The Return of Classic Cocktails

The earliest known mention of the word “cocktail” dates from a 1798 issue of London’s The Morning Post and Gazetteer, however it wasn’t until 1862, with the publication of How to Mix Drinks: or The Bon Vivant’s Companion, by “Professor” Jerry Thomas, that recipes for cocktails were first published. The four basic ingredients of any cocktail – spirits, sugar, water and bitters – formed 10 cocktail recipes in Thomas’ book.

The “whiskey cocktail” in the Companion contains 3-4 dashes of gum syrup, an old-fashioned type of simple syrup that adds gum arabic for a smoother texture, 2 do. Bogart’s bitters, 1 wine-glass of whiskey and a piece of lemon peel. Compare this simplest of cocktails with the classic Old Fashioned and you can see the similarity:  whiskey, sugar or syrup, bitters and citrus. Add in a cherry and you have a delicious way to enjoy your favorite whiskey, whether bourbon or rye. My favorite version combines Bulleit Rye, Tippleman’s burnt sugar syrup and Jack Rudy bourbon cherries.

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From classic to modern, the Moscow Mule is a 20th-century creation seeing a resurgence in popularity. Created in the 1940’s when bartenders had an overabundance of vodka and ginger beer, this drink is refreshing enough to drink in summer, and warm and spicy enough to drink in winter, making it the perfect all-year cocktail. Smirnoff Vodka, the original brand used in the drink, and Q Ginger Beer combine with fresh lemon juice to create my perfect Moscow Mule.

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Another favorite cocktail I love to mix up is a fresh, delicious agave margarita. While the classic Mexican margarita contains orange liqueur, this agave variation nixes the orange liqueur in favor of fresh, crisp lime juice and sweet agave nectar. Use a good quality silver tequila, like El Jimador, and an organic agave nectar like Tres Agaves for a quick and easy, go-to drink.

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Whatever your favorite flavor, the world of classic cocktails offers plenty of interesting, delicious and sometimes little-known drinks for your to explore. Whether you check out a bar specializing in classic cocktails and variations, like The Dead Rabbit, or mix up your own drinks at home, these drinks are usually quick and easy to make and taste best if you start with high-quality spirits and other ingredients. Drink up!

Midtown State Fair

This afternoon, I hit up the Midtown State Fair at Libbie Mill Midtown. Presented by C.F. Sauer, King Arthur Flour, Libbie Mill Midtown, Richmond Region Tourism, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, Real Richmond Food Tours and Wolf, this fun, family-friendly food event showcased the best of Richmond region food with vendor booths, food trucks and special activities like a cakewalk, watermelon seed spitting contest and cookoffs between local farmers.

The tented area hosted vendor booths from Mama J’s, Merroir, Caromont Cheese, Dayum This Is My Jam, Craft Brew Bread, Real Richmond Food Tours, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Belle Isle Moonshine and Libbie Market. There were plenty of delicious treats to try, plus free snowcones for the kids, giveaways from Richmond Family Magazine and The Valentine Museum and a fun cakewalk where participants had the chance to win yummy baked treats.

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Crabcakes from Merroir

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Music, seeds and veggies with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

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The awesome names of pickles and jam from Dayum This Is My Jam

Grapefruit spritzer from Belle Isle Craft Spirits

Favorite Richmond Cocktail Bars

Richmond has so many awesome bars and restaurants, and I haven’t had the time to make the rounds of all of them (yet!). But here are a few of my favorites:

Grandstaff & Stein Booksellers – This speakeasy requires you to follow them on Facebook to get that day’s secret password. Once you have it, you can slip past the bookshelves out front into the bar area. There’s a large wooden bar and an inventive cocktail menu, or you can ask the bartender to whip something up based on your tastes and preferences. Above are the Bean Picker, the Fist City and a Rye Old Fashioned.

Belle & James – Located right in the heart of downtown on East Main Street, this elegant bar has loads of signature drinks and delicious French-inspired food. From classic Old Fashioned’s to fun drinks like the Jack Skellington, a not-too-sweet treat topped with a freshly-toasted marshmallow, the bartenders have created a fun, hip drink menu. Above are an Old Fashioned and the Jack Skellington.

Saison – This place gets my vote for the best food and drinks in Richmond. I first came here for an event during the Fire, Flour & Fork Festival in 2014, and I’ve returned several times for the delicious Southern and Mexican menu and the most creative cocktails in Richmond. Try anything on the menu – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

 

Quick 7-Layer Greek Dip

If you’re looking for a quick, healthy and delicious snack to try at home or take to a party, give this 7-Layer Greek Dip a try!

