Salmon Summer Supper


I’m always amazed when guests say things like “you make entertaining look so easy” or “I could never have you over to my house”.  You know what?  I’m actually an exceptionally lazy cook and a lousy housekeeper.  But, I LOVE to entertain.  (I have a regular cleaning service which I consider an essential household expense and critical for my sanity).  I believe the most important part of entertaining is enjoying HUMAN CONNECTION!  Is this heightened by great food?  Sure!  But you don’t have to put on a gourmet feast to entertain successfully.

Tonight, it was just my brother Luke and my boys here for a Sunday night supper on the porch and I made my favorite summer dish.  Of course, it has to be served on a platter because that’s what I do…. serving food family-style creates a greater feeling of intimacy and connection around the table, in my humble opinion.  It also just looks pretty!

So, how do I go about this particular meal?  This is the menu:  Poached Salmon with steamed Asparagus, Roasted Baby Potatoes and a Horseradish Mustard Mayo.  I promise you that this is simple.

To serve 6 people you’ll need:

SALMON: 2 – 2.5 lb side of salmon, 1 bottle of white wine (prosecco works too), half a bottle of orange juice or more, water if needed to fully submerge salmon.  POTATOES:  1.5 – 2 lbs baby potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. ASPARAGUS: 2 lbs asparagus.  GARNISH: 1 orange thinly sliced in rounds, half a lemon cut in wedges, chopped parsley. SAUCE:  1/2 cup of Mayo, 1 TBSP Horseradish (or more), 2 TBSP Grainy Dijon mustard (or to taste).


Do you own a roasting pan?  I have a big oval one with a lid that was initially used exclusively for my Thanksgiving Turkey.  During the summer it’s my go-to pan for poaching salmon.  I have a GE Café Stove with an elongated middle burner which I think was really designed for the griddle pan for pancakes and the like.  I bought it because I knew it would be perfect for poaching salmon!  Don’t worry though, you can just place the pan over two burners on your stove if you don’t have the middle burner and you could actually cook it in the oven too.

So, for this dinner, I took a 2lb side of salmon (serves 6) and put it in a mix of orange juice, white wine, and water.  I’m not going to be exact about quantities.  If I’ve got a bottle of wine on hand that I’m not going to drink, I’ll throw that in the pan.  If I’ve got plenty of OJ, then the poaching liquid will be all wine and orange juice.  If I don’t have enough, I’ll add water.  No big deal. Anyway, I bring the liquid to a boil first and then place the side of salmon in it, bring it back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, preferably with a lid on, however if it’s fully submerged in the liquid then it’s not necessary.  If it’s done cooking before everything else, I’ll just turn it off and let it sit in the warm liquid while the vegetables are cooking.  To see if it’s done cooking – stick a knife into the thickest part to see how pink it is inside.



Meanwhile, as for the potatoes, I prefer the baby variety!  I’ll leave the tiny ones whole and halve the slightly larger ones.  Throw them in a roasting pan, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until they look like they are crispy enough for you!


While it’s totally possible to roast the asparagus, but because the potatoes are roasted, I like to steam it.  An inch or so of  boiling water underneath a steam basket with a lid, for 5 to around 7 mins depending on the thickness of the spears, should do the trick.  Depends on how al dente or soft you like your asparagus.


With everything cooked, it’s time to assemble it on the platter…. Salmon first.  In my case, it inevitably breaks up when I transfer it to the platter.  That’s why I garnish with sliced orange and parsley to hide the damage. Feel free to drizzle some of the poaching liquid on it too.  Then, I pile on the asparagus garnished with sliced lemon, then the roasted baby potatoes.  Because the salmon is quite sweet and silky, I love to serve it with a punchy Dijon Horseradish Mayo…literally made up of those 3 ingredients to your liking.

So, there it is!  Simple, pretty, with a variety of textures and flavors.  My kind of cooking.  If you are cooking for a bigger crowd, simply increase the quantities, I often will cook a couple of sides of salmon together in the same pan.

Enjoy!  Here’s to a fabulous summer!

Franken Stube is wunderbar!

From the age of 3 until I was 8 years old, I lived in Germany due to my father having 3 consecutive postings there with the British Army.  Being so young, I didn’t exactly explore the culinary scene but I do have a few memories of our time there!  When I found out that there was a German restaurant here in Petersburg, and that folks were raving about it, I just had to go and try it myself.  Along with my friends Silvia (who is originally from Germany) and Heather, we headed down there for dinner on a Friday night.  We had made a reservation, which is recommended by the way.

Sometimes a restaurant just surprises you in the most wonderful way.  Franken Stube is housed in a building attached to a Shell gas station just off I-95.  An interesting location to say the least!  When you open the door, you enter into the most delightful, simple café adorned with red and white checked table cloths and curtains, along with German flags and mementos clearly belonging to the owner. There’s even a little market section with a variety of food imported from Germany.


We were warmly greeted by Andrea and shown to our table.  She was busy but fetched us some beer and wine (it’s all German here) while we perused the menu.  So, let me start by saying that this is the kind of place where you feel like you are in someone’s home and, as a guest, you need to treat is as such.  As the restaurant was busy, Andrea was too, so we reassured her that we were perfectly happy to sip on our drinks while she tended to the other guests before taking our orders.  With all the delicious classic dishes to choose from, we needed time to decide anyway!  Silvia opted for a classic Weiner Schnitzel with Potato Salad and Cucumber Salad. I chose the Sauerbraten with Red Cabbage and Spaetzle and Heather went for the Gulasch, served over Spaetzle.  All were delicious!  It really did feel like we were having a lovely home-cooked meal in someone’s house.

When owner Irene Williams can take a break from cooking, she comes out to talk to the customers.  She is delightful, and an inspiration to all. If ever you are wondering about starting over and second chances, she is a shining example showing that anything is possible at any stage in life. A dozen or so years ago, she married Freddie, her second husband, whom she proudly lets you know, is a retired Marine and Vietnam Veteran.  She told us that he wanted to make her dreams come true by helping her open up a restaurant. She is in her sixties. She could be just enjoying retired life with her husband but instead, she is fulfilling her dream and sharing her amazing talents with us all.  I got OUT of the restaurant business at 40! I’m in awe of her!


When we asked her why she wanted to do this and how she got her love of cooking, she explained that growing up she was the oldest girl of 6 children and, with 2 working parents and 3 hungry brothers, she needed to learn how to cook! She has always loved to cook and thought she would like to have a restaurant one day.  She first opened Franken Stube in Emporia and while very popular, she ultimately decided to move it further north towards Petersburg. She still lives in Emporia but says that the 30 minute drive home is her wind-down time. Does she go straight to bed?  No…. she bakes!  Interestingly she told us that her classic Apple Streudel and Black Forest Cake have become very popular with diabetic customers.  As with a lot of European desserts, there is a lot less sugar in them than American style desserts.  Her streudel contains NO sugar – just apples, cinnamon and vanilla.  The only sugar is the confectioner’s sugar sprinkled on top.  The cake contains only about 4 tablespoons of sugar in the ENTIRE cake, with the fruit and the cocoa powder providing the sweetness.  Both were fabulous.

Irene was very pleased to be able to chat away to Silvia in German and they compared stories. Both came here to the States by marrying American soldiers who were serving in Germany.  She was very keen to get Silvia’s opinion about the food and they had a fairly long talk about the schnitzel which Irene explained was thinner than it should typically be, because she was unable to get the right cut from her supplier.  This is a woman who really cares about and loves what she’s doing.  You can just tell that she so enjoys sharing her passion for her native cuisine with her many customers.  We ended up spending 3 hours there chatting and just enjoying the place.  We all got a bit teary eyed hearing her story and after describing her husband Freddie, we asked where he was, and he was immediately brought out to meet us!  What a lovely couple, providing us with a unique dining experience that feels like you are in someone’s home.  But in a gas station just off I-95.  If you haven’t tried it, go experience it for yourself.  I hope you feel the same warmth and welcome and that you love the German homecooked food as much as we did.  Thank you, Irene, for never giving up on your dream.  Wunderbar indeed!




