The Night Princess Di’s Chef Cooked Me Dinner

royalchef-9

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.

crepe-48

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.

royalchef

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.

crepe-39

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

royalchef-69royalchef-37royalchef-34royalchef-44royalchefroyalchef-14

Advertisements

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

IMG_4975

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.

FullSizeRender (4)

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.

IMG_4973

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.

IMG_4989

oysters and vegetarian options made it an event for all

FullSizeRender (2)

IMG_4972

Paisley and Jade warmed up the space

FullSizeRender (5)

IMG_5002

Full bellies, full moon

See a Sinking Island Before It Disappears

IMG_2500I’ve often romanticized Tangier. The tiny island on the Chesapeake is so isolated, that locals retained a hint of a British accent from colonization hundreds of years ago. This remote fishing village has been visited by linguists from around the world, eager to study the phenomenon.

And the island is disappearing. Almost 70% of its landmass is gone, along with the population. Global warming and rising sea waters have encroached upon this island, which will be uninhabitable and fully underwater in about 50 years.

IMG_0555

We had to see it before the ocean swallowed it whole.  Just getting there was an adventure. The boat was  surprisingly fast, and saltwater sprayed our skin as we sunbathed on the upper desk. It was about an hour each way from the mainland.

IMG_2504

The second best part of the day was sampling a local specialty – crab. And my plate of cheesy crab fries disappeared in a blink. We caught a hint of a strange accent from our server, but everyone else sounded a variation of Southern. “It’s the Internet,” one local explained, “They routed in a microwave cable, and ever since, our accents started disappearing.” I’m sure TV ate away at it as well.

IMG_2502

Talk about stepping into the past.

We toured around the island in a golf cart. But while our guide was friendly when selling us on the tour, she was hasty zipping us around the island. She pretended not to hear us when we asked her to slow down for photo ops, eager to hustle the next boat of tourists. As was a young girl we met loitering outside a gift shop. She was eleven years old, and somber as she spoke to us about collecting seashells to sell to tourists for a quarter. Sometimes she can’t find seashells, and rummages through her home for other goods, like canisters of gritty Play-Dough and kitchen snacks. In mid-conversation, she saw a new boat docking and sped off, barefoot.

IMG_0557

The gift shops were sparse. You could get a bottle of Tylenol or a plastic dolphin for the kid, but there were no regional must-haves to speak of. We strolled along the quaint downtown streets, which are car-free, and visited a charming ice cream and candy shop, painted pink with checkered floors, playing a 50’s juke box and nostalgically steeped in the past.

We came with high expectations, hoping for an other-ness that you sometimes find in American towns, such as New Orleans. While it felt more familiar and tourist-driven than we had hoped,  it’s still the closest thing we have to a modern-day Atlantis.

IMG_0551

Seven Ways To Make Your Home More Inviting

01210d0bf8f3d12659f16b33ced43fb1df88292353

the welcome wagon

Don’t you love how rearranging a room feels like a fresh start? Everyone wants their home to be inviting, but some just don’t know where to begin. Here are 7 quick things you can do to bring back that feeling, without all the heavy lifting.

  1. Always Have a Spare Toothbrush

Whether it’s a friend who’s had too many Bellinis or a cousin for the weekend, be prepared for overnight guests. Always have a spare toothbrush on hand, leave freshly laundered towels in their room and if you know they’re coming ahead of time, fresh flowers takes it up a notch.

060

Our L.A. cabin always looked best during Christmas

2) Firestarter

If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, don’t let it sit dormant. Safety first: call in a pro chimney sweep. They’ll make sure the structure is sound, fix cracks and clean out leaves. Once you build your first fire, there’s no going back. The campfire smell, the sound of wood crackling, the mood. Another perk? You can cut down on your heating bill. Even better are the endless posts on Craig’s List, with people practically begging you to take firewood off their hands. Once the fire dies, remember that wood fire ashes are one of the best fertilizers on earth. And speaking of fire…

0107449198ce7dcfa8312c874c850c538bbe8d39e8

Our backyard bonfire featured hot dogs roasted on sticks, s’mores and a blanket on every chair.

3) S’mores. Always.

Keep a s’mores kit on hand, in the case of an  impromptu gathering. Marshmallows, graham crackers and Hershey bars have a long shelf life, not to mention being serious crowd pleasers.

IMG_1602

Don’t toss your mums – place a dying plant in the ground and it will bloom the following autumn. Give it a head start by surrounding it with compost, then mulch for winter.

4) The Eye Has to Travel

Ever wonder why so many homes have bushes flanking their porch? It’s not a coincidence. As Diana Vreeland once said, “The eye has to travel.” The sight of a house jutting from the grass is too stark. You need to soften the lines, and cover up the inevitable dirt and mud on the bottom edges of  your home. Bushes do this, gradually taking the eye from nature to architecture. But don’t stop there. Tasteful greenery adds curb appeal, and will fill you with a sense of pride as you pull up. Flank either side of your front door with an urn, and plant something beautiful. Make sure the plants are symmetrical. If you have a covered porch, hang ferns and burro tails.

