25 June 2015

A Proper Cuppa

Man & child drinking tea, maybe by Ricahrd Collins (England, died 1732) Col Willbg
Man and Child Drinking Tea, attributed to Richard Collins (died 1732)

Elizabeth Bothem & Sons Tea Rooms, Whitby, England, a classic setting.

The recent pilgrimage to the ancestral homeland was, of course, delightful & invigorating on many levels. But it was a shock to see the extent of change on a number of subjects since just five years before. Some better (the slow food movement has swept the restaurant world there, British cuisine is no longer a joke), some worse. And this is about some worse... Should you think Mr. Fuzzy is making a mountain from a mole hill, consider that a tax on tea sparked the Boston Tea Party, leading to the American Revolution. You had better believe the Founding Fathers took tea seriously.
Teapot - Paul Revere, Jr., 1760–65 Overall: 14.9cm (5 7/8in.) Silvereapot, MFA Boston Paul Revere, Jr., 1760–65, Silver
 Teapot by Paul Revere, c. 1760-65

Most readers will know Mr. Fuzzy well and realize that he suffers from one serious addiction: tea, especially hot tea (yes, I drink hot tea at breakfast all year). Tea is a very important facet of life at Stratheden Farms and Mr. Fuzzy might be accused of resembling a tea snob at times. Nolo contendere.

B&B owner Rodney (Kelso, Scotland) about to gift his tea cozy
It came as a severe shock to see the change in British tea habits in just a few short years. Most surprisingly, tea bags have replaced loose tea in all but the best venues, a shame because it limits variety so severely and almost certainly changes the character of the brew. Because tea is now commonly brewed a cup at a time rather than in a pot, tea cozys have all but disappeared from the British landscape. Mr. Fuzzy futilely sought to purchase a new tea cozy but none were to be found despite a motivated search in both Scotland in England. In the end, one of the finest B&B hosts in existence gave Mr. Fuzzy one of his, bless his heart. Thank you, Rodney.

The BBC recently aired this video about contemporary British tea drinking; your humble correspondent was apoplectic that a tea bag was used rather than loose tea. The end of western civilization is bound to be near.

A setting at The Old Rectory, Callander, Scotland.

With the exception of one modest restaurant in rural Scotland, the only proper teas were to be found in dedicated tea rooms. It is especially offensive to see tea served in a thin stainless steel pot (the same as is used in the U.S.A.) which holds only one cup and a fraction, cools far too quickly and imparts taste to that golden liquor that nature never intended.

A proper tea service consists of:
1. tea pot
2. tea kettle
        to heat water, perhaps mounted on a stand with a self contained heat source
3. hot water pot
        to dilute tea which has gained too much strength in brewing
4. strainer
        to filter out the tea leaves
5. sugar bowl(s)
        two: one with demerara and one with white sugar
6. waste bowl
        to receive the tea leaves removed by the strainer
7. milk pitcher
8. tea spoon
        to stir the tea in the cup to admix the milk and/or dissolve the sugar
9.  a tea cozy
        in winter or in a chilly or drafty room, an insulated cover placed over the pot to aid in heat retention
and ideally, a tea caddy or tea chest and all placed on a correct tea table.

The process of making tea:
1. Pre-warm the tea pot by swishing a cup or so of warm water around in it. This warms the pot and prevents it from draining the heat from the tea as quickly, and, if the pot is very old, or cheaply made, this step may prevent the glaze from crazing due to thermal shock.
2. Bring cold water to a boil then pour over tea leave. For every type of tea n your tea chest, determine an optimal brewing time and measure it carefully.
3. At the optimal brewing period pour the liquor through a tea strainer to capture the loose leaves as you fill the cups.
Sterling silver tea strainer
 4. Add milk to taste if it is a variety of tea amenable to the addition. Whether Brits add milk before or after pouring the tea into the cup is largely a matter of social class purchasing power dating into the Georgian reign and extending into the 1950s. The wealthy could purchase pots of higher quality and unlikely to craze due to the sudden heating. Paste and low fire pots owned by everyone else would craze easily so, theoretically, adding cold milk to the cup lowers the temperature of the tea immediately, minimizing the problem.
5. Add a sugar, demerara cubes or white sugar (granular or in cubes) to taste. Demerara sugar is not just different in appearance but most importantly, in flavour. Note the demerara cube on the saucer as served at The Old Rectory.

V & A   Staffordshire tea pot c 1775
Staffordshire tea pot circa 1775
   Tea is the earthly embodiment of grace, manners, conviviality, cornerstones of a civil society.

