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!
This time of self-isolation has given me plenty of time to do what I do best, muse about all things culinary. I went back and read each and every blog post I’ve written since 2014 (an activity I highly recommend for everyone!). I’m stunned by how easy it was to decipher where my mind set was throughout my highly lucrative (not!) blogging career. Early on, my posts were short, maybe a tad witty and certainly an attempt to highlight my carefree and loving relationship with food and drink. As I got more long winded with every post, it becomes clear that my blog had become my own soapbox to advocate for people like me, those who consider cooking an art form and an expression of love.
When I’m gardening, I might as well be painting. My small but plentiful beds are the same as canvasses. Likewise, I write like I cook and cook like I write……original, eclectic and always a lot of “me” put in it. Ingredients in a pot at the quantity and variety I choose, stirred and constantly adjusted or a story put to the words that come to me, rewritten and sometimes never shared with another soul, both are integral to my being. To be able to share though is what makes me complete. YOU complete me (That would be a great line in a movie don’t you think Jerry?). I have no music ability except a deep appreciation, but I imagine a musician can relate.
There’s no doubt that the last year and a couple of months has been the most challenging period in my life. The death of my love in February 2019 left a huge hole in my heart that will never be fully healed but at least had begun to be patched up a bit due primarily to sharing with those I love (that includes friends too, don’t get weird). Telling stories, out for dinner, cooking at my house, drinking, singing and laughing together, it’s the very best way to heal. Then frickin’ COVID-19 comes along….
Now I’m isolated. I’m probably not the worst to be in this position. I’m creative, whimsical and extremely smart. What I’m not is a loner, a tee toddler or a recluse. That being said, I’ve had to improvise. My kids who are isolating elsewhere and I have always shared photos of our culinary adventures whether homemade or at a restaurant (that is when we’re not at the establishment together which used to happen quite often). We’ve taken this practice to new heights during this dreadful time by documenting almost every meal. Yesterday I sent my daughter a photo of my breakfast: a Cottage Cheese Sundae.
And of course there’s been numerous Facebook postings as if it were important to my friend’s well being to see what I’ve been up to in the kitchen. Truth be told, I’m the one who needs the feedback in order to keep some sense of sanity during this period of solo bread breaking. Fortunately I have several local friends who are more than willing to pick up stuff I cooked and I even provided a limited delivery option. Thank goodness for friends who don’t like to cook! Oh and there’s the cookbook. I’m writing a pandemic cookbook. It’s an accounting, if you will, of my survival tips that may be useful for some, interesting (more like humorous) to others and of no consequence to most. Since my work will never hit the book shelves at your local bookstore anytime soon or ever, I’m gonna give you a few little snippets here:
I think for everyone, getting groceries has become a life altering experience. I still go once a week, now in my very best camouflage mask, to get my staples if available but also to purchase my favorites each time just in case they’re not there the next time. At the risk of causing a “run” on some of the best products around, I’m sharing a few.
Utz Cheese Puff’n Corn– You may think you’re a bright orange cheese flavored powdered corn snack food aficionado, but you’re not. That is unless you’ve gone all in on this trumpian-in-color perfection. I, too, thought I knew best in the past, preferring the Cheese Ball to the Cheese Doodle, but now I’m not only older but wiser. Once you start puffin’ you’ll never go back.
Mini Avocados (any brand)- I’ve advocated for these perfectly sized fruits in the past. Avocados show up on every single “Super Foods” list yet we all know that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. One of these little tykes can easily be consumed in one sitting and should be. No slicing, dicing or scooping required- just cut in half, get rid of the itsy pit, spritz with citrus, highly pepper , lightly salt , a drip or two of EVOO and hot sauce and Voila!
AHA Strawberry + Cucumber Sparkling Water– Trust me, I’ve tried more flavors of AHA waters than most and this one is truly the best. I like the Black Cherry and Coffee Sparkling Water too, but as the name suggests it has caffeine (and electrolytes) in it so I don’t drink it with reckless abandon.
I could go on and on but I’ll save it for another post as I’m pretty sure this isolation thing is going to drag on for several more weeks/months. As such, I’ll give you just one simple, fairly lite-ish, original breakfast recipe that is bound to have you asking for more.
Sweet and Sassy Bagel – Plain mini bagel slathered with 1/3 less-fat cream cheese doused with cinnamon-sugar and a hearty sprinkling of Aleppo pepper. https://www.bonappetit.com/story/what-is-aleppo-pepper
Don’t always cook at home. Support your local restaurants. Small businesses only please! I’ve been amazed at all the innovative food and drink offerings my area restaurants have come up with. It’s been inspiring. And by all means, keep your home filled with flowers and start getting your garden plants from local greenhouses and an amazing flower shop!
