Ramble On

Friday, August 31, 2012

Luray Triathlon - 2012 edition

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in the Luray Sprint Triathlon again - as a volunteer, which I've been doing now for a few years.  It's really a great time to see all the athletes getting charged up for this event - from the nervous first timers to the seasoned veterans, and I even get a little burst of nostalgia for that marathon I ran back in 1983.

Luray's Lake Arrowhead makes for an excellent venue, it's scenic and has the kinds of facilities that make for easy logistics.  And I'm always surprised by the number of volunteers we turn out.

Here are a few photos from the event this year - I didn't get any of the runners, since this year I was working at the finish line helping with validations and there was no time to look up from that assignment.

I want to add my congrats to all my friends that participated this year - the AOA team was represented again, and there was a great Public House Produce contingent, too.  I think all those people have caught the bug...me too, but I think I'm going to keep it vectored into a volunteer role!

Here's a link to more info about the Luray Triathlon:  http://luraytriathlon.com/

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Herpetology and a Healthy Ecosystem

Returning from errands on Sunday, Mary and I detected some movement near the hose bib where the addition meets the old stone house.  On closer inspection, we saw that there was an adult ring necked snake crawling along in the mulch - fully grown, but still a small animal at only 18 inches or so long.

As I started my pool chores, I moved some tools around and disturbed a little brown mouse.  It skittered of to hide below the deck - I thought of it as a little prey animal for the new barn cats living under the shed in the backyard, or perhaps for one of the black rat snakes that patrol the property.

Then, while I was unpacking the pool vacuum out of the cabana, I moved the box of prepackaged pool treatments and found a pair of new born black rat snakes.  The mother must have made a nest nearby, perhaps even in the cabana - I've never seen two of them together before.  They managed to get hidden before I could snap a photo, so all I can do is write this quick post.

The Hawksbill Cabin property is carved out of an old farm that has returned to woodland - in fact, about 2/3 of the acreage is now wood lot.  So we are surrounded by nature.  It's not really a surprise that from time to time we're going to encounter some wildlife.  As one blogger put it, "be thankful you have snakes, it means you have a healthy ecosystem."

It may also keep some visitors away!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Farm-to-Table Dinner - Conclusion of the 2012 Page County Grown Farm Tour

The menu for the 2012 Farm-to-Table dinner.
Crab stuffed anaheim pepper.

Even though the Page County Grown farm tour is only in its second year, the annual farm-to-table dinner, held this year at the Mimslyn Inn, just as it was last year, is a great tradition.  So I’ll close out my series of posts on the 2012 farm tour with a quick post about the dinner. 

Fairy tale eggplant appetizer.
The farm-to-table dinner features dishes that are put together from local products grown at the farms the tour visited that day.  This year, the sourcing went like this:

·         Tomatoes and basil:  Khimaira Farm
·         Eggs:  Raise it Right Farm
·         Tomatoes and Potatoes:  Survivor Farm
·         Short Ribs:  Skyline Premium Meats
·         Corn, Cucumbers, and Peppers:  Long Acres Farm
·         Chicken, Eggplant, Corn, Anaheim Peppers, Tomatoes, and Zucchini:  Public House Produce
Chicken ravioli.
·         Wine Pairings:  Wisteria Farm and Vineyards

Of course, the photos speak for themselves, so I have one of each course, along with the menu.
Now, this was the second farm-to-table dinner at the Mimslyn that Mary and I were able to take in this year – we were able to visit early with our neighbors Steve and Noelle, when they were in town from New Mexico.  I’ve put a link to that meal below...I'd also link to last year’s dinner, but that was also the weekend of the hurricane, and I guess I didn't write it up

Short ribs with summer squash au gratin.
The Mimslyn continues to host farm-to-table dinners for the remainder of the growing season.  I hope they’ll keep this up next year; it’s really something to look forward to – and in any case, Mary and I will be at the farm tour dinner next year, you can count on it!

Sweet corn pudding and ice cream dessert.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Public House Produce - Final Stop on the 2012 Page County Grown Farm Tour

As we were arriving at Public House Produce, it was already late in the 2012 Page County Grown Farm Tour schedule, so we figured this would be our last stop.  As it turned out, Paw Paw’s Honey also had a display up at Public House, just like last year.  Both of these growers were on last year’s tour – here are the short write-ups for them that I put up in my first post about the 2012 tour:

Public House Produce:  This is a family owned and operated farm located about one mile north of Luray.  The farm’s produce is available at the Luray-Page Farmers Market and via their CSA.  Over 80 varieties of fresh produce are offered, along with pasture based, heritage chicken and fresh farm eggs.  Public House’s goal is high-quality produce and poultry from a local source you can trust.

