Ramble On

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Hay Fields and Pastures

It is one of my favorite seasons in Page County when I start seeing the hay bales out in the fields.  It is really a beautiful thing to see - and you can just feel all the energy that is going into the hard work of gathering it.

I've enjoyed watching nearby fields go from the tall hay, to being mowed, the curing, the raking and the bailing - a group of activities that takes a day or two, but the measured pace is one that gives you time to pause and reflect on what a beautiful place we have here.

Now I have a couple of additional photos to share today, one of the buffalo that I love to check on when I am out on errands.  This weekend, they happened to be close enough to the fence that I could get a good photo of them - although they were suspicious enough of me when I got out of the car and walked up to the fence.

And a final one I took a few weeks ago, the first hay field I noticed getting worked on.  This is the town lot over by the farmers market in front of the tannery.

I have a few thoughts on my mind about development in Page County these days.  I'm still working them over and I'm not ready to post them, but I will be soon.  In short, I'd like to see more responsibility and sound management of the prospects, so that we can respect the rural heritage that we have - and which is a major attraction.

Timing and the Pool

Dude - the pool 'bot.
Finally, everything worked right this year and we got the pool opened by Memorial Day.  Although I'm opening the post with a photo of my hero, Dude, the pool robot, the before and after photos below really tell the story of how difficult it was this year.

Dude is not the only hero of this tale.  Our friends at Uncle D's in Luray had a big role to play as well.

See, apparently, that warmer than average March we all enjoyed wreaked some havoc to all the pools under those covers.  We owners were lollygagging around, thinking, well, I don't take the cover off until April.

But lo, the paramecia and algae were getting busy down there in the tepid water.  And then you're going to have to call in the professionals. A few times.

So far, Mary and I have been in the pool a total of six hours, by the way. Our cost per hour of use will get down to something we are not embarrassed to say out loud by the end of the season.

Here are the before and afters.

Poor Dude - he's in there somewhere.
As we left Memorial Day afternoon.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Revisiting a Poultry Litter Power Plant

Looking over some old posts, it's been nearly a year since I posted anything about the ongoing studies in Virginia regarding "what to do with all the chicken s***" -  so when a few friends and alert readers recently sent along the first work product coming out of the litter-to-energy working group (label LEWG at the end of this post will take you to the other material I have on this topic, and there's tons more under the label Fibrowatt), I knew it was time to refresh myself on the facts.  First, though, I want to begin this new series of posts by saying thanks to those alert readers who sent me the recently completed Virginia Tech report designed to estimate just how much chicken litter might be available in the Valley for various purposes, whether that is for use as a directly applied fertilizer or as a component fuel for firing an electric plant.

This Virginia Tech report is the first output of the scope laid down by the LEWG.  Since it has been over a year since we've heard anything out of this group, let's start out with a quick review of what they are up to: this is working group that is chartered by the Virginia governor to determine the feasibility of establishing a power plant in the state that would be fueled by poultry litter, a waste by-product of poultry farms in the area.

I've written up that sentence about the charter in a very cynical tone - but when you read much of the work, it's easy to come to the conclusion that the LEWG has been chartered as an industry-friendly working group, and the goal envisioned for it is the establishment of a power plant - whether the public here wants it or not.  I can determine no other justification for including Fibrowatt representatives in the initial working sessions for that group, and even the project title suggests a predisposition to that outcome.

Full disclosure:  the prospect of a Fibrowatt plant in the Valley, and specifically in Page County, is what got me started on the topic in the first place.

The LEWG scope is characterized by their project title:  "Evaluating Net Benefits/Impacts of a Shenandoah Valley Poutlry Litter to Energy Power Plant on the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and Air Shed: -  a Google search for Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VA DEQ) in 2011 should pull up the scope for those who are interested, but I will summarize the five-part task here:

  1. Conduct baseline analyses and projections related to supply and usage of poultry litter in the Shenandoah Valley;
  2. Determine the net nutrient load reduction levels to the Chesapeake Bay - taking into account reductions from litter-to-energy system as well as potential new load from replacing land application with commercial fertilizers;
  3. Analyze various waste by-product handling options to determine impact on the Chesapeake Bay watershed;
  4. Analyze effects from emission deposition on the Chesapeake Bay Watershed; and
  5. Analyze and quantify potential air emissions from a large poultry litter combustion facility.
The new report from Virginia Tech is the result of task one, a strictly agro-economic assessment of supply and demand for chicken litter.  This post will be the first in a series of five or so I plan over the next two weeks to summarize the report and revisit some conclusions I've made in the past.

