October 14, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
Richmond is getting a lot of ink from around the country as it blossoms into a desirable destination for seasoned travelers. On a return flight from Ireland last month I was seated next to young German headed to Richmond for the 9-day UCI Road World Cycling Championships. He wasn’t a journalist, or even an athlete (for emphasis he patted his expansive belly), this was his first trip to America and he was off to our state capitol for a world-class sporting event.
Change comes quickly to a place when creative minds are firing on all cylinders and Richmond’s renaissance began in fits and starts in the 1980’s with the careful restoration of historic portside factories into airy lofts, galleries and restaurants. Today young entrepreneurs have seized on the affordable rents for their fledgling businesses and the city has exploded with new life. Even the film industry is onto the stunning architecture of this historic city. Spielberg’s epic drama Lincoln was shot here, as was the soon-to-be-released PBS Civil War drama, Mercy Street. This is not your buttoned up Southern city any more.
Once seedy Broad Street is humming with new activity, in part due to the more than 31,000 students attending VCU located in the heart of the city. Now formerly overlooked neighborhoods like Church Hill are grabbing the spotlight. Across the city the trend shows no sign of slowing down with historic buildings being preserved and rehabbed into stunning contemporary living spaces.
New restaurants open every week – – some doing tasty riffs on Southern classics, others drawing from exotic cuisines. Many pair their food with Virginia wines or any of the thirteen Richmond-area microbreweries. Next year California-based Stone Brewing Company will open its eastern U. S. brewery operations and World Bistro & Gardens along Gillies Creek in the historic Fulton Hill neighborhood.
As for the Arts, apart from major international touring art shows at the prestigious Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, there is also a flourishing local art scene with galleries and colorful murals dotting every area of the city. Look for the new VCU Institute for Contemporary Art to open a 43,000-square-foot museum showcasing innovative exhibitions, performances and films by 2017.
(L-R) Swan Bed – Italian Garden at Maymont
Maymont offers 100 lush acres of breathtaking gardens, a nature center, and a Romanesque Revival-style manor house chock-a-block with Victoriana reminiscent of the Gilded Age. Take time to stroll through Japanese, Italian and Victorian gardens or ride a horse-drawn carriage through magnolia-lined allées. www.Maymont.org
Lewis Ginter Garden
Ranked No. 2 among America’s Best Public Gardens, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden features themed gardens including the Children’s Garden, Healing Garden, Rose Garden and Victorian Garden and the South’s most magnificent domed conservatory filled with hundreds of exotic specimens. www.LewisGinter.org Both are part of the Richmond Garden Trail as are six other sites.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Along with more than 33,000 works of art from around the world, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts houses a collection of beautiful Fabergé jeweled eggs. “Rodin” arrives in late November with over 200 works from the Musée Rodin in Paris. www.VMFA.museum
The Virginia Historical Society featuring a fascinating and comprehensive collection of Virginia history from 16,000 BCE to the present. Opened this month “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” features 36 costumes from PBS Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey series. www.VAHistorical.org
The Valentine Museum tells the story of Richmond’s early history including the women’s suffrage rights, the slave trade and civil rights. A current show, Classical Allure: Richmond Style, features select gowns and artifacts from their Costume and Textile collection of over 40,000 pieces, the largest of its kind in the South. www.TheValentine.org
The Science Museum of Virginia
Science is cool at the Science Museum of Virginia. Housed in the grandiose former Broad Street Union Station, designed by architect John Russell Pope in the neo-classical style, explore tons of interactive exhibits on space, health, electricity and the earth. A new exhibit, Alien Worlds and Androids features early TV and film robots up to present day outer space heroes. Be sure to check out the 76-foot Dome theatre – – the largest screen in Virginia. www.SMV.org
Stroll Cary Street for cute shops – vintage clothing at Bygones; gifts and more at Mongrel; and great consignment shops such as Ashby and Clementine.
TASTE THE TOWN
(L-R) Sub Rosa Bakery – Plum tarts from Wood-Fired Bakery
Breakfast – Sub Rosa Wood Fired Bakery in Church Hill where a brother-and-sister team, Evrim and Evin Dogu, use a German-made mill to grind organic flour to bake into their crusty breads, yummy cookies and rustic tarts served on eclectic plates from Tree Hill Pottery in Richmond. www.SubRosaBakery.com
Brunch – Sunday Champagne Brunch at The Jefferson hotel is prepared by Chef Patrick Ehemann and served in the Rotunda lobby. It is the pinnacle of Southern haute cuisine. Be sure to try the soufflé-like spoonbread. Reservations recommended. www.LemaireRestaurant.com
Lunch – Tucked into a residential neighborhood, Stella’s serves modern Mediterranean and Greek dishes; The Savory Grain for New American comfort food with a large selection of microbrews and craft beers; and a perennial favorite, the French-inspired Can Can Brasserie in Carytown.
