Stubbs and Mojitos

I hope everyone following this blog and checking it out is having a wonderful spring. I know I’m enjoying it very much. I’m looking forward to the Chef’s Tour at the Palisades tonight! It’s become a yearly event for the family and I – I can’t wait to see what the Chef’s have planned! Laura photographed it last night but I would not let her tell me about it. I’d like for it to be a suprise!

I’m off to Lowe’s for some Stubb’s Charcoal, wood for raised garden boxes and potting soil. I should be working on my thesis this morning, but I’m citing a lack of motivation. I’ll pay for this next week.

Speaking of which – my posts will be very light until April 9th. That’s when the first chapter of my scholastic paper is due. I’m working on the affects of reservation life on Native American adolescents and what potential effects that has on their success in school. Great topic, but I feel I am a bit over my head.

So, enjoy the weather, get out, tell your friends hello and make a Mojito!

What you will need:

White Rum, FRESH Mint, Cane Sugar, Lime, Fresca.

I know, I know. Most of you are gasping. What? FRESCA? Fresca is wildly popular in Costa Rica and was the main mixer in Mojitos in Santa Theresa, a small town I spent some time in a few years ago. The bartenders were kind enough to allow me behind the bar and teach me how to make this popular drink.

What to do:

Put about a teaspoon of the sugar along with the juice of half a lime and a half-handfull of mint in a tall glass. Muddle well with a wooden muddler (yes, this is a word). Don’t use one of those plastic atrocities that you can find attached to bottles of rum in the spring. Just don’t. The purpose to the muddling is to release the fragrance and oils from the mint – not to shred it. Just bruise it well until the juice begins to turn green. We use chocolate mint in ours here at home, mint will grow rampantly if you plant it in your yard. Add about a ounce and a half of rum and stir well, lifting the leaves off the bottom of the glass. Fill with ice cubes and top off with Fresca! Enjoy! Be careful: You can drink way too many of these!

Progressive Learning and School Systems

One particularly fine March morning I jumped in my truck for a ride over to the Giles County Public School Board office. My wife follows me onto the porch and we both breathe deeply. The early morning air is redolent with mountain laurel, sage, and hints of rosemary, redbud and peach blossoms. We inspect the garden beds and watch the mist roll off the river.

These vistas are why we moved here. Honestly, with children not being foremost in our plans when we did move here, we really didn’t even consider the school system. Having lived here for as long as we have, we’ve heard things, mostly good, about the schools but we’d never taken the opportunity to formulate our own opinions.

Laura reminds as I leave to allow plenty of time to get there, as I inevitably get side-tracked by something while I’m out. Yesterday I ended up helping a neighbor get his flock of simple-minded yet exuberantly enthusiastic Guineas out of the road. They had determined that my old ford was the perfect hiding spot – the problem was I was driving down the road when they made this determination. Another day I ended up at a neighbor’s farm to taste fresh greenhouse tomatoes. Amazing. I snagged a couple of green ones for a co-worker who has bemoaning the lack of green tomatoes this time of year. These are all even more reasons why we love it here!

Dr. Terry Arbogast has invited me tour the Giles county school system, along with Alisa Moody with Wild Country Studios and other local business owners. I feel honored as a writer to have been asked to tag along. Alisa and I, even though we’ve been here long enough to consider ourselves as locals, really aren’t and so we were in for a real treat to discover just how impressive the schools are.

There is a teaching concept which has been around a long time that has proven over and over again to work called a “Community of Learners.” Within this concept, teaching extends into to all aspects of the child’s life, including parents, community members, teachers, principals, business leaders – everyone is involved, not just the educators and the children. Everyone cares; for what better good can there be for a community than to educate its children?

Nowhere have I seen this more evident than witnessed during our tour of the schools. Dr. Arbogast knew most everyone by name, from the Principals to the Teachers to the students. He was greeted politely and enthusiastically everywhere he went. Students ran up to shake his hand and tell him their plans. He stopped to listen to everyone, no matter what. It was a testament to the integrity of the school system that not one person appeared to be apprehensive at the rather sudden and unannounced presence of the School Superintendent!

We began our tour in my case at Eastern Elementary, near the eastern border of Giles County just off Rt. 460. Dr. Arbogast proudly pointed out how the school had been remodeled and modernized, with skylights in rooms that had previously not had windows, installed modern security systems and improved ways to keep students safe. Everywhere that we went, safety was of the main concern.

