Ramble On

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Outside Diatribe

As a follow-up to my recent seven summits post, I noticed the emphasis on “adventure tourism” coverage of summiting Everest in this month’s Outside magazine.  There were three articles – in the first, “Meet the New Boss,” by Grayson Schaffer, there is the story of California guide Adrian Ballinger who plans to spend the Everest season taking experienced climbers to “the top of the world.” 

Quoting from the article now:

“The idea is to make it from the U.S. to the top of the world and back in just 40 days, paying $89,000 each, roughly twice the average cost of a guided Everest summit.” (note)

In a second article, entitled “Show of Force,” reported by Deepak Adhikari, we read that the base camp at Everest will be patrolled by armed police.  Apparently there are as many as 1,000 people in the camp during climbing season, and a need for law enforcement has evolved there.  Schaffer refers to the crowds as a “high-altitude conga line;” to me it sounds like tolerating the environment there might be a challenging as the climb itself.  

Then there is a final article, “Express Descent,” by Ryan Krogh, which describes “a daredevil’s plan to jump off the top of the world” in a wingsuit.  This involves summiting Everest, and then BASE jumping off of it..the whole shebang is sponsored by the Discovery Channel.

I love Outside magazine, and have since I began reading it in the 1970’s.  They continue to offer good journalism on less exploitative topics, and I enjoy the gear reviews, often taking them into consideration when equipping my hikes in Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington National Forest.  However, reading the Everest articles in this month’s edition was a bit of a downer, because they’re reporting nothing but pure consumerism – I can’t read a stitch about adventure in any of the three of them, even between the lines.

Note – the article mentions that the typical duration of an Everest summit is 2.5 months – 75 days, so this excursion cuts the time in half as well as the cost.  This doesn’t acknowledge the additional preparation that legitimate guides require – high altitude and ice climbing, for example – or the cost of getting to Nepal and the departure point for the route to the summit.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Brew Day at Beaver Run Brewery

We had plenty of errands to run at Hawksbill Cabin over the weekend, but ended up with a few postponements on our Saturday appointments - so I walked on up to visit Dan at Beaver Run Brewery to see if I could help out on brew day.

I'd seen a post on Facebook earlier that day that he had planned a 10-gallon batch of the Flat Tail IPA (Brian:  beavers have flat tails, and the brewery is near Beaver Run, hence the name). He had some new equipment and techniques to try out, and I was interested in seeing how those worked as well.

Dan's evolution in brewing technique graduated to all grain two or three years ago, when he added large kettles that suit this style. He added propane "outdoor" style burners, along with a pump and wort chiller to complete the set up.  He doesn't have to lift any hot kettles, and temperature sensors are built in.

It's a pretty high quality operation that produces consistent results, so he has also been experimenting with beer styles, producing a pilsener and stout recently. His standby has always been the IPA though - so this was a good batch to be around for.

The major upgrade of the day was the new yeast starter outfit.  It's shown here in the photo - I've lost track of how long this yeast had been "awake."  The plan was to split it into two five gallon carboys, after starting from one commercial vial.  Later he'll harvest a little and start keeping his own starters in the brewery fridge.

While I did help out during the boil, my role for the day was to act as brewer's assistant.  I took care of some of the intermediary cleaning and sanitation after the mash and sparge were completed.

As always, one of the main features of Beaver Run brews are the home grown hops - there's a photo here of Dan adding the bittering hops early during the boil.  Later on I took a walk over for a look at the idle hopyard.  It won't be long until we start seeing little shoots come up on the bines.

For myself, I really am impatient for winter to end this year.  So I'm looking forward to seeing some green in those little hills in the backyard.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pork Diaries: Ham, Bacon, and Pork Chops

This week marks to occasions for a "pork diaries" post about this year's hog - the bacon and ham came back from the smokehouse, and Mary and I enjoyed our first meal of pork chops.

Last year David sent our hams and bacon away to a smokehouse and custom meat cutter over on the other side of Massanutten Mountain.  We were all really happy with the results, so we repeated this year.  The process usually takes a month or so, and we had a snow delay in there, but everything got back last weekend.