I welcome comments or discussion on this topic - it's one that will have a surprising big impact, not just on Page County and the Shenandoah Valley, but also on the state of Virginia - indeed, the entire Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which covers seven states!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Truck Patch is in

The 2012 edition of Mary's truck patch, just
getting started.

Mary put the truck patch in a few weeks ago, but I’ve just been slow to post about it.  She always has great luck with tomatoes in the backyard in Alexandria, so of course she has a few plants going.  She also chose a few more pepper plants this year than last.  She’s planted yellow squash, and added a “Japanese eggplant” vine this year. 

A weekend harvest from last year.  I forgot about the okra.
We had a pretty good harvest last year – it supplemented the great bounty we got at the Luray-Page County Farmers Market.  We’ll look forward to enjoying it this year too.

Of course, this Saturday will be our first visit to the Farmers Market in Luray this year, so we’re looking forward to it – and I will put up a post next week!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Data Center Grant Controversy

There’s been recent news about the data center that had been proposed for Page County.  It seems that the Page County Board of Supervisors have voted to discontinue their sponsorship of this proposal, setting the stage for a new round of sturm and angst about a $300,000 grant that was provided by the Commonwealth of Virginia to support its development.  At the heart of the current discussion lies the question, “Who will pay it back?”

Now, I’ve posted fairly extensively on this topic – 10 posts before this one, with the last in December 2010 (check the Page County Data center label at the end of this post if you’d like to read them), and in one of them there is even a link where the local radio show interviewed me on the topic.  I’d like to be able to say that my posts focused mainly on the feasibility of bringing that kind of industry and development to Page County.  I thought it was a folly then and still do, but it might be easy for the champion of the proposal and past county supervisors to think that my posts were personal and directed at them.

You see, in my mind, I can envision this brainstorming session way back when, where some supervisors, some economic development board members, and the new businessman in town got together and decided that tough times called for a big bet – and in their hubris, or naivete, or both, they decided that bringing cutting edge industry, like a data center, to Page County would bring a lot of good paying jobs that would save the local economy, and they talked themselves into it. 

It didn’t work out like they thought it would; there were simply too many factors at work against the concept.

I’ll leave other interested stakeholders – who have made valid observations about the unraveling of this concept – to dissect and distill the lessons that Page County needs to learn from this pursuit.  There are many, and we’ve only just begun that exploration.

Meanwhile, the controversy over the grant is percolating along, having made the front page of the local paper for two or three weeks running.  It seems there was a performance clause, where if the results – new jobs – were not delivered, the grant would have to be repaid.  The supervisors’ activities have accelerated the state’s action on this, and there has been a call for repayment.  The supervisors have passed that bill right along to the project’s champion, just like the mayor on that old show “Carter Country” might have handed something unpleasant along to the sheriff:  “Handle it, Roy!”

If there is a specific performance clause in this grant, someone’s got to pay, I suppose.  I know how important capital is to small firms, and it is likely that this particular infusion into the company at hand created a job or two, just not the ones at the data center.  More likely, they were administrative positions that help run the business and supported marketing activities related to the development of the data center concept.  Also, we know that there were a number of feasibility studies, design drawings and meetings, and engineering studies that were done – all of which seem to be logical expenditures that would have taken place during this adventure.

Now, I’m not apologizing on behalf of anyone here, but the wheels got in motion from group think – the county board, the economic development authority at the time, and the business.  Maybe the burden of repaying the grant is something that all of them are responsible for, not just the entrepreneur. 

That’s just my two cents this morning.  I know that many folks won’t agree with me on this one. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

...and the guards shot above our heads...

Berlin Wall, Neukolln, October 1984, with a Solidarity logo.
I posted today's photos on the blog before, last August, during the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's construction.  After seeing the exhibit at the Newseum the other night, I thought I might repost them.

