Archive for the ‘Regional Foods & Wine’ Category

Second Season Underway For The Cape Charles, VA Farmer’s Market

Friday, July 7th, 2017

DSC_1671The long awaited second season for the brand-new-last-year Cape Charles Farmer’s Market finally rolled around in May and now the vendors are getting into high gear with loads of summer goodies. ( Hours this year will be from 3-6 pm, rain or shine, from now till October.)  So if it’s Tuesday afternoon, whether you’re a local or a visitor, it’s time for foodies and farm-to-table enthusiasts to break out the walking shoes, a wicker market basket and head out to the spacious, grassy Museum grounds on Stone Road in the little Eastern Shore of Virginia coastal town of Cape Charles to shop for the fine local farm produce… and much more.

 

BBQ guy

I found last year that the best way to tackle the cornucopia of goodies on offer was to take a stroll, making a circuit around the whole Market, to preview all the little vendor tents and the tempting items on offer, then circle back around again to make selections. This proved to be the right strategy again this year. Starting on the north end across from the handsome brick Museum building was Shore Beef and BBQ, where owner Ron was fielding multiple customers drawn by deep smoky aromas and intent on securing some of his delicious beef brisket and vinegar- dressing cole slaw.

 

Mattawoman Creek FarmMoving counter-clockwise, Mattawoman Farms CSA’s counter was heaped high with loads of fresh organic veggies including the most beautiful red and green lettuces, soft yet crisp, just gorgeous. And kohlrabi, which after some indecision I decided I would finally try this year, as well as some tatsoi, a deep green plant similar to bok choi. Mattawoman had tall racks of healthy looking plants, perfect to pop immediately into a home garden. Across the way, the honey guy’s wares were shining golden, the sun glinting off the jars, you could almost savor lush sticky sweetness on the tongue merely by looking at it. At our house, local honey is the go-to sweetener for tea, especially green teas, it just smooths out every cuppa.

Bakery

 

Moving down the line, waving to the Bread Lady from The Bakery at Riverside Farm who had sold out in the first hour. And no wonder, she has fab sour dough breads and at my house we are addicted to her cinnamon raisin bread (which we often buy on Thursdays year-round at the Gull Hummock gourmet shop on Mason Avenue.) Toasted, spread lightly with peanut butter, so divine with morning coffee ! Next door to Bread Lady, a new vendor this year, the cleverly named Kitchen Sync Catering, whose chef, Louise Oliver, is offering a scrumptious menu of prepared foods that can be ordered on-line and picked up at their kitchen at the Eastville Inn on Friday or purchased at the Farmer’s Market on Tuesday. Their samples looked delish, especially the colorful layered salad with a side of cilantro avocado dressing and the chopped broccoli salad with cranberries and almonds with a honey yogurt dressing. Just around the corner, Copper Cricket Farm’s table was piled high with totally gorgeous veggies including crispy fresh spring onions, arugula and Swiss chard.

DSC_1715Further down the line, another new vendor, Lauren Gardner of Parisian Sweets, was offering French style macaroons. Or rather, not offering, since, unfortunately for me, but nice for them, she was also sold out.  But lucky early birds to the Market were able to indulge in her lemon, raspberry cheesecake or mocha flavors. Going to go earlier next week ! Did manage to snag some of Pickett’s Harbor Farm’s just-picked-this-morning peaches though, a favorite of my husband’s, but do peaches compare to lemon or mocha French macaroons ?  A tough decision but one I didn’t have to make since there were no macaroons !  Too many other great vendors to mention here, offering everything from The Flying Pig’s traditionally fermented organic sauerkrauts to organic veggies, local seafood as well as organic eggs and meats from several different local farms. The Cape Charles Farmer’s Market will not disappoint, check it out, 3-6 pm, rain or shine, every Tuesday, May through October

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DSC_1679Mattawoman Creek Farm Line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Barrier Island Center’s Annual Art And Music On The Farm Event

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

1Rain clouds gone,  last Saturday dawned as bright and beautiful as one could have wished for the Eastern Shore Barrier Island Center  2017 “Art And Music On The Farm” festival. This Machipongo, VA event is one of the largest art/artisan annual festivals on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and one of our very favorites. Absolutely something for everyone… plus great live music !  And delicious food !  All day long !  Oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings, decoy carvings, sculptures, bronze work, weather vanes, plants and garden art, ceramics, hand-crafted wood pieces, wool working and so much more on offer for the many enthusiastic attendees.  Island View Farms even brought 3 woolly characters from its herd of authentic Hog Island sheep, descendants of the original super hardy sheep that roamed that off-shore barrier island decades ago, explaining that their sheep enjoy the attention from the visitors as much as the visitors love seeing the sheep.

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And what’s a festival without food ? Definitely plenty of goodies to munch on here,  including at Kitchen Sync Catering, whose savory bill of fare included a delicious jambalaya, fresh strawberries & cream for dessert, with ice cold pink lemonade to wash it all down. Coastal Roasting had brewed its famous Marsh Mud iced coffee plus fruit and herb iced teas, hitting the spot perfectly on the warm summer’s day. Delicious aromas wafted from the Taqueria and Kielbasa & Brats tents, their spicy menu pairing well with the adjacent Beer Garden. Not far away was Chatham Vineyard, well-known for its luscious Chardonnay, also doing a brisk business.

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CrowdFrom 10am until closing at 4pm, five different and talented groups performed on fiddle, guitar and mandolin, playing to a very enthusiastic crowd.  The main stage area included an adjacent dance floor for those in the audience who wanted to accompany the liveld Musicy music with some clogging or free range dance. Toe-tapping and delightful, the music was rooted in the various styles of bluegrass and the old time country music traditions of rural Virginia. We stayed and listened to the entire one hour performance by Erynn Marshall and Carl Jones, lots of good energy, well played. ( In fact, we enjoyed it so much we brought their authentic sound home with us in the form of their latest CD. ) And when their set was over, to the delight of the audience, Erynnn got on the dance floor and back into her groove with some enthusiastic clog dancing ! Hats off to local long time clogger, Bill McLaughlin, who helped several youngsters give clogging a try. All in all, a wonderful day, full of fresh breezes, good music, delicious food and beautiful art. In short, another great Art and Music on the Farm festival !