Paw Paw’s Honey:  This visit also takes place at Public House Produce.  Paw Paw’s Honey is a blend of what is naturally available to the bees in Page County, so there are slight variations in taste and color from bottle to bottle – but the honey is always sweet and good.  Paw Paw’s also raises and sells queen bees and beeswax.

Now, I’ve learned a lot about growing honey from the guys at Paw Paw’s.  By the time we finished some of the other activities at the farm, they’d left for the day, as the scheduled time for touring had passed.  Turns out I don’t even have a photo of them this time.  We’ll catch them next time, and in the meantime, we’ve been enjoying their honey anyway for the last few years.

While there were plenty of summer vegetables around, and of course, the farm animals (goats and chickens just now, although I hear there will be pigs soon) are always a lot of fun to check out, the big deal at this time of year is all the varieties of heirloom tomatoes they’ve been growing at Public House.  They’d set up a tasting of almost a dozen varieties – everyone of them just as succulent and awesome as you could ask. 

I’m not a frequent tomato eater when it comes down to it, but when I can get them fresh in the summer I definitely enjoy them – so the tomato tasting was a perfect activity!

There were at least a dozen varieties of tomatoes on display in the barn.  I have a couple of photos of them.  It reminded me of a post I put up last year, when I called David the “tomato king” – here’s a link:

We had a great time walking around the farm, visiting with Butterscotch and Delilah, the Nubian goats that hail from Khimaira Farm, and checking out the chickens – where I finally encountered Chanticleer the Rooster…I’ve posted about him in the past before (just search the blog for his name).

We picked up some sweet corn and a couple of pounds of tomatoes at Public House Produce, before we called it a day.  We missed the chance to stop at Wisteria, where the folks from Patchwork Pastures were also participating – these folks were on last year’s tour, and you can read the old post here: 

Our plan was to head back to Hawksbill Cabin for a little nap and then to get ready for the Farm Tour Dinner at the Mimslyn.  I’ll have a post up about that event soon.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Raise it Right Farm: Stop 4 on the Page County Grown Farm Tour 2012

Raise It Right Farm is up in Rileyville, at the north end of Page County.  It is another family-run operation, like so many of the Page County Grown farms, and it was one of the newcomers on the 2012 Farm Tour, along with Survivor Farm.  Here’s the write-up I posted earlier about this farm:

“This is a 10-acre farmstead in northern Page County.  The family of four started with a small backyard garden, added laying hens and honey bees…progressing to livestock – sheep and goats.  They’re raising much of the food they need to get by, and often have extra.  The enterprise has grown this year and they are raising pastured broilers along with everything else.”

There was plenty of do-it-yourself moxie in evidence at this farm.  The broiler tractors are made from recycled airline luggage carriers, for one thing, recovered from Dulles Airport.  They’ve been adapted to a pasture-based operation that is based on Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profit$ (which was required reading for me while I was on my farm internship last year).

The chickens are processed right here on the farm, which is manageable because of the family-scale of the operation. We also had a look at the goats, and the sheep – which turns out to be the children’s 4H projects.  There were some good looking animals in that barn!

One of the impressive things about this family farm is the story about why there are doing this.  After a few health worries over the last few years, they were talking to the doctor about what might be the source of the problems.  From a series of conversations they developed a hypothesis that some of the issues might be coming from the foods they were eating – some of us are truly allergic and sensitive to the various additives and residual chemicals that are on everyday food items, and this turned out to be a part of what was going on with the family.

So from this they took inspiration to grow their own food, and that is the source of their farm’s name, as well:  Raise It Right.

We didn’t get out to see the honey bees at Raise It Right – we were running short of time on the schedule tour hours.  So we planned our next stop to be Public House Produce in Luray, and we figured we wouldn’t make it to Wisteria Farm and Vineyard due to how late it was getting to be.  We took consolation in the fact that we live near Wisteria, and one of the benefits of being close by is the fact that we can enjoy that farm just about any time. 

So tomorrow’s post will be about Public House Produce, and it will conclude the series on the 2012 Page County Grown Farm Tour.

Monday, August 20, 2012

2012 Page County Grown Farm Tour: Survivor Farm

We went to Survivor Farm as our next stop after Skyline Premium Meats.  This is a small operation that is located near Lake Arrowhead in Luray.  Here’s what I wrote in the earlier post about the 2012 Page County Grown Farm Tour:

“The family hopes to raise all the fruits and vegetables needed to survive – right on their farm.  The farm is currently growing tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, asparagus, blackberries, and raspberries.  Their products are available in the CSA shares at Public House Produce, and at the Luray-Page Farmers Market.”

