Virginia Summer Fun

School’s out, and it’s time to find some fun this summer. Virginia has plenty to do, especially if you’re a foodie or history buff.

A handful of Virginia wineries rely on volunteer labor to harvest and bottle their wines. In exchange for working in the vineyard or the processing facility, volunteers receive credits towards purchases of wine or special wine events. Gray Ghost Vineyards, in Amissville, offers a special day for volunteers with a lavish breakfast, lunch with Gray Ghost wines and a volunteer t-shirt. Grayhaven Winery, in Mineral, offers credits towards their wines with a day of volunteering at the harvest. Near the Inn at Little Washington, Gadino Cellars‘ Harvest Day offers live music and a picnic for volunteers.

If you’re a fan of tacos (and who isn’t?), the DC Taco, Beer, Tequila Festival at the Capitol Riverfront will be a day filled with deliciousness. Two sessions offer five taco tickets, unlimited beer and the chance to try a variety of tequila’s and mezcal’s. Access to unlimited tequila and mezcal tastings are available if you opt for the Tequila or VIP ticket. Tickets start at $45 per person, and the event occurs in two sessions on Saturday, July 15.

If you enjoy living history events, you’ll love the family-friendly James River Batteau Festival, taking place June 17-24 along the James River from Lynchburg to Powhatan. Showcasing the long, flat boats, called batteau’s, that were used to transport tobacco along the river to market in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.

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What’s on your summer agenda?

 

The Race of Gentlemen

Started in the late 1940’s, the Oilers Car Club began in Southern California in the early days of drag racing. The club was revived in 2008 by a group of traditional hot rod enthusiasts who tracked down the original Oilers founder, Jim Nelson, and, with his blessing, formed chapters across the country to carry on the sport of racing pre-war cars and motorcycles. In 2012, the first Race of Gentlemen was held on the beach in Allenhurst, New Jersey. From there, the event has grown bigger and bigger each year.

My family has always adored history, especially automotive and motorcycle history. My great-grandfather owned a motorcycle repair shop in the 1920’s in rural Central Virginia, and my uncle has an obsession with vintage cars and trucks, having built the Kline car currently on view at the Virginia Historical Society. He’s currently working on projects from a 1920’s fire truck to 1910’s and 1920’s race cars (which I’m trying to convince him to build for a future TROG), and I love hearing about his latest builds. My husband’s a gearhead too, and we’ve always enjoyed vintage car shows and all manner of racing, so The Race of Gentlemen was a car lover’s dream trip.

The organizers, Mel Stultz and Bobby Green, couldn’t have chosen a better venue for this throwback event. Wildwood, New Jersey is a perfectly-preserved old beach town. With a two-mile long boardwalk and plenty of wide, sandy beaches, there was ample space for the drag races. The town itself is filled with 50’s diners and doo-wop/mid-century hotels and motels, adding to the nostalgic atmosphere. We had breakfast on Saturday at the Pink Cadillac diner, which billed itself as a “50’s diner,” and we stayed at the Monaco Motel, a classic with mid-century design.

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But of course, the main attraction was the racing, and the chance to see these vintage cars and motorcycles in action didn’t disappoint. The weekend kicked off Friday night with a chopper show at a local motel, then the action began bright and early on Saturday. As soon as the tide went out, the cars and bikes took the beach to battle it out.

The racing lasted all day, giving spectators the rare opportunity to see vehicles from the early days of racing history in one-on-one drag races and, occasionally, a four-wide motorcycle race. Special kudos go to the most talented flag girl I’ve ever seen, who must have jumped into the air hundreds of times the whole weekend and made it look perfect every time.

Besides the racing, the event had a classic car show, merch and various vendors, as well as live music. Saturday night there was a bonfire on the beach, then more racing on Sunday. The second day of racing also saw an announcement from organizer Mel that the “sandrail” class, essentially a frame and engine, would be bigger next year, as it’s a relatively cheap and quick way to break into racing in an event that requires historical vehicles and an application and approval process.

Unfortunately, we had to leave around noon to make it home on Sunday, so we didn’t get to see the end of the racing and the awards. All in all, this was an amazing event. We’ll definitely be back next year!

