Category Archives: Outdoors

Fresh-Picked Sour Cherries

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Our sour cherry tree was covered in cherries just a few weeks ago, so we picked lots and made sour cherry and strawberry pie. Last year I think we missed most of the ripe sour cherries – birds and other critters must have gotten to them first, so we are very happy to enjoy them this year.

For the pie, I used this sour cherry pie with almond crumble recipe from Smitten Kitchen but substituted about 1/2 pound of sour cherries for strawberries and only used half of the sugar. It turned out really delicious; I love the sour cherry flavor combined with the sweetness of the strawberries. The almond crumble topping was really good, too. It was neat having a traditional pie crust bottom paired with a crumble topping like a crisp.

Here’s the list of ingredients:

Pie Crust

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, very cold

Almond Crumble

  • 2/3 cup whole oats, ground to a flour in a food processor (yielding 1/2 cup oat flour)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted whole almonds
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Pie Filling

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh sour cherries, pitted
  • 1/2 pound fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Note: I used a pitting tool to pit all the cherries. It was so fast and so easy!

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And here’s the method of preparation:

Pie Crust

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  1. Fill a one cup liquid measuring cup with water, and drop in a few ice cubes; set it aside. In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Cube the butter.
  2. Using your hands, breakup the butter in the flour mixture, combing until the pieces of butter are pea sized.
  3. Drizzle 1/4 cup of of the ice-cold water over the butter and flour mixture. Using a spatula, gently stir the dough together. Add additional cold water a tablespoon as a time until the dough is clumping together. Knead gently to form a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.
  4. Roll out to about 12″ circle. Fit into pie plate and crimp edges.
  5. Cover with aluminum foil and pie weights (I use dry beans). Bake at 425F for about 30 minutes.

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Almond Crumble

  1. Grind oats in food processor into oat flour. Add all other ingredients except butter. Pulse until almonds are coarsely ground.
  2. Melt butter. Let cool slightly, and stir into flour mixture.

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Pie Filling

  1. In a large bowl, mix the cherries and strawberries with sugar, cornstarch, and salt.
  2. Once pie crust has been pre-baked (helps eliminate soggy pies!), pour filling into crust. Top with crumble.
  3. Bake at 372F for about one hour.

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Note: In addition to pre-baking the bottom crust, I also reserved a bit of the liquid from the fruit. To make sure all the sweet juices weren’t wasted, I heated the juices (which already had cornstarch and sugar in it) on low-medium heat until it thickened. Use this drizzled over slices of the pie or over vanilla ice cream.

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Climbing at Raven’s Roost

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I’ve been behind on my blogging, but here’s a new post finally. Now that the weather is warming up, it’s time for more outdoor climbing. Raven’s Roost is an overlook off of the Blue Ridge Parkway around mile 10, and it’s only a 30 minute drive from Ridgeside!

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There are  beautiful views overlooking the valley and surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, plus if you are familiar with building a safe and secure natural anchor (using trees and boulders), there are lots of routes you can climb on top-rope. Here are the details from Mountain Project. As with all outdoor climbing, make sure to be cautious.

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The routes are nice and long (cliffs are about 50 to 80 feet high), and you can walk down a trail at the south end of the cliffs for easy access to the bottom of the wall.

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So far, we’ve climbed a few of the routes, and we really enjoyed them. I think the routes we climbed were about  5.7-5.9. Raven’s Roost makes for a great day-trip, so we’ll definitely be back to try more of them!

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Whoa, Snow!

Last week, Afton (and many other areas of Virginia) received a decent amount of snow, and we’ve enjoyed seeing Ridgeside covered in this pretty white blanket. The total accumulation was definitely over a foot – maybe around 14 inches. Personally, I am happy to have the snow – it’s been so cold this winter, we may as well have the snow to go a long with it!

I went for a walk, of course, and took lots of photographs. Hope you like them.

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Here’s a view of the creek lined with snow:

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The view of the Blue Ridge was very foggy but still pretty:IMG_3157

I also took a walk along our hiking trail. It was hard work walking in the deep snow, but the views from the ridge were worth it:

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Eventually, the sun came out, accompanied by blue skies. The light reflecting off the snow was great:

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The snow has already started to melt and with warm temperatures forecasted for most of this week, I’m sure it will be gone soon. There’s something magical about snow, and I’m glad we were able to soak it in while it lasted!