First, an explanation of the title of the posts for yesterday and today.  These are phrases from the lyrics of David Bowie's song Heroes:

I can remember standing by the Wall
And the guards shot above our heads
And we kissed as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them
Forever and ever
Then we can be heroes
Just for one day

I took these photos on a Saturday in October 1984.  A friend of mine decided he would like to talk a walk along the Wall in the Neukolln and Kreuzberg districts of Berlin to see if there  was any graffiti left that might have indicated that David Bowie visited that spot - there were famous photos of him standing near his name painted on the Wall. We didn't find any of that graffiti, but the experience of wandering down those streets and alleys left a lasting memory.

The problem with talking a walk along the Wall in Berlin at the time is that the construction crossed so many property lines, and at any turn you might walk for some distance and come to a fence line you couldn't cross.  You'd have to go back and retrace your steps, and find another alley or street to get back to the line of the Wall.  This would turn a 10-mile hike into a 12-or 15-mile hike pretty quickly.  (That was an unpleasant finding a couple of times in 1983 when I was preparing for the Berlin Marathon, by the way, and my running partner wanted to spice up our routes with a run along the Wall!)

Berlin Wall, Neukolln, October 1984.  With an East German guard tower
and truck, and a view of the "Death Strip" or no man's land.
I have a couple of great memories from the walk that day.  The photo of the Wall above brings a couple to mind.  First, the logo for the Polish Solidarity movement is inscribed there - what some call the Polish crisis was the first geopolitical event to great me after my arrival in Berlin, so there was good context for the location this photo was taken from.  But also, the street we went down to get to the observation platform, and climbing the stairs themselves, was an interesting part of the day.

These districts in Berlin were known as art districts - there were subsidies for the residents, and the buildings were generally in a poor state of repair, and the environment attracted a good number of "edgy artists" to the area.  As we turned down the street that led to the platform, we encountered a group of people that were filming a little scene with a video camera and boom microphone.  The scene included a women getting into a car that was parked in the neighborhood there, and there were between six and eight people involved.

We strolled quietly through there, keeping to ourselves, but there was no hiding that we were American GIs passing through.  The little crowd glowered at our passing, and then one of them broke away and followed us up the stairs and stood nearby smoking on the platform.  I wasn't particularly afraid of them, they were obviously Germans and it was unlikely any of them were carrying weapons - and they'd be foolish to try to beat us up or rob us with all the expensive equipment they had at the shoot below.

Still, his presence up there was annoying, and a little threatening.  So we stayed up there about 10 minutes before moving on.

In this area, central as it was, we were encountering a lot of guard towers.  We'd see a head pop up in the observation cab, a camera with a telephoto lens pop out, and then all would disappear while we took our photos.  Soon it was like a game - as we approached, the head, then the camera, and then the disappearing act.

My colleague and I began to imagine the telephone calls between the towers:

"Yeah, two of them up on the platform now.  American GIs taking photos.  Nothing interesting.  They'll be at your tower area in 10 minutes."

Sure enough, the head would appear as soon as we got into the field of view for the next tower.

We walked along until we eventually reached the Hallesches Tor U-bahn stop, which luckily was only two stops from our Platz Der Luftbrucke home base at Tempelhof.

That second photo has a lot going for it, in my book.  It's one of the best Wall photos I took during my five years there, and I was very lucky to get one with a vehicle in it.  Of course, that view of the death strip in the Wall photo above isn't bad either.

As far as the memories of the day I took them, though, we'll those rank right up there too.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I Can Remember Standing by the Wall

Some of the readers here know that I was stationed in Berlin for five years when I was in the Air Force.  That was during the Cold War, and the Berlin Wall was an ever present and visible reminder of the conflicts in the world at that time.

Of course we have new and very real conflicts now, but from time to time I run into a reminder of the old days, as I did last night when Mary and I went to a party at the Newseum downtown.  There is a substantial exhibit on the Berlin Wall there,and today's post will share some photos - this may even run into a multi-parter on the topic.

The first photo here is a shot of the Wall section you see when you first arrive at the exhibit.  If you can imagine seeing this in real time, when it divided the city, you would have seen it stretch on off into the distance in front of you, and behind you as well, since the structure was more than 80 miles long.  From Wikipedia (link below), the slabs here are 12 feet tall and nearly four feet wide.  In the old days, they were topped by a round concrete conduit to make climbing over it that much more difficult.

