Monthly Archives: September 2014

A Night Train to the Stars.

 

green bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Green Bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory

One of the best things about West Virginia is the amount of wilderness, meaning fewer people and less civilization. Making West Virginia a perfect place to do star-gazing, and Radio Astronomy. Hard to believe that hidden in the woods of West Virginia at Green Bank is The National Radio Astronomy Observatory. These are the type of telescopes that inspired the movie ” Contact” with Jodie Foster. Where the Astronomers are listening to the world of outer space. At Green Bank they also encourage visitors to enjoy their reflective telescopes to see all wonders of our galaxy. So when my son said he wanted to plan his 6th birthday around trains, camp fires and the stars how could I say no.

Cheat Mountain Salamander train ride to the stars

Cheat Mountain Salamander train ride to the stars

One of the offerings that Astronomers from Green Bank give to visitors is the option to do a Star Gazing event once every year on their property that is only accessible by train. No high way, no logging road, no hiking trails on the 13,000 square miles of US Government land. Access is just a historic railroad track built about 2 century’s ago to transport coal from the high lands of Pocahontas County to the lower flat land of the Ohio Valley. The idea for a short ride on a local  tourist train was a perfect way to transport visitors to the remote location to take photos, learn more about Astronomy and ride into the past on a restored diesel train and cars.  Add in the fact that they allow you to have a camp fire and roast marsh mellows you have a great time planed for everyone who takes the night train to the stars.

As this was Christopher’s birthday adventure we made an afternoon and evening out of the trip. We started our train themed fun in Elkins, West Virginia at The Depot Restaurant that uses train themed photos and paintings as the decor. All while being able to walk the grounds of a fully functional and restored 1800’s Depot. This is also the main office for the Cheat Mountain Salamander, the New Tygart Flyer, Mountain Explorer trains. For more information about the trains and their trips Contact www.Mtn-Rail.com. The grounds around the Depot showcase a traditional turn table and tussle style bridge that leads to loading dock of the Depot.

Christopher 6th birthday dinner at the depot restaurant  balcony

Christopher 6th birthday dinner at the depot restaurant balcony

view of train bridge from The Depot Restaurant.

view of train bridge from The Depot Restaurant.

 

train bridge over the Tygart River, Elkins West Virginia

train bridge over the Tygart River, Elkins West Virginia

After a nice walk to the bridge and the river we shopped some at  Delmonte Market across the street from the depot.We found a large selection of hand-made and country themed gifts and toys. This was one of the hand-made items in the beautiful store. Recycled bottles with Decoupage flowers and lights what a nice way to use dried flowers.

flower bottle lamps at Delmonte Marker

flower bottle lamps at Delmonte Market

After the shopping we headed south on Rout 250 to Huntonsville then through two very small towns to the Monongahela National Forest to the  Cheat River Bridge where we found our loading area and started the evening ride up to Linen WV.

restrooms and depot at cheat mountain

restrooms and depot at Cheat Mountain

Christopher looking out the window of our train car

Christopher looking out the window of our train car

We then rode the train for about 45 minutes to a small dirt landing. We disembarked the train and walked up into a field that surrounded us on 3 sides with nothing but trees. A fire was lit, roasting sticks for marsh mellows gathered and the sun began to set as the Astronomers set up their equipment. While we waited for the sun to set I got this last photo of our train before it disappeared into total darkness.

night train parked at Linen landing WV. Darkest location in the state of WV

night train parked at Linen landing WV. Darkest location in the state of WV

by 8:30 pm we were in total darkness and this is what the train looked like.

 

the night train at linen WV in total darkness

the night train at Linen WV in total darkness

What happened next was astonishing, I have always loved the night sky, moon and the many planets, but I was not prepared for what I was about to see. The limited light from a moonless sky was enough to move around comfortably with out walking into anyone and the telescopes had small red lights to help us locate them in the field. I was just amazed that in total darkness the stars  were soooo bright!

