Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Don't overlook Overlook!

Off and on all week, I had suggested to Bill that we go for a bike ride on Sunday.  I always think of biking during mud season, when hiking trails are muddy with remaining icy patches. To my surprise, when Saturday evening came,  Bill suggested we hike Overlook Mountain in Woodstock, New York, instead. Since the trail is an old carriage road, snow or mud conditions wouldn't be formidable.

(Yikes, a full parking lot!.)

 While Overlook truly does have a beautiful "overlook" and a fire tower with great views, the mountain's location, right in Woodstock, means that we can combine the hike with Joshua's, our favorite Middle Eastern restaurant.  At 5 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 1400 feet, hiking Overlook, followed by dinner, makes a nice outing.

(As Bill had predicted, the path was nearly dry.)

In addition, we drive the scenic route to Woodstock, down Route 32, waxing nostalgic as we pass some old haunts along the way from our first year of marriage, when we lived in Acra, a village of 200 people. This drive takes a little longer than the thruway, but it's part of what makes the day a treat.

(Views through the trees abound before the leaves come out, and how about that mountain laurel?  We have never caught it here in bloom.)

Once in Woodstock, we drove up the road from the village, winding higher and higher, to where strings of prayer flags flew outside every house. Woodstock has been an artists' community since the Hudson River School painters came here in the 1800s.  That, combined with its attraction for folk and rock musicians since the 1960s, gives the town a funky vibe.

(Patches of snow remained as we got higher up.)

To our dismay, every parking spot was taken in the trailhead lot, and parking along the road is not allowed.  It had been a long cold winter.  Like us, other people were eager to get out on one of the first nice spring days.  We drove down the road, turned around, and came back.  A spot had opened and we made a run for it!  As with many places we visit, a parking lot can be full without making the location feel crowded.  Overlook can comfortably accommodate quite a few hikers and still be very pleasant. 

(Remains of the last Overlook Mountain House are completely overgrown)

It felt great to hike in just hiking boots,with solid ground underfoot, instead of hiking in snowshoes or using microspikes. With the air temperature around 60 degrees, and a cloudless sky, we couldn't ask for more.

("A view from the Piazza of Overlook Mountain House, 3000 feet above the sea")

Two miles up the carriage road are the remains of the Overlook Mountain House. Four different hotels had been built on this same location, beginning in 1833 and ending in 1941.  Unlike other Catskill hotels, Overlook's higher elevation, and lack of a direct railroad line, made the hotel difficult to access and a less-popular travel destination. During the century, each successive hotel fell to fire. Eventually, the mountain became the property of the State of New York, and the last of the hotel remains was abandoned.

(360 degree views of the Catskills and the Hudson Valley are spectacular from the fire tower )
The final half-mile of the hike, from the Mountain House to Overlook's summit, had about a 6-inch snow covering.  A strong sun and spring warmth turned the snow to mush, and our pace slowed.

Still, it didn't take long to pass the ranger's cabin, and reach the fire tower. I climbed the tower and admired the spectacular views  in all directions. The atmosphere had the clarity of winter, with the warmth of spring; I could see for miles.

Bill and I had hiked so many of the peaks in view. Since he grew up "on the mountaintop" in Prattsville, my first visits to his parents' home often included hikes.  And when we lived in Acra, we explored the entire region with friends and cousins. Over the decades, we often returned to favorite places.

(The Mountain House remains in the foreground, a sliver of the Ashokan Reservoir in the center, and the Burroughs Range still snow-covered as the backdrop)

Bill is not a fan of fire towers.  That's okay, because Overlook has rock ledges that offer excellent views of the surrounding mountains and the Hudson Valley. A small sign by the ranger's cabin indicates a narrow path, leading to a scenic viewpoint.

(The Blackhead Range from the fire tower)

We sat on the rock ledge, soaking in the sun and the view.  I had packed nut bars and apples for us.  These would hold us for now.

Nineteenth century tourists often carved their names and a date into the slate ledges. The date of 1859, in this photo, was the oldest we found here.We could imagine women in long dresses, and men  with bow ties, walking up from the hotel for a light picnic on this rock.

Although, today, carving in the rock is discouraged, we found that recent hikers still sometimes etch their names in stone.

