Summer Fun

School’s out and it’s time to explore. Living in Virginia, we’re lucky to have plenty to do in our home state – from beaches to mountains and from historic sites to theme parks to national parks. We also have Washington, DC on our doorstep, opening the door to plenty of cultural offerings. Want to do something this summer and need some ideas? Try these:

  • Napoleon: Power and Splendor exhibition, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond – This unique exhibition takes you inside the world of Napoleonic Europe, showing artifacts from Napoleon’s own daily life, as well as commissioned pieces and propaganda that helped legitimize his empire. Through Sept. 3.
  • “Body Worlds: Animals Inside and Out,” Science Museum of Virginia, Richmond – This Richmond museum offers a great day out for families. The animal exhibit teaches kids and adults alike about the biology of animals through plastination, a process that preserves blood vessels, muscular systems and more. Through Aug. 19.
  • Astronomy and Night Sky Summer Series, Chincoteague National Wildlife Reserve/NASA’s Wallop’s Island Flight Facility, Chincoteague – Space lovers can explore the night sky at this evening lecture series that begins inside and concludes outdoors with telescope viewing of the night sky. July 13.
  • Tank Museum Vehicle Run Day, American Armoured Foundation Inc. Tank and Ordnance War Memorial Museum, Danville – One one special day this summer, this military museum fires up the engines of its tanks and runs them. Inside the museum itself, a wide variety of exhibits, such as “Black Panthers, African-American Tankers of WWII” and “Elvis – His Military Years” will please any military enthusiast. July 14.
  • “Wings and Wheels,” Ingalls Field, Hot Springs – Head out to Virginia’s western highlands to take in this event packed with cars, trucks, tractors, motorcycles and airplanes. A vintage car show, air shows, rides and plenty of family fun await. July 14.
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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?

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)?

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Opens New Craft Bier Brauhaus

In keeping with the craft beer trend, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg has opened a brand new “brauhaus” featuring 30 rotating craft beers on tap. This cozy spot is located inside “Das Festhaus” in Germany, and is tucked away at the back of the building, offering a quiet place to enjoy a craft beer or beer flight accompanied by various bar snacks.

On the day of our visit, there were beers on draft from DuClaw, Starr Hill, Bold Rock Cider and St. George, among others. My husband and I each got a beer flight of four different beers. I tried the Flying Dog Blood Orange Ale, Hofbrau Dunkel, Founders Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale and DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter. We got a meat and cheese platter and a pretzel and hung out in the brauhaus for a bit. It was great to sit down and rest a bit after walking around the park all day, and the tucked-away location and great selection of craft beers make this a spot I’m sure we’ll hit up whenever we visit the park.

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Transcribing my Granny’s cookbooks

On New Year’s Day, I took my boys to my Granny and PawPaw’s house for our annual family ritual of eating black-eyed peas for good luck.  My aunt brought some delicious spoonbread, and my kids raided the ever-present candy jar in the windowsill.  When I took our dishes in the kitchen to put them in the sink, my eyes were drawn to the shelf above it, where I found a yellowed, brittle stack of cookbooks that looked ancient.  I picked up the stack and sifted through it.  It was a treasure trove of mid-twentieth-century housewife instruction:  a copy of the “New American Cook Book” by Lily Wallace from 1941, stacks of the little recipe cards you used to pick up off the shelf in the supermarket in the 1970’s and 80’s to help you make something quick and cheap.

The crowing glory of my Granny’s cookbook collection was her very own, handwritten recipe book.  It was in an old composition book with a missing cover, the pages faded, most of them with water or oil damage.  This is the recipe book I could picture my grandmother scribbling in whenever she came across an appealing-sounding recipe in Woman’s Day or Better Homes and Gardens, the book she probably reached for when my mom and aunt and uncles were kids and headed home from school and she had to get dinner on the table after a day spent working at the department store.

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I’ve typed all the recipes it contains – all the ones I could make out, anyway – into my Paprika recipe app so I can keep them.  I’d like to pick some of them, maybe the ones my mom and her siblings remember my Granny making when they were little, and have them made into a nice cookbook or scrapbook with some family photos.  For now, I’ll share a couple of them:

Quick Pocketbook Rolls

I remember having these rolls with our Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid and we went to my Granny and PawPaw’s house for Thanksgiving.  My Granny was always stirring a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, and my PawPaw was giddy with excitement at the prospect of using the electric knife.  My aunt and cousins cook Thanksgiving dinner now, but I think we may have to add these rolls to the menu.

1 cup milk

1 tbsp. sugar

butter

3 1/2 cups sifted flour

2 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg

In saucepan, combine milk, sugar, 2 tbsp. butter and egg.  Heat slowly until butter is barely melted.  Remove from heat and stir in flour sifted with baking powder and salt.  Turn out onto floured board and knead until smooth  Then roll to 1/4 inch in thickness and cut in rounds with 3 inch cookie cutter.  Brush with melted butter.  Grease center with back of knife, fold over and press edges together.  Put on greased cookie sheet.  Bake in hot oven 20 minutes or until brown.