Franken Stube is located at 328 Rives Rd, Petersburg, VA 23805    (804) 805-2482

It is closed on Monday and Tuesday.  Check their Facebook Page for more details.



4 selfie skyline

Having lived in the US for my entire adult life, it’s amazing to me that I had never been to Chicago!  A total foodie city, it had been on my bucket list forever.  As in recent years, I found myself free for a few days after Christmas, as did my brother Luke.  “Want to go on a trip somewhere with me?”, I asked back at in November. “Sure” was the reply.  So then came the quest to find the perfect place for two siblings in their forties to spend a few days together.  “How about Chicago?”, I texted him one day.  His response was a resounding “yes!”.  Decision made! Both of us have worked in the restaurant business for most of our careers so far, so heading to a city chock full of amazing restaurants was perfect.  A couple of days later, a text to Kerry and Bart asking them if they wanted to come too, resulted in them booking within hours!

The advantage of traveling to Chicago in winter, is that it’s low season for hotels.  Book on Cyber Monday and you can snag a great deal for a luxury hotel for the same price as an average 3 Star.  The obsessive researcher that I am, after days of looking, I landed on The Hotel Gwen smack in the middle of the city, just north of the river and adjacent to the Magnificent Mile.  Newly renovated, the former Conrad Hotel is now part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection.  Named for the Sculptor whose work is a prominent feature in the lobby, the hotel is chic with an Art Deco flair found in the many details of its decor. We loved it.  Gorgeous heavenly beds and spa-like bathrooms, friendly staff, a great bar and even a curling ice and little chalet on the patio overlooking the city!  I love beautiful hotels.  I appreciate luxury.  And I especially do so when acquired for less than $150 a night!


So now for the main theme of our trip…..FOOD!  Luke and I arrived a day earlier than the others and after a good flight and a 40 minute Lyft ride to the hotel, we were ready for a bite to eat.  Across the street from the Gwen, was the famous Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab.  I had read about their excellent happy hour and as if by magic, we arrived on the dot at 2:00, the start of it.  Moscow Mules, Buffalo Cauliflower and a petit Shrimp Po’boy, fortified us.  We then had a nice walk around the area, realizing how much there was right outside our front door.  Great shopping and tons of restaurants albeit somewhat touristy.

The evening was the best part of our day and indeed one of the highlights of our trip.  An old friend of Luke’s, Scott Worsham, who along with his lovely wife Sari, owns two restaurants in Chicago and invited us to meet him at their newest place, Bar Biscay in West town, recently nominated for a 2019 Jean Banchet Award for Best New Restaurant. A sleek modern restaurant in a more residential neighborhood, Chef Johnny Anderes cooks food inspired by the “simple, direct approach of Basque cuisine and the classic rusticity of the French Countryside”.  My kind of food. We were in for such a treat.


Firstly, there is nothing like being reunited with an old friend, so to witness Scott and Luke catching up after so many years was a pleasure in itself.  To do so accompanied by a veritable journey through the menu and wine and drinks list was perfectly divine.  We started with Anchovy Toast, Razor Clams with Radish, Garlic butter and Toast, and Manchego Gougeres with Garlic Aioli washed down with a lovely white wine.  Then, on to Veal Sweetbreads with puréed parsnip and maple-espellette glaze, Cockles in sherry and paprika butter served with a crusty baguette, then I believe a salad.


On hearing that I planned to resume my tee-total life after the trip Scott declared that we must drink something good with our Braised Oxtail (that reminded Luke and I of our grandmother’s version), Confit Carrots, Tilefish and Chorizo stuffed Peppers.  A gorgeous Bordeaux was chosen. There are few things in life that make me happier than experiencing that perfect marriage of food, wine, atmosphere and the company of others.  A celebration of flavor, carefully crafted combinations and great banter.  The best part of which is that the owners and their SUPERB crew, are taking you on that ride, showing their exquisite artistry. Brilliant.  I know there are literally thousands of restaurants to choose from in this city but I instantly fell in love with this place.  I wish them all kinds of success as they certainly deserve it!  I can’t wait to go back and try their other restaurant, mfk, as well as coming back here!


After a blissful slumber in our double queen bedded room with a view of the Magnificent Mile, and countlessly recalling the dishes we had sampled and how fabulous our evening was, we turned our thoughts to Kerry and Bart’s arrival.  We greeted them at the lovely bar in the hotel lobby and after checking in, we headed out to do what we felt was an obligatory food experience…the famous Chicago Deep Dish Pizza.  We found ourselves at Pizzeria Due, at the bar with beer and red wine, sampling their meatballs and garlic bread while the famous pizza was being prepared.  They take 45 minutes. Was this my favorite food experience of the trip? Probably not, but it was certainly fun to sit at the bar in this loud but cozy place and soak up the atmosphere along with the 5,000 calories that surely each slice contained.  The four of us split a medium size and couldn’t finish it!  It was certainly decadent; a very thick almost pastry-like crust filled with cheese, tomato sauce, sausage and pepperoni.  So, so heavy… tasty but now that I’ve done that, it’s checked off the list and I can continue on to other delicacies.


A walk was needed after that indulgence so we headed to the Navy Pier area.  On our way we truly understood why this place is called the Windy City!  Freezing wind means that warm coats, hats and gloves are essential.  We needed the walk and it was nice to see the lake and view the skyline.  Navy Pier had lots of shops, a tropical garden (?!), a big Ferris wheel and a Children’s Museum.  When we had seen enough we headed back to the sanctuary of the hotel bar to enjoy the delicious cocktails.


For dinner, we attempted to get into the Purple Pig but the hostess rather proudly told us that it was a 2.5 hour wait….thanks, but no thanks!  So we opted for Shaw’s Crab House for martinis, two dozen oysters and bowls of clam chowder in their more casual Oyster Bar. Perfect!


Just as I research hotels to death, I of course do the same for restaurants. I do not just go straight for the number one rated restaurants, give me a smaller, independently owned place over a large corporate franchise ANY day.  I had found out about Lula’s and was happy to get Scott and Sari’s endorsement for my choice.  Famous for their brunch for which they don’t take reservations, we hopped in a Lyft on Saturday morning for the 15 minute ride out to Logan Square.  Located on a wide avenue with grand houses, it was great to get out of the city centre into a neighborhood.  As expected, there was a wait, so we added our name to the list and checked out the local bookstore a few doors away.  We were greeted by a parking lot of strollers inside and the sound of music coming from a kids story time hour here.  Quite charming.  After a couple of purchases we headed back to Lula’s for Bloody Mary’s made from scratch and deemed “nice and clean” by our experts aka Bart and Luke.  We were seated shortly thereafter and proceeded to enjoy an outstanding brunch.  The key to success in most businesses is attention to detail.  This place has it in its drink ingredients, the art on the wall, the cool expert service and oh my, the food…..freshly made pastries followed by Royale sandwiches with the addition of bacon for the guys, a beautiful White Sweet Potato Hash for Kerry, and Smoked Lake Trout Scramble with the crispiest potatoes for me.   Sublime, we were all ridiculously happy with our choices. At the end I ordered a pot of tea, and even that was impeccably served, down to the server letting me know to please let it steep for three and a half minutes.


Our only downfall was our plan to visit the Institute of Art after this boozy brunch! Whilst a nap was likely in order, we battled on regardless! A quick breezy stop at the “Bean” revived us somewhat.  The only place which felt truly crowded and touristy during our trip. The Institute, however, was everything and more!  One could spend days there.  Bart and Luke opted for a shorter tour, ducking out to search for football viewing and beer….Kerry and I stayed on to enjoy the Contemporary wing which looked out on the skyline with its window frames mimicking the buildings.  Very cool.  Definitely need to go back. The Drag Docent was a fantastic addition to the experience!  We loved it all.




