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!


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!

Eat, drink, love!


Valentine’s Day can be tough for a lot of people.  For those who have recently experienced great loss, especially.  For those who are single, it can be a time of feeling excluded.  As a restauranteur, it was always a really long, but profitable, day of work. As someone who is now single myself, I see it in such a mixed way.  For starters, I like to think that great relationships don’t need a special day to be reminded to celebrate each other but I am also truly inspired by couples who remain lovingly and steadfastly committed to each other.  Since my separation I have, in many ways, slowly gained a renewed or even totally new love of self and sense of who I am and what I want.  That’s something pretty awesome and powerful to celebrate, I think!

My special dinner this Valentine’s Day?  Tonight, it’s leftovers with my boys, embellished with some chocolate covered strawberries from Buttermilk Bakery and lovely Chardonnay (for me) and chocolate milk (for the boys).  Followed by a new episode of This is Us.  And writing this piece.

This past Sunday?  You would think that I go to wine dinners every week, I really don’t!   However, I’ve had the fortune to attend three in just the past month, lucky me!  Along with four great friends, I headed north to Manchester to Camden’s Dogtown Market for a “Pre V-Day Wine Dinner”.  Or as host/owner Chef Andy Howell likes to call it, “a culinary roll in the hay”.  He loves playing with words as much as food….he partnered with Brandon Hamlet, fine wine specialist for Republic National Distributing Co. to produce a master class of a wine dinner.  Andy did confess however, to using one of his all-time favorite cookbooks “Intercourses” for inspiration and the names of the wines were no coincidence.  Brandon and I have something in common, we both worked for Andy many years ago, Brandon in the kitchen at Avenue 805, and I worked as a server at Portabella here in Petersburg almost 20 years ago!



Keeping it light while we sipped on Schramsburg Vineyards “Mirabelle” Brut, Andy and Brandon thanked us for forgoing the chance to see Rick Astley at The National tonight in order to indulge in their wine dinner.  No complaints from anyone!

To pair with our glass of bubbly:  House Cured and Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Croustade.  Perfect start!



Next up on this menu chock full of aphrodisiacs…  Parmesan Oysters, paired with Virginia Dare Winery “Two Arrowheads”.  Sublime.  Oysters were plump, sauce was creamy, coating was crunchy.  Enough said.


The wine for the next course, “Complicated” Chardonnay from Taken Wine Co., is a wine I’ve tried before and struggled to love.  Took a sip before the food arrived and sure enough…same again.  But wait, along came the Crab Quesadilla with Peach Salsa and all of a sudden, I’m all about some complication in my life.  THIS is what a great wine dinner is all about…that moment when you realize what the chef and sommelier want you to know and feel.  Gorgeous.


Being a Brit, I love Roast Lamb and typically cook it with Rosemary and Garlic.  Andy chose to use a Coffee Rub and it worked beautifully especially alongside a lovely Potato and Artichoke Salad.  Served with “Taken” Red Blend, which was FABULOUS, it was the perfect meat course after all the yummy seafood!


How do you finish this?  With my old kinda sorta friend, Banfi “Rosa Regale”, which as I learned at the last wine dinner, must be paired with a dessert less sweet than itself.  In this case it was with housemade Dark Chocolate Pate, Ricotta Cheese and a freshly baked Pine Nut Cookie.  Mind and tastebuds blown, I finally understood this wine.  Rich dark chocolate with slightly sour cheese and a chewy pine nut laden cookie along with the rose petal, raspberry, and strawberry notes of this sparkling red, we were all wowed by the pairing and the quality of each component.  What a conclusion to a phenomenal meal.



Let’s not leave out the bread……


So, I kind of feel the need to disclose the fact that Andy and I do work together on some catering.  I love his style and feel for food.  He’s sarcastic, sometimes cranky, witty, very clever and a really great friend.  He’s much more organized than I am.  He’s obviously a brilliant and talented chef.  But I’m more of a people person.  It’s a fun partnership and I’ll NEVER stop enjoying his Wine Dinners.  I also happen to know that he hates having his photo taken……cheers!