Ardent Craft Ales brewery
Sips – The bar at Lemaire; Saison Restaurant cum gastro pub, or The Roosevelt for craft cocktails in a two-story red clapboard house; on-site brewed quaffs at Blue Bee Cider, Virginia’s only urban cidery in the Old Manchester district; the cool scene at Ardent Craft Ales, a brewery in the burgeoning Scott’s Addition neighborhood. Best Autumn saison, Sweet Potato & Sage. Check their calendar for open brew days.
(L-R) Roasted Beets with beet mousse and navel oranges – Sable Fish with Maitake mushrooms, charred scallions and dashi broth – Espresso Chocolate Mousse, with orange, hazelnut, and anise hyssop at Maple & Pine
Dinner – A tough call with so many to choose from. The intricate fusion dishes by Executive Chef Lee Gregory at the sophisticated and hip Maple & Pine in the glamorous new Quirk hotel; Comfort for locally-sourced, meat-and-three contemporary Southern from Rising Star-awarded chef, Jason Alley; The Roosevelt for three-time James Beard Foundation nominee David Dunlap’s snappy Southern cuisine; Mamma Zu for old school Italian; and Perly’s for serious Jewish deli.
Meat Loaf, squash casserole and cheddar cheese grits at Comfort
With 70-foot-high ceilings and a staircase long rumored to have appeared in Gone with the Wind, The Jefferson Hotel’s Rotunda lobby is one of Richmond’s most sought after spaces for important events. In his 1987 nationally broadcast Sunday morning segment for CBS News, Charles Kuralt described it as (arguably) the most beautiful (public room) of any hotel in the country
Luxuriate at The Jefferson – The Queen of American Beaux Arts hotels, this opulent jewel of an historic hotel has cut the number of their rooms down from turning the remaining guestrooms into expansive suites. For the ultimate stay, book a Grand Premier Suite that features a lavishly appointed marble-tiled bathroom with a television invisibly incorporated into the mirror, soaking tub and separate dressing room. www.JeffersonHotel.com
Quirk Hotel and Gallery – The new kid on the block. Recently opened and lovingly restored, this hip boutique hotel had a former life as a swank department store. Sip handcrafted cocktails on the rooftop terrace. www.DestinationHotels.com
Fire, Flour & Fork – October 28th – November 1st – A four-day culinary gathering with tours, special dinners, classes featuring local chefs, cookbook authors, culinary historians and beverage experts. A foodie’s wet dream. Fire, Flour & Fork
On November 13th from 7pm till midnight revel in InLight Richmond. Organized by 1708 Gallery, enjoy a free, public exhibition of light-based art and performances to be held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Watch the Community Lantern Parade along with performances, sculpture, video, and interactive projects that illuminate pathways, walls, sidewalks, green spaces, trees, benches, building facades, and more, in and around the VMFA campus.
November 27th – January 11th 2016. The nightly holiday extravaganza Dominion GardenFest of Lights: H2Whoa at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden features over half-a-million twinkling lights, hand-crafted botanical decorations, model trains, holiday dinners, firepit with s’mores, hot chocolate (for purchase) and more. This year’s “H2Whoa” theme showcases water in all its forms. Experience a dazzling 30-acre light and botanical display of magical, whimsical water events. Stroll through twinkling “rain storms” as crystal raindrops and fluffy storm clouds float overhead while you marvel at a thunderstorm of lights. In the Conservatory you’ll see a wintry wonderland, rainstorms and rainbows, and even a tropical rainforest.
For more information on upcoming events go to www.VisitRichmondVA.com
May 6, 2015
Scanning the course
Whisk and Quill was delighted to accept an invitation to attend the 90th running of the Virginia Gold Cup last weekend in The Plains, Virginia, as a judge for their prestigious tailgate competition – – a hard-fought and entirely subjectively-judged contest pitting talented and sophisticated entrants against those of the same stylish stripe. The competition for this blue ribbon event was sponsored by the Silver Diner ( See my previous article on Silver Diner ), who kindly sent one of their chefs, Chris Hiller, to join us in our efforts.