Now to our front-line workers- I’ve been overwhelmed by your heroics displayed during this health crisis. I personally know a few and have friends who have relatives right in the epicenter in NYC. Bette Midler is credited with saying “People are not the best because they work hard. They work hard because they are the best.” YOU ARE THE BEST! When this is over I want to cook for each and everyone of you. Sadly, for now I’ll leave you with some food porn which is about the only thing I have to offer in this troubling time.
“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him – the people who give you their food give you their heart.” – Cesar Chavez
The Lemon Pepper Trout at Cracker Barrel is pretty good. Get the Country Platter rather then the Fancy Fixins’. No one needs three sides.
Some veggies and fruits in my Misfits box are mis fitted more than others.
Thank goodness I can now get mini avocados. Regular size avocados are a perfect example of too much of a good thing.
Stouts and Porters should really have peanut butter, coffee or chocolate in them.
Vodka can be infused with practically anything but nasturtiums is still my favorite.
Olives, especially green, are one of the best things to eat.
There is definitely a possibility of too much garlic.
Constant Comment should be designated as the world’s best tea bag.
Speaking of tea, always bring your water to a boil first.
There are only three really, really good flavors of salt water taffy: banana, peppermint and peanut butter. A related fact is that Banana Laffy Taffy is almost perfect.
Chicken thighs are much more flavorful than chicken breasts.
It’s a toss up which is better, Skittles or Starbursts.
Risotto is worth the wait.
Ham goes with Swiss just like Turkey goes with Cheddar.
Most Cabot cheese varieties are lactose free.
Almond Extract is superior to Vanilla Extract but it’s fun to make Vanilla Extract with Bourbon.
Speaking of Bourbon, most brown liquors are awful to drink.
All creamy crab soups should have sherry in them. Same goes for mushroom soup.
Everything Bagel Seasoning is a thing.
Red Wine is the nectar of Gods.
McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes should be available year round. Likewise, Chicken McNuggets should not be available at all.
Capon is a big old bird therefore it should never be eaten.
Lorna Doones are the best packaged cookies money can buy.
Just because you’re bad at baking doesn’t make you a bad person.
Why can’t someone else always pare my butternut squash. A related thing, I wish someone called me Butternut.
Charcuterie is fun to say. Hors d’œuvre is not and it’s hard to spell.
I don’t know why stewed tomatoes go with Mac and Cheese but I glad they do.
A well prepared Hot Dog should be considered a gourmet food.
Dukes isn’t the best mayonnaise to use when making chicken salad.
Capers are the most underrated thing that comes in a jar.
To be honest, I like regular yellow mustard better than Dijon. I’m not proud of that.
I have no Italian DNA, but my lasagne is really, really good.
My best work friend and I love to spread butter on Saltine crackers.
Nori just tastes like the ocean.
Someone should write a cookbook with recipes filled with what you can do with Cheese Curls.
Does anyone eat Bugles anymore?
If you eat gummi bears while drinking red wine you’ve made sangria in your mouth.
Sherried Cream Mushrooms should be on everyone’s Thanksgiving table.
I love cottage cheese. Anyone else? No apple butter though!
Breakfast is my least favorite meal of the day. Unless it’s Brunch, then it’s my favorite.
I wish I could cook a meal for whoever I wanted to.
Wraps are not as good as sandwiches. And they’re no better for you. Get over it.
When Trump ate a taco salad it made me hate them.
Enchiladas are the very best as long as they’re cheesy.
All steaks should be cooked at medium, preferably medium rare. Well done is not well done.
Before a dance in high school we all ordered the fried shrimp. No one knew whether to use utensils or our fingers. I took the lead and dove in with my fingers. I’m proud of that.
I’d rather have a hamburger than a steak. Still medium or medium rare.
Clear liquors rule.
Salmon can be delicious if prepared correctly. Barramundi is more forgiving but delicious as well.
Shrimp can be awful if it has that weird taste.
Yellow cake with chocolate icing is the truest birthday cake there ever was.
I’ve always hated fruitcake. I never could understand why anyone would think Fruitcake was an appropriate gift to give or worst yet serve on your holiday table where there should be much more desirable sweets. My most vivid memory had been going to my step- grandmother’s house as a kid and seeing a tray of sliced fruitcake along side a tower of fig-filled cookies, date-nut spirals, crystallized grapefruit peels and dried apricots ……. nothing a child of any age would want to consume. Truth be told, most of the food served at Grandmother Esther’s was awful. Esther was a fine Professor of Music at Edinboro State Teacher’s College, but as a fine or even fair cook she was not. I was told by my mother that Es had an illness in the 1940s that altered her sense of taste so she really didn’t know what good food tasted like. I didn’t buy it, I think she reveled in annoying her step-son-in-law (my dad) and step grandchildren by serving us gross food. Perhaps I’ll write a future blog post about that but for now I digress. I hate fruitcake.