A Facebook comment by our friend Denise lead us to the lobby of the nearby Palmer House Hotel.  Wow!  So beautiful.  Well, most of it anyway.  The modern addition of escalators was a less than perfect choice despite its necessity?!  We thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere though and had yet another cocktail…




Dinner tonight was another Facebook comment suggestion by our friend Terry.  Bart had really wanted to have an authentic Italian dinner.  This we found at Quartino’s.  A huge two-story bustling restaurant a short walk from our hotel.  Yes, the food was fabulous, but the best part of this meal was watching Bart in his element, ordering up a storm, reviving his Italian and clearly taking a trip down memory lane from his time spent in a Italy.  This is what eating is all about.  The joy of the time, the place, the company and the tastes.  How it makes you feel, transcending you to a happy place.  We ate a ridiculous amount of food, without complaint! Antipasti to start followed by Broccolini, a delicious Arugula Salad with orange and hazelnuts, Beef Carpaccio, then Linguine with Clams, Gnocchi with Arugula Pesto, Braised Pork Shank…..AND a pizza!!!!  Pure gluttony.  One would think that there would be no room for dessert, but we bravely ordered some and loved our Tiramisu and had hysterics when Kerry bit into her cannoli and the icing sugar exploded over her, and Luke.  Oh and there was wine…of course.  What a great day!



Luke was determined to have a classic Chicago Hot Dog, and we achieved this the next day, at Portillo’s, an institution here.  It’s a large place with just counter service so as Bart and Luke ordered hot dogs and Italian Beef sandwiches, Kerry and I grabbed them goldfish bowl beers from the bar counter where the menu included Beer, Wine….and Mai Tai’s!?  Not sure about the story behind that…. We lovingly devoured our classic dogs; sliced onion, sliced tomato and a pickle with chili on the side.  The Italian Beef sandwiches were delicious too, as were the fries!  What a well oiled operation, we were in and out of there, happy as we could be, in about 40 minutes.  We grabbed a Lyft to head to the river for our Architecture Boat Tour.


Were we quite mad to do a boat tour in these temperatures?!  Quite possibly, but the tour was fantastic, and packed.  It was also luckily on the only sunny day of our trip.  Our guide was great (he’s a therapist when he’s not a tour guide) and we got a wonderful hour-long overview of the magnificent architectural styles that are represented here. The buildings towered above us, gleaming in the sunlight.  We absolutely loved it despite almost freezing to death.  It is such a beautiful city and seeing it from the canals was the perfect way to do so.


We returned to the hotel and the guys decided to go in search of a pub to watch football again.  Kerry and I opted for quiet time before the grand finale of our culinary adventure!  We met up with Scott and Sari at La Frontera, a Rick Bayless establishment serving traditional Mexican fare with modern interpretations.  Having visited Austin in September, Kerry and I had fallen in love with the authentic higher-end Mexican cuisine that we found there.  La Frontera was the first of several restaurants that Chef Bayless owns.  Naturally, we hit the bar first and while we didn’t go for their famous $30 Splurge Margarita, we all tried various other kinds.  I had a Mango Picante, followed by the Champagne Margarita.  The latter was served in an oversized champagne flute, topped off with Taittinger Champagne.  I kid you not.  Couldn’t let up on the decadence, not when this was the grand finale, right?


It’s funny, I’m usually a bit of a control freak when it comes to food ordering, but for most of this trip, other people took care of it.  And you know what?  It was great.  So fun to sit back and have things appear in front of you.  Scott commandeered the wine list, not only ordering a lovely Albarino which balanced with the food superbly, but also shots of Mezcal and a tomato juice concoction which arrived in separate champagne flutes.  More decadence!  A dozen oysters and their Ceviche Trio appeared.  I love ceviche and tasting three different kinds was a treat; the Classic Frontera included Hawaiian albacore, lime, tomatoes, olives, cilantro the green chile.  The Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche Verde was combined with avocado, cucumber, jicama, serrano and onions.  The Tuna Ceviche Tropical consisted of Hawaiian yellowfin tuna, fresh Mexican Papaya, spicy salsa roja, jicama and avocado.  Delightful.  We also enjoyed two-bite Tostadas de carnitas, Puebla-style chicken enchiladas and baked cheesy cauliflower.  So much fun to indulge in so many flavors and share that experience.  When two slices of their Chocolate Pecan Pie with Kahlua whipped cream appeared, our decadent repast was complete.  Good grief.  What a meal in a great, colorful and lively restaurant, oozing with flavors and fun!


While Kerry and Bart decided that they had reached their limit, Scott suggested one last stop.  So where does one finish a decadent food tour of Chicago?  In a dive bar, of course! This is where it pays to be with a local, we would never have had this experience on our own.  Rossi’s is, I understand, a bit of an institution.  A full bar, no food, one bartender, cash only, a juke box and the walls are plastered with mementos showing its history.  It opens at 7 am.  Closes at 4 am, I believe.  Oh, if those walls could talk.  I nursed one drink and happily chatted with Sari while Luke and Scott talked away until we had all simply reached the point where we simply had to retire.  It was a really fun way to finish off another wonderful evening and yet another great experience.


It’s an understatement to say that this was a wonderful trip.  We had an absolute blast and can’t wait to go back.  To spend time with my brother, especially at this time in our lives, was a really lovely thing to be able to do.  Having Kerry and Bart along for the ride was the icing on the cake.  I realize that we saw just one side of this magnificent city, but boy did we love it.  Upon my return home, the boys and I watched Anthony Bourdain’s Chicago and saw a very different but fascinating side to the city.  I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface which means now I’m itching to return.  Good times, good eats, good company… my favorite way to end a year!  We’ll be back.



The Gwen, A Luxury Collection Hotel

Bar Biscay

Pizzeria Due

Shaw’s Crab House

Lula Cafe


Portillo’s Hot Dogs

La Frontera Grill






Feeling the Local Vibe in Petersburg


If I told you that patronizing a local café in Old Towne Petersburg could be the key to transforming your life and health, would you believe me?  Well, it just happens to be true.  Tucked away on Market Street in Old Towne Petersburg, you will find Local Vibe Café.  It’s my favorite place for lunch.  Having adopted a predominantly plant-based diet myself since being diagnosed with breast cancer, it can be challenging to find places that offer a variety of options.  Local Vibe provides countless delicious options for vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike.



Owner Donnie Cornwell adopted a healthier lifestyle initially as a joke while working at Capital One.  He wanted to see for himself what it was like to eat a vegan diet, having always poked fun at the lifestyle but never thinking for a second that he’d love it!  He was amazed to discover that he was quickly dropping pounds (ultimately 65 lbs to be exact!) and that suddenly his coworkers wanted to know what he was eating and asked for recipes.  He started with a vegetable stir fry and was surprised at how it filled him up.  After a couple of weeks he went raw vegan for 6 months.  His energy levels soared.   He never imagined that he would be an inspiration to others.  Fast forward to today and he’s now made a business out of inspiring others to adopt a healthier lifestyle and that has left him feeling “humbled”.

Donnie’s transformation:


When he got laid off from Capital One in January of 2016, Donnie had to come up with a plan B for his career.  One day soon after, his mother told him about a building that she was going to see, with the idea of possibly starting a business.  So, he accompanied her there and met Linda Pittman who, along with husband Dale, was looking for a project in Petersburg.  Ultimately friendship, a love of good food, and a mutual desire to contribute to the development of Old Towne led to an extensive and wonderful renovation of a small building on Market Street that now houses this nutritional powerhouse.  The story is all too familiar to me, as 18 years ago, a local couple also made it possible for us to renovate our buildings on Cockade Alley and open The Brickhouse Run.  In both cases, a wonderful marriage of resources, vision and passion that can make such a difference in a city such as Petersburg.  Along the way, Donnie also got to do a Shark Tank-like pitch at Community Business Launch which earned him a 3rd place prize of $8,000 in start-up capital!