For the first time in 25 years, I abandoned my own well-heeled guests for three-and-a-half hours to swan around the rolling hillside lapping up bourbon cocktails, swooning over caramel cake and taste-testing an exotic Indian biryani. I swear on the memory of my beloved Brazilian horse, Beija-Flor, it felt like I ran the length and breadth of the entire steeplechase course…though gratefully it was devoid of any water or brush jumps, and more to the point, I did not have to wear a saddle.
The main parameters were that the offerings be homemade, and that the entire tailgate set-up should reflect a theme. Unfortunately some of the unnamed entrants had chosen to scoff at the memo. Our four judges were astounded to see Costco cookies and sandwiches, still in their plastic tubs, side-by-side with veggies and dip from the local Safeway. May the saints preserve us! And may the best horse win.
The Bee People
For the most part these concepts were highly original. Some were delightfully equine-themed. The “Bee Calm and Carry On” group had little bees on everything – – from cupcakes to a honeyed bee skep cake. The hostess was eager to point out that all offerings included at least some honey, including the Honey Punch and the whiskey bourbon shooters. Yes, whiskey and bourbon combined – – a delicious, if not incendiary, alternative to cough medicine. The ladies were attired in yellow and black, some striped, and host Eddie Batten was gotten up in a tan beekeeper’s suit complete with antique fogger.
Shanti Williams greets guests
“A Trip Around the World” welcomed us with ‘passports’ – – a printed menu of the afternoon’s delights. Cutouts of the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal and Statue of Liberty adorned the table and we found Greek, Indian, French and German influenced dishes prepared by local private chef, Shanti Williams of Ruther Glen, Virginia whose Duck Confit Sliders with Cranberry Jam and Fennel & Celery Root Slaw were an especially big hit.
Sylvia Sosa’s Pink & Green theme
Sylvia Sosa chose “Pink & Green” as her theme and carried it out to the nth degree with horsey cut-out sandwiches sporting pink saddles tied with bakery twine and cupcakes decorated with horseheads and horseshoes. It certainly was one of the prettiest tables we visited.
Tiffany’s goes country
Jen Dominick brought Tiffany’s from city to country with an Audrey Hepburn cutout gracing a 20-foot table. Guests clad in classic Tiffany-colored turquoise and white apparel drank from silver mint julep cups (plastic, but very chic nonetheless). Her bespoke parting gifts for guests were tiny chocolates in precious blue boxes with white satin ribbons. It was all very posh, don’t you know.
Karen Gilbert and guests
Two competitors stole the show. Hostess Karen Gilbert of “Crystal Horseshoes” who served the most amazingly tender short ribs, “fully loaded” potato salad and super divine sandwich on a roll with her Hot Brown Sliders; and Jackie Deschamps who rocked a “50 Shades” theme.
50 Shades Pink & Black theme
Jackie’s choice of a fabulous shocking pink-and-black color theme coupled with sumptuous food – – poached salmon with hollandaise, shrimp kabobs, and an assortment of delicious homemade cakes – – matched the charming hospitality and elegant demeanor she and her guests showered upon us. It may be true that we were influenced by such niceties as offering up a welcoming chair, personally serving us separate plates for entrees and desserts, and bringing round a refreshing drink, if only for the three minutes we allowed for our “I-hate-to-eat-and-run” visits.
Caramel cake from 50 Shades
Racing around over hill and dale, like horses navigating jumps on a steeplechase course, we managed to visit all twelve competitors. We tasted and sipped, chatted up strangers and debated the merits of the competitors; coming up with the premise that, when every last little thing was taken into account, it was all about homemade fare, a soupçon of creativity and old-fashioned, heartfelt Southern hospitality. We are in Virginia after all.
One of the award-winning hats in front of the Steward’s Stand
In the end it was a photo finish, with “50 Shades” leading by a nose, followed by “Crystal Horseshoes”, who had driven 100 miles round trip to find their tabletop white horse, and “A Trip Around the World”, coming away with a very respectable third.
Thanks go out to each and every competitor. See you in the fall when we’ll do it all over again on October 24th.
