I was a foodie before there was the word. I was a wino before it was okay to be one. Now I’ve decide to share with ya’ll (I’m not even from the south)my insightful, yet totally random musings about the things I know best: Food and Drink. I”ll throw in a photo or two taken by me, myself or I for your viewing pleasure (okay, mostly for mine). So grab a cup of hot tea (not the herbal stuff) or a Dirty Martini, sit back and enjoy. You’re gonna be glad you did!
My favorite Billy Joel song is the less popular “You’re my Home”. Life as an Army brat played right into the lyrics as I moved around a lot when I was young so I never really had a place I could call my very own until I fell in love with my eventual husband with whom I was married to for just shy of 38 years. Thing is, once you find that certain someone and as a couple you have the opportunity to acquire the “right” home together, Billy’s lyrics, while still lovely, don’t adequately portray how truly special it is to live and love in a dwelling that just “fits”.
We stumbled upon Hodge Podge Lodge over thirty seven years ago. It was only up the road a piece from where my new husband and I were renting. I never gave the long empty, perpetually for sale, seemingly sad house much notice until one summer day when we were walking back from the swimming hole (yes, really and it’s still here) I decided to take a peek into the dirty windows.
To say I was mesmerized at my very first glimpse inside is fairly accurate. The feeling of looking into my future was pretty intense. We were only twenty four years old, certainly not looking to buy, but how could I pass up finding out more about this oddly long house with what appeared to have not one, but two unique fireplaces, real knotty-pine on some of the walls AND ceilings along with nooks and crannies throughout!? The magical acre that surrounded the building was overgrown, buggy and poison ivy saturated but when I squinted a little and took a moment to dream I saw my garden beds, my little pond, my fairy stuff and plenty of room for outdoor entertaining. Another look and I saw our not-yet-born kids growing up here along with a sweet collection of cats and dogs. I was hooked. Fortunately my partner in life was willing to agree to our biggest impulse buy ever! Hence, Hodge Podge Lodge (fondly, HPL) and my Patchwork Garden was born.
We started out slowly, at a snail’s pace really, transforming what was once another family’s “place” (I know this because years ago the previous owners very grown-up children asked if they could spread some of their mom’s ashes down by the creek) into ours or more accurately, mine. The love of my life was no handy man and I, in turn, am no traditionalist. Whimsy is how I roll (even though my career choice was, uhm, restrictive to say the least). That being said, my personal time, my HPL time, for the last 37 some years has been filled with silly photos, tons of super-fun parties, my-style paintings and edible landscaped gardens.
My husband easily went along with my HPL vision while often reminding me he was just along for the ride. Occasionally he’d put his foot down, like when I wanted to put terraced steps down to the creek or create a fitness trail around the perimeter of the property (usually when it required “muscle” from him), but more often than not he let me meander through life at the lodge however I saw fit.
Through the years parties and get togethers were many! Obviously since I write a blog about it, you already know I’m very fond of food and drink. Cooking is my passion followed closely and not unrelated by gardening. Our social events at HPL through the years are numerous and varied. There was the 60’s Retro Party, the Sangria Competition, and the Halloween Happy Hour where I read everyone’s tea leaves. There were countless Christmas parties, after B-ball game parties, Ladies luncheons and even a “St. Patrick’s” Day or two. Tablescaping (not sure that’s a word) is just like painting for me and to be honest I’m better at it! I love to start with a bare table and create a beautiful table tailored to the festivity at hand whether it be grandiose gala or an intimate dinner for two.
Traditions are huge in our family. Although not always, food and drink naturally plays a role in most of our traditions. We always had Crème Brûlée French Toast on Christmas morning, Spaghetti for the big guy the first night of basketball practice and Pork “Floaters” and Sauerkraut every New Year’s Day. Our famous Shrimp Spread (see my post “History, It’s in the Making” to know more) showed up often. Through the years at HPL, I’ve extended family traditions into my gardening. I grow a whole bunch of herbs. Years ago I developed my own double secret herb mix called Jen Blen. I use fresh in season, but also dry, package and label it. It’s then given to family and friends. I also make make blends of “Charsley”, “Chasil” and “Thanksgiving” all of which that are family staples that make their way to my grown children’s kitchens every year (yes, my daughter and son have become foodies in their own right). I “press” flowers and herbs and use them in art work. I’ve pickled cucamelons while my daughter created Cucamelons Photography! And of course there’s my social media favorite…. Friday Food Faces.
