Thursday, August 21, 2014

wandering the streets: an early morning walk in colonial williamsburg

after two days of rain that were mostly spent in a car driving from house to house on our search for a place to live, i walked to colonial williamsburg.  since darry had to work, i rode in with him and left the car in the lot at william and mary and walked the mile between the university and the historic village.

it was early by most standards, barely 7am, but not early to me since i am generally at work before 4am each day.  although this was rush hour, there were hardly any cars around-something i am sure will change once classes start again next week.  as i walked along the sidewalk that parallels the university grounds, i noticed the moss and lichen covering the brick walls that border the property.  while i do not know how long the brick walls have stood along the walkway, it was obvious that they have been here quite some time.

as a gardener with a preference for shade plants, moss is something i try to encourage in my own garden.  there are methods of introducing it that call for blending moss with buttermilk and painting it where you would like it to grow but there is something magical about letting nature take the lead.

the different colors and textures blend together beautifully.

to really appreciate the beauty, one must get close up.  moss are unique plants that do not produce flowers or seeds but instead reproduce through spores.  those little brown pods are actually spore capsules getting ready to burst.

lichen on the other hand is not really a plant but a symbiotic partnership formed by fungus and an algae or bacteria.

very few places were open so early so i headed over to the local coffee house for breakfast.  it was truly peaceful out here as there were still so few people out and about.

my goal was to photograph as much as i could before the tourists descended and made a clean shot impossible.  this is the walkway into the village from merchants square.

knowing that this is a major tourist attraction, it was a surprise to learn that many of the houses are privately owned and that the owners live in them.  it is also legal to drive on the roads but not during the day when the roads are full of tourists.  another surprise was the number of runners i encountered and not just single runners but entire packs of them.  on several occasions i was passed by a group of 5 to 6 running together.

but even with the runners, walkers and occasional car, it was still quite possible to get the shot and simply enjoy the morning.

every detail in the village must look as though it has endured the centuries.  wooden gates and the locks that fasten them as well.

this little guy let me get just close enough before he dropped his breakfast and ran

the brick walkways were slightly slick with the morning dew and the cracks were filled with moss.

and if you stopped for a moment to take a peek at what lies on the other side of the fence, this would be the view.  even though it seemed neglected or perhaps just lacking plants, it still made for a beautiful view.  my gardener's view had visions of hostas, ferns, hellebores and other deep-shade loving plants filling the beds and with my imagination, i could see azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas dotted throughout the area to create colorful focal points.  even so, there was beauty in just the patterns formed by the beds and the bricks and the moss that was filling in the spaces.

as i wandered from place to place, i encountered another walkway leading to yet another secret garden.  this wooden staircase climbed a hillside up to a brick walkway between houses.  the bright red door caught my attention and i headed towards it.

and right into a garden in the process of renovation.  my thoughts continually ran back to this; how did the colonists have time for so many gardens?  obviously, these homes were not inhabited by working class folks; they had servants, maybe even slaves which would explain how they had the time to maintain so many beautiful gardens along with all the other daily chores completed without the many modern conveniences we are accustomed to.  it also crossed my mind that a tourist attraction must be just that-attractive.  who would go visit it if it showed the signs of real life and what it was like back then before things such as indoor plumbing and sewer systems...

regardless of what it must have been like then, it was a beautiful way to spend a morning and i look forward to going back and visiting again and again as the seasons change.

churches were central parts of colonial communities.  the bruton parish church building which dates back to 1715 was no exception; it was attended by george washington, thomas jefferson and patrick henry to name just a few.  to walk the grounds which really are little more than a cemetery, is also a sobering experience.  modern medicine has made childbirth safe for women and the likelihood that a child will grow to adulthood is something we take for granted.

