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.


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!


Weekend in Wintergreen

I have had the fortune to have traveled to many countries all over the world and have seen a multitude of stunningly beautiful places.  But, few have captured my heart quite like the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  After a week that involved surgery recovery, often a bit of a blur thanks to painkillers, a weekend in the mountains was just what the doctor ordered.  It’s one of my happy places, for sure, and the closer I get to them, the calmer I am.  I took this photo on my phone near Charlottesville, the first glimpse of the mountains was accompanied by the sunset….just lovely.


Before heading up the mountain to Wintergreen, Andy and I stopped in Charlottesville for dinner at Bella’s, a delightful Italian restaurant downtown.  A Limoncello Martini seemed like a great way to start and then it didn’t take long to decide on Gorgonzola Grilled Salad (grilled romaine hearts topped with Gorgonzola dressing, tomatoes, pancetta and scallions with a balsamic drizzle) and Arancini (fresh mozzarella stuffed inside lemon risotto, breaded and fried).  We followed this with Zuppa Di Pesce, a mound of fettuccine with fennel scented tomato sauce with all kinds of seafood.  Heavenly.  I clearly decided to eschew my newly adopted mostly plant-based diet, just for the weekend.  Every bite was fabulous and I loved the setting, exposed brick in a likely 19th century building.  It’s clearly a popular place and you can tell the staff enjoy it as much as the customers.

With a Tiramisu “to go”, we headed up the mountain to the condo that had very kindly been lent to us for the weekend.  Sitting on the deck in about 65 degrees under a clear starry sky was just perfect and a much needed respite from the almost triple digit temperatures back in Petersburg.

I woke up early the next morning, it’s a bit of a struggle to sleep comfortably as I’m still sore from the surgery.  I was rewarded with seeing the latter part of the sunrise over the mountains.  A spectacular sight given the amazing vantage point from the deck.  It was so quiet and apparently the only living things up this early were me, and a groundhog having its breakfast.  I think living in an urban area intensifies my appreciation of beautiful rural spaces.

First up on the schedule was Wimbledon, of course.  No way I’m missing the finals!  Afterwards, a decision was made to go to Devils Grill, the Golf clubhouse restaurant that has a gorgeous porch overlooking the 18th hole where we scored a great corner table with an uninterrupted view.  We watched as deer and golfers enjoyed the stunning course while we ate a delightful lunch of Salmon Sliders and a Lamb Meatball Naan with Tsatsiki.  Yum.  To be able to sit on a porch in July in Virginia, with a cool breeze and the absence of bugs, was a veritable treat.  I could have sat there all afternoon!

Just to prepare for the unlikely chance I might win the lottery one day and be able to buy a second home here, we stopped by an Open House and then the Realty office.  I represent the opposite of the average Wintergreen homeowner as I’d want to be there anytime other than the ski season.  The Open House was a fully refurbished 3 bedroom condo with SPECTACULAR views but for some bizarre reason they only built a tiny deck which would barely fit two bistro chairs.  Simply not good enough for this porch lover.  And neither was the $360,000 listing price.  But a girl can dream, right?

I hadn’t been to Afton Mountain Vineyard in almost 20 years and wow has it changed since then!  I remember a small tasting room with a selection of cheeses and snacks in a refrigerator that could be enjoyed outside with a glass or bottle of their wine.  The basic concept is still there but it’s all grown up now.  A “terrace room” provides a weather resistant tasting space, and I presume a private event venue.  A lovely porch surrounds the actual tasting room with lots of seating.  We were greeted at the door and informed there was a wait for our tasting.  The offerings were quite lovely and being a fairly hot day, we picked the crisp and delicious Rose to take outside.  Here we were entertained by two women, a few glasses in, gossiping about the antics of their friends.  Then, a bachelorette party arrived and the delightful civility of the setting was momentarily and hilariously interrupted by the bride and her very enthusiastic group of bridesmaids.  It would be a fair guess to say that they were probably on about their fifth vineyard of the day. One of them was practically begging for someone to ask her to take her top off…..  Despite the distractions, the setting is lovely and surely there are few better ways to spend an afternoon?

Bold Rock Cider was on our way “home” and what an impressive place it is!  And clearly very popular especially with younger folks.  I was a cider drinker back in the day in England so it’s great to see this delicious drink being taken a lot more seriously over here now.  We took the free tasting of two of their signature ciders and then purchased their 4 cider flight.  We carried our little trays outside onto the deck  and sipped on some seriously good cider.  A great visit to an impressive place.

