I’m in a cooking rut!


Seriously, y’all, I have a problem. A cooking problem. Okay, so it’s not a big problem and everything is mostly fine and I’m probably making a big deal out of nothing. But nonetheless, I am in a cooking rut, and it is a problem.

I love to cook. I’m really good at pastas…

…and particularly at mac and cheese.

I like learning how to make new things.

And I love to bake.

Lately, though, I feel like all we’ve been cooking are pasta dishes and roasted veggies with some kind of protein and rice. Like, sure, I’m feeding us. But I’m just feeling totally, completely uninspired. It’s boring and monotonous and I don’t like it.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. You can help, and I’d love it if you would! How?

Send me your favorite recipes! (Bonus points for your favorite cozy, fall recipes!)

One of my favorite things about food is that it’s sort of a universal language. The ingredients and techniques might be different, but at the end of the day, we all gotta eat, right? (And I really like to eat.) And you can always tell when a dish has been made with care and love, and when the cook just really wants you to feel good and be happy.

So, share your favorites with me, and I’ll do the same! Over the course of this fall, I’ll post some of my all-time best, most complimented, or just go-to recipes. And we’ll cook. And it will be fun!

(And also, September’s short story will be up on Friday, so be sure to check back. It’s going to be a good one!)

Loudoun Local: Great Spots for Romance and Relaxing

Another new feature I’ve been planning for a while!  I’ve been living in Loudoun County for nine years now – first in its suburban east, and then (because I like land and history and the fantasy that I might someday own goats and maybe a horse) in its beautiful rural west.  Loudoun has a lot to offer, as do its neighbors like Fauquier and Clarke, and I’m excited to showcase some of my experiences and hopefully inspire readers to come and explore this lovely part of Virginia.

So, whether you have plans with your sweetheart for Valentine’s weekend, or you just want to hang out with your friends or take yourself on a fun date (because you deserve it!), here are a few of my favorite spots for romance and relaxing in Loudoun County.


For a unique, small-town shopping trip: The Aldie Peddler – Aldie, VA

This little shop is one of my favorite places in the world.  Wally, the chatty and charming proprietor and proud, though unofficial, Mayor of Aldie will make sure you feel like an old friend, and you won’t leave empty-handed (trust me).  Great wines from all over the world, gourmet snacks, quality outdoor furniture, and fun kitsch, all in a sweet little shop in an old house,  in a Loudoun County village that dates back to 1810.


For brunch, or to spend a weekend: The Red Fox Inn and Tavern – Middleburg, VA

The Red Fox is one of the oldest taverns in the country, and it’s a beautiful spot to sit down and enjoy some delicious brunch favorites.  If you’re feeling a little more luxurious, book a room and stay for the weekend in Middleburg, the nation’s picturesque horse and hunt capital, full of good places to eat, fun shops, and friendly locals.

For dinner, and most especially for dessert: The Conche – Leesburg, VA

Upscale dining with a creative, cocoa-inspired menu, worth a visit for the chocolates and desserts alone.  Indulge your sweet tooth – you deserve it!

For an interesting stroll or a short, easy hike: The Village of Waterford – Waterford, VA

The entire Village of Waterford is a National Historic Landmark, and it shows.  The residents here take incredible care to maintain their properties to the highest historical standard, and when you walk through this little gem, you’ll truly feel like you’ve gone back in time.  You have a couple of walking options, depending on what you’re looking for.  There’s a walking tour through the Village itself:

Waterford Walking Tour

From the Village of Waterford’s website

Or a short hike that starts at the Village’s Old Mill:

Waterford Trail Map

From the Village of Waterford’s website

For a laid-back wine tasting: Zephaniah Farm Vineyard – Leesburg, VA

This vineyard sits on a family farm, and tastings are conducted in the family’s house, which dates back to 1819, or in their new timber-frame barn.


At the house, you’ll be invited to choose a comfortable spot on the first floor, where you’ll sample lovely wines at a leisurely pace surrounded by unique decorations and a few family heirlooms.  You’ll feel relaxed, looked after, and right at home.