Another amazing transformation:



When I asked Donnie why he wanted to open Local Vibe and his vision for it, he explained that he wanted to do something for Petersburg that was small scale but with a big city concept.  He wanted to serve healthy food in an area where meat-centric menus typically reign.  However, he wanted it to be more mainstream, not “out there” and therefore accessible to all.  So, for starters, they do serve chicken, shrimp and cheese whereas in a larger city, this might have been at very least a vegetarian if not vegan concept.  But, there are literally hundreds of combinations to enjoy whether you eat meat or not.  Many items on the menu were created through trial and error.  The two most popular dishes are the Cilantro Madness bowl and the Local Fave wrap.  There are about a dozen set bowls and wraps to choose from if you are overwhelmed at the idea of creating your own.  My favorite thing to do is to create my own bowl with BBQ Tofu.  I’ll start with a salad base, then add Vibe Rice (brown rice mixed with their divine cilantro dressing), then add a mix of colorful vegetables and chickpeas with dried cranberries and almonds.  What’s not to love?  It’s beautiful, delicious and SO good for you.  I can genuinely vouch for how this way of eating helps you as my total cholesterol lowered 63 points and my blood pressure normalized after adopting this lifestyle without any additional medications.  I was shocked.  As a society so many of our ills could be cured by eating more vegetables and fruits. It’s that simple.




I was really impressed to learn that the ONLY canned item in the kitchen here, are the chickpeas.  Why?  Because the liquid can be used as an egg substitute called “aquafaba”.  Combined with powdered sugar, it makes the meringue topping for the delicious chocolate sweet potato pies.  All desserts here are vegan (and lovingly made by Donnie’s Mom, Melody) including the oatmeal raisin cookies that call my name every time at checkout.  They make their own vegetable stock here too, which is used to cook the beans, rice and quinoa.  They take great pride in even checking the macronutrients in their Feel Better chicken and rice soup.  This is a place that cares about us!


So not only is the food delicious and good for you, it is also extremely healthy for our local economy….a win-win situation!  Your bowl of food is often mostly sourced from farms and suppliers within a 40 mile radius.  These include Two Veterans, Virginia Vegetable Company, Lil Sprouts, Schofield Farms, Mareks Produce and Old Dominion Farms.  Donnie even cited the Food Lion in Ettrick who purchase their red leaf lettuce from a grower in Mechanicsville.

So what does one drink here?  Local, of course!  The bottled beer comes from Petersburg’s own Trapezium, Beale’s of Bedford and Blue Mountain from up near Charlottesville.  And then there’s my personal favorite, Red Mushroom Kombucha out of Norfolk.  If you haven’t tried Kombucha, it’s a delicious fermented low calorie drink with probiotics.  A great alternative to alcohol (try the Buch’arita!) and certainly better than sodas. Talking of which, in keeping with remaining accessible, Donnie does offer bottled sodas such as Coke.  However, they are kept intentionally on the bottom shelf while healthier alternatives, including filtered water, secure the prime eye-level spots in the refrigerator.


Despite 80 to 90 hour workweeks, Donnie tells me he truly loves getting to know the people who frequent his place and being his own boss.  He enjoys building relationships and has loved the fact that many customers are changing their lifestyles since coming to eat here.  He’s working on adapting menu items for Diabetics, a children’s menu and selling his housemade salad dressings.  He now offers catering and even has a more long term goal of franchising.

As a Petersburg resident, former restauranteur, and (now mostly health) foodie, I am very grateful and take my hat off to the Pittman’s and Donnie Cornwell’s partnership to bring us not only another wonderful renovation, but also seriously good food.  The restaurant industry is tough; trust me, I know.  When you eat locally at a place like this you help realize a dream for the owner who is not only providing a service, but also providing jobs for locals, supporting other local businesses, adding to the tax base and making us healthier all at the same time.  What’s not to love about that?  Try it, your tastebuds and your body will thank you!


Hours: Monday – Saturday 11:00am until 8:00pm for eat-in and take-out.  414 Market St, Petersburg, VA 23803  (804) 324-4562

Please note:  I was not compensated in any way for this piece.  I just happen to love my adopted City of Petersburg and my fellow citizens who work hard to make it an even greater place to live!  I also love to write about and photograph my travels and most especially, about food.  

Japanese Garden at Maymont


After days and days of torrential rain, the sun finally came out today.  I was itching to get out, not just to the porch but a little further afield to breathe and rebalance after a busy few days.  I have two favorite places to retreat to when I need some breathing space for a day; the Blue Ridge or the Japanese Gardens at Maymont.  As I got a late start, I chose the latter.

I’ve visited Maymont many times over the years.  It’s a stunning estate and a perfect place to enjoy the outdoors whether with kids in tow, with friends, a family gathering or, in my case today, armed with my camera and newest lens on a mission to be at one with nature.  When my boys were small, we always had to start at the Farm and Nature Center, then we would wind our way down to see the bears.  Next we would enter into the Japanese Gardens and all of a sudden my rambunctious little boys would suddenly become calm and quiet.  It’s that beautiful and zen-like.  The effect hasn’t changed and it’s why I continue to gravitate there when I need a mini-break from regular life.

I entered through the Italian Gardens and wound my way down the steep steps and was treated to the most lush verdant sight in what is a very intimate space. All that rain had produced a spectacular result and with the sun brightly shining, I found a spot to sit at by the water and soak it all in.  I’m fascinated by light and today was the perfect day to study the different shadows and effects throughout the Gardens.  There are so many trees of differing species and they provide a gorgeous and extensive canopy which further accentuates the intimacy of this garden.


I encountered some wildlife too, the snake being my least favorite!


Part of the charm of this garden are it’s bridges, stonework and small huts that are scattered throughout.  The stepping stones are a favorite, of course, especially with children.  I didn’t get a good picture of the Koi, but there are many giant ones in the pond.


There’s something so very therapeutic about being in this special place.  I always feel better for having been there.  The experience can be very different depending on who you are with.  Being there alone today, I noticed so much more, particularly as I had my camera in hand.  No one was looking at the giant turtle submerged just beneath the surface of the water, nor did they pay attention to the sweet small turtle basking in the heat of the sun.  I was grateful however, to the family who were paying attention to the snake when I approached.  The tranquility of the place would have been momentarily and most rudely interrupted by my piercing screams should that thing have slithered across the path in front of me!


After a lovely couple of hours of wandering and photographing, I felt restored and balanced.  And hot.  I hadn’t realized just how warm and humid it was.  After the steep climb back up the hill to the Italian Garden, I took a few minutes to rest and enjoy that garden.  What a lovely visit and such a gem to have so close to home, surely one of my favorite places in Richmond.  I always leave there more peaceful and content.



2017: My Top Ten Food Experiences


I woke up on New Year’s Day 2017 in New York City.  My first meal of the year was Steak Frites at Le District by the waterfront in Lower Manhattan.  Little did I know that 2017 was going to take me to some places I had never been and encounters that I could never have imagined.   And I’m not talking about traveling.  I decided to review my year of food by picking 10 experiences/themes, in random order:

ONE:  @frommyporchtoperu

I embraced Instagram this year and have loved it.  Yes, I’m that obnoxious person that posts food photos.  I love it!  It’s fun and I have drawn endless inspiration from other foodies along the way.  After my Breast Cancer diagnosis this summer, one of the first things I thought about was: what could I take control of during treatment and in the future?  One evening, whilst grasping for inspiration, I found it on Netflix in the form of the documentary Forks Over Knives.  I was sold.  It all made so much sense.  Control what you put in your mouth and you can tackle what ails you.  It became my mission alongside the necessary medical treatments.  I found it fascinating to change the whole concept of what food meant to me.  Me….a vegan??!!!  Good grief.  A few months later, I can report that I’ve had lapses but ultimately it’s a lifestyle that works for me, in my unique way.  I kind of see a “Pesce-vegan” thing working.  I just can’t give up oysters.  They are just such a huge pleasure in life, right?  And lobster, crab, shrimp, mussels……. I used Instagram as a method of expressing my creativity, but also my accountability.  So for all of you who encouraged and acknowleged that, I thank you.  It meant an awful lot




Breast Cancer aside, 2017 also brought some romance into my life.  While it didn’t stay the course, I’ll be forever thankful that this lovely man came into my world.   We had been dating just four months when I received my diagnosis.  When I called to tell Andy the news, I told him that I absolutely didn’t expect him to stick around because it was too much to ask.  He was horrified and showed up at my appointment with the Surgeon the next day.  Yes, he is that kind of guy.  He breathed life into me while it momentarily felt like I was losing it.  We ate in lovely places, had some fabulous experiences and I think I can speak for us both when I say we learned a lot from each other.  The way to this girl’s heart is to make dinner reservations and that he did many times!  He even tolerated me taking pictures of our food.  There are many to choose from but I think my two favorites were these two.  The first was dinner at The Boathouse in Rockett’s Landing where we had a table on the deck overlooking the river.  We ate our oysters, the AMAZING Burratta Salad and perfectly Seared Scallops while watching a huge storm roll in.


