Ramble On

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Copper Fox Distillery

The namesake at the distillery in Sperryville.
In yesterday's post, I mentioned that I had two ulterior motives for taking Mary out on the Stonyman hike on Saturday.  Besides the beautiful weather, I wanted to check out how my new Casio Pathfinder worked, and that was a success.  The second motive was a surprise - to make a stop at the Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville.

I'd visited the distillery with Chris last year when we had to cancel a hike due to rain.  A few weeks later, Mary and I had spontaneously gone over for a tour on a Sunday, finding the place closed (as it always is on Sundays).  We also met the proprieter at one of the brewers meetings last year, when he came by to talk about how he sources his barley.

Inside the barrel room.  BTW:  Virginia law does not allow
whiskey tasting inside the production facility.
At the meeting, and again during our tour last weekend, they tell us that the grain comes from a farmer in Virginia's Northern Neck.  Inside the distillery, one of the first images you see is the pallets of raw grain in big white sacks, waiting to be malted and milled.  The tour also gives you a look at each of these steps in the process.

Over the course of the year since Chris and I checked the place out, their production has grown and they've added new products.  For example, they sell the spirit now (essentially grain alcohol, albeit legal and not moonshine!) as a specialty product that you can age yourself in little whiskey barrels.  I made a mental note of the new, larger malting tub and the increased square footage of the malting room as indicators of a growing - thriving, business.

Here's the van they use to deliver the whiskey.  I've seen
it around town - the liquor store at 9th & F Street NW in
DC carries the products.
While we were in the barrel room, we were told that up to 30 percent of the whiskey product is sold overseas now.  When I was here last year, they mentioned they might have some new spirits to offer soon, and we were introduced to the gin they're making.  No tasting on the premises, however, their license doesn't allow it.

It's a real treat to have a distillery nearby, and this is a great tour to take in if you're out this way headed to Shenandoah National Park.  It's in Sperryville, just south of US 211/522, before you get to town.  Here's a link:  http://www.copperfox.biz/index/

Monday, December 30, 2013

Stoneyman Summit, with Ulterior Motives

At the Stonyman summit.  Luray is just behind Mary
and me, and Lake Arrowhead is center right. The furthest
ridge is Great North Mountain, in WV.
It's probably just coincidence, but since we have been coming to Hawksbill Cabin, Mary and I have taken a couple of hikes in Shenandoah National Park on the last weekend in December or the first in January.  We continued that tradition with a short hike to the Stonyman summit last Saturday.

It was a great day for a hike, with clear, bright skies and warm temperatures, so the time was right.  But as the title of this post suggests, I had a couple of other ideas about the hike - for one thing, I wanted to try out my new Casio Pathfinder watch.  The other motive will be the topic of my next post.

The Stonyman hike is short, only 1.5 miles, and the elevation change is about 330 feet.  It qualifies as an easy one in my book - but it does end with one of the best views of Luray and the Page Valley that you will find in the Park.  Stoneyman is the second highest peak in the Park, by the way, at 4,010 feet - and on a clear day like Saturday you can see all the way to West Virginia.

The white blaze marks the route of the Appalachian Trail,
while blue blazes mark other routes throughout SNP.
Despite its shortness, this is one of my favorite hikes in the park.  It is close to the Skyland resort, so it was designed as an interpretive trail - there's a guide and marked stops to curate the walk in the woods - and there is a horse trail near the summit that marks a second vista that is often less crowded than the main observation point.

When I first found the trail, one of fondest discoveries was the twin blazes that mark the route: white for the Appalachian Trail, and blue for other hikes in the Park.  There used to be a sign where the routes diverged, about halfway up; I think that it said that point was the highest spot on the AT within the Park boundaries.  I need to go back and look through some past posts to remind myself, I know I have posted a photo of that old sign.

View to the Southwest, across Skyland Resort.
The peak in the upper left is where Massanutten Ski
Resort is, and you can just see the trails.
Using the new Pathfinder, Mary indulged me while I took measurements at three spots on the trail:  at the trailhead, at the point where the AT splits away, and at the summit.  Some features have changed since I had my last watch, but from experience I knew to take a reference altitude from a marked location, in this case the summit, at 4,010 feet, to calculate the climb.  I calculated a net gain of 326 feet, and for now that will be the high point record with the watch.

While we were at the summit I told Mary about the first time I took this hike, back in the days when I was checking off all the "Easy Day Hikes" routes (obligatory Amazon link below).  I got the horse trail summit and sat down to enjoy the view when my cell phone rang.  I spent 30 minutes on a work conference call up there that day, even though I was on vacation - you can bet I billed for that call!

