Ramble On

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spring Flowers, 2013 - part 2

 Here are a couple of additional photos taken from around the property:

  • The dogwood down near the property line, along Beaver Run - I'd never noticed it in bloom before;
  • A lilac blossom with a swallowtail; and
  • Some very pretty, and very green, ground cover.
I've assembled these into a banner picture above, I can enjoy them through the rest of spring.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring Flowers - 2013 ed.

Mary stayed behind to grade papers this weekend, so Tessie and I came out to Hawksbill Cabin looking forward to a relaxing spring weekend.  I'm off my feet with an ankle injury, so we didn't get out for walks as much as the canine companion might have liked.

What we did see was the Appalachian Spring in full glory.  Today I'm posting a couple of the photos I took of the azaleas in the cabin's front yard, in the garden that is in front of the addition.  It's just a taste of what Copland's composition is about - at least I think so.

Should you care to indulge...here's a YouTube link to a performance of the Copland piece:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Another Quiche - from the Pork Diaries

Smoking the ham on the grill was a success - I still have a few things to perfect about cooking that way, but we had a nice dinner.  And typical of hams, we had plenty of leftovers, so I made a quiche on Sunday.

This time, I just pulled together some diced onion, a bit of cheddar, and the ham, basically whatever we had in the fridge.  I used the Betty Crocker recipe that I always do, adding an extra egg, and doing the two-step baking process (15 minutes at 425, and then 30 minutes at 300, if I remember correctly).

I sprinkled a little paprika on top along with some chives for color and presentation.  I was good, and we had it for dinner Sunday, lunch on Monday.

Mary has found another recipe that uses leftover ham - a ham salad.  She mixes in some vegetables, diced egg, and dressing.  It's kind of old-timey, but you can eat it plain or on a sammich.

More adventures with pork follow.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Pork Diaries: First Ham

The hams we get off of the pigs at Public House Produce are so big that it is a challenge to feast on them in one sitting.  And so we lost quite a bit of ours last year in the freezer, due to freezer burn after a couple of power outages (power in Alexandria, four miles from the White House, can be surprisingly flaky).

This year I decided not to send the ham out for curing and used the band saw in the butchering shed to cut it into six pieces.  On Saturday, I cooked the first piece on the backyard smoker.

I figured I could cook it more or less as I would the shoulder roasts I’ve been doing, with a rub and then indirect heat for a couple of hours.  It worked out, we had some tasty ham – there is absolutely no similarity to pulled pork in this outcome despite my using the same cooking method.

I used a bit of cayenne in this rub, just enough for a pleasant bite.  The Florida corn is in (there's no comparison to what I get during the summer out in Page County though), so I paired the ham with it and some green beans.

Now my thinking is to do the same thing with the ham next year, except send out half of it in these smaller cuts for curing and smoking.  I’ll keep the other half in these small ham roasts.

I’ve still got quite a few of these to cook though – for now!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hops Rhizomes are in

After enjoying my friend Dan’s homebrews these last few years and realizing that one thing that makes them special is the fact that he grows most of the hops he uses, I’ve decided to try growing some myself in the backyard in Alexandria.  If I’m successful, I might put in some rhizomes out at Hawksbill Cabin over the next few years.

You have to buy the rhizomes early – I placed my orders at the end of February for two each of the Willamette, Golding, and Centennial cultivars.  I planted them in pots out in the backyard, because I haven’t decided their final location, or even the proper trellising for them.  In any case, hopefully I will see something come up in about two weeks.

Dan has offered me Cascade rhizomes in the past. They are the ones that do well in his hopyard at Beaver Run Brewery, but I did something wrong and lost the plants.  So this project is a do-over and hopefully I will get enough to share some with him, maybe not this year but next (although the Willamettes have been known to produce in quantity their first year).

In addition to the periodic gift of home grown Cascade hops, Dan gave me some Fuggle hops another friend in the Valley grew.  I used these in my recent honey porter to great success, so much so, that I want to make this into a signature beer.  The only problem is that those where sold out, so I substituted the Golding.