The Newseum also obtained one of the old East German guard towers that stood at regular intervals along the Wall.   My recollection is that they were placed every kilometer or so along the border, and I clearly remember the one that was on a straight line about a kilometer away from the entry gate where I went to work every day.  I've got a few other memories associated with these towers; I may share them if I can find some old photos to put up here.

This tower is pretty complete; they've obtained the doorway, which you can see in the background of the Wall section photo, and you can go inside and have a look up.  You can't go up to the top and have a look at where the guards were stationed, however.

Now, the final photo here is of Mary and me in front of one of the old signs that were placed strategically around Berlin at border crossing points.  This became a sort of motif for my friends and I were there, we had it inscribed on all kinds of mementos, including our going away plaques, and other awards.

It was a great bit of nostalgia to see these artifacts.  I have to admit they gave me a chill - in the old days being this close to the Wall carried a sense of danger, because it was such a sinister construction.

And then, I always fall back on the memory of my friends who served with me there, and our mission.  In the end, that's what carries the day for me.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Pork Diaries: Sausage and More Sausage

Giving credit where it is due:
here's 'Pork Chop' herself!
Here we are in mid-May, about four months since the butchering.  Mary and I are probably half-way through the pork; I need to get an update from Chris on how much he has made it through.  The whole anniversary thing has me thinking about the pig Pork Chop - I get all teary-eyed for a minute, until I take another bite.

Omelette.  You spell it your way, I'll spell it mine.
On Sunday, I had resolved that we'd enjoy some of the breakfast sausage so I made up a batch of patties and paired them with an omelette.  I've got a photo somewhere here in this post.  I am so pleased with the simple recipe:  pork, salt, pepper, and sage.  For the omelette, Public House Produce eggs and some nice Colby cheese from Dayton.

Mary's response?

"An omelette? Fancy!"

So we enjoyed that between pool cleaning and other Hawksbill Cabin chores.

But it's always the case, because of how I packaged the sausage, that we'll have leftovers.  And my plan it to make a quiche later in the week with the extra patties.  So that's how it comes to this post.  On Tuesday night, I made a sausage and spinach quiche.  That'd be the final photo here.

And the quiche.  It's a good un.
Now this is a fairly local diet.  I can't account for the origin of the spinach, bought at Safeway, or for the pie crust I used.  But I do know the pork up close and personal.  And the eggs.  So that's got to count for something.

You know, I've always enjoyed a quiche, despite what that book in the 1980's said about real men. I remember that my roommate Henry would make one here and there. And then there was the wonderful bed and breakfast we stayed at a couple of times in Carmel, and another up in Mendocino, where this was standard breakfast fare.

Those were trips and stays worth remembering. And why not strive for a good quiche while we're in the business of reminiscing?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Luray's Spring Fest - 2012 Edition

Luray's Annual Festival of Spring - 2012
This weekend was a special one in the town of Luray – it was time for the annual Festival of Spring, a great outdoor festival down Main Street that was more special than usual this year, since Luray is observing the 200th anniversary of its founding.  There was a parade on Friday evening, followed by the big deal on Main Street on Saturday.

Mary and I had errands to run downtown anyway, so we made a point to stop by.  Although the Farmers Market was closed, we found out that that space was to be the venue for the disk dog exhibition that is one of the highlights of the festival.  

A view of the beer garden from upstairs at Artisans Cafe.
We also made stops by Uncle D’s Pools and Spas, since we are in the middle of the spring opening of the Hawksbill Cabin pool; we visited with our friends at Appalachian Outdoors Adventures and at Hawksbill Bicycles; saw some friends that had a booth set up to sell handcrafted jewelry; and finally, scouted out the beer garden for later on in the day.  Our morning adventure wrapped up with lunch at Artisans CafĂ© on Main Street. (special shout out to Firkin-Good Creatives!)

One of the reasons this event is special to me is that it marks five years since Mary and I were first introduced to the town – we were staying in the Park up at Skyland, and there was rain so we couldn’t hike.  Instead we took a little adventure down into the town, and behold, there was the fest!  I had been on a part-time search for a mountain property at the time, and soon began to include Page County in the rounds I was making on the internet.  By mid-summer we had identified Hawksbill Cabin as a property we were interested in, and the rest is history.