IMG_1312

a dimmer with dinner

5) Be Enlightened

Unless it’s recessed lighting, overhead lighting tends to be harsh. I’m talking dressing room harsh.  On low ceilings, LED lights can be too bright, casting an industrial grey glow. Switch to lamp lighting. Use a mix of tabletop and standing lamps to distribute the light evenly. You can customize and enjoy the golden glow.

IMG_0605

my limelight hydrangeas

6) Cutting Garden

Flowers may make a house a home, but a cutting garden makes it an estate. Buying fresh flowers adds up, so decimate the costs with some plantings. I simply step into the yard with scissors and snip what’s blooming. I have roses in full sun, hydrangeas in partial shade and a range of unusual flora in between. From spring to fall, I almost never buy store-bought flowers.

008

debutante camelias in vintage bud vases

7) Bring the Outside In

Plants soften corners and bring life into a space. Not only with beauty but with its oxygen boost. Place tall plants in empty corners, put leafy, interesting varieties on dressers and tabletops, and forego standard terra cotta. Place them in interesting pottery that compliments your design scheme.

Once you start making small tweaks, you may find yourself taking on ambitious home improvement projects. Any proud homeowner knows that a house is never “done,” but a constantly evolving quest for beauty, function and comfort. Enjoy the quest!

vintage Christmas lights are kind of my thing

a cue from the nora ephron playbook

IMG_3966

Nora Ephron was  more than a brilliant screenwriter and author. She was a legendary hostess. She was witty, and a ninja in the kitchen.

In fact, countless websites have posts dedicated to her quotes about food and entertaining. But she’s too funny for me to be satisfied with the Internet’s CliffsNotes. I’ve read every book cover to cover, and came away with some serious wisdom. One memorable dinner party tip: people love to play with their food.

img_3956.png

guests under our pergola, loaded with concord grapes

Whether it’s a mashed potato bar with all the fixings or a Bloody Mary bar with an endless array of hot sauces and pickled veggies, people like to play, build, switch things up.

Since Vietnamese is my one of my favorite cuisines, I decided to host a dinner party where guests could build their own bun cha bowl. Like Chipotle but tastier, and you have total control. We were celebrating the return of The Langes, who got hitched in our own backyard but moved to San Francisco soon after. It was a mini reunion with many of their attorney friends, and members of The Order of the Cincinnati Society, whom meet at our home every Wednesday night.

IMG_3963

When serving food others may find exotic, help them out with a little sign

Scented candles were lit, Chet Baker played on the stereo and after dinner, guests were treated to an array of Asian desserts. Everything from Pocky to coconut rolls. And here’s a tip: guests will feel luxuriously catered to if you pass around a tray with multiple options. The smile on their face when it’s their time to be served is worth a little heavy lifting.

IMG_3967 (1)

Hamilton going for the orange creme cookie

It’s my hope that this hospitality will bring The Langes back again as houseguests, and soon!

IMG_3969

on the outside looking in

Rustic Picnic: An Uncommon Baby Shower

When media executives Rebecca and Mitul Patel announced that they were soon to be a party of 3, my friends and I jumped at the chance to celebrate the arrival of their son, Ander. Maybe it was the swarm of boho-style weddings that took over 2016, but my friends and I wanted to host a rustic picnic. Inspired by the rugged beauty of Griffith Park, we did just that.

The party hosts with new mom Rebecca, second from left.

I opted for a public place with a private feel. Wooded spots in Griffith park are so other-worldly, they book a year in advance. So began an intensive search of L.A. parks. Using Google Maps and satellite, I eliminated rental spaces that were too open, in a playground, too modern or in a dirt patch that passes for a park. I wanted magic. In Pasadena, I found an old live oak shading a wood shelter with a dark patina. I was sold.

Naturally, burlap and twine took center stage, and was accented with polka dots and pine cones plucked from Griffith Park. Fresh sunflowers sat in wine bottles wrapped in vintage lace. We served old-fashioned picnic food: fried chicken, egg salad sandwiches, watermelon, summer salad and an irresistable tower of white powdered doughnuts.

egg salad sandwiches, an American classic

heirloom yellow raspberries and feta made the salad

sweetness

It wouldn’t be a picnic without lemonade, which we served in ceramic pitchers. And a baby shower is never complete without booze, so bottles of Prosecco were popping!

As old friends reunited, they laughed over a group of baby photos clipped to branches with wood clothes hangers. Everyone had submitted baby photos of themselves prior to the shower, and were encouraged to write down who was who, for a chance to win prizes. The hosts, competitive people themselves, could not resist the lure of a good game, and the promise of prizes.

Baby Ander even made an appearance. People fawned all over his chubby cheeks and gummy smile.

beautiful baby Ander

Friends that hadn’t seen one another were so excited to be reunited, there was an impromptu 20-minute photo session as people said their goodbyes. It was an afternoon of comfort food, sunshine and laughter. Congratulations to Rebecca and Mitul Patel!