Now I remember that Golding is the variety in some of the dubbel kits I’ve been brewing, so I guess I am lucky.  I just like saying “Fuggle.”

I plan to post on my progress with these from time to time – say twice a month.  So until then…

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wisteria's Sheep Sheering

With all the (justified) hullabaloo about the wine, sometimes it's easy to forget that our friends over at Wisteria are keeping up a working farm - featuring the flock of Romney sheep.  Although we didn't make it out in time for the event (we rolled in to enjoy a little tasting at around 5pm), last Saturday was sheering day.

Sue has put up some highlight photos on Facebook, but for this post, I'm combining a photo of part of the flock I took last December with two from the Wisteria home page (link below).  The activity here is called skirting - after the bundle of fleece comes off in one piece from the sheep, it is spread out for a quick and thorough rinse.

From there, after it is cleaned and dried, it can be spun into yarn and eventually makes its way into fine products.

Wisteria has another event planned this Saturday - they'll be planting some new vines out in the vineyard.  We're going to try and be there for that...heading out Friday night so we can join the fun at Oh Dark Thirty.

Wisteria's web site is at:


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Honey Kolsch Progress Report

Earlier this month I wrote about the honey kolsch that I brewed one Saturday.  I had been very worried about it - the yeast took a few days to activate and I thought I might have had some bad microbes.  But lo, eventually they woke up.

Here's an update from Saturday, where they'd been going strong for two days.  Look at that flocculation.

I just checked on things and there is still a steady burp, so I will let it stay in primary for a few more days.

Meanwhile, I'm planning to do something extra with this batch - I want to add a little bit of lavender to the beer when it is finished.  I could add the flowers to the secondary, but I'd like to have a better way, since that would clog my siphon.

This process of extracting the essence of an herb is
called making a tincture.  I was concerned about putting
the dried flowers into my brew, so decided to use vodka
to extract the flavor, and I'll add it at bottling time.
I've read about tinctures...Wikipedia says, "Herbs are put in a container and and a spirit of 40% or more ethanol is added, or 80 proof vodka..."  So I took a couple of shot glasses worth of lavender flowers and three shots of Absolut to make this one.  I'll add it at the bottling stage when I mix in the priming sugar.

So what we'll have is a special spring kolsch with honey and lavender...hoping for good results here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Trout Stream Runs Through It

Tessie and I took our regular walk along the Hawksbill Greenway in Luray on Sunday morning.  We often end up on the section where the old swimming holes are, near the train trestle - and frequently, we'll run into folks casting in the stream along the banks.

This always serves to remind me that Hawksbill Creek is recognized by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries as a heritage trout stream.  This is a program that provides a scheduled stream stock day for the first Saturday in April.  It creates the feel of an old-timey opening day, and the towns across the state that share in the program will often hold events to observe "Trout Heritage Day."

Luray had one - it's all over the PNC, with quite a few big fish taken.  There was an angler who had a couple of pan fillers with him when we walked by.  But most of the morning fisherman were just there casting, enjoying a fine morning and hoping for a rise.

Nice day altogether.  I love this time of year.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Kickstarter Hop Farm Project

Today I want to continue on the topic of some of the Kickstarter projects I have supported – this time, I’m writing about John Condzella’s hop farm on Long Island – there’s a link at the end of the post.

Condzella says he saw the rise of craft brews and the need for hops as an opportunity, and committed part of the family farm to growing them.  He’s been growing hops for two years now.

His research showed that New York provided 80 percent of the nation’s hop crop in the 1890’s.  He described the process that was used back then, with families traveling out to help with the harvest – a process that reminded me of the cranberry harvests on Cape Cod when I learned more about it.

I’ve watched my neighbor Dan with his annual hop growing and harvest process over the last couple of years, and know that even on a small scale, it’s a tedious process.  Condzella has acres committed to the crop, and those difficulties only increased with scale.  That led him to research machines that could automate the process.

He found a used Wolf machine (check out how it works on the video linked below) for sale in Germany and formed a Kickstarter project to buy it – raising about $30,000 when all was said and done.

I can’t wait to read more details on when the machine gets to the farm, and how it impacts the Condzella operation.