We decided to have dinner up at The Copper Mine, the main restaurant at The Mountain Inn up at Wintergreen.  No culinary boundaries were smashed through and the service was a little painful but we really did enjoy the food, opting for a flatbread, great honey balsalmic chicken wings, asparagus, a gorgeous watermelon and feta salad and shrimp cocktail.  Tapas style, always a favorite way to eat.

I didn’t quite wake up early enough for the full sunrise again on Sunday but almost did… it was stunning regardless.  I love the peace that emanates from the view, the silence except for birdsong, and the endless waves of shades of blue.  Just beautiful.

Another lazy morning included watching Federer make Wimbledon history by claiming yet another title, he’s amazing!  Watching him play is like poetry in motion. Unfortunately it was time to leave this lovely place so we packed up and drove to one more stop before heading back home.  Veritas Winery is a favorite, not only is their wine great, but they also have a gourmet snack bar now.  So, we enjoyed a Goat  Cheese and Fig Panini and a Pear and Arugula Salad along with their Sauvignon Blanc whilst sitting on the large covered porch overlooking the Vineyard.

It was a perfect end to a fabulous weekend.  The goal having been to relax, recuperate and enjoy this gorgeous area.  The fact that I felt thoroughly peaceful and pampered, was the icing on the cake.





Showing up for 24 hours in Roanoke

“Call and Response” and “Every Shadow you Make”, Aimee Joyaux

I firmly believe in the philosophy that half of life is simply about showing up.

Our dear friend Aimee Joyaux, a brilliant artist, was selected to include two pieces of her work in the Homeward Bound exhibit at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, a juried show featuring only Virginia artists. The opening reception was on Friday night and what better reason than that to plan a quick jaunt to celebrate her, experience another city and enjoy great food, drinks and company.  Oh, and stay at the Hotel Roanoke.  A place I’d heard much about but had never been to.  Our party of 13 left for our destination at different times, our carload being the last, due to school pickup.  The drive down 460 was an easy one despite the 3 hour duration and as we approached Roanoke the sun was setting over the mountains.  Beautiful!  Upon arrival at the hotel,  we checked in to our lovely rooms on the Executive Level.  The advance party, Heather and Cherry, had stocked our room with wine so we were able to enjoy a quick glass before walking over to the Taubman.  On our way there we heard voices behind us and it was Alain’s son Daniel and his girlfriend Karin who had made the trip from D.C. to celebrate Aimee’s latest accolade of her amazing work.

Just seeing the Hotel Roanoke and experiencing the short stroll to the museum, I already knew that I loved this place!  The historic area is chock full of independently owned restaurants, shops and bars housed in historic and interesting buildings with a small town feel.  It was freezing outside so we happily entered the very warm museum, a thoroughly modern but not too imposing structure on the edge of the historic area.  Our tardiness meant that our time there was somewhat brief but we were thrilled to see Aimee’s pieces hanging in such a beautiful space.  Not only that, we got to see Ron Walton’s piece too!  Another Petersburg artist and owner of the Walton Gallery.  It was fascinating to see the different works of art, all by Virginia artists, all so distinctive and brilliant in their own way.  One of my favorite moments was when JV suddenly exclaimed to Kerry, “Mom, my favorite artist has work here!”  He had spotted the paintings by Richmond artist, Todd Hale, from a distance of about 50 feet and rushed over to admire them.  How many twelve year olds do you know like that?  Such a cool kid.


There was never any doubt that a great dinner was going to be part of our itinerary.  We were also joined by another of tonight’s honored artists, a friend of Aimee’s, Alyssa Salomon. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Roanoke and we had secured a reservation at Lucky, a restaurant that describes themselves as French Country and American Comfort. Heather had pooled her contacts in the city to find this gem.  Definitely my kind of place!  We were seated at 2 big tables by the entrance which essentially gave us a space all to ourselves.  We were then treated to one of the best servers ever, Lauren, who we initially assumed was the owner.  She looked amazing and wouldn’t have been out of place at a cocktail party but more importantly than that, she knew the menu inside and out.  Not only the food but the craft cocktails.  Tonight’s special cocktail was Rumming with the Devil which included two types of Rum, Apricot, Five-spice and a concoction that apparently involved overnight fermentation of some ingredients in a coke bottle… I ordered one and it was certainly interesting!  Not my favorite drink ever but fun to experience and as tonight was all about art, we appreciated the artistry and creative process that went into it. We ordered a Bread Plate, Mussels, Duck Pate and a Cheese Board to accompany our drinks and loved it all.  The bread was accompanied with divine roasted garlic olive oil, goat cheese, nicoise olive tapenade and Basque olives.  The PEI mussels were suitably garlic laden, the duck pate was divinely smooth and luxurious with baguette, sweet onion chutney, pickled red onions and Dijon.  The cheese board was perfect.  Four types of cheese with an onion jam, candied walnuts, olives, drizzles of honey and baguette slices.