Artist at Work

Mark Campbell & John Schwab On the way to play

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. — A huge shout-out and thanks to everyone at the Barrier Island Center, to all the volunteers and all the artists, artisans and musicians who make this outstanding event possible each Memorial Day weekend !!

4 Great Places In Cape Charles, VA To Take Your Sweetie To Dinner On Valentine’s Day

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Happy Valentines DayIf you’re looking for a great place to enjoy a romantic Valentine’s  dinner,  you definitely couldn’t go wrong by trying one of these 4 terrific restaurants  located in or around the quaint Victorian town of  Cape Charles, VA.   Menu info and phone numbers for reservations are included.  So pick your favorite, make a reservation and take your Sweetie to Valentine’s dinner in this lovely little beachfront town by the  Chesapeake Bay.

 

 

Aqua 1.Aqua Cape Charles’ only  fine dining bayfront restaurant,  Aqua overlooks the majestic Chesapeake Bay. Dinner here at sunset is a sensational choice. Unfortunately, sunset comes a little early in February but Aqua is lovely after dark as well.  In addition to  its elegant decor,  starched white linens and superb service,  for Valentine’s Weekend , Aqua is offering several special entrees including a luscious sounding Stuffed Lobster,  slow baked Prime Rib and  Chicken Piccata.  And one of the succulent appetizers, Southern Oysters and Grits, sounds like a mouthwatering version of one of my  personal favorite’s,  shrimp and grits.  Chef Shelly Cusamina  has been the head chef at Aqua for a number of years and prides herself on featuring fine food with the freshest of ingredients, locally procured when possible.  Especially for Valentine’s evening,  a live jazz band will be playing.  Located at 900 Marina Village Circle near the King’s Creek Marina. Call 757-331-8660 for reservations.

Hook Up Gourmet 2.Hook-U-Up Gourmet– Located at 227   Mason Avenue right  in the heart of the Cape Charles,  Hook-U-Up is quite the eclectic restaurant.  By day, a purveyor of savory pizza and gourmet sandwiches.  By night, on Tuesdays, it is a Bistro serving elegant and delicious food, a  bit of a continental flair  right  in the Cape Charles Historic District.   And once a month, a special Wine Dinner, offering, as a friend who attended one recently told me,  “some of the best food I’ve ever eaten”.  High praise indeed and well-deserved for talented  Chef and owner, Tim Brown,  who is going all out on Valentine’s  Week-end  with both a prix-fixe and an  a la carte menu available.  The prix-fixe sounds tantalizing, Artichokes stuffed with Lump Crab or Baked Brie in Phylo with Orange Preserves among his appetizers, an Arugula and Watercress salad,  Chateaubriand with Black Truffle and  Béarnaise sauces for the entree’.  The sweet for your sweetie is  almond and black cherry tart with espresso ice cream, ambrosial no doubt.  Highlights of the a la carte menu include  Beef Wellington,  a “Surf and Turf” consisting of a  Petite Filet+ Lobster Tail+ Lump Crab  and  a  Flounder Meuniere.  For reservations, call 757-331-2275.

Kings Creek Inn 3.  King’s Creek Inn– With its long views down King’s Creek and out to the Chesapeake Bay beyond, King’s Creek Inn is another beautiful location for dinner.  Offering their “Fireside Feasts” on Friday and Saturday evenings all winter long,  they are cooking up something special indeed for Valentine’s Day week-end.   Dining by a crackling fireplace is always romantic, in addition, all the ladies will be receiving a long-stemmed rose to help celebrate the evening.  Entrees will include Filet of Sole stuffed with Lump Crab, a Surf and Turf,  Lamb Shanks slow roasted in wine and Chicken stuffed with Brie and Cranberry.  Dessert sounds delightful, their signature Chocolate Mousse Cake or a Truffle Cheesecake, yummy.  Located at 3018 Bowden Landing just outside town. Call 757-678-6355 for reservations.

 

Kelly's Pub Cape Charles 4.  Kelly’s Gingernut Pub– Offering great food in a unique and casual atmosphere. Located at  133  Mason Avenue in the center of Cape Charles, in what was once a historic brick bank building, now lovingly renovated by owner Gene Kelly.  Try the cozy seating section called “The Vault”,  located in what was once, duh,  the bank’s vault.   Kelly’s combines  a fun atmosphere with excellent pub-style food plus some excellent chef’s specials for dinner on week-ends.  For Valentine’s Day, among other offerings,  Kelly’s will present  Oysters Rockefeller, Crab Claw & Shrimp Cocktail,  Three Cheese Ravioli in a Crab and Cream sauce, Surf and Turf as well as a Grilled Rib- eye Steak with Portobello Mushrooms.  Cheesecake with Berries for dessert.  Call for more info at 757-331-3222

 

A Glorious New Year’s Day 2014 Trip From Eastern Shore Virginia To Williamsburg, VA’s Historic District

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

CBBTBright, sunny, beautiful from dawn till dusk, New Year’s Day 2014 was simply lovely.  We had planned early on to ring in New Year’s Day in Williamsburg and the weather could not have been more co-operative.  One of the  delights of a trip to the historic area of Colonial Williamsburg in December are the beautiful holiday decorations– the door of each home in the restored area is adored with a unique, handmade wreath.  And since they are all crafted by the residents, no wreath is duplicated.  For about the last ten years we have made an annual pilgrimage on New Year’s Day to enjoy a guilt-free buffet brunch at one of the hotels because afterwards we take a brisk walk through the restored area to work off all those calories !   ( An excellent excuse for sampling several deserts …..)  And the trip from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to Williamsburg is so easy,  a glide over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, clear blue waters below,  chop-chop-chop up I-64 E , exit onto Colonial Parkway and, insto-presto, in less than 2 hours it’s napkin in lap, fork in hand, ready to enjoy a luscious lunch.

 

Williamsburg InnLunch this year was an interesting buffet at the always special Williamsburg Inn– in addition to  Southern regional dishes like oyster pie,   seafood fritatta and minced Smithfield ham salad,  a surprisingly excellent offering was a black-eyed pea bisque.  For those not familiar,  it is a Southern tradition that on New Year’s Day, one must eat black-eyed peas — they are supposed to bring good luck for the coming year.  I don’t really enjoy them and the idea of black-eyed pea bisque was initially not appealing whatever. But Hubby tried some, wow, said he, this bisque is really excellent, you really should try it.   So I did…. once, twice and three times a charm !  Couldn’t believe it, that’s how delicious it was, best darn thing on the menu, I shall remember it aways.  Well, maybe not always but at least until next year when I hope they will serve it again !  The desserts were fun, especially the crepe’ station, rich, thin crepe’s filled with Bananas Foster, topped with a little scoop of fabulous ice cream and sliced fresh strawberries, very, very yummy indeed.