Kickstarter link to the project:
Here's a link to a company that makes hop harvesters:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Kickstarter Projects: Two Breweries

Over the years that we've been heading out to Hawksbill Cabin for the weekend, I've had a lingering thought about how to be a part of the (at least in my opinion) very promising agri-tourism industry.

It's a natural complement to the beauty of the area there in Page County, and certainly it offers up the potential for co-marketing with active tourism, which we come by from the outfitters at Appalachian Outdoors Adventures, Hawksbill Bicycles, and Appalachian Adventures.  On the agribusiness side, we have all the family farms that have joined Page County Grown and work at the delightful farmers market in Luray - as well as our vineyard at Wisteria.

A third leg of this stool, if you will, might be the local brewing group.  Check out the blog in the right hand column about the Blue Ridge Brewers Association - there's no shortage of enthusiasts working on this pastime.

With the thought that I might some day be able to contribute to developing this brewing community, I started looking at Kickstarter to see how others are getting small brewing related enterprises off the ground with micro-funding projects.  So far, I've found two nano-breweries in the DC area that interested me, and I sponsored them with small contributions.

The first is Baying Hound Aleworks, in the Maryland suburbs, who sought $5,000 to expand their operation.  I can find their beers at the local shop near my office, so I was glad to make a contribution.

The second is Crooked Run, located in the further out Virginia suburbs.  The proprietor there is promising to develop a Farmhouse Brewery - that brings a lot of my interests together in one place, so I was glad to make a little contribution.  His $10,000 project was also successfully funded.

Between the two of them, I can't wait to get out and check out how things are going for them.  By the way, links to their Kickstarter pages are included below.

It all comes down to this for me...as our community of brewers in Page County continues to thrive and grow, how can we find a way to add this to the mix of the agro-tourism and active tourism activities that are really coming into their own?  I'll be thinking of the right project to join...I know I'm not the only one.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Tessie Gets a Job

Unusual focus.  Or maybe not...Mary was making noises in the kitchen.
Here's a link to the rescue organization Tessie was at:
On our first check in with the vet, the tech said, "Tessie would be a great pet therapy dog."  We recently passed the two year anniversary of adopting her - Mary's had that vet tech's words in the back of her mind ever since.  On Sunday, Mary and Tessie finished their evaluations, and they are now able to participate freely in pet therapy visits throughout the DC area.

(Editor's Note:  Mary added some information after reading the first version of this post.  Her entire message follows:  Saw the coverage of Tessie's new career on your blog.  You should add the name of the organization: People. Animals. Love (PAL).  It's located on Capitol Hill and the Web site is http://www.peopleanimalslove.org/  ...Technically, Tessie will be a therapy assistance dog, meaning she visits and offers companionship rather than participating in a program of therapy that has goals to meet and measure.  She just has to be her sweet self.  PAL has relationships with a number of locations, mostly retirement homes, senior centers, and rehabilitation centers.  She can also visit libraries and have kids read to her.  I might try that one next.)

I can't fully express how proud I am of the two of them.  The dog has been a real treat, certainly - but Mary saw this opportunity for service and has been persistent in tracking down the hows and whens, and finally over the last month, managed to get the evals over with during a visit to the Armed Forces Retirement Home in DC (link below).

Tess is a border collie - you can check out that breed at Wikipedia and see all about the intensity and focus they regularly exhibit, which makes them excellent working dogs.  On the other hand, this one's a little different...180 degrees removed from Gracie, the border collie we had for a long time before losing her in 2009.  Where Gracie wanted to run and fetch every waking moment, Tess would just as soon hang close and keep you company.

It's exhausting work, being a pet therapy dog.
That's the trait the vet tech picked up on, and I suppose it is a real talent.

Mary embraced the idea and tracked down the organization that manages this process, and followed up on the appointments and evaluations that were necessary.

I know Tessie is a natural at it.  And I really appreciate how dedicated Mary has been in finding this new opportunity for service in the community.

