Winchester’s Glen Burnie Historic House Opens for Season

Glen Burnie Historic HouseThe Glen Burnie Historic House on the grounds of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (MSV) in Winchester, Virginia, opens for the 2015 season on Wednesday April 1.

Touring Glen Burnie is not your typical docent-led tour of a historic house recreated to look as it last did as of a certain date or era.  Rather, Glen Burnie offers a self-guided tour of a house filled with exhibit panels that interpret the lives of the previous occupants, where you can actually (gasp!) sit on a chair.

The oldest portions of Glen Burnie, dating to 1793 and 1794, were built by the son of the founder of Winchester.  But perhaps the most interesting occupants were the most recent, descendant Julian Wood Glass Jr. (1910-1992) and his partner Lee Taylor (1924-2000).  In between were an array of family and slaves, many depicted in the interpretive panels placed throughout the house.

The breakfast room explains Glass and Taylor’s tradition of brunch at Glen Burnie, with an impressive display of porcelain, crystal and silver.  In the drawing room, visitors learn more about Glass and Taylor’s flair for entertaining, both inside the house as well as in the spectacular gardens they created.  Michael Lesperance, a principal on the interpretive planning and design firm The Design Minds, Inc., was part of the team that developed the new Glen Burnie exhibition that debuted last summer.  In an article about the design process, Lesperance commends MSV for its willingness to acknowledge the relationship between Glass and Taylor.  “…we have reached a point where visitors are open to understanding the cultural attributes that shaped the collecting, entertaining, and – as at Glen Burnie – architectural decisions that reflected homosexual lives.”

Glen Burnie model house

House interior, scale model is in room to the right.

So, the house and its exhibits give us a peek into the lives of its occupants, but the most fascinating look comes from peering into the scale model of Glen Burnie created by Lee Taylor.  He used clay brick for the exterior and real wood for the floors to create the 1:12 scale model which is now on display in what was most recently the home’s dining room.  A fascinating article in the February 2015 issue of Virginia Living entitled A World in Miniature outlines details of the house, but also gives insightful background details of the Glass-Taylor relationship as well.  It’s definitely worth a read.

botanical painting

Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum
By Ann Currie

When the house opens for the season on April 1, the Glen Burnie drawing room will be the site of its first exhibition, entitled Beauty in Botany, featuring 22 works by seven regional botanical artists.  Works included in the exhibition range from beautiful but accurate illustrations of various stages of a plant’s life cycle to more expressive renderings of flowers.  The drawing room will be a fitting venue to carry on Glen Burnie’s legacy as a home dedicated to art, beauty and gardening.

The MSV is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.  The Museum is open year-round: the house and gardens are open April through October.  Admission is free on Wednesdays thanks to a corporate sponsor; other days admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and youth (ages 13 to 18).

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Great Virginia Wineries to Visit in Winter

Winter wine tasting in Virginia is a mellow affair.  With fewer people to serve than other times of year, the pourers/educators can spend more time with each guest.  Many wineries are warm and cozy with fireplaces or woodstoves.  Most have light fare available to accompany a glass of your favorite wine.  These are places that entice you to linger.  As to who has the best wine, you will need to be the judge.  That’s the point of tasting, right?

Overlooking I-66 from Barrel Oak Winery

View from Barrel Oak Winery

The following wineries are worthy of winter visits.  The first four are within two to four miles of an exit off Interstate I-66.  Think of the descending exit numbers along I-66 heading west as a countdown to Vaucluse and the Shenandoah Valley. Although we have listed the appropriate exit numbers, consider getting off I-66 at Marshall, Virginia (exit 25) and following Route 55 west (which parallels I-66) for 12 miles, getting back onto I-66 at Linden (exit 13).  This is a much more relaxed way to see the Virginia countryside, which is beautiful in winter as well as summer.  You will see signs along Route 55 to all these wineries and several others.

