Fat tire snowbiking–yet another opportunity for Vermont Winter fun.

Fat tire bike fun in the snow.

Fat tire bike fun in the snow.

Biking on snowy back roads during the Winter is not new in this little corner of Vermont.    But we were always somewhat limited.  Studded mountain bike tires provide plenty of traction on hard-pack roads, but we didn’t get far if we ventured into even as little as 2 or 3 inches of loose snow.  Unfortunately, there were a lot of really inviting trails, such as the nearby V.A.S.T. trail network, that were inaccessible to us for this reason.

fatbikeBut things have changed.  In recent years, as new bicycle building technology has developed and new lighter and stronger materials have been incorporated, different applications have emerged.  The fat tire bicycle is one of them.  They are catching on around the world because those huge fat tires enable this type of bicycle to go where no bicycle has been able to go before.  And boy, can that be a lot of fun.

And if you can ride on the snow, you can race on the snow.

And if you can ride on the snow, you can race on the snow.

We love to ride in the Winter.  Here at the October Country Inn, we are conveniently located near access to the Chateaguay wilderness area’s network of dirt back roads. We ride these roads on traditional mountain bikes all Summer long.  But riding these same roads during the Winter is a completely different experience.  The Winter landscape, curtins of icicles dripping off bare tree branches, frozen creeks and billowy snow drifts make it seem like we’re riding on a different planet.  But, we were limited to the hard pack.  Bummer.  Now, the fat tire bikes have opened things up.  Now we can ride the V.A.S.T. trails.  They start at our door and run throughout Vermont, and beyond.  The options are endless.  O’boy, we can’t wait.

Legacy of stone–a study of the art and industry of the Yankee farmer.

OCI’s barnyard retaining wall is a study in the art and industry of the Yankee farmer.

It has been said that stone walls are Vermont’s signature landform.  More to the point,  Vermont writer Castle Freeman Jr. writes, “… if a stone wall a fraction as long as the walls of Vermont alone had been built by the order of some old king or emperor, it would be one of the wonders of the world.”  The reason why so many stones were stacked into walls throughout Vermont is because when the glaciers were formed in centuries past, they trapped many rocks within them. When the glaciers later receded, they left millions of tons of rocks behind.

When it became necessary to replace the original cellar steps, these irreplaceable slabs of stone were recycled, and now proudly form the portal  to OCI’s lawn and gardens.

Throughout the centuries, many early Vermont farmers would find that their farmland would have many stones on it that weren’t there previously. Before a farmer plowed a farm, there were probably few rocks scattered throughout the farm. When a farm is plowed however, it causes layers of soil beneath the surface to push up their rocks from the underlying soil layers.  This problem was especially evident in Vermont because of its rocky and stone filled soil. Many farmers would have to remove the rocks on their farm if they wanted to plow it again, only to find that they would have to repeat the process of removing stones, again and again. It’s like they were growing stones.  Consequently, field stone became an abundant natural building material that found its way into the foundations, water wells, and the retaining and boundary walls that are scattered throughout Vermont to this day.

The meticulous detail of a Vermont farmer’s stonework, displayed in a section of OCI’s barnyard retaining wall, lives for centuries beyond his years.

Every day we are reminded of this legacy of stone because of the October Country Inn’s Vermont hill farm heritage.  From the stacked stone foundation that still supports the inn’s old farmhouse core, to the artful construction of the barnyard’s retaining wall, to the stone lined hand-dug well out back, meandering around the property can easily become a trip back through time.  Many questions come to mind.  Just look at the detail and incredible precision with how the stones are set in the barnyard’s retraining wall.  In order for such a retaining wall to do its job, the width at the base of the wall must be as wide as the wall is high, tapering in width at the wall rises in height.  That’s an awful lot of rock to move around.

We live in the midst of this past work that is so easy to take for granted.  These stone works are cultural resources left behind by the people who once lived here, in the same spot where we now live.  We are humbled by their legacy of stone.  We will not take it for granted.

Grilled flank steak with roasted vegetables–a hearty meal for the Fall.

meatncarbsAs the time to set the clocks back rolls around, and temperatures start to drop here at the October Country Inn, a good hearty meal takes on an increasing appeal.  And, as evening comes much quicker than before, there seems to be a lot more time available to spend in the kitchen.  Although grilled marinated flank steak makes a perfectly fine dinner anytime of year, it’s especially perfect this time of year when accompanied by a selection of roasted vegetables.  To serve about four diners, collect the following ingredients:

  • 1 piece of flank steak, trimmed of excess fat and silver skin
  • An assortment of root vegetables
  • 1 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoons of dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon of Tabasco sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
Trimmed flank steak ready to go into the marinate.

Trimmed flank steak ready to go into the marinate.

Trim the flank steak and marinate for at least 8 hours.  For the marinate, combine 1 cup of olive oil with the soy sauce, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, dry mustard, and black pepper and whisk until blended.  Pour the marinate over the flank steak in a Pyrex casserole, cover, and set aside for about 3 hours, periodically sloshing the marinate over the beef in order to evenly coat it.  After 3 hours, refrigerate until about 1 hour before grilling.

Steamed vegetables spread out on a baking sheet and ready to go into the oven.

Steamed vegetables spread out on a baking sheet and ready to go into the oven.

Prepare the vegetables about 1 1/2 hours before grilling.  In this case, we used 1 medium sweet potato, 2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, and 2 large carrots.  Wash the sweet potatoe, and the Yukon gold potatoes, leave the skin on, and cut into bite sized chunks.  Peel the carrots and also cut into bite sized chunks.  Place the vegetable chunks into a basket steamer in a pot with boiling water.  Cover and steam the vegetables for 5 minutes.  Carefully remove the basket out of the steamer along with its steaming contents and dump the dry but steaming vegetables into a mixing bowl.  Combine the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, the salt, rosemary, and cayenne pepper, blend well and pour over the steaming vegetables.  Gently toss to evenly coat the vegetables with the olive oil mixture.  When coated, empty the vegetables onto a baking sheet that has been coated with nonstick cooking spray and spread them out.

Marinated flank steak on the grill.

Marinated flank steak on the grill.

Place the vegetables in a 450 degree preheated oven, and take the marinated flank steak out of the refrigerator.  Prepare and light the coals for the grill at this time.  Turn and rotate the vegetables after about one-half hour.  After the potatoes have been in the oven about 45 minutes, place the flank steak on the grill over an even bed of glowing coals.  Grill for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once, depending on how you like it cooked.  Check with a meat thermometer (130 rare, 145 medium rare, 160 well).  Remove from the grill and slice diagonally against the grain.  Remove the vegetables after about one hour.  It all should have come together nicely, and you should be ready to eat.