I have two hams, a hock, and then 10 packs of bacon on hand for the year.  We'll be enjoying that for a while.

Meanwhile, given the snow day Monday, I decided to put together a meal of pork chops and vegetables from the grill.  This year, I cut the chops, bone in, thicker than in the past.  They cook slower, but they also retain their juices better.

It was hard to cook in that cold the other night, but everything came out fine:  chops grilled and glazed with that chipotle-peach sauce I made recently, yellow squash sauteed with onions, and mixed blue and yellow potatoes with rosemary.  I can't wait to grill again.

Although I may wait until it warms up.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Seven Summits Update

Here on the Hawksbill Cabin blog, one of the topics I come back to over and over is hiking, so when Mary and I had the chance to catch up with Felice and David in Culpeper this winter, I wanted to ask David about his progress on mountaineering (kind of “advanced” hiking) the Seven Summits.  

Check out the “Seven Summits” label over in the right hand column for some of the previous posts on his mountaineering enterprise. 

Turns out he’s made it to six of the seven, with only Everest still left.  He mentioned how the time and expense of the trip to Everest is one of the reasons he hasn’t climbed that one – but he also mentioned that the trip is very crowded these days, enough to add to the danger of operating at high altitudes.

One of David’s motivations for the other climbs was to acknowledge a friend he’d lost to illness a few years back.  Even so, he never explicitly told me he planned to complete the set, the seven, as an objective.  Even though Everest awaits, he has been to some pretty incredible places on his mountaineering journey – for example, he told me about how he enjoys Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park. 

I might look into an Old Rag hike myself this year…there’s not bad adventure in that one, even though it’s crowded on the weekends.  And if hiking for adventure is what you’re after, I found this article recently about alternatives to the Seven Summits – I leave you with a link: 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brewer's Chores

For this snow day, I decided to kick back and take paid time off - used the time to take care of some brewing chores that had been waiting.

First thing, I bottled my Cascade IPA on Friday, taking notes on the gravity readings.  Since I lost a lot of data when my old computer crashed recently, I needed to find a new alcohol by volume (ABV) calculator, and I did, using it to calculate the results of the Cascade IPA.  By the way, since that is conditioning in the bottle right now and I'm estimating that it will be ready on April 15, I am calling it "Tax Day IPA."

The temperature corrected original gravity on this one was 1.051.  It finished up at a final gravity of 1.013 - so I'm giving it a 4.99% ABV.  That is paired up with an international bitterness unit (IBU) measurement of 55.3, all from Cascade hops, including 3 ounces of Luray local hops from fellow grower Bill.

My second errand was to strain off the bitter orange/coriander tincture I've been making for "La Petite Orange" - the Belgian Dubbel I posted about last week.  That orange peel is difficult to work with - it absorbed a lot of the vodker and I could not extract it.  I'll go with what I was able to strain off - maybe two ounces - and I'll just add that at bottling time.

My third and last chore was to move La Petite Orange to secondary.  It's been percolating downstairs since last weekend, but primary fermentation has finally ended.  Two weeks or so in secondary, and I'll bottle it with the tincture mixed in.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Not Exactly the Snowpocalypse

We've had another March snowstorm in these parts - I just barely made it out of the Hawksbill Cabin driveway when flurries appeared this weekend.  I outran the storm on my drive, but it caught me when I got back to Alexandria.

We ended up with between six and eight inches of snow overnight.  It's very pretty, as a late season snowfall can be.

Thankfully, it will be gone soon, too.  Then we can turn our thoughts to the warmer times ahead!