Barrel Oak, Fireplace in Main Tasting Room

Barrel Oak, Fireplace in Main Tasting Room

Barrel Oak Winery, 3 miles off I-66 exit 25 (Marshall).  This is the winery for people who love lots of dogs, lots of kids and lots of activity, especially on weekends.  It is large – two-stories/three indoor tasting rooms– friendly, a casual sort of place, less frenetic in winter but still plenty going on.  There’s a large woodburning fireplace in the main tasting area and a woodstove in the other first floor tasting area.

Woodstove at Barrel Oak

Woodstove at Barrel Oak

There is a variety of casual food available at Barrel Oak, even food trucks on some weekends.  Check their website schedule for live music and activities.  On milder winter days, take advantage of several outdoor firepits.  A very social spot.





Fireplace at Philip Carter Winery

Fireplace at Philip Carter Winery

Philip Carter Winery of Virginia, 4 miles off I-66 exit 18 (Markham).  The owners of this winery are descended from some of the very first winemakers in Virginia, dating back to the 1700’s, although the winery itself is relatively newly established.  The cathedral-ceilinged Palladian-windowed tasting room is surrounded by vineyards and is enlivened with bright acrylic paintings.

Vineyard View at Philip Carter

Vineyard View at Philip Carter

The tasting room at Philip Carter has a woodburning fireplace and there are outdoor firepits lit if it is not too cold outdoors.  Their light fare includes local cheese, summer sausage and chutney.






Fireplace at Naked Mountain

Fireplace at Naked Mountain

Naked Mountain Winery and Vineyards, 2 miles off I-66 exit 18 (Markham). Perched on a mountainside, reached by way of a one-lane winding but paved drive, the chalet-style tasting room has a cozy fireplace and great views.  Outdoors, there’s a firepit for mild days and Adirondaks spread around the hillside.  Naked Mountain has a long and popular tradition of offering gourmet Lasagna Lunches on Saturdays, Sundays and holiday Mondays in January through March.  It’s a good idea to call ahead to make a reservation for the lunch.  During the week, they offer light fare to enjoy with a glass of wine.


Linden in Winter

Linden in Winter

Linden Vineyards, 3 miles off I-66 exit 13 (Linden).  Closed Tuesday through Thursday.  With fresh flowers and an artsy vibe, Linden has the feel of an upscale restaurant (without the food).  Their no-limo/no-parties-of-more-than-six rules are consistent with the goal of creating a place where visitors can learn about and experience Virginia wine-making first hand.  A woodburning stove adds warmth.  Although the most sophisticated of the tasting rooms listed, Linden is located up a long unpaved driveway that is beautiful but may not be suitable for 2-wheel drive vehicles in bad winter weather.  Call ahead if in doubt.

Once you have made it to Vaucluse and are looking for a winery nearby, we have the perfect recommendation.

Front Parlor at Valerie Hill

Front Parlor at Valerie Hill

Valerie Hill Vineyard and Winery, 3 miles from the inn, is the closest winery to us.   Vaucluse and Valerie Hill have a special bond, both houses having been built by former Captains from the Revolutionary War.  The 1807 brick manor house contains the winery’s tasting room, definitely not your typical Virginia wine-tasting venue.  Light fare is available (such as meats, cheeses, and baguettes) every day, and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in winter they are likely to have something heartier such as chili.  Not only is the house historic, however, it seems to be haunted and the winery hosts periodic “History and Hauntings”, a buffet dinner, with wine of course, and a tour of the house focusing on its history and the reported hauntings.  Check their website for dates and prices, as well as a schedule for live music on weekends.

Sitting Area at Valerie Hill

Sitting Area at Valerie Hill

The wineries listed are open daily year-round.  The exceptions are major holidays, such as Christmas and New Years, and for Linden which is closed every Tuesday through Thursday.  If in doubt about road conditions or accessibility, please call the winery that day to make sure they are open.

If the weather is good and you are ready to venture out to wineries that are a bit further afield, just ask us here at the inn and we will be happy to help with suggestions.  Happy tastings!

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Nearby Buzzard Rock Hike:  Old Rag Lite?

