Ramble On

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Another Great Brew Day at Beaver Run Brewery

It's been a two-year project for the Blue Ridge Brewers Association to develop a local source of malted barley for our home brewed ales - a project with legs, which if successful, could develop the source into a commercial product.

This year, working with a local farmer and a facility that could malt the grain down in Nelson County, a total of nearly 700 pounds was harvested and prepared for brewing.  Last week Dan drove down to Nelson County to pick it up, and he told me he was going to brew with it this weekend.  So I made plans to join him out in the brew-barn for part of the day.

As usual, I checked out the "on tap" board to know what I would be sampling during the work at hand.  Both offerings were great, but the Honey Brown Ale was unique in that it used some 25-year old honey Dan had in the basement.  The honey originated in Washington state, where his dad had a hive that foraged in a blackberry bramble.

They're calling the new malt 6-row Thoroughbred and I'll see if I can learn more about it in the future.  On brew day, Dan had planned a 10 gallon batch of IPA, and he had milled 20 pounds of malt for that effort, matched up with a selection of hops from the backyard hop yard.

I had an important errand to run during the middle of the brew, so I had my obligatory samples and helped stir the mash before checking out for a couple of hours.  Dan was using a step-mash approach to fully bring out the fermentables.  The effort involves a couple of pauses where the mash rests at temperature to ensure that its productivity is maximized.

When I got back to the brewery, the boil was just getting underway.  We walked through the hop additions - five of them, shown in order in the photo below.  All of the hops used in this brew were grown on the property - so between the well-supplied water, hops, and Luray-grown barley, this was a mostly local product.

I suppose the brew club will need to get to work on developing a local yeast strain now.  When they do, we'll have all of the major ingredients underway locally in Page County.

Our friends at Wisteria ferment one of their varieties with the yeast that comes in with the grapes from the field - so we know it's possible.  And I've heard rumors that at least one member is working on it.  In any case, there is a strain that has been isolated down in Richmond - we could brew with that one and have a Virginia-centric product, progressing gradually to our goal of a beer produced entirely from Page County ingredients!

Moving on to the true brew nerd portion of the post - Dan pulled samples of the wort as it progressed through the mash, all the way up until he started the boil.  We tasted each of them, from the sticky sweet, oatmeal flavored first pull through to the light amber of the final bit.

He measured gravity after the boil, before pitching the yeast, and it read 1.060.  Assuming the fermentation progresses normally, the target is 6.3% ABV.  Calculated IBU measurement is 64.

Ready in five weeks, I guess!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On to the High Line

Mary and I had a list of destinations we wanted to take in during our stay in Manhattan.  These things can be hit or miss - things take longer than you plan, they're not open, what have you.  But on our list was the High Line Park along the West Side, and we did manage to get there after our walk from China Town with Rosie.

The story of this park is that it is a "rails to trails" sort of development, with the converted elevated rail line actually an old freight line that ran directly into the heart of the city.  Starting in 2006, the community and the city began to build a park out of it.

In all, it's about 1.5 miles long.  We probably walked about 6 city blocks worth, enjoying views across the Hudson to New Jersey, or cross town views along some of the streets - and also, the peak out here and there to colorful murals and all the other stuff that makes New York great.

Although we were warned that by late afternoon the place is crowded, that is exactly when we ended up there - and the predictions were correct, it was crowded!  Still, there were ample spots to stop and take a break to enjoy the location.

I think Mary and I are already planning a next visit to take in more of it!

We exited around 23rd Street, which was only a few blocks (east-west blocks mind you - the big ones) from our hotel.  We made a stop to refresh ourselves there, and then headed out for a movie and a late dinner.

All in all, a great day with a big plus for us, in that we had a good visit with my hipster niece!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Meeting in Chinatown

While I wanted to try and catch the Staten Island ferry round trip on our walk through lower Manhattan, there was a very good reason we weren't going to have time - we were meeting our niece Rosie and her friend Paul for lunch in Chinatown.

So we got back on the subway to head for our meeting place in the Bowery - where we thought we might check out the Tenement Museum. 

A reminder to fellow tourists:  there is a lot to do here...don't bite off more than you can chew!

Yeah, so that didn't work out, but that was the location of our rendezvous.