The second restaurant was Dutch & Co, which I already dedicated a whole blog piece to, but it bears repeating.  Beautiful, innovative food in a great space.



FOUR:  Eating and sipping on my Porch

Despite being pretty gregarious and loving to entertain, I treasure my alone time on my porch.  During warmer months, I’ll sit there with a cup of tea in the morning and often I’ll come home for lunch and enjoy some quiet time.  As it’s west-facing, the evening sun hits it, which in the summer makes it brutal but on cooler spring and fall days, it’s perfect.  Below is a picture of a bowl from Local Vibe Cafe, a new favorite of mine that I plan to write about in more detail soon. The food is delicious, healthy and so beautifully colorful.  Eating it in the sunshine on my porch was just a delightful experience.  Also pictured is a glass of bubbly I enjoyed one warm Friday evening, the perfect way to start the weekend.



FIVE: Camden’s

Andy Howell, my longtime friend and catering partner is the owner of Camden’s Dogtown Market, so I feel a little bit like I’m a part of the place.  He has created beautiful food for many years in various different restaurants that he has owned.  I ate here a number of times this year, but one of my favorite dinners was the pre-Valentine’s Wine Tasting.  Another meal that already has a piece on here in its own right.  I had two truly “aha” moments when I drank two wines that I don’t normally care for on their own, but paired with the food, sprung to life for me.  That moment when you get schooled in the most fabulous way….yes!   The first wine was Complicated Chardonnay which he paired with a Crab Quesadilla with Peach Salsa, a glorious marriage of flavors.  The second was Rosa Regale which he paired with a dark chocolate pate, ricotta cheese and a pine nut cookie.  Quite possibly one of the loveliest dessert combinations I’ve ever had.


It was a tough year at Camden’s though, as Alix, the front-of-house manager, tragically passed away.  I spent many an evening at the bar, chatting to her, trading advice and gossip.  She loved fashion, hair, make-up, art, music and relished giving me dating advice over the couple of years that I knew her.  She even persuaded me to dye my hair red.  I like to think I was the older, wiser one dispensing words of advice, having more years behind me, but in retrospect, she was wiser than me in many ways.  She lived for the moment, spoke freely (often punctuated with profanity) and charmed everyone she served.   She made me laugh!  When she was suddenly taken from us, it was so shockingly sad and left such a painfully huge void.  So much so, that Andy stopped serving dinner for a few weeks.  You never know who might have a big impact on you and sometimes we sadly don’t realize it until they are gone.  Alix mattered, she touched many lives and I know I’m certainly the better for having known her.



I have been here many, many, times over the years.  So many great memories.  This time, it was just Polly and I, on a perfect warm Fall day.  Steamers, hardshell pound-and-a-quarter lobsters, a bottle of Chardonnay…..sitting on the dock.  Always my favorite culinary experience.  What a treat.




My birthday fell right in the middle of my radiation treatments, but I celebrated nonetheless with my lovely friends.  I turned 45.  Moving into the latter part of this decade, I know I’ll continue to face more challenges but hope that perhaps they may be a little less dramatic than those I’ve faced in the first half!  Ladies Night at home, then a weekend involving dinner at the The Brickhouse Run then a recovery brunch at Ammo with guava mimosas in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, was a great way to celebrate!




Radiation was a little more challenging than I thought it would be.  I’m still working on a blog piece about the experience as a whole.  My last treatment fell on Wednesday 1st November, our usual Ladies Night.  I had vowed to drink Veuve Cliquot to celebrate and that I did!  I was surprised with another delicious vegan chocolate cake from Buttermilk Bakery, decorated in the most appropriate way, with one red boob.  We drank plenty of good champagne and it was warm enough to sit on the porch.  Despite being exhausted, sore and so ready for healing, I felt buoyed once again by the love and support of these incredible women.  A night I’ll never forget!




When in the throes of divorce, it’s kind of strange to be involved in working in at least a dozen weddings a year!  But each is always different, lovely and interesting in its own way.  Andy and I catered three this year; a large outdoor wedding at Glenward Gates in Carson on a gorgeous Saturday in May, a lovely intimate small Fall wedding at Folly Castle, and last, but not least, our friends Kate and Mark’s party to celebrate their recent nuptials.  I have known Kate since she was a baby so to be part of this was really special.  No gifts, no formalities, they just wanted friends and family to gather and celebrate with them.  They had a couple of specific requests for food but otherwise left it to Andy and I to come up with a menu.  It’s always fun when you are given creative and artistic license.  It snowed that day but it was cosy, warm and festive inside the house.  Joan and Lawrence have traveled the world so we used a lot of the gorgeous pottery that they have collected.  A joyful occasion that was an honor to be a part of.




Our friends Alain and Aimee have, without a doubt, the coolest abode in Petersburg. Alain built a pizza oven this year and on a unusually warm evening a couple of weeks ago, they invited us over for pizza.  Just being in their house is an adventure but they are truly dear friends.  My cousin Georgia, Geoff and Jake had arrived for Christmas and so we all walked over there and were in for a treat..  I think what made this experience particularly memorable was the interaction with the youngest members of our party.  Jake at age 8 just loved the pizza making process, as did Rory and Ben.  But it was our conversations whilst eating it that really made an impression.  The emerging of powerful personalities with opinions and plenty to contribute.  I loved that Jake kept whispering to me, asking when and if the subject had changed.  He desperately wanted to keep up.  A delicious evening.




Having family join us from England for Christmas was the best gift ever.  My mother would tell you that Geoff taking over the cooking was the icing on the cake.  He produced a gorgeous dinner of Rib Roast, Yorkshire Pudding, Leeks in Bechemel Sauce, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots and Peas.  Finished off with Traditional Christmas pudding, of course!  There’s nothing like family and to have them here with us, especially after a tough year, made it joyful indeed.  The addition of dear friends, plenty of wine, Christmas Crackers and Charades by the fire completed our festivities.  I felt the most at peace this Christmas than I have in years.



It was a huge year!  But once again, I’m reminded of the pleasure of sitting around a table with great company eating fabulous food.  I’m grateful for the many wonderful experiences I had doing just that in 2017, with the host of phenomenal people I am surrounded by.  Here’s to a great 2018, cheers!


Upper Shirley Vineyards

Fall is undoubtedly my favorite season.  Crisp mornings, warm sunny days, the changing colors of the leaves and that gorgeous golden glow of the sun that casts a beautiful spell everywhere as it sets.   Typically I make my annual pilgrimage to the Blue Ridge Parkway at this time.  But, this year, I was deep into my radiation treatments and driving that far seemed a touch daunting.  I still wanted to take a drive out into the country so my mother, Heather and I headed to Upper Shirley Vineyards last Sunday afternoon.  It was a gorgeous fall sunny day and along with hundreds of other people who had the same idea, we arrived at the Vineyards ready to indulge.

20171022_170751The building itself is impressive and as someone who is a lover of fine porches, I’m in awe!  It’s interesting that the design is definitely modern given its location in a very historic corridor amongst the plantations that line the James River.  I don’t know what the design concept was intended to be, but it sure feels like a breath of fresh air with its clean lines and relative simplicity.

The hostess informed us that there was an hour and a half wait for lunch but that there was wine being sold outside and they would call us when our table was ready.  We had all been here previously, so opted out of doing the wine tasting again.  It’s definitely worth doing though!  When we were last here, we were a party of 12 and occupied a huge table in the center of the room and ordered the tasting along with two servings of every appetizer.  It was divine and we had been looking forward to returning.

