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October 5, 2013 / coalstovesinkguest

Early Autumn Comes to the Guesthouse

I recently had the pleasure of spending the better part of the week in the Guesthouse, marking my forth such visit to the excellent establishment. This visit, just spanning the gap from the brutal Virginia summer to the region’s exquisite autumn was particularly enjoyable as it included not only the good food, drink, and especially company found on any visit to the Guesthouse, but also a magnificent thunderstorm, an afternoon kayak trip down the river complete with eight bald eagle sightings and schools of enormous bass, and a final morning spent gathering beautiful produce and pulling mountains of weeds from my hosts’ fabulous garden.

Rather than pontificating over the trip, I’d rather share a few photos that best sum up the pleasures of my visit starting with one of the obligatory evenings spent at the local bar. The evening documented in this photo involved a tour through a range of delicious bourbons, several from the antique collection:


One of the things I miss the most from my youth spent in the South—aside from warm nights, sweet tea, and properly ripened tomatoes—is a good thunderstorm. Although weather had been dry for ten days before my visit, I was lucky enough to enjoy a powerful, if brief, downpour that harkened back to my childhood in Georgia and Virginia. This shot was taken shortly after the storm cleared:


The bounty of the grounds surrounding the Guesthouse isn’t limited to the produce from the garden that concludes this post. My hosts germinated the morning glory in the photo below from a single seed and now enjoy a mass of deep green-leaved vines and vivid purple flowers covering a full side of the porch stairway:


Along with the excellent human company, the Guesthouse always provides a plethora of enjoyable animal interaction as well. Here, the fiercest among the guardians practice their intimidation techniques:


And, let us not forget the larger four-legged inhabitants of the land. After harvesting and weeding for sometime, my host and I gave the horse a special treat of some slightly-dried corn ears. Who knew the dog would think he’d like some corn, too?


I’m not sure what the peacock wanted, but he certainly was serious in his intent:


And finally, I grew up on a good sized parcel of land in middle Georgia with parents’ who maintained a large, if not always terribly successful garden, each summer. As a young child who dreamed of cities and adventure I never fully appreciated the opportunity and benefit this represented to me. Now, as a longtime and happy resident of the (in my opinion) world’s most amazing cities, San Francisco, I struggle to grow a few pitiful tomatoes in hydroponic planters on my patio each summer. What a joy to finish my visit to the Guesthouse with a morning spent in the garden collection this bounty:


Until next time, may the Guesthouse’s other visitors have as much fun and wonderful times as I did.


July 20, 2013 / coalstovesinkguest

in “passaggio” a berryville

Now, that’s the way to meet your cousins for the first time.  Forget the formalities…let’s just be who we are.  Penne alla Mitt, Barbera, Barolo, some mysteriously remote and complete supertuscan.  Dinner was delicious, and your family is remarkable.  

Thanks for the jamming without borders session ( ..couldn’t remember some of the chords but it seems our foreign language skills improved for a couple of hours.  


Had a very restful night in the guest house, slalomed coccode’ and chicchiricchi’ at dawn on the way to a delicious breakfast. The dogs wagged their tails and barely said hi, [Sophie] wanted my eggs…good morning cuz. Then on my way back to traffic, deadlines, meetings, and long flights.  Thanks for the 12 hour family vacation!

Should have taken some pictures, if not of us, perhaps the suspended bridge or the barn. But in retrospect, it would not do it justice.  I’ll keep the memory and thank you for the invite back.  Likewise, let me know when you’re ready to shred some turns in the rockies!



July 19, 2013 / coalstovesinkguest

the Fifth Beat


I played a rain-soaked set in Virginia wine country this last Saturday (July 13th), but this was not to be the main event. 

With the storms passed and the sun well-set, it was time to head out to Coal Stove Sink for a little music making.  I arrived to the usual furry and enthusiastic greeting of both the dogs and the owner.

It wasn’t long before the spirits were flowing. A Corpse Reviver #2 was served up.  I’ve never had the good fortune of sampling this beverage and I will say it lives up to its name.  Bliss on the palate that could raise the dead! 