Memorial Day Feast

In its evolution from a day of remembrance to honor those who fought in the Civil War, to a memorial for soldiers who gave their lives in World War I, then to memorialize American soldiers lost in all wars, this day has a long, proud history as a purely American day. We honor all those who have fought and lost their lives to protect our freedom. Memorial Day also marks the informal beginning of the summer. Swimming pools open for the season and all across America grills are fired up to cook delicious meals.

The best way to cook a steak on the grill is to marinate it all day. I use a marinade of vegetable oil, balsamic vinegar, diced garlic and steak seasoning.

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A “hobo pack” of squash, zucchini, shallots, thyme, olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice can be thrown on the grill as well and cooked over charcoal. Just make sure it’s fully secured so none of the juices leak out into the grill.

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You can grill ears of corn still in the husks. Just peel them back, remove the silks and coat the ears of corn with butter and whatever seasonings you like. We prefer salt, pepper and Old Bay. A tray of garlic knots and a boxed pasta salad round out this Memorial Day Feast.

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The end of our meal was a sweet red, white and blue berry trifle.

Ingredients: 1 quart strawberries (diced), 1 pint blueberries, 8 oz. package cream cheese at room temperature, 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, 2/3 cup whipped cream, 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 small pound cake cut into squares

Directions:

  1. Put several of each kind of berries aside for topping.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Beat in the vanilla, then a third of the whipped cream. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream.
  3. Cover the bottom of a trifle dish or glass bowl with a layer of diced pound cake pieces. Add 1/3 of each type of fruit, then cover with 1/3 of the cream cheese/whipped cream mixture. Alternate adding diced pound cake, fruit and cream cheese/whipped cream, then top with a thin layer of whipped cream. Sprinkle the reserved berries on top. Refrigerate overnight before serving.

 

Enjoy your Memorial Day with family and friends. What are your favorite Memorial Day foods?

Cocktail Classics – The Aperol Spritz

The Aperol spritz is a classic European aperitif that you’ll find in traveling through France and Italy, especially in the summer dining al fresco or streetside in one of many outdoor cafes. When my husband and I visited Paris last fall, the Aperol spritz was on every drink menu, and we drank them all over the city. Whether we were on the Seine in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, or sitting in a cafe on a rainy, chilly night on the Rue Montorgueil, this slightly sweet, slightly bitter, bubbly drink was delicious and comforting.

What is Aperol, and what makes it unique? This Italian liqueur is one of a number of European liqueurs that are herbal and bitter, providing a complement to sweet or sparkling European wines. Aperol is made from bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb, cinchona and a variety of other ingredients.

In Europe, aperitifs became popular in the 19th century and were consumed before a meal as a way to stimulate the appetite. The classic Aperol spritz consists of three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol and a splash of club soda. Fresh orange slices, ice and a straw are added to a large wine glass to serve up this refreshing drink. I was missing them last night, so I had to whip up some Aperol spritz’s at home.

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What’s your favorite European cocktail?

Here’s a photo from L’Esplanade St. Eustache, the cafe off Rue Montorgueil where we had dinner and Aperol spritz’s in Paris.

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Antique Store Cookbook Find

This weekend we visited the Cold Harbor Antiques Mall in Mechanicsville. This huge antique mall could have kept me busy for the entire day, but we had the kids with us and they sped through, loving the “old” stuff they found. They thought the rotary dial telephones were awesome, and they loved seeing the old microscopes, hand mixers and kitchen equipment.

I, on the other hand, was digging through my favorite thing in the world – old books. I especially love old cookbooks. Seeing the types of food that were important culturally during different time periods is my thing, so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered a copy of Life magazine’s Photo Cook Book from 1958 for only five bucks.

In the 1950’s, America was moving into the post WWII era of prosperity. Kitchen technology meant that most housewives had refrigerators, ovens, ranges and other tools, so meal preparation was easier and quicker than ever. This cookbook mixes recipes from America’s past with mid-century recipes for party foods and home entertaining.

There’s an illustration of a man roasting steaks over a fire pit at home, as well as illustrations of Manhattan vs. New England clam chowders.