For a craft brew and a good view: Bear Chase Brewing Company – Bluemont, VA

There are lots of breweries in Loudoun County, and quite a few of them boast a pretty amazing view.  Bear Chase is one of the newer additions to this list, and they’ve done everything right.  Enjoy a beer and a pizza by their cozy fireplace, or on their covered porch, or on their extensive lawn.  Fair warning, though – they get busy.  I’ve always been able to find a spot to sit and relax, though, and there’s usually good music on the weekends.  And just look at that view:

Bear Chase View

Bear Chase also sits near the Raven Rocks Trailhead and Bear’s Den overlook, so it’s a perfect spot for a post-hike beer with your sweetheart (or your bestie, or yourself, because like I said, you deserve it).

For cider, spirits, and a dance with the Green Fairy: Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery – Middleburg, VA

If wine and beer aren’t your style, head to Mt. Defiance. Named for the battlefield that sits just west of Middleburg, Mt. Defiance has a rustic cider barn on the east side of town, and a steampunk-chic distillery on the west.  At the barn, grab a glass of their famous Cider Kir – a dark red mix of their Farmhouse cider and Cassis liqueur – and sit in a rocking chair in front of the fireplace or on the patio.

Cider Kir

At the distillery, you have lots of choices – cute mini-cocktail flights, seasonal specialty cocktails, and for those brave enough to try, Absinthe.  Now, I’m kidding about being brave, because Absinthe won’t make you hallucinate, but it is pretty strong, and it tastes kind of like licorice.  I happen to like licorice, and the process of preparing Absinthe to taste is interesting to watch; but, if it’s just not your thing, then try the chocolate pairing, which features chocolates from The Conche, and is just really delightful.

Chocolate pairing


And there you have it.  I know there are places I’ve surely missed that deserve to be on this list, so feel free to drop a line in the comments if I’ve not mentioned any of your favorites, or if there are places in Loudoun you’ve always wanted to visit.  But regardless of that, I hope I’ve given you some good ideas for this weekend, or really any weekend, and I hope you enjoy whatever you do, because, like I said (several times, in fact), you deserve it!

A Little Something Different (or, Our Visit to Otium Cellars)

Sometimes, you’re just in the mood for something different.

Before I say more, I should note that I am a creature of habit, almost to a fault.  I eat the same salad every day for lunch.  I do the laundry on Mondays and Fridays.  I drink Irish Breakfast Tea at least once a day.  I read every night before I go to sleep.  When these things don’t happen, I get a little…anxious.  Graham would say hard to deal with, but I’m giving myself a break.

I’m not quite so particular about wine.  I like trying different varietals from different places, and I don’t really have a wine-drinking schedule (does anyone?).  But I do have a level of comfort with the grapes that are commonly used at Virginia vineyards and wineries.  I’m all about a peppery Virginia Cabernet Franc.  I love the way smoky Virginia soil brings out the minerality in a Viognier.

But sometimes, like I said, you’re just in the mood for something different.  Which is why Graham and I found ourselves at Otium Cellars last weekend.


This place is picturesque.  Otium is a Latin word for leisure, peace, rest, and tranquility, and it fits the setting.  Rolling hills, silos, mature trees, and even horses, because, you know, Loudoun County.  It’s conveniently located right outside of the town of Purcellville, and for a fun side trip on the way, take a quick drive through the historic village of Lincoln, a little gem in the Loudoun County countryside.

We wanted to try Otium Cellars because of their reputation for German varietals, and particularly German reds.  Uncommon in Virginia, and executed very, very well at Otium.  Their tasting is well worth the cost, as it’s pretty extensive and the tasting room is a comfortable spot to relax on a weekend afternoon.  There wasn’t a single wine on the menu we wouldn’t have bought.  We ended up bringing home bottles of 2014 Blaufränkisch, 2014 Dornfelder (both reds), and 2015 Grüner Veltliner (a white).

We opened the Grüner Veltliner tonight.  We figured this would be one of the last 90 degrees days of the year (please, oh please!), and so a cold white wine seemed like the most logical choice.


I’d never tried this varietal before.  This grape is grown primarily in Austria, and the grapes for this particular bottle were grown in Washington State.  It’s robust for such a crisp wine – a light, bright nose of citrus, with hints of apples and stone fruits (and I think just a touch of honey), light acidity and a bit of spiciness on the palette, and a delicate finish of white pepper.  Lovely, and absolutely perfect for a hot day like today.

