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So it’s been a while. And the alliteration keeps coming. Even when actual thoughts do not.

But I have been thinking about you, blog, just haven’t had any thoughts that aren’t Fire, Flour & Fork-related, coming up Oct. 30th-Nov. 2nd, so I spared you until now. 

Four years ago my partner in dine, SJW, and I started our Real Richmond Food Tours biz and now we’re putting on a 4-day gathering for the food curious with acclaimed Richmond chefs and purveyors like Dale Reitzer, Lee Gregory, Tanya Cauthen and Travis Milton sharing the stage with lauded chefs and authors from all over the country, such as Sean Brock, Christina Tosi, Dave DeWitt, Ronni LundyAlice Medrich and Jehangir Mehta. And that’s just the icing on the cake. 13 dinners, 7 lunches, including a Sunday one that starts with tours of Monumental Church and its crypt, 1 Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, 1 Tasting Tent, 1 Urban State Fair, 18 book signings and 2 receptions in rarely visited cool spots–C. F. Sauers and Electric Eclectic Appliance Museum.

The crypt at Monumental Church. Tour it during Queen Molly's Monumental Moveable Feast, Sunday, Nov. 2nd.

The crypt at Monumental Church. Tour it during Queen Molly’s Monumental Moveable Feast, Sunday, Nov. 2nd.

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Toasters are tame compared to what appliances are in the bathroom!

I think somehow we are putting on year 3 of this first time event, so my head is spinning. Or maybe it’s just that when David Guas of Bayou Bakery and Travel Channel’s American Grilled looks at me that way, I think I might overdose on sugar and gluten.

He’s cooking with Jason Alley of Pasture and Comfort Saturday, Nov. 1st and sorry, it’s full, but both Jason and David are doing talks during our Culinary Tracks Speaker Series October 31st and Nov. 1st at the Library of Virginia and FFF’s host hotel, Hilton Garden Inn Downtown. David will be demo-ing Not Your Mama’s B & G and signing his cookbook, DamGoodSweet.

Yes, David Guas is looking at you, too!

Yes, David Guas is looking at you, too!

Damn. Good. Sweet.

I don’t pretend to be a food writer though I have tweeted more than 12,000 times and most have involved either putting food or my foot in my mouth or putting words together halfway wittily which is different from half-witted. Then there’s my children’s writing that I haven’t done in a while–all those damned tweets and the business of Real Richmond Food Tours has something to do with that. One of two filing cabinets in my desk is jammed with children’s picture book manuscripts and poetry and food comes into play more than I’d realized. I’m a bit of a food poet, so for April here’s a snippet from Want a Cookie?:

I started gnawing zwiebacks/back when these were almost new./Gluey, tasteless sawdust;/what’s the point of teeth?/ Then I spied my mother/with something on her face./A smile, a smudge,/a glimmer, a gulp./Want a cookie.

One bite/one taste/one swallow/one nice big cup of milk,/one lick of my lips/and I knew what to do–/try, taste, chomp!/From a package or a pan/I don’t need to waste a plate;/crumbs in teeth, on shirt, in hair./Where’s my cookie?

And on it goes…. So autobiographical, I know.

Now that I’ve established my gravitas, it makes perfect sense to say that I’m one of the gang of three that’s putting on the Mid-Atlantic Food Writers Symposium in Richmond this June. We’ve assembled a remarkable collection of talented writers, editors, chefs, agents and food stylists that includes Kat Kinsman of Eatocracy, Todd Kliman of The Washingtonian, Lisa Fain of The Homesick Texan, Josh Ozersky of Esquire, Monica Bhide, Matt Gross of Bon Appetit, Ramin Ganeshram, Bonnie Benwick of the Washington Post, Kendra Bailey Morris, John Shields, Denise Vivaldo, Judy Pray of Artisan and Michael Psaltis of CEA. How many James Beard Foundation winners/finalists do you count?

Fresh-picked this June!

Fresh-picked this June!

That’s a line-up that ought to get lips smacking, hearts racing and fingers flying on the keyboards for food bloggers, recipe-collectors, cookbook-lovers and those who dream of cooking up a book or a blog. Hope to see you in Richmond June 20th-22nd!

