The Jefferson Hotel: Virginian Elegance

The Jefferson Hotel is a classic example of Richmond’s brand of Virginian elegance. The lobby hosts a regal likeness of its namesake in an atmosphere that honors both Jefferson’s love of all things French and his native home.

The hotel offers two restaurants of equal elegance. TJ’s offers more casual dining fare in an atmosphere of understated elegance.  Lemaire offers classic French cuisine in an atmosphere of formal elegance.

Both offer the perfect setting for celebrations.  TJ’s is the only place I found in Richmond that offers eggs Benedict on its daily breakfast menu.  Since eggs Benedict is our eldest daughter’s favorite breakfast, it seemed a fitting start to our day of shopping to prepare for her launch into her first adult professional post in Minneapolis.  She chose the vegetarian version of eggs Benedict and I opted for the Rivah omelette which includes one of Virginia’s best ingredients: crab.

Later that week we chose the Lemaire to celebrate my and my husband’s birthdays.  The pickled watermelon salad, heirloom tomato salad and crab cake opened the meal with summer’s bounty. The plates were beautiful, full of enticing texture and flavor combinations and just the right size to wake the appetite.

Our main courses, cooked to perfection, were equally beautiful, delicious and satisfying.  Beef tenderloin with duck fat potatoes, asparagus, crispy shallot, watercress, dijon Demi-glace; thyme roasted cobia with parsnips, garlic confit, tuscan kale, Surry county sausage and carrot butter; organic free-range chick breast with Yukon gold potatoes, shiitake, grilled scallion, chicken leg confit and parmesan cream; and open lasagna with vegetable ratatouille of beech mushrooms, marinated olives and ricotta salata with squash coulis were our choices.

No birthday celebration is complete without a sweet ending. Our finale consisted of  a cheese and fruit plate; lemon/raspberry tart; flourless chocolate cake/caramel mousse and a  creme brûlée’.

Lemaire successfully reminded us that food truly is edible art.

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Food Books Galore!

In September, we will have lived in Richmond, V.A. for three years. I continue my quest to get to know not only my new city: Richmond, but also my new state: Virginia.

My February trip to Mt. Vernon inspired me to read some of the treasures I discovered in their bookstore and my local library.

mt veron image

It’s taken me several months, but I have finally finished these five great reads: Eight Flavors by Sarah Lohman, Southern Food and Civil Rights by Frederick Douglas Opie, Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brulee’ by Thomas J. Craughwell, The Best of Virginia Farms by Ci Ci Williamson and Julia Reed’s South- Spirited Entertaining and High Style Fun All Year Long.

Eight Flavors

At first, I thought Lohman’s Eight Flavors was going to be a dry history of American cooking, but Lohman’s anecdotes brought depth to the history because at it’s core, history is about personal stories: people.

Eight Flavors reminded me that we bring our personal fears, bias, and racism to food, yet in spite of ourselves, we love the food of those we fear. Food builds bridges, brings acceptance of a new culture, even if that culture is misunderstood or muddled in interpretation. I.e.: chow mien, chop suey, spaghetti and meatballs….

Southern Food and Civil Rights

Frederick Douglas Opie is a history professor at Babson, College and a regular contributor to Splendid Table. Southern Food and Civil Rights, is just one of his food history books. Opie’s premise is Napoleon’s observation that “an army marches on its stomach”. Throughout the book, Opie demonstrates that feeding protestors was central to all successful civil rights movements. As a child born in the 60’s, my understanding of American civil rights movements was more limited than I realized, so I appreciated learning that as early as the 1930’s, Black communities began protesting and using boycotts to force white store owners to hire people from the neighborhoods where they had businesses and from the communities that shopped in their stores. Once one campaign was successful, word spread throughout the country. One grocery store was even put out of business because it refused to comply. I think that is called “cutting your nose off to spite your face”.