Start by spreading a large container of your favorite plain hummus evenly on the bottom of a glass baking dish. Dice red peppers, red onions and cucumbers and sprinkle them over the hummus.

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Top with diced olives and crumbled feta cheese, then drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top. Sprinkle some oregano over, and add some salt and pepper if you like.

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Then dig in! Try it with my favorite snack, Stacy’s Pita Chips, or some fresh pita bread.

Quick trip to the mountains

This summer, rather than a weeklong vacation to one location, we’re trying to take smaller overnight trips to places closer to home. This weekend, we headed to the mountains of Virginia for a quick trip to visit some of my favorite places in the state.

We started by heading to the Green Valley Book Fair, a warehouse full of closeout books and toys in Mount Crawford, about fifteen minutes south of Harrisonburg. My kids adored exploring the aisles and aisles of books, and we all picked out some treasures. One of mine was a book on Virginia food called “Food Lover’s Guide to Virginia,” a guidebook covering every region of Virginia with recipes, restaurant lists and information on foods native to that region.

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After our visit to the book fair, we headed to the Dayton Farmers Market for some lunch. We had barbecue sandwiches, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and wraps from Hank’s BBQ inside the market, which were amazingly delicious, then browsed the shops. Warfel’s Sweet Shoppe featured homemade chocolates and sweet treats of all kinds. Other vendors offered trays of homemade cinnamon rolls and various baked goods, bulk kitchen staples, soup mixes and candies, cheeses, deli meats and coffees and teas. There were plenty of other vendors selling home decor, jewelry and more. The location couldn’t be prettier either. The small town of Dayton, Virginia lies in the rolling hills just a few minutes’ drive from the Green Valley Book Fair.

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We stayed at the Quality Inn in Harrisonburg, and we spent our evening having dinner at the Bob Evans across the street from the hotel, then walking around in downtown Harrisonburg looking for Pokemon (my kids and I are addicted to Pokemon Go). Breakfast was complimentary and was a decent buffet with eggs, sausage, biscuits, waffles, bagels, muffins, danish, cereal, hardboiled eggs, yogurt, fruit, etc. Our hotel had a nice pool behind it, so when we were finished with breakfast we headed out to the pool for a bit before checkout.

Once we got on the road heading for home, we decided we wanted to stop in Charlottesville for lunch. We walked around the Downtown Mall area and decided on Cinema Taco, a small taco shop next to the Jefferson Theater. They had a few different taco options, including a Baja fish taco and a couple of vegan options. Their burrito bowl and fresh limeade were yummy and my kids loved sitting in the little window alcoves watching people walk by.

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After lunch, we took the free T trolley around town to see the sights (and hunt Pokemon!), then we drove back home. I loved our quick trip to the mountains!

 

Favorite food bloggers, vloggers and podcasters

Besides writing a food blog, I’m also an avid follower of various other food blogs, YouTube channels and podcasts. If you’re into food history as much as I am, I’m sure you’ll adore these links:

The Grandmas Project – Many foodies credit their love of cooking to their families, especially their grandmothers. I still remember some of the simple recipes my Granny made, especially at Thanksgiving and other family gatherings, like her Pocketbook Rolls and quick fudge from this post. The Grandmas Project aims to preserve family food history by collecting videos recorded by grandchildren learning about food and recipes from their grandmothers. The recipes collected by the Project come from all over the world, and offer insight into the food and familial traditions of a number of different cultures.

A Taste of the Past podcast – Culinary historian Linda Pelaccio presents this weekly podcast on the Heritage Radio Network, a Brooklyn, New York based radio and online station offering numerous podcasts dealing with food and drink. From “Paletas and the History of Mexican Sweets” to the foods of Alsace and “Foodways and Cooking of Appalachia,” this well-researched show interviews the best food history writers and brings food history’s past into the culinary present.

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MAD YouTube channel – Sometimes referred to as “the TED of food,” MAD, Danish for “food,” offers culinary talks from some of the best and brightest chefs and culinarians around the world. Discussions range from reducing food waste in the restaurant industry and foraging for wild food to kitchen techniques and addressing poverty and hunger. Luminaries like Roy Choi, David Chang, Albert Adria, Michael Twitty and Dr. Vandana Shiva present engrossing and inspiring talks for foodies of all stripes.