Fudge Bars

My mom tells me that when she was little, my Granny used to make the best fudge.

1/3 cup shortening

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 cup nuts

1/2 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

1/4 tsp. salt

Mix shortening and chocolate together, then mix rest of ingredients and bake.

Fire, Flour & Fork ’14

I had been looking forward to Fire, Flour & Fork (“an event for the food curious”) for a ridiculously long time, and the event did not disappoint.  FFF ’14 was a four-day culinary gathering celebrating the vibrant food culture and history of Richmond through a speaker series, themed lunches and dinners created by local and national chefs, an “Urban State Fair” open to the public and an artisinal tasting tent featuring regional specialties, beers, wines and ciders.

I started my FFF ’14 experience on Friday, Oct. 31.  I picked up my pass at the Hilton Garden Inn and made my way to the session I was most looking forward to that day – “Pie for Breakfast” with Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar.  Christina got us started on the right foot by handing out slices of Milk Bar’s famed Crack Pie to each attendee.  During the session, she explained the history of Milk Bar and her creative process when creating desserts.  She said that she knows that her version of a chocolate chip cookie or an apple pie can’t hold a candle to her grandmother’s or her aunt’s or the best one she ever had, so instead of attempting classic desserts, she instead invents new riffs on classic recipes to create desserts that are unexpected, yet familiar (like her Apple Pie Layer Cake).  Her discussion on the development of the Crack Pie recipe and her demonstration of its preparation showed off her creativity and the serendipity that often happens in the kitchen.  Most of the recipe was planned with certain ingredients to achieve specific results, like the somewhat savory oat cookie that’s crumbled and used for the crust, and the powdered milk that adds both flavor and texture to the finished pie.  But when she was writing her cookbook, she couldn’t figure out why the Crack Pies she made at home didn’t taste the same as the ones in the restaurant until she remembered that, at Milk Bar, the staff often has to store the pies in the freezer.  Realizing that that process added to the final texture of the pie, she added that step to the recipe.

I also had a blast from the past when I ran into a friend of a friend from way back who now, with his wife, writes local food blog Plate N’Conquer.

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On Saturday, my friend (and food photographer) and I had a full day planned.  I dropped off my “Apple Pudding Pie” (from a Mary Randolph recipe) for judging in the apple pie contest at the Urban State Fair, and we headed to the Library of Virginia.  Our first session was “At the Counters” – a showing of documentaries on the lunch counter sit-in movement as a part of the larger Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960’s, and on local Richmond residents’ experiences taking part in a sit-in at Richmond’s Thalhimer’s department store’s lunch counter.  “If We So Choose,” a short film by Nicole Taylor, offers the history and historical context of the Athens, Georgia lunch counter sit-in movement.  “The Richmond 34,” by Bundy Films, LLC, tells the story of the 34 black Richmonders who were arrested at a sit-in at the Thalhimer’s lunch counter on Feb. 22, 1960.  During a panel discussion after viewing the two films, Nicole Taylor was joined by Elizabeth Johnson Rice, who was a member of the Richmond 34, Dr. Raymond Hylton of Virginia Union University and Elizabeth Thalhimer-Smartt, the granddaughter of William Thalhimer, the owner of Thalhimer’s Department Store at the time of the sit-in.

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Just before our second session, I got a voicemail saying that my pie had won the apple pie contest.  I was in shock, since I had decided that it looked awful and that my friend and I should just eat some at her house before we drove downtown, but she had convinced me to turn it in.  I won a $100 check and two Fire, Flour & Fork aprons 🙂

Fittingly, our next session was “Queen Molly,” a lecture by culinary historian Leni Sorensen on legendary Virginia cook Mary Randolph and the enslaved women who worked in her kitchen.  I’m a big fan of Mary Randolph and her cookbook, “The Virginia House-Wife,” so learning about her life and her cooking career in Richmond was fascinating.  I also appreciated the information on her kitchen, the women who would have worked there and what the city would have been like for an enslaved person at the time of Mary Randolph.  Enslaved cooks were such a large part of the culinary history of Virginia and America, and it’s important that food historians research these people’s histories and bring their stories to a larger audience.  Leni is in the midst of a project to cook her way through “The Virginia House-Wife.”  You can follow her progress at http://www.indigohouse.us/.