Williamsburg Historic area shop 244The weather was  delightful,  a little warmer than usual, about 55 degrees,  so when we started our walk  Duke of Gloucester Street was teeming with folks from all over, tourists wearing their badge passes,  locals,  students from the College of William and Mary which is located just a few blocks away, everyone quite  relaxed, just enjoying the afternoon, strolling down this historic street.  If you love dogs, Gloucester Street is also a “meet and greet” heaven for dogs of all kinds and sizes, as owners leisurely traipse down the street behind their pooches.  This year was an especially great year for “people walking dog”  watching– a Bernese Mountain dog, Labradoodle, Great Pyrenees, Scottie, Doxie, Boxer, you name it, they were enthusiastically escorting their owners down this four hundred year old street where individuals  like  George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both alumni of William and Mary, probably walked their dogs too.   Interestingly, you almost never see aggressive canine behavior there, just doggie curiosity and tail wagging which makes the whole “man’s best friend” scene lots of fun. And to add additional interest to this convivial scene, the  period style carriages were out in force, each drawn by two gorgeous, well-cared for horses, stepping high, coats gleaming in the afternoon sunlight, liveried driver seated high above.  The carriages are apparently hand- manufactured in Austria according to one of the drivers but the wheels themselves are actually handmade at the wheelwright shop right in the Williamsburg Historic Area. Anyway, four or five horse-drawn carriages traveling down the street is quite a sight.

Williamsburg Christmas Decorations 241 This year’s batch of wreaths and swags was interesting as always.  Nearly every home and shop in the Restored Area is decorated each holiday season with a wreath or swag made entirely of materials which would have been available to residents of  the 18th century, basically constructed from fresh greenery pine, fraiser, boxwood, holly, magnolia and decorated with a myriad of dried different flowers, seeds and fruits, no artificial decorations allowed.  To up the ante’ a bit for residents, 1st, 2nd. and 3rd place blue ribbons are awarded and given the obvious amount of  effort many wreaths show, I’m guessing there is a bit of friendly competition every year to win a ribbon.  The effect is so pleasing that every year literally thousands of visitors come each year over the holidays to see the decorations and enjoy a holiday meal in one of the period taverns.  Each Tavern is  gaily decorated for the season, softly lighted by candles with costumed servers offering food authentic to the period– one of the most famous is the King’s Arms Tavern which is famous for its peanut soup,  Game Pye as well as an unusual veggie offering, a rich creamed celery with a hint of nutmeg,  which doesn’t sound that great but which was quite delicious.   There is always something new to see or try in Williamsburg and a visit there is  a great way to kick off the New Year.

 

” A Victorian Winter Wedding” Was The Theme Of The 18th Annual Cape Charles VA Holiday Progressive Dinner

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

18th Annual Holiday Progressive Dinner Tour brochure Sponsored for the 18th year by the Northampton County Chamber of Commerce, and chaired this year by Blue Heron Realty Co. client, Tammy Holloway, owner of  the gorgeous Bay Haven B&B,  the annual Cape Charles  Holiday Progressive Dinner is always a fun event, homes dressed to the nines, holiday lights blazing, food, wine  and lots of good cheer. But what sets the Cape Charles event apart from progressive dinners all across the South (where they are very popular)  is its wonderful entertainment. Due largely to the influence of the Arts Enter ! theatre group sponsored by the historic Palace Theatre,  the Cape Charles Progressive Dinners always feature a special theme and offer entertainment, usually consisting of  numerous vignettes produced by the theatre group, with each home on the Tour playing  its part  in  the  theme. This year’s theme was ” A Victorian Winter Wedding“.  Like the town itself, it is set at the turn of the century,  and  revolves  around the elaborate preparations for the wedding ( fictional) of the Mayor of Cape Charles to the son of a well-liked local  businessman.  The wedding theme was embellished at every stop on the Tour, as each home offered a glimpse of a particular aspect of the extensive preparations for the wedding.  To better set the mood, at each stop the home’s owner,  host and greeters were elaborately costumed in elegant period fashion.  ( One  of the  really clever aspects was that the Mayor’s daughter was marrying the son of one of the town’s foremost businessmen, the builder W. H. Lambertson,  and two of the homes on this year’s Progressive Dinner were  actually built by W.H. Lambertson in the early 1900’s.)

 

DSC_0434The evening  kicked off  at the striking, art-deco style Palace Theatre, built-in 1941 and now fully refurbished, thanks to the fund-raising efforts of Art’s Enter.  We were in the early group, started at 3:20, ended about 6:00 pm.  In general, organizers have it  arranged so that  ticket holders consist of groups of about 25 and departures staggered about 20 minutes apart.  At the theatre, setting the evening’s theme, we were treated to a short play starring the irrepressible Trina Veber, veteran of many Progressive Dinner vignettes, in the key role of the Mayor’s wife, mother of the bride, anxious to uphold her position as a pillar of Cape Charles society.  Here we learn that although the Mayor is cheap, famous for pinching pennies, his wife has arranged to have the wedding dress purchased and fitted by the most prestigious dress shop in town, whose owner has recently made a buying trip to New York City to secure a variety of lovely but expensive dresses for this high society wedding.  We also learn that so many guests are expected that both the Cape Charles Inn ( in real life also an inn, the Chesapeake  B&B) and the famous ( in real life as well) Miss Mollie’s Boarding House, (where the portrait painter for the official wedding portrait will be staying ), both will be filled with VIP wedding guests.  As the little play ends,  the audience is  left wondering if Daddy isn’t  going to throw a conniption fit when he gets the bill for all the grand wedding preparations. But we shall find out before our evening ends.  While the action is proceeding on stage, Dinner ticket holders are enjoying a  High Tea–  tender tea sandwiches, cucumber dill and  liver mousse with red onion, prepared by Hook-U-Up restaurant’s  fine chef, Tim Brown,  as well as a fluffy, orange-iced cranberry orange scone baked by the Cape Charles Coffee House, served with sweet orange tea.