Kentucky Hot Brown Sliders
Kentucky Hot Brown Sliders – from The Seasoned Mom
1 package of King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (split)
¼ cup of mayonnaise
12 slices of deli turkey
12 pieces of cooked bacon
6 slices of Gruyere cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup canned pimientos (diced)
½ cup butter (cubed)
2 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. garlic powder
Spread mayonnaise on the roll bottoms. Layer with turkey, bacon, a few bits of pimiento and both cheeses. Replace tops. Arrange sandwiches in one layer in a greased 9-inch-square baking pan. In a small skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring for one to two minutes, until tender. Whisk in brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder. Continue whisking until sugar is dissolved. Pour butter sauce over sandwiches.
Cover with foil and refrigerate for several hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake covered for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until nicely browned.
Honey Punch – adapted from the Food Network
Dissolve ½ cup honey in ½ cup boiling water. Let cool, then pour into a pitcher. Add the juice of 2 lemons, 2 cups of apricot or peach nectar, and 1 cup of vodka, gin, bourbon or whiskey. Chill. Before serving add a bottle of chilled sparkling apple cider (Try the all-natural ‘Alpenglow’, made in Virginia from Shenandoah Valley apples.) and float lemon slices in the pitcher.
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
April 20, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
At The Shack
My plan to spend a weekend in Staunton (pronounced “Staan’-tun”, please and thank you) was hatched last year when I heard of a young chef who was gathering a national reputation for imaginative food served up in a tiny brick building he calls, The Shack. Since then chef and restaurateur, Ian Boden, has lit up the food world garnering awards and tons of ink in his zeal to use Virginia farm products in both imaginative and delicious ways.
But as with all trips, the more you research the region where you’re headed, the more it evolves into a journey that will lose all sense of being scripted – – which is exactly what happened and which I highly recommend. The plan was to head out mid-morning Friday and drive straight to Staunton. That plan went straight out the window when I realized all the fun places we would pass along the way. Here’s what I recommend.
From Route 66 take Route 17 to Delaplane and Three Fox Vineyards where owners, Holli and John Todhunter, echo their love of all things Italian. In the barn-style tasting room you’ll find mostly Italian varietals from estate-grown grapes. Relax in a hammock or claim a game of bocce ball.
The Long Branch Foundation – The spiral stairwell
A few miles away just off Route 50, is the 200-year old mansion and gardens of Long Branch Plantation. Hard by the blink-and-you’ve-missed-it sweet little hamlet of Paris, lies the recently restored “noble mansion crowning a rising ground…” as American author Washington Irving described it in 1853. It is worth a tour of its period architecture and antique furnishings and a chance to learn about its horse retirement facility.
Lots to choose from at the Locke Store – Katie Shapiro at the Locke Store in Millwood
Just across 50 and a short drive along Millwood Road is the Locke Store in Millwood, VA. The original general store, founded in 1836, is now a food emporium chock-a-block with craft beer, wine, locally raised meats and cheeses, and tempting baked goods by pastry chef, Katie Kopsick Shapiro. Choose from homemade quiches, pot pies, salads, cakes, fruit pies and sandwiches on bread made from flour ground at the Burwell-Morgan Mill – – a restored flour mill across the street where you can have your picnic alongside a babbling stream. On the next street over is The Red Schoolhouse where 4,000 square feet of antiques and collectibles await the discerning buyer.
The Red Schoolhouse Antiques
Getting on 81 from there was a cinch and we soon arrived in Staunton and checked into the Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center, a centrally located Colonial Revival hotel built in 1924 and recently remodeled. From our room we could see the Mill Street Grill below – – a handy spot for a quick dinner before curtain up at the Blackfriars Playhouse around the corner. If you’re looking for fancier fare try Zynodoa, a local favorite in a modern setting with upscale dining.
Oysters Rockefeller at the Mill Street Grill
The playhouse is part of the American Shakespeare Theatre, a year-round performance venue fashioned after 17th century English theatres. Here Shakespeare’s plays are offered with on-stage seats for chosen audience members. I’ve been here several times and always enjoyed a rousingly entertaining production by seasoned actors. Be sure to get there early for the mini-concerts before the play.
Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Theatre – Photo credit Lauren D. Rogers
Another purpose of my visit was to tour Joel Salatin’s 550-acre Polyface farm in nearby Swoope and on Saturday morning that is where we began our day. The author, speaker and farming guru is a legend for his sustainable farming practices and was featured in the film Food, Inc. Chefs and eco-aware farmers hang on his every word and the farm itself is a testament to Salatin and his humane animal husbandry practices. You can see the pigs, cows, chicken and sheep in their grassy habitats or shop for meats and cider in the farm store.