the inscription of this tomb reminded me how lucky we are to be living in this day and age.   young mathew whaley only lived to be 9 years old and he "lyes interred here within this tomb upon his father"

and yes, i am one of those people that like to wander cemeteries looking at the names and dates as well as the stones themselves.  this tomb grabbed my attention with a skull and crossbones on one side

and an angel on the other.  unfortunately, time has take its toll and the inscription across the top of the tomb was not legible and so i have no clue who was interred within or why they might have such an interesting tomb.

and as is customary, a lock on the churchyard gate, but i do wonder if that would have been the case back then.  there was a time when churches doors were always open for anyone seeking refuge.  honestly, i just like the hardware on the gate, the idea that someone hammered hot iron to form them makes them worth a look and a photo.

and just as my morning began, so it ended.  as the sun came up and the heat and humidity rose, i walked out of the village on the same sidewalk that i arrived on.  too hot and too bright for photos, i went to see the indoor sights of the local art museums, the dewitt wallace decorative arts museum and the abby aldrich rockefeller folk art museum, both which are entered through the old public hospital.  don't let the name fool you, it was not a typical hospital but one where they housed the insane and treated them in the hopes of "restoring them to their lost reason..."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

the dog street pub; dinner in colonial williamsburg

a saturday in the summer is the best day to visit colonial williamsburg.  yes, there are a lot of people-it is tourist season, but there is also a lot more to see.  the historical village is alive with people in period costume and they are busily re-enacting everyday life as the colonists experienced it.  they are also friendly and will patiently listen to you and answer every question you have for them.  just be prepared for canons to go off-they can scare the crap out of you if you are not watching the performance and are just strolling the nearby gardens...

after a busy day of driving in endless loops looking for a place to live, we wandered back to colonial williamsburg to see the village.  something to keep in mind, you can enter the village freely and wander the streets without buying a ticket.  many of the gardens and exhibits allow you to enter for free as well but to see and experience the entire village, you will need to buy a ticket since many areas require it for entrance.  we had only an hour or so to walk the village and decided to wait to buy tickets on a day that we could truly stay and experience it all.

after spending much of our time just wandering gardens, we ventured back to merchant square and into the dog street pub for what we thought would be a drink in the bar and a chance to cool off and get out of the hot sun. we sat at the bar sipping drinks; a glass of pinot grigio for me and a glass of the founders pale ale nitro for darry.  since we were a bit tired from all of the time spent driving, a little overheated from the hot summer sun and apparently hungry, darry decided to order something to snack on.  we started out with house made hummus.  the lovely presentation of a glass jar and freshly baked croutons was almost too pretty to dig into.  the light, creamy hummus was made with just the right amount of garlic and lemon and was just what we needed to accompany our drinks.

of course, one thing led to another and we stayed for dinner-but don't worry, we went home at a respectable hour and there was no walk of shame...darry has a thing for burgers and the dog street pub did not disappoint him.  the feta and onion stuffed lamb burger was devoured quickly and every burger he has eaten since (he does love burgers) has been compared to it-none have come close.

anyone that knows me, knows of my love for mussels.  these were simmered in a cider and bacon broth.  i ate each and every one and used all of the bread available to soak up the broth.

i think i will like living so close to the bay and the ocean, especially if it means these will be fresh and readily available.

the pub has quite the selection of beer on tap but none is as unique as the "real ale" which the bartender was kind enough to explain.  the brewing process uses traditional ingredients but also includes a second fermentation process in the container.  the ale is only served from a special tap on the bar and this tap does not use the additional carbon dioxide or pass it over cold plates like beer served from a standard tap.  the result is that the ale is a little less carbonated, a little less cold and it likely will have a trace of sediment from the fermentation process in it.  the real ale available on our visit was a legend brown ale and it had a nice deep amber color and a smooth flavor with absolutely no bitterness- a good thing since i am not a beer drinker (as if that wasn't obvious already) but if i had to, i could have easily consumed a 10 ounce imperial half pint.

the two beers, side by side, the real ale on the left and the pale ale on the right.  it was an enjoyable way to start the evening, we look forward to being able to do this again especially as the seasons progress.  the chance to see the colonial village during the different seasons is something i am looking forward to.

many thanks to the bartenders on duty during our visit, they gave us great service and answered all of our questions-even those about where they lived; well, we are trying to find a place to see the menu, and the beer list check out the website.

and one more thing, we were not compensated in any way for this, we paid for our drinks and food ourselves!