I subsequently learned that the grower manages the local co-op/farm store, so some of the produce is available during the season there as well.

Much of the produce here is grown in raised beds, and the variety was impressive.  To me, Survivor Farm was like a laboratory demonstrating how all of us could grow our own vegetables right in our yards.  Some of the concepts that were used seemed to come right from the pages of Mother Earth News – very practical and very productive.

They have started a small bramble, growing a couple of types of berries.  To my knowledge, this is one of the first growers to try and get something like this going on a scale large enough to sell the berries off the farm.  Mary and I have had some, after picking them up out of the cooler at Public House Produce when we went there once for eggs.  Delicious.

A final point of interest at Survivor Farm:  they have some naturally occurring broom corn in the garden.  This is a plant that you might treat like a weed if your focus is on growing edibles, but our farmer is taking advantage of it by learning how to harvest the silks and make handcrafted brooms.  There were some beautiful craft pieces – here’s a photo with a few of them.

After Survivor Farm, Mary, Kathy and I made a quick stop at Main Street Bakery for a snack and a cold drink.  We weren’t there long before we got back on the road for our next stop:  Raise It Right Farm, up in Rileyville.  I’ll post on that stop tomorrow.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Skyline Premium Meats - the 2012 Page County Grown Farm Tour

Getting back on the topic of the Page County Grown Farm Tour 2012 for a bit – I’ll finish up the story of these farm visits over the next few posts, writing them up in the order that we visited them.

After our stop at Khimaira, our tour caravan stopped at Skyline Premium Meats, which is the retail side of the operation of Trio Farms.  As I wrote in the original post, the story of Skyline Premium Meats is:

“…located just south of Luray on Business 340, emphasizes humane management and safe handling practices to ensure a consistently high quality product.  Skyline Premium’s approach specifies that no hormones, steroids or other chemical alterations are used; because of this, the beef has earned designation as A Virginia’s Finest Product.” 

Just like Khimaira and some of the other farms, Joan, Jerry and Jared participated in the Farm Tour last year, and again this year there was a lot to learn about the beef operation.  For one thing, since the tour was so much earlier this year, the silo was empty, because the harvest hadn’t come in yet.  Seeing that cavernous building empty was an eye opener, thinking back to how full it was last year.  Jared pointed out that the barn could hold as much as four of the neighboring traditional silos.

We also visited the old barn to have a look at the steers that were being finished.  Maybe a few less than last year in there, given the time of year, but there were plenty to have a look at while Jared explained what goes on in the barn, and how the animals are selected for market.

Skyline Premium Meats has a CSA for those who are interested in buying beef that way.  You can also buy individual cuts from them at the farm or at the Manassas or Luray-Page Farmers Markets – that is how I typically do it.  For now, that is, until I get a freezer chest! 

Here’s a link to the farm’s web page:http://skylinepremiummeats.com/

Here’s a link to last year’s post about Skyline Premium Meats.  It mentions the Civil War history that is associated with the old barn – one of the interesting facts about this farm!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Khimaira Farm: Page County Grown 2012 Farm Tour

The goats are the thing at Khimaira Farm.  That's what they'll tell you when you first arrive for a visit - the Campbells started out raising goats, and they keep a herd to this day.

The goats will charm you, as they did the 15 or so of us on the tour.  Linda walked us through her history as a goat farmer; for aspiring farmers, this is a good story to hear.

Along the way, we learned some goat facts - this is the most domesticated animal on the planet; that they will eat just about anything (plants only - no tin cans); and they are used for meat and dairy.

The main focus at the farm today, however, is its business as a wedding venue.  In fact, the staff was preparing the old kid barn for a function on the evening of the tour, which is why we started there at 9 am.  The pig roast I posted about on Saturday was part of those festivities.

After visiting the goats, we took a walk out to the gardens, where there are several great settings for weddings and other celebrations.  Receptions take place in the repurposed kid barn;  although, with good weather, there are easily four or five other locations that would serve this purpose well.

My last photo here is of the tour caravan visiting with Linda and her team in the kid barn, where we were offered pastries and coffee.  Mary picked up a couple of bars of goat's milk soap in there, while we all enjoyed the venue.

It's a place I'll look forward to visiting again sometime!

Here's a link to my post from last year's farm tour:

Page County Grown Farm Tour 2012 Recap

My plan this week is to recap the Page County Grown Farm Tour 2012.  Mary, our friend Kathy, and I visited five of the six farms, running out of time before we could get back to Wisteria for the finale.

