That was quite a weekend. Where to begin?
Sunday, 21 June 2015 was a worldwide celebration of the International Day of Yoga, but we had a jump on it — a wine club member asked if she could have a yoga class at Annefield the day before, followed by a wine tasting by the participants. “Well, why not?” So they did. They brought lunch, spread out a buffet on the porch and spent the afternoon enjoying the wine, the increasingly warm weather, playing with the dogs and prowling about the house. They spread good energy and good cheer all around.
Our big plans for the day was a birthday celebration with two dozen friends, so the instant the class left we quickly set up tables and chairs on the porch. This gathering isn’t quite characteristic of us — we lean towards trying to control all aspects of one’s experience at Annefield, but not this time. So many people volunteered to bring food it seemed a gift from the Heavens, so we said (again), “Well, why not?” and a week prior put out a call for side dishes. The basic structure of the menu had been set: fried chicken (from Sheldon’s Restaurant in Keysville — people come from miles around for their chicken), and Smith Island Cakes (three of them) from Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
For those unfamiliar with them — Smith Island Cakes are definitely a local delicacy that we came to know many years ago when we had a tree farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore near the town of Crisfield, which is the southernmost town on the bay side in Somerset County, best known as Maryland’s Crab Capital. Smith Island is Maryland’s only inhabited island (Virginia has Tangier Island), 12 miles west of Crisfield in the Chesapeake Bay. The island is famous for a couple of things, one being the fact that the locals speak a unique English dialect that reflects the isolation of the inhabitants, which has an Elizabethan flavor that came down from their ancestors who immigrated from Cornwall and the West Country of England. Linguists have studied them for generations to gain insight into early English pronunciation. Care to listen? An Internet archive contains a sample here.
The other is the Smith Island Cake, which in 2008 was designated the official dessert of the state of Maryland. The cake is typically a yellow cake with a cooked chocolate frosting, but there are variations like lemon and coconut. Traditionally there are 10 extremely thin layers, and each slice is half frosting, half cake. We have a recipe but have yet to tackle this one, but they can be purchased from the Smith Island Baking Company which is on the island in the town of Ewell, Maryland. They ship the cakes frozen via FedEx (no doubt after a ferry ride to Crisfield or Onancocke, Virginia), so defrost for four hours or so before serving. They arrived in perfect condition, by the way.
We’ve been to Smith Island only once. It was an ill-timed visit, because we had not yet learned the rhythms of the season. It was early June, not yet dreadfully hot, but there was another menace afoot — the ferocious greenhead fly, Tabanus nigrovittatus. The female of the species needs a blood meal to reproduce, and the bite is horrible and they are relentless. Clouds of them followed the ferry to the island, and during the trip the captain got on the public address system and said with considerable tongue in cheek,”I’d like to introduce you to the state bird of Maryland, the Greenhead fly.” After that experience we stayed away from Crisfield the first few weeks of June.
One other tidbit to keep in mind: the inhabitants are devout Methodists, which means that Smith Island is “dry.” If you do a day trip to see the sights, don’t expect to have wine or beer with your lunch.
The Birthday Party.
There were reports of storms in the area in the afternoon, and we had hopes that they would track north of us. As the afternoon slipped into evening the skies darkened, and about an hour after things were in full swing, a thunderous storm swept in, pelting rain, tree branches flying (one smashed a hole in the table on the back patio). We had entertained the idea of setting up in the garden, but knowing rain was coming, set up in the shelter of the porch. The storm passed relatively quickly, but took with it our electric power. Fortunately there was nothing else to cook (kabobs on the grill), but we had plenty of ice, cold beer, wine and champagne (the Vermentino seemed to be the biggest hit). Also plenty of oil lamps, which were quickly deployed around the house, and we lit all of the candles in the dining room. There was no want of light. Afterwards several people remarked how cozy and intimate it all was.
When guests finally departed we had a call reporting a tree downed in the driveway, but one could get around it by driving into the adjoining field. We didn’t go look until morning, and discovered considerable damage. There is a wooded area between the vineyards and the house, and from the drive we could see seven or eight trees pushed down, either snapped at the base or uprooted. A second oak would have been across the drive had it not been stopped by a pine tree growing next to it; that one snapped at the base, too and needs to come down. All of the trees were lying in the same direction, which tells us that we likely experienced the devastating winds of a microburst.
Our electric co-op has an outage viewer on their website that allows you to see the trouble spots (we still had cell coverage). Thousands of households across the region were without power. The utility crews had a lot of work to do.
The tree lying across the drive was a white oak, about 40 feet long. A neighbor and good friend who does a lot of work for us offered to take them up for us if he could have the firewood, and said he could have it taken care of in a day. “Of course! Please, take it.”
Power wasn’t restored until 10 am Sunday, just in time for a quick shower before joining friends for a delicious brunch at Berry Hill and a well deserved giant Bloody Mary. They use somewhat obscene hollowed-out Slim Jim’s for straws. Not quite sure what to make of that, but its the perfect complement to the beast.