Professor Opie graciously answered my questions about eliminating food deserts in our inner city neighborhoods and offering “great tasting healthier options”. He also directed me to a helpful webcast by Dr. Alvenia Fulton of Chicago.

https://soundcloud.com/thedinnertablewithfredopie/dr-alvenia-moody-fulton-queen-of-nutrition

Thomas Jefferson's Cre'me Brule'e

I knew that Thomas Jefferson was a man of many interests and talents, but I had no idea that he was America’s first foodie.   Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brulee’ by Thomas J. Craughwell chronicles Jefferson’s enthusiasm for European foods and their introduction into American culture. Jefferson even went to far as to bring his slave, James Hemmings over to Paris so that James could be trained as a French chef. Because slavery was illegal in France, James was officially a free man, so Jefferson had to pay him regular wages and allow him to roam freely on his time off. James even learned to speak French better than his owner. Jefferson promised to give James his freedom once they returned to Virginia, if James would first return to the Virginia and train another slave at Monticello. Jefferson went back on his word, delaying James freedom for several years…because he could. Nonetheless, we have our third President to thank for introducing many varieties of fruits and vegetables, as well as popular dishes like macaroni and cheese and ice cream to the U.S.A.

The best of VA Farms image

The Best of Virginia Farms by Ci Ci Williamson inspired me to make my own list of maple sugar farms, bed and breakfasts, gardens, arboretums, and national parks that I want to visit now that I live in Virginia.

Julia Reed's South

I finished up with Julia Reed’s South Spirited Entertaining and High Style Fun All Year Long by Julia Reed. Julia has inspired me to try to re-create her menus for dinner parties and holiday celebrations. Southern hospitality is real and Ms. Reed brings it alive in her gorgeously photographed book. The photographer, Paul Costello chooses idyllic settings to showcase Ms. Reed’s beautiful food and table settings.

 

 

Welcoming Spring and Saint Patrick to Church Hill

Daffodils and tulips abounded; cherry and dogwood blossoms revealed their glory in time to welcome Saint Patrick to Church Hill.   The annual St. Patrick Festival offered plenty of wonderful Irish food: corned beef, beef brisket, bangers (sausages), Irish soda bread, gingerbread, and scones, fish and chips or even a burger if you wouldn’t venture to try the Irish fare. I opted for the Irish twist on BBQ by Alamo BBQ:  The Irish Train Wreck.

Alamo BBQ Irish Train Wreck

There were green beards, kilts and bagpipes a plenty.  Wandering the Broad St.  blocks between 24th and 26th Streets, I was entertained by traditional Irish folk music, Irish rock n’ roll and young Irish dancing troupes at the various pavilions all for a free will offering of $5, or whatever you could spare.

If you fancied a souvenir T-shirt, St. Balderick’s offered some great options. If you were looking for a traditional Irish wool sweater, Irish coat of arms or crosses, or some traditional Irish jewelry there were some beautiful offerings from the vending tents.  St. Baldricks Irish wares standDefinitely something to make an annual tradition.

Celebrating George

This year, I decided to celebrate the father of our country at his own home: Mount Vernon. Despite the lack luster presentation, the peanut and chestnut soup and the hoecake made for a delightful and tasty lunch.  The soup was warm, liquid peanut butter with a fun crunch added by the chestnuts.  I was surprised that the hoecakes were not swimming in honey, the way Washington preferred them.  However, the crab, shaved ham and hollandaise sauce made a far superior accompaniment than the honey would have.

Mt. Vernon is an amazing living museum worthy of an entire day’s visit.  I thoroughly enjoyed touring the mansion, walking the beautiful grounds, observing signs of an early Spring and remnants of Winter harvests. The greenhouse and slave quarters has been rebuilt and restored to its former grandeur.  Meticulous attention has been given to authentically restoring the gardens to their original designs, witnessed in the Fleur -de -lis boxwood garden, fruit tree lined vegetable gardens and flower beds.

The farm animals also reflect the original livestock of oxen, sheep and pigs.