Nature Will Get Us All in the End

Over on "Abandoned Berlin" - one of the blogs I follow, which you can find in the right hand column - there's a post today about a villa that was destroyed in WW2. It's located in Steglitz, a district that was Southwest from where I lived in Tempelhof.  Fairly suburban, but the structure and decoration of the house looks beautiful.  
It was destroyed in allied bombing one night in 1944, and in the style of that blog, the writer was able to gather quite a bit of interesting information about why it is still a shell.  That reminds me of one of the houses on Vernon Street NW, where I lived in DC for a few years...in any case, a link to the post is at the end of this one.
Which brings me to the topic of today's post.  It's been quite a hard winter, and before the snow that started last night, we had some high winds out at Hawksbill Cabin.  It's taken its toll on the pool cabana, shown in the photo here.  
While it's not war damage, there are a few small projects we're going to need to get underway - and to me, that is a welcome sign of spring.   
Here's the link to that post about the villa in Berlin:  http://tinyurl.com/jwylemf

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Brewing La Petite Orange

After steeping the specialty grains.
This is a recipe kit I bought last year: it's a Belgian Dubbel style, and I decided to postpone brewing it because it wouldn't be ready until the summer.  With March already here, it seemed that I'd best go ahead and brew it now for a May release, before the full heat of summer is upon us.  Here's the beer's description from the recipe kit:

Back by popular demand! A Belgian Dubbel without the deep dark chocolate maltiness, the Orange is rich with caramel sweetness and a full body that hides the 6.1% ABV very well.  Lueven ale yeast contributes rich esters - cherry, strawberry, lychee fruit, even hints of tropical breezes.  A simple sipper that evokes warm summery memories with every sip, yet fits perfectly into the colder months; standard brewing repertoire.

By now I know my way around the brew kitchen well enough to take some liberties, so I went off recipe for some elements of this one.  First of all, I used a dry ale yeast instead of the Lueven ale yeast suggested - I don't even remember receiving that one in the kit, to be honest.  Goodbye, lychee fruit esters!
Making the coriander/bitter orange tincture.

I also decided to use some bitter orange peel and coriander in the recipe, which suggests this addition at the end of the boil.  That was part one of the approach...also from the recipe:

Brewer's note:  You may wish to add up to 1/2 ounce crushed coriander and the zest of two oranges at flameout for a "La Petite Orange Blanche."

I took this suggestion a step further - I added the "blanche" ingredients, as suggested.  I decided I wanted these flavors to be a little stronger, though, so I also started a tincture with half the ingredients.  I had success with this method before - a Honey Lavender Kolsch from last spring, just check the "Lavender Tincture" label at the end of the post.

Coriander and orange peels floating around.
I'll let those ingredients steep a week or so, then strain them off in the hopes of not being too strong when I add them back at bottling time.

After I finished the boil and gave the beer its ice bath, I moved it into the carboy.  I've upgraded my approach, so I took a hydrometer reading after that.  O.G. is 1.052 at 70 degrees - right on target for the recipe, so fingers crossed this comes out at 6.1%.

I'm planning one week in primary, then two weeks in secondary.  I'll also strain the tincture after the first week, and keep it refrigerated until I am ready to bottle.

Speaking of bottling, I'll be putting up the Cascade IPA soon.  And next on the brew calendar is a repeat of the honey lavender kolsch!

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Pork Diaries: First Ham 2014

The ham (and 1/4 rack of last year's ribs),
just getting started on the Big Unit.
By now, most readers who follow my butchering experiences know that the hog Chris and I shared this year had a name:  Kevin Bacon.  To clarify I should mention that I don't think the origin of the name is the movie star (I'm a fan, by the way) - I think they took the first name from the Disney Pixar film Up!, where it was the momma bird's name, and the second name, of course, came from the breakfast meat.  This weekend, I grilled a first roast from Kevin - actually part of one of the hams.

The first year we did the butchering, I had the entire ham cured.  After it came back from the smokehouse, I broke it down into a couple of large chunks - the hams we get range from 25 to 35 pounds, and it's just Mary and me, so we'll still have leftovers.  However, power in Alexandria being what it is, I lost two of the three ham cuts I'd frozen, and I swore I'd manage the meat differently going forward.

For sauce, I used Jared's competition recipe
to start, but substituted chipotle in the mix
for a portion of the paprika.
I've settled into a routine where I cut the ham into fourths on the band saw in the butchering shed.  I send two off for curing, and take two home to freeze.  This was one of the ones I'd frozen - we're waiting for the hams and bacon to come back from the smokehouse, maybe next weekend.

