Richmond Tastemaker Spices Up Church Hill (the puns stay)

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The grand opening of the Green Kitchen felt not like a promotional event, with food samples and stiff greetings. This was a full-blown housewarming party, with a delicious spread and guests were welcome to roam the halls.

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Chef Tammy Brawley made the space feel like home. While the hi-tech kitchen is industrial, the overall feeling is warm. A luscious living wall greets you as you walk in, like a shot of oxygen. A fully set dinner table sits by large windows. Fresh flowers are everywhere. An old stone fireplace sits in the front room, oversized and very Brothers Grimm. To my delight, it’s fully functional.

img_8682.jpgI can speak first hand on Brawley’s mastery in the kitchen, and am happy to report she isn’t solely limited to catering. She’ll be throwing cooking instruction parties, working as a personal chef and, perhaps the most exciting to me, meal prep.IMG_8676Richmond is booming, and busy professionals and families don’t want to sacrifice health for convenience. In fact, many trends point to the fact that fast food is dying. Fading are the days that Mom piled everyone into the station wagon for Roy Rogers. Brawley is creating healthy, gourmet meals for Richmonders to enjoy at home. And unlike mail-order meals, there’s no prep or messy clean-up in the kitchen.IMG_8680Adding cache to the already-chic Church Hill, The Green Kitchen will be a bright spot for the 25th Street corridor and a beacon of taste in Richmond. IMG_8690img_8687.jpgIMG_8678IMG_8681IMG_8691

 

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White Hot in RVA: Diner en Blanc 2018

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Some parties are fun, some are even wild. But it’s a rare party that can pull off magical.

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Diner en Blanc in RVA this year was preternaturally beautiful, right down to the breeze that swept the humidity out of the city. Richmond was graced with cool air for the first time in weeks. With the haze gone and stars twinkling above, we carried on the tradition that  began in Paris in 1988. François Pasquier had invited some friends to an elegant outdoor dinner at Bois de Boulogne, and asked them to dress in white so they could find one another. Diner en Blanc is now being hosted in 70 cities around the world, including Richmond.

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The event is held in a top secret location, which isn’t revealed until the day of. I was invited by hosts Christine Wansleben, star chef and owner of Mise En Place and Top 40 Under 40 media maven Enjoli Moon. Ayana Obika was also a host, and has plenty of experience throwing large-scale bashes as owner of Gratitude Rising Events. That night, 1,200 revelers marched in, carrying gorgeous displays for their own dinner set-up. There were strung LED lights, Eiffel towers and billowing bunches of white flowers. Upon entering, guests were greeted by dancer/aerial artists from SOUL Aerial and Performing Arts.

Chloe Wines sponsored the event, and their sparkling Prosecco poured all night. There was even an ice luge sculpture, for those who wanted their bubbles extra chilled. The media lounge featured a delicious spread by Croaker’s Spot and Elegant Cuizines, serving classic summer picnic foods. There was crab salad served in crab shells, fried chicken, cornbread, potato salad, kale salad and bread pudding laced with Maraschino cherries.

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The chic lounge area was decorated by Quirk Hotel, with romantic floral arrangements and glassware. Handmade Eiffel Tower cookies graced the tables, made by Melissa’s Simply Sweet. They were almost too beautiful to eat, but they tasted even better than they looked!

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There was a tres French accordion musician playing Le Mer and other Gallic classics as people assembled their stations. One the set-up was complete, diners waved their napkins in the air so they could commence their meal en masse. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts made a noteworthy appearance with their very own Napoleon. True to form, when he announced it was time to eat, he shouted commands in French. But there was one phrase everyone understood: Bon Appetit!

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Dinner was followed by a live band, and a glow-in-the-dark ensemble of performers, including hula hoopers, jugglers and electric fairies. One highlight was when everyone was asked to light their sparklers. Within seconds the entire place was aglow, a sea of smiling, well-fed faces. New relationships were forged, recipes shared. The event hosts certainly took this event to the next level. Francois Pasquier would have been proud.