Once we were well-lubricated, the instruments came out.  I showed-up with a handful of new songs and we dove right into these with a peculiar reckless abandon.  You don’t warm up with new material, but I was eager to share and the participants were willing enough to take the chance.  The end result was remarkable and I only wish I had brought something to record the whole affair.  

My lovely girlfriend arrived later in the night, providing a brief intermission. We all dove into the bit pile, exchanging tunes and musical commentary. But, the instruments could now be ignored. We grooved our way into some (not-so) old favorites.  The spirits continued to flow as did the inspiration. 

Onto covers! A raucous version of the Doors LA Woman erupted to my personal glee. There were sing-alongs and general merry-making. It was late when the music finally stopped and details of the final numbers are admittedly hazy. One of the last numbers we worked on was something new and it was decided that the chorus needed a five beat cadence. At that late hour, this was a bit difficult to wrap one’s head around–even still, things made sense. Yes, it was a memorable night of music making.

July 13, 2013 / coalstovesinkguest

July Party Weekend

Looking out window at Coal Stove Sink

Looking out window at Coal Stove Sink

On July 5th, we headed down to VA for the Solstice Party (yes, late) followed by a benefit concert by The Bitter Liberals.  We once again camped out at Coal Stove Sink.  It was four of us in the guest house this time as my daughter her friend rolled out sleeping bags on the floor.  As usual, we had all we needed: comfy bed, air conditioning, bathroom.

We brought along our dog, Gracie (pictured left).  She chased the peacock and the chickens.  Mostly, she wanted to play with them, but they would have none of that.  She did run around with the other dogs and didn’t even get lost in the dark of the very late Solstice evening.

Speaking of late nights, mine was spurred on by a Corpse Reviver #2 or two, provided by the host.  I highly recommend them, but maybe before 3 a.m.

The next morning, I slept in, had a nibble of breakfast and then took a dip in the river with the dog and the kids. I wish I had a picture of the dog paddling in the river.  She was hilarious.

After some cleaning up, some lunch and a nap, we headed to another farm for a Bitter Liberals concert.  Two sets of fabulous music later, we headed back to CSS for a much-needed good night’s rest.

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast with eggs, bacon, and toast.    We had to depart shortly thereafter to make the long trek back to Philadelphia.  It was a great way to spend a weekend, a much needed respite from the hustle and bustle of our sometimes crazy life.

Bonfire at solstice

Bonfire at solstice

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May 29, 2013 / noplasticshowers

As long as you’ve got a choice, we have a chance: Forrest writes a book (cross posting)

We recently hosted a bevy of Clarke County friends and neighbors at Coal Stove Sink for an interview and book signing with local sustainable agriculture farmer and author Forrest Pritchard. Forrest and I spent a few minutes chatting about aspects of the book Gaining Ground, his life farming, and the big picture—making a living while farming in America.

Special thanks to Jack McGraw for filming, editing, and making this piece coherent. And thanks to all of our friends and neighbors who created a warm and welcoming community for Forrest’s debut as an author. Forrest, we’re proud of what you do and what you’re doing.

Forrest Pritchard and Gary McGraw chat about Gaining Ground

Forrest Pritchard and Gary McGraw chat about Gaining Ground

Our esteemed cinematographer Jack McGraw.

Our esteemed cinematographer Jack McGraw.

Friends and neighbors from Clarke County.

Friends and neighbors from Clarke County.

Friends and neighbors from Clarke County.

Friends and neighbors from Clarke County.

Forrest Pritchard answers questions about Gaining Ground in Clarke County.

Forrest Pritchard answers questions about Gaining Ground in Clarke County.

Thanks to Amy Barley for the photographs. Music Laura Lou by the Bitter Liberals.

Buy Gaining Ground on Amazon today.

Buy Gaining Ground on Amazon today.