Things were not perfect at Hodge Podge Lodge. The outdated wiring was a challange that has ever-so-slowly been replaced through time. For years our well water had a tendency to have the appearance of chocolate milk a couple of times a year until we invested lots of money we didn’t have into a heavy-duty filtration system. Poison Ivy has refused to vacate still and deer families and the resident ground hog seem to think the flowers and vegetables planted is their very own all you can eat buffet.
Our home life, like everyone’s, was filled with our own unique set of challenges. Ours was my husband’s health. Early in our marriage, my husband was diagnosed with a kidney disease. Chronic gout, a blood clot and a resulting pulmonary embolizism, kidney transplant, hip replacement and a triple by pass followed through the years. Always an extreme busy man, to everyone outside the home my husband’s health problems were hardly noticed. He rarely missed work except for required procedures and as a varsity basketball coach for 37 seasons he did NOT miss pratice or games….no way! At home it was different though. Hours were spent filling his meds box for the week (in recent years has was taking 26 pills a day, not to mention the monthly infusion given to him at the office or at home). Late night trips to the ER for an elevated heart rate happened several times but somehow he always got stablized so he’d be back at school the following morning. Inside and outside home improvement projects were put on hold in order to address the current health issue. Some of our family holidays can be remembered by whatever ailment “Papa” was suffering from at the time. Thing is though all this happened within the walls of our Hodge Podge Lodge, our family safe place.
Eight months ago my love, the father of my wonderful children, the person I have laughed with the most in my life died unexpectedly. While my grief is still immense, I am so thankful that my little Hodge Podge Lodge is filled to the brim with the sweet memories of our 40 years of life together. The way I look at it your “home”, whether it be your people, a place or both, intertwined with simple pleasures and traditions give you a sense of belonging.
We all have it in us to find true happiness, whether it’s with a true love, a place, family relationships or simply self-care. Find your “thing”, find your “person” or find your “place”. Just know that once you find it, no matter what happens you’ll never lose it. Memories live forever. Love, in all it forms, lives forever. I wish you love.
“I’m just someone who likes cooking and for whom sharing food is a form of expression” – Maya Angelou
After spending the entire summer musing about relationships and losing as opposed to musing about eating and boozing, I’m back, better, and filled with lessons learned! When you treat someone with loving kindness you should be able to expect that in return….. that’s not always the case. Feminism isn’t age specific, one-dimensional or anger driven…… if you claim to be a feminist, you should be supportive and mindful of all women. My feelings are hurt certainly not for the first time or the last and I didn’t get a proper goodbye ……. I will try never be so “cavalier” with a loved one’s feelings.
Speaking of cavalier, and in this case I mean the Cavalier Hotel, early in September I spent four glorious days at this newly revamped gem in Virginia Beach. I got several musings I must share:
The glasses: Martinis served from the Raleigh Room Bar are superb and the coupe style glass used gives the whole experience a certain elegance of a by gone era.
Becca www.beccavb.com : The more upscale restaurant at the Cavalier serves Cheddar Popovers as the bread option! After one bite of this heavenly puffy, gooey, pastry slathered in sweet cream butter I kinda forgot that I had an entrée coming. I heard one server say the dinner menu changes weekly, I certainly hope that’s not the case for the popovers.
The Hunt Room: Meeting my high school/college chum and her husband is always fun! This occasion was no different. I recommend the duck thigh… it’s succulent, just the right size and the roasted brussels sprouts served with it are divine. In addition, in my opinion the in-house distillery, the Tarnished Truth, produces a fine Vodka and my husband would vouch for the bourbon and rye.
Baladi’s http:/baladicafe.com/ : We dined with my 7 year-old grand-nephew, Dominic (most likely the only actual name you’ll ever see on this blog) and his parents at this absolutely delicious Mediterranean restaurant. Tucked away in a strip-mall, I didn’t expect much but once you enter you’re greeted with a quaint bistro feel and the food was more than delightful. I got the fish special which is prepared the same way as described on the menu just with different fishes. Our night it was Mahi-Mahi and well, it tasted as lovely as it looks. The jasmine rice was tasty as well and I just wish the Cavalier had more space in the honor fridge so I could’ve taken the leftovers. As it were I gave all that I had left to my absolutely favorite nephew who lives in the State of Virginia.
EAT Bistro http://eatbistro.net/: Our last night we made a return trip to a place that we had been to three years ago that was ironically within a short distance of the Cavalier. Eat was very good years ago, but this time it was great! I ordered one of the specials that was on the board, a Halibut dish that was wrapped in rice paper. It was superb! Likewise, my husband ordered a Veal Chop special so I can’t promise similar results but I’m pretty sure everything on the menu is just as succulent.