DSC_0527Off then to the second stop,  a  classic American four square home, one of the many examples in Cape Charles, which the playbill proclaims as home to the Lambertson family whose son is to marry the Mayor’s daughter.  From the owner’s speech before entering the house, we learn that when she purchased the property in 2009, this now-lovely house was in serious disrepair and served primarily as the abode for a large flock of pigeons !  As we walk through and see it now,  the house has been beautifully restored and is a real credit to the efforts of its new owners.  In the theme of the wedding, this house serves as  the elegant dress shop. In an upstairs bedroom several mannequins are dressed with beautiful bridal attire in various stages of being fitted.  ( Kudos to all the efforts of Arts Enter volunteers  in securing the gorgeous period costumes– it must have been a real labor of love.  In fact, it’s  the numerous participants, volunteers all, over 150 of them, that make the Dinner possible. Without them it just couldn’t be pulled off  ! )  Food here was prepared by The Shanty,  a fun new seafood restaurant located right on the Cape Charles Harbor, and featured Oysters Rockefeller and Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque.  Unfortunately, although I live in one of the finest oyster producing regions in the entire country, I’m not an oyster person so didn’t have any— but Hubby and Eldest Daughter assured me they were succulent.  However, I can personally attest that the bisque was absolutely delicious– smooth, creamy with a hint of  char at the finish.  Actually, it was my favorite dish of the entire dinner, especially as I am a devotee’ of butternut squash bisque. Wine accompaniment was  Church Creek Steel Chardonnay by Chatham Vineyard, a fine local vineyard and winery.

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Mayer home 2From there, we were off to the Inn, a walk of a few short blocks. In the Dinner’s theme, the Inn was to provide  accommodations and hospitality for many of the out-of-town guests expected for the wedding and is elaborately decorated for the occasion.. In real life,  the Inn really is an inn, the Chesapeake B&B.  Listed for sale by Blue  Heron Realty Co., it is a gorgeous 2 story historic brick Colonial Revival home which overlooks the Chesapeake Bay and Cape Charles’ soft sand beach.  One of its most stunning features is the arcaded 5 bay brick front porch. For the Dinner,  the owners  had decorated both porch and shrubbery with a stunning display of bright holiday lights, total eye candy.  ( For more information on the features of this extensively renovated property, visit http://www.blueheronva.com/property.php?propid=1516 . )  Our group arrived just as the sun was beginning to set, the sky was streaked with soft pinks and violets, absolutely stunning. Prepared by the historic Eastville Inn  in Eastville, VA, the offering here was a rich Rockfish Chowder.  Rockfish is probably the Eastern Shore’s most prized late season fish, mild and firm flesh, perfect for a chowder.  This particular dish is the signature fall-winter dish of the Eastville Inn and includes corn and asparagus, is seasoned with applewood smoked bacon and a touch of garlic and thyme,  served with sweet potato rolls spread with a brown-sugar cinnamon butter.  Yum !

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DSC_0511Next stop, in my opinion, one of the most charming homes in all of Cape Charles, with one of  the indisputably most beautiful front porches in town, curved, graceful  and full house length. Built in 1912 for Cape Charles’ first banker by W.H. Lambertson, whose son ( in the play) is to marry the Mayor’s daughter, this home continues the evening’s  theme as being the home of the bride’s best friend. It is at this gorgeous home  that the bridesmaids and friends will gather to make  decorations and guest favors for the wedding.  The tools and materials for same are seen as ticket holders tour the bedrooms at this house. Food served here was prepared by   Aqua Restaurant, offering fine and casual dining right on the shores of  Chesapeake Bay  at King’s Creek Marina .  A modern update of  a traditional Waldorf salad and a lightly curried chicken salad in a small brioche roll, very tasty, were served, complemented by Italian white wine selected for the occasion by the Gull Hummock Wine and Cheese shop in Cape Charles.

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DSC_0529The final home on the tour was Miss Mollie’s  boarding house which was, in real life, Miss Mollie’s Boarding House. Apparently Miss Mollie ran the boarding house for many years after her husband’s death and was known Shore-wide for her famous pound cake. At the house,  a video interview of Miss Mollie, done many years ago for a special Cape Charles history event,  was playing on the VCR– fascinating, a real highlight and I took a quick pic for this blog post.  Miss Mollie died at 101 and in the TV interview I’m guessing she was somewhere in her nineties but still sharp as a tack because when the interviewer, long-time local pharmacist, George Savage, apparently asked a particular question for a 2nd time, he received a  quick retort,  ” Why you already asked me that !”   When George inquired how many of her famous pound cakes she thought she had baked over her lifetime, she guessed she had baked plenty more than a thousand–  which is a heck of a lot of   home baking !  Food served here was prepared by Kelly’s Gingernut Pub, a fun place with  good food located on Mason Avenue in Cape Charles and included a delicious roast beef-Yorkshire pudding canape plus a roastedvegetable tort served in individual tart shells topped with a creamy, buttery sauce.  The piece de resistance’ was a little slice of Miss Mollie’s cake, a rich vanilla pound cake, prepared by Heritage Hall in Nassawadox, baked according to Miss Mollie’s very own recipe.  As party favors,  printed copies of Miss Mollie’s recipe were available for guests to take with them if desired– I took one and intend to try it out for myself.

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DSC_0543Leaving Miss Mollie’s,  it was just a short walk to the Cape Charles Town Library where the theme and the Dinner concluded,  with the penny-pinching Mayor was scheduled to see his daughter modeling her gorgeous, albeit expensive,  bridal gown for the very first time.  Suddenly he forgets the expense of the wedding and realizes that his baby girl is going to be gone, about to get married and move from his home, that it is family, not fortune,  he should be thinking about now.  Thus endeth  the play and also the Dinner,  after  the dessert course, naturally.  A  collaboration between Heritage Hall and Brown Dog Ice Cream in Cape Charles,  dessert was a delectable ginger snap cookie “sandwich” filled with Brown Dog’s heavenly ice cream,  Caramelized Fig and Mascarpone Cheese flavor, easy to hold, delicious to eat. It was the sweet end to a sweet day.  But one more treat to come– Pheiffer Stables, whose farm is  located on the outskirts of  Cape Charles, had brought a holiday-light decorated carriage into town, pulled by Rosie, a lovely patient horse. Horse and driver  stood ready outside the Library,  prepared to ferry  weary Tour members  back to the Theatre.  So aboard Hubby and I hopped,  not  spring chickens any more,  nice to get off our feet after several hours walking  town. So with sleighbells bells ringing,  off we rode to our car,  a perfect end to a  great evening.

