Ramble On

Monday, February 27, 2012

Return of the Hawks

Back in 2008 and 2009, until we lost the big pine in the front yard, we had a pair of nesting hawks that we would look forward to watching during the spring and summer.  You can check out some of those old posts by clicking on the hawks label at the end of this post - it took a lot of work, but I finally was able to get some (not great quality) photos of the nestlings, and those are included as well.

We decided that they were either Coopers Hawks, or Sharp-shinned Hawks, which both are very similar in size and coloration.  Even the bird center at Cornell University says it is challenging to know the difference.  In any case, I really enjoyed the sounds they would make flying around in the hollow and in the wood lot - various calls for location purposes, a victory call when one of them had prey, and things like that.

We knew the big pine was in trouble one spring when they no longer nested there.  We'd seen them across the road, soaring above the creek and the big beaver pond over there in early February.  But no nest showed up in the tree by March, as it had in the past.  It turned out, they'd found another large tree back in the wood lot.

In any case, they've returned this year, and last weekend I saw them soaring above the beaver pond again.  They typically return to the same nest year after year, so I'm sure they're back in the wood lot somewhere.

I snapped a few iPhone photos - this is the best of them.  You can just see one of the hawks emerging in the clear space.

I'll keep an ear out for when the nesting begins.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Makin' Bacon

Chris with the cimeter and the bacon...
David in the background overseeing
the knife play.

Last week, I got the call from David that the hams and bacon were back from the smokehouse.  So I made plans with Chris to head over and do this, the second-to-last errand related to the hog butchering.  Then final one will be when the salt-curing process for the fatback is done, and I don’t yet have an idea of when that will be completed.

A side of bacon - pre-slicing.
I was really glad that Chris was able to join for this, and Mary went along with us too.  Since Chris hadn’t been able to do the “hands on” (more like “hands in”) part of the process, I offered to let him do the bacon makin’ – and he jumped at the chance.  David took us back into the cooler where our hams and meat were stored, and we brought out the two sides of bacon.

They had to be skinned first, and Chris took the Cimeter knife out for that.  Then he blocked them into about 8-inch squares, saving the cuttings for other uses. 

Meat slicing demo.  I've got to get me
one of these machines!
David and Heather have a meat slicer that they were using to prepare the bacon…for some reason, I was imagining this to be a much more complex and difficult operation than what it really is. And then of course, the Seinfeld episode where Kramer gets a deli slicer from a bankruptcy auction and then begins taking orders kept coming into my head.

Chris cut my side into fairly thin slices, and then ratcheted up the thickness for his.  When we got to the odds and ends, we left it on thick and split those portions into shares as well.  There are some residual fatty pieces with a little meat on them that should go well with greens and beans later in the spring, so we’ve kept that too.

All totaled, I have about 24 portions of bacon coming out of this, that I’ve packaged two-to-a-bag - about a pound per bag.  We left room so that we can just fold over the edge of the freezer bag to reseal the second portions until we’re ready to use them.

Some of the finished product.
I’ll post on the hams next week.  But for now, I still can’t get over all the pork.  There is just a whole lot of it!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mighty Fine Eggs

The mighty fine eggs.
Beautiful yellow color (complements scrapple)!
You may have noticed the beautiful yellow color of the eggs that we paired up with the scrapple in this morning's post.  I'm repeating that photo again, by the way, to the right.

These came from the new laying flock over at Public House Produce - and these ladies are high achievers.  In fact, there was a stockpile of eggs, and the two dozen that Chris and I took barely made a dent in it.

Then David showed us this prize dozen that he had collected - no insight as to whether these are coming from the same chicken, or a couple, or if they are the same breed, or same clutch, or if they found some secret stash of bugs...these eggs, they're just really something.

Know your farmer!
They are mighty fine eggs.

The Pork Diaries: Try the Scrapple!

Monday breakfast: scrapple on bottom right.

My friends from the butchering have been on me for weeks to try the scrapple that we made.  You may recall there was plenty, so much so that I was worried about what we were going to do with all of it!  