I do not have the words to really describe what it was that we were able to see. From tree-lined horizon to horizon there was nothing to block our view, no lights were visible in our valley meadow. The only light was from the stars themselves because we had arrived here on the New Moon making it easy to see the most distant stars with out aide. As Tom and I found a spot for our folding chairs with our backs to the restored train landing we both looked up to the Northern sky to see the slowly dotted sky  fill with a cloudy dust of the Milky Way. Each individual star suspended in space, slowly became two than ten than twelve hundred. The numbers and colors slowly expanded into the ribbon of the Milky Way from one horizon to another. This  river of clustered stars outshone almost every star in the sky. With Millions if not billions of tiny lights glimmering it is impossible to not feel alone and part of a larger whole all at once.  The big planets shown with the red-orange of Mars and the cold blue of Vega. The constellations blinked in perfect form, each one leading the eye from one white pin point to another until you discovered that you were looking at the opposite horizon watching Scorpio slowly descend below a wall of trees. We sat in total darkness for 2 hours barely speaking and those that did speak whispered as if to use an adult tone would somehow effect the reverence for the  stars. We took turns looking into the telescopes and watching the Astronomers point out constellations with a laser pointer. Yet, every time we returned to our seats to enjoy the smell of a smoldering camp fire and the billions of bright white stars in the sky, we felt nothing but Peace. It was the most enjoyable two hours I have had in years.

milky Way Crop

Milky Way Crop

This time in the woods reminded me of the years that Tom and I would set up a camp site in the back yard to our older son Cody.We let him camp in our pasture behind the house on a hill. It was fun for me to lie on my back and look at the stars with him when he was 8 or 9. We shared a moment of happiness at its most simple. This trip expanded this feeling of happiness to something deeper and larger. It was very moving and fueled my interest in astronomy again.

As families and scientists prepared to re-board the train the temperature had dropped to 45 degrees. The air was cold and we could all see our breath but no one complained. We filed to our seats for the short 45 minutes back down the mountain and no one raised their voices. We spent the time laughing with strangers and reminiscing as if we are all long-lost friends… We were all happy, including the sleepy birthday boy.

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Birthday, Cheat Mountain Salamander, Christopher, Green Bank NRAO, Monongahela National Forest, trains, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Time Saving Home Canned Chili Sauce with Beef or Venison

I am sure all of us have had times when you get home from a long day and really don’t want to cook. I have many days that I just don’t plan ahead enough and it is 5 and I still have no idea what we are going to eat and everyone is hungry. This is my back up plan, it is a home-made tomato sauce that we use as a chili base and saves me from making the chili base from scratch every time. No looking to see if I have all the ingredients. No reason to worry over long cooking times.So when cool weather sets in and chili sounds like the perfect meal to put together in a slow cooker or a quick last-minute dinner this is the way our family makes chili. I also love that it uses a large amount of our garden tomatoes every year.

6 quarts of finished chili sauce

6 quarts of finished chili sauce

The idea to can a chili base came from my father in law and his disliked of making a pasta sauce that needed hours to cook down. This idea is so much faster and easier than making large amounts of pasta sauce. It also tastes great and a 1/2 bushel of tomatoes ( about 25 pounds or about 80 to 90 plum tomatoes ) makes about 6 quarts from one patch of sauce. I usually make 18 quarts every year. The other thing that is wonderful about this is it is a non-pressure recipe, it is made in a boiling water bath canner. As long as you stay with the ratio of 25 pounds tomatoes to one cup of onion and 2 1/2 cups peppers you will not  lower the acid levels of the tomatoes. In our sauce we use a mixture of hot and sweet peppers and you can adjust the heat to your families liking. In our case we use 2 cups sweet peppers to 1/2 cup hot peppers or around 4 banana or other large hot peppers. This mixture adds flavor but not much heat.If you like it hot reduce the sweet peppers to 1 cup and raise the hot peppers to 1 1/2 cups and feel the burn, do what ever sounds good to you.

The hardest part of canning any kind of tomato is the necessary step of blanching the tomatoes. This is the process of removing the skins so that you do not have chucks of skin floating around in the sauce. I have tried to grind the tomatoes and leave the skins on and it is just better to remove them if you do not like the taste or though texture of skins floating on the top of you chili.

To blanch Tomatoes I use a 8 quart stock pot of simmering hot water and a sink full of cold water. The colder the better, adding ice if you have a good ice maker is great. Into about 5 quarts of simmering water I place about 20 plum or any tomatoes and simmer for about 3 minuets then plunge them into the ice-cold water with a strainer.

simmering tomatoes for blanching

simmering tomatoes for blanching

The trick is to make sure before you remove the tomatoes from the water that you see the skin of one or all the tomatoes either tear away or start to wrinkle before the plunge. If you get that step right the skins almost fall off in the ice water and pealing is a snap. I core the tomatoes before blanching it makes the skins slide off faster as the water is able to get under the skin of the tomato. I have friends that do it after blanching because they do not want any extra water entering the tomato before cooking…( this is a very important to pasta sauce makers not so much for me). After pealing the tomatoes I have another stock pot ready to place the tomatoes into and blanch more as I place peeled tomatoes into a larger pot.