Beer Garden action - with Marcus Brown and the Sugartones.
We made arrangements to come back in the evening for the fest – the folks at Uncle D’s let us park in their lot since we had to pick up pool supplies, and we’d agreed to meet up with friends at five o’clock.  Five O’clock happened to be the start time for the set by Marcus Brown and the Sugartones, just one of the groups taking the stage in the beer garden.

There is also a wine garden at the fest, which we didn’t go and visit this year.  They also have live music at that venue, and there were a half dozen or more local vineyards represented, including our friends at Wisteria Farm and Vineyards.  I peaked in at around 11 a.m., and Sue was already busy pouring tastings and visiting with aficionados.

We hung out for a couple of hours enjoying the music and visiting with friends and neighbors.  Sally and Dan, from the neighborhood, couldn’t join us due to some family commitments, but I heard that Dan had a hand in choosing the beers that were featured.  For myself, I enjoyed the New Belgium variety “Festy” that was on tap.

We were lucky with beautiful neighbors and that just tops it all off for this beautiful little town. 

What’s not to like?

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Pork Diaries: Pulled Pork

Saturday began with me asking Mary what she might like for me to grill for dinner.  Ever the practical one, her response was, "Well, Jim, we just have so much pork."  Actually, that became the opening for my new grill purchase, which I posted yesterday.  Today's post is about the inaugural cookout - a smoked pork blade roast.

The blade is part of the shoulder - in hogs the size of Pork Chop and her kin, you can expect this to run about 25 to 30 pounds. And there are two of them.  My approach during butchering was to use one of the shoulders for sausage meat, but to cut the other down on the band saw to four roasts.  Chris and I split them, but they ran from about 3.5 pounds to five pounds each, and this blade roast was the smallest of the four.

To prepare this cut of meat, I decided that I would figure out a dry rub recipe, and then slow cook the roast using hickory smoke on the new grill.  I snooped around on-line for some recipes - although as a rule, I don't follow them to the letter...I prefer to use them as general guidance.  That is a risk I take, I suppose, for better or worse.

The rub I put together included the following ingredients:  paprika, cumin, brown sugar, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne, onion powder, and garlic powder.  I used a mortar and pestle to get the chunks smoothed out, then coated the roast with the mixture twice.  After letting the meat roast for about a half hour at room temperature to absorb some of the rub, the coals were finally ready and I put it on the top rack of the new grill, opposite of the coals.

AOL is acting up on me this morning or there would be more photos.  I guess I am lucky I got the money shot opening this post downloaded before AOL crashed - I may try to get more pictures uploaded later...many of these are already up on Facebook.

In fact, I had a couple of pretty good conversations Sunday as I was cooking.  Very helpful advice, in fact.  Thanks faithful readers!

The dial on my grill was reading 300 degrees for most of the time the roast was on.  I figured I would be working on this for about 3 hours - one of the recipes mentioned that for shoulder roasts, you need to get the meat thermometer up to 190 degrees...that's opposed to what a meat thermometer says for port, usually around 170 degrees.  (My main lesson learned here was to trust the thermometer and not the recipe!)

I charged up the coals with some soaked hickory chips, so that the smoke started fairly soon after the meat started to cook.  I would recharge the chips three times during the course of the afternoon.  Here's another lesson learned: each time you raise the grill lid, you're adding between 15 and 30 minutes to cook time.  So figure out a way to recharge the coals and smoke through the chimney if you can (I didn't want to do this because of the change of raising some ash inside the grill, and also because I was using match-light style coals this time).

In any case, I cooked the roast for about 2.5 hours, until the thermometer read 190, per the recipe I was working from memory with.  Next time, I'm only going to 170 - the meat was a little dry but not intolerably so.  Mary went and found a good sauce recipe, which was very similar to the one we get at Rocklands here in Alexandria, and that offset any dryness this time.  We paired the pork up with some boiled taters and grilled Pak Choy, and dined al fresco on a fine Sunday evening.