The trail wasn't crowded, but we weren't the only ones who had the idea to go out on a hike. We enjoyed meeting a young family, a mother and daughter out on a walk, and then a couple from New Jersey (Red Bank - exit 109).  But as I mentioned, there was one other purpose for getting out on this hike, and I will post about that next.

By the way, here's the link to the Best Easy Day Hikes book I mentioned above:
Best Easy Day Hikes Shenandoah National Park, 4th (Best Easy Day Hikes Series)
It's not my only guide to the park, but I do refer to it frequently.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Tech-watch Geek, Jr.

Back in April 2013, my beloved Casio Pathfinder watch died.  I wrote about it in this post:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2013/04/tech-watch-geek-my-casio-pathfinder.html

That post highlights the lowest and highest altitude recordings I’d made on the watch:
The highest altimeter reading was in Yosemite in 2010: 2,315 meters, or 7,200 feet, without adjusting for barometric pressure.  The lowest reading was (negative) 150 meters, taken in Death Valley in 2011.  Again, with no adjustment for barometric pressure, that translates to (negative) 465 feet.

On a whim, I asked Santa to bring me a new one this year, and he did.  The new watch is another in the 240 series, similar to the one pictured in the Amazon ad in the right column – very much like the old one – only this one has some upgrades, including “”Tough Solar” (I always suspected that the battery dying had something to do with the old one breaking down on me), and a better water resistance (to 10 bars – not just hand washing, filling water bottles in a stream, or righting your ditched canoe).

Now, I got my first Casio Pathfinder from Santa as well, back in 2009.  I did some analysis of a number of what I call “tech-watches” – watches that included features like altimeters, barometers, thermometers, stopwatches, and alarms – including the Casio, Suunto, Timex, and Tissot offerings.  I’ve been a fan of Casio watches for the ease of use for a long time, so I settled on it for that reason – and also because of this Amazon review of the Pathfinder by Bart Barnack:

"My first [Casio Pathfinder] lasted through 3 assignments in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Half the team wore this watch and the other half the Suunto Vector. Most of us owned both. I found the Casio Pathfinder easier to use. The only issue I had with my watch is sometimes it went into conflict and went through all the modes and would not stop until the batteries were removed. I was the only one that had this issue. We worked in extreme environments, and the watch took a beating:  sand storms; attacks of all types; crashes; high heat 125-130 degrees; and cold below zero for long periods. All the features were a great asset to all of us. We often compared data with our other instruments like GPS and other sensors we had. The watch was close. The large dial is a plus in the field.”

Incidentally, the original post with that review can be found here:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/12/tech-watch-geek-maybe-winner.html

I never put that first Pathfinder to the kind of test that Bart did, but I suppose that all of the hikes and trips I took it on did serve up some abuse.   And now I have the new one – I’m looking forward to where and when I will set the new records with it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Charcuterie Wanna-be

There's between a month and six weeks left before the 2014 butchering event, so I have begun thinking about how to prepare.  This year, I'd like to give myself a few more options about handling the sausage making component of the enterprise.

Now, before I get much further into this post, I want to make a note about the accompanying photo - it was sent to me by a friend who was telling me about a butchering event down in Shenandoah, where they did 12 hogs over the course of a week.  Probably some venison in the mix as well.

The butchering shed that David hires out for our event can pretty much do all of this, although we will ship stuff out to a smokehouse when we want to use that approach.  Here's a post about the sausage making we did last year:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2013/02/everything-but-oink.html

Now the point of this post is that I am in search of sausage making gear and tips.  I'd heard that there is an attachment we can hook up to Mary's KitchenAid stand mixer - I even watched an excellent how-to video that showed pork, lamb, and chicken variations made with this tool.  However, when I went to Amazon to check it out, at least a third of the reviews are thumbs down - more than 100 poor reviews! - so I am going to keep looking.

My alternative may be to simply grind the pork at the butchering shed.  I'll go ahead and make and package the breakfast sausage there, since the recipe is so simple and we form the patties right when we're ready to cook it.  But I want to experiment further with some link-style sausages this year, thus the research.

Suggestions are welcome!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Quality Street

Been a fan of Nick Lowe's for a long time, and I have to admit I was skeptical when earlier this year we started hearing about a Christmas LP from him.  I left the jury hanging out to dry on the topic but decided that I would watch for more news.  Then as the promotion for the record started, there was Nick's quote in an interview on NPR:

"But I was confused by how snooty I felt when they asked me about doing it," Lowe says. "I think it's a Brit thing, really: Making Christmas records is seen as a not very cool thing to do. And I thinkg it's all bound up with strange ideas from the 1960s, about selling out and things like that...
"Instead of just knocking out the same 12 songs that everyone always seems to do," Lowe says. "I thought, 'Well, with a little bit of work, I could make it a little bit different.'"
So for a short post today, I'll close by embedding "Christmas at the Airport" - one of the singles from the record (and a hat tip to Brian for finding the video):

Monday, December 16, 2013

Two Porters

Didn't make it out to Hawksbill Cabin this weekend, so I took care of a few errands instead.  One of the errands was to brew another batch of Porter - I have one of the honey porter batches in bottles now, and now I have one in primary fermentation.  I even sprung for some label paper and did a little extra with the first batch.