(a panorama from a rock ledge looking east to the Hudson River)

Instead of returning on the old carriage road for the first half-mile of our descent, we chose to stay on the trail that continues along the edge of the ridge past numerous viewpoints.  To our surprise, this trail had had just enough sun to melt the last of the snow.  Walking was easy and pleasant, not slippery with slush.

(the ridge trail is dry and walkable)

Returning to the trailhead, we signed the log book, and left a parking spot for other eager hikers.  We had more on our agenda for this gorgeous spring day.

Parking was easy in town, although plenty of people were here too, sitting on benches, eating ice cream cones, or playing guitars on the square.  We hadn't been to Woodstock in five years, a long time away for us.  As we walked the village streets, we discussed what businesses had left, or moved. We don't go in many of the shops, but we do have a few favorites. Fortunately, Joshua's is a mainstay.

(Joshua's, an old favorite, and still delicious)

Isn't it great to go to a place you love and still find many of the same dishes on the menu that you remember?  Today, I had the Shwarma salad, a delicious house salad with tomato, avocado, brown rice, grilled chicken (or tofu), and a cucumber feta dressing. The refreshing flavor of cucumber in the salad dressing complemented the salad perfectly.  Bill had the smorgasbord of stuffed grape leaves, felafel, tabouli, hummus, baba ganoush, olives, and an Israeli salad.

(shops vary from expensive boutiques, to places with embroidered or tie-dyed clothing, Birkenstocks, and books)

After dinner, we walked from one end of town to the other.  And then we drove home, back north through the countryside. It had been a day to savor.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Acorn Squash Rings

"What did you make for dinner last night?" my daughter-in-law, Marlie, asked my daughter, Meredith, as the three of us had tea.  We know that Wednesdays are Meredith's night to cook a nice meal for her and Brian.

(Isn't this what a Chinese cleaver was meant to do?)

Meredith said, "I made that acorn squash dinner."  I knew what recipe she meant.  Rings of squash hold a combination of other ingredients that form an unusual but delicious dinner. She continued, "I thought I had orzo, but I didn't, so I had to use what I had on hand, those shell pastas."

"You were ambitious," I said. "That meal takes a while to prepare, and, when you called me, it was already 7:30."

"I took a short-cut," Meredith explained. "Cutting and cooking the squash takes too long.  I bought pre-cut cubes."

(Once the squash attaches itself to the cleaver, I can really get in a good whack!)

"That works," Marlie said. As an innovative cook, herself, she could appreciate Meredith's ingredient substitutions.

"Besides, cutting squash is so hard.  I think I chipped a floor tile doing it one time," Meredith added.

"I use a cutting board," I said.

"I did too," Meredith said.

(Thomas and Marlie have set me up with nice appliances in recent years, like the mini-food processor on the Smart Stick, and a scale.)

Marlie looked quizzical.  "What do you do?"

"Acorn squash," I said, "it's so hard, that I get on the floor with the Chinese cleaver to cut it. I give the squash a good whack.  Then the knife comes back up with the squash attached, and I whack it again, until it is cut all the way through."  Even as I said this, I realized how absurd the picture was that I was painting, despite having been doing this my entire adult life.

"Yeah, it is hard," Meredith added, "Lots of times I don't bother to do the slices, I just cut it in half."

(Four burners are busy.  This meal looks more complicated than it is.)

Marlie asked, very diplomatically, "You don't put the knife in, and pull it out, making slits until the squash comes apart?"

"Oh," Meredith said, "like when you carve a pumpkin?"

"Yeah." We agreed that this might be a better method. Then, in a tentative voice, Marlie asked, "But...why do you do it on the floor?"

Meredith and I responded almost in unison, "The banging would shake everything in the cupboards if we did it on the counter!"  I started to laugh.

Meredith added, "Kitchen violence!"

(Starting to look yummy.)

Suddenly, it seemed terribly hilarious.  All three of us were laughing. I gasped from laughter, and a tear trickled down my cheek, as I envisioned Meredith using the fine culinary techniques that she had learned at my knee.

I managed to say, "My mother taught me some cooking skills, but I don't think she ever whacked squash with a cleaver!!"

