Ramble On

Friday, May 31, 2013

Weber Upgrade

Saturday night we had a nice invitation to join some friends for a cookout, and so we did.  Our friends were cooking ribs on his vintage Weber grill, using the offset method and then glazing them to perfection just as they were ready to come off the heat.  Tasty!

My little Weber, which I’ve been using to cook for the two of us now for six years, has finally succumbed to the elements.  It rusted through around one of the little leg supports and is no longer safe to use.  So I had been in the market for a new grill to use at Hawksbill Cabin.

There was no question that I would not be getting another Big Unit like the one in Alexandria for Hawksbill Cabin.  That would just be too much equipment for weekends, plus the hassle of storing it in the barn – almost 200 feet away up a gravel path, would probably result in a lot of wear and tear (for the grill and for me). 

I’ve been reading reviews with an eye for the eventual replacement, and was settled on a Weber – I thought I might spring for one of the units that has a little side table.  But the cookout the other night closed the deal – our friend told us he’d been using this one for 20 years, and it had moved from California, to Oregon, to Alaska, and then to here. 

That’s a recommendation that’s hard to argue with!    

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hops Progress

These are the Willamette hops I am growing in Alexandria.
As we were preparing to leave last Saturday for a week of vacation in the Valley, I made one last progress check on the little potted hops rhizomes I’ve got out in the backyard in Alexandria.  There’s a photo here of the Willamette vines – my high achievers, but the Golding vines are doing well also, and at last there were little leaves poking out of the ground on the Centennial. 

Dan's hopyard - five varieties, and a homebrew porter.

Later that evening we joined up with Sally and Dan for dinner, and while we were there we took a walk around Dan’s expanding hopyard.  The mature vines there – several of these were planted four years ago, have already taken off and are climbing up the trainer strands.  He’s going to have a crop this year that will carry him through all of next year’s brewing, probably, and then some.

Incidentally, he now has five hops varieties going in the hopyard:  Cascade, Centennial, Willamette, US Fuggle, and Hallertauer.  His production will be suited to a wide variety of brewing next year – including at least IPAs, porters, and lagers.

A vine of Cascade hops, used as decoration.
As we settled down to dinner, there was a surprise in the planters around the patio – he had used some of his Cascade rhizomes for decoration.  Since my Centennial vine looks to be a slow starter, I might use this technique this year to let it grow and establish itself.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Cicadas Invade

We are still waiting for cicadas at Hawksbill Cabin - maybe it is still too cool here, and maybe somehow we are not in the correct geography for them.  And we seem to have been bypassed in Alexandria also.

However, I am seeing updates from friends all around us, including Marty and Leigh in Manassas.  Marty made this video during a walk around the yard last weekend.  It's clear the cicadas didn't miss their place!

Thanks for sharing the video, Marty!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Hawksbill Cabin Iris Patch

The irises have all come and gone at home in Alexandria, so we were happy to see that we'd have another weekend to enjoy them when we arrived at Hawksbill Cabin last Saturday.

While we have a few colors of them back in Alexandria, at HC they are all a single color, light violet, like the lilacs that I photographed earlier in the spring.

That thoughtful past owner planted a drift of them by the driveway at the front of the house with some peonies, which we should be able to enjoy next weekend.  There is also a larger patch of them in the backyard, up the hill.   That's a view I don't photograph often, so you get a look at the back of the house as a bonus.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

ISO...My Driveway

Well, there was a real gully washer out at Hawksbill Cabin a few weeks ago.  I knew because my friend David showed the picture of his weather station, which reported, “It’s raining cats ‘n’ dogs.”  Then neighbor Dan sent me note telling me we’d had a washout.

So, I was prepared for some damage out there – over the course of the summer t-storms we always need to have Mickey come out with the box blade for some minor repairs, and then from time to time we have something a little more major, like this time.

