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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Elisse & Dan Can!

For the last 12 years that we've had the Elkhorn Inn, Chef Dan and I have been making pickles, cordial, or freezing all the things we make from our garden and wild harvests: I make Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese-style hot peppers & Mexican Gherkin pickles, we make cordial from the wild black berries we pick, and we freeze the wild blackberry sorbet and sauces we make. We also successfully freeze pestos (basil, rosemary, oregano, etc.), tomato sauce, soups, and even our Red Ruby Corn (which freezes great wrapped in newspaper!). But this year we decided to "take the plunge", as it were, and actually CAN! Yes, real Martha Stewartesque canning, with big vats of boiling water, and Ball jars with the little metal tops and screw-on rings! Dan had canned in the past (pre-me) so he had less fear of it than I, and although it's a lot more time-consuming than plopping things into a freezer bag, it turned out to be surprisingly easy! What made us dip our toe into the canning ocean was another huge harvest of Concord Grapes:
This year's grape harvest!

I planted 3 vines- the "Red, White & Blue American Concord Grapes" assortment that I mail-ordered when we first restored the Inn 12 years ago- almost as a joke, but last year they Finally started producing- big-time! With our first real grape harvest I made wine- incredibly sweet wine (which has actually aged quite nicely in Mason Jars, LOL). And as we still haven't finished off the wine, we wanted to do something different with our grapes this year. Having an inn means we always need jam for guest breakfasts, so Concord Grape Jam sounded like the perfect thing to make- and jam needs to be properly canned! The first thing we did was pull up Really Good and Clear Canning Instructions online so we would do it correctly- it is EXTREMELY important that you can correctly if you don't want your food to spoil. Then we bought the Ball jars with their lids and rings, and the tools we needed (a jar tightener and a jar lifter, to get the jars in and out of the boiling water), and pulled our our big canning pots. Then we started pulling recipes: We picked a classic grape jam recipe for the Red & Blue Concord Grapes, and a white Concord Grape jam with Lemon Balm (which grows abundantly in our garden).

Grapes on the vine!
Our Concord Grape Wine!

Our Concord Grape Jams- CANNED!
Between the cooking and the boiling and the boiling and the cooking, we wound up staying up all night, and at 5:30a.m. we finally had bottled up the jam properly and had it cooling on the counter! I have to say we were Really pleased at how it came out... and so the next night Chef Dan then decided to make Apple Butter and can it!

Next on the agenda: freezing the Red Ruby Corn and tomato sauce, making and freezing Chef Dan's Yellow Corn Soup, and making more hot pepper pickles and hot sauce! And then we have to dig to potatoes!

Chef Dan's Apple Butter- CANNED!

Heirloom Tomato Sauce!
Some of our garden's bounty!
Chef Dan with our Red Ruby Corn & Squash!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Ultimate Virginia Getaway- Thank you Wind & Weather!

Last year, a home decor store I seriously love- Wind & Weather - hosted a contest called "Share the Love". I covet basically everything in their catalog, and at Hanukkah I bought several of their things for the Inn (see photos below), so with great hope I submitted the story of how my husband and I met- we met while we were both working for FEMA in New York City following the 9/11 terrorist attack- and I won!

Our Wind & Weather Koi...

Our Wind & Weather octopus...

Our Wind & Weather goat table...
The Prize- and why I knocked myself out to get my Facebook friends to vote for our story- was a two-night getaway in Virginia at the gorgeous Inn at Willow Grove, and a selection of fun excursions and activities, including a hot air balloon ride, which I have wanted to do with Dan for YEARS!  We added two nights to the trip make it feel like a "real" holiday, and just came back from what really was THE best Virginia vacation- full of so many of the things that make Virginia great: vineyards that make truly great wine, seriously fine food, American history and historic accommodations, adventures like hot air ballooning and horseback riding, and shopping! :-)
Thank you Wind & Weather!

Dancin' the Love at Wind & Weather HQ!
We drove to Virginia a day early, and started our getaway in Charlottesville, Virginia which has a lovely Downtown Mall pedestrian area chock full of great restaurants, cafes, music venues, and shops. We had a delicious dinner at Hamilton's, a Virginia farm-to-table restaurant, enjoying a variety of delicious dishes including scallop ceviche, accompanied by Virginia wine, and a Great cocktail of Virginia hard cider, bourbon, a twist of scented orange peel and a sugar cube to make it fizz! Chef Dan only gets to do this kind of "foodie" eating and discovery when we travel, so we make it a point to seek out places like this!