 

I might be the only non-homeless woman in the United States who walks into an Ann Taylor Loft dressing room with a couple pairs of pants and a shirt to try on with a 1/3 of a pound of sliced chorizo in my bag. It was Zoe’s chorizo from Formaggio and it was what I like to think of as an essential styling tool.

Thank goodness the bag is pretty cool–from the Poe Museum in Richmond–a gift from my friend and biz partner, Susan. It gets the people talking in the big cities. I find it lends me (truly I don’t own it) an air of sophistication  even when all else points to a scruffy bag lady. But when one adds the flat-packed chorizo wrapped in plastic and paper, well, heads turn. Or at least well-tuned noses do.

Poe Poe Poe...

Poe Poe Poe…

Even though I’d just walked 2 miles to get that chorizo–ostensibly for my husband–I’d forgotten about it until I lay the bag down in the dressing room. Trying on clothes with what got me there–eating too much to fit into my clothes– (the hot fudge sundae wouldn’t have travelled as well) seemed fitting. Or perhaps, given the state of my clothing, ill-fitting.  I suppose I should have taken the flat-packed chorizo wrapped in plastic and paper and added it to my waistline while I was trying on the pants to make things more accurate. A new, wholly unappealing form of pork belly. The clothes may make the man, but they make the woman insane.

I’m a mild-mannered sort. Until I’m not. Last month while on vacation, I sat on a porch and shamelessly ogled a shirtless guy who ran by the house every day–up and back. Not so surprising in a beach town with lovely weather (the running, that is) but what was odd was that the gentleman in question wore heavy-duty, old-school cotton sweatpants as he ran. The sort of sweatpants not seen since the early 90’s. He was a slow-and-steady runner, of an indeterminate age that made his chest worth noticing all the while not making me seem like a pervert. The perfect combo. I chuckled about him the first day–even being so generous as to point him out to my husband (a well-known appreciator of the human body) when the runner dude made his return trip the first day. Many years ago my father appointed himself the bathing suit police when he sat swinging on the front porch, commenting on all manner of human condition we saw too much of there, so perhaps I was just following in his swing steps.

When guests arrived over the next couple of days, it became part of the routine to be on the look-out for my guy. I fancied that he looked over our way and smiled a couple of times, perhaps because he heard the herd of us  rushing the porch to see him, but I might have been making that up. There was a lot to notice during the week. He alternated his sweatpants from light blue  to navy blue to maroon, but with the exception of one day, he always ran shirtless. I was a little disappointed in him one rainy day when he donned a matching hooded sweatshirt–mainly because of the hood.  I saw him running in different parts of town, but for 8 days straight, he was out there. One of our friends named him Rico for no apparent reason. Perhaps the idea of my running away with Rico–I think I could have kept up–and I did in fact wind up behind him one day on one of my runs–sounded just right.

 

Rico's were better.

Rico’s were better.

And then we were on our way back home. Poor Rico was probably devastated. A week later one of our friends was at a flea market in NYC and found his shirt.

That explains it.

He left his shirt in New York City.

Still, I have to believe–slow and shirtless wins the race.

 

and here is some of what I thought of it from an online piece for Richmond Magazine: Lincoln Premieres in RVA I’ll tell you more if you come on our Lincoln Legs: Brunch & Brushes with History tour tomorrow, Nov. 11th at 12:30 and we’ll brunch at LuLu’s in between following in Lincoln’s footsteps. I’ll also bring Dixie Donuts. I think Abe would approve. It is my dream to refight the Civil War using donuts, Dixie Donuts vs. Philly’s Federal Donuts. It is the only time I’d want the south to prevail. We’ll run Lincoln Legs again Nov. 25th, brunching at Arcadia then.

Lincoln is loved in VA

Maybe it was the Luna Bar breakfast or the realization that for the next 8 hours all I would eat was trail mix, gummy bears and Famous Amos cookies and a banana, but I had food on the brain while my butt was on a bike as I was riding the 102 mile inaugural Tour of Richmond on Saturday. The event started at RIR, where for years the State Fair of VA used to be, so I was reminded of the first and last fried pickle I ever consumed just as we were getting underway at 7 a.m. Then we rode down into Shockoe Valley, alongside the Cannon Creek Greenway bicycle path for a bit and into old timer industrial part of Richmond and there was an old building denoting T. H. Wood seed purveyor from way back which I recognized from the prints in my kitchen from the Library of Virginia gift shop.