I’ll feature the two reds that we bought a little later in the year.  I’m excited to pair them with some classic fall flavors (sage, cinnamon, cloves…how long until Thanksgiving?).  For now, I’ll enjoy my cold white wine, dream of cooler days and changing leaves, and heartily recommend a visit to Otium Cellars.



*If you’d like to check out Otium Cellars, here’s their website:  Otium Cellars

Thirty < Sixty (Or, Why I’m Drinking Rum Tonight)

Happy birthday to this guy!


The best dad in the world, and my favorite partner in (musical) crime!

It didn’t sink in for me until I was in my mid-twenties that, when I was born, it meant he had a child and turned thirty within one week.  That’s adulthood punching you in the face, right there.  But he seems to have coped pretty well.  And in honor of his birthday tonight, we’re drinking his favorite: rum.

We bought a bottle of Amber Rum from Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery in Middleburg, VA about a year ago, and I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to open it.  If my dad’s birthday isn’t the right opportunity, I don’t know what is.  Now, my dad’s favorite way to drink rum is to mix white rum with Coke over ice, but I decided to get a little creative tonight, and make my favorite cocktail with a rum twist.


Yeah, so I made an Old Fashioned with rum.  Hopefully, I won’t be chased down by an angry mob of rye whiskey devotees, because I drink a lot of wine and I eat a lot of pasta and running isn’t really my thing.  I’m also not sorry, because this is a delicious cocktail, and it’s the perfect way to celebrate my dad’s birthday from across the state.

Usually, when my dad and I get together and have a drink or two, this is what happens:


Since it’s just Graham and me tonight, we’ll have to settle for raising our glasses in a toast.

I wish you the happiest of birthdays, Dad, today and for many, many years to come!  Cheers to you!


Post Script – Regarding Mt. Defiance:  They make a wide variety of ciders and spirits, they’re located right on the main street in Middleburg, and their rum tastings are really fun (they make mini-cocktails!).  Here’s their website, if you’d like to learn more, or plan your visit:  Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery.

Beaching and Wining

I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s no better accompaniment for relaxation than a good glass of wine, and there’s no better place to relax than the beach.  So, basically, Beach + Wine = Paradise.  Add in some family, board games, and good food, and I think we’ve officially made it into Heaven territory.

We’ve opened several bottles of wine since we got here on Monday (what can I say…we’re a family of wine lovers), but I set aside a bottle of Breaux 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon for today.  I wanted to make sure everyone got a chance to taste a good Virginia red.


A little bit of history on this one – we’re going back in time today.  A couple of years ago, Graham and I were members at Breaux Vineyards.  Breaux is a large(r)-scale operation located just outside of Purcellville, VA.  Their tasting room is always busy, but they have a wide variety of wines to taste, and their sommeliers are knowledgeable and friendly.  The grounds are also lovely, and they have lots of outdoor seating to use on nice days (you know…if you can’t make it to the beach).  We dropped our membership in an effort to cut some costs before my big writing adventure, and also because we were members at over ten wineries and it was time to cut back a little.  We’re still working down our bottle backlog, so a Breaux wine was a natural choice for our beach week.

This particular Cabernet Sauvignon went over really well with everyone.  It’s got a robust nose of black cherry, black pepper, and hints of smoke and tobacco.  It’s smooth, though, with notes of smoke and plum on the palate.  As Virginia Cabernet Sauvignons go, this one is done much more in the Bordeaux style than others – smooth, structured, lightly tannic, and it’s aged very well.  It would pair nicely with red meat, or with pretty much anything grilled.  It would be great for a cookout on the beach.  Then, you could have both wine and smores, and wouldn’t that be awesome?

It’s just too bad that time flies when you’re having fun (read: drinking wine), because I don’t think I’m ready to head home yet.  Like, ever.


Bourbon at The Brown

We’re all settled in at the first stop on our road trip, and I think Louisville has treated us well so far.  We’re staying at the Brown Hotel, a 1920s beauty and the birthplace of the Hot Brown, a legend among sandwiches (no, really, it is).  We’ve not tried one yet, but we did spend some time at the Lobby Bar yesterday enjoying that old Kentucky favorite – bourbon.  When in Rome, right?