Mary and I have given some away to neighbors who’ve told us they would like some – they raved about it, and then they also started ratcheting on us about trying it.

So finally, we had some this weekend.  We paired it up with some fresh eggs from Public House Produce – and a little gift of hot pepper jelly that Heather gave us (thanks – it is delicious).  And a crowning touch, a fresh loaf of cinnamon bread from Main Street Bakery in Luray.

If scrapple was gold, we would have been rich!
You know, I wouldn’t go as far as saying it is growing on me or anything, but we enjoyed the breakfast.  And we finished off one of the dozen or so tubs we had.  Between this weekend’s breakfasts and the ones we’ve given away, I reckon I’ve only got eight left. 

Here’s a link to the post about making scrapple:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2012/01/parts-isparts.html

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wisteria's New Offering: Adonis - a Red Blend

The new vintage.

A few weeks back I made a stop at Wisteria Farm and Vineyard to ask what was on the calendar the next few weeks.  They told me they’d be open for Valentines weekend, and then for Presidents Day weekend.  But they were very excited about the new wine they were getting ready to release – Adonis.

Look for this map near the tasting room.
Mary and I made plans to stop by for another visit this weekend.  We love the farm and the very special place that Sue and Moussa have built back there behind the ridge (my GPS tells me they are 0.7 miles away as the crow flies), but I really was looking forward to trying this new release.

Mary and I both had a glass, and then we decided we’d get a bottle to take home for dinner.  It is a very nice red table wine, a blend of Merlot, Traminette, and Carmine – three of their vintages.  Now, the Merlot speaks for itself, but I have a summary about the other two from last summer’s Page County Grown Farm-to-Table dinner: 

  • Traminette is a hybrid grape, including Gewurztraminer as part of its heritage.  It produces a dry but sweet wine with a fragrant aroma and floral taste – and the variety is suited to challenging climates.  Lately, Wisteria has made an effervescent variety, which we’ve been enjoying around the Hawksbill Pines neighborhood for cookouts and visits.  I hope it’s not a limited vintage, because it has really grown on all of us. (an update: They’ve run out of the sparkling Traminette)
  • When Moussa and Sue introduced Carmine, Moussa noted that Wisteria may well be the only Virginia vineyard producing this grape, which is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carignane.  It was developed to respond for cooler temperatures where the cabs don’t fare as well, and is described as offering an intense dark color, peppery aromas, and ample tannin flavors.  (Of the three wines that are combined for this blend, I noted the Carmine first.  I like that one!)

Sue gave me a little background piece on the source of the name, Adonis, which was researched on www.phoenicia.org.  The background piece was titled Adonis, Handsome and Young God, and it went into details of the origin of this mythical god, who appears in both the Phoenician and Greek histories, and even has a surprising link to the Hebrew word Yahweh.  

This is not Adonis.  This rooster is often
near the parking area, though.
I’ll leave the discussion at that for now though…but note that the information included a photograph of a beautiful waterfall in Lebanon that is said to be the place of Adonis’s birth.

I’m really excited to see these new offerings from Wisteria – and of course, Mary and I are always in the market for a reason to visit.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Protest

Well, the puppy, Tessie is doing well (there is a photo of her from this weekend below).  Next month we’ll pass the one year anniversary of her adoption.  We figure she’s about three, as the rescue organization wasn’t sure, and told us that she was between two and four years old.

A few months ago, I went to the vet with her for some booster shots.  She’d put on about three pounds since we got her, and the vet was a little worried about the weight gain.  We left with some dietary recommendations, and a few days later they even called me back with some suggestions about serving sizes for that Taste of the Wild dog food she loves so well.

Along with that were suggestions like, “add some hot water to it for gravy, it will make her feel fuller,” and, “get some canned green beans to mix in, dogs like them.”  I dutifully recorded all of this info to memory.

