April 29, 2016
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts
Spliff, doobie, joint. You can’t smoke em here, but it’s assumed you’ll come high as a kite to this first time munchies extravaganza where pot aficionados in the DMV will be schooled in the fine art of cooking with weed. Organizers, Al Goldberg, owner of Mess Hall, and Nevin Martell, author of Freakshow Without a Tent, hope their trippy food fest will lure the stoner elite.
Snacks rule when you’re feeling a buzz and who better to amp up the gourmet goods than Tarver King, molecular gastronomist and Executive Chef of the much-lauded The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, Virginia. King will prepare “cannabutter” during one of the three marijuana cooking classes in the demonstration kitchen. Other demos will teach fans how to make THC tincture for the ultimate munchies.
When I caught up with King by phone earlier this week, he was excited to be participating. “It’s great to get in on the ground floor with an event like this,” he told me, “We’re all over it! Back in high school we used to eat it on the 4/20, rather than smoking it,” he recalled using the universal euphemism for the annual consumption of cannabis. King admits to scarfing down tacos from Taco Bell after the toke fest. To get the high the teens were seeking, “we threw a bunch of weed in.” But he’s evolved since then. “The nerd in me wondered if it would work better in fats.” To that end he’s played around with a potent version of “cannabutter” which he’ll demo in one of the classes. He claims this technique “draws out the THC and makes it ten times stronger”. In actuality he admits he doesn’t smoke it often. “I can get paranoid,” he says, relating an incident when the act of eating popcorn sounded so loud he thought he was disturbing his wife’s TV watching.
It was perfect timing for Mathew Ramsay of PornBurger whose eponymously named cookbook just launched. Ramsay, whose burgers Martell calls, “gloriously gluteus burgers that you want to have sex with”, will be on hand to sign his new book PornBurger: Hot Buns and Juicy Beefcakes (Ecco 2016). He’ll also demonstrate how to make a weed-laced burger.
Buenos Aires Art in Washington DC by designer Jon Wye
After the three-class session, guests can chill out in the beer hall/food court where vintage cartoons mix with the sounds of stoner soul and where Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, Fry Brothers, Sloppy Mothers Barbecue and Westray’s Finest Ice Cream are available for purchase. Be sure to indulge in deluxe flavors from this locally-made ice cream. Owner Westray Paul promises to bring a few exotic specialties from his “Adventurous” line of cold treats, including Coffee & Doughnuts, Burnt Sugar, and Honey Buttermilk Strawberry. The hall also features marijuana-related paraphernalia, graphics-adorned gear from designer Jon Wye, and hip logo tees from Kelly Towles.
The Deets – Tickets are $42.00 for General Admission and include an Astro Doughnut sandwich (a savory rosemary doughnut sandwich with pimento chicken salad and Gordy’s pickled jalapenos) and a beer. The $75.00 VIP pass gives you front row seating plus an exclusive Kelly Towles t-shirt and a swag bag from DC area restaurants. Entry times are at 11 A.M., 12:30 P.M., 2 P.M, 3:30PM and 5PM. For tickets and more info visit https://t.co/zJu179jVG3
703 Edgewood St., Northeast
Washington, DC 20017
February 29, 2016
Photo credit: Jordan Wright
Along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way
County Donegal, a windswept land of mountains and coastal cliffs, meadows and quaint fishing villages is finally getting its due as one of the most beautiful and unspoiled destinations in the world. Not only does it offer up its mysteries to those interested in probing its rich heritage, but it affords a myriad of activities for those seeking adventure.
Pastoral Scene of the Fanad Peninsula
Depending on your interest, in a single day you can take in a night of music in a lively pub, explore ancient ruins, hike a mountain passage or loll about at tea time in the posh drawing room of a turreted castle.
Eventide in Moville
For some it’s a round of golf with sweeping sea views, a feast of mussels and lobsters from the daily catch, or surfing the waves along a Blue Flag beach. Others are drawn to the music. Donegal is where New Age songstress Enya launched her career in a pub owned by her musical family the Brennan’s, and a place where on any given night, fiddlers and balladeers still raise the rooftops at local watering holes. There’s so much to enjoy if you remember that getting there is part of the adventure.