Some random pictures:
“A farewell to a good relationship is like a fine meal eaten. Although it’s over, you should be thankful for the experience and make sure the chef knows it was appreciated.”
I took the opportunity recently to develop a couple of recipes using a new dressing offering from Gazebo Room, Asian Vinaigrette. With two of my close friends as guinea pigs, I set out to create and serve them an Asian inspired luncheon using the flavorful bottled dressing as a highlight in two of the dishes I prepared.
For the entrée, I changed ingredients but used a preparation for Chicken thighs that I’ve prepared many times. The Chicken ALWAYS comes out tender and very flavorful. The use of one of Gazebo Room’s newest additions had the same delectable results!
Asian Vinaigrette Chicken Thighs
2 Tbls fresh lemon juice
12 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp five spice powder
2 tsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 Tbls peeled fresh ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
1/2 cup GAZEBO ROOM ASIAN VINAIGRETTE
2 Tbls chopped parsley or green onion for garnish
1. Combine lemon juice and chicken in a large zip-lock bag. Seal and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes. Remove Chicken and discard marinade.
2. Pat Chicken dry with paper towels. Dredge in flour mixed with the five spice powder. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet with high sides over med-high heat. Add half the chicken and cook for 3 minutes on each side until lightly browned. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken. Remove all from pan.
3. Add onion, ginger and garlic to pan and saute 5 minutes or until tender. Return Chicken to pan. Add stock mixed with vinaigrette. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 1 hour until tender. Garnish if desired. Makes 6 servings (2 thighs with 1/3 cup sauce.
The salad I served was a revamped version of an old recipe I’d clipped from a magazine in 1982.
Far East Rice Salad
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup cooked ham diced
1 8-oz can chunk pineapple, drained
1 green or red pepper cut in thin strips
1/2 cup water chestnuts coarsely chopped
1/3 cup sliced green onion
2 Tbls GAZEBO ROOM ASIAN VINAIGRETTE
1 Tbls low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup mayo
1 can (3 oz) chow mein noodles
Combine rice, ham, pineapple, peppers, water chestnuts and green onion. Blend Vinaigrette, soy and mayo. Mix with the ham mixture. Serve on greens if desired and top with chow mein noodles. Makes 6 side dish servings.
Both dishes were easy to make, tasty and appealing to the eye. My friends gave the meal two thumbs up as well. Give either recipes a try if you’re in the mood for some Asian flavor!
“Laughter is brightest in the place where food is.” – Irish Proverb
Those familiar with this blog page may know that my daughter and I take a birthday trip each Spring sometime after April 13th (the actual day of our birth). Last year, I wrote about Savannah, the year before it was about a stay-cation in the District and the year before that I believe I let the readers know about wonderful Winchester Virginia. This year the final destination was Cape May NJ just before the official start of summer.
To our credit, my favorite daughter and I make an excellent team when it comes to trip planning! We find places to go and things to do that always include extraordinary food and drink as well as giving us a chance to be the HAGs (History, Art and Gardens) we truly are. This trip with the final destination being Cape May was no exception.
We departed from DC on Friday morning taking the 2 hour trip to our first stop which was the Winterthur Museum and Gardens. Since this blog is dedicated to food and drink, I shan’t spend too much time on the wonders of Winterthur but suffice it to say that this place is absolutely perfect for HAGS. The Enchanted Garden designed for children in mind was perfect for this old soul who has believed in fairies for decades. Please put this on your list if you’re anywhere near Chaddsford PA or Wilmington DE. The Cafe which is located within the lovely Gift Shop is perfect for a light lunch and serves wine and beer if you need an afternoon nip.
The next stop with more focus on “boozing” was the Chaddsford Winery. While I can’t say that I found the regular tasting particularly visitor focused, the wines themselves were a delight. I’d definitely wouldn’t mind attending one of the many festivals they have throughout the year when I’m back in the area. Another winery we really enjoyed was Penns Woods Winery. The gal who poured for us was so knowledgeable and friendly. The wine was good too.
Lodging that night was at the kinda quirky Brandywine River Hotel. Since this was our annual birthday trip I spared no expense at this place by reserving a deluxe room complete with a whirlpool tub and gas fireplace. Little did I know when making our reservation that the night we stayed would be the hottest day of the year thus far tipping the thermometer at 90 degrees! Not to be deterred, my girl promptly opened the large windows in the morning after it cooled down significantly so we could enjoy the fireplace before checking out. The BR Hotel includes tea and cookies in the afternoon and a continental breakfast in the morning which makes it perfectly lovely for the price paid.
