A Dreamy Summer Pop-Up Supper, Strawberries Rule at Delaplane’s Annual Festival, Fueling Up at The French Hound, Healthful Eats at Brassicas, Patrick O’Connell Launches Latest Book at Willowsford.
Ryan Ross, daughter of Shelly Ross, owner of The Natural Marketplace, is already a successful chef and entrepreneur from Washington State. For a recent al fresco dinner in the charming garden of her mother’s home in Warrenton, Virginia, Ryan created a fairyland of delights tempting guests with house-crafted aperitifs – Bengal Spice, a mixture of peach and plum teas with bourbon, and Coconut Chai a non-alcoholic summer cooler. Cocktail nibbles, adorned with tiny flowers or aromatic herbs, were equally a alluring.
Deconstructed deviled eggs sported nasturtium aioli, purple chive flowers and dill. Beetroot crostini incorporated chickpeas topped with micro greens and bright yellow mustard flowers. Dates were stuffed with blue cheese, topped with redbud flowers, poppy seeds and drizzles of aged honey, and small rounds of Fleur de Chevre goat cheese were covered in yellow and purple violets and flecked with pink salt.
A minted pea soup with crème fraiche and bacon shards preceded a tender-crusted cauliflower tart made with gruyére from Goat Hill Farms. Then platters piled high with chimichurri-sauced grilled beef and Satsumi oranges topped with marigold butter, roasted vegetables and cucumber and radish salad were presented.
Wine flowed freely as chatter grew friendlier and I had the chance to speak with my seatmate, John Burns, urbane owner of Goat Hill Farm, in Little Washington, VA. Burns’ farm supplied the flowers and many of the early summer vegetables for the delicious dinner including fruits used in desserts. Finally Rose and Rhubarb Torte served with strawberries and buttermilk and a flourless chocolate cake titled ‘Fallen Earth’ appeared the latter served with a syrup made of whiskey, blackberries, and violet cassis.
Ryan, who has inherited her mother’s beauty, cool demeanor and love of food, also shares her dedication to healthy eating and locally sourced food. She divides her time and talents bicoastly creating dinner parties in such unique locations as a butcher shop in Brooklyn, a blueberry farm, old barns, an empty swimming pool and even a tattoo parlor – though most events are held in private homes.
She calls her business Supper Corps and it has taken her far and wide. Follow her adventures and upcoming dinner events (she’ll be back in our area in Fall) on Instagram at En.Root or on Facebook by liking Supper Corps. You can contact her by email to create your own special event. And though west coast based, she often flies back to our area, which she considers her home.
Delaplane Strawberry Festival
For the past twenty-some years I’ve wanted to go to the festival that local resident Willard Scott started with his wife, Mary. Willard was, and is, an American national treasure who created the festival as a fundraiser for the Delaplane Emmanuel Episcopal Church’s efforts on behalf of area non-profits. While still keeping to its homespun roots, it has since grown into an annual event that celebrates the arrival of strawberry season.
The entire production depends on the efforts of church ladies known as the “Head Strawberries” (if there are men involved in food preparation please write me for a correction) who start preparing months in advance.
More akin to a large church picnic, the two-day event now attracts over 10,000 guests with old-fashioned children’s games like ring toss, tug-of-war, cake walk, 3-legged races and sack hops – – and tons of luscious strawberries. Factoid: Over 6,000 pints of strawberries are used in the making of sundaes, shakes, cakes and jams, with many flats sold for home canning.
Docents dressed in Civil War garb roam the grounds and a snake oil salesman (George Esparza) with his Wahoo Medicine Show & Phydeaux’s Flying Flea Circus captivates families. A top-hatted gent (Jerry Brown) with guitar, squeeze box, and a trained monkey named Django had kids utterly mesmerized.
Jerry Brown and Django encourage participation – Re-enactors Gerald Drake with his wife, Donna pose against one of the log houses – Bob Broadwater as a Two-Star Civil War General takes a break.
Dogs perform tricks, ponies give rides, and crafters display hundreds of their wares, all while Old-time music rings out from the stage beside historic Mt. Bleak House which is open to visitors.
The festival is always on Memorial Day weekend and always at the beautiful Sky Meadows State Park. See you there next year! For more events at the park visit here.
The French Hound in Middleburg, VA
A last minute decision to dine at The French Hound on a Saturday night on Memorial Day weekend was rash, I’ll admit. With no reservations and coming in off a hike on a steamy afternoon with disheveled hair and feet in flip flops our chances might have been slim. We’d managed a quick change in the Hill School parking lot (one hopes there are no security cameras) where we ran into a fellow hiker seconds later who said he was just getting over a heart attack and was glad he’d missed us en déshabillé.
The entrance to the restaurant is through a walled garden, which on this night was filled with diners. A hostess, who later introduced herself as one of the owners, politely escorted us to the only seats not taken – – at the wood-topped bar. Late day sunlight streamed through weathered windowpanes casting the cozy room in a honeyed glow. It was that easy time of day, when all accomplishments are totted up and concerns are laid to rest before the sun sets. Thankfully the barkeep promised we’d have the full menu to choose from.