This photo shows what you start cooking with.

 

25 pounds of pealed tomatoes

25 pounds of peeled tomatoes

You will next cook the tomatoes and juice down and run through a food mill before adding any spices or other vegetables.

Here is the recipe for  cooking the chili sauce in our families traditional way.

Chili Sauce

1/2 bushel fresh tomatoes

2 cups sweet peppers

1/2 cup hot peppers ( we use yellow Banana peppers)

1 cup onion

2 teaspoons chopped garlic or about 5 cloves mashed

1/2 cup sugar

4 Table spoons chili powder

salt and pepper to taste

2 small cans tomato paste

2 table spoons mustard seed

1 bay leaf crumbled

5 whole clove heads all bundled together in a cheese cloth sack or in a tea strainer

this mixture usually makes 6 quarts of fresh sauce

Cook freshly peeled tomatoes for about 15 minutes to break them down into a watery broth. When most of the meat of the tomato has cooked down but you still have a few stringy portions and lots of seeds floating on top run hot tomatoes through a food mill, ricer or sieve to remove seeds and any tough tissues. Place back over med heat and add peppers, onions, garlic chili powder, salt and pepper. Add the spice bag or tea ball and simmer 15 more minutes. At the end of the cooking time remove tea ball and  add two cans tomato paste and stir until well blended. Ladle into hot sterilized jars leaving a 1/2 inch head space, wiping lip and covering with sterilized lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath 20 minutes..

 

fresh tomatoes being pressed through a foodmill

fresh tomatoes being pressed through a Foodmill

Chop hot peppers with some kind of gloves they will burn skin and eyes is not careful

Chop hot peppers with some kind of gloves they will burn skin and eyes if not careful

hot peppers, sweet peppers, onions

hot peppers, sweet peppers, onions

 

 

final stage of chili sauce simmering away

final stage of chili sauce simmering away

When ready to make chili all that you need is one pound of ground meat. We use venison or beef or both mixed together browned and two cans or about 4 cups beans. We like to mix up our beans so I have used light kidney, dark kidney, pinto, cranberry beans, use what you have on hand. Brown the meat drain off any excess fat, pour in one quart jar of chili sauce and add 4 cups of your favorite beans and simmer a few minutes and you have dinner in about 10 minutes. The best part of all is this if all goes well in our garden the only thing that we did not grow ourselves is the tomato paste. Farm fresh goodness all winter long and a quick family meal that should make about 4 servings.

Categories: canning, Chili, country cooking, Tomatoes, venison | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My 1ooth post mile stone!

It is hard to believe that I have actually posted a 100 times since starting this adventure. Blogging is one of the best things I have tried to do as an adult and I am really enjoying it. I have learned so much over the last couple of years and can only say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to reply with a comment or a “like” to my posts. I am thankful that all of you just take the time to stop in a read once in a while. It is amazing how many wonderful people I have met through this adventure. I am lucky to call people from all over the world my friends, from several  down under in Australians to a hard-working Canadian, a few transplanted Americans who are in Bosnia and Chile and people from all over the USA who share my interests. It is a wide wonderful world and I am soooo glad I write with all of you!.

Christopher and I out mushroom hunting in my cast... life really slowed down with it

Christopher and I out mushroom hunting in my cast… life really slowed down with it

This year has seen much less travel, hunting and fishing then I had hoped to write about here at Mountain Mama. Things here have changed as things always do. I have had a broken bone in my foot for 12 months and when every thing is done I will have been in a cast 14 months. Who in the world would have thought that a bone around the size of a dime would cause this much pain and hassle. Then we were informed that my mother in law has throat cancer and we have gone through treatment and she is now living with my family. The cancer alone has changed our whole family and all of our lives. It is a constant struggle to maintain her health at this point and I spend much of my day waiting on her needs and wants. It is worth every struggle to see her regain her health and independence over the next few months. I have gone from a career woman and mom, to a full-time care giver, house wife and homestead gardener over these last 100 posts.

I had high hopes when I started blogging that in some way I would find a way to make an income from my posts and be one of those bloggers who travels the world for free with their blog. I was thinking that blogging would some day be my work but instead it is my love. I would not want to get payed and sponsored into some kind of box. I love that this is a limitless space where I am free to share things with like-minded friends. I love to share my failures and gains with all of you. I love that like a stone thrown into a clam water the ripples that my words create flow away in never-ending rings…. that some where in cyberspace I have found all of you and you have sent your ring of words back to me.

