Ramble On

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Backyard Hops

We'll close out the posts for this month with a look at how the hops bines I planted in Alexandria are doing.  I have two varieties going, Goldings and Willamette, and that is the order they are shown in the two photos here.

The Goldings grew nicely, and then went into a place where there didn't seem to be anything going on.  Then last week they did another growth spurt - they've reached the top of the pole I use as a trellis, and there is one runner that seems to want to leap off and find something new to keep climbing.

This plant is out amongst the others in Mary's truck patch, so it rises up out of its little pot making it's way through the squash plant before it finally sees the light of day.

The Willamette is in another section of the yard, over by the apricot tree.  I have it trellised against some low branches of that tree, using twine that runs down to the pot.  Just as with the Cascade, these bines have started a late season spurt and now they have reached the tree limb.

So both plants are now over seven feet.  I'm calling that a win for now - the first year I've had them.  I didn't expect flowers, but with the plants this big it means they're healthy, and a good start for their second growing season.  It's the third year when I really expect to have enough flowers to do serious brewing with them.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Beaver Run Hops

Last week I began seeing a lot of posts from the homebrewing community about it being hops season.  So, while I haven't even seen any flowers on my two backyard bines, I knew that Dan was probably in the thick of things at Beaver Run Brewey and I started looking forward to a visit over the weekend.

Cascade hops ready for picking.
When I arrived, sure enough, he was out in the hopyard, where the Cascades are laden with a crop.  Dan told me this is the second picking - when I arrived, he'd already gathered about a pound in finished weight (shown in the 3 gallon bucket).  And there were plenty more still on the bines.

We took a look around and how the rest of the varieties were doing - none as prolific as the Cascades, and since some are first year plants, they won't produce nearly as much if anything at all this year.
On approach to the hopyard - these are the Cascade bines.

After having a look around, we went back into the brewery to check things out.  In particular, I wanted to catch up with him about the barley project the local homebrewers association had started.  This was a plan where a local farmer put about an acre into production for brewable barley.

The crop has come in, and it is about 3,000 pounds.  Arrangements were made for malting it at a local facility - there were commitments for nearly 1,200 pounds (I wanted to go in for 50 pounds), but in the end, our processing wasn't successful.  There are some lessons learned that I am looking forward to hearing, but to me this was one of the most exciting brewing adventures going on - to think we could brew with local barley, hops and water...that would have been great, and I hope that the association will give this one another go!

This is the 3-gallon bucket already picked.
By the way, you can check in on our association in my blogroll to the right.

To conclude my visit, we went to the beer cooler, where Dan happened to have a whiskey barrel porter on tap.  This was a delicious hoppy beer with oak and bourbon notes - courtesy of supplies from our distillery friends at Copper Fox in Sperryville, the home of Wasmunds whiskey.  We shared a pint and then I needed to move on to my Sunday errands.

I hope to have a post up in the next few days about the status of my two hop bines.  Catch you then.
The first picking is already dried and stored.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Tomato Salad Days

It's tomato season.  Mary put three plants in during the spring, so we're seeing the results from one conventional and one heirloom variety - while the third looks healthy, it's not giving fruit.  Still, the little sample here is only half of the weekly yield.

We'll eat them in salads mostly, but she also puts them together with mozzarella and balsamic vinegar for an appetizer.  That dish will complete any summertime meal.

She's also sharing them with the Alexandria neighbors, especially old Herb, who used to keep a huge truck patch and was something of the inspiration for all of this, I think.

But seeing so many tomatoes also reminded me of the "agribusiness internship" I did at Public House Produce back in August 2011.  I wrote about David's success with tomatoes there in a post called "The Tomato King" (link here: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2011/08/tomato-king.html).

This time of year is more a tomato riot over there.  I asked him about this year's crop, and he shared some details with me.

His crop is comprised of 3,000 plants in 15 varieties.  The yields vary - they are slightly lower for the traditional/heirloom plants (they make up for it in their rich flavor and delightful colors)...but it you consider that on average there are 25 pounds per plants, well - that's an incredible 75,000 pounds of tomatoes.  They'll be distributed out to shareholders in the CSA, at the Luray-Page Farmers Market, at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Dayton, and some even make their way to the DC area (practically to our doorstep - I understand they are served at Arlington's Tallulah, only 2 miles from the Alexandria house!).