My husband did not hate fruitcake. In fact he loved it. I dare say his favorite might’ve been those loaves you could get at a drugstore usually sitting aside the fake tin of Danish Butter Cookies that was only sold November-January (and now probably 70% off). After years of debating the reason for the very existence of fruitcake and pleas from my husband to try making one, four seasons ago I defied my culinary values and agreed to make a fruitcake.
I set rules. The cake would be considered one of his Christmas gifts as the expense, effort and shear horror of what I would experience was gift worthy. Likewise, the cake would be unveiled on Christmas day in the company of only our immediate family and never, ever appear on our dining table after that. If he liked it, my husband was permitted to share it with known fruitcake lovers only. If he didn’t like it, we would never speak of it again.
I chose the recipe for “Dark Fruitcake” out of “The Joy of Cooking”. I bought all the ingredients right down to the currants and citron and all those other candied fruits that stick together in clumps and dates that are almost impossible to chop. I mixed everything in a gigantic bowl and used a 12-cup ring pan. My fruitcake weighed a TON. I baked it for many, many hours and then cooled it for many, many, hours. Surprisingly, once cool the menacing dark glob came out of the pan okay (Jeez it was dark. Maybe burnt? It didn’t smell burnt, just fruitcakey.). I covered the behemoth with brandy-soaked flour clothes, wrapped in multiple layers of plastic wrap, stuck it in a super-sized zip-lock bag and placed it in the cupboard of my antique dry sink. That was 3 weeks prior to Christmas day.
My man loved the fruitcake I had made. That year, he might’ve shared a tad, but mostly he ate it himself over a course of about two weeks. With each passing day he told me he loved me more than the day before because I had become a fruitcake maker. It was clear that another family tradition had begun and the following Christmas would include a homemade fruitcake.
So the next year there was indeed another two-ton fruitcake made that tasted similar to the first. Last year though I got bold and decided to make three large loaves instead. The idea being that now my fruitcake gift was even more fun because my husband could taste the cake at varying ages and share more easily since now his fruitcake had gained a small following. He finished the first loaf in about a week. The second loaf took him just about through basketball season (those who read this blog often know my husband was a basketball coach). To him, this was the best fruitcake ever! I’ll never get over the fact that my husband could love a gross food so much. For him, my fruitcake was right up there with the very best of my recipe rotation.
This is where my story gets a little sappy. You see my husband never got to his third fruitcake loaf. He unexpectedly died on February 18th of last year. Needless to say I never gave that fruitcake aging in my antique dry sink a thought until this holiday season, over a year since it had been baked. My daughter, son and I knew the holidays would be hard for us but we were determined to make the best of it while keeping our papa and husband in our hearts. I had suggested to my daughter we open the fruitcake on Christmas day to see what became of it then throw it away. I forgot all about it so the holidays came and went without the fruitcake making an appearance. Just yesterday (it’s January 7th) I remembered a Hallmark Christmas Movie featuring an 100 year old fruitcake (it’s called “Broadcasting Christmas”, I looked it up). That made me go right to the dry sink to fetch the last fruitcake loaf.
I took it out, unwrapped it’s many layers of plastic wrap and brandied cloth. It was still moist, dark and smelled thick of molasses. I took a bite. It tasted as gross as always. That same gross taste that my husband loved only now the brandy flavor was magnified. I took another bite. This time it tasted so much better. I could taste the love I put into making it. I could taste my love! Almost a year since my husband had passed and I was enjoying his fruitcake! In the end the gift I made for him became a gift to me. And that gift is going to keep on giving at least another year. I wrapped that “dark brick of molasses filled love” again in a brandy doused cloth, applied multiple layers of plastic wrap, put it back in the zip-lock bag and in the cupboard it went. Next Christmas, if I don’t think it’ll kill anyone, I’ll make my kids take a bite and share some with my husband’s fruitcake fans. I may keep any remaining for the following year but probably not.
I still think you’ve gotta be nuts to like fruitcake, but in this first week of January 2020 having a few bites was a gift to me. Live each day, be kind to one another and share the love.
“Political advice is a bit like your average Christmas fruitcake: something everyone gives and no one wants.” ~ Bob Dole
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