This second batch ends up being something of an experiment.  It's a kit from Brewer's Best, as opposed to the Northern Brewer kits I have been using.  The new kit was originally for a pumpkin porter batch, but the fall got away from me before I could brew it, and so I substituted honey for the little spice pack that was provided.

I contributed three bottles of the old batch to an auction for Wounded Warriors at the office - our group raised $2,800 in this event.  It was really nice to have an opportunity to be part of that.

In a couple of weeks, I'll have a few bottles of both batches that I can break out and taste test against each other.  This will mainly be about comparing the hops styles, since they had different bittering and aroma varieties added.  Also, the first batch includes Minnesota clover honey, while the second is a mountain wildflower variety from the Shenandoah Valley - if I'd had enough at the time, both would have used a local product.

So the brewing adventure continues.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Cabin Lore: The Thompsons

To begin with, we didn't have a lot of information about Hawksbill Cabin - but we've been able to piece some of the history together over the years that we've been coming here.  For example, we found the year 1948 etched in a section of a concrete footer, and also in the concrete that sealed the top of the chimney - so we knew approximately the era it was built.

A few months after we bought the place, we researched the surrounding plots and found that the three that bordered us to the north were owned by Kevin Thompson.  After a little checking around, we learned that Kevin was the son of Bill and Phyllis, the couple that built the place, which they called "Windward."  Kevin is playing the guitar in the first photo here, with his sister Shawn singing along - also shown are Bill on the left, and Bernie Courtois, a neighbor, on the right.

These photos are dated from 1965, and our friends and current neighbors Noel and Steve shared them with us - Noel is Bernie's daughter.  Noel is the source of a lot of additional 'cabin lore' - we learn something new from her everytime we visit, which isn't often enough!  Here's a second photo, from the same evening, that includes Bill and Phyllis, Kevin and Shawn, Bernie, and two visitors.

Frequent readers will recognize the location of the second photo, out on the brick terrace in front of Hawksbill Cabin.  The Thompsons would summer at the place, thus the established-looking furnishings in this outdoor space, although there are a few items from the current-day house that are missing - the apple tree would be in the background, where it looks like a pine stands, and the dogwood just visible to the left has been replaced with a maple.

We eventually had a visit with Kevin, and we bought his three lots.  He came by to visit us, since his mother Phyllis was still alive at the time and lived in Alexandria.  He told us some family stories - from the looks of these photos, it's clear they enjoyed the place as much as we do - and we invited him and Phyllis out sometime to see how the place was doing.

Been a few years since then, and we don't know if Phyllis is still around; Kevin lived in Waynesboro at the time and we haven't heard from him since then either.  What we do know about them is that they built a fine home in the Valley - one we enjoy getting out to whenever we can.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

That Lenin Statue in Kiev

Back in the early 1990's, I worked for a fast-growing company called Development Alternatives, Inc. as the director of federal contracts.  There were a lot of international development projects just getting underway in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and as we began to win those jobs I found that there were opportunities for me - as a former USAF Russian linguist - to travel to some of the capitals to negotiate the contracts.

My two big travel experiences were to Kiev and Almaty; during the next year or so I also made it to Moscow while I was at USC Marshall B-school.  Great trips, and I did find that the USAF training was solid - the language began coming back to me almost as soon as I found myself immersed in the environment, even in the Fairfax neighborhood in LA!

So the news this week about the protests in Kiev attracted my attention.  Certainly the geo-political aspects of the situation is complex and threaten to take us into some new and unfortunate Cold War era.  But one image hit home: the one where Kiev's old Lenin statue had been destroyed by rioting crowds.

On the one hand, that demolition was long overdue - many of the cities and capitals that were part of the Soviet Union had long ago removed their statues.  But the fact that the statue had stood for so long after the demise of the Union suggested it might last as a historical artifact for some time to come.

At one time, given my own Cold War history, I'd thought it might be cool to get a snap of myself with prominent Lenin statues in the former capitals.  That goal was short-lived - here's Almaty also - but we were so busy in Moscow (that was a marketing consult to 3Com) that I didn't even get a photo of the bust in the train station!

Comes to mind that I should get back down to the Newseum in DC to have a photo taken of me with the headless Lenin statue that is part of the Berlin Wall exhibit there...I'd at least have a triptych then.

