Ham and peanuts in Smithfield

A while back, I discovered through genealogy research that one of my ancestors was originally from Smithfield, Virginia. When my younger son told me out of the blue one day that he wanted to “find a really good ham,” I knew Smithfield was the place to go.

We headed to Jamestown to take the free ferry across the James River to Surry, then we drove about fifteen miles to the town of Smithfield.

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When we first arrived, we were hungry and craving some ham, so we visited Taste of Smithfield, a combination restaurant and country store that serves some delicious Southern food and sells a variety of Smithfield meats, Virginia peanuts and other local food and gift items. I had the sliced ham, mashed potatoes with ham gravy and green beans with bacon and onions. The ham was divine, and the mashed potatoes were the creamiest and tastiest I’ve ever had.

After our lunch, we took a walk around town, crossing Church Street to see some beautiful old homes. We visited the Isle of Wight County Museum, where we looked up information on our ancestors and discovered that one of them, my 4th great-grandfather, was actually the first mayor of Smithfield, as well as an attorney, state delegate and U.S. representative. We explored the museum, learning about Smithfield’s history in the curing of ham and growing of peanuts.

We also visited the old Smithfield courthouse, dating from 1750. Over the years, this building has been used as a private residence, courthouse and hotel. It was restored to its 1750 footprint beginning in 1959.

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My boys wanted some ice cream, so we went to the Smithfield Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street. It was a slice of the past, with wood-paneled walls, old-fashioned milkshakes, floats and malts and delicious ice cream.

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We finished our day discovering my ancestor’s home on historic Church Street, and his grave at Historic St. Luke’s Church, Virginia’s oldest church.

It was a beautiful spring day, and my boys and I enjoyed Smithfield’s old-town charm and learning more about our family history!

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Fire, Flour & Fork’s Carnaval Latino

This year’s Fire, Flour & Fork food festival brought chefs, food personalities, foodies and “the food curious” from across the country to the Richmond, Virginia region to explore the best of Richmond’s food culture and history. The Carnaval Latino, a street festival held on the block of East Clay Street in front of the Valentine Museum, as well as inside the museum itself, showcased the region’s Latino heritage. From food and drinks to music, dancing, fashion and history, this event was a delicious and fun-filled evening.

First, let’s talk food. Some of Richmond’s best restaurants serving Mexican and South American specialties were represented, including Pao’s Bakery, Bocata Latin Grill, Shelly’s Comida, Flora Restaurant, Empanadas Market and more. From shrimp ceviche to lamb tacos and the most delicious tres leches cake I’ve ever had, the food was the star of the show!

There was also plenty of wine from Spain and other regions, as well as Steam Bell Beer Works, which had a delicious stout brewed with Mexican spices.

The entertainment was varied, from traditional dancing of Mexico to Colombian salsa dancing. A fashion show from a promising fashion designer who is only sixteen years old was a highlight! The Valentine Museum also had an exhibit of Latino heritage in the Richmond region, which was filled with unique artifacts and history.

My mom and I attended the Carnaval Latino to celebrate our birthdays (hers is two days before mine at the end of October), and it was a festive night out with plenty of great food and entertainment. I hope Fire, Flour & Fork does another Carnaval Latino at next year’s festival.

Montross Oktoberfest & Port Royal Antique Shopping

My husband and I got a rare kid-free weekend this weekend, so we headed to a part of Virginia we rarely visit – the Northern Neck. Our first stop was Port Royal, a tiny town on the banks of the Rappahannock River with a history that is long and colorful. Beginning as a colonial port town, Port Royal was also where Abraham Lincoln’s killer, John Wilkes Booth, hid out before being captured and hanged for his crime. All this information and more can be learned at the Port Royal Museum of American History, where you can also view artifacts from the local area’s history and a selection of White House china sets.

The Port Royal Trading Post has a wide selection of antiques and vintage finds, from rustic homegoods and antique books to tobacco memorabilia, movie posters and props and more.

After visiting Port Royal, we crossed the Rappahannock River and headed to the tiny town of Montross, stopping in another antique shop on the way. The annual Oktoberfest, held on the grounds of the Inn at Montross, features live music, wine tastings from Ingleside Vineyards, delicious seafood and German fare and crafts from local vendors. We had fried oyster sandwiches with cole slaw and potato wedges, and did a wine tasting before checking out the local vendors.

