Sunday, July 23, 2017

Have I mentioned that I can be pretty goal-focused?

Which is why when we returned from our trip to Tierra del Fuego in February, I announced to my husband that I had decided that I was naming 2017 "The Year of Financial Solvency." Because I know about myself that if I set a goal, I will pour myself into making it happen. So, I wrote out a list of seven financial goals I wanted us to meet by the end of the year (having to do with things like savings, debt, and mortgage).
I told my husband the night we got engaged that I am extraordinarily debt-averse. I don't like owing anyone for anything. It makes me anxious. I particularly freak out about credit card debt, because it drives me nuts to pay interest on a balance. And I told him I was going to make it my mission to make sure that we had no unnecessary debt. This weekend, we crossed the fourth goal off the list. We are now, except for our mortgage, entirely debt-free. My husband made a lobster dinner for us and we cracked open a bottle of prosecco to celebrate.
Three goals left on the list and if I know me, I have every confidence that they will be crossed off before the New Year rolls around.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bourbon Country

While we were at Pleasant Hill, we went to a nearby town for a drink before dinner. We sampled a couple of bourbons at the Old Owl Tavern before we decided where to go for dinner. We were, after all, in Kentucky. In my first round of grad school, in my early twenties, I was a scotch drinker. I liked single malts, neat. And then, somehow, I just lost my taste for them. It wasn't until I met my husband, who grew up drinking bourbons in Kentucky, that I re-developed a taste for whiskey. After our trip to Ireland, my true love is the mellower Irish whiskeys.
Turned out it was so pleasant out on the deck of the Old Owl Tavern that we stayed for dinner.
The next day, we headed up to Versailles to tour the Woodford Reserve Distillery. (Versailles is pronounced Ver-sales. Because Kentucky.)
Woodford is the oldest distilling site in Kentucky, dating back to 1812. Distilleries were built near springs because spring water is used to make the whiskey.
The tour involved getting on a shuttle bus and driving to the main distillery.
The grains are ground and cooked into mash before being added to the fermenting barrels.
Of course, the tour included the standard listing of the requirements for whisky to be labeled bourbon: It has to be produced in the U.S., made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn (the rest is barley, wheat and/or rye), distilled to no more than 160 proof, entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof, bottled (like other whiskeys) at 80 proof or more.
Bourbon is put into charred American white oak barrels for aging. The color and flavor of bourbon come from the caramelized sugars in the charred wood. Bourbons gain more color and flavor the longer they age in wood.
The mash and yeast are put into 100 year old cypress wood fermenters where they turn into distiller's beer.
The fermenters have cooling coils to keep the fermenting liquid from getting too hot. Unfortunately since we were there on the 4th of July, the distillery wasn't in operation.
And then the tour guide offered to take a photo of us and changed the setting on my camera. Instead of taking a single, clear photo, it took photo bursts. I didn't discover the problem until after the tour. So here we are, blurry, near one of the copper pot stills.
The Woodford distillery puts the bourbon into barrels and rolls them on this gravity track to the storage areas to age. Woodford doesn't age for a specified number of years - readiness is based solely on flavor. After the bourbon has aged and is bottled, the barrels are still saturated with anywhere from 2 to 10 gallons of bourbon. Since bourbon must be in new barrels and only used once, the barrels are generally sold to distilleries in Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean for aging other spirits. Others are used to make different products, such as bourbon-barrel-aged beers and wines.
The best part of a distillery tour is the tasting at the end. We were each given a dark chocolate bourbon ball and small glasses of Woodford Reserve Straight Bourbon and Woodford Reserve Double-Oaked Bourbon. The latter is considered an "unbalanced" bourbon because it is aged longer and is sweeter. The guide described it as a dessert bourbon and mentioned that you don't even need to add anything to it. Add anything?! What sacrilege! Whiskeys should be drunk neat. Before we left, we bought a bottle of the Double-Oaked and also a box of the amazing bourbon balls.
On our way home we stopped at the Liquor Barn. I referred to it so consistently as "Al's Liquor Barn" (à la Toy Story) that after a while, my husband starting saying Al's Liquor Barn, too.
One cool thing in this store is a tasting bar where you can try samples for two or three bucks.
We tasted the Eagle Rare, a Buffalo Trace whiskey, and the Russell's. Both had been recommended, but neither stayed on the list after tasting them.
I'd done some research on-line about bourbons to try and we were in search of Willet Pot Still and W.L. Weller. We found the first but ended up trying a couple of smaller liquor stores before we found the Weller. It's a wheated bourbon and tastes like the love child of Bourbon and Irish Whiskey. I now call it Uisce Bourbon.
I bought some others (both bourbons and Irish whiskies) here at home and we now have quite a collection. The funny thing is, we drink them sparingly. We often just split a very small glass with a chocolate truffle before bed. It's become a tradition I really like.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Engagement anniversary.

Last weekend, while everyone here was celebrating the 4th of July, we were in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky celebrating our engagement anniversary. Every year we mark the day we met, the day we got engaged and, of course, the day we got married.
We stayed at the West Family Dwelling house, built in 1821, in a restored Shaker community. Shakers were celibate and in their housing there are two entrances, one for women and one for men.
And two staircases. Because, you know, walking up stairs is so carnal.
This was our room. They have reproduction Shaker furniture and the style is spare and peaceful.
After we checked in, we had a picnic on the lawn near our building. During the 105 years that the Shakers occupied this property, they built 260 buildings. There are 34 buildings remaining.
In the 1700's, some folks broke off from the Quaker meeting and formed a more charismatic religion, the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. They were dubbed "Shaking Quakers" and later "Shakers" because of their dancing and shaking during worship. They followed a God they saw as both male and female and believed they were living in the last millenium and that, as sisters and brothers, they should not marry and had no need to have children.
The Shakers were farmers and craftspeople, and sold produce, vegetable seeds, wooden products and candles.
On their farms they raised cattle and sheep, and produced woven goods.
They were innovators and made a number of labor-saving inventions, like the first water tower in the state and a washing machine.
The Shakers had a "hearts to work and hands to God" philosophy, a melding of spirituality and practicality.
The Meeting house where the worship services took place, was used for a time, after the community dissolved, as an automotive garage. There are still oil stains on the floor.
One Shaker innovation was the flat broom, which was more efficient than other brooms at the time.
I absolutely love Shaker dressers. If I could have managed to sneak this out, I'd have done it.
We toured several of the buildings. This one had a staircase that lead to a door that opened to nothing at all.
Or, at least, would have opened if it weren't for this old padlock.
Everything is so solid. The wide plank floors, in spite of their age, don't squeak at all when you walk on them. Aren't they gorgeous?
My favorite thing is the curved bannisters in the main building.
There are two of them, one on each side, which curve their way through three stories.
The land is enclosed with beautiful stacked stone fences.
The doctor of the community encouraged weekly bathing (far more frequent than the norm at the time), hard work, and a diet of plain, simple food. Consequently, the Shakers tended to be long-lived.
This anti-Shaker cat, who preferred lazing around to hard work.
I also liked these cheerful beehives. If I were going to keep bees, I'd definitely paint their boxes bright yellow.
Parts of the property were left as meadowland, which I'm sure the honey bees appreciated.
The Canada geese who live by the pond are road hogs who moved slowly and grudgingly out of the way when we drove through.
I wouldn't have wanted to be a Shaker, of course, but this place was just so serene.
Especially in the evening, when everyone who wasn't staying had cleared out.
Two years ago we were at a B&B in Asheville deciding to get married. Feels like a lot longer ago than that.