Sunday, June 24, 2012

journey vs. destination

Steve and I went camping last weekend, but we enjoyed a lot of wonderful distractions that made up the bulk of the trip.

Oh, such pretty plants at the roadside…


Grapes! WINE grapes!

What was once a stable (ergo this beautiful door)…


… is now a WINERY! Gray Ghost winery!

Free tour!

Something awesome that is hopefully in my somewhat near future: Gray Ghost’s grape harvest is entirely done by volunteers. People on their list get a phone call at the beginning of the week, announcing that the next Saturday or Sunday will be a harvest day. They say yes, arrive at the winery in the wee hours, get a free continental breakfast, and spend the morning harvesting beautiful grapes at a winery in the countryside. Then, once the grapes are picked, they are treated to an all you can eat lunch, complete with lots and lots of wine, and a complimentary bottle to take home. Best of all, the following year, they can look at the bottles and be all, nonchalantly, “Oh, that wine. I harvested that.” And they say it’s done by “volunteers”?! Seriously, I’m surprised they don’t charge for such a cool experience. I signed myself, my boyfriend, my sister, and my best friend up for the list.

The winery is family-run and everyone was so nice. And the tour was so interesting! I love learning about wine: it’s like being in kindergarten again. I have no background knowledge whatsoever.

So a tour:

The first machine! Does it have a name? Maybe… This is where they put the grapes when they pick ‘em. They go up a conveyor belt and the ones that are overripe or underripe are pulled off. They are put into a big bowl with small holes in them; the grapes go through the holes but not the stems. This allows them to separate the grapes from the stems with a minimum of stress on them.


Then they hang out here for a few days.


Then we went to the coolest place ever. The next two rooms you see are buried under 12 feet of concrete, which gives them a wonderful cool, cavelike feeling. The underground cellar also has a very carefully laid foundation, because any vibration is bad for the wine as it ages in cases/bottles. They tested it in last year’s earthquake, and it all went well!

If you look carefully, you’ll see the barrels have red stains on top. I asked about it, and our guide (the owner!) said that the equivalent of one bottle of wine is lost from each barrel every three weeks due to evaporation. So, they have to check in on them and top them off to limit the amount of oxygen that gets in. They intentionally top them off to overflowing. Thus the wine stains.


Then, in the same underground building was the wine library (!). It was where they stored all the wines they had “retired” (they saved the last bottle from every year/vintage), and also kept the (many) prizes they’d won.


They also had a portrait of the civil war confederate general who was dubbed the “Gray Ghost” and is the namesake of the winery (and a distant relative of the owner). And there’s a mini cannon. Which is always pointed North (*eye roll eye roll*, lest we forget this winery is in Virginia.)


We ended the tour by seeing the single machine that bottles all four thousand cases a year of the wine they make. Crazy efficient, right?!


The tour was super fun. The tasting was even funner! (And FREE).

Steve ended up buying a bottle. The first Cabernet Sauvignon I’ve ever liked. We’re saving it for a special occasion.


A brief look around the grounds (so pretty! I wonder if they do weddings!) and I giggled my way back to the car (hi my name is Ileana and I’m a huge lightweight).


We pulled over again almost immediately upon seeing:


AGH PICKING BLUEBERRIES IS SO FUN. It’s always such a head trip to see something you traditionally buy in plastic boxes growing. On a plant. This is a wonderful and worthwhile thing that should be done often. (And, uh, hello, eating berries off the vine- something of which we did a GREAT DEAL- is like the healthiest thing ever. Ripe, no distance traveled, no exposure to the air off the vine, etc. etc.).


The farm (Muskrat Hollow farm, if locals are curious, off of Rte. 211) was clearly well on its way to a vibrant season.

We’ll have to come back for blackberries!


It’s sooooooooo pretty in the country! I know this is used for irrigation and serves a practical purpose, but it’s just so idyllic.




Not what we non-farmers traditionally think when we see “rabbits for sale”, eh?

Ended up with an empty milk carton’s worth of blueberries for $8.50. I love pick your own. Everyone wins.

Next step of camping trip: oops, the Shenandoahs are full! Yes, shockingly, when you arrive to the national park at 5:30 on a beautiful summer Saturday, the campsites are all actually taken.

Fortunately, a little creative hunting brought us to the exceedingly lovely Outlanders River Camp. No, we were not camped next to the river (unsurprisingly, those were taken). We were camped in a crowded little area next to, respectively, some heavy drinkers with a coked-out friend who slept all day (really? People like that go camping?), and on the other side a family who was horrible and kind of gave me some intense childhood flashbacks.

But then a quick romp and we were to the river!


Ohhhh Shenandooooooooooooah!

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Best part: Steve went along the water line and then all excitedly and silently beckoned me over to see…


… we kept sneaking closer and closer…




Back to our tent to watch the sun set over the mountains (on their respective sides, the young ones were coaxing the cokehead to come out and watch the sunset; and the horrible family had blessedly gone to dinner).


More importantly, vittles! Purchased at the same P.Y.O. farm.