While spending the night at the BRH, we had dinner at the adjacent restaurant, Brandywine Prime. While billed as your typical steakhouse, I found the emphasis on local produce and appealing ambiance very nice not to mention that the beef was delicious.
After enjoying our cozy fire upon waking and eating a bit of breakfast, we checked out and headed to Cape May but not before going to the extremely fine Brandywine River Museum of Art. I am soooooo glad we didn’t pass this place up! This extremely attractive museum features the art of the Wyeth family on three wonderful floors. I learned so much…those Wyeths were/are quite the talented bunch. If you’re a bit of a HAG, make sure to put this stop on your list.
Now on to the main event, Congress Hall in Cape May for a “Presidential Cocktail” weekend! Yes, you read right, our stay at the glorious Congress Hall was booked featuring the cocktails of the Presidents. I’m not sure the package is even available during the peak of summer but for us it added just a smidgen of whimsy to our stay, perfect for two HAGs also obsessed with eating and boozing. Upon check-in we received our package perks that included coupons for 2 Presidential cocktails in the stunning Brown Room and a hardcover edition of the funny yet fact filled book “Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt”
We had several outstanding meals during our stay but I’ll highlight just three:
Dinner at the The Red Store in Cape May Point is a must-do in my book. The establishment is BYOB, accepts cash only and the best part is that there is NO menu. Our food was expertly prepared and came in 6 or 7 courses. The attentive wait staff asks up front if there’s anything you can’t eat so they can adjust your meal accordingly (I, for instance, don’t eat oysters so I got “stuck” with a fabulous avocado ceviche instead). Dinner is served in 3 separate seatings which made the experience more enjoyable because everyone in the room (only about 20 people) were at the same place in their meal. If you like fresh, well prepared food and are a tad adventurous try this treat.
Dinner at The Ebbitt Room at The Virginia (a sister hotel to Congress Hall) was very good and is a short walk from Congress Hall. Produce there often comes from Beach Plum Farm which is associated with the Cape May Resorts group. Cocktails on the Veranda or in the small parlor is especially nice.
If your at the beach around Congress Hall have lunch at George’s Place. The Gyro and Spinach Salad I had was outstanding. I imagine dinner would be delicious as well but be warned this is another BYOB, cash-only establishment.
Cape May is lovely and staying at Congress Hall made our stay perfect. The charm that that CH holds is intoxicating (as well as the handcrafted cocktails!). Just sitting in lobby area with it’s grand fireplace sipping on a perfectly made Dirty Martini was a real treat. The live music coming from the Brown Room was sublime (especially Saturday night with Darin MacDonald). I can’t wait to go back and this time I might bring the old Coach with me!
“It was the most delightful wine when drank in moderation, but that more than a few glasses always produced a headache the next day.”
— James Madison on Champagne
For me, 2016 pretty much sucked. I won’t bore you with all the specifics, but let’s just say if it wasn’t for my obsession with musing about eating and boozing, my guess is I would’ve withdrawn from all human interaction shortly after November 8th! That being said, I did manage to discover some wonderful culinary products and impressive restaurants throughout 2016 that deserve recognition as recipients of the 2nd Annual Musing Awards.
And the Musee goes to………
Favorite newly discovered Food and Beverage:
Savory- Eat Smart Beets and Greens Salad Kit. I’ve never been a fan of bagged salads. I tend to think I can taste the plastic bag on the lettuce. Thankfully, that doesn’t hold true for salads made of sturdier (and healthier) greens such as kale or brussels sprouts. I truly have enjoyed all the Eat Smart Salad Kits I’ve tried with Beets and Greens being my favorite (and the one that’s out of stock most often).
Sweet-Betty Crocker Limited Edition Salted Caramel Cookie Mix. Okay, okay I realize this winner isn’t exactly all the way “prepared” but they sure make baking easy and delicious! Literally just add an egg and butter (REAL UNSALTED BUTTER) for sweet and salty home-baked heaven! If you care to, add my secret ingredient….1/2 tsp Almond Extract.
Beverage- Cheribundi Cherry Juice. I’m not gonna lie, this stuff is pretty pricey but I find the flavor delicious! Maybe it’s just label persuasion, but I swear if I drink four 8oz servings through the week my joints actually do feel better as the product implies. I tend to purchase the “lite” version when available.