My plan was to roast the ham on the Big Unit in Alexandria, planning about a 4 hour cooking time at between 275 and 300 degrees.  I had to transfer from the charcoal side to the gas side in order to recharge the coals, so cooking time stretched out to 4.5 hours.  But it finished really well, and I did get some hickory smoke flavor worked into the meat.

To kick it up a notch, I decided to use the competition recipe for sauce that Jared shared with me.  This is a top secret recipe that I cannot reprint due to a promise to him.  But I will note that I substituted chipotle seasoning for a portion of the paprika - adding a little heat - and used the peach preserves at quantities specified.  This is good stuff, if I say so myself.

The finished meal, with chard and yams.
We paired the ham roast with yams and some chard.  Although we didn't finally sit down to eat until 8:30 on a Saturday night, you're looking at one satisfied barbeque chef right here.  Plus, we've got leftovers; I don't usually eat them, but I am looking forward to a couple of meals from this one.

So here's to the first roast off of this year's pig, Kevin Bacon.  Can't wait for the rest of those cuts - ribs, chops, and shoulder...later this summer.

And still to come:  BACON!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Herb and Odessa

Herb, with the puppy Olive.
Mary had a call yesterday afternoon that Herb over on Linden Street passed away.  Herb and his wife Odessa were some of the first neighbors we met in Alexandria’s Rosemont neighborhood, where we live.  When we first moved here in 1998, Mary would see them out every morning as she walked Gracie and Sofie – they were out walking their dog Elmo.

They were an older couple who lived in a single family home down at the end of the block, where they’d moved in the 1960’s.  He was a retired union pipefitter from the rail yards, and she a retired housewife.  They raised a “his-hers-ours” family in that little house where they still lived with Herb’s son Joe, a retarded middle-aged man that Odessa rescued from an institution when he was six – that’s how they handled things back then, but Odessa wouldn’t stand for it.

In the summer, Herb had a big garden in the backyard, a veritable truck patch, and he’d share bushels and bushels of tomatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplants with us.  I remember these incredible purple peppers he gave us one year.  He would also go to Lowes and Home Depot and visit the nursery, getting the scrawny passed over and leftover trees for a bargain and nursing them back to health.

Mary kept a watch on Herb and Joe, especially after Odessa passed away a few years ago, and she would bring over a cake when she stopped by every few weeks.  Then Elmo died, and Herb got a new dog, a rescued hound mix he named Olive.  Mary told me about their visits and how happy the dog made Herb.

Mary was planning on one of her visits yesterday, but she had a call from Herb’s daughter that he had passed away earlier in the morning.  Herb has had a couple of fights with cancer, but this time, at 85, he knew the end was near.  He was determined for it not to end at the hospital.

Yesterday morning, Herb’s daughter was visiting.  They’d gathered in the dining room, and he asked her to make some eggs, so she was making breakfast.  He passed in his chair while she was cooking.

Ten years ago, when we moved over to Masonic View Avenue, he gave us a couple of the rescued crepe myrtles he’d gotten back on their feet.  They’re thriving in the backyard now.  I’ll look forward to their blooms this summer and think of him and Odessa.

Here’s to Herb and Odessa.  A wonderful family and good neighbors.  Rest in peace.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Almost Spring, Thoughts Turn to Adventure

Spring is almost here.  By some reckonings, it arrived on March 1, but for me I judge by the crocus blossoms, and they are still a few weeks away.

It's a time of year when I start thinking about recreation in the Shenandoah Valley, using Hawksbill Cabin as a basecamp.  We'll hike up in Shenandoah National Park, maybe do a canoe float on the river...and then, the farmers market in Luray will open and we'll start to grill with fresh vegetables and locally raised meat every weekend.  Add in a relaxing Sunday at Wisteria Vineyards, and you'll have a complete lifestyle statement!

During these last few days of hunkering down waiting for a thaw, my mind also wonders to adventures of the past.  My friend Marilyn discovered this high density video taken in Yosemite National Park - I've been fortunate enough to go three times, counting the Half Dome summit as among my achievements - but I never tire of getting another look at that remarkable landscape:

You can check out my Half Dome hike, and other Yosemite highlights (especially from a business trip there in 2010), from the links below.