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The 21st Annual Eastern Shore of Virginia Harvest An Unqualified Success

Friday, October 18th, 2013
Harvest Fest on Virginia's Eastern Shore

Harvest Fest On The Eastern Shore of Virginia

When you live on  the Eastern Shore of Virginia, as the first week of October rolls around, you can look forward to a few traditional  pleasures– mums start to bloom gloriously, pumpkins appear in riotous hues of orange at roadside farm markets but, best of all, it’s time for the annual Virginia Eastern Shore Harvest Festival,  sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.  Ticket sales are limited to about 2500 each year and there is no better hangout for an entire afternoon of food, fun, hospitality and some old-fashioned  “howdy-I’m-so-and-so-and-our-candidate-would-appreciate-your-vote”  state and local politics. Ground Zero is the Sunset Beach hotel’s spacious beachfront acreage at the beautiful southern tip of the Eastern Shore , right at the edge of  the mighty  Chesapeake Bay. 

Harvest Fest food tents

So Little Time, So Many Seafood Goodies

Although there is always lots of  great local art for sale, the seafood, of course,  is the big drawing card, a veritable cornucopia of Eastern Shore delicacies from the deep,  plus a few harmless veggies ( i.e., French fries and corn-on- the-cob, although this year there was also a salad station,  which mysteriously I somehow managed to miss ).  And for the landlubbers, fresh, local BBQ  and  the ever-popular Southern-style chicken wings do the honors.  First off, the trick is to start out by making a big circle around the entire venue, checking out exactly what’s on offer and then setting one’s eating strategy.  To dive enthusiastically into one’s favorites or to go with  the conventional appetizer/entrée’/dessert  strategy, that is the question.   Personally, I think most folks just dive into their favorite seafoods right off the bat in this all-you-can-eat heaven but almost everybody in our little group went with an “appetizer first” strategy, meaning that first up were the steamed little nicks,  everyone picking up baskets heaped with the ever- so- tender, half-dollar sized beauties, accompanied by melted butter.  And for those who love ice-cold oysters on the half shell,  an army of volunteers was kept busy popping opening these glistening beauties, enticingly  displayed on deep beds of crushed ice. 

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Harvest Fest Winery Tent

Snagging A Nice Cool Glass of Local Chardonnay Wine, Perfect To Accompany An Afternoon Of Munching On Luscious Local Seafood

But, heresy of heresies, here in the land of  prolific clam and oyster aquaculture, I don’t like either clams or oysters!  So, while others were busy smacking lips over the bi-valves, I was moseying on over to the other side of the grounds to scoff up on a nice cold glass of Chardonnay to enjoy with my seafood. On the Eastern Shore we are fortunate to have three great local wineries, Chatham Vineyard, Holly Grove Winery and Bloxom Vineyard.   We’re  not Napa Valley but still, it’s great to be able to brag about having our own wine appellation, the Eastern Virginia Appellation.  And from there I headed straight into the arms of the Shrimp Station tent.  Now I really love shrimp, they are my personal seafood favorite,  but I am very particular about shrimp preparation. Be they steamed, fried or scampied, what reader of  this blog has not suffered through  rubbery, what-the-heck-are-these, grossly over-cooked shrimp ?  I must congratulate the charge’ d’affaires  of  the Shrimp Station  for a job really, really done well.  It’s hard to even imagine the challenges of  on-site cooking for literally hundreds upon hundreds of people,  in an open air tent, with portable equipment,  grappling with the logistics of  assuring that  every single ingredient is on hand, in the correct amount, definitely no possibility of just stepping into the pantry for more.  But to do this with shrimp, which are so easy to ruin with a too-thick, greasy coating or by over-cooking, is even more of a challenge.  But these were excellent,  tender, succulent, crisp in a light, crunchy tempura style batter, congrats to the whole Team Shrimp !   And did I  mention the accompanying sauce, a smooth, mayo- based sauce, delicately seasoned with tangy horseradish, a few spices and a bit of mustard, offering just enough bite  to contrast with the sweetness of the shrimp, absolutely delightful.

Harvest Fest Toadfish Tent

Toads By Any Other Name Would Be More Delicious

After a couple of turns with the whole shrimp thing,  it was off to Toads–fried toads. Not the jumps-out-from-behind-the-flower-pot kind of toad but rather a toadfish toad.  When cooked, they’re just  tiny things, about three inches long and about an inch or a bit more across.  But despite the off-putting name, they are delicious, with a delicate white meat, not fishy at all,  This was the first time that I can recall toads being served at Harvest Fest but they seemed to be very popular and I certainly enjoyed them, several helpings worth.  From there, it was off to the Flounder Station. Flounder is a fav fish of mine,  I especially like it served a la Sting Ray Restaurant’s  style, topped with a  rich Crab Imperial and finished under the broiler until smoking hot and crispy brown.  Totally yum !   Sadly, but of course, the Fest Flounder wasn’t topped with crab,  but it was still very good, tender, with a crisp seasoned coating, very nice.  

 

Eastern Shore Harvest Fest Crabcake Tent

Waiting In Line For Some Savory Crabcakes

While strolling around, scooping up shrimp, toads and flounder, I had also been keeping my eye on the Crabcake Station which been sporting a pretty long  line all afternoon.  However, when you’ve got seafood on the brain and there are savory crabcakes to be had, well, trust me, like the Sirens tempting Ulysses,  those  crab cakes call out,  long line or not.  So, hey girl, better just get in line with the dozens of other folks looking for their crabcake fix.  Presented this year by the well-known Exmore Diner,  prepared on a sizzling grill instead of deep-fried, I did wonder at the outset if these would be worth the wait.  But reaching the end of the line and picking up my prize, a plate of two aromatic crabcakes, made from the famously flavorful Chesapeake Bay blue crab, subtly spiced, with a pinch of parsley added,  delectably rich,  melt-in-your-mouth, I had to say, oh yes, they were worth the wait !