I still have another of these roasts, and the ribs, yet to go.  Now that I have my equipment all lined up, I'm looking forward to those!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Big Unit

Since my visit to the Bass Pro Shop at Arundel Mills last February, I have been obsessed with the thought of replacing the grill I use at home in Alexandria with one of the new gas/charcoal combo kits.  So last weekend, since we stayed in, I pulled the trigger - except I didn't do the drive up to Arundel Mills, since I found one at a local Home Depot...and that was conveniently across the street from the home brew shop here (subject of a future post).

Now, I knew that this was a big unit; even so, I wanted an assembled grill to save myself the hassle.  I strategized that if necessary, we could detach the legs, and in the worst case, disassemble them.  We ended up detaching the legs and strapping the base of the unit onto the top of the Equinox, the barrel section took up all the cargo area with the seats down.

Purchasing anything that requires assistance at Home Depot is not my idea of having fun, by any means or definition.  However, I encounter a cheerful and helpful clerk who signed up to help, and we undertook the project of getting it loaded into my vehicle.

By the time the detachment was completed, I had a total of FOUR Home Depot clerks working with me, and this effort took a total of an hour.  Fascinating, but we got'r'done.

I chose Sunday for the inaugural grilling - there'll be a post on that tomorrow.  But here's a parting shot of the grill in action - there's some Pak Choy in the foil pouch down there on the gas side, while the charcoal from the earlier smoking action burns itself out in the near section.

I have a feeling I'll be enjoying this set up for some time to come.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"All my Troubles are Little Compared to This..."

Getting back to the Rev3 Adventure Race...

Congrats to my friends at Appalachian Outdoors Adventures for their first place age group finish in this race.  They're even in a couple of cameos!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Turk Mountain: An Easy SNP Day Hike

At the summit of Turk Mountain

As I mentioned yesterday, I took Tessie out for an inaugural hike in Shenandoah National Park recently, and chose the easy Turk Mountain summit hike as our destination.  Earlier we’d warmed up a little on Calf Mountain after entering the Park from Waynesboro, and afterwards we drove a few miles north on Skyline Drive to the trailhead for the summit.

There is a more challenging Turk Mountain hike described on Hiking Upward, and linked below.  They list their version as a 10.4 mile loop with multiple stream crossings and 2,400+ feet of altitude gain.  That’s not the hike Tessie and I took – ours started at the Turk Gap parking area, milepost 94.1, and we did a 2.2 mile out-and-back with only about 480 feet of altitude gain, net.

This is a well-maintained trail that runs along the AT for part of the way.  In fact, Tessie and I encountered a pair of north bound AT section hikers taking a lunch break at the parking area.  What a wet day it was – I’m sure that was keeping that appetite up, but I didn’t have any trail magic to share with them.

As you can see from the sparseness of my photography on this trail, I was pretty focused on working with Tessie on her leash for the route.  Still, we did enjoy the rhododendrons in bloom, and made note of several geologic layers that the trail passes through, including a couple of talus fields.  The rainy day really brought out the colors of the lichen that covered many of these stones.

Talus field
Upon reaching the summit, given the rainy day and overcast skies, there is not a lot I can report about the views that are supposed to be the highlight of this hike.  I’m one who doesn’t mind not having the view if the effect of the weather is interesting enough, and here it was, with wispy clouds blowing through the tree branches. 

This stony ridge is narrow and tough for footing, and my little dog looked up at me for guidance in some of the areas up there.   We had a good bonding experience – I’ll take her back on the trail sometime soon, and hopefully will be able to join my friends at Appalachian Outdoors Adventures with their dogs by the end of the year.

As far as the trail goes, this one offers a very typical experience for Park visitors.  It is a good one down in the Southern District, where there aren’t typically many crowds on the trails, so it has that going for it.  A hiker who has done the research on the vegetation, wildlife, and history of the Park will certainly find a lot here; and if you take the time to dig into the geology of the Park there is a lot to ponder in the nearly 500 feet of elevation gain here – you probably cover two or three hundred million years of geological history.

It’s one I definitely will do again, and I may even take up this route from Hiking Upward:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Adventure Dog: Not Exactly

A few weekends ago, I thought I might take Tessie on a hike with me up in Shenandoah.  I chose a simple route, Turk Mountain, in the south district, with a warm-up stop at Calf Mountain on the way, where I could evaluate how she would do on the trails.