I got mine at the Library of Virginia gift shop.

Then it was onto and through the 17th St. Farmers’ Market–where I first tasted the Holy Grail of goat cheese…back when it was a decent farmers’ market and where now some spots like Tio Pablo, LuLu’s, Arcadia, C’est Le Vin, Halligan BBQ and more are doing their part to add spice to this area. And of course, just around the corner, Julep’s is still bringing  the southern-inspired fine dining in the oldest commercial building in Richmond.

Then we crossed the river on the Manchester Bridge. I didn’t see any sturgeon, but I know they’re there. Richmond wouldn’t be Richmond without the river and the fish that frequented it when the Powhatan Indians were running the show here.

Along Riverside Drive I know there were some Paw Paws (GW’s favorite fruit), but truth be told they’ve dropped by now. Then out to Chesterfield County where I think it’s funny that the restaurants that are actually just over the line in Powhatan (Wild Ginger and Mediterraneo) say they’re in Chesterfield so people don’t think they’re too far out in the boonies. As soon as we crossed into Powhatan County, farms started to pop up: horses, cows, Fine Creek Vineyard, a sign for Manakintowne Specialty Growers–whose salad fixings and herbs wind up in some of the finest Richmond restaurants and in anyone’s kitchen if you pick them up at a farmers’ market or through Fall Line Farms, a co-op I belong to. Then we zoomed by some guys putting out signs before 9 a.m. to sell fresh eggs and pastured meat. You need to be careful about buying eggs, though–especially on the internet–some eggs are too fresh. I can’t seem to remember the name of their farm, but it started with an A. Too many things rush by on a bike to remember every durned letter of the alphabet in the correct order.  Noticed Bourbon Lane  and a tavern along the rode from 1755 and a sign noting the last place Robert E. Lee camped on his way back from Appomattox to Richmond post-surrender. (His starving men were given rations by Federal troops, so that’s how this snuck into a food heritage bit.)

At our third rest stop, the friendly Powhatan folk were promoting the Powhatan Festival of the Grape coming up Oct. 20th. Unfortunately the coolers they had still offered only water or Powerade, so that was the old bait-and-switch. Soon after we crossed the river again and were in lovely Goochland County, home to many a good farm. Further east in Goochland on Tuckahoe Plantation is where I saw my first pastured beef cattle running, yes, running in the woods. And yes, I say “my” with partly a good reason as we did purchase a 1/4 of one from Daniel and Emily of Tuckahoe Lamb & Cattle and continue to buy their beef, lamb and eggs at farmers’ markets around town.

Winding our way along the route, we wound up in a gorgeous stretch of Louisa County for a bit, which reminds me of my visits to Twin Oaks, when I wrote a piece about the tofu and hammock-producing commune in Louisa. Sadly, no hammock time on this route for us. We passed more fields and forests not yet turned into sub-divisions and not soon enough exactly, but eventually we were in Hanover County and coming back toward civilization, by which I mean Q Barbecue at the finish party at RIR.

Cowed by the Roads

I have had more near-death experiences in Ireland than in any other country and I’ve been there for a grand total of 4 months of my life–9 days just recently. It’s the roads and the people driving them, not the cows, that I blame. Too many beautiful things to look at just off the road. The way the light lasers through clouds and dances on the water must make people think they’re already in heaven so what’s the big deal if a car hits them or they hit a person to make it official. This cow in Doolin has a sweet spot just off the Clare Way, supposedly a walking route that puts people on narrow, winding roads where drivers are supposed to go 100 km an hour–62 mph–and often surpass that. It’s on the right side of the wall.

