Monday, August 30, 2010

raspberries - round 2

Yes, we have golden raspberries again.

I just checked on them and they are delicious.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

George's Liquor

George also made liquor at Mount Vernon: 80 proof whiskey (unless you ordered a special batch of 120). He started making whiskey about two years before he died, so he didn't get to enjoy much of his own spirits. In 1797, Washington's Scottish farm manager James Anderson encouraged him to build a whiskey distillery adjacent to the gristmill. The distillery was then the largest in America, producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey in 1799, making it one of the most successful economic enterprises at Mount Vernon.

The distillery also burned at one point and was recently excavated and restored. Currently it is the only distillery that uses 18th century technology. Cooper vats, oak barrels, and mash pots. It is all reproductions, but the process is so two centuries ago!

Apparently, you can buy the whiskey. Eventually. I say this because they don't make a lot of it when they do distill. Having made a batch near July 4th, it went on sale on July 1st: it sold out in three hours. They are planning another batch for Christmas, but I am guessing that it will go equally as fast. If you are interested in buying some, you can check back on the Mount Vernon's web site.

The water that powers the gristmill and is one of the main ingredients in the whiskey is from a lake about mile and half up the road. George and an expert miller help him pick the best spot for his mill and eventually his distillery. It is about 3 miles away from Mount Vernon proper, as there is not a good enough water source there. Still, in order for the water to get to the mill and whiskey, a slush had to be built. Nowadays, there is a pump, recycling the water through, but you still get the idea.


As part of our trip out to Mount Vernon, we went to George Washington's Gristmill and Distillery. The gristmill is the only operational mill that operates using 18th century technology to grist wheat into very fine, unbleached flour.
A 16-foot waterwheel powers the giant gears and huge millstones. It is the only operating "Oliver Evans Automated Milling System" in America--George went consulted with Oliver about bringing the technology to Mount Virginia. Oliver sent his brother to do the installing. The Evans system won U.S. Patent No. 3 and helped to make the gristmill at Mount Vernon a commercial success.

The mill is four floors, with each level having a central mechanism that moves the wheat, the chafe, the husk, and the flour around. The wooden cogs last about 10 years-- but they really only run the mill about hour and half day. Normally, they would have to replace the cogs every year.
Before the system was installed, it would take about 6 men to turn wheat to flour. With the automation, it would take only two men. But timing was still of the utmost importance: once the water in the river froze, the mill was unable to flour. The water, spilling over the wheel, generates the power to make it all happen.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Escape to Mount Vernon

Those certifiably crazy Glen Beck teabagers are in town for a silly rally and so we escaped to Mount Vernon for the afternoon. Really, we had Riise in town and she wanted to go see George's house. It turned out that we were fleeing the idioticy that is Glen Beck... only to have some of his crazies "honoring" George Washington. *sigh* We still managed to have a marvelous time.

We met the family: George, Martha, Grandson George, and Granddaughter Nellie upon arrival.

We toured the ol' homestead. And by "tour" I mean shuffled through listening to the same monotoned spiel from a very tired, hot, and (I am sure) jaded volunteer. Just how many time in the past 60 minutes have you mentioned how many bedrooms the house had (10: 5 on the second floor, 3 on the upper level, the Washingtons' private room, and one on the ground floor); who bought the baby bed (Martha: she purchased it for her granddaughter a few weeks before George died); or that this was chair George sat in when he made the most important decision as president: to step down after two terms (I would guess, should we ask George, he would not say *that* was the most important decision made during his presidency.... I am just guessing).

We wandered the grounds, paused at his tomb, and enjoyed looking at his fruit garden with his apple and plum trees.
We liked the wild life on the property--with Mr. Woodchuck obliging appeared when we needed wild life. Llamas don't count.

We liked seeing the modern transportation for the 1790s.

Maddalena was doing some great research for her students in her history classes, while
Riise was comparing how Washington's blacksmiths work to cousin Danny's stuff.

We enjoyed the house and then went to the Washington Distrillery and Flour Grist (post for tomorrow). We rolled our eyes at the flocks of people wearing silly message t-shirts about hope, honor, and faith all around Mount Vernon. And we giggled at the fact that Eric kept singing the high notes to the songs on the radio. Wait---who is Eric?*

*"Eric" is Maddalena's husband's B's new nickname. Will gave it to him. Because Will turned to B and said, "hey Eric wanna another beer?" at dinner on Friday. Took a pause, and then acknowledged that he had no idea who Eric was. Eric now calls Will, Brad. It is all good.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Grant's Pizza

It's a summer Friday evening at our house, so you know what that means? Garden Movie House! This time, we had home made pizza (include fresh, homemade dough) and we watched "North by Northwest." You can't beat a nice fresh 'za with Cary Grant staring at you. Well, you staring at Cary...
And the pizza: amazingly delicious!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Yappy Hour!

Last night, we joined Biscuit at a local dog-friendly "yappy hour"! We had beers, pizza, burgers, and dog treats. We got to meet lots of new dogs and the money went to a good cause. There were about 25 dogs there, and if I do say so, Stirling and Biscuit were the best behaved canines.

It might have had something to do with all the dog treats they were getting....

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fig Ice Cream

I have too many figs that I don't know what to do with them all. We have been giving them away like hot cakes to friends and neighbors-- many of whom, shockingly, have never seen a fresh fig let alone tasted one. The horror.

I was thrilled when I found a recipe from mine and Hurst Street's favorite ice cream dude's book: David Leibowitz's Perfect Scoop. In his recipe, he calls for 20 fresh figs.

Ah, I had 60. Triple Batch, anyone?

You basically make fig jam, blend with cream, and then thrown the mixture into your ice cream maker. It was the first time that I used figs with the skins (usually I peel them to make jam), so I soaked them before I cut them into smaller chunks than I normally would.

The end result:

a lovely, figgy-creamy ice cream with has a very strong flavor. Alas, it isn't the lovely purple ice cream I was hoping for, which leads me to believe that we do not have a Black Mission Fig Tree. Having researched the varieties (read: googled "fig trees"), I think that we have either a Brown Turkey Fig Tree or a Conadria Fig Tree (I lean towards the Brown Turkey). The ice cream is a soft caramel color, instead, and still quite delicious. After taste tests, we think that it is best when paired with another flavor, so one isn't overwhelmed with fig.

Since I had such a large batch, instead of just passing out fresh figs, I passed out fresh fig ice cream! Our neighbors love us...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cooler Weather: Explaining to do

Jackie is staring at you, Cooler Weather. Right in the eyes. She needs answers. Now.

The question: *Why* did it take you so long to get here?

I think, Mr. Weather, that you outta answer the cat. With all that fur, she deserves some answers.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rescued from the Vine

We rescued five of our grapes today, as the birds have discovered what is hiding underneath those leafy vines we have. We have plenty more green grapes that haven't ripened yet. But in the interest of safety, we took in these grapes so they would not be eaten by the hungry, scrounging starlings and catbirds.

Little do these grapes suspect that they might be in more danger now that they are in the house....

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Good bye Lone Star State!

Thanks, Texas!
I had a marvelous time! And don't you worry-- I will be back.
I gotta have some more of that delicious brisket!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Barton Springs

Within the city of Austin, and within Zilker Park, is a swimming hole called Barton Springs. A public "pool", where the bottom is moss-covered stones and the opposite side are natural, rocky, shoreline. In 1837, William "Uncle Billy" Barton, built his rustic cabin on a tract of land which included the springs. Since he owned several adjoining tracts, the area came to be known as the "Bartons". He named the three springs after his daughters Parthenia, Eliza and Zenobia. The largest spring became known as the main spring at Barton Springs Pool. Another spring feeds the Elks Amphitheater pool that Zilker built near the present day Barton Springs Pool. A third spring bubbles up from the Sunken Garden on the east side of the park. Even Robert Redford learned to swim at the pool when he was five years old while visiting his mother's relative in Austin.

We had a marvelous time in the consistently 68º water-- actually refreshing when the air temperature is 100+º!

O spent lots of time on the diving boards--or being thrown around by her dad.

L was a fish--swimming all over the pool. He was also a skilled negotiator: able to convince me that 68 degrees really isn't *that* cold and that I *really* should try it, since, after all, I was visiting here and when would I ever be back... with them? It worked. I got in the water.

I spent the entire time walking like a timid creature, afraid of slipping and falling into the water entirely. I said it was because I didn't want to risk losing my glasses, but, really, it was because I am wimp.

Philospher's Rock

In front of entrance to Barton Springs, is the "Philosophers' Rock" that features Roy Bedicheck, a naturalist; J. Frank Dobie, a folklorist; and Walter Prescott Webb, a historian. These men would gather on a flat rock near the diving board of Barton Springs and talk about an infinite number of things.

Prescott Webb (the one in the middle) happens to also a past president of the American Historical Association (in 1957). Everywhere I go, it seems as if history follows me...

O with Roy

Austin Fun

My friend Jason drove in from College Station with his lovely children, O and L, for a day's visit with me in Austin. They are awesome kids and when (more like if) they misbehave, Jason shuts them down in a sec with a word or two in French. Tre cool.

We went to see the movie "Hubble" at the IMAX. Totally blew our minds. Since it is in 3D, you need these lovely red glasses, but they certainly are better than what one would normally get at the movies-- they actually fit over your real glasses!

The IMAX theater is attached to the Story of Texas history museum. It is very well done, and I highly recommend it. One of the docents, John, took a special likely to us (how could he resist the kiddos?) and took us through the early history of Texas. O and L even got to dress as conquistadors.

Between you and me, I think that L makes a much more imposing Buffalo Soldier:

After the museum, a swim at Barton Springs... but that will be another post.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Evening Trip to San Antonio

My lovely hostess, Marian, took me to San Antonio for the evening. It was a quick drive-- I imagined everything in Texas being days and days away from each other, but I guess that is more "Giant" than actual Texas.

We didn't get to the city until about 6:00 pm. Alas, I did was not able to discover if the Alamo has a basement or not, but we saw the facade (which was added to the fort in the 1860s), and the sculpture to those who fought at the Alamo.

Marian then took me on a driving tour to the King William area of San Antonio, which was where a lot of wealthy Germans came to build and live when they immigrated to the city. Marian is some what of an expert on these peoples, as she did her dissertation on them (and the Chechs, and the Irish).
The houses are quite fantastic! I was surprised to see these "mansions" in Texas, especially with multi-colored paint. I am sure that if my King William were with us, he would like the two-storey screened in porch the best: it has two or three palm trees inside!

I also loved the toy soldiers and lions out front of this house. I wonder what they are trying to protect in there...

Finally a quick walk along the river walk near the old Pearl Brewery. They are no longer making beer, but their storage facilities have been turned into a several shops and restaurants. We had a lovely meal at La Sogno-- sitting at the "chef's table" (read: bar) and watching all the cooks prepare the food, including ours. It made me really want to learn how to chop like a professional.