IMG_0816Buzzard Rock gives the greatest payoff in views for the least amount of effort, while providing the option for fun rock scrambles.  Located in the Fort Valley section of Virginia’s George Washington National Forest, the start point for the hike is midway between Strasburg and Front Royal, only 30 minutes from the Inn.  It’s a 4-mile out-and-back hike with a gentle ascent through the woods and a walk along the rocky ridge-line with great views overlooking Passage Creek below and the beautiful Fort Valley.





Front Royal Fish Hatchery

Front Royal Fish Hatchery

The first overlook actually looks back over the way you drive in on Mountain Road past the Front Royal Fish Hatchery, which is open for visits during the week (closed on weekends).  From the overlook,you can see the ponds where they raise mostly walleye and smallmouth bass fingerlings.



IMG_0808The remainder of the hike follows the ridgeline for as far as you care to go.









Looking toward Signal Knob

Looking toward Signal Knob

There are several accessible overlooks on and off the trail.  The rocks form a sort of “stadium seating” in several places for sitting to enjoy the views and have a picnic.







The ridgeline has several places to scramble up the rocks, which very accommodatingly have lots of hand-holds and toe-holds.







IMG_0843Clearly, Buzzard Rock is not Old Rag, but it is a much loved hike for local folks in the area.  On a smaller scale, it also has some of Old Rag’s problems of popularity.  The parking lot is very small and the trail can be crowded on weekends.  The trail up to the ridge can be a bit of a shock if you are used to hiking in the Shenandoah National Park where trails are meticulously maintained and visitors seem to have more of the “Leave No Trace” ethic.  The trail is heavily eroded in some spots.


IMG_0839In spite of these considerations, we agree with Hiking Upwards’ ranking of the Buzzard Rock [North access] hike as a 2 for difficulty and a 5 for views.  Not a bad combination in our book!

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Taylor Pavilion in Old Town Winchester

Taylor Hotel, Winchester, Virginia

Old Town Winchester just keeps getting better.

DSC_0056The latest excitement is the completion of the Taylor Pavilion, an open-sided pavilion that is part of the newly created pocket park behind the recently restored Taylor Hotel.





Pocket park at Taylor Pavilion

Pocket park at Taylor Pavilion

The tiny green space and the remaining side wall are all that remains after the collapse of the mid-portion of the hotel.





Taylor Pavilion, Fly Tower in background


The pavilion will be used for weekly farmer’s market stalls and as an event venue.





Taylor Hotel, Pavilion, and Fly Tower Sunday Jazz in Old Town Winchester is a 3-part series featuring the SV Jazz ensemble (hear them here) on the afternoons of September 14 and 28 and October 12.




Defend the ValleyThose familiar with Defend the Valley (which includes the story of the Jones family here at Vaucluse during the Civil War) may recognize the columns of the old Taylor Hotel from the book jacket cover.  With the sounds of live jazz wafting from behind the hotel on a Sunday afternoon, Winchester has come a long way.  Our gratitude to all who have worked so long and hard to make this happen!

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Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad

posted by Neil Myers

Steel wheels

See West Virginia Fall Colors and Eagles too!Young Eagle Flying

Train buffs and nature lovers alike agree that the Potomac Eagle out of Romney, West Virginia, is an ideal way to see West Virginia at its best, particularly in October’s fall foliage season.  The operators don’t guarantee that you will see an eagle, but say that eagle sightings occur on over 90% of their trips.

Fall Mountain ScenicFortunately for our guests here at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring, the train’s starting point in Romney is only a little over an hour away, making the 11:00 a.m. departure time quite doable following our delicious breakfast that starts at 8:30.  We can get you on the road by 9:00 a.m.  See directions to the train station from the inn here.

The 3-hour narrated excursion winds past historic farms and through the narrow mountain valley created by the South Branch of the Potomac River, rather inelegantly named “The Trough”.

The train is hauled by a vintage 1950’s locomotive. There are open air cars with benches, open air covered cars, passenger coaches with seats that reverse for the return trip, cars with seating at tables, a snack bar, and first class dining cars complete with Chesapeake and Ohio china and tableware.