The tour was planned with the goal of showing the wide range of growing operations going on in Page County - ranging from a front yard operation, to a family homestead, through a produce operation, beef farm, winery, and lastly, an agri-tourism destination.  In all, eight growers participated.

The posts will start this afternoon with Khimaira Farm, which was one of the venues on last year's tour.  In fact, the working farm sign to the left was at that farm - which has a substantial operation as a wedding destination.

More to come!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Pork Diaries: Pig Roast 2

During the farm tour last weekend, the first stop was at Khimaira Farm.  While I am still gathering the material for some posts on the tour, I thought I might post on the coincidence of running into the caterers for that night's event at Khimaira.

Just as the tour caravan was preparing to leave the farm, the sound of the caterers firing up their cooker filled the air.  Not long after, there was a distinctive smell of oak smoke.  As we turned the corner from the wedding area back to the parking area, well, there they were, setting up a pig roast.

My friend John and I walked over to chat them up - John cooked the roast I posted on the other day.

They had a 100+ pound piglet that had been raised organically over in the other part of the Valley.  They told us that the grilling apparatus they were using would get up to 375 degrees or so at the top of the cylinder, but would stay around 225 to 250 down at the level where the pig would rest.  The roasting time would range from 8 to 10 hours overall.

Here are a couple of photos of this visit - we left just as they put the pig in the grill.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Pork Diaries: Whole Pig Roast

A few weeks back some friends of ours out in Page County invited us to a summer party to celebrate a birthday.  It was a beautiful setting - I could go on and on about how wonderful the scenery in Page County is, don't you know - we had a great time with friends that evening.

And there was another highlight - they were working a whole pig roast for dinner.  It was supplemented with some fine fresh produce from the farmers market that morning, and wine from our favorite local vineyard Wisteria.

I took a few minutes to get an overview of how this set up worked.

The pig came from a local farm that raises them organically.  It was a youngster, only at 50 pounds or so.  My friend has installed a BBQ pit in his back yard, which you can see in the first photo above.

The pig turned on a spit over those coals for between four and six hours.  It was done to perfection, and then we pulled it off of the heat.

We moved it off to a nearby table to take it off the spit and to begin carving up the meat.  First step was to remove the skin, which comes off easily after roasting at these temperatures.  Racks were installed over the pit, and the skin roasted again - to become cracklings.

Meanwhile, the "menfolk" all jumped in to strip down the carcass.  I had a little flashback here to my experience butchering last winter (click on the label butchering at the end of this post).  But I jumped right in too and started carving down the beast.

Among the last photos here are one of some of the meat that came off of this roast, and what was left of the carcass after we got through with it.

It was done perfectly, as you can only get on a pig roasted this way. Someday I'll give this a try myself!

Pig Ahead!

One of the traditions of the Shenandoah Time Trial bicycle race is the sign "Pig Ahead" pictured here.  Now, I followed that race on Facebook last year, and I thought this was a whimsical element of a pretty serious race - and upon seeing it, I knew I had taken the right impression.

The sign appears at about 1 kilometer or so from the finish line, so whether the rider is out on the 14K, 24K, or 40K route, it is a welcome sight.

But even better is what it refers to: a spectacularly tasteful bit of yard sculpture that one of the town residents has erected.  Here's a photo:

Last year the sign was stolen after the race, apparently.  I take that to mean that there are a number of people out there who appreciate this particular tradition, as I do.

Shortly after the race, Chris Gould posted a status that the pig sign had been recovered safely this year, a good thing.  No doubt, the riders will appreciate this indication that they have reached the home stretch in next year's race.

I'll also use "Pig Ahead" as a note to say that I will be posting on two pig roasts during next week's blog entries.  Then we'll move on to the 2012 Page County Grown Farm Tour.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Shelob Don't Live Here Anymore

(Battle of the Species)

For some time now, I have suspected that we shared the kitchen space at Hawksbill Cabin with somebody else.  Not just the seasonal mice during the winter – I mean a permanent resident.  A glimpse of movement here – just a shadow, and then learning about how the kitchen floor was built with room underneath the appliances all served to convince me that there were likely ample hiding spaces for nature to cohabitate.

Then there was the long overdue kitchen update in 2009.  We installed some new appliances, replaced the counter tops, and recycled some old cabinets that we reclaimed from one of the Alexandria neighbors.  It was during the installation of the dishwasher that my suspicions were confirmed. 

The fellows that were assigned to the job removed the old machine and then brought in the new one and unpacked it.  Then one of them went to wait outside while the other finished hooking it up and moving it into place.

I picked a shady spot over in the azaleas to wait.  After a few minutes the inside guy came out, headed for 
the truck.  He stopped to speak with me a moment.