Favorite “new to me” Chef- Neal McTighe . I had the pleasure of meeting Neal at a community outreach program at Dickinson College that I was invited to by a dear friend who’s an alum. My friend and I had no idea what to expect from this particular event that was called “Italy in a Jar”, but what the heck it was free and appeared to involve food! Once seated with a glass of Italian Wine and a few nibbles provided by the Dickinson staff we got to meet and hear the story behind the creator and founder of Nello’s Sauces, a red hot Italian Pasta Sauce Company that’s beginning to appear in shelves all over the place such as Wholefoods, Kroger, Harris Teeter, etc. Even the mail-order meal company, Plated, has begun to provide Nello’s Sauce with their dinner kits. Neal’s rise from Dickinson college student with limited Italian language skills, to teacher of Italian, to Pasta Sauce Chef extraordinaire is not only interesting (“click” on his name above to get to Nello’s website and read all about it) but inspiring too as it is a stunning example of someone pursuing their passion. After the talk, we all gathered into the college kitchen where Neal gave us sauce making tips (do you know the best canned tomatoes to use?) and prepared a huge pot of Pasta with Nello’s Marinara Sauce. I went home with a jar Nello’s sauce laced with lavender which was scrumptious! Ironically, Nello’s Sauce isn’t found near Dickinson College as of yet (closest in probably Wholefoods towards Philly?) but I have my fingers crossed.
Favorite “new to me” Winery- Grace Estate Winery . Like so many other things in 2016, I didn’t get to as many wineries (VA mostly) as I’d would’ve liked or usually do throughout a year. I’m awfully glad my two favorite girls and I were able to get to Grace Estate! Tasting Room-great, Wines-tasty, Outdoor seating and views-lovely. Don’t miss this one when you’re in the Charlottesville area. Look at my blog post from Nov 2016 for more photos of some Charlottesville area wineries visited this past year.
Favorite “new to me” Restaurant-Cosima, Baltimore MD I loved this place! Baltimore really has some gems and Cosima is at the top of my list. Look at my post from September 2016 titled “Charmed, I’m Sure” for further details on this and a few other places I discovered in the Charm City this past year.
Just Plain Delicious- Zunzi’s, Savannah GA I blogged about my trip to Savannah in July (“Oh, Savannah”) which provided details of my culinary experiences. Zunzi’s was without a doubt the “funnest” food I had. Truly coming out of a hole in the wall, you stand in line to order absolutely delicious South African (and a few other countries) concoctions. The “Oliver’s Lunch” shown below really is just plain delicious! Take a look at their website. You can order some of their sauces and Zunzi gear.
Favorite “new to me” recipe-Chicken Tagine with Lemon and Olives . I guess I must’ve cut this out of a Cooking Light magazine in 2007 but didn’t get around to making it until this past year. I made up for lost time though, because I bet I’ve made this succulent dish at least a dozen times in the past 12 months. It’s that good. Atypically for me, I follow this recipe to a tee except for the cilantro- I never add the Cilantro. Originally I thought 1 hour seemed to be a heck of a long time to simmer chicken thighs but they turn out perfect after a long, slow simmer. Please note that this is a Cooking Light recipe so it won’t infringe on any New Year’s resolution.
Life Time Achievement Award-Shrimp Spread. The LTAA this year has to go to the family Shrimp Spread recipe featured in my blog post “History, It’s in the Making” April 2016 and dedicated to my dad who passed away last February. I can now say that this recipe has gotten my family through the best of times and worst of times. It’s been served at countless parties and holidays to include this year at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mom also made it for my Dad’s Military Honors Ceremony and following Reception as a tribute and sweet remembrance of a great husband, father, Officer and gentleman.
So there you have it- the Musing Awards for 2016. Please be so kind as to “click” on a few of the websites I have highlighted. I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts on any of the award recipients and would be honored if you’d pass this post to anyone you think might be interested.
I truly hope 2017 brings you all happiness, peace and a multitude of culinary adventures. Next up for me is the Culinary Immersion Weekend at the Omni Bedford Springs!
“They say I need to be seasoned; they say I need to be stewed. They say, ‘We need to boil all the hope out of him — like us — and then he’ll be ready’.”- Barack Obama while campaigning in 2008
As far as I’m concerned in order to thoroughly enjoy eating and boozing your surroundings are extremely important! I’ll go so far as too say when I visit a winery the “view” can enhance the quality of the wine I’m drinking by leaps and bounds. Take a look at the Charlottesville area wineries I visited recently and the sights I got to behold……
Stayed tuned for the 2nd Annual Musing awards the be published soon (in the meantime you may want to review last year’s winners published in March of 2015)!
“Wine is a gateway drug to environmentalism.”
― Katherine Cole