Railroad Track Scenic

The TripAdvisor reviews are overwhelmingly positive, although there are a few grumblings that the “gourmet” food isn’t really, that the train was too hot, too cold, too basic, etc.  Just don’t expect the Orient Express — it IS West-By-God-Virginia after all — and “Wild and Wonderful” is what it’s all about.  Tips gleaned from Trip Advisor:

  • sit on the left for best views,
  • bring a picnic lunch if you are picky about food,
  • bring warmer clothing in the fall than you might think you would need, and
  • travel mid-week if you want to avoid children and just generally have a better experience.



In addition, our suggestions are:

  • plan on staying at the inn two nights (the nights before and after your trip), and
  • if you are still up for more scenery after your train ride, return to the inn by way of  routes 220 and 55–it’s only 30 minutes longer than the shorter route and takes you past entirely different scenery.

The Potomac Eagle runs on a Saturday-only schedule through September, and starts October daily service on October 3.  Check their website for more information including schedules and prices.

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Raspberry Coffecake Recipe

posted by Neil Myers

raspberry coffeecakeThis coffee cake is a hoot to make and tastes fantastic!  You get to poke berries into a half-baked cake, which sounds weird I’ll grant, but it’s strangely satisfying to push them in just right.  Plus, there is something about the fresh raspberries that make it indescribably delicious.  Blueberries, black berries, or even wine berries work just as well, but raspberries are our favorite.  We’ve had lots of requests for this recipe from our guests here at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring, so it’s time to share.


Raspberry-Lemon Coffee Cake
(one 9×13 baking pan)

Dry mix:
*  2 1/4 cups flour
*  2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
*  1/2 tsp. baking soda
*  1/2 tsp. salt

Cream mixture:
*  3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) soft butter
*  1 1/2 cups sugar
*  2 eggs, room temp
*  1 ½ tsp. vanilla

1 cup plus 2 T. buttermilk

Lemon Cream Cheese filling:
*  4 oz. cream cheese
*  ¼ cup plus 2 T. sugar
*  1 ½ tsp. lemon zest
*  2 eggs

Glaze:  1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam, melted over low heat with lemon juice added to thin out

1 cup fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter 9” x 13” Pyrex pan.  Mix dry ingredients and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.

Alternately add in dry mix and buttermilk to butter-sugar mixture, beating just until combined after each addition.  Set aside.

For cream cheese filling, beat cream cheese and sugar together in another bowl.  Add lemon zest and eggs and beat until combined

Spoon half of cake batter into bottom of buttered pan, spreading to edges.  Pour cream cheese mixture on cake batter, spreading to edges.  Dollop remaining batter on cream cheese layer, carefully spreading to edges of pan.

IMG_0637Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and gently press raspberries into cake.  Cake will still be wet in center and just starting to dry out on the edges.  Don’t worry about making a pattern with the berries – they move around anyway, and are easy to cut through.  Bake another 25-30 minutes until cake springs back & toothpick comes out clean.IMG_0641


Place on wire rack to cool before cutting.  Cut into 15 pieces large pieces, 18 medium, or 24 small.  Drizzle pieces with glaze and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Stand back and watch it disappear!cropped coffecake

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Wine Berries

wine berries at Vaucluse Spring
posted by Neil Myers

Part of the mystique of Vaucluse Woods are the wild wine berries.  If you have ever walked the back fence-line through our woods here at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring, you have seen the bushes.  Right now in July the berries are at their peak, and I’ve never seen them better.  Just the right amount of rain has made them not too small and sour, and not too large and bland, but, as Goldilocks says, “Just right.”

cow friendsI met these new friends along the fence-line path.  They do not care for either the berries or the vine foliage; they just like to check the fence to see if they can get out, and coincidentally they keep a path open.


wine berries on the vineTurns out the wine berries are (another) invasive exotic plant from Asia that have taken over some woodlands in the eastern part of the U.S.  According to Wikipedia, Rubus phoenicolasius was introduced as an ornamental plant [hard to believe] and for its potential for breeding hybrid raspberries [makes more sense].


wine berry vinesThe berries are easy to pick here since the cattle have made such a nice access path.  Probably their best use is to just pop them into your mouth as you pick them while you take a walk in the woods.  We’ve also served them with fresh bananas at breakfast for a great color and tartness contrast.  They would also be lovely mixed with other fresh berries or used as a raspberry substitute, keeping in mind that they are tarter than domesticated raspberries.

wine berriesThe great thing about wine berries is that since their vines are considered a pest, you can enjoy eating all you want and hack away at the vines with a clear conscience.  You’ll be helping the environment!