(Squash rings with homemade pita chips, ready to eat!)

Somehow, we composed ourselves, and our conversation advanced beyond acts of violence on the kitchen floor to myriad other topics. Now and then, I felt a giggle rising in my throat, and thought, what happens in the kitchen should stay in the kitchen!

Acorn Squash Rings (originally from a magazine ad for California Walnuts)

3/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1 acorn squash cut into 1 1/2" rings
1 Tbsp mustard
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced into 1/4" thicknesses
8 oz orzo pasta
1 large bunch chard
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh dill, or 1 tbsp. dried
4 oz smoked salmon, cut into thin strips
salt and pepper

Steam squash rings, set aside.  Whisk mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper together, adding oil.  Coat frying pan with cooking spray. Add onions and cook until soft and brown.  Combine onions with mustard mixture.  Cook pasta.  Wash chard and remove stems.  Cut into 3/4" wide ribbons.  In skillet cook chard until wilted.  Add garlic to skillet and cook.  Stir in onion mixture, dill, orzo, half of the salmon, and half of the walnuts, salt and pepper.  Place a squash ring on each plate.  Fill with chard mixture.  Top with remaining salmon and nuts.  Warm each plate for one minute in the microwave.

Seasoned Pita Chips

4 (6-inch) pita breads
1/4 cup butter plus 1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tbsp Italian seasoning

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut each pita into 6 wedges, separate each wedge in half.  Melt butter, add olive oil. Stir in cheese and seasoning.  In a large bowl, pour over pitas and toss to coat.  Place pitas on large pan and bake 8 minutes.  Turn wedges over and bake 4-6 additional minutes, until golden and crisp.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Woodstock, Vermont, in winter

(The Pogue, a small pond, at the Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Park)

The top item on my Christmas list, well, just about my entire Christmas list, read, "two nights away."  Bill and I had not had a vacation getaway together overnight since early June, and I had been missing New England.  In a card, Bill wrote "Two nights away--Vermont??"  By New Year's, we were thinking about possibilities.  Stowe has always been a favorite, but it's a long trip for just two nights.

Woodstock came to mind.  Some of you will remember my previous blog post about visiting Woodstock in August a couple of years ago. ( )   Woodstock has lots of charm, and a relaxed pace.  Bill booked The Applebutter Inn in nearby Taftsville for Martin Luther King weekend.

(Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Park, Woodstock, Vermont)

January had less than ideal snow conditions; five inches of packed snow lay under a layer of heavy crust with a couple inches of nice powder on top.  We took all of our gear: microspikes, snowshoes, and cross-country skis.  We would be ready for anything.  Arriving too early in the day to go to our B&B, we decided to make the most of the afternoon by getting outdoors right away.

(the summit of Mount Tom)

From our previous trip, we knew that the Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Park had scenic trails. Microspikes would be sufficient for the carriage paths that wind through the woods, around ponds, and across fields of the park.  Map in hand, we chose a route that would take us to the summit of Mount Tom.

(Woodstock from Mount Tom)

A bright sun and deep blue sky, along with temperatures in the teens, made views crisp and clear.  Taking a leisurely pace, we reached the summit in just over an hour.  A couple of skiers came along, as did another couple wearing snowshoes. The skiers reprimanded us and the snowshoers for being on the trails maintained by the The Woodstock Inn, which require a paid ticket. It's hard to know where the free trails and the Inn-groomed trails begin and end, since they are all part of the National Park. Bill and I, and the snowshoers, studied the map and decided not to be concerned about the issue.

(Virginia on Mount Tom--what a great Christmas gift!)

Views were gorgeous from the summit of Mount Tom.  We could see rolling countryside and farms in the distance, with the village of Woodstock just below.

(view towards New Hampshire from Mount Tom)

When we returned to the car, we headed out of town about 3 miles to Taftsville.  In 2012, the devastation from Hurricane Irene had shocked us. Only remnants of the historic 1836 Taftsville covered  bridge had remained. What a pleasant surprise to see this restoration crossing the Ottauquechee River!

