Sunday, May 31, 2009

Miller Farms Market

It’s strawberry season in Virginia, and I can’t get enough. My home-for-the-summer son suggested we pick our own, so I hunted on the web for pick-your-own farms in our area, and found Miller Farms Market, a new one to me. The place had been a dairy farm for decades, and only started offering fresh produce a few years ago. This farm appealed to me because they are a small operation, convenient to home, and in a direction that doesn’t require me to drive through town. And they don't charge an admission fee, something you may find at bigger farms with lots of "attractions." So we went out on a weekday afternoon last week and quickly picked about 11 pounds of berries, despite having to pass up many ripe, but water-softened, berries. All this rain makes for a big berry, but it takes a lot of sunshine to make them really sweet, something that's been sorely lacking around here lately. Nonetheless, fresh picked local strawberries beat anything else you can find, and these were well worth the effort.

From Fredericksburg, go out Route 3 West and turn left on Route 621 (across from Wilderness Baptist Church). Go 5 miles to the farm on the right. It's just a few miles past Fawn Lake.

Besides strawberries, the farm offers freshly picked produce, seasonal plants, free range chickens and eggs, and a wide variety of other food items from the region.

In the little shop, you can get jams and jellies, peanuts, honey, maple syrup, coffee beans, and other food and gift items.

Don't forget the rabbit food.

A highlight was the strawberry "shake" we sampled, made from Miller's own milk and strawberries, that was more ice cream than shake (I dare you to suck that up through a straw).

For the most part, I prefer my berries just sliced and eaten, with a little sugar if necessary. I certainly don't advocate smushing freshly picked berries into drinks. But my son had a hankering to make his own strawberry lemonade, and I do support any and all efforts of my children to make me delicious treats, especially if they buy their own lemons, do their own squeezing, and clean up after themselves.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Memorial Day in NYC

On the way home from upstate NY, we stopped for a one-day stay in New York City, where we took in some of the sights with our daughter, who lives in Brooklyn. We started with a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge (above: the view from the bridge), and landed in Foley Square in lower Manhattan, where the StoryCorps booth is located. StoryCorps is an oral history project which records interviews with everyday people (excerpts of which can be heard on NPR, and here). My daughter is a facilitator for StoryCorps, so we took a little tour of the booth.

Next stop was Chinatown, where we stopped for a snack of steamed pork bun and dumplings.

From Chinatown (and following a stop at the awesome Economy Candy), we headed to Central Park, where we spent most of the afternoon. On this beautiful, sunny Memorial Day, Central Park was like an enchanted playground, with something going on around every corner. Our first stop was a rest on the rocks by this lake (one of several in the park) to watch the rowboats.

The park was buzzing with activity: picnickers and sunbathers, horsedrawn carriages and pedicabs, sand volleyball and cricket games, dancers and acrobats. Here's "The Jazz Collective" at play, just one of the many musical performances going on throughout the park.

A guy on some kind of crazy bike:

A bride and groom pose for photographs:

The Bethesda Fountain, topped by the Angel of the Waters, is one of the many statues in the park. This fountain appears in a number of movies, such as Angels in America.

On the plaza above the fountain...hula hoops!

The much-photographed entryway to the Strawberry Fields section of the park, in memory of John Lennon:

This was my favorite performer of the day. A lovely young woman, dressed as a fairy, standing perfectly still and holding a rose. If you put a donation in her box, she came to life, reached inside her rose for her fairy dust, and sprinkled sparkles into your outstretched hand (click for the close-up). I was utterly charmed.

For dinner, we headed back to Brooklyn, where we ate at the Fette Sau, a great barbecue place in Williamsburg. Wyatt Cenac of the Daily Show was eating there, too, but of course, no one acknowledged his presence, because New Yorkers are way too cool for that.

And finally, a couple of random Brooklyn shots. Don't ask me to explain.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wedding Weekend

We took an extra long weekend to travel to upstate New York, together with our grown kids, for the wedding of a nephew. Between the rehearsal dinner and wedding reception, and the pre- and post-event gatherings, the weekend was a wonderful family reunion.

The wedding ceremony, on Saturday, May 23, was held outdoors at a beautiful park in Albany. Everyone was nervous about the weather, but it turned out to be a wonderful day.

On the day before the wedding, a group of us strolled around downtown Saratoga Springs:

We stopped at Congress Park to ride the carousel, as always, because we're all big kids at heart, and it's only 50 cents a ride:

The braver among us sampled some of the springs around town. The one below is the Hathorn Spring, which was discovered in 1866 and is supposed to have curative properties. It also has that delightful rotten egg smell. I didn’t try it, although I met a man at the fountain who said he had been drinking it nearly every day for 25 years, and he looked in pretty good shape, assuming he was in his 70’s. If he was in his 40’s, then it’s definitely not working.