Bird Sightings

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On a recent warm and beautiful Saturday (in between all of the very cold and cloudy days we’ve had), I went out to play with the zoom lens on my camera to photograph some birds. It seemed like the perfect day to spend outside watching nature (plus the leaves are bare this time of year), and all the birds appreciated the break in the dreary weather as much as I did.

There were tons of bluebirds out-and-about snacking on bugs, and I tried to walk very quietly and sneakily, as not to scare them all away. I also found a few “new-to-me” birds that I hadn’t noticed in Afton before.

I either need to be sneakier and get a little closer, or I need a lens with even more zoom to get really good close-ups of birds. Nevertheless, here’s the best of my efforts.

One of the many bluebirds (I counted about 8 at one time in the meadow):

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And here is a new bird I spotted. This one is a golden crowned kinglet. Very tiny, and it hopped around the tree quickly:

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A handsome mockingbird:

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Another new bird (to me) was this field sparrow. Probably because I don’t have great vision, I usually can’t identify specific sparrows. Thanks to the camera, I could zoom in, capture the details, and take time to consult my bird book. Based on his beak color and the colors around his eye and on his crown, he’s a field sparrow.

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Lastly, the red bellied woodpecker. I always know when he’s around (which is often) because his loud “cha cha cha” call gives him away as he moves from tree to tree, branch to branch.

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Before we know it, spring will be here, and all the birds will start scouting out their houses and nest sites again. I can’t wait!

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Hiking Crabtree Falls in the Fall

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Crabtree Falls observation site is just under an hour drive from Afton, Virginia, and is a popular attraction offering a beautiful set of waterfalls and a hike that takes you to the top. Fun fact: Crabtree Falls are the tallest falls east of the Mississippi. We visited for the first time over the weekend. It was a misty and crisp day – perfect weather for a hike.

Don’t forget to pay for your parking pass on your way in! But it works best when placed inside your vehicle. Josh is illustrating what not to do with your parking pass:

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After we ate a small picnic lunch, we were ready to see the falls and start the hike to the top. It’s only a short distance to the bottom of the falls, which even at this time of year had a most impressive show of water.

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The climb to the top of the falls had lots of stairs and switchbacks. If you visit in the fall, keep in mind there are some steeper portions and rocky areas that can be slick (especially with fallen leaves lining the path). Much of the trail is lined with railings, though, and overview areas are well fenced, also.

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The total hike to the top was 1.7 miles. Sounds short, but the grade was enough to tire me out. The climb followed the water for most of the way, and every view of the falls was pretty.
IMG_2165I can’t actually remember how long it took us to get to the top, but I was excited when I reached the 1.7 mile post. On a clear day, the view of the valley and the mountains must be beautiful, but since we visited on a misty day, our view was of the fog. Still fun, though! I look forward to doing this hike during other times of the year to see how the waterfalls and the views change (there’s a lot of rhododendron – must be very pretty when in bloom).

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For more details on hiking Crabtree Falls, visit Hiking Upwards’ overview. Also, if you want to add more adventure to your trip, you can catch the Blue Ridge Parkway and drive north back to Afton – there are plenty of overlooks and other hikes.

Colors of Fall

The first bit of colorful foliage in Afton appeared on the first day of fall – September 22, but only a few yellow leaves. Since then, fall foliage has taken it’s time. I’ve been impatient since this is our first fall in Afton – hurry up and be orange, yellow, and red please!

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The trees at higher elevations along Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway are just past peak now. Here are a view photos taken from Raven’s Roost on the Blue Ridge Parkway last weekend:

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But the colors of fall in the valley are still coming in. Here’s a sampling of the colorful foliage at Ridgeside:

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IMG_1797We have many green trees that I expect will still turn and have some beautiful colors, including a red maple, ginko, and sweet gum tree. For more photos and updates, take a look at our Fall album on Facebook.

Mushrooms

We encountered a few dozen different types of mushrooms during one of our recent walks through our trail – it’s been such a rainy summer this year. We don’t know what most of them are, but if you recognize any please let us know! Here’s a sampling of the neat ones we found.

Update: This first photo is not a mushroom at all. My mom let me know that this is called Indian pipe or ghost plant – turns out it is a perennial plant that does not contain chlorophyll.

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Indian pipe (not a mushroom!)

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We also spotted a few neat ones over the winter – you can see the photos in our Winter album on Facebook.