Things change.  What would life be if they didn't?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Alexandria's Scottish Walk - 2013

While our friends in Page County were enjoying the Christmas Parade down Main Street in Luray, we stayed behind in Alexandria this weekend to attend my office holiday party and to go to the Alexandria parade, the Scottish Walk.  Our friends Kathy and Brendan joined us, bringing along their dog Howser.  The weather gave no indication of how miserable it would get on Sunday, but on Saturday, it was a beautiful day for a parade.

We started off by grabbing a bite and some coffees at Bittersweet on King Street, then it was down to the corner of St. Asaph and Prince Street, which has been our venue for watching this parade for nearly 20 years.  I have a shot here of the color guard that opened the parade.

There were four drum and bagpipe groups in the parade this year - I took a couple of videos, but my favorite is this one.  Howser had watched this group carefully, and when the leader shouted to direct the group, Howser heartily echoed the command.

A friend who was stationed in Berlin with me is part of the King Charles Spaniel group, along with his wife and their two pups.  This group has been part of Scottish Walk for six years now, apparently - this time I was lucky enough to catch my friend, Marty, in action!  His wife and their dogs Buzz and Cooper must be a little way ahead - this was the second largest dog group in the parade this year - there were more Westies, but still, a whole lot of canine fun was going on with this bunch.

The season is shorter this year, so here's a reminder to everyone to have fun and be safe.  Happy holidays - whichever you celebrate - 2013!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Barn Cats - Palooza

I've posted about the barn cats a few times now, but last weekend was the first time I was able to get photos of all of them, so I thought I might put them up here on the blog.

First, there's Momcat - she is the mother of the kitten Mary adopted last year.  She's probably 2 years old, and like all of the kittens and the two mothers, we had her fixed with Cats Cradle in Harrisonburg in 2012.  This cat likes to go for a walk back in the wood lot with Tessie.

Then there are the two red brothers.  These two are from the other litter of kittens that showed up under our pool deck in 2012.  They're fixed and they hang around up under our garage/barn - hence the name, barn cats.  We call these two Patch and Little Guy.

The next one is the fluffy mixed cat the neighbors call Foxy.  We don't see her as much - not so much that she is shy, but because she probably hangs out elsewhere (feeding these cats is a community enterprise). Foxy is the mother of the two red brothers and that litter; she is probably Momcat's sister.

Last, of course, is Buster.  He just started showing up a month or so ago - leading to my hypothesis that he was adopted by somebody, but they left him behind when they moved.  He is the only one we haven't had fixed yet, although we plan to, and he is confident enough around us that he will allow himself to be picked up - and also he walked in the front door last weekend when I was feeding all of them.

All of which contributes to my theory that he used to be owned by somebody. In the photo I caught him at a funny moment - between a yawn and a meow, when he was demanding some food.

We have a standing offer to anyone who would like to adopt Buster - we will get him fixed and get his first round of shots.  Let me know in the comments if you are interested.

Here's a link to Cat's Cradle - if you can spare anything to support a stray animal support organization, this is definitely one that deserves it:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Scenes from a Dog Walk

During some recent performance review conversations, a colleague and I were talking about the need to get out for exercise on a regular basis in order to take a break from work and recharge.  I mentioned that in the past I'd found that difficult, even though I knew it would be good for me.  Eventually, that was one of the reasons we adopted Tessie, because I remembered how much I had enjoyed taking walks with Gracie and Sofie in the old days.

By the time we started going to Hawksbill Cabin, those two were too old for the walks I take with Tessie now.  One of our favorites is a figure 8 route that winds around the nearby Hawksbill Recreation Park in Stanley, where there is a nature trail back in the woods and some open grounds.

I spied this river birch there along the banks of Little Hawksbill Creek last weekend, and then, since there was so much water coming down the creek, I stopped to make a short video of the scene:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Checking in - with Pigs

Part of the plan this weekend was to stop by and have a look at how the pigs were doing over at Public House Produce.  David told me they were gaining nicely out in that pasture he'd set up for them, so I had to take a look for myself. Even Kevin Bacon, the little white shouldered gilt who'd been substantially behind the others, is filling out; David estimates they're all around 175 to 200 pounds now.

They do seem to like being out in this field (we moved them here in October, check out the link at the end of this post for the story).  I was able to get some video of them after they'd followed me down the fence line.  Then they saw Mary with the goats in the distance and went running and barking off to see what was going on by the shed.

I need to get back in touch with Chris so we can plan what we're going to do with our shares this year.  Mary has one of these nice standing blenders (Chris does also), and I understand there is a sausage making accessory that we could get so I don't spend time at the butchering shed on this part of the process.  That would offer a lot of flexibility for trying out new recipes as well.

I think I'll get back out to check in with the pigs later in the month, then once or twice in January.  Come the end of the month though - well, time's up for pigs then.