The blue waters of Mulroy Bay
You’ll find the Irish are genuinely keen to meet strangers – like our chance encounter with a pair of octogenarians who giggled like schoolgirls and chatted us up when they heard our American accents, or the shopkeeper who poured generous shots from a bottle of homemade poitín, Ireland’s answer to white lightening.
Traveling along well-paved highways the land spreads out like one great patterned tablecloth – the undulating hills and roadsides ablaze with color. Mile after mile claims great swaths of purple heather, vivid orange crocosmia and bright yellow gorse bowing to the breeze. Sheep are ubiquitous dotting the fields under a vast horizon bisected by impossibly blue skies. Even on a misty day it’s beguiling.
Sheep graze atop the headland on Arranmore Island
It’s a mystical land of ancient Druids and conquering Vikings, of ruling dynasties and the chieftain families of the O’Neills and O’Donnells. From the sea we get tales of Spanish Armada ships wrecked on northernmost shores and from the land mystical histories of burial mounds older than the pyramids of Egypt are revealed. It is known to travelers as the Wild Atlantic Way. And it is where our adventure unfolds.
Oh, the things you can do in five days! It is wondrous.
The Grianan of Aileach
From Dublin go north through County Meath and its alluring horse country, and beyond through the counties of Monaghan, Tyrone and Strabane, to make your first stop at the Grianan of Aileach, a stone ringfort built in the Neolithic age and linked to the Tuatha de Danann. A short walk down the hill beside a small spring, will take you to a small wooden cross that marks St. Patrick’s Well, a spot it is thought that St. Patrick visited in the 5th century.
Connemara ponies beside the bay
Overnight in Moville at the oceanfront 17th century Redcastle Hotel. The property features a luxury spa that uses 100% organic seaweed-based Voya beauty products, a 9-hole parkland golf course and an indoor Thalasso pool overlooking the waters of Lough Foyle. Its in-season menu highlights locally sourced food elegantly prepared. www.RedcastleHotelDonegal.com
View from the greens at Greencastle Golf Club along Silver Strand Beach
In the morning set off along the windswept northern coastlines across the Inishowen Peninsula between Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly, stopping first in Greencastle. Here you can visit the local Moville Pottery, play a round of golf at the Greencastle Golf Club on Silver Strand Beach at Sweet Nellie’s Cove (call ahead to pre-arrange) and tour the Inishowen Maritime Museum & Planetarium. www.InishowenMaritime.com
Brian McDermott’s Cooking School
Lunch brought us to the outskirts of the small town of Carrownaffe where well-known BBC-TV chef Brian McDermott, fondly known as the “No Salt Chef”, welcomed us to his cookery school in a charming clapboard cottage surrounded by herb and vegetable gardens. McDermott triumphs a no-salt diet created as a result of personal health issues.
(L-R) Fish course at the cooking school ~ Berry crumble for the class
Focusing predominantly on seafood, the chef also offers a “Catch It, Cook It” experience that combines a kayak or canoe fishing trip with a hands-on demonstration on how to prepare your catch. Don’t be surprised to see playful porpoises, dolphins and whales breaching along the coastline. The subsequent three-course luncheon is the main attraction. www.TheNoSaltChef.com www.InishAdventures.com
Known as “Grey Fort” or “Fort of the Heather”, Fort Dunree is a former coastal defense fortification in nearby Buncrana overlooking the Lough Swilly fjord. Built by the British in the early 1800’s, it offers a small, yet fascinating, military museum that spans the period from Viking invaders to present day.
The 90 cm carbon arc searchlight
Of special interest is a large collection of artillery guns and a 205-year old carbon arc searchlight, still in use today. www.Dunree.pro.ie
Stop in the pretty village of Buncrana where you’ll find plenty of pubs and shops and the restored St. Mary’s Hall Cinema built in 1904.
Potted agapanthus at Rathmullan House
Listed in Ireland’s Blue Book of Irish Country House, Historic Hotels and Restaurants is the four-star Rathmullan House, a stunning Georgian manor with bespoke gardens, modern amenities and an exceptional cuisine.