March 27, 2013 / coalstovesinkguest

Summit, Conversation, Animals, and Wagon Wheels

It was my second visit to the CSS, though this time I was a solo guest. The occasion was a Cigital ARA summit. It is pretty remarkable what a good group of minds can accomplish in a short period of time when there is a change of scenery. The summit was an exchange of good ideas and ended with a new direction for the ARA practice. Post-summit was a break for apéritifs (I enjoyed a cocktail called The Liberal with a real marisca cherry… a house specialty).

Dinner followed with a subset of the ARA summit guests and our host’s progeny. The main course was an outstanding beef tenderloin (that put the steak I had the previous night at Wildfire to shame), paired with a malbec. A bonus during dinner was getting to watch a grown man eat his very first Brussels sprout. He immediately and amusingly decided he did not like Brussels sprouts. These examples of the cultivar happened to be roasted to perfection, so he really must not like Brussels sprouts.

After dinner, the last visiting Cigitalite other than myself left, and the party moved to the bar. As always, the drinks were exceptional and made from the finest ingredients. It is a rare opportunity to sample such high quality cocktails and I enjoyed every last drop. This strategy was not without its shortcomings, but those repercussions waited until the morning to show up. The drinks were accompanied by great conversation with the host. Many topics were discussed and some new ideas were formed for both work and non-work (a.k.a. “life”).

The night wound down at about 2 AM and I made my way up the hill to the CSS. What happened next is a bit hazy for me. I sat down on the couch to remove my shoes, blinked, and the sun was up. Apparently, I decided to (or felt compelled to) crash on the couch. My host found this amusing and I found it to be practical—no sheets to wash!

The plan was to have breakfast at 10 o’clock, so I had about an hour to (re-)explore the farm. I was immediately greeted by some energetic dogs and timid cats. It was my own personal run through “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” as I spent some time with the dogs, cats, chickens, horse, pony, and goats. I do realize this is quite routine for most, but for a Brooklynite (or Philadelphian) it was quite cathartic.





During my exploring I came across a familiar site.  There are two wagon wheels on the farm that once belonged to a relative. I had not seen them since they were FedExed to [undisclosed location] from New Hampshire (much to the amusement of the FedEx driver) and it was really moving to see them in such a perfect setting.


After a rejuvenating breakfast (bacon with nitrates) and a short driving tour of the local county seat, I headed home. Many thanks to my generous host. Already looking forward to another visit to the CSS in April!

March 24, 2013 / coalstovesinkguest

Scotching Bourbon at Coal Stove Sink

For the uninitiated, the Coal Stove Sink Guesthouse is an amazing experience.

Great location. Great people (especially the bar tender-disc jockey-sous chef).

Warning: be prepared to drink, talk, laugh, debate (pick any subject), drink, laugh, listen to great music (a truly eclectic mix), drink and laugh some more.  Did I mention the drink part?

The house specialty is called a “Liberal” an insane cocktail concoction that lives up to its name in numerous ways:  Liberal = liberal types and quantities of spirits, liberally served and consumed, causing liberation from many inhibitions.

[from noplasticshowers, The Liberal
.75 oz Bourbon (I like to use Pappy van Winkle 20 when I am feeling adventurous, but definitely something cask strength)
.75 oz Sweet vermouth
.3 oz Amer Picon (or Torani Amer if you live in the states and always run out of Amer Picon)
Add a dash of Orange Bitters but only if you are using Torani Amer in order to help it simulate the real thing (I use both Fee Brothers and Regans as the mood strikes me)
Stir over ice, serve up with a cherry.]

My evening included two or three Liberals (I don’t remember exactly), a shared bottle of wine over a wonderful meal talking about a wide range of subjects from the frivolous to the serious touching on everything from public policy to family.

The night was capped with an alchemist’s cocktail (something I am sure was stolen directly from Severus’ closet) and a final effort to turn a Scotch man to the Dark Side (Bourbon and its wiley ways).  This attempt failed, but the ordeal was wonderful.

Eagle Rare 17, as close to Scotch as you can get and remain pure.

Eagle Rare 17, as close to Scotch as you can get and remain pure.