Friday, May 30, 2008

Ren Faire

The Virginia Renaissance Faire is back at the Lake Anna Winery, weekends through June 15. We’ve visited the Faire a few times in the past, and made a return visit last weekend. The Faire is staffed by volunteers who inhabit finely honed Elizabethan alter egos, and we know a few people who work it each year, so it’s fun to drop in on them while they’re in character.

Many of the fairgoers are Ren Faire regulars, who enjoy dressing up (there’s a costume contest for patrons every day) and interacting with the players. We don't dress up (although my son did a stint one summer as a musician, and I learned enough about Elizabethan dress to figure out how to sew the requisite puffy shirt and knickers), but we enjoy strolling the fairgrounds, visiting the vendors, checking out the shows on the various stages, and people watching. If you’re game, faire players are always looking to draw visitors into the fun, so go prepared to join in a song or a dance, to visit with a noble, or chat with a villager. Kids get their own knighting by the Queen herself (photo above).

My favorite stop is the tavern, partly for the entertainment, and partly for the beer. They had beers from Charlottesville’s Starr Hill Brewery on tap, and entertainment that featured bawdy minstrels and singing pirates...for me, an unbeatable combination. In addition, there’s entertainment of one sort or another going on all day: musicians, magicians, storytellers, shows, demonstrations, games, greyhounds, and at the end of the day, a joust. There are vendors selling Ren Faire-ish gear you might not find anywhere else (chain mail bikini top, anyone?), and food of the not-quite Elizabethan variety. The Ren Faire at Lake Anna is smaller scale than some faires, but it seems to be thriving at the winery, and with admission only $7 for adults, it’s definitely worth a visit. Tip: most of the “village” is in a sunny field, and is best enjoyed on a day that isn’t sweltering hot.

Arrr, matey, them be singing pirates:

I'm not sure if alpacas are Elizabethan, but they're sweet and pettable:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Pops Concert

We went to the Rappahannock Pops Orchestra’s traditional Memorial Day concert on Monday evening, a great way to end the holiday weekend. They played the usual mix of light classical pieces and popular medleys, with heavy emphasis on all the patriotic faves: the Washington Post March, the Battle Hymn of the Republic (with the Voices of the Pops), the Armed Forces Salute (it’s always moving to see the military personnel and vets stand as the anthem of their branch of the armed forces is played), and ending, as always, with the Stars and Stripes Forever.

I have to say, though, it was the strangest venue: the Ambulatory Services Center at Mary Washington Hospital. The crowd set up on the road and parking lot in front of the building. Ah, nothing like an outdoor concert on asphalt. And the lovely landscaping in front of the building did a great job of screening the musicians from the audience. We sat on the far side of the orchestra, where at least we could see, even if the sound wasn’t optimal. Now I understand that MediCorp sponsored the concert, and I’m sure the Pops aren't about to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially one willing to cover costs and provide a spacious area to perform in. But really, aren’t there any open grassy areas they could have used? It’s not like the Fredericksburg area is short on parks or even open fields. Of course, I’d go to a Pops free concert no matter where it was, but hopefully next year, I’ll be able to feel a little grass between my toes.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Snead's Localvore Festival

We headed out to Snead’s Asparagus Farm in Spotsylvania on Saturday to check out what was billed as an “Asparagus Tasting and Localvore Festival.” Localvore is the trendy new word to describe someone who eats locally grown food, or grown as close to home as possible (in the same way “carnivore” describes someone who eats meat). There’s been a lot of attention lately given to the idea of eating locally grown foods, and for the next few months, that gets a lot easier to do around here. Food writers and environmentalists suggest that eating locally produced foods is more important than eating organically raised foods: the amount of energy it takes to transport food items across the country, or from other countries, is more of a detriment to the earth than crops or livestock raised with conventional chemical intervention. So the organic apple from California is no better, and probably worse, than the conventionally raised apple from the orchard 30 miles away. I guess the best choice is locally grown organic produce if you can get it. In any case, why not support your local farmers when you have the chance? Click here for a Free Lance-Star article about locally grown food.