Last week, it had been a few weeks since I’d been to a Tractor Supply, and we finally ran out of canned food.  Luckily, there was only a one day gap to this oversight.  So in order to stretch the dry food by making it interesting for just one meal, I microwaved two carrots (she’ll eat them if she sees us eating them) in a cup of hot water and added that to the normal dry food ration.

Well, the hot water went over well, as you can see from the sparkling clean bowl.

The carrots? Not so much.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another Valley Power Plant Controversy

“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature's darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail.”   - John Muir

Joy Lorien, another of my colleagues from the Page County Fibrowatt days, recently reminded me of this John Muir quote.  She brought it up in the context of another powerplant that is going up in the Valley, this time a gas-fired plant that will be established by Dominion Virginia.  She linked an article in the Northern Virginia Daily – see below – that described the potential impact of emissions from the plant on Shenandoah National Park. 

Basically, Park analysts had found that because acid rain and other side effects of conventional power would be reduced when the plant comes on-line – reduced because it will replace older plants – there would still be an impact on visibility, since this plant would emit an exhaust plume that would frequently blow towards the Park.  

Here are a few excerpts from the article:
“Shenandoah National Park's streams will be cleaner but its views sometimes diminished by operations at the planned Dominion Virginia Power plant, according to several studies projecting the plant's effects on the park.

“Park officials describe the gas-fired power plant as a net environmental asset, thanks to agreements between federal officials and representatives of Dominion Power. Those agreements include the closing of an aging coal-fired power plant in West Virginia and reduction or elimination of emissions at other company facilities in the region.

The analysis here highlights the trade-offs of the plant’s impacts, but it won’t stop the plant.  The power produced there will be sold to Northern Virginia (sadly, I must confess, I will probably be one of those consumers).  All in all, they expect limited visibility totaling about two weeks a year, concentrated in the Northern District of the Park.  

Joy, who has worked at the Park for nearly 30 years, went on to talk about its importance.  She said, “…[I] have just reveled in the beauty of the trails, the wildlife, the waterfalls, the panoramic scenes, sunsets, sunrises, rainbows, and lightning storms - I can go on and on for to me it is truly a heaven on earth…I have noticed an improvement over the last couple of years compared to many years of no view at all in the summer because of the haze and why we want to go backward with another power plant so close to the Park is just not a good idea in my opinion.

Her words resonated with me, just as the quotation from John Muir does.  As frequent readers know, I spend a lot of time up in the Park, going there as often as I can get away, mainly because there are simply too few outlets for exploring the natural world available to those of us living in the metropolitan East Coast areas.  Although the decision to establish the Park was controversial, we have it now, and we should take the steps necessary to protect and preserve it. 

As far as a call to action goes, well, the Dominion plant seems to be a done deal.  And we can rationalize that fact with the thought that a trade-off was made to reduce acid rain and other harmful impacts in the watershed, even though we’ll still have air pollution and reduced visibility.  Still each step forward needs to be carefully evaluated.  

Joy left me with these words, reminding me of the forethought that went into Article XI of Virginia’s Constitution:
“…it shall be the Commonwealths policy to protect its atmosphere, lands and waters, from pollution, impairment or destruction for the benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the Commonwealth" 

Here’s a link to the recent article about the Dominion Plant: http://www.nvdaily.com/news/2012/02/warren-county-power-plant-clarity-on-park-haze-issue.php

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Another One Down for Fibrowatt

Photo of the existing Fibrowatt plant in Minnesota.
Note the stack height - 300 feet!

One of the folks I worked with back in 2010, when Fibrowatt was considering a potential Page County site, is Jay Dedman.  Jay recently sent me a link to an article that reports that Fibrowatt has bailed on a second project out of the three they had planned in North Carolina – see the link at the end of this post for the full article.

Eventually, during a meeting with the County Supervisors that was also attended by nearly 200 Page County citizens, Fibrowatt was turned away here.  I’ve documented some of the process here on the blog under the Fibrowatt label, but there are other sources that are easy to find with a Google search as well, including some very good videos from the County Supervisors speaking on the topic.