In any case, while I was out walking the dog on Sunday morning, I decided it might be worthwhile to track down exactly where our driveway had gone…I found it, about a hundred yards down the road, deposited in a neat pile in the little meadow alongside Beaver Run.  It was like a practical joke courtesy of Mother Nature.

Mickey will be out soon to do some repairs.  But I don’t know if his tractor will be able to get back in there for the flotsam – we might have to fork out for some new gravel this time.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Luray-Page County - an Appalachian Trail Community!

This is the Appalachian Trail Conservancy logo
for trail communities.

Hawksbill Cabin is located in Page County, close to Luray and Stanley, Virginia, and to Shenandoah National Park.  One of the treats for me about this location is being so close to a charming, lovely, thriving small community – and the access it provides as a gateway to the park, not to mention that my hikes based out of here frequently include Appalachian Trail (AT) sections.

A couple of years ago I was talking with Howard Thompson in Appalachian Outdoors Adventures in Luray and he told me that the community was beginning the application process to become an AT Trail Town.  It’s a hard won distinction that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy awards to recognize communities that promote and protect the AT.  Here’s more from the AT Conservancy’s web site:

"…counties, and communities along the A.T.’s corridor are considered assets by all that use the A.T. and many of these towns act as good friends and neighbors to the Trail. The program serves to assist communities with sustainable economic development through tourism and outdoor recreation, while preserving and protecting the A.T.Designation as an Appalachian Trail Community™ and participation in the program is aimed to:
  • Engage community citizens, Trail visitors and stewards
  • Recognize and thank communities for their service to the Trail and hikers
  • Act as a catalyst for enhancing sustainable economic development
  • Aid local municipalities and regional areas with conservation planning
  • Help local community members see the Trail as a resource and asset"

The Festival of Spring a few weeks ago included a celebration of this honor, and it was covered in the Page News and Courier.  Rereading that article now, I see where the Stanley Mayor Doug Purdham has suggested that Ed Goode Park might one day have a connection up to the trail – “It’s a big dream, and years into the future, but it’s possible.”  It sounds like a worthwhile goal, to me. 

Howard is quoted in the piece as saying, about the hikers that visit the area from the AT, "They stay in our hotels, visit our shops, eat in our restaurants - hikers have an economic impact."  He added that between 200 and 300 AT hikers visit the store during the hiking season.

Here’s to all the AT enthusiasts in our community who were part of this effort.  I’m proud of y’all.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Honey-Lavender Kolsch: Part 2

It’s my least favorite chore in brewing, but when the time comes, it has to be done.  And after all, it’s a kind of payday.

I brewed the honey kolsch kit five or six weeks ago.  We’ve had a cold spring and the temps in the basement led to a very slow start for the years – so I let the beer sit in primary for two weeks, and then let it ride for three in secondary. 

Hey, I may not have posted this, so here is the catalog copy from Northern Brewer for this one:
A variation on our extremely popular Kölsch recipe with the addition of honey and a new yeast strain for a lighter body and flavor. This pale, light-bodied golden ale is traditionally given a long, cold aging period which makes it very smooth and clean. "Spritzy" is a word often used to describe Kolsch - very refreshing, and a popular lawnmower beer for beer snobs!

As an extra, which may turn into a gimmick, I added a lavender tincture to the brew at bottling time – see yesterday’s post for some highlights. 

After all that, the beer looks to have a golden color like you would expect from a kolsch – although when it comes time to drink it in a few week, it will probably be more of an amber color.  Here’s a shot of it passing through the siphon.

When all was said and done, I had a nice output of the beer.  I made a few extra 22 oz. bottles since my beer has been a popular giveaway at the office and with the neighbors, and I like this bottle size for that purpose.

I’ll let it bottle condition for three weeks now.  Planned release date is June 7.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Honey-Lavender Kolsch: Part 1

For a spring brew I decided to pick up the Honey Kolsch kit from Northern Brewer.  I thought it might be even more interesting to add some lavender – that is an ingredient that they feature on their site, after all – and I had a small sachet that our friend Lilly gave us last year.  The question was how to use it as an ingredient in the kit beer.