17 June 2015

The cat days of summer

Dog days of summer? Here on Stratheden Farms, its the Cat Days of Summer that have arrived. Felines loll about listlessly, languid in the heat. Daytime temperatures have been in the high 80s and a brush or two with the 90s, night lows as hot as 70F (this morning). Humid at night and dry in the day. In the middle of the day its too hot to do anything but lay around. Last night after watering the garden about 6:30 p.m., Mr. Fuzzy came into the house and felt chilled even though the house was a warm 77F. Indeed it had been warm outside.

There have been thunderstorms on almost all directions for the last three evenings at sunset, close enough to hear the thunder and enjoy the lightning, but not a drop of rain landed here. The National Weather Service has issued severe weather alerts in the area, some places have not only received rain but hail.

Plants in pots on the patio need daily water supplements. And a new source of clean mineral free water has been available from running two dehumidifiers, one on the basement and one upstairs; they wring approximately six gallons of water from the air in each 24 hours.

UPDATE: not three hours after posting this, a line of violent thunderstorms came through with abundant lightening, stunning thunder and 1/3 of an inch of rain.

In the garden, the tomatoes seem to appreciate the conditions but none of the other flora... winter squash are alright, as are the corn and cucumbers. Oddly, the chile and bell pepper plants are not happy at all. Most of the rudbeckia from last year survived and are blooming their hearts out but the plants are smaller than usual.

may your summer be blessed in every way -

06 June 2015

What was the motivation to relocate to Floyd?

In a word, CRIME. Alright, already! there were two words, DROUGHT. But this post will center on crime-

Here are some statistics, the Floyd county figures are from an annual report by the Virginia State Police, the City of Santa Fe data is from the city's "Santa Fe Trends 2014" report. These numbers are for 2013.

                      Robberies       Burglaries             Rapes
Floyd County       0                   32 [168]                3 [14]
Santa Fe City     87                 853                        41   
Santa Fe 2012  110                 988                        40
the difference in population is 526% so to make the figures comparable, the Floyd numbers in the brackets are the raw data multiplied by 5.25. Should you think Santa Fe's 2013 numbers are an aberration, the 2012 data are also included. As you see there is no comparison. Floyd is a far safer place to live.

An article entitled the Most Dangerous States in America appeared in the USA TODAY January 3rd issue. They ranked New Mexico as the second most dangerous state, right behind Alaska:

New Mexico
Violent crimes per 100,000: 596.7
Population: 2,085,287
Total 2013 murders: 125 (21st lowest)
Poverty rate: 21.9% (2nd highest)
Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 84.3% (6th lowest)
New Mexico's violent crime rate rose 6.6% between 2012 and 2013 — the most in the nation — to nearly 597 per 100,000 residents. The increase in violent crime came despite Governor Susana Martinez's avowal in 2011 to be tough on crime. As in other dangerous states, the concentration of crime in New Mexico's larger cities may have contributed to the state's crime problem. Albuquerque, for example, the state's largest city, had an estimated crime rate of 775 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, more than twice the national rate. New Mexico residents were also among the nation's poorest in 2013, with a median household income of $43,872 and a poverty rate of nearly 22%.

Contrast those figures with another western state, Montana:

Montana > Violent crimes per 100,000: 240.7
Population: 1,015,165
Total 2013 murders: 22 (tied-6th lowest)
Poverty rate: 16.5% (19th highest)
 Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 92.7% (3rd highest)

There were nearly 241 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents in Montana in 2013, a third lower than the national rate. While the violent crime rate fell 5.1% nationwide between 2012 and 2013, it fell more than 13% in Montana. Low crime rates may be attributable to high levels of education. Nearly 93% of Montana residents had at least a high school diploma as of 2013, the third highest rate in the country. Despite the state’s relatively well-educated population, Montana struggled with poverty last year. The state’s poverty rate was 16.5% in 2013, one of only two of the safest states with a poverty rate above the national rate of 15.8%. This was likely due in part to the state’s large Native American population, which tends to be more impoverished.

Yes, Mr. Fuzzy sleeps much more soundly in Floyd than in Santa Fe. And gets lulled to sleep by the pitter patter of rain sometimes... some lovely lightening last night illuminated the skies above the hundreds of lightning bugs also intermittently sparkling in the meadows below.

31 May 2015

Classic American Automobiles

It is sad to contemplate but unless you are in your dotage, like your humble correspondent, you cannot remember the time when American automobiles were the pinnacle of transportation engineering, the envy of the world for style, durability, comfort and technological innovation. How Pontiac, Rambler, Hudson, Nash, Crosley ( my dad had one in the early 1950s which regularly achieved over 30 miles per gallon), Kaiser, Packard, Studebaker, oh I cannot go on, it is far too depressing. How did they go from market dominance to bankruptcy so quickly? And Ford, Chevrolet, Cadillac, who gave the world the body and interior designs held as classics today, how did they lose their way?