From there, it was over to Chinatown, for hand-pulled noodles at the eponymously named restaurant.  Great stuff and everybody left full!  If you go, try not to pay too much attention to the restaurant itself, just saying, and anyhow they focus on the food here.

Paul had to get back to work so we parted ways after lunch.  Then Rosie, Mary and I spent some more time walking the streets of New York afterwards, eventually making our way over to the West Village, and then to the High Line, which will be the subject of the next post.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lower Manhattan Walk

Mary and I had a full day set aside for touring Manhattan on Sunday during our recent trip.  We set off for lower Manhattan to start, with the goal of viewing the 9-11 Memorial.

While we were down there, we had a look at the new World Trade Center, which was set to open two weeks after our visit.  In an earlier post, I included some of my photographs of that area.

We took the subway, although it would have been just as easy to catch a bus - and we have done that before on previous visits.  We emerged and navigated the streets that are still an obstacle course of construction, although that will likely reduce over the next few months.

We hadn't made any plans to go into the museum, and I doubt that I ever will.  I have my own memories of the day - as I have posted before, and the exhibit I saw at the Newseum a few years back was moving.  However, we did want to check out the memorial itself, so we took a walk through the area, stopping to have a look at the water features, the plaza, and the new forest getting started there.

It is difficult to capture the scale of this construction with a camera from ground level.  I was careful to try and capture a few full names of the people mentioned in the plaques with a view of the water feature in the background.  It was a pleasant fall day, and of course there were hundreds of tourists visiting the memorial.

We continued along, with a plan to visit the battery, and - time permitting - perhaps catching the Staten Island ferry for a round trip across the Hudson.  As it turned out, we didn't have time for that.

The area down at that end of the island was extensively damaged by Hurricane Sandy.  Between the WTC construction and the revitalization efforts after the storm, it has really made a comeback.  There is a new boardwalk and all sorts of pocket parks allowing the new residents to make their way to the waterfront.

I caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty out there in the narrows and was moved by it, and the memory of visiting Ellis Island a few years back with Mary, where we checked out the records of so many families that passed through there.  I'll close out with a reminder of what she represents, from the poem, The New Colossus:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Beaver Dam in Fall

In a September post I wrote about the ephemeral beaver pond that shows up in the hollow across the road from Hawksbill Cabin. At the time the area was covered over with wild greenery, but through the verge you could just make out that something had happened to the dam and the pond behind was empty.

Fast forward to last weekend, and now that the leaves are down and some of the plants have died back, you can see that the critters repaired their dam, and the pond has filled back up.  The pond is not as big as it has been at other times, but it's nice to see in any case.

For comparison purposes, the second photo with today's post was taken last spring, before the leaves came up.  The pond was much bigger at the time, probably full from the spring rains.

Mary and I took a look over there on Saturday afternoon, finding the pond partly frozen over.  Then we saw the wake of one of the beavers swimming around, and eventually the animal came into view.  Good to see them still around.

This stream is called Beaver Run - the hollow across the road isn't on our property, but it's part of the view from the brick terrace, so we enjoy having a look at it for most of the year.  When the dam is there, we have the benefit of the constant sound of running water tumbling through.

I'll keep an eye out for the opportunity to take some photos later in the winter, when it is frozen over.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Visiting the Glass House, Part 3

Because he was a famous architect, the completion of Philip Johnson's attracted a lot of attention in the press at the time.  A number of publications since then have called the gatherings that occurred there a '20th Century Salon' - since they featured other prominent arts and culture figures from the mid-century era.  

The story goes that there is a cigarette burn on one of the Mies pieces in the living room - courtesy of Andy Warhol (this will not be the only Warhol reference in today's post, by the way).  Our group toured the main house and had a walk around the grounds.

While we were in the house, Mary and I couldn't help notice a few similarities between the place and our beloved Hawksbill Cabin.  One example is the brick flooring that ends at the line of windows, as it does at our house - although here, there's a bit of lawn outside, and at the Hawksbill Cabin, the view continues to the brick terrace, progressing off into the wilderness of the hollow below.