After dinner we "followed the music" around downtown Charlottesville, which led us to a great live band playing on a gallery rooftop & kegs of beer, and then to Fellini's #9 a really excellent live-band karaoke bar with everyone from 20-somethings to 60-somethings singing the hits of the 60s! The next day we began our Wind & Weather getaway with a morning wine-tasting at Reynard Florence Vineyard, a real "hidden gem"! Reynard Florence is a beautiful, family-owned, boutique winery, and of all the wineries we visited on this trip, this was our favorite! And a 9a.m. wine-tasting is Definitely THE perfect way to start your day! The wine we loved the best was their Petit Manseg  2012 and 2013, which we bought to take home, and then learned that the famous Boars Head Inn carries it, too!

Dan, at Reynard Florence Vineyard
Wine- it's not just for breakfast! :-)
A Wine-Tasting Breakfast! Woo-hoo!

LOVE this!
 Our next stop was at the Barboursville Vineyards, for a truly scrumptious gourmet, wine-paired lunch at Palladio, which Wind & Weather had arranged, followed by a Very enjoyable apres-lunch wine-tasting!
A delicious assortment of
Palladio's house-cured meats...
Barbourville Vineyards & Palladio Restaurant

Wine for Lunch!
Wine- it's for After Lunch, too!
The Ruins at Barbourville
Dan & a Very old boxwood!

After lunch we toured the 1884 Ruins at Barboursville of a Jefferson-designed home built for VA Governor James Barbour (who was also a US Senator and Secretary of War), and found some Very old boxwood!

Swingin' the Love! At Wind & Weather HQ

Last Wine Tasting of the day! With the
Wind & Weather team, at Early Mountain Vineyards

Arriving at The Inn at Willow Grove...

Some of the lovely Wind & Weather
surprise gifts waiting for us in our cottage... including
their adorable solar dragon, yummy spice rubs for Chef Dan,
and a "Love" sign to plant in our Elkhorn Inn garden! 

Our next stop was at Wind & Weather headquarters, where we got to meet their great team, and the folks who planned our trip, and ham it up, swing dancing in front of their great "Love" sign! We then went to Early Mountain Vineyards with them all, to enjoy our last wine tasting of the day, some seriously yummy meats and cheeses, and live music- and dance a little more! :-) Dan and I have been lucky enough to do some great wine tastings in many places- notably Israel and Chile- but we have NEVER had a tasting that went from 9a.m. to 7p.m.! This was truly the Ultimate Wine & Foodie Day!  

We bought some wine and wine jelly from Early Mountain Vineyards, as well as an intriguing "wildcrafted" local hickory syrup, and then checked into our truly beautiful, romantic "Weaver's Cottage" at The Inn at Willow Grove. As many of you know, Dan and I are not only in the hospitality business, having the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre in West Virginia, but we have been "road warriors" for most of our lives, and so have stayed in a LOT of hotels, motels, and other lodging- good, bad, fabulous, and awful! And we both agree that The Inn at Willow Grove has THE BEST SERVICE WE HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED IN THE USA! If you are looking for a wonderful romantic getaway in Virginia wine country, THIS IS THE PLACE! Our cottage was beautiful, the down comforter and pillows awesome, the bath fabulous, the handmade soaps and L'Occitane toiletries delightful, but it was the absolutely charming and splendid  service- including our very own butler (!) who brought us hot beignets and French Press Coffee at 5a.m. before our balloon ride- that made it totally marvelous! 
Our beautiful, romantic "Weaver's Cottage"
at the Inn at Willow Grove...

The evening's delightful surprise at
The Inn at Willow Grove...

Dan, livin' large, on our cottage's porch
at the Inn at Willow Grove!

 The next day we had the true highlight of our trip- a totally enchanting hot-air balloon ride with Monticello Country Ballooning!

That's us!
Pilot Mandy, inflating the balloon with, yes, REALLY hot air!
Soaring over the beautiful Virginia countryside
in our beautiful balloon...

Up, up in the air, in our beautiful balloon!
I have so far managed to find- and do- with my US Army Retired Aviation husband, the only two things I know of that he had never done in the sky: fly the Wright "B" Flyer in Ohio (which we did last fall- see my post from our road trip to Canada Sept-Oct 2013), and take a hot air balloon ride! I have wanted to do this for Years, so this was Truly the highlight of our trip! Throughout the entire ride I imagined myself in a long gown with a bustle, and Dan wearing tails and a monocle- tres "Around the World in 80 Days"!
Living out my fantasy!

This is truly an enchanting way to see the beautiful Virginia countryside in early morning sunshine, watching the deer run through the forests, with our balloon casting shadows on the shimmering, velvety green fields... and our pilot, Mandy, was Excellent! Knowledgeable, experienced, and fun, she made the trip an interesting as well as enjoyable experience, letting us help unfold and inflate the balloon, and deflate and wrap it up after we landed! She made us feel safe, too, as she REALLY knows her stuff!

Our balloon, shadowed on the countryside...
Mandy, preparing our apres-ballooning
champagne toast & Mimosas!
Sharing the Love- with each other! :-)

Then off we went for our horseback ride through the apple orchards at Graves Mountain Lodge!
Dan on his spirited steed!