Just glanced at a list I made for a recent trip:

checkbooks

legal pad of joy

knitting

That pretty much sums it up except I forgot the checkbooks, I knit perhaps 3 rows the entire weekend and the legal pad had a few more worry lines added to it. Par for the course. Perhaps I was knitting my brow more than the blanket I can’t quite finish. But I did enjoy the margaritas on a deck in St. Michael’s with old friends and the massage at the nearby inn. It cracked me up that when I told the masseuse my last massage had been 2 years ago, she tsked tsked and said, “We recommend one once a month.” I’m sure you do!  I think I’ll start doing that with my food tour customers: When was your last tour?!  Oh, dear. You’re going to have to do better than that.

I just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, with assists from her husband Steven Hoppe and daughter Camille Kingsolver. It’s the sort of book that makes me feel smug and superior compared to people who eat at McDonald’s and slovenly and inferior contrasted to the farm folks–depending on the sentence. She’s a beautiful writer and I wish I could do half of what she is somehow able to do in a year. Or perhaps I wish she would just do it for me. It’s possible I just have the wrong friends–few of whom would be all that helpful processing turkeys. It pissed me off to read that for her 50th birthday everyone brought her plants that she put in their front yard. That is a damned good idea. For my 50th birthday everyone bought me a dozen cupcakes. That was a pretty good idea, too, since I wasn’t hosting legions of friends–just a few–so I didn’t have to share so much.

I shop at farmers’ markets and have joined a food co-op to get more local produce and pastured eggs and meat and chicken. I do this and I don’t do that. I buy local and almost never darken a chain restaurant’s door. I like pulling basil out of my small kitchen garden to make pesto a few times a summer. I’m a big believer in weeding by hand, rather than by chemical and I have shrunk our lawn considerably over the years. I’ve made mozzarella twice and liked the results once. I’ve even eaten twice in one weekend at the farm-to-table restaurant Kingsolver and her husband started in Meadowview, VA, The Harvest Table. All good. I’m sure you’re tired now so I won’t tell you all the bad I’ve done–the plants I’ve killed with neglect, the plastic containers of organic spinach I’ve bought–that sort of thing.

Back to the nature

This tomato plant came from the Meadowview Farmers’ Guild General Store, adjacent to the Harvest Table. I am a neglectful gardener and as I sow so shall I reap. And perhaps weep. I want the plants to be independent. I think they should tie themselves to posts as they grow. Figure it out. Water themselves. That sort of thing. Forgive me, Mother Nature, for I have sinned. But I also bought a Twin Oaks hammock at the General Store, so somehow that works out so that I can feel smug and superior and supportive of the local little guys while I nap in the shade. I haven’t made my hammock, but I can still lie in it. Living la vida loca…

Richmond.com just published this interview with me today. 5 Questions with a Foodie. I would never say I’m a foodie or a native Richmonder, so let anyone come at me with their knives sharpened. As Stephen Robertson pointed out (ha!), sharp ones are better than dull ones.

To further prove (or undermine) my food credentials, here’s a sampler of older, food-related posts. I do keep coming back to food, one way or another. And I did shop at Ellwood Thompson’s today, so nuf said–or spent.

Where Health Food Goes to Die,  September 2010

The floor refinishers needed a 220 outlet to plug in the floor sander, so the hunt began. The very hung-over guy tasked with plugging in the machine dismissed the plug behind my dryer–too hard to get to–and instead wanted to know where my stove was.  I cringed because though I know it isn’t all that hard to move the stove out from the wall, it gets done approximately once a decade, so I knew the floor beneath my stove would bring me down–kind of the opposite effect of the wind beneath my wings though actually that song brings me down, too. But I digress.  The guy with the phlegmy, hacking cough taught me something that morning–there’s no need to move the stove. Turns out the oven drawer can be removed quite easily, exposing both the 220 outlet and the detritus of my life.  Who knew it was that easy?

With trepidation I got down on the floor to inspect the scene–more chocolate than you would think I would’ve let get away. The theme was surprisingly outdoorsy–a combination of  trail mix and dust bunnies too laden with grease to hop far. It was interesting to note (and almost thrilling to clean up) that health food doesn’t live under the stove–it died there. It belongs in the great outdoors or in my mouth. I am happy (ok–bursting with pride is more accurate) to report that no insects or animals were spotted, and two cake pans long assumed lost in the wild reappeared. I know I’m a bit of a braggart.

