Cross Keys Vineyard – just in time!

Cross Keys Vineyard comes through!

Cross Keys Vineyard comes through!

Taking a short break from the throes of Nanowrimo to bring you this important message:

Virginia produces some very nice wine.

There, I said it. And I’ll even give all the purists who think good wine can only come from France, or at worst – California, some time to regroup. Take a seat. It’ll be alright.

What is the current fad? Oh, yes. Stay Calm and Drink Wine? Well we are in luck! Our quarterly shipment of wine just arrived from Cross Keys Vineyard, an awesome little winery located in the northwestern part of the Commonwealth, hidden among the shadows of the Massanutten Resort and the Shenandoah Mountains.

Today’s assortment included a Meritage, a Merlot, and a Fiore, which is fairly new to their fleet of award winning wines. To quote from their website, the Meritage is a blend of Cab, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, aged 15 months in oak barrels. The Merlot is just that, a fine Merlot that, like the Meritage is aged in both French and American oak barrels. The Fiore is an off-dry rosé, blended with Cab, Merlot and Pinot Noir. It is very light, “crispy” as they say, and one of my new favorites. I would give you fancy descriptions along the lines of this wine reminds me of springtime in my mouth, with just a hint of clover, blueberries, and fresh mountain air. But instead, I’ll give you the layman’s version: they are pretty darned good! Not too stuffy, yet packing just enough punch to remind you they have some moxie.

Yes, I used the word moxie. Either you have it or you don’t. And these wines have it in buckets.

Eleven wines are in production at present, and I like most of them. The Tavern? If you like port then you have a winner. Since it was not selected for the wine club shipment this time, I may just have to go online and buy one, or two.

Cross Keys, in comparison to other wineries, is a new entrant, planting the first vines only in 2001. But the key to their success is the dedication of the Bakhtiar family, and the superb vintners and staff who make the magic happen each year. And again, I send them our thanks.

Bonus: Now I know what’s for dinner!

And if you are ever in their neighborhood, stop by for a tasting and a tour. Cross Keys is Virginia’s little bit of the Mediterranean, found just outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Try it!



Dr. Lucy and the Cookies

Gluten Free Vegan Ginger Snaps

Gluten Free Vegan Ginger Snaps

Have food allergies? Need to be gluten free? [Gasp] Vegan, even?

A tough road to live on, but it can be done. That said, there is one problem remaining:

Where are the cookies, right?

Of course. Who doesn’t like cookies? Everyone like cookies. Those in the UK even have a different word for them: biscuits. And I’m sure the Brits love their biscuits just as much as we love to snarf down our cookies here on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Since changing my eating habits last month, I’ve lost over 20 pounds and three inches off my waist line. But nary a dessert has made it onto my plate. Alas, no cookies for this guy.

Until a few days ago.

That’s when I came across Lucy’s Cookies.”  The cookie’s namesake, Norfolk Virginia medical doctor turned cookie entrepreneur Dr. Lucy Gibney and (I presume) her daughter were at my place of business the other day, handing out samples. When I introduced myself as a gluten free/vegan person they let me know that all of their products would work for me. Wow!  All means more than one – and I don’t even have to check the label. Although I did for fun. You should, too.

The package spells it out for you: all natural; non-GMO; no peanuts, tree nuts, milk, or eggs; gluten free; zero cholesterol; and zero trans fat. But what about taste?

I have had the chocolate chip cookies, the chocolate cookies, and the ginger snap cookies so far. And the have all been great. The ginger snaps even have a tiny bit of Tabasco in them to bring out a nifty bite at the end of the crunch. Who knew? Good choice, ladies.

Full of flavor, a great crunch, wonderful aftertaste. These cookies have it all. And with 3 – 4 cookies per package, you get enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, but not too many calories – in case you are counting them.

Check the website; order some cookies! And, they are available in over 7,000 stores and specialty shops through the US and Canada. You are probably near a package right now and don’t even know it!

* Legal disclaimer: I have not received any remuneration (of any kind) from Dr. Lucy or her cookie company. The review above is based simply on my desire to have cookies that meet my dietary restriction and Lucy’s Cookies satisfying that want.

** If, by chance, Dr. Lucy would like to send me some cookies for a more comprehensive evaluation, I would be more than happy to entertain the idea.

DrLucys dot com – check it out, people. Good health and nutrition doesn’t have to be bland!

Here's the package!

Here’s the package!

A Quick Chicken Dinner for One


And I’m the sole carnivore in the house right now, so I know. Here’s the gouge: It was time to eat some dinner and I had one baked chicken breast left over from yesterdays salsa-nated chicken dinner, some leftover rice, and no desire to play like I was on Food Network’s “Chopped.” What to do? We have no chain restaurants in our area, save the Mickey D on the highway. The local places had all closed for the night. Then it hit me.

Here’s what you need:

You know that jar of Mandarin oranges that has been sitting in the back of your refrigerator for a while? Yeah, that one. Take that, and the canned pineapple slices next to it, too. Now, while no one is looking, nick the bowl of leftover rice on the bottom shelf. Before you close the door, pull the low-salt soy sauce bottle out from behind the old Worcestershire sauce. On the way back to your work area, stop by the pantry spice rack and find the cayenne pepper. Really. Do it.

Here’s what you do:

Chop the backed chicken breast into bite sized portions. Add to the bowl of cooked rice and dab in a few shakes of the soy sauce, to taste. Now add the cayenne pepper to give the dinner a little zing. Want more zing? Add more pepper!

Cover the bowl with some cling wrap and reheat in the microwave oven for a minute or two. The exact time will depend on the strength of your microwave.