I was kind of a mess getting ready to go and went “Eh, I’ve got underwear and a tent. Everything else is frosting.”

So keys were used as cutlery. (And, er, rolled up clothes were used as pillows).




Fat tire is the kind of beer I dislike the least, so I had a few sips, but was troublingly dehydrated so left the rest for Steve, along with his “delicious” PBR. Oi.

Fire vroomed up. Steve brought four bratwursts, all of which he ate (I helped grill, as I am much more patient than Steve and didn’t want him to get food poisoning from undercooked sausage).


Poor planning let to a not-particularly-protein-rich but still quite tasty dinner for me of grilled corn tortillas, potatoes, and squash.

Photographed in the dark by turning on the flash and pointing my camera at the table.


Sooooooooooo we woke up the next morning pretty hangry. And early, thanks to an extremely angry bird. We both were like “If we had a gun, we wouldn’t have to shoot him… we could just scare him a little.”

Stopped at a Mexican place (“Huevos rancheros!”, we exclaimed. Closed.)

Stopped at a place called Rainbow Palace or something equally awesome (“Hippie types in the former Confederacy!”, we exclaimed. Closed. Their sign was hilarious. “Usually we open at 9 or 10, unless we’ve been up late the night before. We’re open for lunch, and then in the afternoon we’re sometimes here, sometimes not, usually on Mondays… etc. etc.)

Finally, ended up going into Luray (which Virginians will associate with its famous caverns) and stopped at the first place we saw that had “Breakfast” on the sign.


SUPER cute.


This (very very nice) family had restored an old house and turned it into a cafe, and it’d only opened a week or two previously. Very ornately decorated.


Iced coffee gave me will to live.


Pretended to make conversation while really being like “Food. Food. Food. Where is the food?” in my head.

Blessedly the veggie quiche was vair large. And accompanied by a cucumber salad and a breadstick.


Steve and I “shared” this muffin. In that he ate a bite of it. In my defense, I gave him most of my breadstick and some of my quiche.


We were still very hungry.

Breakfast dessert was in order.

Him: the best coconut cream pie of all time.


Me: an entire bowl of oatmeal?! Whatever. I had been chew-my-own-arm-off-unable-to-think-straight hungry. It happens.


Grinned at the spellings on our check.


Great kesh! (Steve insisted that I conceal the price of the food for modesty’s sake. I said okay.)

Enjoyed a lovely chat with the owners, who then sold me these two cupcakes for the princely sum of $1.64. For BOTH. I told them in DC a single one would be $4. And these were great! Chocolate-peanut butter and mocha with vanilla frosting.



And we ate them on a mountain :)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

food for kids

… is the name of the department I work in. Pretty cool, huh?

Here’s a bit more about what I do every day: my guest post in Virginia Bloggers.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

plant family

Sorry to’ve not been around.

I’ve been breeding.


Lookit my beautiful babies!

They are growing BUDS!

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Which is particularly impressive given their past life. These guys have a PEDIGREE: they are Abraham Lincoln heirloom tomatoes. They spent the early years of their development in the USDA building in downtown DC, and then somehow ended up in the hands of my bestie, Lydia, who works at DC Central Kitchen. So she, being an excellent friend, called me and went “Uh, I have fifteen heirloom tomato plants. Want some?” The USDA was REAL keen to get rid of these poor guys, languishing away indoors. They were sort of tragic and droopy.

I fortified them with stakes (chopsticks), water, and lotsa sun, and they are thriving!

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And just yesterday they got some baby siblings!

Rumor has it tomato and basil grow well together.


The friends from my tomatoes were cleverly germinated by my father in yogurt jars! Neat!


(B for basil. He’s got a whole nursery going over there)

Also on the subject of plants, see that little gap between my front stoop and where the ivy begins?


It is, in fact, a (seemingly) rather large underground hole.

And the cat loves it. She goes sprinting across the lawn, dives underneath, and completely disappears. We call it her bunker, and enjoy speculating about what activities go on down there. Slash what she’s hiding. She emerges purring and covered with cobwebs.


Another thriving plant: the oregano! Year after year, with absolutely no encouragement, it winters over and thrives.


And went into my lovely dinner.

Chopped up some farmer’s market squash (all different colors; yellow, light green, white, dark green), and threw it in the oven for a head start on roasting (just with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper)


Meanwhile, cooked up a cup of quinoa.

Stirred together squash, cooked quinoa, a can of white beans, and a whoooooooole bunch of fresh oregano. Sprinkled the top of the casserole with Parmesan, chucked it in the oven for… awhile, and went outside to play frisbee with my sister and our neighbor’s adorable children.

Dinner is served.


Effortless, amazing (particularly with a little extra cheese). Love summer.


Important questions:

1. What do I do next with my tomatoes? I’m scared they’re going to outgrow their planters. But I don’t want to put them in the backyard cause there’s not a lotta light and I think deer will eat them (they eat everything else).

2. What’s your favorite easy, summer-vegetable-licious, one-pot dish?