Hoop House and The piglets at Polyface farm
The night before we noticed a huge building with plate glass windows. Old cars were posed like fashion models and I was determined to see what it was all about. So before lunch we meandered over to find what is being billed as ‘the largest garage in the South’ – – a cavernous 27,000-square foot, former Ford dealership housing an amazing collection of cars in a 1911 building. Located on South New Street, the museum is owned by Bruce Elder an avid collector who sells and restores antique and classic cars. Roaming (and gasping in awe) through the three-story building, we came across dozens of beautifully restored cars including a 1924 Model T, a 1925 baby blue Rolls Royce Twenty (this one sported a price tag of $80k), and some notable Nascar winners like a 1953 single seat vehicle called ‘The Lincoln Special’ – – a Dreyer Champ car that ran on a dirt track. The museum is a car fancier’s fantasyland.
1924 Model TT
Lunch at the Pampered Palate Café was a lovely respite. The quaint spot on East Beverley Street specializes in homemade soups and sandwiches and is surrounded by tons of interesting stores, art galleries, breweries, a wine tasting room, a glass-blowing studio, and shops featuring local handicrafts.
Glass blowing – Artisan works at Sunspot Studios
From there we walked to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum. A fascinating and illuminating museum with exhibits detailing the history of our 28th President though his life and times. On display are hundreds of Wilson’s personal objects including his roll-top desk and 1919 Pierce-Arrow presidential limousine. A recent addition is a walk-through trench that trembles with the sounds of a real battlefield from World War I. Beside the museum sits the Presbyterian Manse, Wilson’s birthplace. The three-story brick home is filled with Wilson family heirlooms and antiques, and a guide is there to describe daily home life in the mid-19th century.
1919 Pierce-Arrow presidential limousine
Afterwards take a relaxing 45-minute guided tour around the city by trolley. Departing from the Visitors Center, it’s a terrific opportunity to see the historic homes and churches (a jaw-dropping 78 by last count) that abound as well as Mary Baldwin College, whose campus is smack dab in the middle of town. During the tour your guide will describe the many exquisite buildings ranging from Gothic, Greek and Renaissance Revival to Dutch Colonial, Chateauesque and even Italianate, many of which were designed during the Victorian-era by renowned architect Thomas Jasper Collins. In fact the town’s splendid architecture was one of its most surprising aspects.
Palladian stained glass windows grace this former Masonic headquarters
At last it was time for our long-anticipated dinner and the stated reason for this pilgrimage and we stroll a few blocks from the hotel to find what appears to be a 1950’s one-story structure along a quiet road. Once inside, we shed any preconceived notions of what a restaurant should look like and trusted in the chef, even though the place looks more like a pop-up or a way station for twenty-six mismatched chairs and seven tables that have lost their home. Still, it’s cozy and unpretentious and quite serious about its mission – – a 180-degree turn from the greasy, calorically-weighty cooking of Southern style restaurants. Here sauces are lightened and cooking methods respect the fresh ingredients. Expect to taste dishes you thought you knew, but here are elevated to an appreciative art form.
Inside The Shack
In a relatively short time, Boden has joined the ranks and emerging cooking style of the New Southern Cuisine trumpeted by famed chefs like Edward Lee of Atlanta, Georgia and Sean Brock of Charleston, South Carolina – – accomplished chefs who have taken familiar Southern dishes and reinvented them, made them better, more interesting and more alluring. We are talking deepened flavors and soul-stirring deliciousness.
Escolar Lettuce Wrap – Berkshire pork at The Shack
A paper menu with the date on top lets you know that the menu is at the whim of the chef, the season and the farmers he trusts. Though I can assure you these preparations will not be on the menu when you arrive, you can luxuriate in the thought of them as I have in this writing. You get to have your own experience with whatever ingredients Boden is playing around with on that day.
We tried nearly everything on the menu, and found some favorites – – Winter Vegetable Salad with farro, bitter greens and chickweed, dressed in a barrel aged maple vinaigrette; Escolar Lettuce Wrap, a raw fish paired with cracklin’s, house made kimchi, miso and key limes. Entrees that sang to us were the Berkshire Pork Loin with country ham fried rice, spinach purée and delicata squash topped with fava bean shoots; and King Salmon with roasted crosnes (a tiny spiral-shaped tuber), Brussels sprouts and lady apples in a red wine butter sauce. Desserts that made us swoon were Sorghum Cake with brown butter apples, buttermilk whey and bay leaf; and a madcap fling with a sweet treat called ‘Junk Food’ which turned out to be a slice of oatmeal cream pie plus a cruller and a blondie.