The early research showed that there were three projects slated for North Carolina, in Surry, Sampson, and Montgomery Counties.  In one of them, Surry County, there was intense local opposition to the plant, and the plan to locate one there was soon cancelled.  

Our Page County group benefited from some of that previous work, which had documented the potential health and economic effects from the Fibrowatt process, which involves burning (actually, incineration) the litter from poultry operations in order to produce electricity.

This latest cancellation is for the Montgomery County plant.  Among the reasons, according to the article here, is how costly it is to produce power this way.  This expense has made it difficult for Fibrowatt to complete a contract to sell the power, as the power companies in North Carolina aren’t willing to pay the high prices.

The problem at the heart of all of this is what to do with all the waste from poultry operations, and using it to produce energy is as good a solution as we have for now.    However, based on what I’ve learned about the process Fibrowatt uses, I’ve come down firmly on the “oppose” side of the coin about whether their technology should even be used.  The research I reported here on the blog suggests, at least to my mind, that farm-level approaches are probably more sustainable, even though they represent significant capital investment requirements for family farms. 

For now, Fibrowatt still has projects planned in coastal North Carolina and on the Eastern Shore in Maryland.  In Maryland, they’ve allied with Perdue, the big player in poultry.  But they still need to find the power company to pay their high prices for electricity.  Until they do, there will be more delays and cancellations – a development that is good for all of us.

Here’s a link to the article about the NC project cancellation:

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Pork Diaries

(Editor’s Note:  On account of the fact that we have a lot of pork to consume this year, and I will be in a constant mode of searching for recipes to prepare it, I’ve started a new label called “pork diaries.”  This is actually the second post that will have that label, although it is the first new post I’ve written including it.)

Soup 'n' sausage - winter dinner.
Last week, Mary and I had some of the bratwursts I made during January when we butchered “Pork Chop” – there is a link below to that whole story, if you missed it.  I have my worries that eating all this pork all year is going to get tiresome, so I’ve decided to do some diversification on the side dish action.  As I mention in the note above, I’ve started to look far and wide for good recipes to pair the pork with – I have a list of recipes for what to do with the port just yet, so I’m really interested in diversifying the sides.

Brats, pre-grillin'!
So with the brats I decided we’d have a soup appetizer, and I referred to my copy of Simply in Season for some recommendations of winter vegetable soups.  There I found Sweet Potato Soup, which sounded interesting enough.  It even listed, as an alternative, a substitution possibility with butternut squash (or other winter squash), so I knew it would be a winner.

It was off to Whole Foods in Alexandria for the ingredients – the store is one mile door-to-door from the house, so it has become a work-out tradition for me on Alexandria weekends. I picked up some nice Yukon Gold potatoes and Brussels sprouts for the rest of the dinner.  And some white wine…Big House White if you must now, as we didn’t have any of the local favorite vintages from Wisteria or North Mountain handy. 

Sweet Potato Soup.  Great color, eh?
The soup was absolutely great, another hit out of this cookbook (a hat tip here to David and Heather from Public House Produce for suggesting it).  And due to the grilling method, the greens and yellows from the complimentary veggies were exaggerated – so we had quite the colorful dinner last weekend. And, as had been the case the previous time we had the pork, there were leftovers we could use in the next meal…in this case, a frittata Mary made out of the leftover brats.

As far as future posts in this series go, I have quite a few roasts to do, ribs, more pork chops, and even scrapple to post about.  I intend to use a number of cooking methods for all of this, and assuming (this is a very safe assumption, by the way) that there is still pork during the summer, I’ll be singing from the “locally grown” hymnal again, featuring all those fabulous Page County Grown vegetables (and beef, chicken, wine…etc.!)

“Bon appĂ©tit,” as the lady says!

Here are the posts on the butchering story, which I posted in January 2012:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/search/label/Butchering
And here's the Amazon link to the cookbook:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Big Impact from Page Valley Cycling

Early this winter, I was visiting Chris and Rob down at the Hawksbill Bicycles shop.  It was around the time that Chris was preparing to give a couple of presentations to the Luray Town Council and the Shenandoah Town Council about the economic benefits that come from Page Valley Cycling events over the course of a year.