Our tour included many of the other buildings on the property.  I won't highlight them in this post, but would refer readers back to the Wikipedia article for more information.  However, here is a view from the living room, looking out to the pond and a couple of the follies there.

The original 11-acre estate was developed over the course of 50 years or so, with small structures such as these scattered throughout.  I can imagine strolling about these grounds and enjoying the little projects as I came upon them - a very relaxing juxtaposition to life in the city.

Johnson lived here with his partner David Whitney.  They collected a lot of art, including this Warhol portrait of Johnson, and built galleries for the paintings as well as the sculptures.  These buildings are on one side of the grounds, so we enjoyed a walk through the fall colors, mostly hickory trees, over to them,

There was an installation by a Japanese artist in place at the time that periodically framed the main house in fog.  Our visit took place on a sunny day so the feature was a bit incongruous - I would have liked to see it under an overcast sky to appreciate it differently, evoking a naturalist frame of mind.

As we progressed towards the end of our tour, we visited Johnson's library and studio, a small building set away and across the field from the main house.  There on a drawing table I saw some of the tools he used laid out precisely, at the ready, should someone come along and need to roll out some construction drawings and work on a detail.  Nothing doing, though, and eventually my thoughts turned to the thought that most of that work is done on computers now anyway!

Finally, our tour ended, and the group made our way by shuttle back to New Canaan.  The group all parted ways, and Mary and I hopped on the train, bound for our next stop, New York, where we planned to spend a couple of nights sightseeing from a home base in Chelsea.  I'll get to those posts next.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Visiting the Glass House, Part 2

The main objective of our fall weekend trip was to visit the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. Some of Mary's college friends had arranged a tour and the plan was for the group to convene there as a group from all over the northeast.  Over dinner at one of her classmate's house on the night of our arrival, we got caught up on some of their alumni business and talked about the plan for the next day.

We had traveled up by train from Alexandria - we walked to the station, caught a regional, and rode all the way to Connecticut, where we had to make a switch to a commuter line for four stops.  It would have made for a long day, but since the visitor center for the Glass House was walking distance from the station in New Canaan, if the scheduling worked out we probably could have done this whole trip in one day.  It's a shame, but I doubt you could do something like that in other regions of the US.

The Glass House was designed to be a weekend residence by architect Philip Johnson, who built in on an 11 acre property in 1948.  His architecture practice was in the city, but the story goes that the building was inspired by Mies van der Rohe after Johnson completed an exhibit on his work at MOMA in 1947.  In any case, besides the modern aspects of the house, it was an early experiment in the use of industrial materials, such as steel and glass, adapted for private residences.

A side note...Hawksbill Cabin was completed at just about the same time frame - they broke ground on the property and completed the foundation at Thanksgiving, 1948. While we have learned that the family that built our place drew their inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian houses - especially the Pope-Leighy house that was built a few years earlier in Falls Church, Virginia.  Although that is the case, the modernist features of expansive glass fenestration and open plan interior are common features of all three residences.

For today's post, I wanted to focus on the experience and photos of the house itself.  The next one will include a few photos of the interior and the other buildings on the site, which has been expanded by the National Historic Trust from the original 11 acres to now include about 200 acres of wooded property.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fall of the Berlin Wall - 25th Anniversary Edition

A section of the Berlin Wall in Manhattan, October 2014.
When Mary and I were in New York a couple of weekends ago, we happened upon two slabs of the Berlin Wall in the south end of Manhattan - the area that is recovering from the 9-11 attack and from Hurricane Sandy.  It was a good reminder of the triumph of the human spirit - that there are so many things that we have, and we will, overcome.

Today is the 25th Anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall opened, at last allowing the people in East Berlin and West Berlin to openly cross the border.  

Me standing near a section of the Wall in May 2001.
It's an anniversary always leaves me a little conflicted about my memories of Berlin - my five years there were spent while it stood - as a fact, as a scar dividing the city - and I typically write about memories from those times, instead of how things are now, now that the wall is down.

And that's what is important - the reunification, the healing that continues, and the future.  