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Our lunch, the Day of the Dead luncheon at Saison, was the highlight of the day.  A tribute to the cuisine of Oaxaca, Mexico, the 4-course menu by chef Adam Hall featured traditional Oaxacan specialties paired with beers and wines to tell the story of the Dia de los Muertos.  Our Welcome Beverage, an event exclusive, was a Hardywood Paloma Singel infused with grapefruit and lime peel, pink peppercorns, mosaic hops and tequila-soaked oak chips.  It was refreshing and crisp (especially after our long walk to the restaurant), and perfectly set off the sparkle and heat of the amuse-bouche, pink grapefruit with fresh and dried chiles and cilantro.  As we tasted our way through the courses, chef Hall explained each dish, relating them back to trips he’s taken to the Oaxaca region and the local markets and restaurants he discovered there.  The pumpkin tamal with toasted pumpkin seeds and queso fresco was paired with a white Burgundy, while the turkey mole negro with sesame seeds worked well against the Genio Monastrell Tinto Joven, a mourvedre blend.  The barbacoa de res taco with applewood smoked tomatillo salsa verde was paired with – what else? – Natty Bo and lime!  (Side note – I am totally going to try smoking my tomatillo salsa verde with some apple wood next summer when my tomatillos are ready to pick!).  The dessert course, pan de muerto, was prepared as a beignet with orange/annatto curd.  An Oaxacan hot chocolate finished the luncheon.  From start to finish, this meal was delicious, creative and one of a kind.  I can’t wait to head back to Saison for dinner sometime!

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We visited the Artisinal Tasting Tent and ended up missing our 2 o’clock session, but there was so much to explore there (I also needed to get my pie plate back and pick up my prizes!).  We tried Strangeways Beer, Blanchards Coffee, Early Mountain Vineyards wine, Blue Bee Cider, Keep It Simple Syrups and so much more.  Plus I got to put a face to a name when we met the lovely Matt, who writes the Forks Over Hipsters blog.

For my last session of the day, my friend and I decided to keep the buzz from lunch going by learning about the history of bourbon.  Back to the Library of Virginia we went, where Dane Huckelbridge, author of “Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit,” schooled us on the development of bourbon distilling in America, and we got to hear from Reservoir Distillery on the process and ingredients that go into making craft bourbons and whiskies in Richmond.

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Our day couldn’t have been better, and I’m looking forward to next year’s Fire, Flour & Fork event already!

And now, because I promised it to many, here’s my recipe for the winning “Apple Pudding” Pie.  All the credit goes to Queen Molly and Graves Mountain apples! :

6 medium to large apples

2 sticks (1/2 lb.) butter

4 cups sugar

2 tbsp. lemon juice

Rind of 1 grapefruit, grated

6 eggs

1 tsp. granulated sugar (for dusting)

1 tsp. mace (for dusting)

1 recipe of Mary Randolph’s butter-based pie crust

Preheat the oven to 325 F.  Wash and dry the apples.  Place them, stem side up, in a medium, square or rectangular casserole dish.  Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake the apples for 45 minutes.

Let the baked apples cool enough to work with (they should still be a little warm).  Peel the skins off and cut out the cores.  Put the flesh into the food processor and puree until smooth.  In a mixing bowl, mix the pureed apples, butter, sugar, lemon juice and grapefruit rind.  Once the mixture has cooled, mix in the eggs.

Place a pastry crust in a pie pan and pour in the apple mixture.  Increase the heat of the oven to 350 F.  Bake 15 minutes, then turn the heat back down to 325 F.  Bake another 30-45 minutes, being careful not to let the top brown too much.  Pie should look and seem set in all but the very middle (about a three inch circle in the middle of the pie).  Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool.  Wrap and refrigerate the pie overnight.  When ready to serve, dust with granulated sugar and mace.

Apple Season

Virginia has a long history of growing and cooking with apples, dating back at least to Thomas Jefferson.  At Monticello, Jefferson grew many varieties, including his favorites:  Hewes’ Crab and Taliaferro for cider production and Newtown Pippin and Esopus Spitzenburg for dessert fruits.

An hour North of Monticello, Graves Mountain Lodge holds an annual Apple Harvest Festival.  Recently, we loaded up the car and headed to the mountains for a day of food, fun and apple picking.  We came home with plenty of Virginia-grown apples to use in all kinds of apple recipes.

Northwest of Madison, Virginia, Graves Mountain Lodge has been growing apples since the 1960’s.  They offer “pick your own” in their orchards, as well as plenty of fresh-picked, locally-grown apples from their own and other local orchards.  Local food and craft vendors abound, and there’s plenty for the kids to do:  hayrides, a haybale maze, etc.  Nestled in the side of the mountain, the Lodge offers a buffet-style lunch.  On the day we visited, meatloaf was on the menu, along with three bean salad, mashed potatoes, lima beans and yeast rolls – all homemade and all delicious!

Here are some pics from our trip:

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Once we got home, I quickly realized I had a HUGE box of apples I needed to use up.  One of the first things I made was this English Apple Shortcake with Brown Sugar and Cream Cheese Crust.  I’d made it before and loved its hint of sweetness, especially when served with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.

It was super easy to make.  Just be sure to drop your peeled, diced apples into a cold water bath with some lemon juice so they won’t brown while you’re making the crust.

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The finished product was yummy, and totally worth the drive to Madison!

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