The open house at Snead’s was an opportunity to take a nice drive in the country and tour the farm. The “festival” wasn’t quite as much as I expected, since there really weren’t all that many local products (just a fraction of what’s available at my local farmer’s market at the commuter lot on Rt. 3), and no free samples (ah, free samples...the pathway to my heart). But there were hamburgers and steaks from locally raised hormone-free beef, grilled asparagus with 6 kinds of sauces, and a variety of asparagus side dishes ($3 per side). There was no entry fee, plenty of parking, and we enjoyed strolling around the grounds. I came home with 2 quarts of Westmoreland Berry Farm strawberries, enough to keep us happily in berries for a couple of days. There were activities for the kids, including a rope swing in the hay barn, a small zip line over a creek, pony rides, and a tepee to crawl around in. So if you are looking to get the kids out of the house, want to experience a taste of farm life, or just want to spend a relaxing hour in the country, check it out. The festival continues today and tomorrow from 10-6.

The postcard-perfect setting:

The farmhouse:

Grilling up the asparagus and beef:

Tepee for the kids:

I was fascinated by the free range chickens. Somehow, I guess I expected free range chickens to be enclosed by some sort of fence. Not here--they freely range in the Christmas tree field, but don't stray too far from the "chicken wagon."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bluegrass at Patriot Park

Last night, we went to the inaugural concert at Spotsylvania’s sprawling new Patriot Park, behind the YMCA. This is what a bond referendum of a few years’ back got us Spotsy taxpayers: a 130+ acre park with 12 athletic fields, 2 basketball courts, over 3 miles of walking trails, and an amphitheatre in a natural setting that is a great venue for concerts. No complaints here—it’s a terrific facility. And they even used environmentally sound practices to recycle stormwater runoff to irrigate the fields.

We heard about the concert just this week, when I happened to come across the new local bluegrass station, “Bluegrass FM” (89.5) while cruising the radio dial. Non-commercial radio, with all bluegrass all the time, 24-7. How great is that, and how come it took me so long to find it? They had been advertising the concert regularly throughout the week, and I wasn’t sure whether to expect a turnout of Woodstockian proportions, or something like last weekend’s concert at UMW as part of the Marathon festivities (in case you weren’t there, hardly anyone else was, either). The amphitheater has bleacher-style benches to seat 200, and then a grassy hill that can accommodate 1500. The turnout was very respectable, and hopefully the concert offerings in the venue will just keep growing.

So following one of the lamest ribbon cutting ceremonies I’ve ever seen (the ribbon wasn’t attached to anything...a staffer handed out scissors to the local politicians and then with another staffer, they stretched a length of ribbon off a spool like it was a jump rope, and all the county leaders snipped a piece of it), and some touching memorial dedications of athletic fields to local fallen soldiers, the bluegrass concert kicked off. The opening act was Sonrise, a great bluegrass gospel quartet, with fine musicians and tight harmonies. The main act was an “All-Star Bluegrass Band” featuring members from an assortment of bands that I wasn’t very familiar with. That’s not saying much, since while my husband and I used to go to bluegrass festivals every summer in our younger days, we haven’t been following the scene as closely these days (still fans, though). The concert lasted about two hours, and was a real treat. The music was excellent, the weather perfect, the crowd lively, and the setting on the grassy field surrounded by trees was lovely. Spotsy Parks & Rec, you got it just right.

This concert was just the first of the “All American Concert Series.” Upcoming concerts include beach music on June 20, country music with the Crossroads Band on July 18, and Top 40 featuring Reck-n-Crew on August 15. I’m not a fan of beach, country or top 40 music, but if you are, check out this new venue. Tickets are only $5 for adults, $2 for kids 12 and under.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kybecca Wine Bar Opening

Tonight was the hotly anticipated (by me, anyway) soft opening of the Kybecca wine bar. Customers on their email list were offered first dibs on reservations, which went fast. We had already sampled their panini to go, and were looking forward to a retake, but with wine and silverware. A fast-acting friend made the reservation and invited us along, so we were lucky enough to be among the first to check it out. Right now, only outdoor seating is available, and while I’d always rather eat inside if given a choice, the weather was breezy but not too cool, so I couldn’t complain.