I should make a note about community economics for a moment here, as it has been a favorite blog topic in the past.  Page County has an agricultural sector to its economy, an industrial one, and a tourism one.  In the tourism sector, Luray Caverns and Shenandoah National Park are heavyweights, but there is an emerging “active tourism” sector here, anchored by retailers on Main Street and several outdoors outfitters, which partners with groups like Page Valley Cycling.

Looking back on past posts, I’ve written about one of the Page Valley Cycling events before, in August of 2009.  It turns out this race starts at the Hawksbill Recreation Park in Stanley, which is close to Hawksbill Cabin.  We took a walk down to watch the cyclists at the starting line (post linked below).  I also posted about the Luray Caverns CX, which Mary and I missed this year but I am looking forward to next December!

This year, Chris tells me that four events are planned:
  • June 30-July 1: The Luray 200th Anniversary Edition of the Tour of Page County Stage Race
  • July 28:  The Shenandoah Time Trial
  • August 4:  Page Valley Road Race
  • December 9 (tentative):  Luray Caverns CX

Noteworthy is the Tour of Page County Stage Race – this is a new race with three events, and it has the distinction of being Virginia’s only true stage race, according to Chris.  There is a road race, a time trial, and the Luray criterium, and the routes are focused around Luray in commemoration of the town’s 200th anniversary. 

Photo by Major Nelson:  Action at the Luray Caverns CX.
These races have a substantial economic impact and they are all growing in popularity.  About 1,100 racers and friends visit Page County during the events, and the estimated monetary impact is around $80,000 in spending around the county.  The events draw from communities within two to four hours’ driving distance, so there is a high likelihood that our “natural beauty and friendly atmosphere” will bring them back for additional visits during the year. 

Chris reminded me that Wisteria Farm and Vineyard and Page County Grown are race supporters, and their local products are included in the prizes.  Here’s one of those times where the agricultural and tourism sectors come together to make something great.

Here are a couple of URLs to follow-up with: 
I'll revisit this active tourism idea soon with posts about the adventure races and the triathlons.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wisteria's "New" Wine Club

Some of the offerings in our Alexandria cellar.
In the “old news I’ve been meaning to post,” Wisteria Farm and Vineyard formed a Wine Club last year.  From what I gather during my last visit over there, two weeks ago, it’s been a great success.  If you haven’t been yet to this little piece of heaven that Sue and Moussa have built in Page County, I have two thoughts for you:
  1. 1.       You have no idea what you’re missing!
  2. 2.       What are you waiting for?

The vineyard is very active in the community.  They participate in many of the business councils for the county, and Moussa is involved with scouting.  They also host an annual fund raiser for the Page County Animal Shelter, which always looks like a great event. 

Wisteria is also a charter Page County Grown member.  Check the labels below (Page County Grown and Wisteria) for some past posts; I think I have something from every season up now.  Since Wisteria is a neighbor, Mary and I stop by for a visit pretty often - it’s a mandatory stop whenever we have friends in for a visit, as the grounds are open for a stroll, so you can see a working farm as well as vineyard. 

Clearing the back 40.
The photos I am posting today are from a visit in January.  They were doing some clearing on the acreage beyond the vineyard proper (there is a trail through this area that leads back to Hawksbill Creek) and there was some pruning in the vineyard.

Some winter pruning.
Back to the news about the Wine Club now.  Sue and Moussa have designed two levels of membership, a traditional “Wine Club” and a “Friends of Wisteria” association. 

To be a member of the wine club, you agree to participate in a quarterly offering of three wines.  You also get free tastings, special discounts on your birthday, but also on the quarterly and wine maker’s selections, and others.  Two great benefits are the barrel tastings and appreciation party that is part of this club.

The “Friends” category is a little different.  In exchange with volunteering around the farm – helping with the harvest, bottling, and volunteer work at festivals, you get free tastings and discounts. 