Nine years ago owners John and Cricket MacDonald discovered the old house, which had already gone through a few restaurant reincarnations, and along with French-trained Chef John-Gustin Birkett they opened the French-inspired bistro. They have been a success from the start.
Birkett’s menu reflects a distinctly French flair that leans towards Mediterranean and Moroccan. With a décor that evokes Provence, it’s definitely a relaxed ambiance that appeals to the fine dining crowd as well as the casual diner.
Here you’ll find escargots, mussels steamed with Pernod, house made terrines and other typical Gallic fare – – steak frites, pan-seared halibut and herb-roasted chicken. Wines are predominantly French or California with a brief nod to a Spanish albarino and a rioja and a few nicely curated selections from local Virginia wineries.
At 101 South Madison Street, Middleburg, VA 20117. For reservations call 540 687-3018.
Brassicas Market and Cafe
The banner read “Grand Opening” and it didn’t a minute to check my rearview mirror, apply the brakes and slide into a parking spot. When I’m not on a tight schedule I allow myself regular whimsical indulgences, which is how I found myself in the old clapboard farmhouse – – a former vintage clothing and antique shop in the center of Aldie. I say “center”, but that offhanded descriptor defies logic in a town with neither traffic lights nor stop signs.
Gary Hall is the Proprietor, Head Gardener and Executive Chef of Brassicas, a stylishly rustic, slip of a spot devoted to feeding its customers simple, healthful, seasonal fare. Perfectly positioned on John Mosby Highway (aka Route 50), it is sandwiched neatly between the Aldie United Methodist Church and the quaint Little Apple Pastry Shop.
What makes this little place so appealing is not just the tasty and creative offerings but where they are sourced – – primarily Hall’s backyard where a thriving quarter-acre garden provides the freshest herbs and vegetables used in the soups and sandwiches.
The garden was started two summers ago and is now going strong thanks to a few autumns of laying down compost, green sand, woodchips and chicken manure. The manure comes from Hall’s brood of forty chickens, mostly Rhode Island Reds with a few Rhode Island Sex-Links thrown onto the mix. “The Sex-Links are very prolific egg layers,” said Hall who rises at 6 a.m. to tend to the chickens and garden. The menu changes daily, not weekly, allowing him the freedom to use what’s freshest. “We want to be as natural and as transparent about our food as possible,” he explains.
To nurture his evolving garden, he has discovered some unique sources. Woodchips are free, courtesy of the county. Compost is provided by DC Water who offers bio-solids, free to area farmers. Chickens gobble up the restaurant’s food waste producing soil-enriching manure and keeping garbage to a minimum. And lastly, bugs are eaten by the free-ranging flock which, each day, produce up to thirty eggs used in the restaurant’s mayonnaise and egg salad. Now if that isn’t the circle of life!
“In summer the town’s water supply is low,” Hall told me. “Irrigation and washing cars is forbidden. On weekends the Aldie Mill dams up the headrace of the Little River for their milling demonstrations and we have permission from the town to pump water out. I got my hands on some 250 gallon plastic IVC totes that had been used for olive oil. They’re great for collecting water and bringing it to the garden.”
Brassicas light fare menu is influenced by the backyard garden’s bounty, and right now the garden’s bountiful crop of green beans, squash, tomatoes, and peppers are the headliner ingredients on the chalkboard.
Serving breakfast and lunch this summer, he is still trying to decide if he will stay open throughout the winter when the garden is put to bed. But apart from the menu items you’ll find plenty of locally made foods perfect for a picnic lunch – – honey from Singer’s Glen; breads from Lyon’s Bakery; cookies from Pollystyle; cheeses from Firefly Farms, Allegheny Mountain, George’s Mill Farm and Mountain View Farm; and organic chocolate bars from Equal Exchange Chocolates.
Patrick O’Connell Hosts Latest Book Lunch at Willowsford
A tony gathering at Willowsford gave Patrick O’Connell the backdrop for a book signing last night. The nattily dressed proprietor of The Inn at Little Washington has finally spilled the beans with co-writer Derry Mooreabout the décor in a 256-page cocktail table-sized book entitled, The Inn at Little Washington: A Magnificent Obsession (Rizzoli 2015).
Now you too can replicate the singerie and madly chi-chi Brit style guests travel cross country to swoon over. British interior designer, Joyce Conwy Evans, collaborated with O’Connell to create the over-the-top elegance that put the Inn on everyone’s bucket list. “Joyce was with us for the whole ride,” the ever-gracious O’Connell told me.
From a lowly garage to a to a five-star hotel and restaurant, the Inn’s transformation is expressed in gorgeous photographs by Derry Moore and Gordon Beall and watercolor renderings by Evans. Even Martha Stewart was a contributor.
Willowsford’s Chef and Culinary Director Bonnie Moore, who once cooked under O’Connell at the Inn, prepared some of his signature nibbles – – Rappahannock oysters with cucumber sorbet; mustard crusted salmon with mustard dill sauce; mushroom, asparagus and prosciutto pizza; and crab cakes with chipotle aioli. As expected, truffle popcorn, a staple at the Inn, was served in red-and-white striped boxes and a decadent version of mac n’ cheese was presented in tiny cast iron skillets.