me is that it seems to drain just fine - but water runs when the drying cycle starts. Call me crazy but that seems counter productive. I'm suspicious that this is the problem.

I wish there was a way to 'reboot' the CatGenie. I feel like it's just confused. And Dexter and Trilly -and maybe one of the new fosters prefer it as their potty place. Who can blame them? It's clean! (not that the Tidy Cat Breeze pans aren't clean - I scoop twice a day - but they don't get washed like the CatGenie does!!

So, every night I've been starting a cycle - and then I go in there about the time drying starts - wait for the water to stop running - drain the unit and then plug it back in and let it dry. It's a pain. It also gets pretty stinky between cycles since there's only really one now.

Dexter has longer hair, so I know he gets some clogs in there, but I've flushed out the hose and it appears to be clear.

This morning I ran it too, but I basically need to be there after 15 minutes to keep an eye on things which kind of defeats the purpose of the 'self washing litter pan'.

I've left a message with tech support for them to call me back. I had heard that support was good, but I guess I'll find out soon enough and update you. I feel like the purchase price was worth it, but if it only lasts two years - maybe not. I consider my CatGenie to be an appliance and therefore to have an appliance life-span.

The good news is that I've learned all about the maintenance mode while going through all this. I'll post those codes soon to help other owners that want to do a little maintenance or just drain or dry their genie after a mishap.

I've recently been told these codes are in the manual for people who own the CatGenie 120 - which I do not - but the codes are the same. So if you own an older model like I do - that's the next post. Those codes are a great help!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cat Genie - 18 Months Post Installation

Overall I've received more comments on my Cat Genie posts than any others. Most seem to be fairly negative, but even after a year and a half, I STILL like my Cat Genie.

Here are the two most common comments I've received:

Sometimes the Cat Genie cooks poop and leaves an awful stench in the house.
Yes, this has happened. But overall, if your cats have firm
poop this won't be an issue. This only occurs at our house when one of the cats has a loose stool that
doesn't get completely removed from the Genie.

Our Genie is installed in the laundry room and flushes into the laundry waste tube. I keep latex gloves in the laundry room and if I start to smell the cooking poo smell, I run in there, unplug the Genie and pop on a glove and remove the offending poo before it can bake anymore.

Ultimately though, if the cat has firm stool this is not a problem. If you've tried switching foods, stopped treats, stopped feeding canned food and still have a cat with loose stool - the cat Genie is probably not for you.

I hate the way the Cat Genie smells when it cleans.
I've had a few people comment that they hate the smell. Personally, I hate the smell of cat pee
and poop more. I'll take the cleaning solution of the Cat Genie any day of the week. I tried using the unscented cartridges for a while, but I found I preferred the scented cartridge. Honestly, it doesn't really bother me. Ours is in the laundry room, no one has ever walked into our house and complained about the smell. If you hate the smell of the cartridge and you've tried the unscented and hate that too...I can't help you. You're just going to be unhappy. Enjoy scooping your litter pan and the urine odor that emits from it. Good luck.

Someone else commented on the smell and the poop sludge that remains in the Genie after it has cleaned. Yes, there is some there. If there's a lot there, you need to check your drainage lines and clean your Genie. I haven't found the odor to be an issue. Ultimately having a pet in the house, there will be some odor. I have found the Cat Genie to be a useful tool in managing that odor and it makes my life easier.

A woman approached me at a rescue event the other week and asked if we had any cats that didn't shed, like they have dogs that didn't shed. I wanted to stare at her blankly. I shed. Anything with hair sheds. I'm not saying that pet people are dirty, but we have more to keep up with. We spend more time cleaning our homes, sweeping and vacuuming up hair, scooping poop, vomit. All kinds of exciting things. Just for us it's worth it for the companionship. Set your expectations realistically and you'll be a lot happier. Something is using the bathroom in your house, there will be a smell. Something has hair, there will be shedding - and so on.

Not that I don't have any complaints. For example: The water sensor. Most of my error messages come from the water sensor. (it uses a laser and requires this
clear plastic part to reflect that beam to indicate the water level) As the unit has gotten older, this error is more common. I can tell you that a thorough cleaning of the unit at least every 6 months (depending on usage) will help this. I understand that with the Cat Genie 120 this issue may be helped or resolved. Unfortunately I cannot afford to get a Cat Genie 120 right now and the one we have continues to be usable. I just clean the sensor with white vinegar between more thorough cleanings of the book like apparatus where the hopper is.

One of the things that irritates me the most is the inability to 'reset' the Cat Genie. This has been an issue where there have been water sensor errors and the unit hasn't filled but continues to run and attempt to dry litter that has not been washed.

If you unplug it, even for a long period of time, it wants to start where it left off. Sometimes I need it to start at the beginning again. I'm not sure if this issue is resolved with the new unit, but if it's not it should be considered.

Finally, to people that only have negative things to say about the Genie - if you have one or two cats maybe the litter pan and litter pan odor aren't an issue for you.

My husband and I have 7 cats of our own and we also foster cats for a local rescue. I don't want our house to smell. The Cat Genie is not our only litter pan, we also use several 'Tidy Cat Breeze' pans and we have traditional litter in our quarantine bathroom upstairs (but that door remains closed so the odor is only an issue within that room). The Tidy Cat Breeze also requires firm stool to be effective and separates the urine and neutralizes the odor.

I had found over the years that urine odor was the most offensive part of the cat box for me. From the comments I get from people that come to our house and can't believe how many cats we have there, I believe that is true for most people.

Not all of our cats use the Genie, we have two that use the Genie primarily, but also uses the breeze and one that will rush into the quarantine bathroom to use the traditional pan any time he gets a chance. Cat's love the chance to be the first one to use a potty. :)

For us the Genie is not a solution in itself, but it is part of the way we manage the odor and maintenance. I still scoop the other litter pans a minimum of two times a day.

Over the years I've used all sorts of automatic pans and fancy litters. This is the plan I have stuck with the longest and I'm happy with it. The Cat Genie might not be for everyone, but I really can't imagine that it doesn't cut down on the maintenance and urine odor for everyone that uses it. And with a 3 month money back guarantee - why not give it a shot?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Foster Kitty City

About a year ago my husband and I started fostering for Alley Cats and Angels. We had adopted two cats from them (Trilli and Dexter) and had been extremely happy with the experience.

I've worked at a no-kill shelter in Winston Salem, the Forsyth Humane Society (as a paid employee, not a volunteer) and had adopted from other rescues in the past.

Alley Cats was different in that they don't have a shelter, all of their animals are in foster homes. This means that even though they work with feral cats and kittens that need socialization prior to being placed in homes, their cats and kittens end up being better socialized than most shelter animals (in our opinion).

They also provide excellent medical care and just seem to be better organized than a lot of other volunteer run rescues. I've adopted before and had trouble getting my new pets medical or information or all of the 'advertised' medical care and such hadn't actually been done. Alley Cats and Angels even calls to check up after the adoption and gives you two weeks to make sure your new pet works with your household or you can have a full refund of your adoption fee.

When we started to foster we had the same concerns that I believe a lot of foster homes do. Will I fall in love with these pets? How will I ever be able to part with them when the time comes? What will our other pets think?

We prepared ourselves for this, but also thought long and hard about it and knew that what we were doing was making 'nice kitties' for other people's homes. We don't have room in our home for any more cats as 'full time' residents, but having a foster cat and kitten can be fun, fun for our pets and we feel like we're really doing something good.

Our pets have ended up enjoying it too. They get 'socialized' to other pets, and with kittens the older ones get new inspiration to play and have fun. It's the kind of interaction that really makes me happy to see.

There are a few I've loved more than others, but all have moved on to new homes without any tears. Part of this is because I feel very confident that Alley Cats and Angels is placing our fosters in great homes where they will truly be loving and be loved.

I like to think that what we are doing is a good thing. People that may have never had a pet before might fall in love with cats because we raised up a kitten to be a super well socialized companion. I believe that people that have animals are kinder, gentler people. They are generally more caring of others and more caring of their environment. I know it seems like just a kitten, but I truly believe by giving people nice pets we are making a world full of better people.

I am writing this because I want to encourage more people to foster. The emotional rewards are great, and you get the joy of giving a safe and happy, albeit temporary, home to an animal who needs one.

I've heard of people having bad foster experiences with a rescue that wouldn't return calls or didn't pay for medical care or whatnot. Even if you've had a bad foster experience elsewhere, if you're in our area, give Alley Cats and Angels a chance - if you're not local, please try another rescue.

All rescues are NOT created equal! There are great ones out there run by great people that would really appreciate a little extra help. Fostering can really change lives, not just for your fostered pet - but for the people who will be forever changed by adopting the pet you helped raise!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Harry - the "Full Monty"

Harry's head shot
About a week ago Dan and I added another cat to our horde.

Supposedly he's part Spynx, as you can guess from his partially hairless state. It seems that if you're not completely hairless, you're not as desirable. He was surrendered by his owner because she was moving in with someone, getting married or something like that and would have too many cats. So she gave up this terribly unattractive 6 year old cat. Kudos for her.

Anyway, poor guy needs regular baths and wasn't getting exactly what he needed at the rescue. Harry napsWe've also taken him to the vet and Dr. Jon has given us some shampoo that matches his skin Ph. I can already tell a difference vs. the baby wash.

He's not in love with our foster kittens, and he keeps getting some abrasions around his neck from roughing around with the other cats but he seems to be working himself out.

He has kind of a deep 'meow' and like most of our cats appears to like Dan best... although he seems to have forgiven me for his latest bath.

We're calling him Harry Monty Churchill. Harry does have a few bad habits, but he appears to know they're bad. I keep finding him on the counters and the tables. what Harry did to the treatsHe also will rip apart bags of cat food and treats and wet food pouches with his teeth. He was declawed by his first owner, so he has learned how to better use his teeth. Mind you the cats are all free fed, as in there is food available 24/7/365 - so there is no reason to tear into a bag of catfood with your teeth. Harry does not appear to care. Perhaps he likes the challenge?

I'm not sure what the other cat Harry was mixed with was. I've considered something like an American Shorthair, he has slightly bulging eyes and a smooshed face that leads to a weepy nose and lots of eye boogies.

But Harry is a nice boy. He purrs loudly and loves us very much. I'm just hoping we can train him to behave himself in the kitchen.Harry also opened the cat food