The flock of Romney sheep is fun to watch.
No relation to the presidential candidate,
as far as I know.
The real value that is not to be underestimated for either category of membership is the camaraderie and the fun!  I’ve included a link below to Wisteria’s home page.  Be sure to scroll down for a look at all the events this year – plenty to join in on!

The home page is:   http://wisteriavineyard.com/ and they are also up on Facebook.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Luray's 200th Anniversary!

This year Luray is celebrating the 200th anniversary of its founding.  Although Mary and I had work commitments that kept away from the kick-off celebrations, it looks like we missed a special evening.  Fortunately, Saturday’s events were just the beginning of a year-long observation of the anniversary.

There was good coverage in the Page News + Courier of all the festivities, and I am starting to see some rave reviews on Facebook.  In the PN + C’s coverage, Pam Flasch, director of the bicentennial committee, described a “first night” style of evening – and despite the threat of rain, it came off and was well attended – here’s a picture of Pam holding one of the anniversary buttons (photo is from the Celebrate Luray website, see link below).

Besides the speeches you would expect at an event like this, all the shops stayed open, and there was live music at quite a few venues around town. 

The paper’s coverage summarized Luray’s history since its establishment in 1812, but it omits a favorite anecdote of mine about the evolution of the town as County Seat. Page County was carved out of two counties, and at that time, the mountains were still a formidable barrier to the east and west.  People who lived in what is now Page County had to travel over to Mount Jackson Woodstock (thanks, J.D. Wayne, for the corrections!) to do local government business, a trip that required overnight at a minimum, but more typically meant you’d be away for two or three days.

As I understand it, the Virginia House of Delegates responded with the establishment of the new county after residents complained about the inconvenience of the travel.  Land was given then by Isaac Ruffner to establish the town of Luray, which would become the county seat.

Here’s the link to the website about the anniversary.  It will be updated as new events are added to the schedule…Mary and I will look forward to joining our friends very soon!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

This Bike-Sharing Thing

It’s been a while since I posted about the bike-sharing thing, so long, in fact, I can't even find the previous post I thought I had written...maybe it was just on Facebook.  Last week, I took a walk at lunch from my new work location and ended up passing two docking stations in about a half mile.  Then while I was on the phone in the break room yesterday, I happened to look down at H Street NW and saw a bike-sharer riding by headed east, briefcase strapped on the back of the bike.

The Washington Post is calling it a boom, and this morning’s paper has an article about its expansion into Alexandria and Rockville.  In addition to reporting on the sources of funding, operating costs, and general culture of bike-sharing, they highlight the following official statistics from our regional program, “Capital Bikeshare” –
  • 2010 – Year the Capital Bikeshare program started.
  • 15,000 – Number of annual Capital Bikeshare members.
  • $75 – Cost of annual Capital Bikeshare membership.
  • 1,100 – Number of bikes in more than 130 locations in the District and Arlington County.
  • <30 minutes – Duration of the vast majority of commutes.
  • $0 – Cost for the first 30 minutes on a Capital Bikeshare bicycle.
  • 200 – Number of bikes Rockville is planning to put into service.
  • 70 – Number of bikes Alexandria is planning to put into service.

Today’s Post includes two articles, one by Ashley Halsey III and another by Mark Berman.  I found the description of the rental stations interesting:  they are solar-powered, and feature a kiosk and map panel.  The goal is to maintain them as half full (the standard number of bikes ranges from 11 to 19 bikes), with vans that collect and redistribute the bikes.  It’s quite a system, and although I am not a regular user, I am very happy to know that it is available – and especially so now that it is expanding to Alexandria.

Any mention of bike-sharing brings to mind David Byrne’s advocacy these days.  Of course there is his book (Amazon linked below!), Bicycle Diaries, but his blog has recently featured quite a bit of domestic and international speaking engagements on this form of transportation.  It is really a great thing to see a program like this doing so well in the CD area.

David Byrne's book: