Winter solstice came once again to the beautiful Shenandoah River Valley. Snow on the Blue Ridge Mountains dominating the horizon signaled that it was high time for my annual pilgrimage to the [Zane and Xena] household and of course to the coal stove sink guesthouse itself. I arrived early afternoon just in time for a little bit of work (very little), a few errands in greater metropolitan [whoville], and a nice brisk walk along the river and through the Monastery fields that border it. Our errands included getting coffee beans at the local coffee shop where we marveled at the copper bean roaster proudly displayed in the lobby to the shop.
Mogli and Puck were thrilled as they ran ahead, came back to check in, ran ahead, and…well you get the picture. It’s a good thing you get the picture too, because I didn’t take any pictures of the views or the dogs galloping off in front for you to see.
Once back at the homestead after our wonderful sojourn, I anxiously anticipated just what the beverage of choice might be this time for Zane as he made his way to the bar. The bar, of course, I have several pictures of.
As it turns out, the very simple job that I had earlier accomplished that afternoon played a direct role in the beverage choice that evening. Zane had asked me to grab a Prosecco bottle from the front porch (the most difficult part of my task), open it (well, maybe that was the most difficult part) and pour it into a saucepan (oh the burden of my workload) for Zane to create a “Nutmeg wine reduction” central to the creation of, what I learned later, would become a Scot Toddy.
A bit of history here as an aside: a Scot Toddy is a delightful mixture of gin, the aforementioned Nutmeg wine reduction, orgeat, and squeezed lemon juice. Add a mint sprig and lemon twist to the saucer and you have perfect anecdote on a winter’s evening. [Ed: we will not mention the “millionaire’s bitters” made from saffron and cardamom which renders the Scot Toddy an orangish yellow hue.]
Zane showed me the proper technique for “flexing” a lemon peal to release lemon oil along the rim of the ornate, porcelain teacup holding the golden nectar.
I was admiring the diversity of ingredients in the bar while waiting (at Zane’s beck and call, FWIW) to be whisked away with an historically accurate and delectable drink of choice. The welcome downtime prompted me to flip through some bar library offerings, only to discover the true origin of the “Old Fashioned,” one of Zane’s go to drinks. Zane also showed me his bound book of record for all of the drinks he has learned and dutifully recorded over the, eh ehm, years. The book includes the Scot Toddy recipe and instructions are carefully written by Zane.
According to Wikipedia, The Old Fashioned, developed during the 19th century and given its name in the 1880s, is an IBA Official Cocktail.
By the 1860s, it was common for orange curaçao, absinthe, and other liqueurs to be added to the cocktail. The original concoction, albeit in different proportions, came back into vogue, and was referred to as “old-fashioned”. The most popular of the in-vogue “old-fashioned” cocktails were made with whiskey, according to a Chicago barman, quoted in the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1882, with rye being more popular than Bourbon. The recipe he describes is a similar combination of spirits, bitters, water and sugar of seventy-six years earlier. The first use of the name “Old Fashioned” for a Bourbon whiskey cocktail was said to have been at the Pendennis Club, a gentlemen’s club founded in 1881 in Louisville, Kentucky. The recipe was said to have been invented by a bartender at that club in honor of Colonel James E. Pepper, a prominent bourbon distiller, who brought it to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City. With its conception rooted in the city’s history, in 2015 the city of Louisville, KY named the Old Fashioned as it’s official cocktail. Each year, during the first two weeks of June, Louisville celebrates “Old Fashioned Fortnight” which encompasses bourbon events, cocktail specials and National Bourbon Day which is always celebrated on June 14th.
The good news is that the history of the cocktail (a term first used in 1861) and indeed the evolution of mixology as a discipline is not likely to become extinct as long as Zane’s bar is active. Fortunately, all of human kind going forward will continue to benefit from the historical significance and accuracy of Zane’s bound bar book—a tremendous reference source given the high probability of a gradual memory loss symptom observed directly correlated with the length of time that I (or indeed anyone) sit(s) at the bar.
Maybe it was earlier or maybe it was later, who knows, but at some point I believe I noticed the incredible diversity of bottles behind (under, and around) Zane’s bar and, in particular, how the bar itself evolves every year. Zane’s pride and joy (and Sammy’s too) seems to be Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon. Zane had two bottles left with very little remaining in the bottom (perhaps evidence of previous visits by Drew and Sammy, or perhaps due to inordinate evaporation which seems to run rampant at this particular establishment).
The next drink, made with the venerable old Laird’s Apple Jack, was called a Jack Rose. It lived up to its billing as a unique combination of flavors that delighted one’s palate and certainly took the edge off. (Though by this time, edges were beyond dulled in a nice comfortable manner.) The Jack Rose also set up our appetitle very nicely for a sumptuous dinner.
Time came for us to get serious about making dinner. Of course that meant Zane had to get serious about making it since all I did was mostly watch. He started by pan searing two porterhouse cuts that came from a cow shared with his neighbors in a blend of garlic, rosemary, thyme, and butter. I had the easy job of cramming fresh spinach into a saucepan with magic ingredients [ed: that is, shallots] simmered and steamed to perfection. The resulting feast was complimented with a smooth Syrah that provided a nice compliment to the annual political dialog that was this year just as unprecedented as the election (both of us lamenting the choice made by a majority of American electoral college representatives and a major minority of actual voters).
Zane and I actually agreed on something (a rare event) as we satisfied our palates with perfectly cooked steak (thanks to a digital meat thermometer and Zane’s forethought to put the skillet into a 450 degree finishing oven to ensure a perfect result). We agreed on how magnificently the steak and spinach turned out (as did Xena) and we also agreed on a prediction that Trump will not finish his term and will instead be forced to resign due to something scandalous that materially destroys his presidency (Vlad- this is your cue). Xena thought that this was merely wishful thinking among boys.
After dinner, we adjourned back to the bar for some nighttime inspiration and had a nightcap before calling it a relatively early night. I suspect that my limited consumption may have prompted Puck to opt out of the walk up to the guesthouse. Mogli was game until Puck hesitated and then he retreated as well.
The stars were absolutely brilliant looking more like drones than stars. Of course I didn’t know that stars could look like drones until Intel and Gaga set me straight during the halftime show of the Super Bowl LI (which happened after my annual visit to the Coal Stove Sink Guesthouse). And as with the many previous visits, Zane and I agreed to collaborate on a few projects to help move our beleagured industry forward a few minute steps.
I had a wonderful visit back to a familiar place. There’s nothing quite like an immersion in cocktails from a bygone generation that remain alive and flourishing in rural [Whoville].
OK. OK. This is supposed to be a virtual guestbook people! But we’re not being mean enough to our guests and badgering them into posting anymore.
We hereby pledge to fix that in 2017.
About our only guest who has played by the rules every year is Mr. Routh. Thanks Jim, we appreciate your earnest loyalty and dedication!
I made my annual pilgrimage to the Coal Stone Sink recently and got a nice dose of winter on the Shenandoah River—with bitter cold and light snow on day 1 and torrents of freezing rain on day 2. Traveling by plane made little sense given the delays both ways on several of the relatively scarce wintery days so far this year, so I switched to the train on the return trip and left Union Station with a clear blue sky and mild temps. The cardinals feeding (thanks to Amy) will shine more brilliantly.
The Coal Stove Sink has a certain familiarity to it that is welcoming, and the walk up to the guest cottage is fun for both Puck and Mogli. Oh yeah, Mogli is a new addition to the resident clan and his spunk gives Puck a little more giddy-up in his step. Mogli is a Golden Retriever puppy (8 months old) who craves attention from any warm body but loves to engage Puck who often voices his annoyance in the form of grunts and growls while appreciating the entertainment value of the jostling.
Mogli has alpha dog tendencies but Puck is clearly the one in charge and the one who gets the best spot in front of the fire, the choice of dog toys and he takes up most of the bed in the guest house as my companion for the night. Mogli made several attempts to join us but couldn’t muster the courage to jump up on the bed with Puck sprawled out in the center. Mogli resigned himself to keeping watch on the snow turning to rain during the night.
Zane, Zelda and I got our work done in time for a wonderfully delicious blend of spices in a Bourbon cordial with Angostura bitters and fresh lime juice that provided warmth from the inside while the fire provided warmth on the outside. It’s called a Lion’s Tail and we had to have a second round given how delectable it was. We caught up on the recent kid’s exploits and adventures while reminiscing about years past and how our kids are. We waited to launch into our wonderfully divisive annual discussion of politics and given all of the uncertainty and entertainment of the Republican primary races we found ourselves in the unusual position of agreeing on our assessment of all of the candidates…they all suck.
However, the chicken dinner was masterfully prepared to perfection and the Hollandaise was perfect on the Brussel sprouts. The Italian red wine was rich with a smooth finish that paired nicely with both the chicken and the politics. We got a chance to see Ron Howard’s version of “The Art of a Deal” with Johnny Depp which was slightly more entertaining compared with the real thing. We then adjourned to the bar for after dinner drinks that included a new toy that required exercise….a device to carbonate cocktails using CO2 from stainless steel canisters loaded into the top of this stainless steel thermos device. It took two attempts mixing Laird’s Apple Brandy with a few other items poured over a solid sphere of ice made from another steel press designed specifically to make these unique orbs. It harkened back to the Orgasmitron from Woody Allen’s Sleeper. Once the right combination of canisters was mastered the result was a wonderful tickle of a cocktail with a touch of “smacked” mint (prepared by hand….literally).
I made it through another annual visit to Berryville although this visit was unique from years passed in that I never consumed a liberal…nor did we discuss liberals. There was no need given the dearth of conservative clowns on the red side and the socialist and the liar on the other. I did share my version of a “Hail Mary pass” with Gary (in Bloomberg potentially making a run as an independent) but the probability of Sanders continuing to increase the populist young voters in his camp as opposed to withering from the Clinton machinery to make room for Bloomy is unlikely. In any event Gary didn’t think it was likely. What is more likely is that next year we will both poke fun at the Inauguration on the next chapter of the Coal Stove Sink visit.
It was a unique experience to stay with the CoalStoveSink. Most impressive, it was difficult to locate any plastic, including the non-plastic shower. There appears to be a plastic forcefield around the entire area. However, the forcefield failed to prevent a herd of deer from unwisely entering the property. The hotel CoalStoveSink mouthwash was most refreshing. Weird that Scope now labels their mouthwash as “Rum.” Hot water worked very well. Would be nice to have a working onsen, however. Consider a Winter Solstice residual heat sauna by adding copper pipes and proper steam regulators to the bonfire. Two thumbs up.
On 3/14/15, pi day extraordinaire, I hopped over from DC post conference for celebrations chez Coal Stove Sink. This was my first solo visit that I can recall. I was so caught up in the celebrations, I took zero pictures. We started at an art show and post show party, but at 9:26:53 on the dot, we cut some pi(e). We also had pi-based musical accompaniment, which was weird. I had apple and pecan (peee-can, not pah-cahn) pie. And there were drinks of course: corpse reviver, blue moon, Berryville passage, and something else I can’t remember. We had oodles of fun, ending the evening with silly anagram versions of all our names, most of them sounding slightly pornographic. The least dirty one was mandate sniffer. And even that could go either way.
The evening ended for me with a collapse into a warm bed. I woke way too early the next morning, as I always do, but there was coffee followed by eggs and biscuits. After letting all that settle, I headed back home, saying goodbye to Coal Stove Sink until next time.
Bill and I spent New Year’s Eve with the hosts and a select group of friends. We each contributed something for dinner. We bought oysters from the waterfront fish market, which is always a colorful experience. Here I am posing with some dead fish.
We dressed up and took this picture before we left home. (See the tree in the background?)
Dinner was served at this beautiful table. We drank much champagne and danced well past midnight. Fortunately, we do not have pictures of us dancing. [But see this apothecaryshed entry.]
A good time was had by all.
The winter months are upon us and we once again are bracing for a big storm in the northeast but before the storm hits, it’s time for my annual pilgrimage to see Puck, Skillet, and the rest of the clan on Rookhuman Road.
You may think it a bit strange that I wish to travel 5 or so hours by car in the middle of winter to go see a dog…but this is no ordinary dog. This dog has some cool masters and a family with eclectic interests that serve soul warming food to wash down the wonderfully interesting wine after polishing off a bottle or two of bourbon leading to some typically intense dialog on philosophical foundations of the existential evolution of a divine entity in the universe or lack thereof. So I generally enjoy the friendly banter around the hearth and learn things like Jack’s off to Abu Dhabi for a semester to visit the 68th most expensive city in the world. Puck pointed out that Abu Dhabi means, Father of Deer, in Arabic so evidently he has been following Jack’s lead and learning some Arabic in preparation.
Puck was complaining that he hadn’t seen as much of Jack since he began his time-zone adjustment process earlier in the week to get his body clock aligned with Abu Dhabi time. Evidently Puck’s not a big fan of plane travel…they frown on barking and there are no chickens to chase.
Anyway Puck’s masters prepared an awesome meal of roast beast and asparagus that followed some wonderful French Onion soup that was heavy on the French (lots of bread and cheese). Eli joined the dinner and his father pointed out how helpful Eli has been over the years with the farm chores and specifically the major projects (the Barn, Apothecary, etc.). Eli’s Dad would ask for a cold one and Eli would go running into the house, grab a cold beer from the fridge and then deliver it (following all State and county ordinances) open to Gary with only a small amount of evaporation.
A friend of Puck’s master joined us for dinner (Drew) who may be short of a few things but a boat and many opinions are not two of them. Puck has a way of making everyone feel comfortable at the Farm and as the conversation drifted into politics I was amazed to hear Drew admit to voting for Obama. Now this is the same Drew who joined one of Puck’s masters on election night and beat his chest for the Republicans and now reveals that he actually voted “against” the Republican McCain simply due to his choice of running mates…that Alaskan cheerleader. I asked Puck what he thought of Palin and he told me he thought that she’d make a pretty good dog owner. I have to admit that Drew did make a pretty convincing point with a good amount of F-bombs. Puck’s not a big fan of people that drop f-bombs every other word simply because he thinks someone is calling him in from the porch. He could do without the constant confusion when Drew talks and it’s not that Drew doesn’t smell OK when Puck greets him; it’s just hard for Puck to get some shut-eye when he thinks every other sentence is referring to him!
Drew left at a reasonable time and Puck escorted him to his car. He then came inside and was fortunate to be let inside to feel the warmth of the fire. After listening to cosmic conversations about the origin of the Milky Way and the local art scene in Zeenaville from his masters it was time to make the short journey to the guesthouse. Puck showed me the way and immediately made certain the bed was safe for sleeping by jumping up on it. By the time I brushed my teeth and got into the bed, Puck had stretched out fully and was starting to snore. Of course I wanted to replay the events of the evening with him but he was more into sleep.
The next morning arrived and it was time for some fresh eggs, one of Puck’s master’s is a great cook, and freshly squeezed OJ. As I walked to the car escorted by Puck after saying my goodbyes, he told me to make sure that I come back soon. I agreed and drove off taking one last look at the river.