A view of the gardens at Rathmullan House
Breakfast is a stunner with Irish cheeses, fresh ham, homemade brown bread, flapjacks, bowls of fresh berries and house-made granola. www.RathmullanHouse.com
A pub in the wee village of Buncrana
Before leaving Rathmullan take a tour of the Kinegar Craft Beer Brewery. One of the founders of the Wild Atlantic Way Craft Beer Trail which boasts 13 small craft breweries, it is located at the end of a narrow country lane surrounded by fields, farms and horses. This small but productive popular brewery is the epitome of a family-run operation. www.KinegarBrewing.ie
(L-R) Off to market ~ The barns outside Kinegar Brewery
Traveling along the Fanad Peninsula to the lighthouse, stop at Ballyhiernan Bay. Over a mile long, the dune-backed beach is the perfect stroll before lunch.
The dunes leading to Ballyhiernan Bay
Though Donegal features 11 lighthouses, the one on the Fanad Peninsula is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. Perched atop the heart-poundingly spectacular cliffs of Lough Swilly and Mulroy Bay, the iconic lighthouse has its own heliport.
The Fanad Lighthouse and heliport
With advance booking you can overnight in the cozy efficiency and awake to the sound of giant waves crashing up against the rocks plus a vista of unimaginable beauty. www.FanadLighthouse.com
On the way to Churchill and Glenveagh Castle note the Derryveagh Mountains rising in the distance. You’ll be passing thousands of acres of bogs where turf is still harvested to heat homes. Set on a high promontory along Lough Veagh, the castle is part of the Glenveagh National Park and the Donegal Garden Trail.
The walled gardens and greenhouses of Glenveagh Castle
Once there, take a guided tour of the antique-filled rooms of the Scottish baronial style mansion house, the Victorian walled gardens and the greenhouses. The former estate and hunting lodge of the heir to the McIlhenny Tabasco fortune, it was constructed in 1869 and visited by American film stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin.
One of the drawing rooms at Glenveagh Castle
This 40,000-acre setting, framed by the Dooish and Staghall mountains, has its own herd of red deer who drink from the clear waters of the lough. You can learn more at the Visitor’s Center about the park’s recent project to reintroduce the Golden Eagle to Ireland. Take time for a spot of tea and freshly made scones at the café where tiny birds flutter in and out among the tables. www.GlenveaghNationalPark.ie www.DonegalGardenTrail.com
On Main Street in the former fishing village of Dunfanaghy is Arnold’s Hotel, a cozy, well-located, family-run hotel with views of the bay. After check-in head off for dinner at The Singing Pub and Ocras Café in Downings on Sheephaven Bay.
The daily catch served in copper-lidded tureens at the Ocras Cafe
There you’ll find a welcoming peat-burning fireplace, seafood fresh off the boat and lively music by local bands.
(L-R) A typical jam at The Singing Pub ~ The peat burning fireplace at The Singing Pub
Nautical décor includes a lifebuoy from the Titanic. On the night we visited, bracketed between traditional Irish folk music and American country ballads, we heard a beautiful young lass sing a haunting rendition of Patsy Cline’s “I Can’t Help It”. www.ArnoldsHotel.com www.SingingPub.ie
Riders head out to the shoals of Killahoey Strand
After a traditional Irish breakfast, walk behind the hotel to find the stables. Snag a helmet and boots from the tack room and saddle up to take a guided group ride into the shoals of of Killahoey Strand along Dunfanaghy Bay. www.DunfanaghyStables.com
On the ferry to the island
Heading off to Burtonport the Errigal Mountains loom largely over the bucholic terrain. At the harbor catch the 15-minute ferry ride to Arranmore Island, a scenic island boasting a population of around 600 residents, which swells to nearly a thousand in summers as visitors come to the traditional Gaeltacht schools to learn the Irish language.
The harbor at Burtonport
Aboard the ferry you’ll probably share a bench with adorable Irish-speaking children who make the daily round trip to schools on the mainland. For daily ferry schedules visit www.ArranmoreFerry.com.