("new" 1836 Taftsville Covered Bridge)

We found the Applebutter Inn just up the road from the river. Our innkeeper, Michael, gave us the house tour with its charming bedrooms, cozy livingroom with fireplace, diningroom with fresh homemade cookies and water for tea on the buffet, and the breakfast room off the kitchen.

The bedrooms each had an apple name.  We put our things in the "Baldwin" room, and decided to go back into town for a late-afternoon dinner.  We entered Bentley's restaurant, on the corner of Main Street. Colored glass balls hung in profusion on long ribbons from the ceiling.  From my seat at our table by the window, I could watch people on the street as the day turned to darkness.

(Festive lights on a house on the green)

After dinner, Bill and I walked around the village green, by the Woodstock Inn, and down a couple of side streets.  Still decorated for Christmas, Woodstock's Colonial style homes looked festive with white lights and evergreen swags covered in a dusting of snow.

(Woodstock's village green)

Returning to Taftsville, we anticipated a relaxing evening at the inn.  Michael lit a toasty fire in the livingroom, and we settled in to peruse some of the many local books and magazines stacked on the coffee table.

(The Applebutter Inn, Taftsville, Vermont)

We had seen online that the inn boasted a grand piano in its "music room."  Michael showed it off proudly.  "Play it!" he encouraged.  I am not an adventurous pianist, but since we seemed to have this part of the house to ourselves for the evening, I decided to give it a try.  I had brought my grandfather's book, "Songs the Whole World Plays," copyright 1915, with me. This was the perfect time to sit down and play some old melodic love songs.

In the morning, other guests joined us for breakfast. Michael and Barbara's breakfasts are legendary, according to the newspaper articles posted in the hallway. Most unique are Barbara's apple butters. She claims that the apple butter is different with every batch, depending on what apples are used and how the season changes from year to year. I was surprised that the predominant and delicious flavor of her apple butter is actually apples, rather than the spices often used in apple butter recipes.  I wondered if she made the old-fashioned classic that just calls for sugar, a little lemon juice, and vanilla.

(A nearly buried stone wall on the trail up Mount Peg)

Since the weather forecast called for freezing rain beginning by early afternoon, we knew we had to get outdoors right away.  Most ski trails were closed.  The previous day, we had seen hills in a shiny glaze of slippery crust.

(Bill appears to be on a wintry tundra at Mount Peg)

We chose to snowshoe up Mount Peg.  The trail began in one of Woodstock's residential areas, and ascended through a small hardwood forest along a stone wall, to open field.  In just 25 minutes, we reached an expansive view of mountains and farms.  If I had Mount Peg in my neighborhood, I'd run up there every week.  What an amazing sight for so little effort!

(One of the views from Mount Peg )

Directly across the valley stood Mount Tom, where we had been the previous day, and below lay the Marsh-Billings Farm.  Marsh-Billings offered horse-drawn sleigh rides on this holiday weekend.  We were excited to see the sleigh crossing a farm field, as if in a Grandma Moses painting.

(A horse drawn sleigh at the Marsh-Billings Farm)

Exploring Mount Peg's summit, we found the junction of the Woodstock Inn's ski trails.  We made a mental note to remember these trails for a future winter trip to this area, when snow conditions were better.

(A quintessential Vermont treat for the hike!)

Aware of the dire forecast, we drove back to our inn, hoping we had enough time to take the walk near our lodging that other guests had recommended.  The air hung heavy, so we set out directly, walking on the dirt road past scenic New England homes, and a farm.  As we turned to head back, rain began to fall.

(Rural charm in Taftsville)

If you have to be stuck indoors, a country inn in Vermont can't be beat.  Michael started a fire for us; we enjoyed tea and fresh cookies from the buffet; and we settled in to read.  Eventually, though, we got hungry.  There is no place in Taftsville to eat.  We could either drive the few miles back into town or in the opposite direction towards Quechee.

Everything was a glaze of ice. Just getting from the door of the inn to the car was a challenge, but skipping dinner to avoid the bad roads would really put a damper on our pleasant day.  We chose to go to the Shepard's Pie Restaurant in Quechee.