So back to the truck patch - Mary's two producing plants can be expected to give us around 50 pounds of tomatoes, and that's plenty for the season.  At some point we probably need to think about canning them though - I can imagine they'd be a burst of sunshine in depths of next winter.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Afghani Prayer Rug - part 2

I have acquired a 2013 edition Afghani prayer rug. Photo at left, it features a map and many of the weapons and vehicles you might encounter in-country.

Now, there is a nice symmetry to this rug - it makes a pair to the one I wrote about in 2008, and that already decorates Hawksbill Cabin.

That one was made in 2002, the first year of our conflict there.  This one was made in 2013 - let's hope that this is the next-to-last, if not the final, year of our conflict.

There are other aspects of the symmetry, too, but I'll leave them for another post.  For now, I can't wait to see the two rugs together.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Pork Diaries - the Breakfast Sausage

Checking in with Chris, who shares the pig with me every year, he tells me they've already made it through most of the take - there's only Iowa-style pork chops and ground pork left.

Meanwhile, I did a check of our freezer and we're still holding our own.  We still have bacon, a few packs of brats, breakfast sausage, a rack of ribs (I've been lucky and found them on sale at Food Lion a couple of times, so haven't prepared the ones from this year's hog), and some roasts.  Still have a couple of the big ham steaks I got from cutting down the ham the way I did this year.

Mary thought it would be good to break out the sausage a couple of weekends ago, and she did, pairing it with some fresh eggs from Public House Produce and some fresh bread from Main Street Bakery - both in Luray.

I think there's enough pork in there to get us through the winter.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Bodhisattva of Beer

Sure, it's a first world problem, but I opened the fridge over the weekend and found I had an amazing choice to make between three highly regarded craft beers.

Unlike in the past, when I've found myself in a situation like this one, I did not have a reliable guide to help me through the challenge.  I had to be my own Bodhisattva of Beer.

Fortunately, I have plenty of time to enjoy these, one by one.  And that is just what I intend to do.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

American Skin

For today's subject I'm taking a hint from one of the blogs I follow today, Coarse Cracked Corn, which you can find over in the blogroll to the right.  

When the president came out and spoke so eloquently as an American last Friday, I was very moved.  Like so many, I have conflicting thoughts about the Zimmerman verdict, but more than that, I feel deeply that something's gone very wrong in America, when we are forced to rationalize away the verdict there. 

I do make political posts here from time to time and I suppose this will be one of those times.  I have to respect that jury's verdict - it's on the same two way street as the one the O.J. trial went down.  But in this case the tragedy is much deeper, and there is a law that has to be changed.  That would be, for me, a great positive result.

Now back to the Coarse Cracked Corn post today - a hat tip for reminding me of the Springsteen song "41 Shots" embedded above.  And as they wrote there:

"It ain't no secret" that racism in America still exists in all but Faux News wingnut minds. Other than the president, few have spoken as poignantly as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Mary's Beer Can Chicken

For our third attempt at beer can chicken, Mary decided she would try her hand at it.  I won't post the recipe here because they are ubiquitous and she used one she found after a Google search - the same as we have the other times we've made this.

There were a few tweaks worth noting this time - she grilled on the gas side of the Big Unit, using the little stand accessory we bought when I got the Weber for Hawksbill Cabin.  She also used a "generic" Wisconsin Lager as the beer, which she had purchased from Trader Joes.

It's come out just fine every time, but I do think that we are getting close to a place where we'll use a consistent recipe going forward. Future variations might include using the competition rub from my barbecue team, and we might also try the simple Greek "Glekas" style marinade of honey, lemon, and oregano.

Those are some truck patch tomatoes in the background, and the squash and egg plant in the foreground also came from the backyard.  The sweet corn was from Public House Produce out in Luray.  Everything was delicious.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Big Water on Beaver Run

The Potomac River flows near the house in Alexandria - we can walk down to the river on a leisurely stroll if we wanted, and I drive by the tidal part of it and up through the gorge on my daily commute.  It serves as a connection from the Alexandria house to Hawksbill Cabin, because you can trace the path of the water here in the Potomac back through the Shenandoah River, to the South Branch, to Hawksbill Creek in Luray, to the Little Hawksbill Creek, and finally to Beaver Run, which forms one of our property lines as we look out across the hollow from the brick terrace at Hawksbill Cabin.

There is so much water in the Potomac though - and that conceals just how much might have fallen upstream, and the challenges and damage that those storms can bring.  That's the case with the five-inch rainfall that caused the high water on the Hawksbill I wrote about on Monday, it was a real challenge to the little Beaver Run stream to drain the hills and hollows it runs through out in Stanley.