I went for an Old Fashioned, which is actually my favorite cocktail.  Unfortunately, no Old Fashioned will ever compare to the one I enjoyed here in Kentucky.


Graham had a bourbon flight, because contrary to what the politics of the day would indicate, we can have nice things.


If you’re ever in Louisville, I would definitely recommend spending at least one night at the Brown, and I would also heavily encourage you to spend some time in their Lobby Bar getting to know their bourbon selection.

We’re off to a wedding tonight, and then it’s full speed ahead to Asheville tomorrow.   As the song says, the road goes on forever and the party never ends…

Wine is the Best Medicine

Said no doctor, ever.  But tonight, it’s exactly what Graham and I needed.

We’ve been searching for some time for a historic home somewhere in Loudoun County, and this week, we found the perfect place.  Unfortunately, another buyer did too, and, though we put our best foot forward, their offer was accepted.  We’re both disappointed, because this was pretty much our dream house – perfect location, perfect front porch, casual with character, and ready for our personal touch to make it a really beautiful, comfortable Virginia farmhouse.  But we’re getting through it.  There will be another house for us one day, and in the meantime, there’s Virginia wine.

Tonight, we opened a bottle of 50 West 2015 Rosé of Sangiovese.


I know, I know…I featured 50 West just a few weeks ago (here’s the post: 50 West Post), but this past weekend, we stopped by again to check out their newly renovated clubhouse.  It was definitely worth the stop, because it’s awesome.  The care and time they’ve put into making this mid-century modern house into everything it should be is, at the very least, admirable.  But, really, it’s more than that, because they’ve put the same effort and attention to detail into this house as they put into making their wines (which is to say, impeccable and impressive), and it shows.  While we were there, Diane, one of the owners, was kind enough to show us around the house and around some of their new grapevines.  They’ve just planted Albariño and Suavignon Blanc.  I expect great things in the future.

The rosé we opened tonight was light, crisp, and perfect for a hot summer day – a refreshing nose of strawberries and citrus with leafy notes, citrus and fruitiness on the palate that give way to a pleasant sweetness and fresh strawberries on the finish, and just a hint of minerality.  This one is a staff favorite at the tasting room, and I can see why.

Sometimes, life hands you lemons.  If you’re Graham and me, you take those lemons and…drink wine instead.  It’s not been a good day, but that’s okay.  We might not have our dream house, but we do have each other.  And wine.


Hot Day = Cold Wine

It’s hot tonight.  It was hot today.  And a hot day calls for a refreshing drink.  And in our house, that means cold white wine.

Summers in Northern Virginia tend to be somewhere between oh-so-unpleasantly-sweltering and Death Valley but humid.  A friend of the family describes this kind of weather as “close,” which, as I understand it, means “it’s so hot I feel like I’m crammed into a sauna with 1,000 other sweaty people who like hugs.”  I’m happy to be home after all of our travels so far this summer, but man, I hate the heat.

I’d actually picked out a red wine for tonight (welcome to our house…red wine everywhere), but when Graham got home, I felt the heat coming through the door and changed my mind.  I was also baking a pie and the kitchen was hot, so white wine it was.  We opened a bottle of Greenhill 2014 Seyval Blanc.


I’ve featured Greenhill before (here’s the post: Greenhill Wine Post) so I won’t go on about the winery.  I will say, though, that it’s a nice place with good wine and a pretty view that’s worth a visit or several.

If you’re unfamiliar with Seyval Blanc, it’s a hybrid grape used to make white wines, and it grows particularly well in cooler climates.  It’s widely grown in Virginia, though I’ve heard upstate New York grows it, as well.  This particular Seyval Blanc was pretty on character for the grape – a delicate nose of citrus, with honeysuckle, sweet citrus, and black currant on the palate, and a sour citrus finish.  It was light, yes, but with a minerality that added some complexity and depth.  I can think of few better wines for a hot summer evening, and we certainly enjoyed it.

I checked the forecast earlier today, and it looks like we’re in for a heat wave for the foreseeable future.  Knowing us like I do, I predict there will be more cold white wine in our future.  So, damn the heat, and bless the wine, and thank God for air conditioning.  Cheers!

Bob Dylan Wrote Every Song and Wine Is Good

One of these statements is true.