As instructed, we headed outside to sit by the river for a while.  We decided on a bottle of their excellent Viognier and found a spot under a tree.  It was an absolutely perfect day; clear sunny skies and about sixty-five degrees.  Having worked hard the day before, catering a wedding, we all just enjoyed relaxing outside.  There was great people-watching that day;  groups of friends, couples, all enjoying this lovely place.

We were surprised, not even half an hour later, to be called for our table.  Seated inside, we enjoyed excellent service by Chris, our waiter, who was happy to make some great recommendations.  I really like the wine here, but I REALLY like the food.  We opted for 5 appetizers and another bottle of Viognier.

First up were 6 of the plumpest fried oysters I’ve ever had.  Perfectly fried and served with a Collard Green & Sweet Potato Slaw with Virginia Ham & Smoked Tomato Aioli.  Simply divine.


The next recommendation made was the Crispy Brussels & Pork Belly tossed in Sweet Chili Sauce with Japones Chilis.  It’s so funny how this often maligned vegetable has made such a comeback in the last few years.  Flash-fried and tossed in the sauce, these were ridiculously good!  I abandoned my plant based diet for the day and savored the way the Pork belly just took this dish to a new level with its saltiness complementing the sweetness of the sauce.


At a winery, you have to have some cheese, right?  I’m not kidding when I say I was prepared to abandon the vegan lifestyle for the day….  Warm Brie with Apple Walnut Compote with Crostini provided a subtle and comforting addition to our table.  Lovely soft, fall flavor and well balanced with the crispness of the crostini.


The three of us are lovers of French Fries, so when they involve truffle oil and Parmesan and Garlic Aioli…..we are ALL about it.  Decadency at its best and to hell with the calories.  Just best not to eat them every day!

20171022_184525So, with all this richness, we had to counteract with a fresh green salad.  And wow, it was the best I’ve had in a long, long time.  Beautifully fresh lettuces ever so lightly dressed with a champagne vinaigrette.  Exquisite.


There was absolutely no room for dessert but we all marveled at the glorious food, the setting and our impulse decision to come out here on such a beautiful day.  We still had wine left so we headed outside once again to lay in the grass and relax, and enjoy the start of that warm glow of the autumn sun setting.  Thank you, Chef Bannister, for allowing us to slip into a lovely food coma, in such a lovely location.  And thank you to all those responsible for this gem just a short drive from the Tri-cities, Williamsburg and Richmond.  We will be back, a lot.





Celebrating Love in New England



I don’t really need an excuse to go to New England for a weekend, but a lovely wedding is the best kind.  Three weeks ago, I squeezed in my 10th radiation treatment before heading to RIC.  Thankfully I was feeling great!  I always get a thrill arriving at Richmond Airport to go somewhere, but when the destination is Boston, I’m particularly tickled.   Somehow I’ve always arrived there on a clear beautiful day regardless of the season and September 29th was no exception.  I was heading up for Steve’s cousin Tim’s wedding in Dover, NH.

My mother encouraged me to go, and kindly took over teenager and puppy duty for the weekend so that I could join Polly for all the festivities.  I caught the S&J bus service from Boston Airport to Dover, fantastic!  Polly picked me up, we checked in to the Hampton Inn and before we knew it we were invited to a fun dinner with the Nordahl clan.  I sat next to Yuri who had much in common with me and we had a great conversation.


Breakfast the next morning saw us reunited and newly acquainted with family and friends.  Whilst we should have rushed out to see the delights that I’m sure Dover has to offer, chilling in our room on a drizzly day was a lovely alternative.  Once primped and ready, we headed over to St. Joseph Catholic Church.  It’s always lovely to arrive at a wedding where you know you are getting ready to see a whole load of people you love and eagerly anticipate the nuptials of two of them.

Catherine and Tim are one of those couples that just fit.  Even the Priest affirmed this when he said that upon meeting them in preparation for marriage he knew it was for real because Tim wouldn’t stop looking at Catherine.  They are both in caring professions, he’s a Physical Therapist and she’s a School Psychologist.  Both are the sweetest, mildest-mannered people you could ever meet.

I don’t like to take photos during a wedding ceremony so there won’t be any in here, but I’ve seen some lovely ones!   Needless to say the bride was radiant, the groom was handsome and we were all thrilled to bits for their union.  I’ve been to many a wedding and worked many more than that and this was the real deal.

Transportation was provided from the hotels to the Reception and I couldn’t have been more thrilled that it was a yellow school bus!  A first for this Brit!  We wound our way through the New Hampshire countryside that was starting to show the telltale signs of Fall, before arriving at the lovely Lodge at Parker Mountain. Catherine’s uncles own the beautiful property in Strafford and, despite the overcast skies, it’s a stunningly gorgeous place.  A cabin overlooking a pond, between which a huge tent was pitched.  As it was a chilly day, guests were drawn to the inside, next to the roaring fire.  I believe this is typically rented out as an Airbnb, what a treat that would be!


With a bar stocking signature cocktails, beer and wine, the party got started!  A delicious array of hors d’oeuvres were laid out on the porch for us all to enjoy while watching the official photos being taken down by the pond.  The weather was overcast but the mood was most definitely sunny!  Also, let’s face it, the photos are usually better in this lighting too.  An important detail to add at this point is that the porch was decorated with strings of origami cranes, ONE THOUSAND of them!  Marie and Caitlin had painstakingly made them over a period of several months, a symbolic gift to Tim and Catherine for good fortune.


After the cocktail hour, we were ushered to the tent to find our assigned seating.  The wedding party was introduced to much applause and Tim and Catherine took their first dance.  Just lovely, followed by Catherine dancing with her father and Tim with his mother, Marie.  Justifiably proud and happy parents.


I particularly love this photo as it shows the joy we all felt!


So while the focus is of course on the couple, we do have to talk about the food too, right?  They opted for the newly popular family style service of dinner.  Something I love!  No long lines for a buffet and no being confined to one set plate of food.  Instead, delicious platters and bowls of food that included all food groups and diets.  I’ve already talked about platters of food in this blog, but I’ll say it again: it promotes and celebrates the shared experience of enjoying food.  They chose well; sliced beef, chicken, a veggie pasta dish, roasted rosemary potatoes and haricots verts.  It’s always great when there’s wine on the table too!  Kudos to the excellent catering staff, diligently working out of a truck and a tent.  As someone who caters weddings, I know the challenges.


Tim’s best man, his brother Patrick, made a lovely speech before raising a toast to the newlyweds.  Heartfelt and loving from what I know is a close relationship.  And then it was time to dance!!  And yes, we did!  So much fun!  Here’s a selection of photos to show the rest of this lovely celebration:

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The school buses returned to pick us up in shifts and Polly and I took the second one.  We were given treat bags for the ride home; a freshly baked cookie, a bottle of water and an apple.  What a lovely touch and the perfect end to a most beautiful day!

So, did Polly and I party on upon our return to Dover?  Ummm…nope.  Went to bed!  Slept beautifully and then enjoyed a lively breakfast catching up with everyone the “morning after”.  It was great to chat and laugh and have one last chance to hear about how everyone’s lives were going.  I sat next to Caitlin and Cliff who had traveled from Nairobi for the wedding and our conversation ended up with an invitation for the boys and I to go and visit them and they offered to help book a safari….uh oh.  Don’t have to ask me twice to go pretty much anywhere!  But the thought of a safari with my boys next summer had me racing to look at fares and guide books.  Fingers crossed I’ll be blogging from our Kenyan adventure next August!

The one thing I always have to do when I go to New England is, of course, to eat lobster.  I had let Polly know that and on Sunday morning, asked her how far we were from York, Maine.  Less than 30 minutes!!  My request to pay a visit down memory lane was instantly granted and after saying our goodbyes, we took the back roads to York.  It was a perfect New England fall day and we wound our way through lovely countryside to the place that Polly and Ed used to call home and a place I had adopted as a favorite, chock full of memories.  I first met Ed and Polly there, Steve and I drove all night from Virginia when I was just 20 years old.  We had many Thanksgivings there, always taking a frigidly cold walk by the beach before indulging in pie.  Ed and Polly threw us an engagement party there.  We brought our boys up here pretty much every summer.  The last time I had visited, 3 years ago, we came up to let Ed and Polly know that we had reached what would turn out to be an insurmountable issue in our marriage, not a happy time.  However, on this day, with Ed surely looking down on us and smiling, we drove to all our favorite spots and had the most lovely day.  Time does, and can, heal.