She had a great time, but eventually we got caught in a spring rain.  The photo above is after we got back the the car at the Turk Mountain trail (2.2 miles, about 480 feet of elevation gain).  She was soaked, and I think a little tired, so unhappy.

But I think she's ready to go again at anytime.  The other picture here is of her during a break on Calf Mountain.  There's a fire road up there and I took her off leash for about a quarter mile.

She found some rabbits.  Don't let the unhappy dog look fool you - there was plenty of canine happiness.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Page County Grown Trifecta, Part 3

For our final stop on the Page County Grown Trifecta weekend, we decided to make a stop by our neighbors' at Wisteria Farm and Vineyard.  Earlier in the week, Sue had posted the photo below of the ewe and two new lambs, so I had an inkling that spring would be on full display there.

Wisteria has had a very busy spring, as it turns out.  There was the recent spring vine planting, then came the spring lambs, and just this last weekend, all the grown up sheep were sheared.  There is a post with photos of all the fun over on Facebook, and of course, Wisteria keeps a blog on the home page at http://wisteriavineyard.com/7701.html

Mary and I enjoyed a couple of glasses out in the sun and got caught up with Sue and Moussa.  We're looking forward to spending a few evenings this summer out by the arbor!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Page County Grown Trifecta, Part 2

On my second stop last week, I went over to Public House Produce in Luray.  David had earlier told me that the final portion of the pork was ready - this was some side meat that I had requested to be salt-cured, because my mother asked me for some fatback.  David had also offered to show me what was going on around the farm, so I made the stop on the way back from dropping Tessie off for grooming.

First things first.  The family was out taking care of business when I stopped by, so I had to take a rain check on the spring update.  Mary and I went back over on Saturday with another friend who was visiting.

The fatback.  Well, I forgot how big the cuts of side meat I put aside for this were.  I am guessing that there is easily five or six pounds of the stuff.  David's dad had salt-cured both of the hams he took from his pig back when we did the butchering, and they cured this fatback along with the hams.

In any case, that's going to make a lot of "church social" green beans.  I left the meat in the cooler, with the intention of going back and getting it as soon as I can borrow Chris's vacuum packer again.  I'll cut the big slabs down to smaller size and we'll get her done, just got to figure out how to get the stuff down to mom.

Now, this spring has featured some unpredictable weather.  After early season heat and a fear of a dry season, it turned cold and there have been some late frosts, and then we've also had copious rain in the form of storms.

For that reason, they've set up hoops and covered many of the crops that could be damaged by the cold.  I think this is lettuce under the cover here in this photo, but Public House Produce also has some tomatoes and the earliest sweet corn under cover as well.

Finally, the girls were out of the barn and came over to see me while I walked around.  Here's Delilah and Butterscotch - keeping a respectable distance from the electric fence.  They're good girls.  It seems like Delilah's ear is always flying away in this carefree pose whenever I see them.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Page County Grown Trifecta, part 1

I took a few days off last week and spent them relaxing - for the most part, anyway - out at Hawksbill Cabin.  With some fine spring weather I thought I might visit some of my Page County Grown friends around town.  First stop:  Main Street Bakery.

Main Street is one of three restaurant members of Page County Grown.  Along with the others (the Mimslyn Inn and Artisans Cafe - find them here:   http://pagecountygrown.com/local/restaurants/), Main Street uses fresh, locally grown ingredients whenever they can.

My choice last week was the tarragon chicken salad sandwich, paired with a carrot cake cupcake.  Now, when I posted this to Facebook, there was an inspired discussion about how tarragon chicken salad was a sophisticated nouveau cuisine entry on the American Cafe menu in the 1980s.
As we moved on from talking about the herb tarragon, to basil, rosemary, and cilantro, I couldn't help but wonder about how we tail-enders of the baby boom have changed the world by facilitating the introduction of such a wide variety of new tastes to American cooking.

And it was a pleasant surprise that I had run into Chef Arnaud from Main Street the day before down in Harrisonburg - he stopped by to say hello in the Barnes and Noble, where I was writing a few blog posts.

In any case, if you're in Luray during lunch, and you're feeling in the mood for something fresh and homemade, here's a recommendation.  You'll come away with a wholesome feeling from your meal, and you'll have contributed to our great Page County thing.