Harvest Fest - Virginia Eastern Shore art tents

Surveying The Local Art Talent

By then, totally sated, I was ready to move on to the Arts and Crafts tents and check out all the  paintings, carvings, sculpture, etc.  Harvest Fest always has always included great variety of local artisans displaying their creative works.  Among this year’s group were  Billy Crockett, a well-respected local carver,  Mary Onley, known affectionately as “Mama Girl“, whose whimsical paper-mache’  figures have become quite famous locally and Copper Creations, well-known for their Nature based copper art figures as well as garden art.  It’s  always fun to browse through, taking in all the beautiful things on display, especially as I have no talent whatever along those lines . I’m  always amazed to see how many really gifted artists we have here on the Eastern Shore and  I love wrapping up the annual Harvest Fest with a stroll through the art tents, a real feast for the eyes after such a delightful feast for the tum-tum.

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A Rollicking Street Festival In Cape Charles For “Benefit by the Bay” 2013

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

DSC_0965Every year one of the Eastern Shore’s primary arts groups, Arts Enter Cape Charles,  holds a major  dinner-dance-auction benefit to raise  funds to pay the mortgage on the Palace Theatre for another year and float  many of its other expenses.  It’s the major fundraiser for this important community arts group and a lot of time and effort goes into planning this event so it will be not only  fun for guests but profitable for the organization. This year’s benefit was  a Street Festival, a Strawberry  Street in Cape Charles, VA festival to be exact.  And  festivals in general are so fun and colorful, the hum of  voices and music blending,  rising, floating above the street, surely they are  the perfect occasions  to get together with family and friends to hang out, let the vibes flow, just have a merry old time.

DSC_0959Guests entered through the front doors of the theatre, which was all decked out for the evening with fragrant  floral arrangements placed in eye-catching corners, then  slipped out the side doors, down a long red carpet and  into the street.  Voila’, overnight a magnificent  transformation of  the first block of Strawberry Street from the usual  blacktop pavement and concrete sidewalks busy with cars and pedestrians into a gorgeous plaza !  Decorated with  leafy  trees in huge,  beautiful pots bedecked with strands of  tiny burnished gold lights,  flower arrangements sporting  a thousand brilliant blossoms, gurgling fountains and dozens upon dozens of  circular tables covered with eye-catching deep rose and teal cloths, the street had become a virtual fairyland of colors, shapes, sounds, textures.

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We arrived about 7 pm, the sun already throwing long shadows and deliciously cool evening breezes were gently blowing off the Chesapeake Bay just 3 blocks away.  Before stepping through to the street, we took a quick whirl  through the Silent Auction site set up in the Stage Gallery, just checking on the  donated artwork there, lots of promising items to review in-depth later in the evening. But now, time to visit with friends over a glass of  chilled Chardonnay and sample from the appetizer table.  I had to check out some of my favorites more than once, including the ice-cold jumbo shrimp served with a very tangy red cocktail sauce.  The cheese tray was also very popular with wine drinkers and beer fans alike, being well stocked with a variety of both soft and hard cheeses and plenty of crunchy multigrain crackers. Dinner was served buffet style on the southern end of the plaza, with a number of grazing stations set up, offering a variety wide enough to satisfy even picky eaters. 

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My husband headed for the cold salmon station, the fish prepared by talented local chef  Tim Brown, beautifully decorated with wafer thin slices of cucumber,  served with a dill creme’ fraiche, and accompanied by a colorful cold pasta salad and skewers  of antipasto anchored by chilled asparagus, all very, very nice.  I, on the other hand, elected to head first to the Land & Sea station and the savory plump grilled  chicken breasts and succulent crabcakes awaiting there. One thing about grilled chicken– it’s so easy to end up with something dry and tough !  But this was really excellent,  very tender, great flavor and texture, done about as perfectly as any BBQ chicken I’ve had, with plenty of spicy sauce on the side.  Tossed green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, roasted potatoes and an elaborate fruit tray were offered as sides,  all in all, a tasty summery meal.  For those looking for local seafood, a raw bar station offered  fresh tender little clams and salty oysters from the Broadwater Oyster Co. of Willis Wharf, both served  on the half shell atop deep beds of ice.  Raw seafood is not my thing but this was a very popular station, keeping several servers busy  just popping open the clam and oyster shells. for the ever-present line of aficionados.

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As twilight morphed into darkness, we headed inside for another view of the Silent Auction items in the Stage Door Gallery. Lots of good stuff to bid on– several original paintings including a dramatic oil by Clalia Sheppard, lots of original jewelry, some great autographed items, a number of very collectible records, some dramatic  framed photography including a very striking photo of a blue heron. ( And as it turned out, for which we were the successful bidder.)  As I  had an early meeting the following day,  it was about time for us to call it a night.  Too bad,  as we were leaving the band was starting to really get into its groove and the dance floor was filling up.  Another year, another great Benefit By The Bay. Keep ’em coming Arts Enter, time soon to start planning Benefit 2014 !

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May Is Barbeque Month On Eastern Shore Virginia – Make Way For Savory & Delicious

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Actually, May is BBQ Month nationally but I like to think we really do it up brown ( pun intended )  here on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.   For  such a slender little  peninsula as ours, I think we’re lucky to have several luscious BBQ  places here on the Shore, ( a  special shout-out here to StingRays ), plus  easy  access to several more in nearby Virginia Beach, Whitner’s BBQ being my personal favorite in Tidewater.  And  a really well-known place, Pierce’s BBQ near Williamsburg, try to stop there to bring some carryout whenever we visit  the historic area, at least 2 or 3 times a year. But some of the most delicious BBQ might be the homemade stuff, slathered with the family ” secret sauce”, ( the South being legendary for its love of BBQ and just about everyone has their special sauces and methods of cooking ), and served with time-honored  favorite side dishes.