Lunch just had to be at Chauncey Creek.  An absolute favorite.  My grandparents went there, many friends from Virginia were taken here.  My boys tried lobster for the first time in high chairs here. So here we were, just the two of us this time, enjoying a perfect sunny day, sipping wine and eating pound-and-a-quarter lobsters and steamers, whilst enjoying each other’s company.   Polly had been on the road for 5 months cross country and around Canada visiting National Parks, mostly by herself, processing her grief at the loss of her beloved Ed.  When describing the experience, she concluded that it had made her realize and believe that she “could do anything by herself”.  Music to my ears.  It’s a powerful thing to discover about yourself  and I couldn’t be more thrilled for her.  It would have been easy for her to have stayed home and mourn, but she hit the road and 15,000 miles later, had stories and experiences that will propel her into this new chapter.  Pretty awesome.


We hated to leave but it was time for me to get myself to Boston Airport, using the shuttle once again, this time from Portsmouth.  What a beautiful weekend celebrating the start of marriage for a truly lovely couple, as well as a gorgeous trip down memory lane.



Dutch & Company

I love to cook.  But what I really love, is to eat food prepared by people who have dedicated their lives to culinary artistry.  Cooking really is an art and when done well it’s the ultimate feast for ALL the senses.  I should also add that I really appreciate a man, or indeed anyone, who understands that about me and researches and makes reservations in advance, at a place they think I’d enjoy.  Andy did just that last night, picking Dutch & Company in Church Hill for a early dinner.  My first visit and definitely not my last.

While I sipped on a glass of Rose at our corner table by the window, I perused the menu and knew we were in for a treat.  When visiting a restaurant for the first time, I like to try and eat a variety of small plates so that I can get a feel for what the place does well and what style of food they are presenting.  I rarely eat meat now so I was happy to see a number of vegetarian and seafood options here.  We made our selections and so began our little culinary journey…

The presentation of the bread was a great start, delicious grainy wholewheat bread wrapped like a parcel in a linen napkin held together with a clothes peg.  Gorgeous!


Next up were half a dozen Ruby Salts, already dressed with a dot of mignonette and a tiny slice of chive.  I love it when a chef is essentially telling you how to eat your oysters, as creatures of habit, people tend to eat them the same way each time.  Here, you are eating them in the way the kitchen wants you to experience them.  Briny, plump oysters with the slight sharpness of the dot of mignonette and a cool chive.  Just lovely.


Our excellent server suggested enjoying the small plates two at a time.  She was right, the flavors might have been too overwhelming otherwise.  The Smoked Salmon Rillette was served with warm Salmon Skin Blinis and the saltiness of the fish was perfectly cut by the cool Chive Yoghurt served with it.


I eat a lot of Almond butter these days so the next dish caught my attention right away.  Figs with Marcona Almond, Chili Threads, Lemon Curd, Smoked Almond Butter and Smoked Salt.  It was fascinating.  It was, in my opinion, essentially figs with a deconstructed Peanut Sauce.  I loved it and I particularly loved the presentation.  The chili threads were a beautiful touch in both taste and looks.


Our next duo included what I believe is a signature dish here, “The Perfect Egg”.  Rye Crusted Cured Salmon, Herbs, Sprouted Quinoa, Braised Cabbage, Cumin Yogurt.  So much texture, color and flavor in one dish.  It was beautiful.  The egg was encased in breading which, when punctured, caused the yolk to pour out onto the plate.  They’re right, it is the perfect egg.


Our other plate consisted of Fried Cauliflour with Chili Sauce, Cucumber, Sesame, Basil and Scallions.  Yet another lovely combination of color, texture and flavor.  I was delighted.



I don’t always order dessert but this is the kind of place that you really have to, and I’m glad we did!  Chocolate Semifreddo with balsamic soaked blackberries, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.  Heavenly.  The richness didn’t come from the flavor of chocolate but more from the creamy texture and the addition of olive oil.  It was a spectacular marriage of flavors.


This is not the kind of place for people who must have ice in their water, request endless substitutions or insist on food being prepared in a particular way.  It’s a place to challenge your tastebuds and enjoy a mini-adventure, throw caution to the wind and trust that you will be well fed.  Definitely my kind of place.

Next time I go, I’ll likely take others and enjoy their $29 three-course prix-fixe dinner.  It would be fun for everyone to order different dishes to allow more opportunity for tasting.  It looks like they have great craft cocktails too.  The decor has a very RVA vibe to it, being located in a historic neighborhood.  It’s comfortable, not pretentious but at the same time possesses a subtley high level of sophistication.    The service was flawless, as was every bite.  There is some serious artistry going on in that kitchen and I felt lucky to have had the opportunity to enjoy such a fabulous experience there.  I’m ready to go back anytime!

Quebec! Je me souviens

It was around Thanksgiving of 2015 that I looked at my calendar and realized that I wouldn’t have the boys from Boxing Day to New Year’s Day and that I also had the week off work.  Maybe I should take a trip somewhere, I asked myself.  By myself. Yes, that’s exactly what I needed to do.  It had been a really difficult year and why not end it in a fabulous way?

I decided that a bucket list trip was needed.  Quebec.  I could practice my French (I have a degree in it), eat fabulous food and enjoy the architecture and culture.  I booked a flight to Montreal, then a train to Quebec City and a flight back to Richmond.  Six days, on my own, in a place where I didn’t know a soul and I could wander the streets anonymously, with my camera in hand and no specific agenda.  In freezing cold weather.  I ordered a long thick coat from Land’s End.

I was a little nervous when it came to leave for the airport but little did I know that I was about to embark on a magical 6 days of discovery.  After touching down in Montreal, I got a taxi to my hotel which was tucked behind the Notre Dame Basilica.  The Hotel Saint-Sulpice is located in Old Montreal.  Despite the historic location, the interior is modern, the rooms accented with pops of red amongst the predominantly black and brown decor.  After getting settled, I decided to venture out into the cold and take a walk.  It was late but I didn’t care.  I rounded a corner and there stood the Basilica which momentarily took my breath away, little did I know that the interior would have me in tears the next day.


It was a Sunday the next day and I decided to attend Mass at the Notre Dame Basilica.  I joined the crowds of regular worshippers as well as fellow tourists and entered what has to be one of the most beautiful buildings that I have ever seen.  I was born and raised in the Catholic faith but lost my way as a teenager and never quite found my way back to it.  However, the Cathedrals, churches and rituals never fail to draw me in and bring me peace.  Mass was said in French, with a brief welcome in English from the Bishop.  There was a full choir with the organ and I was moved to tears.  The indescribable beauty, the sound of the music, the haven of warmth from the frigid outdoors, the feeling of being somewhere so very safe….I’ll always carry that from this experience.


Thoroughly moved by my experience here, I left the rich warmth for the frigid grey outdoors and made my way to Restaurant Holder for a classic Bistro brunch of Eggs Benedict and a Kir Royale.  Perfect.  The afternoon was spent exploring Old Montreal, admiring the buildings, people-watching, and eventually finding myself in another place of worship, the Chappelle Notre Dame de Bonsecours, also known as the Sailors’ Church, a gorgeous church right by the river.

Without a doubt, one of the goals of this trip was to learn to happily be alone, to enjoy my own company and be comfortable with that.  As a lover of food, that meant learning to walk into a restaurant and asking for a table for one.  It’s not easy when you start out but now I have no problem with it.  That evening, I just decided to go for it.  I didn’t just go into a casual restaurant, I booked a six-course tasting dinner at the highly rated Bonaparte in Old Montreal.  I was pretty nervous as it was quite posh and I was to be the only solo diner there.  However, they put me at a lovely table beside a wall with a view of the window overlooking the street.  It’s astonishing to me that I have no pictures of that evening nor can I remember what exactly I ate.  But boy do I remember how I felt.  I knew that the waiter had warmed to me when he found out I wanted the full hit of courses and asked him to pick wines to go with them.  I had swiped the pad of paper from my hotel room along with a pen and wrote notes, not about the food, but about future plans, goals for my boys, catering ideas…I think everyone there thought I was a restaurant critic because I received the best service ever!  The delicious wine and food relaxed me and I found myself lost in my own thoughts and pleasure, pretty much oblivious to the surrounding diners.  Mission accomplished.