Older Butt Wider, November 2010

One of my favorite bits, coined decades ago by one of my high school friends. It’s so much easier to get wider than wiser, she said as she remembered with delight the exquisite dark chocolate (fair trade) with mint bar that she bought today.

Herewith the shorthand recipe for the delish Cookie Cake my daughter invented:

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Halve the Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Toll House Cookie recipe on the back of the package, spread batter into a greased, 8 inch round cake pan and bake for 14 minutes….maybe more, depends how gooey you like the middle. Deirdre often ices it with vanilla buttercream icing as she did yesterday and then saved me a piece, thank goodness, but I am quite content to eat it sans icing. So good warm.

I will now wax poetic about cookies:

“Got a cookie in my hand, warm, on my lips, mmmm, in my mouth, oooh, on my tongue, yum, in my teeth, munch, down my throat, aahhh, in my gut–gone! Hey, that’s not enough. (It’s a hand-to-mouth existence, but that’s ok with me.)  …One bite, one taste, one swallow, one nice big cup of milk, one lick of my lips and I knew what to do–try, taste, chomp! From a package or a pan, I don’t need to waste a plate; crumbs in teeth, on shirt, in hair. Where’s my cookie?”

A multi-media approach to eating too much chocolate. I’m going to run now.

Driven to Eat May 2011, 

After driving 600 miles from Nashville to Richmond last night and and today, I was reminded that highways are very long and skinny food deserts. And there’s no dessert worth eating along them either.  Sure there are “restaurants” at many exits, but they are almost all some sort of fast food or fake-y, family-friendly chain and I’m fairly sure  their definition of food and mine don’t jibe. Not something I want to eat.

We were interested in making time, so hardly stopped at all, and didn’t time things such that wandering a little off the beaten track to find something interesting and not gross was possible, and it was disconcerting to see so little local flavor near the interstates. I’m sure most smaller spots have been blown off the road by the chains. I’m tempted to say that honest-to-goodness local barbecue is still one temptation still out there in some hills and hollows, in the south at least, that weary travellers might come upon, but even that is threatened by Famous Dave’s and Red, Hot & Blue.  Don’t let that happen! It’s up to us to eat local barbecue early and often. Keep sauce alive! Imagine the drive along I-64 without Pierce’s. Perish the thought. Or Richmond without Buz & Ned’s. Don’t let that happen. Richmond restaurants have spoiled me and I like it like that.

Putting Food First,  February 2012

So I agreed to moderate a Writing Show panel for James River Writers this evening. It’s about food, drink, and romance in writing. You had me at chocolate chip cookie. I am thinking hard about what food I should bring with me to stuff into my mouth in order to prevent me from saying something really dumb. Dark chocolate could do the trick, but it’s so unseasonably warm today, it might melt all over my hands and then I’ll get chocolate all over my notes and then I will have to rely on my brain to come up with something to say of its own accord and there we are back at the saying something dumb issue.

A chocolate for my thoughts?

A vicious circle. That reminds me of cupcakes.

The mocha/chocolate one is my go-to cupcake.

There is no photo of an actual cupcake because as soon as the box gets opened, it’s not a pretty picture anymore. Actually, I have learned to show enormous amounts of restraint leading Real Richmond food tours around town. I don’t partake of everything at every stop. For me to spend time in a cupcake joint, inhaling the aromas of chocolate, coconut, and other good/evil things and not eating a bit is proof of something–I’m just not sure what. It is weird beyond belief, but some of it is vanity. Knowing that putting cupcake to mouth would leave too much evidence on my clothes, in my teeth and around my lips–not to mention elsewhere–helps in the self-restraint department. And then when the tour is over and I walk past said cupcake shop, I pop in and buy a 4-pack to take home. The Virginia General Assembly would do better to focus on issues such as banning driving while eating cupcakes than some of the other things they’ve been messing with. Three panelists, Michele Young-Stone, Andrew Fox, and Kit Wilkinson will be on tonight’s panel. All are novelists, but different genres: Michele writes adult fiction; Andrew sci-fi/fantasy, and Kit Christian Romance and suspense.  There is a joke to be made about Christian Romance and what the Republicans in the General Assembly have been up to of late. I will try to show restraint tonight and not blurt one out. Cupcake, anyone?

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