Researching Food History – This culinary history blog offers bite-size tidbits of food history, covering topics like “A Colonial Kitchen in 1864,” “Mint Juleps for the Kentucky Derby,” “Jellies whipped or with whipped cream or ice cream” and “Robert Burns’ birthday and birthplace kitchen.” Culinary historian Pat Reber focuses on foodways and cooking apparatus, such as ovens and cooking vessels of various time periods. Besides her blog posts, she has a number of PowerPoint presentations on her website from talks she’s given, and a Historic Culinary Resources online database cataloging over 1,000 historic cookbooks and receipt books.

BBC Food Programme – BBC Radio 4’s food radio show and podcast offers an in-depth perspective on current food trends and issues in culinary history. The “Brexit and Food” special sends host Dan Saladino on the road throughout Britain to discover how Brexit will affect the UK’s food supply and trade relations with nations in the EU and worldwide. In a multi-part series called “The Ark of Taste,” the programme chronicles some of the most unique indigenous foods and food growing and preparation methods from around the planet.

 

Seafood and fun on the Outer Banks

This past weekend was full of fun, food and relaxation! My husband and I took our family to Hatteras Island, NC to stay in a “tiny house” cottage at Hatteras Sands Campground, just down the road from the Hatteras/Ocracoke ferry. The cottages are all painted in fun colors, and have a downstairs bedroom with a queen bed, tv (which, unfortunately, did not work while we were there), microwave and mini fridge. Upstairs, there are two twin beds for the kids. The cottages are air-conditioned and a recently-updated bathhouse is right behind the row of “tiny houses.” The campground has a nice pool and plenty of tent and RV sites, smaller cabins and even single and double wide trailers to rent. A canal runs through the campground, and kayak excursions are offered.

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We started our visit with a stop at Burruss Red & White Market in Hatteras Village to pick up some food for quick breakfasts and lunches:  cereal and milk, bread, peanut butter and jelly, a few bags of chips, paper plates, utensils and plastic cups. The Market has fresh-sliced meats and cheeses too, and homemade sandwiches.The staff are super-friendly and will make sure you find everything you need for your trip.

Dinner at a local seafood restaurant was next on the agenda, and we picked Quarterdeck Restaurant in Frisco. They had several daily food and drink specials, and the wait for a table wasn’t long, even though the restaurant is small. My husband and I split a fried seafood platter with fish, scallops, shrimp and oysters plus baked potatoes, and the kids shared fresh steamed crab legs and fries. Hushpuppies were served on the side. The food was fresh and delicious and I’d definitely return again for seafood.

On a camping trip, one of the most important things to find is COFFEE! Our cottage rental did not have a coffee maker, so it was imperative that we head out in the mornings to discover where we could buy some good coffee. On Hatteras Island, there are a handful of coffee shops. We tried two:  Red Drum Pottery and Coffee and The Dancing Turtle. Red Drum is a tiny coffeeshop housed inside a pottery and jewelry store on Route 12 that also offers visitors the chance to paint and fire their own pottery, hear live music or stay in the facility’s new Airbnb.com rental. Closer to Hatteras Village, The Dancing Turtle is a charming little coffeeshop with a huge range of fancy coffee and tea drinks, as well as yummy desserts and souvenirs.

For a quick snack in the afternoon after a morning at the beach, we stopped at Lee Robinson General Store in Hatteras Village. The kids all got ice cream and souvenirs, I picked up a bottle of Duplin Winery’s Carolina Red Sweet Muscadine Wine and some homemade asiago cheese bagels for breakfast the next morning. The muscadine grape is native to the southeast, particularly to North Carolina, and a number of wineries in the Tarheel state produce muscadine or scuppernong (a variety of muscadine) wines. These wines tend to be red and sweet, and are delicious to sip on their own or with dessert.

In the evening on Saturday, we drove down the road a bit to the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry. This free ferry ride takes about an hour and puts you off at the end of Ocracoke island, about 13 miles from the village of Ocracoke. There are beaches and campgrounds on Route 12 along the island, and plenty of motels, marinas, restaurants and bars in the village. We ate at the Ocracoke Bar and Grille, a breezy spot with surfing and sports on the numerous televisions and delicious Baja-style food, like fish tacos and freshly-made guacamole. The vibe was laid back and the service was terrific. They get fresh fish and seafood in from the docks almost daily and the reggae on the radio and Hawaiian craft beer give this place the perfect island vibe. We will definitely be back to the O’Bar!

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Our quick Hatteras weekend was a great appetizer, and I can’t wait to bring our family back to Hatteras Sands’ “tiny house” cottages for a longer getaway next time!