(A New England road makes for a nice walk in Taftsville)

We were the only people in the restaurant. The owner/hostess/waitress cheerfully regaled us with stories about the restaurant, her life in food service, and the trials of living in Vermont in winter, which, we needed to know, was exactly where she wanted to be.  In the end, we also met her 8 year-old daughter and the daughter's friend, who were preparing snacks for their personal Superbowl party.

Generally, we find this kind of attention annoying, but on this night, when we were the only people in the place, with ice creating an ever thicker glaze outside, we found these cheerful Vermonters amusing.  And as we left, the owner preceded us to our car, shaking a can of rock salt ahead of our boots.

The couple of miles back to the inn in pitch darkness were scary. We were glad to return to the fire in the livingroom, a cup of tea, and a book. 

(Woodstock village homes after the rain)

After another wonderful and leisurely breakfast the next morning, we checked out of the Applebutter Inn.  There would be no outdoor fun on this day with the world under a fresh coat of ice.

Before starting for home, we went in a few of Woodstock's shops. Gillingham's General Store seemed to go for miles, with its endless selection of everything from hardware to gourmet foods, clothes, gifts, books, and more. Customer conversation revolved around the weather.  Gillingham's would do a brisk business on this day, since tourists could not ski.

(Gillingham's General Store since 1886)

The trip home was slow. For a while, we drove behind a truck spreading sand. Still, we never tired of the scenery.  Woodstock,Vermont, had, once again, left us relaxed and renewed.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Moxham Mountain in Two Seasons

(a portion of the summertime view from Moxham's summit)

Moxham Mountain only officially opened to the public in 2012.  I was determined to get there and enjoyed a Spring day hiking Moxham in early 2013 with an Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) group.  Shortly after, I talked up the hike to Bill.  "You would love it," I said.  "It's very doable.  There are views all the way up."  I love trails that open to rocky outcroppings throughout the hike. At about 5.5 miles round-trip with 1100 feet elevation gain, Moxham is not overly demanding, but a nice work-out.  Occasional view points are great rewards along the way!

The weather on my first trip had had high clouds, with spectacular vistas across ranges of mountains below.  I wanted another great day to show Bill Moxham's best.  The trailhead, located in Minerva in the Central Adirondacks, is an hour and three-quarters from our home in Albany.  It would not be worth the drive, if it rained.

(Blueberries on the mountain top are a gift!)

In August 2013, Bill and I drove north, as the sky grew brighter and brighter. I am wary of the heat in July and August, but we had comfortable temperatures with a light breeze, always welcome in the summer. Although Bill likes a nice hike, he doesn't want to work too hard. Those views along the way made great stops for snacks, with time to soak up the scenery.

Before long, we reached the summit.The dominant mountain, in the middle of a vista of about 250 degrees, is Gore, popular for alpine skiing. In the valley, an array of ponds and marshes connect, with typical Adirondack names such as Mud Pond, Clear Pond, and Long Pond.

(Bill picks lots of delicious berries)

Bill and I were thrilled to find the summit rocks covered with blueberries!  We picked and ate as many as we could, and then filled a small container that I had brought from home.  Blueberries on a mountain summit, on a gorgeous day, with fabulous views--who could ask for more?

(Bill and Virginia on the summit)

Well, when we got back to the car, I did ask for one more hike this mountain in the winter, on snowshoes, on a perfectly clear day, without wind.

ADK trips are scheduled months in advance.  In November, I posted a January snowshoe hike up Moxham Mountain.  Snow was not abundant after New Year's this year, but I knew, from seeing other hikers' pictures on Facebook, that Adirondack peaks had an ample supply. The next issue was the weather.  A forecast for clear skies didn't waver.

(My ADK group arrives at one of the first overlooks)

A couple of people signed up, and then a couple more. Interest was not awfully high. I was surprised, given the clear weather forecast and a nice snow cover, so I gave another look.  Ahh, it was supposed to be very cold.

In the end, seven of us stalwart hikers set off on the trail in -12 degrees.  A few inches of powder lay on top of a crunchy crust under a cloudless sky.  Another perfect day for Moxham!...and the cold?  It takes just minutes to warm up when hiking a mountain.  Nevertheless, I had brought hand and toe warmers for extra comfort, and shared some with others.