The flavor of the  very first BBQ  sandwich I ever had in Virginia surprised me completely, being used to what I now  think of as typical Kansas City type tomato based sauces.  Anyway, shortly after we moved to Virginia  I was at  a business meeting in Richmond where many of  the other attendees were  locals.  When lunch break rolled around, they suggested what was described as  a ” great BBQ place” nearby,  which sounded good to me. At first bite  I was surprised, not  because it  was so  tasty,  because I’d had many tasty  BBQ  sandwiches,  but because it  appeared to have no sauce, a “special sauce”  being the holy grail  of  good BBQ.  But , as promised by the group, it was really delicious,  chopped pork,  tender, moist, very flavorful. I told  our server that I really liked it but wondered why it didn’t have any sauce.  Honey, you aren’t  from Richmond are you, said she, well, not only was I not from Richmond,  I was brand-new  to Virginia.  Which is no doubt why  I failed to recognize the premier BBQ  sauce of Richmond, VA, boiled vinegar Sooey Sauce.  Consisting  of just vinegar, salt, a smidgen of sugar, black pepper and red pepper flakes gently simmered together for about 15 minutes and left  to rest for at least  5-6  hours before tossing into fork tender pork which has been slow cooked in a smoker or covered grill and then coarsely chopped.  As one can likely guess,  this is now one of  my very favorite BBQ sauces for chopped pork. Ribs, of course,  are a different matter entirely and we’ll deal with ribs shortly.

So to make sure we are observing BBQ Month properly, very important indeed,  we are going to turn a combo Mother’s Day/Dad’s  B-Day party into a  little cook off/pot luck,  complete with whipping up several new and different sauces to  evaluate.  I am planning to try two great sounding sauces from amazingribs.com, the Chris Lilly Spiced Apricot Sauce and the  Tennessee Holler Whiskey Sauce, both rib sauces.  The plan is to grill the ribs, mopping them with the vinegar sauce to keep them moist on the grill, then  glazing each rack of ribs  with a different finishing sauce. Of course, a great BBQ isn’t just about the ribs, it’s about the accompanying side dishes. In fact, as  I’m writing this little post,  I have one ear tuned to NPR’s  Sunday afternoon show,  America ‘s Test Kitchen, and Chris Kimball is discussing the history of cornbread and the differences between Southern and Northern styles of cornbread.  No question in my mind which is better,  Southern style wins hands down. Made with almost no sugar and very little flour,  just good ole yellow stone-ground cornmeal, eggs and buttermilk, it’s something you can sink your teeth into.  Topped  with a smear of butter and an ample drizzle of honey,  now that’s a cornbread so delicious I don’t even feel guilty about abandoning my Northern roots to declare it the winner. And you must have cornbread at a  BBQ, wouldn’t seem right without it, plus crunchy coleslaw, baked beans, potato salad with plenty of celery seed, fried apples and, of course, creamy, gooey mac and cheese.  And at our house, either green beans or collards to help  balance out all that starch !  So, we’re  planning to do our part to  celebrate BBQ Month 2013,  hope everyone else is ready to enjoy this savory and delicious outdoor food.  (Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed agent with Blue  Heron Realty Co, 7134 Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA )

Aqua Restaurant- Still Delightful, Delicious, De-lovely

Thursday, April 4th, 2013
Aqua Restaurant in Cape Charles VA

Aqua Restaurant Easter Brunch

Having scheduled the family Easter dinner for Saturday, which came off quite well, including trying a new ( new to  me anyway) version of ham from costco which everyone loved,  an excellent Applewood smoked full length de-boned ham which had been cut in half vertically rather than horizontally,   we had decided that brunch at the “new” Aqua  would  be just the ticket for Sunday.   After a winter’s hiatus, which included a change in ownership, a bit of re-decorating and some staff changes, I was curious to see if  the beautiful Aqua Restaurant, which overlooks the Chesapeake Bay in Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore of Virginia   just re-opened on Friday, had retained its old charm. And more importantly, its fine flair for preparing regional cuisine.  I hoped for the best but feared for the worst as we walked through the door on Sunday but, happily, my fears were for naught as the answer to my first question was a resounding  “Yes, Shelly Cusmina is still the head chef.”   So,  off to a good start in its new iteration, still, as Cole Porter would say, ” Delightful, Delicious, De-lovely.”

DSC_0702Aqua is well known for its  tradition of  delectable Southern-style cuisine for holiday brunches and Sunday’s food definitely did that tradition proud.  If Paula Deen had been there she would have said that they had outdone themselves with  this luscious meal, nary a foot put wrong.  Although Aqua’s regular lunch and dinner menus  are  geared towards fine dining, emphasizing the fresh seafood from our Chesapeake Bay region, its brunches often feature some classic Southern dishes that don’t appear on the set menu, including  some of the best mac and cheese I have ever tasted,  smooth, really creamy.  And an ode should have been  written to the fried chicken, that’s how good it was, crisp  flakes of  crunchy coating, mouthwatering  tender chicken , accompanied by plenty of  spicy Crystal hot sauce. ( You might be a Southerner if you can’t really enjoy fried chicken without an ample sprinkling of  pungent hot sauce,  preferably Crystal or Texas Pete brand. ) And rounding out the “must-have” trifecta of  mac and cheese and  fried chicken is, of course, a mess of  collard greens.  Now the important thing about collards  (besides needing to be cooked until very tender )  is that they must be  “well seasoned” which is a catch-all description for the rich peppery ham flavor that proper collards are supposed to have.   Adding  little chunks of smoked country ham or smoked side meat  is the  best cooking method to give collards the  sort of sweet-salty  tangy flavor that no  holiday table in Virginia is truly complete without.  And speaking of not complete,  light as air  biscuits are also a must serve,  in Aqua’s case,  feather-light sweet potato biscuits.

DSC_0701There was, of course,  a separate omelet station stocked with choices of just about every ingredient one could wish to be added to a fluffy omelet.  I’m not really a breakfast person so brunch for me might as well just be called lunch but Hubby is just about the opposite and prefers the breakfast side of a brunch.  DSC_0676In addition to the omelet station, a huge poached salmon cleverly decorated with cucumber slice “scales” accompanied by a mellow  dill sauce,  pan-fried Yukon potatoes, mini- sausage links,  fluffy blueberry pancakes, bagels and rich  flaky pastries  were available for the breakfast foodies.  Plus  gorgeous fruit trays filled one end of a table, offering a wide selection of fruit including some very tempting strawberries, gorgeous,  vivid red with an amazing bouquet and ambrosial Hawaiian pineapple slices, literally dripping with juice, a whole array of  delights.  It was a lovely event, enjoyed in good company, proving once again that  a meal at Aqua’s is still “Delightful, Delicious, De-lovely ” !     (Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7135 Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA. )

The 17th Annual Holiday Progressive Dinner in Cape Charles VA Was One Of The Best Yet !