Kybecca is shaping up to be a lovely place to enjoy wine and a light bite with friends. The menu (which I’m guessing is a work in progress) features 11 wines by the glass, and you can buy them by the bottle for the usual Kybecca price, plus $10 corkage fee (still a good deal). Besides wine, they offer French press coffee, carbonated juices and bottled water. The menu offers four appetizer plates (cheese plates for red wine or white, shown above, a charcuterie board, and a hummus & sweet pepper plate), as well as “tastes,” including four kinds of small panini, and one dessert. Don’t come expecting a hearty dinner— the offerings are creatively concocted, but the portions aren’t particularly substantial. But if you’re looking for a nice place to meet friends for a drink, Kybecca’s wine bar is just the place to while away an hour or two sipping wine and enjoying a thoughtfully prepared bite to eat. We’re thrilled to have the addition to the downtown scene.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Marine Corps Historic Half

As predicted, we made it downtown just in time to see the tail end of the race and cheer on the final runners. Even though these may not have been the most competitive runners (little telltale signs gave that away, like making a phone call while running, or wearing a miniskirt and tights), we were still very impressed by everyone who took part. There were people of all ages and shapes, and many who were probably running in the longest race of their lives. Kudos to everyone who attempted the distance, and to all those who finished.

I don’t know if the race gave the city much of an economic boost, and I really didn’t see a tremendous influx of visitors anywhere. Still, the city and merchants gave all the runners a warm welcome, with plenty of events to entertain the visitors, and I look forward to celebrating "Marathon Weekend" again next year.

The Dixie Power Trio entertained the runners and their fans at the Visitor Center:

There were plenty of Marines around to control traffic and direct runners:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Historic Half Marathon Weekend

There were a ridiculous number of events going on in Fredericksburg today, all designed to help entertain the throngs of people that are expected to visit Fredericksburg this weekend for tomorrow’s Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon. There are 6,000 runners registered in the race, and the city was anticipating 20,000 weekend visitors. We went to as many events as we could today, and if there were 20,000 extra people in town, they weren’t in evidence at today’s events. Doesn’t matter to me—I enjoyed them anyway.

We started this morning at the Healthy Lifestyle Expo at the Expo Center in Central Park. I was expecting booths devoted to health and wellness, nutrition, exercise, medical screenings, and that sort of thing. Instead, it was mainly booths hawking gear to runners: athletic wear, energy drinks, sports sunglasses. “Healthy lifestyle” was definitely a misnomer. This was the most intriguing part of the visit: seeing all of the porta-potties lined up, ready for the start of the race tomorrow...

Then we headed downtown, where we checked out the concert in Market Square Fair, and enjoyed the music of Tea Not War...

Then on to the beer and wine tasting at Kybecca, where between Friday night and Saturday afternoon, we managed to try all four paninis that they were previewing in advance of next week's opening of the wine bar (my favorite: pulled duck). From there, we walked down to the Art Festival at Hurkamp Park. We checked out the sidewalk sale along Caroline St., and at 3 pm, we headed over to the UMW campus to listen to music by “Midnight Spaghetti and the Chocolate G-Strings” (worst band name ever?), a retro funk band that was a lot of fun...

I even managed to win a T-shirt from WGRQ (you can never have enough T-shirts with ugly, oversized logos).

We managed to take a quick swing by the “Rock the Block Party,” which seemed to be shaping up as pretty much the usual First/Finally Friday gathering, and since we aren't big fans of Bud and beach music, we passed.

Tomorrow we're going to try to go downtown early enough to cheer on some of the runners. Okay, we'll probably only manage to get there in time for the slowest in the pack, but hey, who needs cheering more than the runners bringing up the rear?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jim Scott in Concert

This Friday night, we’ll be seeing Jim Scott in concert at 7:30 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at 1115 Caroline Street. From his press release: “Jim Scott, an acclaimed acoustic guitarist, will perform an evening of his songs of peace and the environment. With insight and more than a little humor, Scott makes his case for harmony in the world with a jazz/world folk music styling and some great guitar technique.” Tickets are $12 at the door. I usually don’t plug things in advance, but the youth group at the fellowship is sponsoring the concert, and they could use the support. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rude Mechanicals Return

We just got back from seeing the Rude Mechanicals perform Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” at the Third Floor Arts Space at 810 Caroline Street. I vaguely remember the theater troupe from our early days in Fredericksburg, when my husband and I would see their shows in the pre-renovated downtown library, and after tonight’s production, I have to say I am ecstatic about their return. The actors did an outstanding job with this powerful drama, and the audience was completely riveted. You could hear a pin drop in the room. I know I praise just about all of the community and school productions I see, but if you can, you really should see this show. It’s Arthur Miller, so it’s not exactly a walk in the park, and the drama is very intense, but really, you should go. The loft space seats 75, and is a great venue for this type of production. We sat in the front row, within touching distance of the actors. I don’t even know who was in the cast or the exact dates of the performances, since there were no programs, and I don’t even have a photo to post. I just know the play runs through May 18, the show starts at 8 pm, tickets are $5, and you can call 373-4324 for more info.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The New York Pizza Question

I’ve said before that I’m a big fan of Bridges Brick Oven Pizza. But I’ve always been a little confused by their claim to be authentic New York style. The Bridges pizza just doesn’t jibe with my experience as a NY teenager who spent many afternoons at the local pizzeria after school with a Coke and a slice.