On our way back home, we stopped at Red Barn Antiques in Colonial Beach for some flea market shopping. We found this amazing mid-century bar, but alas, had nowhere to put it so we had to pass it by!

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Adorable Rustic Cabin in the Virginia mountains

The mountains of Virginia, my home state, are one of my favorite places on earth. Madison County, especially, has such a wide variety of fun activities for kids and family, delicious food and natural beauty that it’s a region I love to come back to often. My parents and I took my three children to stay at a beautiful, modern and stylish rental house up the road from Graves Mountain Lodge for two fun-filled, off-grid nights to celebrate the end of summer.

The Old Church Cottage is an Airbnb.com rental in what was formerly a Mennonite church. It has rustic charm with a fully modern kitchen, and is outside the range of both cell service and wifi (although the Syria Mercantile up the road has wifi). 100 yards behind the property is the Rose River, a picturesque stream shallow enough for wading.

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Graves Mountain offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as horseback riding and other activities. If you’re in the area during the fall, you can pick apples and visit the apple harvest festival. In downtown Madison, you can visit the Feed Store, an antique store packed to the rafters with old and interesting things to look at and buy. A quick lunch of delicious barbecue can be had at Pig N’ Steak, and the best dessert is at Tastee Freeze on Route 29. For grocery staples, visit Yoder’s Country Market, also on Route 29.

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Madison County has several wineries. DuCard Vineyards is near Graves Mountain, nestled in a small valley. Standouts at the solar-powered tasting room are C’est Trop, a dessert-style port wine and 2nd Corps, a slightly sweet white. Early Mountain Vineyards offers beautiful views and an award-winning tasting room and patio for outdoor events and live music. Heading up Route 29 towards Culpeper, Prince Michel Vineyard and Winery has a wide range of wines to taste your way through, including a line of fruit wines. The newest additions to Madison County’s gourmet offerings are Bald Top Brewing Co., Virginia’s first historic farm brewery, and Mad Local, a veteran-owned restaurant in downtown Madison featuring local meats and veggies, beers and wines.

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If you’re looking for a little slice of heaven for a weekend getaway this fall, make the trip to Madison! And don’t miss the 25th annual Taste of the Mountains Street Festival, with local vendors, arts and crafts, a beer and wine tasting tent and more.

Midtown State Fair

On July 16, the kids and I headed to Libbie Mill for Fire, Flour & Fork‘s “Midtown State Fair.” Held behind the Libbie Mill Library, this fun, family-friendly food festival had plenty for us to do, from great eats to crafts to cooking demonstrations and more.

When we arrived, the Virginia heat and humidity made King of Pops gourmet popsicles a necessity.

Next, we checked out the tent area, full of local specialty foods and activities for the kids. They got to spin a prize wheel and make crafts, and we all sampled some of southern-favorite Birdie’s Pimento Cheese, Nate’s Bagels and more.

 

There was a petting zoo where my kids enjoyed petting the goats, and a booth from Wandering Cow Farm with goat-milk soaps and other natural body care products.

The highlights of the day were the Filipino folk dance demonstration and the old-fashioned cakewalk.

The event was put on by the team behind the Fire, Flour & Fork food festival. Tickets for this year’s FFF, to be held in the beginning of November, go on sale August 1. Some of the events will sell out quickly, so get your tickets early!

The Apple House

If you happen to find yourself in Front Royal, like I did for work on Monday, do yourself a favor and stop at The Apple House. You’ll find plenty of Virginia-made barbecue sauces, jellies, jams, dips and snacks, as well as a full-service kitchen cooking up breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s a wide selection of Virginia wines, ciders and beers. They even have pork rinds in a dizzying array of flavors, from hot and spicy, to garlic parmesan. But the piece de resistance are the fresh apple cider donuts. The moment you step into the dining area, the delicious aroma of apples and donuts cooking smacks you in the face. There’s no way you can leave without enjoying at least one.

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Where’s your favorite spot to get some apple cider donuts?

Red Cap Patisserie visit

Recently I stopped by Red Cap Patisserie’s shop on Meadow Street to try out the croissants and pastries. The shop is small, with only a little space for seating, but has plenty of display space for their sweet and savory pastries, including pain au chocolat, kouign amman, scones and more.

The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and the pastries are delicious.  I can’t wait to return and try more of their treats, including some of the savory ones.

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