I did some research on the topic, and one suggested way was to create a tincture – infuse the little herbal flowers with a 40% alcohol solution.  I combined two shot glasses full of the flowers with three shot glasses full of Absolut Vodka (80 proof!), and voila – I had my tincture!

(If you're interested in the process, Wikipedia is a good place to start.)

Here are a couple of photos of the final steps in the process, filtering out the flowers, and the final product. 

I bottled the kolsch on Sunday, adding the tincture and the priming sugar to the big bottling tub.  I’ll have a post on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Saturday Night Trout Dinner

We went to a party on Saturday afternoon at one of the local branches of Rocklands barbeque (see link below) – one of our favorites.  I had grilled some chicken thighs on Friday night, and knew that I was going to cook some ribs on Sunday (heads up – there’ll be a blog post on this later in the week).  I decided to have the brisket so I could be sure I covered the full range of animal proteins…leaving the dilemma of what to cook for dinner on Saturday night.

Well, fish is the natural choice if you can check off beef, chicken, and pork in a weekend – and if you don’t have any venison laying around in the freezer.  So I went down to Whole Paychecks and found these whole trout – good looking fish. 

After browsing on line and checking out my “For Cod and Country” cookbook (check the Amazon link below) – I decided to brine the fish and then stuff them with some fresh rosemary sprigs from Mary’s herb garden and slices of fresh lemon.  I cooked them on the backyard grill in my little fish basket.

We decided that, it being spring and all, we might pair them up with a bunch of asparagus.  Asparagus in the spring, by the way, always reminds me that The European in Glover Park calls this season “Spargel Fest.”  I was a little worried about the fish – I usually do fillets – but they came out fine, as you can see in the money shot!

Rocklands link:  http://www.rocklands.com/

For Cod and Country Amazon link:  

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Backyard Hopyard

We had a couple of social obligations to take care of this weekend, so we stayed home in Alexandria. 

Besides the excellent party we went to and a quiet mothers day, I took care of a few little chores on the barbeque and brewing front.  So this week will feature those errands – starting today, with a short and sweet post.

I started three hops rhizomes in pots in the backyard this spring.  We’ve had a ton of rain, and not much sun – as vines, hops like sunny weather, so I’ve been worried.  Finally, last week I saw some leaves break the soil.  I have some survivors!

I bought Centenniel, Willamette, and Goldings hops varieties.  If I get crops of these I can do a lot of brewing, and I figure I can trade a few here and there with Dan and the other Blue Ridge brewers. 

So far though, I’ve only got sprouts from the Willamette and Goldings vines, no sign yet of the Centenniel.  That’ll be a shame, but I will take what I can get.  I’ll put up a post here and there about the progress of my hopyard.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Visiting Beaver Run Brewery

Tess had a good time running around the yard,
so when we went into the brewery she sacked out.
During the winter, I made a check-in spot on Foursquare for Beaver Run Brewery – that’s my neighbor’s garage near Hawksbill Cabin, when Dan has outfitted a pretty sophisticated operation that includes about a quarter-acre hopyard.  On Sunday, Mary and I made a visit over there to check in (I'm the mayor, after all, with four check-ins in the last 60 days), and to offer a sample of my latest batch of honey porter, which was reciprocated with Dan’s new pilsner.

We had a good visit out in the garden, comparing notes about how busy we’ve been.  Dan and Sally have been following the crew circuit around the mid-Atlantic – their daughter is a junior at WVU.  And we’ve had a lot to do that kept us away from the house more than usual.  We decided to make up for that with a brief stopover this weekend.

The hops are climbing past 6 feet already.
We took a walk through the hopyard, where Dan showed me that he now has five varietals going:  Willamette, Cascade, Centennial, Kent Goldings, and US Fuggle.  I have some packs of the Cascade and US Fuggle I’ll be using soon, by the way.  After that it was over to the brewery.