We were out there for one of these storms, which I posted about here:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2010/03/weekend-rains.html; we just heard about the storm last Friday and then we saw the aftermath.

By the time we arrived on Saturday morning, our friend Mickey had already been out to plow the driveway, collecting all the gravel that had washed down into the road.  We've got plans for some remedies to mitigate the problems we are having with the driveway and I will post about them soon.   But there were lingering signs of how high the water actually got this time.

The first one was a log that had floated up out of the stream bed and lay by the side of the road, where the creek runs under a little bridge.  Then, as we looked closer, we could see how the flows had washed away some of the ground around the bridge and its rock footers.

It is part of cabin lore, and probably a subject for a future post, but the bridge has washed out before during a hurricane in the early 1990's - both Sally and Dan and Steve and Noelle have told us about that, and someday I'd like to get a scan of the photos they have for the blog.

The bridge was reengineered after that and is a much sturdier structure - but I don't know how many of these strong storms it can take - and that's the reason I'm calling VDOT, hopefully we'll get them out soon for a look so they can assess any potential damage.

Monday, July 15, 2013

High Water on the Hawksbill

Friends began letting us know that there was an exceptional rain storm out in the Valley last Friday.  We were hearing forecasts of as much as five inches, and it was still raining Friday night in the DC Metro area so we held off driving out until Saturday morning.
In Sperryville, we could see that the Thornton River was running up, so we figured we'd see high water still clearing out of Luray and Page Valley when we got there.  Sure enough, the Hawksbill was up, and you could see that it had gotten out of its banks during the thick of things.
On Sunday, Tess and I took a stroll on the Greenway and the creek was still high, but it had settled back into its banks.  I took a photo from the bridge - there was a line of debris along the walk there that marked high water at the level of the bridge ramps.  Usually by now the place where these kids are standing would be dry, almost a beach.
A little further around the bend we got to the trestle where the fish mural is painted.  Last week we watched a little boy playing on the concrete footer that you can see submerged here - it was dry all the way down into the creek then.  Easily a drop of two feet to the water level.  

There's a little cleanup to be done around the Greenway this week.  Sand from upstream swept up onto the path in some areas, and the access road was still closed on Sunday morning.  

The Luray Parks and Recreation team is on it though - I'm sure of that.  They'll have the place looking spiffy soon enough!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fresh from the Truck Patch

Last week, Mary was able to go out to Hawksbill Cabin and spend some time there - she left me in charge of the truck patch while she was gone, and I was able to coax the tomato plants along enough to produce a couple of fruit - before July 4 even!

Here are the first two tomatoes out of the patch.  This week, she has quite a few crook neck yellow squash showing up, and there are the first eggplants too.  Meanwhile, she's pulled off several more tomatoes - and the first two have been eaten!

Now, I also have a photo here from Public House Produce.  Their first haul of tomatoes came in last week as well - of course, David is growing heirlooms at scale.  So this is just a peek at what's to come for the rest of the summer harvest season.

Hopefully the combination of wet and hot weather means a good truck patch season for everybody!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cabin Lore: The White House Bricks

This is the first post in a new category called “Cabin Lore,” which I’ve wanted to start since I began the blog in 2007.  From time to time, during renovations to Hawksbill Cabin, or as we get to know the neighbors and others who knew the folks who built the place, we learn something new about our little mountain house.  These periodic posts will document those fascinating little tidbits that we find out along the way.

When we made our second visit to Hawksbill Cabin, it was for the purpose getting a house inspection done.  While the inspection didn't identify much of the damage we eventually needed to repair (I’ve written before about the extent of major renovations that had to be done under the “big projects” label to the right), the owner’s family was at the house that day, and their little girl pointed with pride to some bricks in the floor while we waited for the inspector to finish.

“Those are bricks from the White House!” the little girl told us, pointing to two bricks in the floor near the pellet stove, since removed.  We moved closer to take a look and sure enough, there were two bricks with little bronze plaques on them, identifying them as “original White House materials.” 

We admired the bricks for a few minutes with the unanswerable question, “How did they get here?” rolling around in our thoughts.  Soon enough it was back to the inspection and checking out the other aspects of the property – to tell the truth, most of our efforts that day were focused on negotiating the allowance for the one beam that had obviously been damaged by termites.

Soon after we closed, we found a message etched in concrete near the fireplace that said “Thanksgiving 1948,” and there another reference to 1948 etched in the mortar at the top of the chimney.  We knew that the original owners had built the place pretty much by hand in the years right after World War II, but now we could find direct evidence of that recorded right in the building materials.