On a daily basis, I posted pictures on Facebook and got such great feedback that it really helped push myself out of my comfort zone.  My people needed stories!  They had signed up for the experience and each morning, it helped me to get out of bed and go in search of adventure so that I’d have something to report at the end of the day.  This particular day was frigidly cold and I walked to the Plateau Mont-Royal, the famous park overlooking the city.  I have never been so cold but also have never needed such a long walk, “miles and miles of therapy” I believe my friend Tina commented.  The walk took me through the more business part of the city and once again, I found myself ducking into a Cathedral nestled amongst the modern buildings, this time the Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, a smaller version of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

It’s a steep walk up Mont-Royale and particularly tough in such cold temperatures and ice.  The steps to the viewing area were cordoned off due to the ice but most people decided to ignore that and take them anyway.  Being by myself, I decided to not risk falling and literally take the road less travelled.  And I’m glad I did.  The road gently wound up and around and I was able to take in lovely views with no crowds.  By the time I reached the top, I was absolutely freezing but the view and sense of accomplishment was worth it.

I walked about 10 miles that day and didn’t eat until 4, I remember collapsing into a small Bistro, ordering Lamb Shank and red wine and devouring it like I hadn’t eaten in weeks.  What a day, one I’ll never forget.

A snowstorm hit that night and I woke up to a very white Montreal.  It was the day I was catching a train to Quebec City, but unlike other places in the world, the train left right on time!

For only about $40 more than Coach, I treated myself to a Business Class ticket.  A great value.  While we hurtled through the Province, I was served drinks from the bar and a hot lunch by the most charming staff you can imagine.  The Canadians really are lovely.  There was a full blown blizzard going on outside but the warmth and camaraderie inside the train served as a lovely contrast.  A delightful way to spend three or four hours.

Arriving in Quebec City was almost comical.  Almost.  The blizzard conditions were such that the snow and wind were pounding me horizontally as I left the station.  I couldn’t see beyond about 2 ft.  My hotel was just 500 ft from the station but I went in the wrong direction at first.  It was one of those “what the f$&@ was I thinking?!” moments but I eventually made it to the lovely Hotel des Coutellier where the receptionist happily didn’t laugh at my completely disheveled appearance.  I checked in to my delightful room and congratulated myself on not only making it there but also having booked a bar seat in the restaurant, Legende, attached to the hotel.  Upon entering the restaurant, my best French came out all of a sudden, finally!  The Maitre D’ replied to me so fast that I lost it immediately and he switched to English saying, “Oh, I thought you were French”.  I could have kissed him.

I was led to my spot at the bar, seated between a lovely Midwestern American couple and a charming young couple from Montreal.  They immediately started chatting with me and making recommendations.  The bartender was a total foodie, in fact I was surrounded by people who were all about the menu.  Paradise!  I proceeded to have one of the best culinary experiences of my life:  Oysters and champagne, a Smoked Artic Char Brussels Caesar then Bison.  I finished off with the strangest dessert; a parsley and cilantro sorbet with meringue, herb cake and maple cream.  It worked.

I slept well that night and woke up to my continental breakfast hanging in a bag on the door handle.  I opted to spend my mornings leisurely, usually ready for a late morning walk, a search for lunch, then happily meandering through this lovely walled city.  Montreal was fabulous, but Quebec City stole my heart.  There was something about the unploughed narrow streets, the Christmas lights, the little shops and restaurants.  I loved all of it!  Of course, you can’t forget the imposing presence of the Chateau Frontenac.  I will stay there one day, I really will.

The contrast between the grey and white outside with the rich colors and warmth inside, did not escape me.  I loved it, in fact.  The colors and textures in the food and inside churches and shops were so rich and made for even more of a sensory experience.  I took a food tour one day that was so much fun.  I tasted cheese at the Chateau Frontenac, sampled chocolate at La Fudgerie, toasted marshmallows on a patio and visited the big indoor market near my hotel.

At night, the city became even more magical with the snow and the lights.  I would eat out early so as to not to have to walk back to the hotel by myself late at night.  A particularly memorable dinner was at a restaurant close to the hotel, I forget the name of it, but I had a blind tasting menu.  It was fabulous!

New Year’s Eve was my last full day.  I had read about a restaurant called Le Clocher Penche in an neighborhood that was more local than touristy.  They served brunch that day and it was absolutely worth the half hour trudge through the snow to get there.  My Eggs Benedict with the twist of Duck Rillettes and a Blueberry Sauce was a culinary masterpiece.  Topped with the freshest greens imaginable, I was in heaven.

IMG_0032After the countless calories I had consumed, a hearty walk to the Musee des Beaux Arts was much needed.  On the map it was a straight shot.  In reality, it was a steep climb which resulted in my scariest experience of the trip.  Climbing a seemingly endless flight of steps.  I hate heights and I detest steep steps.  But, this trip was all about conquering fear so up I went.  Heart pounding, knees shaking, I froze half way up but ultimately kept going.  The relief at reaching the top of this ascent of terror, was overwhelming.  When I looked back down, I felt pretty proud of myself.

Whilst I can’t claim to be an art expert, I love and appreciate it in my own way.  I spent a blissful couple of hours at the museum.  When I came across two paintings side by side, one red and one white, I sighed.  I’ve just never taken the time to understand it.  Then I read the description and lo and behold, I had a revelation.  It wasn’t just a canvas with some white paint slapped on it…. moving closer to the painting I saw different shades, varying textures.  Wow.  Now I get it, albeit in my own special way.

When I left the museum, it was dark outside and time to trek back “home”, with dinner on the way there.  I passed by a street near the museum that has carried the artwork outside, in the form of giant lanterns.  Such a great idea that brought a wonderful character to the street.

My journey back took me through where all the festivities would occur for the countdown to midnight and the New Year.  I loved seeing all the lights, the outside ice bars being set up, the Ferris Wheel in the Centre, all so festive.  One thing I knew for sure was that I would be tucked up in bed by midnight!

I stopped off at Le Cochon Dingue for a Steak Frites dinner which was just what I wanted.  I also enjoyed the lovely views in around the Chateau.  I vowed I’d be back to this lovely city and couldn’t believe it was almost time to go home.  When I got back to the hotel, I popped open a bottle of Québécois bubbly and watched the festivities on the television.

After 6 days of grey, I woke up to sunshine on New Year’s Day.  I like to think it was symbolic of a new era.

I wanted to both end this trip and start 2016 with a bang.  My flight home didn’t leave until late afternoon so I made a reservation for one at Le Bistro Sam at the Chateau Frontenac, for a very long lunch.  Pure pleasure.  I ordered one of their cocktails, an amazing apple martini, that had steam coming from it!  Gorgeous presentation and a hefty price tag.  I ordered the cheese and charcuterie board which consisted of local cheeses and house cured meats.  For the next couple of hours I just picked away at this plethora of goodness, soaking in the luxurious atmosphere and rejoicing in the memories of a most fabulous week.

It’s been interesting writing this piece over 18 months later as life is quite different now, in a good way.  I will always remember this trip as being a springboard to my new, more independent life.  I would be fine by myself.  I enjoyed the time alone.  I planned this trip only 5 weeks before I took it and I loved every second.  Traveling solo is eye opening.  I think it heightens your senses and liberates you to soak in the experience catering for you, and you alone.  You get to create and enjoy an experience that is wholly yours.  Is it better to have someone by your side saying “hey, look at that”?  Sure.  That’s nice too.  But, I’d travel by myself again anytime.  And as for Quebec?  I’d go back in a heartbeat.