Quite the set-up they have over there at
Beaver Run Brewery!
Dan added a couple of new pieces of equipment in there, including a new floor that was recycled from a river raft, and a new kettle that he hand-fitted with a new spout.  He can do an all-grain batch now, and it’s an automated set-up with a pump and plate wort chiller.  We chatted about my plans to do an all-grain batch using the Brooklyn Brew Shop recipe for Honey Grapefruit Ale, so I have that to look forward to!

Dan’s moved on up like this because he’s had a couple of requests to brew for parties and celebrations – he even has one of those kegging set-ups that he can use for this purpose.  He tells me he’s been a very busy brewer!

Not to mention a very busy hop farmer!  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rusti's Yellow Iris

Irises are a highlight this time of year – there are still blooms on the dogwoods, and the azaleas are past peak, so the stage is set as the weather warms up for these beautiful flowers to come into their own.

A few years ago my Aunt sent us a bunch of heritage varieties in several colors.  They are spread around the front and back yards in Alexandria, but this yellow one is planted out front, right by the walk as you approach the front door. 

You can’t miss it when it comes into bloom.  It has divided a time or two and now we have three stems there – hopefully we’ll see that continue to happen and someday we’ll just have a bunch of them.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Pruning the Old Apple Tree

We’ve been talking about getting the old apple tree pruned for years now.  I’ve written about our plans to do just that quite a few times – check the link at the end of this post and you can see that I’ve been writing about it since 2008!

The winter this year, with at least four decent snow falls, took a toll on the pines around the Hawksbill Cabin yard.  We figured that as long as we were having so much tree work done – we took down about five mature pines, a couple of dead trees in the side yard, and one dead dogwood – we would have the tree guys prune back the apple tree.  And instead of a careful prune of just a third of the tree, we pruned hard, since I am sure that tree hadn’t been attended to in close to 40 or 50 years.

Our timing was good, as friends had told me that March is the time to prune your apples.  Another bit of advice I got was that apple trees aren’t supposed to be pretty – they’re supposed to grow fruit, and you get that by pruning.

Last week I saw a few blossoms, not nearly as many as in years past, but we know we haven’t killed it, and it is leafed out nicely.  Next year we’ll pick some of the small branches to keep and prune off the rest of them, and hopefully we’ll be back to full crops again in a few years.

In the meantime, I collected a bunch of the old branches and had them sawn into firewood length.  The wood is curing out on the brick terrace.  We’ll look forward to some fragrant camp fires out on the brick terrace next fall.

Incidentally, a quick look at those old posts reminded me that we seemed to have good harvests in even-numbered years.  I am sure that is just a coincidence, but who is to say.  In any case – here’s the link to the old posts about the apple tree:

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Pork Diaries: Brats

When Mary isn't able to join me for weekends at Hawksbill Cabin, I usually head over to Luray for dinner - a take out from Anthony's, a burger at Artisans, or those Oysters Rockefeller that I love so much at the Speakeasy.  With my ankle injury tying me down, I decided to stay in and grill on the brick terrace.

I found a small pack of brats in the freezer - from the pig Pork Chop, Jr. and this year's butchering outing. I grilled them up with some summer squash and a red pepper on the side.  I got a nice spicy brown mustard for them - tasty!

Incidentally, here's a post about making the brats.  It includes a little video of me using the sausage stuffer...


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Honey Porter - the New Batch

The new honey porter...with azaleas.
I brewed up a second batch of the "White House Honey Porter" from Northern Brewer (link below).  As with the first time, I substituted the honey that came with the kit for Luray honey from Jay and Ryanne, but since I didn't have any Luray-grown US Fuggles I used a pack that I got from Northern Brewer to add that final kick at the end of the boil

I shared a dozen 22oz. bottles with co-workers - looking forward to hearing their thoughts about it.  Speaking for myself, I believe I am going to continue to adapt this one and make it my signature brew...or at least, one of my signature brews!