So on our recent trip to Brooklyn, we assigned ourselves the task to discover the truth about New York pizza. We started by setting our sights on two pizzerias considered by many sources to be among the best: Lucali’s and Grimaldi’s.

Both pizzas were excellent. And yes, it turns out that our own Bridges Brick Oven pizza is definitely in the same category as these: the fresh mozzarella, the thin crust slightly charred in spots from the brick oven, the toppings that move past the usual pepperoni or sausage. But none of these is the pizza of my memory, the pizza I always associated with “New York style”: thin crust with a puffy edge, topped with shredded mozzarella (and rarely anything else, certainly not artichokes or broccoli or chicken), and floppy enough to fold in half. And when you held it vertically from the crust, it would drip a significant amount of oil and the cheese would slide off.

Well, I was glad to discover this pizza does still exist. It’s sold by the slice by many pizzerias throughout the city, and we managed to sneak in a few slices for a quick lunch one day (yes, we ate a lot of pizza this trip). So I guess this means that New York style pizza has some significant variations. In the same way that there is more than one way to make Chicago deep dish pizza, there’s more than one kind of authentic NY pizza. And yes, these days it’s likely to be sporting a wider variety of toppings, some leaves of fresh basil, and the slices of fresh mozzarella instead of shredded, but the crust underneath is still thin, the edge still puffy, and it’s still best eaten right out of the pizza oven, with the cheese hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth.

I’d be interested in hearing what New Yorkers (current and former) consider to be the hallmarks of authentic New York style pizza. Comments, anyone?

First stop, Lucali's. That's their pie at the top, and here's the brick oven:

Next stop, Grimaldi's, right under the Brooklyn Bridge. They're famous for their coal-fired brick oven.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Birthday Boy

My son is home from college just in time to celebrate his 21st birthday. He's the youngest, so I have now managed to raise my two kids to work here is done!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Warm Weather Weekend

It was an absolutely beautiful weekend, with lots of sunshine and warm temperatures, perfect for outdoor activities in the ‘burg. After a long season of indoor concerts and plays, I was more than ready to start spending evenings outside. We got back into our Friday after-work routine, stopping first at Kybecca downtown to taste some wine and admire the new awning that foretells the opening of the first phase of the wine bar (the outdoor cafe) in a few weeks. Next we stopped at the Fredericksburg Area Museum’s First Friday concert, featuring Junk Science (below). We prefer the smaller gathering at the Museum to the big First/Finally Friday crowd down on Sophia St.

Then we strolled around town, visiting a few of the art galleries with First Friday openings. And finally, we ended up at the Griffin Bookshop’s new digs on Caroline Street in the former home of the Pavilion. Stop in at their grand opening open house on Saturday, May 17 from 7:30 to 10 pm. They have live music every Friday and Saturday night from 7:30-9:30, and on Friday local musician Bob Gramann was playing (below). But I admit that we only listened briefly before finding friends on the back porch, where we spent the rest of the night until closing, chatting in the warm evening air.

I very uncharacteristically put in many hours this weekend engaged in a home improvement project, wrestling uncooperative wallpaper off a bathroom’s walls. But I’m not one to let household chores get in the way of a good time, so I put away the scraper in time to join friends at a Kentucky Derby garden party, even coming away with a few bucks after picking the winner. And on Sunday morning, we got in a little tennis at Riverbend High School before that pesky bathroom beckoned again. For all you Spotsylvania tennis players, the court at the Chancellor Community Center has been resurfaced this season, and new fencing put up, so our alternative tennis venue is looking good these days (ah, my tax dollars at work).

On Sunday afternoon, after victory over the bathroom was declared, my husband and I went to Hurkamp Park (below), where we laid out our blanket and enjoyed a lazy hour basking in the sun. We’ll be back in the park for the Fredericksburg Art Festival, May 17-18.