Reflection of Stone Bridge on lake at Black Water Falls State Park. Wv

Reflection of Stone Bridge on lake at Black Water Falls State Park. WV

 

So as I look back over the last 100 times that I have sent messages out in to the Cyber Universe I can see so much improvement in my blog and my posts. It has been a great therapy for me and my creative soul and I just hope to keep sharing, learning.

Faerie mushtrooms

Faerie mushrooms

~THANK YOU FROM WILD WONDERFUL WEST VIRGINIA~

Categories: blogging, Cancer, Family, friends, Friendship, gardening, Healing, writing | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Beets,Tomatoes, Pumpkins, and Pie…oh my!

The garden is full these days and I have been working on getting every thing into jar and freezer bags as quickly as I can. The beets made several good meals and about 8 pints of pickled beets for winter. The tomatoes are made into pasta sauce and chili sauce  7 quarts of each so far. Then another 7 quarts of chili sauce will be on the stove in a couple of days as the bulk of my tomatoes are ready for canning. But the real fun of this years garden is the pumpkins.

Christopher and Paife with a load of Pumpkins ready for display on our porch

Christopher and Paige with a load of Pumpkins ready for display on our porch

 

I am guessing that most homesteaders and gardeners have tried to raise a pumpkin or two over the years. I have also, but I  have never, ever, had pumpkins like this before. I planted 3 seeds… only one hill…. and so far we have 12 pumpkins and 7 were so large already that I was actually afraid the neighbors and their children may enjoy them with out my permission too! So we went pumpkin picking this holiday weekend.  I actually still have three vines blooming so we may have another load like this one in another month.

I am just over whelmed with the possibility of all the things that I can make for my oldest son and I out of these wonderful squashes.

Cody hands Christopher a pumpkin as Paige brings the wagon around  to fill it

Cody hands Christopher a pumpkin as Paige brings the wagon around to fill it

Cody and I love pumpkin and I have begun to master from scratch pumpkin pies. I am guessing we will  have enough pie filing canned for both families by the holiday season.  I was thankful that I did buy pie pumpkin seeds and thought that the white ones with the orange meat looked like fun to carve. I am sure that as the time gets closer we will have a many different looking pumpkins on the porch,but none will be as loved as the white ones we grew together!

a nice load of white pumpkins

a nice load of white pumpkins

In closing this is the recipe that I use when making a fresh pumpkin to make pies. At some point I will post a step by step instruction on how to make fresh pumpkins into a pie but for now this will get you thinking about the wonderful smells and tastes of autumn.

Fresh Pumpkin pie… a large 20 pound pumpkin can make about 4 to 5 pies (2 cups filling per pie).

Set oven to 450 degrees and roast a washed seeded quartered pumpkin on a cookie sheet for 30 to 40 minutes until the meat of the pumpkin softens and the quarters start to squish and wrinkle.

COOL for several minutes ( 30 to an hour) remove cooked meat and place about 2 cups into a food processor or blender blend until with a three tablespoons water and blended into a nice puree.

Either make a pie crust of use a store-bought crust big enough for a deep dish pie

in a large bowel mix 2 cups puree and add

2 eggs

1 cups light brown sugar

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

3/4 can ( 8 oz) evaporated milk

bake at 450 deg for 10 minutes the reduce the heat to 350 deg for 40 to 50 minutes.

test for with knife to make sure pie filling is cooked all the way through.

This is what my daughter in law says is the best pumpkin pie she has ever had… fresh from the garden!

Categories: canning, country cooking, gardening, Halloween, Pie, pumpkin, pumpkins | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Wonder yogurt

ever had the a need for some portable heat with out the hassle of cords or fires this maybe the ticket for my camping needs the wonder

gather and grow

My search for the perfect yogurt incubator is over.

wonderbag1Meet Wonderbag, a portable slow cooker. It made its puffy, boldly colorful appearance at our house after I saw it in action at a friend’s place. I love it. The Wonderbag is a heat-retention cooker: you can bring any slow-cook recipe to a boil on a stove, then pop it inside the bag where it continues to cook because of the bag’s foam insulation. No plugs or gas involved — in other words, less fossil fuel use per every meal! And because of the same insulating capacity, the bag can be used for any project that requires maintaining a steady temperature, such as yogurt, which needs to be kept at about 110 F for a few hours. I don’t have a gas oven with a pilot light I could use, so in the past, I’ve used a plastic camping cooler filled…

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