Monday, August 18, 2014

farmers market foray; colonial williamsburg

this week, i am posting from colonial williamsburg, the area i will be calling home in the very near future.  hard to believe but after a quick 19 years, darry and i have sold the house and are relocating to williamsburg for his new position.  as part of that transition, i went out there this week to begin the search for a place to live.

part of that process included getting to know the area.  sure, i visited colonial williamsburg as a kid but this is the first time i have done so as an adult.  my father will be proud to know that this time, i truly appreciate the historical aspect of the city and i am looking forward to getting to know all i can about this beautiful place.

during the summer, the historical merchants square is home to a weekly farmers market.  each saturday morning, the street is filled with vendor booths stocked with products ranging from flowers, baked goods, chocolates and produce to meats, cheeses and honey.  if you cannot find it here, it just isn't in season!  be sure to check out the website as it lists the vendors who will be in attendance each week-yes the website is updated weekly, so you can plan your trip in advance if there is a specific item you would like to purchase.  darry and i spent the morning wandering from booth to booth while listening to live music courtesy of a local group of what we assumed were very talented high school students.  the best part about the market, you can purchase wooden nickels, tokens if you will, for $5 each and then spend them all season long at the market-a great idea if you want to stick to a budget or if you happen to pop in at the last minute and are short on cash.  these tokens spend like cash and if your total is less than $5, they will give you change in cash.

having lived in tennessee for a while now, i was a little surprised to see such a small variety of tomatoes.  it seems that the folks in nashville are much more tomato crazy-must be the tomato sandwich that drives it.  only one vendor had cherokee purples-a tomato that darry is completely hooked on, and rightly so!  we settled on a basket of mixed tomatoes to snack on.

i love fresh flowers and was amazed at how many of these bouquets had giant marigolds in them. looks like i will have to plant the monster sized ones in my new garden so that i can put them in bouquets too.  to see them here, look at the blue bucket in the bottom left corner, that was mostly marigolds.

 nothing like fresh berries from the market-just picked and juicy!

apples are coming into season here.  we were going to snap up a few honey crisps but as we approached the booth, they were wiping them off the list because they had already sold out...maybe next time!

 no shortage of freshly picked melons here, love these baskets-they would be great for the garden

this sign made me laugh-embrace new cultures...did someone tell them we are moving here?  trust me, we may be moving a mere 660 miles but it is a whole new world and a completely different place and culture!

did you know that the virginia peninsula which is where williamsburg is located, meets the chesapeake bay making fresh blue crabs and mollusks a truly local product.  the virginia seafood booth in the market sells cooked crabs (without the claws) for a dollar a piece.  while that may seem like a bit of a rip off, the majority of the meat is in the body and as we stood there looking into the cooler, darry's eyes lit up; he had visions of an inexpensive source for crab shells to make bisque and that totally works for me!

and while i am truly sad to be leaving friends, gardens(as well as gardeners) and fellow food bloggers behind, i am comforted to know that my suspicions are correct:  pie fixes everything!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

pennington's icebox cake; a no-bake summer dessert

summer is the season for no-bake desserts.  honestly, who wants to turn the oven on when it is 90+ outside?  while i can say that i am guilty of baking during the heat of summer, having discovered icebox cakes, i will probably think twice, especially since they are so easy to make.  the best part about them is that by simply changing cookies or adding a little something to the layers, you have a whole new dessert each time.