And that would also put the date of the Hawksbill Cabin right in the time frame of the Truman reconstruction of the White House, which took place from 1948 to 1952.  There is a link to a photographic exhibition on the renovation below, here: http://www.whitehousehistory.org/whha_photographs/whitehouse_truman-renovation.html

The White House renovation was extensive and left the whole interior a vast open space after demolition.  At some point, salvaged original materials were made available to the public – and so, Hawksbill Cabin got a pair of the bricks...original White House material, in fact, possibly dating to the 1790’s!   

While Mary was doing research for the book she edited (Civic Art:  A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, Amazon link below), she found a few historic photographs of National Park Service employees handling these items, preparing to ship them to citizens who’d requested them.  I’ve misplaced them, but will add a post when I come across them again.

There are also quite a few references to auctions for this material.  I won’t link them here, and in any case, I’m not really interested in the value of the bricks.  To me, they are just a part of what makes Hawksbill Cabin such a welcoming, relaxing place.  I can’t wait for my next visit – I’ll make sure to take a minute to look at the bricks.

Note:  While the White House renovation isn't mentioned in great detail in the book, since I mentioned that Mary edited it, I thought I might close with an Amazon link to the tome "Civic Art"

Friday, July 5, 2013

About the Ribs

Most of my readers know that I like to cook out - and over the last couple of years that I've been working on it as a skill, especially after buying the Big Unit last year, and since I've been butchering a hog share out in the Valley.

My barbecue team, Two Fat Farmers and a City Slicker, decided we'd compete again in the Backyard Boyz competition of Smokin' on the Tracks out in Luray (link below).  So I took that as a sign it was time to begin practicing the techniques we used last year, with the hopes of improving our results in some of the other categories (we placed third in chicken last year and fourth overall).

Here is a plate of ribs from last week, featuring our competition dry rub and a variation of the competition sauce.  Also paired with sweet corn and baby zukes off of the grill.

There's also a photo of the ribs in progress, showing the hot side/cold side method I usually use.  I also put some hickory in there when I am doing this at home - we don't smoke at the contest.  This batch came out well for flavor - I still need to work on timing a bit to ensure that they are at the state of done-ness that the judges are taught to evaluate.

That'll come.  The contest is in September, so there is still time to practice.

Here is a link to the fest:

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Summer Flowers at Hawksbill Cabin

Mary manages the garden at Hawksbill Cabin and she's been careful to make sure that there is something blooming year round.  Our hostas were just about to pop open last weekend, and that will be a riot in itself, since there are so many, but meanwhile we had a couple of varieties of  lillies showing up along with one of my favorites, the bee balm.

These day lillies were planted by one of the former owners and there are two patches of them, one up by the parking place and the second down the hill on a little bank under the oaks.  You can see these flowers growing wildly all around the Virginia countryside as well.

The bee balm has become my favorite of the summer blooms.  I remember that it was blooming the first time we came to see Hawksbill Cabin, before we even bought it.  There used to be two patches of them, one over by the barn and this one next to the little shed.  Every fall I break off the dead flowers hoping that some chance seeds will germinate and we'll get some new plants.

The bright red lillies are a new addition this year.  Mary planted them next to the lavender, which is another highlight, because of the white butterflies it attracts.  This little bright spot greats your arrival as you walk the path from the parking area to the brick terrace.

All of the summer flower photos today were processed through Instagram, by the way.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Page County Grown - The Farm Dinner

Page County Grown had its season kick-off dinner Saturday night at the Performing Arts Center in Luray.  With good weather to start the event - although a summer squall blew through later in the festivities - there was a great turnout to enjoy local fare prepared by Chef Chris Harris of The Mimslyn, and music by DJ Kib.

The menu featured a roast, with the beef coming from Skyline Premium Meats, grilled vegetables and a cabbage-green bean slaw from Public House Produce, potatoes from Survivor Farm, and two kinds of berry ice cream with berries also from Survivor Farm. Wine from PCG member Wisteria was available for purchase.

Page County Grown is a grass roots initiative designed to celebrate locally grown products.  Their vision:

Page County Grown is thriving family farms driving local food economies and promoting healthy communities where quality farming is a valued heritage and a staple for growth.

That's definitely something worth celebrating - take a look at the website if you would like more info:

The next public big event is the 2013 Farm Tour - scheduled for August 10, and tickets are $10 apiece.  The farm-to-table dinner at the Mimslyn will follow that evening starting at 6pm.

Mary and I will be there - we're looking forward to it!