Jimmy the Sheep
Once on the island you’re in the town of Leabgarrow. Head to GrassRoutes to rent electric bicycles to reach the headlands on self-guided tours. www.GrassRoutes.ie. Keep an eye out for Jimmy, the cutest black-faced sheep on the island. Scuba and sea angling charters leave daily from the harbor. And if birding’s on your agenda, tour the neighboring chain of islands by charter boat. www.DiveArranmore.com
Once back on the mainland it’s time for a pint of Guinness or a perfectly made Irish coffee topped with soft whipped cream at Leo’s Tavern in Meenaleck.
Making the perfect Irish coffee at Leo’s Tavern
Named after Leo Brennan, an accomplished musician and father of the iconic singer Enya, the large pub is lined with her celebrity photos and framed platinum and gold records. www.LeosTavern.com
Harvey’s Point Lodge
For timelessly elegant dining and world-class wines, make reservations far in advance for the ever-popular Harvey’s Point Lodge. Situated along Lough Eske, the hotel’s restaurant, calls its dining experience, “Cuisine Art” and offers a dinner cabaret on Wednesday nights.
(L-R) Local fish and clams with oranges and roasted beets ~ Irish beef with foie gras and local vegetables at Harvey’s Point ~ Meringue atop coconut pie with lime and strawberry sauce
Should you choose to overnight here, the suites in this award-winning hotel are spacious and luxurious. www.HarveysPoint.com
Solis Lough Eske Castle
Solis Lough Eske Castle is framed by the Blue Stack Mountains on one side and the lough on the other. A five-star property, it is a peerless example of a Tudor-baronial castle.
Tea time at the Solis Locke Eske Castle
Take time to stroll the 41-acre woodlands and enjoy the spa and indoor pool. Breakfast is lavish and features fresh fruits, locally smoked salmon and made-to-order omelets. www.SolisHotels.com/lougheskecastle/
(L-R) The manor at Salthill Gardens ~ Guarding the manor at Salthill was this terrifying clutch of tailwaggers
A half-hour’s drive away outside the village of Mountcharles, lie the perennial-filled gardens of Salthill with its striking seaside views and fields of meadow grasses overlooking Donegal Bay.
A riot of color in the gardens at Salthill
Wander through mown paths lined with ferns and wildflowers and take in the aroma of 19th century roses that flourish on stone arches in the walled gardens.
A bowl of shells adorns a window ledge inside the potting shed
These exceptionally curated gardens with charming potting shed for visitors, are overseen by Elizabeth Temple who resides in the mansion house and can often be found tending to its glories. www.DonegalGardens.com
(L-R) Eithna’s ~ The dining room at Eithna’s By the Sea
Traveling to Mullaghmore in nearby Sligo County is Eithna’s by the Sea run by Eithna O’Sullivan and Prannie Rattigan of Prannie’s Irish Seaweed Kitchen. Rattigan is a medical doctor by trade and an expert in edible seaweed who lectures at conferences around the world on the benefits of algae, more familiarly known as seaweed.
A bounty of seaweed ready for the kitchen
Over 600 species of marine algae can be found off Irish shores. Here they are sustainably harvested along the Atlantic coast where their vitamin and mineral-enriched flavors appear in delicately prepared seafood dishes.
(L-R) (L-R) Crab and seaweed with lemon foam ~ Crab and seaweed with lemon foam ~ Fish and shellfish form a delicious relationship
Be sure to sample one of her homemade cakes and take home a bottle or two of hand-harvested dried seaweed. Nori, kombu, sea lettuce, dulse and wakame are available for purchase. www.EithnasRestaurant.com
The Spanish Armada Trail
After lunch tour the Spanish Armada Trail on foot, on horseback or by kayak along the tidal lagoons with Maritime Archaeologist Auriel Robinson of Sea Trails. www.Seatrails.ie
Close by Dublin’s airport in Meath, but a world away from the hustle and bustle, is the opulent, Georgian period Dunboyne Castle, a magnificent property with spa and lovely gardens. Relax in this former home of the Lord of Dunboyne before your flight home.
Courtesy of Dunboyne Castle Hotel
For direct flights to Dublin from Dulles Airport visit www.AerLingus.com. For further information on traveling the Wild Atlantic Way, visit www.WildAtlanticway.com.
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