 

LoBrown Wedding Reflects A Few of Their Favorite Things

It all started with the invitation, where wedding details were engulfed by a swarm of Max and Carol’s favorite things: octopuses, motorcycles, milkshakes, Star Wars characters and more. A friend of the bride drew the original invite by hand. Without realizing it, the theme of this wedding became My Favorite Things.

The wedding ceremony was peppered with references to Star Trek, the Declaration of Independence, Emily Dickinson and other cultural references near and dear to the couple. As was the man who officiated; who is a close friend of the groom’s.

Carol is a local fixture, as she was once a baker at the Richmond institution Dixie Donuts. She literally has an art wall in her home, made of contributions from her admirers. She did not let her guests down, baking an array of home-cooked cakes and tarts. From a churro bundt to chocolate peanut butter cake, every dessert was labeled by a cross-stitched sign.

The groom is a bit of a Renaissance man, and handmade the wedding bands by amalgamating a variety of precious metals in his workshop. He also adorned the altar with a found piece of beach wood, which he branded himself.  Combining their names, it reads: La Casita LoBrown. One of his most popular contributions was a giant BBQ pork, pulled from the on-site smoker. To honor his Mexican heritage, he and his sister also made homemade chips, salsa and guacamole.

Though a backyard wedding allows for more casual dress, the event was not short on style. Refreshingly, the males stood out as statement-makers. There’s Southern rock and then there’s Southern punk rock,  and among the sea of beards and tattoos, there were playful nods to Southern gentlemen everywhere, with pastels and linen suits.

It was a summer wedding after all, and there were 4th of July poppers to explode as the couple made their way down the aisle…and zoomed off on a motorcycle.

There was a gourmet lemonade stand, with flavors like watermelon basil, and lavender – both 100% addictive.

Revelers were free to cool off in the living room, where the TV was removed and the place adorned with displays of the couple’s favorite things.

Friends of the couple learned to play a few songs that were meaningful to Max and Carol. When vows were exchanged, thunder rumbled. At the reception, silent heat lightning illuminated the sky. Never had I been to a wedding so personalized, with the happy couple leaving their signature on every detail. It was truly a night to remember.

 

YSL in RVA

While some designers are known for one signature look, Yves Saint Laurent was a chameleon. From couture gowns worn by Capote’s swans to his “Beat” collection favored by the Haight Ashbury crowd, he was on the front lines mastering every look as if he had invented it. Perhaps he did spearhead a global look with his International collections. He was clearly influenced by his childhood in Algiers and his dream home in Morocco.

His fashions are being showcased by one of the finest museums on the East Coast – the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Get yourself tickets before this first-time couture show vanishes on August 27th.

Postcard from Hawaii

Peaceful? Not with those rogue waves!

I was told we’d see a rainbow every day while in Hawaii. But since I wasn’t greeted on the tarmac by a hula dancer with a fresh lei, I figured that daily rainbows were a romantic exaggeration of fabled Hawaii. But the skies did not disappoint.

While I tend to think that life is too short and the world too vast for  vacations that call for relaxation over exploration, Hawaii allows both at once. The rich Polynesian culture and the exotic flora and fauna can be enjoyed while half-dozing on a beach.

A few things you must do in Oahu:

Travel to the North Shore, where the waves, especially in winter, are the towering kind seen in surf videos. You won’t believe your eyes.

While in the North Shore, you’re bound to see bumper stickers and tee shirts urging Hawaii to secede from the United States. Far from downtown Honolulu and crowded Waikiki Beach, the remote North Shore is home to proud Hawaiians that would love to return to their Polynesian roots. While in the area, stop by a local food truck that nourishes surfers with poke – a delectable raw tuna dish.

Though the rough currents can push you against razor-sharp coral, a little blood is worth the snorkeling experience in Haunama Bay. The range of sea life below the surface is nearly psychedelic. Newbies to snorkeling should start out at Shark’s Cove, where rocks create a cozy inlet free of sea turbulence.

I’m not above a classic tourist trap, so get thee to a good old-fashioned luau with hula dancers, fire spinners and a roast pig. Save plenty of room for the best item on the menu: kalua pork.

Take in some history at Pearl Harbor, where you can see the sunken USS Arizona just below the surface. It’s still a watery grave for the trapped military service members inside, and the sunken vessel still dribbles oil from its tanks to the surface.

Hike Diamond Head, a dormant volcano. It has sweeping views of the sea, as well as the crater hole. You can reward yourself with a cup of shave ice at the end of your descent.

Asian culture is rife in Hawaii. Korean BBQ and outstanding Thai places fill the landscape. While there, take in quality Asian cuisine. Or the classic Hawaiian dish that meshes East and West? Spam Musubi – my Kryptonite.

Hawaii was a little bit relaxation, a little exploration. Perfect for an overtaxed Type A like me.  Aloha.