Giles County High school, located near the new Carillion Hospital in Pearisburg, was a delight to behold. Sporting new and improved bleachers systems for their athletic fields, this building has too been remodeled with the addition of a math wing along with other features. Nearly all the schools have greenhouses where students can study ecology, biology and learn about gardening. I was so impressed at Narrows Elementary/Middle School by the biology teacher, who was busily working with her students in an outdoor garden that they have planted themselves utilizing seeds started in the greenhouse! It is rare to see the kind of dedication that these teachers demonstrate.

All the campuses have stunning views of the Valley and Ridge Province of Virginia. Students from Narrows High School were breathless with excitement at a recent field trip to the Greenbrier Hotel, where Cold War History was made real by a visit to the nuclear fallout bunker. Photography students were merrily taking pictures on this beautiful day and I was quickly over my head in conversations about aperture and shutter speed, opting at that moment to catch back up with Dr. Arbogast.

All the schools demonstrate up-to-date technology, including the use of SMART boards, SMART tables, and impressive computer labs in every school, most of which were assembled and maintained by students at the technical center. Each school was clean, the students were happy and engrossed in learning and each teacher was heavily involved with their class.

Located adjacent to the Giles County High School, the Giles County Technology Center is one of the most impressive learning environments I have visited. Courses are offered to Junior and Senior students as well as adults in trades such as construction, CADD, metal work, automotive technology, nursing, cosmetology, pre-engineering and machine technology. The students compete on state and national levels and have won many awards based on their efforts.

Students can also, through distance learning, attend classes at the New River Community College and receive up to 40 transferable credits towards their Undergraduate degrees at any college of their choice. Students graduating from Giles County High Schools received over $250,000 in scholarships and awards for college last year. For a school system that in its entirety approximately 2400 students, that is an impressive number. Each school is accredited, Narrows Elementary is a Title One school and each school is staffed with teachers who truly care about their students and their community.

From my visit, I am not surprised. Everywhere I looked, I saw the determination, care, love, respect and sense of community that can make any school system anywhere succeed. We just happen to have it right here.

Chickens and Buckets

It’s a very small world. I started a new job at Radford University a few weeks ago in an attempt to help pay for my new career path. It’s not bad, as jobs go. I’ve learned after many years of working that the most important key to success with any job is to get along with your boss and your key to enjoying your job is to have entertaining co-workers.

I do. It turns out that my office partner on Tuesdays actually grew up within a few minutes of where I did. Introductions were funny – I asked her where she was from and she said, “You’ve never heard of it.” I caught a distinct soft drawl on the ea in heard and grinned to myself. “Try me.” “Have you heard of Grundy?” I started laughing…”I grew up in Oakwood.” She stared at me for a moment, then said, “Get out.”

It turns out that my first cousin is her Godfather. It’s a small, small world. We spent most of the afternoon playing the Do you know? game. Turns out that despite our age difference we did indeed know a lot of the same people, even though many of them have since moved away, been blown up in coal mining accidents or died from black lung. I guess I should consider myself lucky in some respects.

This afternoon we were relatively slow at work and so fell into story telling. I told her how much I wanted to buy chickens this year, which likely isn’t going to happen with work, school and construction and she shared the following story:

“When I was little, a friend of mine lived on a farm along with chickens, goats, pigs and other farm animals. During chicken killing time, my friends job was to cover the chicken with a bucket after her dad cut it’s head off to prevent it from running off. Well, one day, she missed. The headless chicken proceeded to chase my friend all over the yard as she screamed, ‘Get it off me, get it off me.” I laughed so hard I almost peed myself.”

That story was much funnier in person than it is in print, but it serves to illustrate that, if you’re in charge of the bucket, you’d better be quick on the draw.

Brewin Around

It has been a delightful week. Spring has sprung, despite my prediction that old man winter was just teasing us. Robins are in my yard and I watched a blue jay gather twigs for a nest in the hopes of attracting a mate. I haven’t seen any fawns yet, which is a little sad and a good indication of just how much damage that the coyotes did, but I have my hopes up. I have a ton of yard work to do, along with a thesis, school and work, but I’m still having a great spring. The Bank in Pearisburg is having their grand re-opening party this weekend, The Palisades in Eggleston is hosting the Chef’s Tour for the third year in a row and I just bought all three of the Hunger Games books. Shhh. Don’t tell me anything. I want to be suprised.