Cocktails and appetizers demolished, we moved on to wine and a variety of entrees.  Buttermilk fried chicken for all three boys and Heather, Gnocchi with Kale and Pesto for Kerry, gorgeous salads with Goat Cheese and Beets for Chana and Cherry, and I opted for two small plates.  Roasted Marrow bones with Charred Lemon and Fava Bean Hummus along with four Roasted Oysters with lemon, garlic and scallion breadcrumbs.  All delicious!  Along with top notch service in a delightful space, we had a fabulous experience.

Ben and JV have a new passion for playing pool and had discovered that there was a table in the pub at the Hotel Roanoke.  They begged us to see if they could go and play after dinner.  So, we began the 10 minute stroll back to the hotel trying to explain why it might not be possible for them to play as it was late on a Friday night and kids might not be allowed in the pub. However, upon our arrival there, a quick chat with the bartender confirmed that it was fine for them to play.  And so began a hilarious couple of hours that involved martinis and more wine for us ladies and several rounds of pool with a group of ACC football referees in town for a conference.  The refs were all hanging out by the pool table and when they saw the boys starting to play, quickly became their tutors and ultimately competitors.  They could not have been nicer and we all had a blast chatting away and playing pool. Until 1 am.  I know, kids and their Moms should really go to bed a lot earlier than that but life is for living and this was a fun experience all round.  Not an everyday occurrence despite the fact that my kids spent the first decade or so of their lives living above our pub.

Staying on the Executive Level gave us access to a lounge with refreshments.  In the morning this included a breakfast that provided us with much needed delicious sustenance after our late night; sausages, scrambled eggs, fruit, pastries, yoghurt and all the caffeinated beverages that we needed.  The lounge was overseen by a woman who was ALL business!  We got a 5 minute warning when breakfast was over and we were in no way going to question her.  I highly recommend upgrading to this level as the services included provided excellent added value.

Feeling a little more alive, we showered, packed and then sat in the gorgeous lobby, chatting and relaxing while JV and Ben enjoyed the pool table once again, but this time all to themselves and in the light of day.  The Hotel Roanoke is definitely my kind of hotel.  Upscale but not stuffy, traditional but with modern touches.  For example, the furnishings in the lobby were mostly traditional in their colors but modern in their lines.  I’m no interior design expert but I noticed the details and really appreciated them.

With what felt like the fiftieth game of pool completed, we headed out to explore.  We went into the delightful city market, weaved through the stands and shops of Market Street, chatting with vendors along the way.  You get a genuine feeling that keeping business local here is serious business.  I love that.  We purchased gorgeous locally made soaps, had hysterics in the kitchen store at all the fun quotes on napkins and tea towels, tasted delicious baked goods, bought great jewelry in a store that imported African and Asian crafts, marveled at all the Virginia products being sold in Eli’s, drooled over furniture at Shabby Love…the list goes on.

In need of a snack, we headed to the well known Roanoke Weiner Stand for hotdogs.  What a cool place, simple concept, great service, lunch for 4 under $20.  You can even get a $2 can of Bud or Bud Light if you so desired.  I did not.


After enjoying our hotdogs, we headed back to the hotel to enjoy the lobby for just a little bit longer and yes, the boys played pool…again!  We decided to end our stay with a quick drive up the mountain to the Star monument where you can enjoy an amazing view over the city and valley.  Much to JV’s horror, when we reached the iconic landmark, Kerry recalled her last visit to it.  Back in her college days, she and her then boyfriend had a date there and she decided to declare her love for him in grand style, by shouting it from the mountaintop!

Just being up in the mountains feeds my soul.  Give me them over the beach any day. Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to climb them, but I love being surrounded by the majesty of them.  There are few places in the world that I have found more lovely than the mountains of Virginia.  I hadn’t explored this part of them before and it was a real treat.  I could quite easily live in Roanoke.  Beautiful scenery, great food, support of small businesses, a fabulous art museum and the essential requirement for any place I might even consider living in…an airport.  Can’t wait to go back.  We left the Star, winding our way back down the mountain and headed back along 460 on a lovely evening, happy to have experienced a terrific 24 hours in Roanoke.  Thanks, Aimee!

Like I said at the beginning, all kinds of things can happen in life when you simply show up.