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I’m sure I’ll enjoy preparing some of these mid-century recipes in the days ahead. From the international section on Indian, Chinese, French and Italian recipes to wine buying guides, brunch and summer recipes and more, this 1950’s cookbook is a piece of history that I’m glad I had the opportunity to buy.

Do you enjoy historical cookbooks? Which is your favorite?

Drinking, ruins and antiques

Living in Virginia, I’m spoiled by having access to the best of everything. Whether it’s beaches, lakes or rivers you want to visit, or mountains and wineries, Virginia has a bit of it all. About an hour away from our house are some of the best wineries in Virginia, and there are plenty of antique shops on the way.

Gordonsville is a charming town between Richmond and Charlottesville with a quaint main street and plenty of antique shops and boutiques. The town is also home to a long tradition of fried chicken making, with a Fried Chicken Festival that takes place on May 20 this year and celebrates the days of train travel and the African American women who would prepare and sell the best fried chicken in the country to hungry travelers at this crossroads of the Shenandoah Valley.

At Gordonsville Antique and Flea Market, I found a beautiful decorative fireplace grate that looked to have once been cast iron, but had been painted white. It had a fleur de lys on its top and was just the right size to be a planter. Immediately, I knew I wanted to put it on my porch and put some flowers in it.

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We grabbed lunch at Restaurant Pomme in Gordonsville, a small French-inspired spot. I had a delicious croque monsieur and fries.

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After lunch, we made our way to Barboursville Vineyards. We tasted all of their amazing wines, including their flagship red, Octagon, then visited the ruins on-site. Designed by Thomas Jefferson and constructed between 1814-1822 for his friend James Barbour, Governor of Virginia from 1812-1814. The brick mansion was destroyed by fire on Christmas Day, 1884 and sits on the grounds of the vineyard, next to its bed and breakfast.

Barboursville and Gordonsville make a great day trip from Richmond. Where is your favorite to visit in Virginia?

 

 

 

 

Summer Food Events in Virginia

Summer in Virginia is a time for festivals, and the best festivals celebrate the foods the Commonwealth is known for. Here are some of the best:

*Gordonsville’s Famous Fried Chicken Festival – Saturday, May 20, 11 AM-5 PM, Gordonsville Fire Company Fairgrounds – Celebrate the “chicken-leg center of the universe” and Gordonsville’s long history of fried chicken-making with fried chicken and pie contests, a wine garden and arts and crafts vendors.

*Broad Appetit – Sunday, June 4, 11 AM-6 PM, Richmond’s West Broad Street between Henry and Adams Streets – Try $3 mini dishes from some of Richmond’s most renowned chefs and restaurants. Africanne on Main, Casa del Barco, Comfort, Graffiato, Pasture and more will create small plates to try. Beverage options from across Virginia, including beers, wines and ciders, plus local dessert makers will round out your meal. Live music and cooking demos will make this a fun day for the whole family.

*Father’s Field Day – Sunday, June 18, 11 AM-6 PM, Early Mountain Vineyards, Madison – Enjoy a variety of local food, including barbecue and various local desserts while tasting some of Early Mountain’s best wines and taking in live music and views of the Blue Ridge foothills from the patio.

*Hanover Tomato Festival – Saturday, July 8, 9 AM-4 PM, Pole Green Park, Hanover – This celebration of the juiciest, most delicious tomato in the world offers rides, games, a petting zoo and local vendors plus more tomato dishes than you can shake a fork at.

*Pork, Peanut and Pine Festival – Saturday, July 15, 10 AM-7 PM and Sunday, July 16, 10 AM-5 PM, Chippokes Plantation State Park, Surry – A barbecue cookoff and local food vendors share what Southern Virginia is best known for: pork, peanuts and pine. A petting zoo, rock climbing wall and inflatable slide mean the kids will have plenty to do and see too.

*Henricus Discovery Program Days Program Series: Food of the 17th Century – Thursday, July 27, 10 AM-1 PM, Henricus Historical Park, Chester – Learn what breakfast, lunch and dinner would have looked like for a colonist or a Powhatan Indian. This program is perfect for kids ages 3-10 and includes a take-home craft.

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Get out there and have fun exploring this summer! What are your favorite places to visit in Virginia (or your state)?