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With Quiana Davis, Diner en Blanc volunteer

 

The Portable Pool Party

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Rule number one: A portable pool party cannot be a success if the actual pool is portable. That would be one sad party.

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My friend Flor, a scientist / party girl from Argentina, was having a daughter. But she didn’t want a frilly, pink celebration over it.  She said she wanted to get out of town, just for a day. She loves to swim and tan under the sun, so I threw a portable pool party.

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Luckily our friend had a time share just an hour outside town, with a luxury pool, (indoor and outdoor), lazy river and hot tubs.

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When doing a day trip, always stop for brunch along the way. It’s a fortifying luxury and will allow your party to snack on lighter dishes from the cooler all day.

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Then, bring all the accoutrements that any girl would enjoy by the pool. I brought magazines, nail kits, a deck of cards. I made sure to stock up on sunscreen and bug spray for the girls.

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Under the hot sun, it’s refreshing to eat light food, such as cold cucumber slices dusted with chile y limon. There was heirloom cantaloupe, sliced cheese, truffle potato chips, and guajillo chile porch chop and arugula sandwiches. For dessert there were coconut biscuits and Belgian chocolates. I snuck in spiked strawberry lemonade for the girls, and a Tom Collins for Flor.

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Even with SPF 50, we all started the season with a deep base tan and plenty of Vitamin D. We sipped cocktails in the shallow end, dozed off in the lazy river, and laughed all day. It was a baby shower that didn’t just pamper the mom-to-be, but felt like a reward to everyone who came.

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Postcard from Dollywood

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Dolly Parton is a national treasure. Dollywood has been on my bucket list for years, and I hoped it would be a down-home, campy place. Dolly even she knows she’s camp; everything about her looks personifies the need for exclamation points. To quote her, “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”

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There were some down-home aspects, but it was anything but camp. In fact, it’s gone Disney. Not full-Disney, with obnoxious vendors selling LED-lit swords and princess paraphernalia. But Dollywood is a well-oiled megaplex. Vast parking lots, tram system, and roller coasters.

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But Dolly never forgot her roots. They do a beautiful job embracing the scrappy, Smokey Mountain lifestyle. You can watch up close, as a gristmill breaks up grain. The warm smell of cinnamon wafts through the air as ladies make cinnamon rolls from scratch, right from the flour ground on-site.

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Wooden aqueducts wove overhead, showing visitors how water was transported. There’s killer fried chicken and biscuits. As sparks flew around the room, blacksmiths hammered out homemade signs and mercantile goods for folks to take home.

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A steam engine train pulled guests past weeping willows and magnolias. The landscaping was impeccable, surrounding wood cabin structures throughout the park. Fiddlers sat on rocking chairs on small stages that resembled covered porches,  delighting us with the sounds of Appalachia.

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It was thematic and beautiful. My only wish is that I saw a little more Dolly.

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extravagant mother’s day brunch takes the crepe

Mother’s Day is a holiday that touches everyone. Whether you have a mother or lost one, you are a mother or admire one, it’s thoughtful to set aside time to nurture a nurturer.

That’s what stylist Kristy Kostyniuk did when she and her friends Jennifer Miller and Rose Steed hosted a Mother’s Day Brunch that included not just their mothers, but a curated catch-all. Friends who were far from their mothers, lost a mother, and friends who happen to be moms happily accepted invitations.

crepes, waiting to fulfill their destiny

The ladies spent hours pouring batches of buttery, paper thin crepes. The elaborate spread featured sweet and savory options. There were small-batch jams from local farms, sliced fruit, Nutella, dark chocolate and homemade whipped cream.

Before brunch began, there was a very European spread of croissants, rugalas and scones, all displayed on vintage trays and eye-catching textiles.  Baby pink peonies and fuchsia daisies were everywhere.

On the savory side there were eggs, cheeses, bacon, cured meats, potatoes and more. We lounged and sipped mimosas, swapped stories and repeatedly excused ourselves with a, “Just one more crepe.”