Here's the link to the Armed Forces home they visited on Sunday:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Next Batch: Honey Kolsch

I'm missing this month's meeting of the Blue Ridge Brewers Association out in Luray, so I thought I would write up another brewing post.  In Friday's post, I mentioned bottling the honey porter...usually that is an activity that I couple with brewing, and last night I did: a honey kolsch.

Unfortunately, I was out of Luray honey and had to use the Minnesota variety that was provided in my kit.  I consider this one an experiment anyway, since I've never been a kolsch enthusiast.

Now here's the description of the honey kolsch, taken from the Northern Brewer instructions that were provided with the kit:

A variation on our extremely popular Kölsch recipe with 
the addition of honey and a new yeast strain for a lighter 
body and flavor. Like our original Kölsch kit, this recipe 
features a pale color, light body, and smooth mouthfeel. 
Honey adds subtle floral character and lightens the body 
by fermenting to dryness. Really nice as a summer brew 
for barbecues and picnics, or to wean your friends off 
watery mass-produced lagers. 

I did brew it as a summer brew; it should be in the bottle around May 1, and then ready for drinking in late May.  I have a few more recipes queued up for later - including a Saison and a Brown Ale.

Final note on the brewing topic for the day - I ordered some hops rhizomes to try and start in the backyard - two each of Golding, Williamette, and Centinnial.  Maybe I will have some home-grown hops to use in this winter's brewing!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A New Batch of Honey Porter

A pint of the honey porter.
Last night I bottled the new honey porter.  Like the last batch of the porter, it is made with honey from my friends Jay and Ryanne out in Luray.

Last time I made it, I had 2 oz. of US Fuggle leaf hops from another friend that I used in the brew.  I have another pack of those hops but they are in the freezer out at Hawksbill Cabin, so I used a combination of 1 ounce of leaf hops (US Fuggle, bought from Northern Brewer) and the Hallertau pellets that comes in the kit.

Here's the little write-up about the honey porter that is included in the kit from Northern Brewer:

I've got quite the store room going - batches of the
honey porter, vagabond ale, and cranberry dubbel are all
bottle conditioning just now!
This original recipe brewed by White House staff is both a callback to the favored beverage of our Founding Fathers as well as an opportunity to come together and share pints across the aisle.  More than just simply black and roasty, this porter builds consensus with generous applications of sweet caramel and toasty Munich malts, while moderate bitterness and a pound of honey lets us all find common ground.  In a year of divisive politics, we think it's especially common to remember what we have in common:  homebrewing!

The first batch of this porter I made got good marks from everybody who had a sample - the balance of the honey and hops was what they frequently mentioned.  Although the new batch will have a little variation from that, hopefully the balance is still there.

I really do have to keep notes on the batches going forward, so as these recipes evolve I will be able to repeat what worked and what didn't.  In any case, we'll know how it came out in about three weeks, after it has had adequate time in the bottle to condition!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Tech-watch Geek: My Casio Pathfinder Watch

All ones on the display - 11/11/11.
I've made no secret about how much I love my Casio Pathfinder watch.  Unfortunately, a few weeks ago I noticed that it would not take a compass reading, and then I couldn't get an altimeter reading - with hiking season upon us, I was very worried that I might be losing this very functional tool.

Then over the weekend, the display began to fade and the alarm's happy chirp has changed tones just perceptibly.  I'm guessing this means it's time for a battery change, which we'll take care this week.  I'll probably lose my to altitude records - the highs and lows - so that's the real reason for this post.

I took my highest altimeter reading in Yosemite in 2010 - it recorded the height as 2,315 meters without any adjustment for barometric pressure.  That's just about 7,200 feet - that's one of the photos here.
The scene of my highest altimeter reading.

My lowest reading was -150 meters, taken in Death Valley in 2011.  Again, with no adjustment for barometric pressure, that translates to -465 feet.  Here is a photo I took during that trip.

The scene of my lowest altimeter reading.

Of course, the first photo of the watch in this post was the moment of all ones on the display, taken at 11:11:11 on November 11, 2011.  That was a fun moment - I was very nervous I would miss it.

I'll close today with a link to a page with a nice selection of Casio Pathfinders over on Amazon - in case you might be looking for a referral to there:

Casio Pathfinder Watches On Amazon