for this version, i used biscoff cookies and pennington's strawberry rye and it was as tasty as it was easy to make.  the hardest part; letting it sit in the fridge long enough for the cookies to soften!
 whip up 2 cups of heavy cream with 2-3 tablespoons of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla until stiff peaks form.  choose a plate that is completely flat and spread a tiny bit of the whipped cream in the center to act as glue for the cookies.   line up 6 cookies as i did in the photo above and brush them with about a tablespoon of pennington's strawberry rye.  cover the top of the cookies with some of the whipped cream and repeat the process until the entire package of cookies is gone. there should be five layers of six cookies with a thin layer of cream between them.  for those of you that like a lot of cream, go ahead and whip up 3 cups of cream with a 1/4 cup of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla, the rye amount will remain unchanged; you will need at least 1/3 cup.  if i recall correctly, there will be a couple of cookies left over so just dip them in some additional rye and eat them quickly, i'll never tell...

 it comes together quickly and easily.  the hardest part is waiting until it is soft enough to slice.  refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours so that the cream and the rye will soften the cookies and make  slicing it possible.

 i liked the way the sides looked with all of the layers showing but you could easily whip up another cup of heavy cream and frost the sides of the cake.  use the tip of the spatula to make a zig-zag pattern on the top.  fresh strawberries would be a pretty addition when served.  slice them in half from the top down to make heart shaped garnishes and give each of the guests a shot of pennington's to sip with dessert.

 just to prove my theory, i tried the cake with gingersnaps.  publix supermarkets sells a private labeled gingersnap that is the spiciest snap i have ever eaten.  luckily, the whipped cream tempered the heat.  while the flavors blended nicely, i thought the spice of the snaps overwhelmed the fruity flavor of the rye and honestly, as much as i like gingersnaps, i preferred the biscoff version much better.

twenty minutes of work and five minutes of cleanup equals one tasty icebox cake to serve and savor on a hot summer night!

special thanks to my good friend the food sheriff for sharing a bottle of pennington's strawberry rye with me!  to see the other desserts i made with it, follow these links:
triple chocolate truffle bars
(coming soon)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

strawberry tea-ramisu; a no-bake summer recipe

if you give a pastry chef a bottle of pennington's strawberry rye, chances are she will whip up a dessert.  and if said pastry chef is feeling a little daring, she might just reinvent the classic tiramisu into something totally southern.  guess what, this happened, it really, really happened!

with many thanks to my good friend, the food sheriff, i found myself in possession of some penningtons, strawberry rye and the instructions to "make something!"  have i ever told you that i am good at following instructions?  okay, that is stretching it, a lot, but this time, i did exactly that.

 if you have made a true, classic tiramisu, you know it can be a little intimidating.  zabaglione is one of those recipes that require you to follow instructions carefully for the best results.  but that does not mean that you cannot improvise.  for this recipe, the technique is intact, it is the components that have changed.

the first change came when i decided to replace the espresso with a strong batch of black tea.  this dark tea was combined with the pennington's strawberry rye and a little sugar to make the soaking liquid for the savoiardi.

to further adapt the recipe, the traditionally called for marsala was omitted from the zabaglione and the strawberry rye was used in a one to one switch.  to keep it light and simple, whipped cream was used rather than whipped mascarpone cheese.  the result of these changes is a lovely, creamy whiskey and tea infused dessert that is both simple and sophisticated.

the best type of cookie for this recipe is a true italian savoiardi, a crispy lady finger that soaks up the tea and rye syrup.  finding them in the grocery store can be a challenge but in nashville, i quickly found them at publix.  for best results, make the dessert the day before so that it has time to set and make cutting it into portions for serving.
 strawberry tea-ramisu
1 (8"x 8") pan serving 6-8