If you’re like me, the last thing you want to do when you get home from a trip, especially if the getting home has been hectic and tiring, is get ready, rush to make it to something on time, and sit for several hours (airplane flashbacks, right here).  But that’s exactly what Graham and I did last night, and it was the best decision we could have made.

We spent a lovely weekend in Alabama with family, and getting home on Tuesday turned out to be an epic journey.  A three hour delay in Mobile, a mad dash through Atlanta to catch our connecting flight home, unpacking at midnight.  Then, Graham picked up the Annie-dog at 6:00 a.m. yesterday and worked all day.  When he got home at 5:00, we packed a bag in a hurry, for what felt like the millionth time.  But this time, we packed it with bread, cheese, salami, and wine.  And this time, we drove just thirty minutes away from home to see Mavis Staples and Bob Dylan at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA.

A couple of obligatory wine photos, since I missed my Wine Wednesday post this week and attended a concert instead (worth it, obviously).


For me, we opened a bottle of Butter Chardonnay.


For Graham, a bottle of Sunset Hills Sunset Red.

Both are good for a picnic, and both will please a crowd. (Though…we didn’t share.  Don’t judge!  Our friends brought their own wine!)

I don’t know what better “welcome home” there is than a picnic with good wine, good food, good friends, and good music.  Travel is one of my greatest pleasures, but I’m grateful and lucky that coming home is wonderful, as well.  Cheers!


Homecoming (to Wine!)

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Graham and me.  After a week and a half in Seattle and Alaska (the post is coming, I swear), we were home for less than a week before heading to New Jersey for a beautiful wedding (congratulations, Andy and Dan!), and we’ll head out again this Saturday for a trip to Mobile, Alabama to see family and celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary.

I like to travel.  Wanderlust is real, and I’ve got it.  But I also like coming home again.  I feel secure in the world with my feet on Virginia ground.  It’s always nice to sleep in my own bed after spending time away, and I miss cuddling with my giganti-cat, Gatsby, when I’m gone.


He requires a lot of attention.  And purrs like a monster truck motor.  And makes coming home worth it.  And I’m definitely not a crazy cat lady.

Moving on, this is the first week in several that we’ll be home for five whole days(!).  So, we grilled some steaks, and we’re celebrating with wine.  (Of course.)

50 West Vineyards opened back in the fall, and it’s owned by the same people as Sunset Hills, where Graham and I have been members for years.  I’ve featured Sunset Hills before (here’s the link: Sunset Hills Wine Post), and I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to write about 50 West.  It’s located, no joke, less than ten miles from our house, so it was the perfect choice for our brief homecoming.

A lot of effort went into opening this vineyard.  After purchasing the property, the owners renovated the facilities, pulled up dead vines (it had been a vineyard before), and planted new ones.  They’ve paid attention to every detail, and you’ll feel welcomed by the team once you step up to the tasting bar.  Even the name, simple as it is, was carefully chosen – Route 50 West is an old thoroughfare with lots of history, dating way, way back before it became a paved, named highway.

The best thing about 50 West Vineyards, aside from the wine, is the view.  From a table on the patio, you can look out at rolling mountains and pastoral countryside while you enjoy a glass of something cold in the summer sunshine.  It’s a little piece of heaven.  The staff are friendly, the wine is good, and the location is unbeatable for Graham and me, given its convenience and amazing views.  That’s like the holy trinity for Loudoun County wineries.

Tonight, we opened a bottle of 2013 Aldie Heights Cuvee, a red blend which won a gold medal in the 2016 Governor’s Cup, Virginia’s foremost wine competition.


This is a good wine, and it should be.  A blend of Petit Verdot, Tannat, and Cabernet Franc, it’s got a robust, aromatic floral nose with hints of black pepper and blackberry.  It hits the palate with notes of black currant, black pepper and green bell pepper, and cloves.  The finish is rich and round, and almost a little chocolate-y.  Truly delicious!

It’s nice, after so many busy days and so much travel, to spend a quiet evening at home sipping a glass of wine and chatting about our next adventure.  See you soon, Mobile!  Cheers!

*Brief but useful Post Script: I read an interesting article about 50 West around the time that it opened, and if you’d like to read it, too, here’s the link: Loudoun Times 50 West Article.  One thing to note as you read the article, 50 West has since released their label, and the wines are fantastic!