“Sir,” he started, “there’s a big spider in your kitchen where the dishwasher goes.”

“If you don’t mind, you need to go in there and kill it so I can finish the job.”

“Will do,” I said, and I went into the kitchen, immediately glimpsing that familiar, shadowy movement.  I had some bug spray and a flyswatter, but the spider got away and into a hiding place.  I had my limits, so I sprayed enough of the bug spray to thoroughly coat the area. 

I was pretty sure we had spooked it enough that it wouldn’t come out, so I told the installer that I’d taken care of it.

My next sighting of the spider wasn’t until 2011.  During my furlough I was spending a few days a week at Hawksbill Cabin, and one night when I got in, I saw it resting on one of the stones on the wall over the dishwasher.  “So I didn’t get you after all,” I said to it. Since I wasn’t in the mood to try and chase it down, I figured I needed to study the matter a bit.

I watched that spider for two days, and it didn’t move.  I would be fairly close to it in the kitchen, reaching for the multi-vitamins or doing dishes.  Maybe it was sleeping – or just watching me.  Finally I got close enough to it to take a closer look.  That spooked it, and off it ran to hide behind the dishwasher again.

On Saturday morning, I was the lucky one to be woken up by the dogs – our friend Kathy was over, and Hauser was with her, and I took them out.  When I came back in, I started to make coffee – and was surprised to find my old friend sitting there in the sink.  I figured the stainless steel sink made a tractionless trap for it, and today would finally be the day we relocated it outside – or killed it. 

So I called Mary in to take care of this.

See, we have a simple agreement about nature in the house.  I take care of the snakes.  She takes care of the spiders. 

And for now, we don’t have any critters in there – at least as far as I can tell.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Airplane Geek: The Osprey at National Airport.

As I turned into National Airport during my commute this morning, there was an odd silhouette approaching the airfield.  I slowed to watch, to the consternation of the people following me.  And boy, they were really pissed when I whipped out the phone to snap this photo!

Truth is, I am an airplane geek.  Six years in the Air Force and I still can't get enough of seeing cool planes - honestly, I was never stationed anywhere that they had any of the fighters or tactical aircraft.

So whenever one flies over, you might just catch me running outside to snap a photo.  Even if the aircraft might be a USMC bird - V-22 Ospreys are in service with the Marines and the USAF.

The nacelles are in transition here as the plane was preparing to land at the Pentagon.  I was able to see it in descent as I got further along on the Parkway.

I'm inaugurating a new label with this post - airplane geek.  You can click on it and see some of these random snaps from the past.

By the way, here's an earlier photo of two Ospreys flying over Arlington, taken last year (I'll upload this into Instagram later and see if I can enhance it).

Volunteering at the Shenandoah Time Trial

Cyclist on the return during the time trial.

(Editor’s Note:  I’m way behind on posting – we’ve already had more bike races in the county since this event.  But since Chris Gould and his team do such a super job on the Shenandoah Time Trial, I thought I would put up a short post about my experience as a volunteer road guard.)

Page Valley Cycling puts on several race events a year at various locations around the county  - I even have a couple of posts up here on the blog.  Two weeks ago, they held the Shenandoah Time Trial – I’ve been trying to get my schedule straightened out so I could volunteer for one of the events, and it worked out that I could help with this one on Saturday July 28 down in the town of Shenandoah.

One of the cycling teams pass our intersection.
Time trials are done as a race against the clock, with riders heading out as individuals or teams at intervals of thirty seconds or one minute.  The Shenandoah race had several categories of riders, and distances of 14, 24, and 40 kilometers.  There’s a link to Page Valley Cycling below for more information about this event and the others that take place in the area.

I volunteered to serve as a road guard on the route.  I was stationed with two other folks at a T intersection about 7 kilometers from the starting point – the turnaround for the 14 KM race was just before our position, and there was some construction on a bridge going on, so it was a pretty complex situation.

We all received safety equipment, and Chris had obtained VDOT permits for the race that really helped to manage the traffic we encountered – a lot of Saturday morning errands, for the most part.  Most of the residents were very respectful of the event, I think because a lot of outreach goes on, and there were no accidents that I know of.

My old DC neighbor Ricky Lee Albores at the finish.
(Photo Credit:  TBD)
I’ve made no secret of my opinion that active tourism like the bike races and other activities are a very important component of the Page Valley economy.  I was glad to finally be able to participate – and I’m looking forward to helping out again on this and some of the other races.

For more information about Page Valley Cycling, check out the web page here:  http://www.pagevalleycycling.com/Tour_of_Page_County.html