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.