Creamy Heirloom Grits – Wagyu Beef at The Shack
After a good night’s sleep we returned for brunch. And, why not? When you have reveled in the best there is, why not revel again? I state my case for the Biscuits and Rabbit Gravy, the Wagyu Oyster Steak with rosemary pistou, and the Creamy Heirloom Grits served in a cast iron pan. There is no shame… just glory and a sharp sense of wanting to return.
Demonstrations at the Frontier Culture Museum
Before heading home one last stop beckoned – – the Frontier Culture Museum, a place passed countless times while driving down 81 towards the Blue Ridge Mountains. This open air, living history museum reflects the early German, West African, Irish and British pioneers who bravely brought their trades, farming methods, and building styles to rural America. Authentic costumed docents roam the farm sites and pretty wooded acres, instructing guests on how settlers lived and thrived in the Shenandoah Valley in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. It is a highly educational experience with hands-on opportunities. You will learn that a number of these historic homes were brought over piece-by-piece from the Old World and reassembled here. You can easily spend two hours here but plan on at least three. You wouldn’t want to miss seeing the heritage breed horses or holding a baby lamb. In good weather a picnic purchased in town would make for the perfect day.
To plan your trip around upcoming cultural events in Staunton go to www.VisitStaunton.com.
Spinning wool – Blacksmith at the Forge
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
Whisk and Quill, Guest Contributor
Atsumi on The Island of Phuket, Thailand
I am in a beautiful a tropical setting, lying face down on a flowered cushion and covered with a beautiful batik sheet. A strong, nimble and serene Thai woman is giving me the daily massage of my choice. It is a warm day and a soft breeze rustles the tinkling seashell curtains as the swaths of batik that surround my thatched hut flutter in the air. Exotic birds call to each other in a language unfamiliar to me. A soothing fountain flows melodiously nearby. I hear someone in the distance chanting prayers and the aroma of surrounding flowers, coconut and aromatherapy oils waft in and out of my senses. There are only the sounds of a symphony of all that is pleasant and soothing. I am totally in the present and completely content as I savor the experience. And unlike the dread I have often felt at the end of a relaxing massage, I know I will be doing this every day for the next three weeks.
This year my getaway options were limited to one trip, so I needed to choose carefully if I wanted it to be perfect. These were my parameters.
* It had to be affordable, but it also must be pleasant and beautiful. I wanted to feel comfortable traveling solo.
* It had to be culturally interesting.
* It had to be near a beach.
* And, just as importantly, it needed to be a trip that wouldn’t add to my waistline.
It took most of the winter to cobble together a plan that would meet all my conditions, but finally, I chose my dream vacation. I didn’t know then that this trip would also become a personal journey for me.
Over the past 25 years my education and my professional life have focused on learning about and creating health, both for myself, and others. And I believe that we teach, what we need to learn. As with everything in life, it is not easy to follow a strict regime and adhere to the all of the basics of a healthy lifestyle, but we do our best. I wanted to see if I could follow a healthful regime and still have fun.
My choice to go to the Atsumi Detox Retreat and Healing Center in Phuket, Thailand initially felt challenging in many respects. Having previously experienced a brief stint at a well-known health/detox center in the U. S., I knew that it could be challenging and prohibitively expensive to boot. But at Atsumi I was in for a wonderful surprise. My fasting program was a breeze. The added bonus was that I met such a diverse and stimulating group of people from all over the world while having the vacation of a lifetime. Even the getting there was easy. Rather than being taxed by the long flight, I luxuriated in the care, comfort and attention from the Thai Airways attendants.
Fasting is an amazing energy boost, helping to re-boot your health, boost your immune system, flush out toxins, lose excess weight and water, and strengthen your ability to fight off illness. And there are a myriad of other rejuvenating benefits. I find it to be safer, less daunting and much easier to accomplish with the guidance and support of professionals and the joy and camaraderie of like-minded friends. At Atsumi you can choose from various levels of fasting, including juicing and simple raw food fasts.
Never, in all my years of extensive travel, have I stayed in a place where all of the staff was so supportive, accommodating, cheerful and graciously efficient, going out of their way to assist with even the most trivial request. I did, indeed, feel welcome in every way.