Despite the beautiful day, I’m actually happy about going to work. I do enjoy my job, but I would normally be more excited to work in my garden boxes than go sit in front of a computer in a windowless office. But I have made a discovery! Brewin’ Around, a new coffee shop in Radford has just opened up in the new construction adjacent to Tyler Avenue just up from B.T.’s. Their coffee is excellent and their paninis are absolutely delicious. You can go in for lunch, grab an iced tea and a sandwich for less than ten bucks, enjoy your meal and be back out the door in less than twenty minutes. Not that you would want to – the decor is comfortable, the place is clean, well furnished and thoughtfully arranged. Take a look at their facebook page and get yourself over there!

The Bank, Pearisburg, VA

The Bank Food and Drink, located in downtown Pearisburg, Virginia is having it’s grand re-opening party this weekend. The restaurant has long been a popular local destination and has been completely redesigned by the owner, Linda Hayes, her new chef and a new general manager. Here is a link to a blog about the relaunch with some great pictures by Laura’s Focus Photography. Stay tuned for a restaurant review, but don’t wait on me to visit! The food is excellent and the restaurant is beautiful! Service is destined to be impeccable and you will find yourself enjoying some unique cocktails and perusing a wonderful wine selection! Tell them hello and enjoy yourself as you take in the stunning Valley and Ridge views from Pearisburg.

http://www.laurasfocus.com/blog/index.php/2012/03/the-bank-food-drink-pearisburg-virginia-photographer/

Bambi Redefined

As a nod to St. Patricks Day and to my brother James for being an excellent source of venison, I prepared the equivalent of flank steak from a one-year old whitetail deer who had fattened himself quite nicely on acorn mast last year. James is a careful butcher and the meat was prettier than anything you could ever get in a grocery store and even rivaled those cuts that we used to get from our butcher. We had no worries about free-range, grass-fed or organic labels as this guy grew up near James’ house! My only challenge is that Laura doesn’t care for venison! Her only real experience with the meat are those deer that her co-workers drag in proudly in the back of their trucks for everyone to gather around and admire as they bake in the early fall temparatures, sending out the unpleasent aroma of blood and death. I have to agree with her – a gut-shot deer draped over the tailgate of a truck is not an appetizing sight for anyone – even the hunters that pull the trigger. I think that is why most venison harvested locally ends up as jerky or stew meat at best.

James is a different kind of hunter. While he won’t pass on a trophy buck by any means, his most common targets are those that he has carefully staked out during the off season, observed feeding and targeted for harvest. He takes great pride in his butchering abilities and carefully harvests the majority of the deer, wrapping, freezing, drying and canning the meat.

St. Patricks Day has traditionally meant little to me from a cultural standpoint. Our heritage is mostly Scottish and Native American, and the area I grew up in simply didn’t observe the day. But this year I felt the need to at least acknowledge that the holiday exists. I prepared the venison corned beef style by soaking it in a brine of salt, sugar and water for a few days. (Recipe courtesy of http://georgiapellegrini.com/2011/03/06/recipes/corned-venison/.)  On Sunday, I let it sit until room temperature, slow cooked it for a couple of hours and finished it off over high heat on my charcoal grill. Delicious. We paired it with Irish Soda bread and roasted carrots. Laura destroyed it and yes, the leftovers made most excellent sandwiches. I do like St. Patricks day. I do. But I will not drink green beer. No thank you. Pass me a Guiness, please.

Recipes

I haved become increasingly irritated at the proliferation of recipes within our increasingly sensationalized so called “foodie” culture. Everyone who wants to be anyone within our subculture is either writing, trying to write or ghost writing a cookbook. There are magazines devoted to recipes, web sites such as Foodnetwork that are completely saturated with recipes. Has anyone cooked from these lately? I have. Many of them are wrong. My rant this morning, a morning so beautiful that I should be in a wonderful mood, if not for the six eggs, three cups of milk and 3/4 of a cup of maple syrup that I wasted on a so-called french toast bake, is that before ANYONE posts a recipe it should be proofed. Twice. And served to friends for their feedback. I am a cook and I am constantly stumped by some of the so-called recipes that are floating through our atmosphere. Can you imagine what it would do to a beginners confidence, someone newly inspired into their kitchen by a cooking show to have their first three recipes flop miserably? They would blame themselves and quit cooking.

We have a responsibility, all of us food writers out there, celebrities or not, to the people that read our meanderings. If you write a recipe, make sure it is right. Think of the person who may be reading it – put yourself in their shoes. Think about how altitudes, or ingredients, may change the recipe. Suggest alternatives. Do your job, Giada.