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A Healthier Bed-and-Breakfast Breakfast

posted by Neil Myers

In our 19th year of innkeeping here at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring, we are re-thinking the idea of what it means to serve an indulgent B&B breakfast.  More and more of our guests are looking for a healthier breakfast.  The problem is that many health claims are diametrically opposed and there is no one menu which would strictly meet everyone’s idea of health.  The Paleo/Gluten-Free crowd is not going to be happy with what the Whole-Grain/Low Fat/Vegetarian folks want and vice versa.  Plus, we still have a lot of guests who just want to take a small vacation from these concerns and indulge themselves with their old way of eating for a couple of days.  Without becoming a short-order cook, what’s an innkeeper to do?

Our evolving approach is to follow The Middle Way (with apologies to the Buddha) and encourage our guests to relax a little bit about food.  In a world of Extreme-Everything, our choice is to be Extremely Balanced (can there can be such a thing?).  Our goal, as ever, is to serve delicious food, beautifully presented, that delightfully nourishes body and soul.  We will continue to accommodate allergies, food intolerances, and medically-imposed restrictions (as well as personal food preferences as best we can).

With the new Middle Way approach, we are considering calling our first course our Breakfast Appetizer or Starter so we have the leeway to serve something other that a breakfast bread.  The Appetizer/Starter may well be one of our traditional breakfast breads or muffins, or it might be a miniature version of one of our “sweet-day” breakfasts.  We just noticed the other morning how a breakfast strata filled with apples looked remarkably like an apple strudel; a smaller portion of this would make a lovely appetizer.  Last winter we got rave reviews on our Apple, Blueberry, and Carrot Muffins which (behind the scenes) we called the “stealth health” muffins because they contain a large portion of flaxseed meal and oat bran in addition to the goodness of apples, dried blueberries, carrots and walnuts.  We will be tinkering with the Breakfast Appetizer/Starter idea and getting guest feedback as we go.

The second course, Fruit for the Day, will continue to feature fruit, whether fresh or roasted.  We still believe perfectly ripe fruit, simply prepared, is an indulgence of which we don’t partake often enough.  It’s fun to try different combinations of fruits and sauces, and although there’s never been a lot of sugar in our sauces, there will now be even less.

The entre will be full of vegetables and protein, mostly in the form of eggs.  We’re still looking for a snappy name for this, so would love to hear your ideas.  We agree with Jefferson that meat is an excellent “condiment”, not the star of the show.  Eggs can be prepared in an infinite number of ways and they no longer seem to be considered the bad boys of the dietary world (after all those years of bad press!).  Fresh vegetables are as much an indulgence as fruit – in our daily rush we don’t always take the time to prepare them with care and imagination.  One of our favorite entrees right now is a Quinoa and Greens Breakfast Pie which we serve with a Prosciutto Crisp for a little crunch and ping of salt.  You might think there would be some hesitancy about the pie, but we’ve found that the overwhelming majority of guests really, really enjoy it.  Maybe it’s all those onions, leeks, red pepper flakes, and a great white cheddar.

So, we are looking to our guests for reactions, whether positive, negative, or indifferent.  Do you have an all-time favorite Vaucluse breakfast dish that you believe we should never abandon?  Any recipes of your own you would you like to share?  (We’ve gotten some fantastic recipes from guests over the years.)  Tell us about any new foods you have tried that you recommend.  Let’s hear from the silent majority who may think things should stay exactly the same.  Please email your thoughts directly to Neil.  I would love to hear from you.