The grounds are beautifully landscaped and the accommodations comfortable and spotlessly maintained. The Center is located on the south end of the island (not as crowded as the more touristy areas of Phuket) and the beaches are the most pristine.
Founded 13 years ago, Atsumi is the first of its kind in the area and the most all-encompassing experience. Anna, the delightful Thai woman who is the founder and hands-on owner, is a big part of the Atsumi day. She keeps the Center dynamic and moving forward with new offerings and wonderful amenities.
Our days began with the early morning gatherings where we joined our compatriots (all very friendly, as we are in this together!). There we drank ginger tea and shots of wheatgrass and chose the therapies we would like. These could be outside trips, massages and/or cleansing colemas. We also enjoyed an exercise event that varied each day and there were many to choose from – – a mountain view or beach walk, yoga, horseback riding, an exercise circuit, or Pilates to name a few – – all just challenging enough to sweat, but gently geared for us fasting folks.
Outdoor living and relaxing
The middle of the day offered a ride to and from the beach and on scheduled days, a temple trip, a visit to the large Buddha on the hill, or a luxury taxi available for sightseeing and shopping. Phuket is a very popular destination for travelers, so it is a treat to visit the city and admire the sights. If you like, Anna can arrange a visit to a local orphanage where even small donations are welcomed.
In the evenings you can go to a bustling night market, watch Thai boxing matches, take a Salsa dance class, or just practice yoga and meditation. In between all of these electives, are cleansing drinks and your appointments. If you are on a raw food fast, fresh salads and fruit are delivered to your room and iced fresh coconut water is readily available at the bar. Thankfully with all these engaging activities I was too busy to think about eating.
Healthy and delicious detox food delivered to your room
What I loved about my stay was that whenever I wanted to I could relax by the pool, swim, take a book to the reading area, watch a movie or sleep all day. It’s as laid back or as busy as you like with no pressure to adhere to anyone else’s schedule.
I particularly noticed how quiet and serene it is. You almost have to wonder where everyone is. I marveled in the incredible menu of therapeutic options including a long list of quality healing modalities (some quite exotic). Spa offerings do cost extra, but are priced much less than in the States. All of the practitioners are highly professional and their different techniques are worth exploring. One of my favorite classes was on raw food cooking. It was conducted by, Toh, the utterly charming and hilarious concierge of Atsumi.
For two of my three weeks a friend, who had been to Atsumi before and was eager to pay a return visit, joined me. We couldn’t resist pushing the envelope and decided to explore the area on rented motorbikes, riding around with the wind in our hair. Some called us Thelma and Louise, though we felt more like Peter Fonda and Woody Harrelson.
As my friend was ending her stay and transitioning out from the raw food part of her program, she suggested we try some Thai food and local lobster. After a day of preparation for the change in diet, one of resort’s drivers took us to a luxurious outdoor restaurant on the water where we enjoyed our last evening together. Upon our return the staff just smiled and said, “Hey, you gotta have fun!” No pressure or judgment – – they’re just available for guidance.
On my last week I had my second go at seven more days of the raw food fast. What I came away with after this incredible voyage of health and spiritualism was a time of deep relaxation, a boost to my body from guided and safe fasting, a wellspring of inspiration, further education, new and interesting friends, a glowing tan, and lasting deposits in my memory bank.
My personal journey was about a sense of strength, accomplishment, independence, perspective and freedom which wouldn’t have been complete without the experience of lovely Phuket, those ubiquitous Thai smiles, a bit of authentic Thai cuisine and bathing in the blue waters of the Andaman Sea. What I came away with was the best trip I’ve ever experienced. What I left behind was ten pounds.
To learn more about the Atsumi Healing Center visit www.AtsumiHealing.com.
Shelly Ross is a seeker of adventure who has been chipping away at her ‘bucket list’. She is the founder and owner of The Natural Marketplace, a health food store and organic deli she opened 25 years ago in Warrenton, Virginia, an hour’s drive from Washington, DC. Shelly is a Certified Nutritional Consultant, certified in Raw Food and Superfoods Education, and a member of the Association of Drugless Practitioners. In addition, she has attended many years of herbal school, homeopathy classes, nutritional courses, supplementation seminars and self-education in the field of health and wellness. After exploring vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic and a few other lifestyles, she is now a gluten-free omnivore adding consciously raised, quality Paleo protein; raw dairy products; and organic raw and cooked vegetables to her diet.
