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Monday, June 14, 2010

"Dueling Dining-Car Chefs" Weekend with James Porterfield!

This post should also be called "When Guests Become Friends", as it truly was that kind of a weekend at the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre!
James D. Porterfield, historian and author of "From The Dining Car" and "Dining By Rail", and "On The Menu" columnist for Railfan & Railroad Magazine, joined us at the Inn as Guest Chef for our May 28-30  "Dueling Dining-Car Chefs" Weekend, and instead of "dueling" (LOL), he and Chef Dan created two delicious, multi-course dinners for our guests from the finest of historic dining car recipes!

Gene Bowker's Photo of the Elkhorn Inn & "Pocahontas" Railroad
See Gene's  for a great slide show of the weekend, his photos on and his articles in the Train Travel Examiner

Chef Jim prepared his feast on Friday evening, centered around the Pennsylvania Railroad's "Deviled Slice of Roast Beef with Mustard Sauce", and Chef Dan created his dinner on Saturday, with "Coast Starlight Chicken Breast with Pinot Noir and Dried Cherries" from the Amtrak West SBU as the focal point. Our gourmet railfan guests enjoyed both dinners accompanied by wine, period music, Andrew Fletcher's great illustrated railroad magnets (NS, of course!) from as favors, Jim's excellent commentary on each course, and more Pocahontas railroad trains sailing past the Inn than I think we've Ever had! Our guests enjoyed touring the area, as well as "railfanning" on the Inn's track-view balcony and patio, and Elisse & several of the Inn's guests even wound up in in the Inn's "railfan hot tub" in the moonlight, and one even got to go ATVing with Dan!
James Porterfield's first article on the Inn, "Almost Heaven?" in Railfan & Railroad, with his famous quote about the Elkhorn Inn being "the best legal train-watching location in the USA", together with his friendship, enabled us to create with him what we believe is the "ultimate" Railfan Foodie weekend! The dinner weekend was such a success, in fact- and Jim enjoyed playing chef so much- that the Elkhorn Inn will host another "Dueling Dining-Car Chefs" Weekend, Sept. 3-5, 2010 over Labor Day Weekend, with a totally new menu! Only 4 guest rooms remain available for this special weekend, so call us at 1-800-708-2040 or 304-862-2031 as soon as possible, if you'd like to join us!

James Porterfield & Dan, Not dueling in the kitchen at the Elkhorn Inn!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fly-Fishin' Elkhorn Creek! (When Guests Become Friends, Part I)

This has been quite a week- in the very best way! As Inn-Keepers, it's a wonderful thing when guests truly become friends, and that is what these last few weeks have been about! I'll start with this weekend, when Tony "The Trout" Wheeler gave us a day's fly-fishing lesson on Elkhorn Creek - the great little trout stream right behind the Elkhorn Inn - and my next post will be on last weekend's "Dueling Dining-Car Chefs" event with James Porterfield, author of "From The Dining Car" and "Dining By Rail". 

Readers of this blog know that after 8 years of living at the Elkhorn Inn on one of The best trout streams in the USA, in April we finally found the time to take a great "Fly-Fishing 101" class with Bobby Bower of Pro River Outfitters at Glade Springs, and go fishing with him on Glade Creek-on-the-New (where Elisse caught her Very First Trout On A Dry Fly!). But what we REALLY needed to learn was how to fish 'our' creek, and Tony Wheeler, fly-fisherman extraordinaire and a frequent guest of the Inn, offered to teach us! The puppies & I ordered Dan & I fly rods, chest waders, and boots from Cabela's as a late DogMother's Day & early DogFather's Day prezzie, and Tony helped us set it all up and then spent a morning and afternoon with us in Elkhorn Creek, teaching us a TON of stuff! We now know just enough to be Really dangerous! LOL
T showed the patience of a saint with a couple of newbies, with the result that Dan got several great bites, and Elisse (me) actually hooked a number of fish (that, yes, got away!) The only problem with Tony is that he is a REALLY great fisherman, and can instinctively read the water like a book, and so when he casts, (unlike us, mere mortals that we are), he hooks a fish- almost all the time! I know (from the sound of his furiously gnashing teeth when a 20" trout escaped his clutches, and the fact that he almost grabbed the rod out of my hands several times) that it had to be Incredibly frustrating for him to have a couple of neophytes let fish after fish get away! For me (since we're doing catch-and-release & not my usual fishing-for-dinner), the catching & netting of a fish wasn't as important as just hooking them- & learning how to watch for them- because unlike with other fishing I've done (such as bang-the spinner on-the-salmon's-head fishing in Kodiak, AK, or drop-reel-&-puke for yellow fin off Mexico, or Dan's Special Ops Survival Course Army fishing), you really Don't feel these guys bite! Tony hooked us both up with a double-fly combination of a wet nymph and a floating grasshopper thingee that even "Ms. Eagle-Eye NOT" could see, and while HE saw the fish take the fly, I saw & felt nothing the first three times- but I Finally saw the bobbing grasshopper go down, and so then tried to hook the fish- and the 5th time I actually did it! All by myself! And then I fought it and watched its silver back break the water, thought I had it, and finally lost it! All by myself! LOL  It truly IS a magical sensation- and to do it in our very own creek was a rush!
In addition to being so sure-footed that he can literally run the rocky creek through thigh-high water (a feat which amazes me, as I am 4'9 1/2" tall and of the make-sure-one-foot-is-firmly-planted-before-you-lift-the-other-one school of creek-wading), T has eagle-eyes, topped with polarized glasses, and so can see trout where I see naught but churning water! He taught us the rudiments of reading the water and how to figure out the places where trout like to play, as well as the fly-fishing version of what is known in the military as "situational awareness" (as in "Gee, I wonder what's coming out of that pipe..."), and I even learned to tie that cool "figure-8" knot (spitting on it, as opposed to sticking it in my mouth), that now enables me to tie on a fly! By the end of the day Dan & I had truly got our fly-fishing feet wet (figuratively, not literally, as that is Not something one wants to do in the creek T fondly refers to as "the dirty little sister")!  I've now a list of things (Woolly Buggers, Copper John nymphs, leaders, tippets, nail clippers, polarized fishing glasses, and yes, gold-beaded, size 14, olive soft hackles...) to buy, so we can get back out there ASAP! T's knowledge of Things Trout is truly encyclopedic, and the flies he hand-ties are fairly amazing; like me, our other Inn guest was delighted by the variety and beauty of the flies and nymphs and other small creatures T's crafted from feathers & fur, beads & thread... I cherish the Black Woolly Bugger I tied at our dining table with T & his friends, & this time he bestowed upon us his hand-tied Copper Tony nymphs (with which I caught the fish that got away). While I desperately want to keep fishing with it, as it's definitely my Lucky Fly, part of me wants to frame it... Or pin it on the cool Col. Blake-esque fishing hat I intend to get myself!
(Being a Native NYC Girl, many folks assume that I'm the Green Acres' Eva Gabor of McDowell County, & I do like to have a bit of fun with that- as you can see from the glitter-encrusted
Nawlins sunglasses I am wearing as we fish. But I pride myself on having grown up fishing with both my Oklahoma-chicken farm-born WWII WAC soldier momma & Ukrainian-born theatre actress grandmother, having been an Aggie & FFA, having worked on Kibbutz in Israel packing live fish & shoveling turkey manure, and having been an Israeli Army soldier myself! So do not judge a person solely by her penchant for high-heeled shoes! LOL)