1 (7ounce) package of savoiardi 
1 pint fresh strawberries
white chocolate shavings
tea syrup, recipe follows
zabaglione, recipe follows

press plastic wrap into an 8"x 8" dish so that the sides and bottom are covered.  dip a few of the savoiardi into the tea syrup and line them up on the bottom of the dish so that the surface is covered.  carefully spread a third of the zabaglione cream over the top using a small, offset palette knife or a spatula.  place enough tea soaked savoiardi over the top of the cream, going in the opposite direction to completely cover it.  top with another third of the zabaglione cream and spread it out evenly.  repeat the process with the final portion of tea soaked savoiardi and zabaglione cream.  press plastic over the surface and allow it to sit in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.  

to serve the dessert, carefully invert the dessert onto a plate-do not remove the plastic on the cream side, leave it intact for now.  holding the plastic wrap that is lining the bottom of the pan, gently pull the dish away.  remove the plastic wrap that is on the cookie side of the dessert and place a serving dish over the dessert and invert it.  remove the remaining plastic wrap and using the tip of the palette knife to create a swirled design over the top of the dessert.  cut into the desired portions and serve with slices of fresh strawberries and a generous sprinkle of white chocolate shavings.

tea syrup
2 cups water
6 black tea bags, single cup size
3 tablespoons pennington's strawberry rye
1/3 cup sugar

bring the water to a boil over high heat.  add the tea bags and allow the tea to steep for at least 5 minutes and as long as 10 minutes.  remove the tea bags and gently squeeze the liquid out of them and into the pot.  

to make the syrup, measure out 1 1/2 cups of warm tea and combine it with the rye and sugar.  gently mix to dissolve the sugar.  set aside to cool completely.  can be made several days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

zabaglione cream 
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup pennington's strawberry rye
1 cup heavy cream, whipped

in a heat proof bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and rye together.  to create a double boiler, choose a pot that is large enough to allow the bowl to rest over a few inches of water without touching.  over medium-low heat, whisk the mixture continuously until it reaches 135 degrees F.  

pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer with the wire whisk and allow it to whip until it reaches a thick ribbon.  fold in the whipped cream and use immediately.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

savory wheat crackers; a tuesdays with dorie post

after a truly action packed month, i am glad to be back!  the master gardeners chapter i belong to hosts a festival each may and last month, i was the co-chair of the event.  not sure what i was thinking when i agreed to do that-it ruled my life that last few weeks before the big day!  

for the first challenge in june, the tuesdays with dorie bakers chose a simple, savory wheat cracker.  the dough has 3 ingredients; whole wheat flour, water and salt.  a variety of seeds and a spritz of water tops them off.  

 the dough is mixed up quickly in the food processor and then allowed to rest for 30 minutes.

to make thin, crispy crackers, it is necessary to roll the dough out as thin as possible and to roll it out so that it is all the same thickness.  to do this, i used a pair of 1/16" thick dowels.  the dowels prevent the rolling pin from going any further and the result is a consistent thickness throughout the sheet of dough.

so thin!  it was actually pretty easy to roll out the dough.  resting it was the key and lots of flour on the table and the dough helped too.

 i made half of the recipe and cut it into 4 pieces.  each one was cut into a different shape.  for this first sheet, i gave it a sprinkle of nanami togarashi, a japanese pepper blend.

to keep it interesting, i also changed the topping on each sheet of dough.  these were simply sesame seeds.

 because i love everything bagels, these are a combination of poppy, sesame, salt and onion flakes.

 can't go wrong with a sprinkle of salt!  this is pink himalayan salt and i love the way it sparkles.

 they took longer to bake in my oven than the recipe states.  instead of 2-3 minutes, i baked the crackers for 8-10 minutes.  in my opinion, the ones that were dark were the crispiest and the most flavorful.

 the lighter crackers just do not have the crispy crunch a cracker needs.

 the salted sticks are my favorite-especially so since they are also the darkest.

 the spicy japanese pepper blend is a nice addition to the crackers.

 all together in a tin-hopefully, they will stay crispy; a true challenge in the hot and humid south!

to see what the other bakers came up with, be sure to check out the tuesdays with dorie website.