Chantilly Festival Farm here in Floyd held its annual car show and parts swap this weekend. The weather was cooperative, the crowds good and the cars, well, GREAT. Nice to see hot rods, rat rods and restored bodies fender-to-fender, shining brilliantly in the abundant sun beams.

Classic hot rod chrome and paint

Rat Rod

Thunderbird, the last great original American design

Having pretensions to being an artiste, Mr. Fuzzy cannot leave a good image alone. Please click to enlarge those below, otherwise the subtleties will be lost.

There was another engaging event in Floyd on Saturday but that will wait for the next post. Enjoy your weekend, dear reader.

28 May 2015

its official

Well, we all knew it here in the county but now its official - the Department of Agriculture's "drought monitor" has declared the area "abnormally dry." The last rain was about three weeks ago and only half an inch. This does not augur well for the summer. The garden soil is powder-dry and the plants require watering. The irony is that for the last three weeks, at least three days per week have been forecast to have at least a 50% chance of precipitation, some days, 80%, and yet nothing, not even threatening clouds.

25 May 2015

going Rogue

Its been dry here at Stratheden Farms. The last decent rain, half an inch, was a fortnight ago. In the interval, it has been warm and breezy, sucking moisture from both soil and plants. The subsoil moisture was enough to sustain life but today there are signs appearing on both trees and smaller plants that they are in need of water. The national Weather Service has forecast rain every week for the last three weeks, and only one has materialized, noted above. The forecast beginning tomorrow is for about five days of precipitation, which would be very pleasant.

Many farmers have used this dry spell to mow & bale their hay. We are hoping for this rainy spell to give one last boost to the plants before mowing. Like everything else in farming, its a gamble. This time last year produced a record hay yield from the farm but this year will likely be less than 75% of that amount. Below is a photo made today along Highway 8 between Floyd and Christiansburg with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

It was a red letter day for Mr. Fuzzy. The venerable 2004 Honda CRV has 200,000 miles on it now and some of the electronics have developed pesky problems. It has performed yeoman's work on the farm for six and a half years, towing trailers full of gravel, mulch, fencing supplies, towing the tractor out of the mud, etc.But its reliability on a long trip is now in doubt.

After much research, inspections, test drives and cogitation, a new Nissan Rogue was purchased today from New River Nissan in Christiansburg. The salesman, Stanley Foulkes, was nice to work with, a good person and extremely knowledgeable. Here he is about to hand over the "keys" (its a keyless car, that and many other high tech features are going to take some learning at Mr. Fuzzy's end). Very few automobiles met all my criteria, which included:
all wheel or four wheel drive
good sized cargo space
good ground clearance (4WD is pretty useless without it)
at least 30 mpg on the highway

Ye olde Honda will be have its category changed at the DMV office to "farm use only" which will cut the cost of keeping it to almost nothing. It was worth less than $4,000 to trade in and this seemed a more noble application. The CRV will still perform the hard work, including local hauling & towing tasks, thereby allowing the Rogue to remain pristine (with some luck).

Let's hope the Rogue gives such good service as the CRV. It should.

16 May 2015

Flowers everywhere!

Despite an odd winter which constantly cycled back and forth from cccccold temperatures to record breaking warmth, most of the trees and plants seem to have weathered it well. The prior winter was more typical and never got as cold but caused more floral losses.

I'm conflicted about being where nearly every type of tree has a significant flower bloom. Yes, it causes severe allergies but my, oh my, Mother Nature has decorated trees more spendidly than a Christmas tree. Especially outstanding this year are the tulip poplars and the locusts. The flower of the tulip poplar, if not dislodged by wind or hail, becomes 'woody' and makes a fine everlasting decoration for dried arrangements and wreaths. If you look in the bottom left corner, one from last year, much abused by the elements, is still attached.

Easy to see why it was named "tulip" poplar

a detail of the "tulip"

flowers on a locust tree

The wildflowers are also prospering thus far. Currently in bloom are greater tickseed, fire pink (aka catchfly), a bumper crop of blackberry blooms that should provide a bountiful harvest for both the human and the bears on Stratheden Farm. Already bloomed out are the cherries, dogwoods and red buds trees. The coltsfoot has gone to seed.

Of special mention this year are the globular buttercups. The flowers are larger, there are more flowers per cluster and the number of clusters is at least thrice the norm. The meadow below the house must have upwards of 10,000 buttercups brightening the landscape.

Yes, indeed, this is an earthly paradise.