One of the things we learned  this weekend from Tony, who is a Chemical Engineer as well as native West Virginian with a passion for fishing and hunting and his home state, is the definitive answer as to why, despite all the coal mining, Elkhorn Creek isn't poisoned, and is, instead, one of the best trout streams in the USA: Our McDowell County Coal is only 1% sulphur; 60% is organic sulfur which doesn't create acid water! (By comparison, northern WV & PA coal is 4% sulphur & 40% organic, and so does create the polluting acid water). Elkhorn Creek, as we know, runs fast & cold, & couple all that with the fact that trout like poo, and now you know why we have a creek teeming with 24"-30" trout, & a county chock-full of otters, beavers, wild turkey, ducks, birds, deer, bears, etc!
I also (finally) learned what poison ivy looks like, a Very Good Thing, as Martha Stewart would say, as for the last 8 years, (even after winding up in Bellevue Hospital in NYC from a case of it so bad that I looked like the Elephant Woman and had to get early release from a FEMA deployment), I thought it was something else. Live & learn... and then get Tony Wheeler to teach you what poison ivy looks like...
Another thing I learned is the secret of rapid weight loss: wear Neoprene chest waders in the broiling West Virginia sunshine. While I (smartly) got Dan lightweight waders, I bought chocolate brown neoprene ones for myself- a fisherwoman's fashion statement if ever there was one, if you're into looking like a brown sausage or Really into rubber- knowing "intellectually" that they might be a tad, uh, Warm. But unlike the lightweight women's waders, these had 5-star reviews from Real Fisherwomen, & that swayed me. "A tad warm" was an understatement, but if I ever get to go icefishing in Minnesota or back to Barrow, Alaska, I'll be Well prepared. Hiking up rocky Elkhorn Creek thigh-high in water in the spring sunshine I think I lost 10 lbs. inside a day- all sweat... Which I then put back on drinking Beach Grog, a Tony-&-Company concoction that he and his friends have shared with us & guests of the Inn. A smoothly, sweetly deceptive, & stunningly powerful ambrosia of rums, fresh fruit, and Coca Cola, Beach Grog constantly acquires new converts at the Inn, whacking them over the head with a velvet hammer. Trust me, kids: this stuff puts 'Long Island Ice Tea' to shame... Tony also shared his pack of jerky with us at lunch, (we love & respect folks who travel Prepared: jerky, brie, rum...), and as I am definitely a Jerky Girl & this was Truly Great Jerky, I was happily transported to my weird, gas-station-store version of foodie nirvanah... At the end of a truly super Saturday, we peeled off our waders (mine now known as "Elisse's Sauna Suit"), Chef Dan made us all a wonderful dinner of grilled salmon with a sweet-spicy fruit jerk sauce and (my fave) stir-fried Bok Choy over sweet potatoes in the Vietnamese style, and we sat outside yakking and laughing and drinking Beach Grog until the wee hours...

Elisse in her neoprene sauna suit, & Dapper Dan the Fly-Fishing Man, fishing in Elkhorn Creek...

Still life with Beach Grog Fixin's...
(Tony LOVES this photo, as my fashionably brown neoprene butt is coated with Elkhorn Crick mud, acquired by going down the 75-degree bank on my backside. Everyone has a "comfort level", and this is mine: when in doubt, sit. LOL  (We won't even Talk about my itchy arms from scaling the Other 75-degree river bank thru the jungle brush ("Was that poison ivy? No? Oh, good..."), fly-rod in hand... while Mr. T watched in comfort from the bridge). Do note the obsessive-compulsive look of Total Fly-Fishing Concentration...

Thank you, Tony! We had a total blast! We love having you as both a guest of the Inn and our good friend (you Truly crossed the line to "friend" after getting to see me both in a bathing suit (uck) & with my hair frizzed from the damp, looking like I'd stuck my finger in a light socket!) We hope & trust you and your wonderful fly-fishin' friends will come back to the Inn to enjoy both the fishing and our hospitality- & that someday soon you'll deign to go fishing with us again!!!