When we couldn’t fit in another bite, the overlapping conversations made their way to the backyard. We sunned ourselves and watched the children dart around  chasing butterflies. Their faces were stained and hands sticky from popsicles. It was an afternoon of leisure and guilty pleasures. As if being a mom weren’t a gift enough.

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The gracious host, Kristy Kostyniuk and her mother

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sweet as pie

Cotton Candy Party!

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For hosts obsessed with themed parties, kid birthdays are an excuse to go over the top. This year Hamilton asked for a cotton candy party.

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To save my house from destruction, I opted for a party in a local playground, and under a patio roof in case of inclement weather.

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For decor, I pulled stuffing from retired outdoor cushions. I wound it into big oval puffs and glue-gunned them into place. I then spray painted them in blue and yellow swirls. You can also dip the stuffing into dyed water to change the color. Once dry, you glue gun cones to the bottom, and paint swirls on for effect. Then, burrow your finger through each puff to draw yarn through and string up!

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Instead of renting,  I bought a mini cotton candy machine – pink and vintage carnival style. Modest in size, we only used it to make on-site cotton candy. So I wouldn’t be preoccupied with making goody bags instead of socializing, I bought pre-packaged party favors from Rainbow Cotton Candy – with a personalized message on them!

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For kids getting antsy in line at the cotton candy machine, we laid out a colorful display on silver platters. We even served cotton candy soda! And so we could even out the inevitable sugar rush, we laid out healthier options, like crudites and sliced oranges. For anyone hungry for a meal, we offered an easy classic: pizza.

As us parents watched the kids burn off energy on the playground, we sat in the shade sipping La Croix, listening to a custom soundtrack I whipped up, and caught up over pizza. The day turned out as sweet as its theme.

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Postcard from Chicago!

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room with a view, and a full moon

When I was a kid, my grandmother owned an apartment building by Wrigley Field in Chicago. Back in the 80s Wrigleyville was a little rough, and we loved it. We were from the suburbs and sheltered, so our idea of fun was to sit  on the front stoop and take in the sounds of domestic violence, set against the white noise backdrop of screaming crowds at Wrigley Field. The couple across the street fought viciously with their windows open.  We never saw their faces but we heard them year after year, screaming every combination of filth imaginable. Annually, we’d ask our cousins, “Are they divorced yet?” But to our amusement, they were inseparable. Sometimes we’d get cocky on the stoop and imitate them, shouting up at their window. Sometimes they’d yell, “Hey F*** YOU kids!” and we’d scramble inside the building.

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the view

We also marveled at the idea of a candy store just sitting across the street from where my grandmother lived. Except it was a liquor store. They were all liquor stores, but we kept our eyes on the prize. Our parents handing us a dollar and waving us off seemed unreal. Without an adult driver, we had no access to candy in Annandale, Virginia. We shrieked and darted into to the liquor store. Our Chicago cousins shrugged us off as amateurs.

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hotel-hopping for brunch

Then things changed. My grandmother sold the building and moved into a modest home in the suburbs, and the rest of the family followed. As I got older and visited for weddings, Chicago became a blur of suburban hotel chains and stadium-sized banquet halls.

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white pumpkins

For the latest wedding, I decided we were going to see Chicago in style. I wanted to experience the city the way I did as a child. When the evening skyline made me breathless. When we found a 24-hour White Castle for a midnight snack.  We stayed in the Magnificent Mile. In the heart of downtown off Michigan Avenue, we chose the historic Warwick Allerton, built in the roaring 20s. While a skyscrapaer, it had all the trappings of a boutique hotel. We were upgraded to a giant suite that oversaw Michigan Avenue, glittering below us.

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magnificent urns

It was just a short walk to the John Hancock building, and Lake Michigan, which locals like to call “the beach.” I kicked off my shoes and took a long walk in the sand. There were actual waves! I marveled at the skyline, and the gorgeous floral arrangements at the luxury hotels.

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no hotel could touch The Drake

The Drake was by far the most striking hotel, and I fell in love with the architecture (pictured above). Though built in the Italian Renaissance style, it screamed Art Deco to me.

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barefoot stroll by Lake Michigan

It was nice to be back into the fold of classic Chicago, with the skyscrapers larger than life. The air smoky with Polish sausage vendors. I can’t wait for the next wedding.

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Chicago weddings

The Night Princess Di’s Chef Cooked Me Dinner

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Now when I hear people say they’ve had a meal fit for a king, I know that I win because I did, literally. Chef Darren McGrady has cooked for Queen Elizabeth and the Royal family. But most notably, he became the personal chef for Princess Di, and her sons William and Harry.

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He was in her employ on the night she died, and decided to move to America after the tragedy. In the states, he’s been a star chef, writing cookbooks and making appearances. Luckily he came to Richmond this week. I was honored to be a part of an intimate dinner for 20. Before we ate, he charmed us with a food demonstration peppered with royal gossip and funny anecdotes. The talented Catt Levesque snapped these photos while we indulged, and is credited with every amazing photo here.

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In the elegant and newly-renovated Mise En Place, he served recipes from his new cookbook The Royal Chef at Home.  We enjoyed a tangy kale quinoa salad with blueberries. There were Stilton and preserved fig canapes, served with fresh grapes. Fiery shrimp and grits, oozing with cheese. To top it off, a buttery bread pudding that’s so exquisite, my words would do it no justice.

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We ate like royalty, and he made us feel like royalty. This night was one for the books.

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I’m Dreaming of a Vintage Christmas

One of the best things about Christmas is how old-fashioned it is. We indulge in pastimes that we’d never do outside the holiday season. We listen to Bing Crosby, make gingerbread houses, trim a tree and drink eggnog.

The Vintage Home Market celebrates all the things you can do to warm up your home when it’s cold outside. From glittering garland to vintage sleighs, this place will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

BBQ tacos – heaven

Owners Heidi and Jason McNamara threw an amazing VIP opening night, where shoppers could get first dibs. There was live music, kickin’ BBQ, cold beer and a photo booth so decked out, it makes the step and repeat obsolete.

Owners Jason and Heidi McNamara – pros at making magic

Some standout vendors include:

The Naked Goat Soap Company – soaps, lotions, candles and more. The best part? It’s made locally by Heather, who lives on a Hanover farm with her goats and happy family. The Gather-scented candle smells of balsam pine, and is everything.

Burlap, Booths and Southern Roots

The name alone, am I right? It’s a one year-old store run by a feisty blonde and filled with the kind of boots that become heirlooms. They also sell jewelry, farm tables and boho-chic threads.

Then there’s Chocolate Moonshine Company.  Their assortment of chocolates stirs the imagination, with cherry bourbon, dark chocolate pistachio and rum. Free samples and some of the best chocolates I’ve ever had.

There’s still one day left.  Catch the event this Saturday, November 11th from 9a-5p at Richmond Raceway.  Happy Holidays!

Smoke on the Water

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Blade and Bow served smooth bourbon

It’s not often that I write about food and have no photos to show for it. But I was in the thick of it, eating ribs and overstuffed sliders. I was all sticky fingers.

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Even the chestnuts roasted on an open fire

 

Fire, Flour & Fork  returns to Richmond this week, and the series of (almost 40!)  food events include dinners, cooking demonstrations and plenty of booze. The theme this year? Globally Inspired, Locally Made. To kick off the end of a long work week, we attended Smoke on the Water, a Global Barbecue.

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Fall foliage on the James

From Jamaican jerk to lamb sliders, Vietnamese banh mi to low country ribs,  smoke filled the air as chefs served their own version of BBQ. Fall foliage lined the James River beside us, and a full moon rose over the skyline. Live music played as we sipped Belle Isle honey habanero moonshine to wash down the goodness. Thanks to The Virginia Beef Industry Council and other sponsors, this event was outstanding. Perhaps too outstanding, because ZERO food photos.

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oysters and vegetarian options made it an event for all

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Paisley and Jade warmed up the space

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Full bellies, full moon