Still, in case anyone's interested, here are a few posts from my blog on the topic. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Visiting the Glass House, Part 1

So far I've put up a couple of posts about our trip up to Connecticut a couple of weekends ago - I still have a few to go, starting with today's post about the portion of our trip up to CT.  Mary arranged it with the goal of joining some of her college classmates for a tour of the National Historic Trust's Glass House, designed by architect Phillip Johnson.  And so, the trip up from DC had us arriving finally in New Canaan, where the house is located.

We had a great hotel stay, and spent Friday evening visiting with friends over dinner.  The plan for Saturday was to meet up at a cafe in town, and then walk over to welcome center for the tour.

Mary has a few classmates that live in the DC area, and one of them was with the group at breakfast.  We spent some time catching up - she'd been on a few trips recently, and her husband was just getting ready to depart for two weeks in India.

The welcome center was typical of what you might expect - plenty of books to peruse, some pretty wonderful design objects - including the George Nelson clock I took a photo of here.  Soon our tour guide joined us for an overview of what we could expect on the tour.

There was a wall of small video screens continuously running clips behind where she spoke - and she would refer to the clips from time to time.  They showed some of the "follies" that Johnson had built on the property, as well as an image of a party or two, and then, a fascinating clip of a person flipping through Johnson's rolodex.

As I watched that, the anachronism wasn't lost on me...I remember changing jobs a couple of times during the late 1980's and early 1990's, making sure that the rolodex made it into the little box I packed as I departed.  Of course, Johnson's file included a card for Andy Warhol, and then surprisingly, David Childs, whom I mentioned the other day in the post about the new World Trade Center building - he was the architect for the new tower.

At last it was time for our tour to begin, so our guide concluded the overview and we headed out to the vans for the short drive over to the property.  It was a beautiful fall day - sunny, crisp, and blazing fall colors on the trees, just past their peak.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Manhattan Downtown Skyline

Here are a couple of additional photos I took from the hotel in Chelsea last week - one at night, and one that has been filtered with an app called "Tangled FX".

The World Trade Center Opens

Looking north as we walked down to the Battery.
“… when the 104-story One World Trade Center officially opens for business Monday – the tallest and most expensive building in the Western Hemisphere – it will have ushered in a rebirth of lower Manhattan as a vibrant, urban neighborhood where people live, shop and eat, rather than just hustle home from white collar jobs. – Washington Post (link)

Mary and I took a trip up to Connecticut and New York City a couple of weekends ago – I have plenty of material for a series of retrospective posts on the trip, but the Washington Post article linked above, about the prospective opening of the new World Trade Center caught my eye, so I thought I might open the series with some photos about our visit to the building’s environs.

Downtown skyline at sunset, from our hotel in Chelsea.

We’d planned Sunday as a sightseeing day.  We were staying in Chelsea, midway between Downtown and Midtown, but we did have a high floor with an unobstructed view south.  The skyline photo here was taken at sunset and it features the redeveloped WTC site.

As we approached the new tower from the subway.
Certainly, the events of September 11 were a tragedy; it’s not my intention to gloss over that fact, and I have written a number of posts on the topic previously.  I’d like instead to celebrate the new building and its likely impact to lower Manhattan here, which is the subject of the Post article.  

Also, Mary and I have a six degrees thing with the building:  she having worked with David Childs during her time at SOM, and I worked on AECOM, whose subsidiary Tishman was the construction manager for the building, so there was no avoiding frequent progress reports as it went up (even if you wanted to, which I did not!). 

One of the frequent complaints about the old development was how the pattern of blocks cut off the balance of Downtown from mixed use development.  That’s been remedied in the new plan and the results speak for themselves:

New WTC site plan, copied from Wikipedia.
“The population of Lower Manhattan has tripled, from 20,000 to 60,000, with thousands of residents living in newly built or renovated condominium towers. Another 2,200 units in 10 buildings are under construction, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York, an association of building owners. Media, advertising and technology companies began snapping up the discounted office space, bringing a more a creative workforce downtown.”

We spent an hour or two walking around the new development and the memorial, before heading on down to Battery Park – itself in the midst of redevelopment as well, after being ravished by Hurricane Sandy a few years back. 

All in all, what we experienced – and what this post is meant to celebrate – is the comeback story.  As Keith Richards said in his intro to Saltof the Earth, “…you know, I got a feeling this town’s gonna make it!”  

We’re looking forward to our next visit.