* * *


Apple, Blueberry, and Carrot Muffins
aka The A-B-C “Stealth Health” Muffins
(12 muffins)

This is a substantial muffin with lots of super-food ingredients.  We like to serve them with cinnamon-sugar butter, but you could serve them plain.  They are good “keepers”, but the sooner you serve them after they come out of the oven, the better they will taste.  Ours come out just minutes before breakfast starts.

Whisk together dry ingredients and set aside:
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup flaxseed meal
½ cup oat bran
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

Whisk together and then add to the dry ingredients:
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup milk
2/3 cup brown sugar
¾ tsp. vanilla

Add in:
2 cups shredded carrots
1 large Granny Smith apple (unpeeled), shredded
1/3 cup dried blueberries
2/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Scoop batter with 1/3 cup measure into muffin tins that have been sprayed with vegetable oil spray.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 25 minutes or until muffins spring back when poked or toothpick comes out clean.


* * *

Quinoa and Greens Breakfast Pie

(serves 6)

We have experimented with several versions of this.  This is the current favorite, but you could certainly try other greens and cheeses depending on what you have available.  After nibbling on all the greens in the market, mustard greens are our current favorite for that extra zing of flavor. Sharp/tart cheeses are preferable; just think what a little splash of vinegar does for greens and you get the idea.  Go heavier on the red pepper if you like – we need to follow The Middle Way here at the inn.

½ cup quinoa (a mix of red and white looks especially nice)
1 cup water

1 small sweet onion, chopped medium fine
1 bunch leeks, white and light green parts, halved longways and cut into 1/8” semi-circles
1 bunch mustard greens, stemmed and coarse chopped
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ cup grated Cabot White 3-Year Cheddar

5 oz. goat cheese, softened
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
4 eggs, room temp.

Cook quinoa according to package instructions.  Dump into large mixing bowl to cool.

Sauté onion in a little olive oil until soft.  Add leeks (make sure they are well washed) to the pan and continue until they are soft as well.  Dump into the quinoa bowl.  Sauté greens with red pepper flakes until wilted.  Add to the big bowl and toss until evenly distributed.  Add white cheddar to the bowl mixture and toss again.

Beat goat cheese until soft and fluffy.  Mix salt and pepper together with each other before adding to goat cheese.  Beat until blended.  Continue beating, adding eggs, and mix well.  Pour goat cheese mixture over the big-bowl ingredients and mix well.  Put into a 9” pie pan that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray.

Bake in 350 degree oven about 45 minutes until edges begin to brown and eggs are set (knife comes out clean).  Allow to cool 10-15 minutes before serving.


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5 Steps to Great Gingerbread Houses

Vaucluse Gingerbread HousesPosted by Neil Myers

Gingerbread house construction requires nerves of steel, but is terrifically rewarding if you persevere.  Here are my top tips for minimizing the drama and avoiding pitfalls.

First, consider making just a façade of the house.  I really do like to make gingerbread houses, but we don’t have enough table-top space at the inn to display a three-dimensional house, let alone all six of the Vaucluse guest houses!  It was really a DUH!! moment when I realized we could replicate the facades of the houses and fit them all on one mantle top. Second tip, when making a template for your dream house, make the window openings larger than what you want the finished windows to be.  Realize also that the thicker you leave the rolled out dough, the more it will puff when baked and the tinier your windows will be.  Windows, like eyes, are most appealing when wide open. Third, roll out the dough onto a piece of parchment paper placed on a large cutting board.  Before cutting, pull the paper (with the dough on top of it) onto the back of a baking sheet.  Trust me, you do not want to crack your house trying to fish it out of the inside of a baking sheet with four spatulas and only two hands.  The year of the earthquake I used the excuse that the Manor House was cracked to make it look like the earthquake did it. Fourth, if you choose to make caramelized sugar windows, get organized and be prepared to act fast.  I make templates for the window sizes and draw them out on plain aluminum foil, not oiled, not “release” foil (I’ve made both of those mistakes too).  Mix two scoops of white granulated sugar with a little cream of tartar and just enough water to wet the sugar in a stainless steel sauce pan.  Put on over medium low heat and stir until sugar is dissolved and starting to melt.  Do not stir after this point, but you can swirl the pan.  When the sugar starts to turn gold, quickly but carefully pour it onto the foil into the window shapes.  The sugar will continue to darken in the pan so the last windows will be noticeably darker than the first windows poured.  Which is kind of cool, actually.  If your windows look more like amoebas than rectangles, you can score them with a knife as they start to cool and then snap off the “amoeba arms” after the sugar hardens.  And eat them of course!