For more information about her Warrenton store visit www.TheNaturalMarketplace.com.
October 10, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Photo credit Jordan Wright
The view from Skyland Resort
When G. Freeman Pollock founded Skyland in 1894, he had been in and out of bankruptcy so many times he couldn’t possibly have envisioned the immense popularity it would have subsequently gained. Luckily for us his son George, an ardent naturalist, saw the raw beauty of the land as a draw for tourists. But in 19th century Virginia the remote destination had no trails and no roads, and it was such an arduous journey that guests would stay for several weeks or more. Today, however, to enjoy and explore the resort within the Shenandoah National Forest, we can just hop in our car and arrive in little more than two hours, ready to bask in (and document with our personal devices) the glorious foliage of autumn at a whopping 3,560 feet above sea level.
Driving along Route 211 past Warrenton and Sperryville we stop at roadside stands decorated with pumpkins, cornstalks and pots of colorful mums, and stock up on apple butter, cider, sorghum and honey. As the road turns up the mountain and onto Skyline Drive, ever more lavish displays of fall color come into view – red from maples, dogwoods, black gums and sumac, yellow from yellow birch, tulip poplar and hickory, orange from beech and sassafras. Stop at one of the many overlooks for gloriously scenic photo ops.
800 million year old rock formations on the Stony Man Trail
Arriving at Skyland Resort we picked up a few refreshments from the Grab n’ Go located beside the restaurant. Be sure to try the homemade brownies and blackberry lemonade. Since we were earlier than our check in time, we decided to make the most of our visit. Four short marked trails are easily accessible from the resort’s parking area – Miller’s Head, a 1.6 mile round trip, Limberlost Trail, a 1.3 mile circuit (ADA accessible), Stony Man, 1.6 mile loop trail and Little Stony Man, a 0.9 mile hike. We chose Stony Man Trail, a gentle that hike winds through dappled glades carpeted with ferns, drifts past 800 million-year old rock outcroppings draped in mossy lichen, and climbs to a height of 4,010’ where a spectacular view of the Piedmont and Old Rag Mountain are revealed. (More dramatic photo ops here.)
Ferns along Stony Man Trail
At this altitude you’ll see and smell red spruce and balsam fir, rare for southern climes. Breathe deeply and tune into the sounds of the forest, a practice the Japanese call “forest bathing” or “Shinrinyoku”, a sort of natural aromatherapy said to increase relaxation and boost the immune system.
Back at the lodge we had relaxing dinner in the Pollock Dining Room, which boasts a breathtaking view of the Shenandoah valley. The resort is proud of their new chef and has been hosting wine dinners with nearby vineyards. In November three unique pairing dinners are planned – one to feature dishes paired wines from Ducard Winery, another with Old Hill Cider and the final dinner of the season is slated to be a whiskey pairing.
Linguini with shrimp and scallops – Blackberry Ice Cream Pie at the Pollock Dining Room
Night programs here are just as popular as daytime tours offered by the Park Rangers. We chose the stargazing evening given by astronomers from the Charlottesville Astronomical Society. “Night Skies in the Big Meadows” begins with a talk on the constellations we would see before convening at an open field that afforded expansive views of the galaxy. Astronomer Richard Drumm, known as “The Astronomy Bumm”, awaited our arrival with telescopes at the ready. Unfortunately it was too overcast to see, no less identify, even the Big Dipper, so we asked a lot of what we thought were “smart” questions and learned about controlling light pollution.
The following morning bright blue skies accompanied hearty breakfasts, and after finding some locally made crafts in the gift shop we headed to the stables for a guided horseback trail ride (ponies are available for kids). I was very impressed by the overall care with which the stables, tack and horses are kept and that our young guide, Jeremy, was knowledgeable about horses, local plants and the history of the area and kept up a lively conversation throughout the two ½ hour ride.
Stirring the apple butter
Before heading for home we spent a few hours at the Annual Apple Butter Celebration (the resort provided a shuttle to take us to and from) where we watched the old fashioned method of making apple butter in a large copper vessel, tasted four varieties of the local hard cider from Old Hill Cider at Showalters Orchard, and gobbled up apple-smoked pork sandwiches and candied apples – all to the lively sounds of bluegrass bands.
Caramel and candied apples at the Apple Butter Celebration
For more info visit www.goshenandoah.com.