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

A holiday tradition kicked off  17 years ago  by the Chamber of Commerce to help support various  Eastern Shore of Virginia worthy causes,  the annual  Holiday Sampler Tour Progressive Dinner was held last week in Cape Charles.   Entitled “Shake, Rattle and Stroll”,  the theme of the evening was to relax and take a step back in time to the Fabulous Fifties.  Not to dwell on my ever advancing age, but I was alive and be-bopping during the Fab 50’s so it was a nostalgic evening for me.  In fact, I’m guessing that some  of the other cute chicks and cool cats  in our group were also be-bop-boppers ! Who can forget the guys with the Everly Brothers style Brylcreemed  pompadours and  “Duck Tails” ?   Or  the big bouffant “beehives”  held in place with about a gallon of  hair spray containing who knows what chemicals that enabled it to hold  together for a  week !                                                                                                        Venue # 1, serving the  appetizer course,  was as always, the beautiful Palace Theatre on Mason Avenue. Built in the art deco style 1941, in its day the Palace  was considered absolutely splendid — it has now been restored to its former glory through the enormous efforts of  the Arts Enter  group, right down to the total refurbishing of the plush red velvet seats.  We were met at the door by The King  himself, attired in a white dinner jacket, slicked back long hair and quite possibly a pair of  blue, blue suede shoes.  Unless my eyes were fooling me…..    In the lobby we registered, got our group  badges and moved  down into the  house to  nosh  on some rather tasty appetizers.  From the Blue Bay Crab Co., a Parmesan crab dip on flatbread crackers and from Mallards-On-The-Wharf  Restaurant, a lovely display of  fresh veggies and  fruits served with warm spinach dip,  a savory  hummus and a tapenade of Greek style black olives. Yum !   While enjoying  these goodies we were treated  to a little play staring the ever lively Trina Veber.   In a dream sequence,  Elvis and Roy Orbison  sang and danced merrily around the stage with Trina,  fulfilling the “shake and rattle”  part of the evening’s theme and getting us ready to “stroll” off to Venue # 2.

Venue # 2, presenting the soup course,  was a darling little Victorian home on Peach Street, which has been extensively renovated and treated to brand new kitchen and bathrooms.  First, a tour of the house which was very nicely decorated,  then to enjoy a spicy chicken, shrimp and crawdaddy gumbo,  expertly prepared by Kelly’s Gingernut Pub.   Little Italy Restaurant had prepared the  tasty bruschetta, nicely seasoned, complementing the gumbo quite well.  Venue # 3, site of the salad course,  was the new  Bay Haven Inn on Tazewell Avenue.  Just renovated by our Blue Heron customers,  Tammy and Jim Holloway, this brand new B&B is  the  cat’s meow !   Decorated to the nines inside and out for the holidays,  from top to bottom  this 7 bedroom Colonial Revival  beauty is simply gorgeous and ready for the most discriminating of guests.  A  delicious and sophisticated salad of  roasted local sweet potatoes over roasted apples with arugula, garnished with  paper- thin country ham and aged Gouda was presented by Amy B. Catering.  Served along side was  a trio of imported cheeses from  Gull Hummock  Gourmet Market,  all paired with  a lush rose’  from local winery, Chatham Vineyards.

Venue #4, making a splash with the fish course,  was  an interesting  home on Monroe Avenue.  Built in 1906,  back in the day it  served as a boarding house for teachers from the then nearby Cape Charles School.  Currently a leisure home for its owners,  who plan to retire to Cape Charles in the future,  it too was all gussied up for the holidays.   From the  attractive new waterfront restaurant on the Cape Charles harbor, The Shanty, came  seasoned haddock nuggets  served with  rich and creamy 3 Cheese  Mac & Cheese from Hook-U-Up  restaurant on Mason Avenue, both very nicely done.

Venue # 5, offering the evening’s entree’, was a unique home  also on Monroe Avenue.  It  actually consists of two separate adjacent  homes, both built in the 1920’s, which were then combined  into a single home via a  breezeway which connects the two.  Painted  a sunny yellow, this home was outlined with  lots of cheerful outdoor lights and looked lovely. Lots of great decorations inside including a display cabinet  filled with a large collection of colorful wooden Nutcracker  figures, large and small,  from all over the world. I happen to love and have a much small collection of Nutcrackers myself which I pull out and tuck all over the house for  the holidays.  Here we were served  a chicken pot pie  with a side of poached apples from the Exmore Diner.   The apples were served hot and featured a hint of maple and cinnamon,  very pleasing, both chicken and apples pairing well with the Chardonnay from the local winery, Holly Grove Vineyards.

From there we were off for dessert and coffee to Venue # 6,  the Cape Charles Coffee House,  whose holiday display windows, complete with an antique train set,   are always among the finest in town.    The Coffee House is a fabulous place for breakfast and lunch and is home to some of the best cakes on the planet.  Let me just say that Roberta’s  coconut layer cake with lemon filling and  cream cheese coconut icing is simply heavenly, the best ever.  Alas, that was not to be our dessert.      But  the next best thing was being served– homemade ice cream ! For some unfathomable reason, I love ice cream more  in cold weather than in hot weather. But truth be told, I can enjoy  really excellent ice cream at virtually anytime and this was from Brown Dog Ice Cream, a new gourmet ice cream shop on Mason Avenue.  Brown Dog makes their ice cream  in small batches  so it’s always delightfully fresh.   Anyway, it was  ” make- your- own ice cream sundae, which was fun.   A  choice of  three  flavors of ice cream were set out and then each person helped  themselves  to toppings.  I chose the  chocolate and skipped the toppings, just savoring the deep chocolaty flavor, following  my sundae  with a chaser  of   Nicaraguan coffee,  piping hot, steam rising from the cup.   Perfect !   And then it was over,  another fine time had by all.  We had shaken,  rattled and strolled through this quaint little  town, admiring lights and decorations,  enjoying the  moveable feast,  having lots of fun  in a good cause at  2012  Holiday Sampler Progressive Dinner in Cape Charles, Virginia. (Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)