Royal icing piped onto back.

Place window on wet icing.

A fifth and final tip is for the decorative icing.  Royal icing is a mixture of egg whites and powdered sugar.  Just make sure it is wet enough to flow easily because if it’s too dry it will end up popping off when it dries.  A bonus tip:  a #4 piping tip seems to be the happy medium for drawing lines. So, go crazy this year and make a village!

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Fort Valley: The Alternative Scenic Drive


posted by Neil Myers

Fort Valley, and the George Washington National Forest that completely surrounds it, offer a beautiful alternative to the Shenandoah National Park and its Skyline Drive.  We often send our guests at The Inn at Vaucluse Spring to nearby Fort Valley when they are looking for “the road less travelled”.

Fort Valley is a proverbial “hidden valley”, cradled between the two ridges that make up the northern two-thirds of the Massanutten Range, which is located entirely within Virginia’s northern Shenandoah Valley.  There are only two main roads.  Route 678 (Fort Valley Road) runs roughly north/south the length of the valley.  Route 675 runs roughly east/west, crossing the Valley on the southern end.  You can leave the Valley by following 675 west through Edinburg Gap down into the town of Edinburg or follow 675 southeast into Luray.

Our recommendation is to enter Fort Valley from the north.  From route 55 midway between Strasburg and Front Royal, turn south at Waterlick onto route 678 (Fort Valley Road).  This road winds along Passage Creek between the bases of Signal Knob on the west and Buzzard Rock on the east.  Signal Knob offers great hiking.  Follow the link above to Hiking Upward’s description.  The orange blazed section of the Signal Knob trail is part of the Massanutten trail, a 71-mile loop that circles the valley along the ridge lines, not unlike the way the Appalachian Trail follows the crest of the Blue Ridge through the National Park.  Not exactly a day-hike!

While visiting Fort Valley, we definitely recommend visiting the Woodstock Tower.  At Detrick, about 15 miles into the valley, turn right onto route 758 (Woodstock Tower Road).  After a couple of miles, this will become a gravel road.  After another couple of miles on the gravel road you come to an unmarked T – turn left (you will still be on 758).  About a mile after the T you will come to the parking area for Woodstock Tower which is just a short hike away along the ridgeline.  For those of us used to hiking in the Shenandoah National Park on trails meticulously maintained by the PATC, this little trail may be a shock of trash and graffiti.  Get over it and do it anyway!  You won’t be sorry.

Looking west from Woodstock Tower

The views from the tower are outstanding.  To the west you will “overlook” the Seven Bends of the Shenandoah River where it lazily winds back and forth on itself.  Disclaimer:  with the leaves still on the trees, you will be doing good if you see more than one bend, but on a clear day I’m sure you can see West Virginia.  The trucks on I-81 look like teeny-tiny toys.  Looking to the east, you will see the Blue Ridge (and the national park) through a gap in the Massanutten Mountain.  So close and yet so far!

Looking east from Woodstock Tower

From the tower, we recommend you continue west on route 758 down the western face of the mountain into the town of Woodstock.  There will be a series of switch-backs, no guard rails, so just take your time.  Woodstock is a bustling little town with shops to explore and places to eat.  From there you can head back north to the inn along route 11, exploring the little towns on the way.

Alternatively, you can come retrace your route back down into Fort Valley from the tower and continue south on 678 to Fort Valley Ranch to go horseback riding (advance reservations recommended).  Or, continue on 678 to 758 on out of the valley to Luray to visit the Caverns.  In any event, you will have visited an unspoiled slice of Virginia that you would be happy to return to whether or not the national park is open.  Enjoy!

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