I enjoyed watching the colonial costumed characters roam the grounds, answer questions and carry out common chores.

mt-vernon-blacksmith-shop

I even witnessed a naturalization ceremony for newly minted American citizens.  Mt. Vernon hosts the ceremony three times a year.

naturalization-ceremony

The education center houses a fabulous museum of Washington’s personal belongings or replicas, slave accounts, simulated escape as a runaway slave, diary entries, painting, clothing and weapons.  The gift shop offers plenty of gorgeous replicas of the Washingtons’ various china plate settings, costumes, food and fine whiskey and brandy from Mt. Vernon or nearby farms, witty T-shirts, the usual Christmas ornaments and small souvenirs and of course a bounty of  my favorite: books.

marthas-wisdom

Finally, I ended the day on a sweet and spicy note with a historic chocolate stick covered with powdered cinnamon.

sweet-ending-to-the-day

Bootlegger’s in Church Hill?

I was on one of my neighborhood walks when I had the pleasure of meeting a former resident who was on a nostalgic pilgrimage, recalling her childhood.  We both stopped to look down the ravine at the site of Bloody Run.  Richmond has a long history as far as American history goes, and I was contemplating the beginnings of Richmond’s long and infamous history of unjust shenanigans beginning with Native Americans.

The elderly pilgrim told me the story of her childhood romps up and down the steep staircase and her father’s warnings to stay out of the bootleggers’ woods.  I asked her if there was ever a raid on their stills.  She could not remember any and remarked that everyone knew that they were there, but no one bothered them and they bothered no one. Nothing like the famed Virginia bootleggers depicted in Lawless.

Prohibition was one of America’s more interesting failed experiments.  When lawmen tried and failed to convict Al Capone for violating Prohibition, they turned to tax evasion to finally put an end to his criminal activities.  Hmm…tax evasion as a way to put a criminal out of commission.

I remember my own grandparents telling me stories of how they thought they were a daring young couple, frequenting Chicago speakeasies and drinking Slow Gin Fizzes.  Of course gin could be made in bath tubs throughout the city, but I think Virginians preferred Moonshine.  Curiously enough, “Moonshine” is becoming legitimized and can be found in liquor stores across the country.  Ah the curious evolution of food, drink and culture.

 

Deck the Halls!

If you haven’t yet seen the Christmas splendor at the Jefferson Hotel, you’ve missed a treat.  My mom, my three daughters and I made sure to bask in the Christmas glow that the Jefferson Hotel graciously bestows on Richmond.

Don’t forget to visit the upstairs lobby as well.  Sara Ayyash has succeeded again at wowing Richmond with her amazing gingerbread display.  This year it’s Santa and his sleigh!

Shirley Plantation’s newest addition

Today, my husband and I visited historic Shirley plantation: North America’s oldest family owned working plantation.  After visiting the family home, laundry/gift house, outdoor kitchen, barn, smokehouse, icehouse and dovecote, we made our way to the Upper Shirley Vineyard restaurant and tasting room on the plantation grounds. This sleek, modern restaurant and wine tasting room was opened in February of 2016.  The 2017 summer is already heavily booked  as a wedding venue.  After tasting the food and enjoying the dining atmosphere, I can see why.

We started the meal with the cheese board.  I enjoyed a glass of the 2015 Viognier that paired nicely with the French Brie, candied pecans, figs, honey,mild goat’s milk Blue cheese from Maryland and the cow’s milk mild Cheddar from Virginia.

 

My husband chose the Lump Crab Cake plate and I opted for the Shrimp and Grits.  Both were excellent.  As a Shrimp and Grits virgin, this was an amazing introduction to the dish.  I loved the added kick that the andouille offered. The mushrooms and tomatoes added yet another layer of flavors as well.  I scored a taste of my husband’s Crab Cake and Hoppin John: marvelous!  I decided to forego dessert and finished up with a hot cup of chamomile tea since the meal itself was more than satisfying.