Elisse on Cheyenne- the horse who would not let ANYONE get in front! LOL
 After our ride we got to enjoy a bit of the Graves Mountain Lodge Peach Festival, having BBQ sandwiches and fresh peach ice cream for lunch with a live Bluegrass band, and discovering the excellent By The Bees  natural, handcrafted products for the bath, skin care, aromatherapy, and pain relief. Their "Deep Tissue Pain Relief Formula with Wintergreen & Cayenne" really helped Dan's arthritis pain- he got to try it at their festival booth- so we were delighted to be able to buy some to take home!

REALLY good music at the Peach Festival!

BBQ & peach ice cream lunch at the Peach Festival
That night we had a wonderful dinner at Vintages, the restaurant at The Inn at Willow Grove. We especially loved the house-cured salmon with bits of crispy, chewy bacon and a whole grain mustard vinaigrette, the braised local rabbit, and the house-made corn ice cream (yes, really!), and a wonderfully rich and intense house-made blueberry sorbet!
Yes, the Nexus7 takes lousy photos,
but we had a wonderful diner at Vintages!

The next day we had an excellent private tour of President James and Dolly Madison's Montpelier Our guide was really splendid- knowledgeable and learned, and she made the tour fascinating! Dan is US Army Ret., and a history buff of the first stripe, which made this a truly great experience, and one of the highlights of our trip! It was fascinating to see the ongoing archaeology and restorations that are making Montpelier truly a living museum...
Our Private Tour of James and Dolly Madison's Montpelier

Railfanning the Norfolk Southern at Montpelier Station!
The exhibition at Montpelier Station:
The Montpellier Train Depot in the Time of Segregation
Then Dan and I did a little "ralfanning", happily catching the Norfolk Southern (the same train that runs past our inn, the Elkhorn Inn in West Virginia) go by the historic (and still operational) Montpelier Station!

The segregated waiting room at Montpelier Station

Gilmore Farm - Freedman's House

Cool stuff along the way...

Our last day in Virginia we went to Jefferson's Monticello, and got to see some of Jefferson's extraordinary inventions and accomplishments, and the ongoing archaeological discoveries that are continuing to change Monticello, similar to the way they way they are changing Montpelier. Having been to Montpelier made it our time here all the more interesting, as the Madisons were friends with Jefferson, & Dolly was Jefferson's hostess. We took a regular tour at Monticello, which made us TRULY appreciate the private tour we'd had at Montpelier! :-) We were hoping to be able to buy some Monticello grape vines, which they sell periodically, but as they didn't have any left, we bought two flowering vines instead, one for our inn/pet sitters, and one for us, so we can have at least a bit of Jeffersonian flora at the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre! 

Jefferson's Monticello

Chef Dan in the kitchen at Monticello!

Jefferson's grave at Monticello
Elisse, sharing the love with Thom!
Because we added on a day at the end of our trip, we spent the last night of our Virginia getaway at the Boars Head Inn, having a really fabulous dinner at the Old Mill Room: seared foie gras with blueberry sauce, a tomato tarte with blue cheese ice cream served in a delectable little Parmesan basket, honey-thyme infused watermelon, pan-seared trout with a brandy lobster sauce, filet mignon with shallot jam and a sherry jus, and a GREAT Viognier wine from Jefferson Vineyards! As I mentioned above, Chef Dan only gets to sample foods like this, experience new dishes, shmooze chefs, learn new techniques, and think about adding new dishes to the Elkhorn Inn menu when we travel, which is why we make it a point to have "foodie" trips, and this dinner was divine!
Before we drove home, Dan indulged me in One Last Wine Tasting at Jefferson Vineyards, as we'd so enjoyed their Viognier wine at dinner the night before!
One final Virginia wine tasting at Jefferson Vineyards!

 My wonderful Wind & Weather prize included a gift certificate for the Barracks Road Shopping Mall, and although I'm sure everyone expected I'd spend it on shoes (LOL), we spent it instead at  The Happy Cook so Chef Dan could get two foodie "toys" he'd been wanting (and his birthday is Aug. 4...): a Breville Juicer and a Cuisinart Sorbet Maker- so we (he) can make Wild Blackberry Sorbet from the blackberries we pick on our ATVs all July and August!

And then we drove home, tired & happy, with our little, old convertible packed like a drum with all the fab stuff- wine, plants, Wind & Weather gifts- from our wonderful trip! THANK YOU Wind & Weather for an incredible trip we NEVER would have even Dreamed about, if not for you! And yes, we're Sharing the Love, too- the contest runner-ups are coming for a holiday (on us) at the Elkhorn Inn! :-)
Some of the wonderful souvenirs of out Virginia trip!