(it appears as if two mice traveled side-by-side)

Because the snow was fresh, and not too deep, we had fun seeing where animals had been.  Some of their tracks were easy to identify. Mouse tracks were obvious with the tail line between the tiny footprints.  We were glad that we didn't see evidence of the mice becoming someone's breakfast!

(a clear view of our destination)

Not far from the summit, a final overlook displays this great view of Moxham's cliffs, where we would have lunch. As we stood admiring the view, the sun warmed us. 

I said, "I wonder how warm it's getting.  It has to be at least zero by now."  One of the participants had a tiny thermometer hanging from his backpack.  "Take a look," he said, turning around so I could see it.  The thermometer was very tiny, and my glasses were deep in my pack.  I usually don't need them outdoors where the light is bright. 

"Well," I said, "I don't have my glasses on, but it looks like -5."  Another person took a look.  "Yes," she agreed. "I would say it's -5."  We were terribly impressed with ourselves.  Granted, there was no wind, and the sun was luxurious, but we had to be pretty diesel to be completely comfortable at 5 degrees below zero.

(here the deer tracks are in a cluster)

Deer tracks came and went, sometimes in great strides, indicating the deer had moved quickly.  We did not see predator tracks nearby, and we were the first humans on the trail since the light snowfall.  Maybe the deer had just felt like taking a quick jog.

While I like to rotate through the line of hikers when I lead a trip, now-and-then I stay in front.  When I saw the tracks pictured below going up the trail just as we were, I needed help identifying them.  They were clearly dog prints, but what kind?  The group gathered to offer ideas.  Too big for a fox, these had to be coyote prints.  This guy apparently had a mission, heading straight and steady for the mountain summit.

(Is lunch waiting on the summit for the coyote, too?)

The summit view did not disappoint.  Mountains lay below in waves of blue and purple.  Cold white powder accented every ridge and valley.  We found a few bare rocks to sit on for lunch.

"The sun is amazing," someone said.  "What do you think the temperature is now?"  I looked again at the tiny thermometer.  "It looks like it's still -5.  Wow, it sure doesn't feel like it."  Someone else added, "No wonder we can see so far.  The atmosphere is always really clear when it's that cold."  Again, we gloated for a couple of minutes .

Then the owner of the thermometer said, "Celsius is on there too.  Are you sure you're checking the right side?"  I hadn't seen the two readings.  Someone else stepped forward.  Either she was wearing contacts, or just had great vision, because she said, "It's 20 degrees. It's -5 on the celsius side."  What??  We laughed.  Maybe it's time for some of us to admit that we need glasses to read, even outdoors in bright sunshine....

(no blueberries on this day!)

None of us had trouble seeing the splendor surrounding us, however.  I searched the ponds for moose. Wouldn't it be the ultimate bonus to see a moose below?  It looked like perfect habitat. 

Out of the seven of us, five had not been on this mountain before.  It was fun to share a new adventure with them.  And the other two of us? We just basked in the scene.

(ponds and mountains for miles)

On the way down, we again marveled at all the views along the way. While we often long for loop trails, retracing our steps here took nothing away from our appreciation, every time we came upon an overlook.

ADK folks are a social bunch, and I could hear a variety of conversations along the trail, some between old friends, and others among people who had not known one another before today.  Once in a while, I hang back, or go ahead, to experience the solitude of winter in the forest, but, I, too, love the camaraderie of a cheerful group of hikers.

(the views on the descent feel new)

We still came upon animal tracks.  When someone said, "I see rabbit tracks, with big feet," we knew a snowshoe hare had hopped through.

(Wouldn't it be fun to see a snowshoe hare in his winter white?)

At the trail's end, I heard a two of our participants let loose a couple of joyous hoots.  Even though everyone is fit, there are always one or two people who go on these outings with concern for their physical capability.  They are excited by their accomplishments at the end of the day, and reach the cars all smiles.  "Did you hear us shout?" one of them said.  "Oh yeah, we sure did!" someone answered. "They could hear you all the way down in North Creek!"

We had had to park our cars a quarter of a mile up the road, since part of the road was not plowed in winter.  The sun, now lower in the sky, made long shadows across the snow. 

And I'm three for three--every time I've been on Moxham, the sky has been clear, and the views superb.