Congress Spring, a less vile vintage:

We played around in front of Ben & Jerry's...

but passed up that ice cream (which you can get everywhere now, including Fredericksburg) for the gelato at Eugenio's Cafe Gelato, where I sampled the mocha cappucino and the bacio-chocolate hazelnut. Excellent!

Much of the weekend entertainment was provided by this little guy, the family's youngest member. I could watch him toddle around for hours:

We spent the day after the wedding relaxing in my mother's backyard, eating mass quantities of food. Our family tries hard not to go more than about an hour between meals. Here was our Sunday afternoon feast of antipasto, eggplant parmagiana, ravioli and meatballs:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

W&M Commencement

On Sunday, my youngest graduated from college. I’m not an overly sentimental person, so I am going to refrain from waxing poetic about the rite of passage. I'll just say that I have been struck by how major this transition is, for him and me both, and that I look forward to seeing how the future works out for him. My job of parenting is mainly done. Some will say that a parent's work is never really done, but in my experience, there's relatively little parenting required once your kids are no longer under your personal care and supervision, and no longer your direct financial responsibility.

At the end of the summer, my son will be heading to grad school at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. I don’t know much about Kansas, or anywhere else in the heartland for that matter, but it will be fun to visit him there, and explore an entirely-new-to-me part of the country.

The William & Mary commencement was full of pomp and tradition, as you might expect. Here are a few photos.

The Senior Class Candlelight Ceremony, held the night before commencement:

Commencement morning begins with the graduates walking through the Wren Building and across campus to William & Mary Hall, where the ceremony is held.

It's a rain or shine kind of tradition.

The processional into W&M Hall, as viewed from the nosebleed section:

Tom Brokaw was the commencement speaker. Here is the address.

Overall, I thought the speech was a good one, but I found this little excerpt pretty sexist. See if you agree:

" the women of the class of 2009, be forewarned: These boys sitting beside you who are about to become men will take their inner boy-and their baseball caps and their sports teams-with them and they will never completely understand you. To the male members of this class, remember this: These girls beside you who will become women will continue to spend what you believe is an inordinate amount of time and money on their hair and on their shoes. And guys, I promise you, you will continue to underestimate their abilities and their ambitions-and that's just the way they want it."

Really, Tom?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Potomac Point Winery

On Saturday, we visited the Potomac Point Winery in the backwoods of Stafford’s Widewater peninsula, completing our tour of the most local wineries. I have to say, I was underwhelmed. Oh, the wines were fine, if a bit overpriced, and as of yet, made from grapes grown in the area, but not on the premises. It was the whole huge fake Mediterranean-style “villa” that turned me off. It looks about as much like an actual European villa as Cinderella’s castle in Disneyland looks like the actual German castle it was modeled after. The place was clearly designed as a venue for weddings and other special events, and on the afternoon we visited, there was a wedding getting ready to start. Nine different rooms or outdoor spaces are available for rent. As for the tasting room, it reminded me of our visit to Prince Michel, a bit too commercial for my tastes, although I suspect the owners might take the comparison as a compliment. Fees for wine tasting range from $5 to $10, depending on the number and quality of wines you want to try, and includes a larger-than-most wineglass (doesn’t match my souvenir wineglass set, sad to say) and a complimentary olive oil tasting.

This winery is in stark contrast to wineries such as Hartwood or Old House. There’s something much more homegrown about those other two, where the business and the wine have slowly evolved over a number of years...kind of an organic feel that I appreciate, and that is lacking at Potomac Point. The trip did, however, give us an excuse to cruise around a part of Stafford we haven’t really explored. We drove along the Potomac River, and checked out some of the homes down on Aquia Creek. The rolling hills and rural setting of Widewater is very scenic, and made for a pleasant drive in the country.

Okay, that’s it, I’m done with wineries for awhile. For the time being, I’ll limit my wine tasting to Friday nights at Kybecca, where I can always find a tasty wine at a tasty price.

The vineyards/wedding ceremony venue.

The courtyard patio.

Here's the tasting room. Note the mural above the wall. It's reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel ceiling where God and Adam touch fingers, except in this version, one hand holds out a wineglass, and the other holds out grapes. Since art is a matter of taste, I'll leave it to you to decide whether this is tasteful or tacky.

The olive oil tasting station. The olive oils were all basically the same oil with a number of flavored versions to try: basil, lemon, orange, lime, rosemary, etc. Personally, if I want the flavor of basil with my olive oil, I add basil.

Aquia Creek.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Garden on Deck

I took the plunge and bought my first patio tomato plant at the Farmer's Market this morning. I can see that there are a couple of tiny yellow fetal tomatoes hidden in the leaves, so I take that as a good sign. I replanted it, as instructed, into a bigger pot, where I have been assured great things will happen. I'll keep you posted.

And here's the little herb garden I've started, with basil, chives and cilantro. Now it's just me against the squirrels.