Once heated to your specification, remove from the microwave and discard the cling wrap. Be careful, there will be steam – AND STEAM IS HOT – IT CAN BURN YOU. (There, the lawyers should be happy now.)

Mix in a few spoonfuls of Mandarin oranges and top with a slice or two of the pineapple.

Not something you will find at a five-star, Zagat-rated restaurant, but it beats the heck out of plain old baked chicken. Try it!

Happy eating from the Eastern Shore of Virginia and have a happy, prosperous New Year!

Bananas Foster – Eastern Shore Virginia Style!


Alas, no flambé,  but given my track record for safety, this is probably a good thing.  Nonetheless – when in Cape Charles, Virginia, please visit the Brown Dog Ice Cream store. They are just opening up for the season and are offering a new menu item that has caused quite the stir in this peaceful beachfront village: the Bananas Foster Sundae.

No, not the dessert of the same name from Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans – this one is similar, yet flame-less and named for the brown dog himself, Foster! Imagine a sundae with warm buttery brown sugar and rum sauce drizzled over a melee of sliced fresh banana, whipped cream and puff pastry – all atop three scoops of a vanilla-based, bananas foster-flavored ice cream. I had one last Sunday and I suddenly have a craving for another – just from typing the description. Caveat – you must be 21 years old to get the adult version. Those under 21 can receive the rum-less version, which is also mighty tasty from what others tell me!

E gads! And I am six hours away by fast car. The weekend cannot get here soon enough!

If you are visiting the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, it is worth the trip. Let me end with a photo so you can start salivating, too!

Bananas Foster Sundae at the Brown Dog in Cape Charles, Virginia

Bananas Foster Sundae at the Brown Dog in Cape Charles, Virginia

Breakfast Frittata with Oven Roasted Potatoes


Tourist season is starting here on the Eastern Shore.  It’s not really beach weather yet, but I have noticed more and more fishing boats floating around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  That means many of the vacation rental houses around town are inhabited by small groups of guys living on frozen pizza and trips to the only McDonald’s within 40 miles.

Guys – we can do better.

The mornings can be quite chilly here on The Shore. A hot breakfast frittata can do wonders for the soul. Shoving off before sunrise? That’s okay – make it the night before and warm it up before you leave the house. Beats the heck out of “value meal number two” or a convenience store coffee and Danish.

Put on your ball caps chef hats – here we go!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

This dish starts out as oven roasted potatoes. When completed, half of the potatoes are reserved as a side dish, the other half becomes the foundation of the breakfast frittata!

Oven Roasted Potatoes, serves 8 alone or 4 when made as a side for the frittata.

9 x 13 inch glass baking dish

3  Russet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 medium Vidalia onion, peeled and diced

2 Tablespoons smoked paprika

1 Tablespoon cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Breakfast Frittata, serves 4

1 oven-safe, glass pie plate, 9.5 inch diameter

12 oz. chicken sausage ( I use Johnsonville’s fully cooked, chipotle Monterrey Jack version) sliced into 1/4 inch coins. Bonus – no MSG, either!

4 eggs

1/8 cup milk

What you need to do:

For the oven roasted potatoes, place the diced potatoes and onions in the baking dish. Add the remaining ingredients, then gently mix until all of the potatoes are lightly coated with oil.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Stir, recover, then bake for another 30 minutes.

Take potatoes out of the oven, set aside for the moment. Do not turn off the oven yet.


For the breakfast frittata, place the sausage coins into the pie plate and cover with a paper towel. Heat in a microwave oven for 2 minutes or in the already preheated oven (without the paper towel,) for about 10 minutes.

Once the sausage has been warmed, add half of the oven roasted potatoes. Gently mix the two ingredients.

In a separate bowl, add the milk to the eggs and lightly whisk with a fork, as if you were going to make scrambled eggs. Pour the egg mixture on top of the potatoes and sausage, gently mixing until the egg has coated all of the potatoes and sausage.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Get the plates out – you are ready to eat a hearty breakfast!

Now, some of you may not want to have a potato-based frittata with a side of potatoes. Fair enough. There are options:

  1. Double the sausage and eggs and make one big batch. This is a good idea if you need more than 4 servings. Heck you could just use the 9 x 13 baking dish instead of a smaller pie plate.
  2. Make two frittatas – one of them with the sausage and another substituting 2 cups of chopped broccoli florets and 1 cup chopped red bell pepper. Great concept if you have vegetarians in the crowd.
  3. Make two frittatas – one of them with the sausage and another substituting 2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. I mean, really – you can’t go wrong with cheese, can you?

Any way you make it – this frittata hits the spot on a cold or rainy day. And good luck with the fishing!

Back from the hills…

Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains 22 S...

Image by vossjose via Flickr

My goodness, it’s been a while since I have posted on E.P.   Rather than ladle out excuse after excuse for my inattention, let me give you a hint of my next culinary adventure.

Apple Butter. Grandma Alice’s homemade apple butter to be exact. Straight from the Blue Ridge Mountains, cooked in a huge copper pot hung over a wood fire, stirred with what looked like an over-sized garden hoe.

I don’t think it gets more authentic than this.

Came across Grandma Alice’s apple butter at the Appalachian Folk Art Festival in Radford, Virginia.  A nice event, complete with a woodcarver, blacksmith, basket weavers, knitters, tatters, fiddle and banjo band, and a lot more.  Go see it sometime! Usually happens in mid-October at Radford University.

So now I must go shopping for there are pork chops waiting.

See you soon.

Did you know Virginia has good wine?


Cross Keys Vineyard

I have blogged about a few of our vineyards in the past and after a recent visit to Cross Keys Vineyard up in the Shenandoah Mountains, I feel it is high time to blog about them again.

First, let’s get through the obligatory disclaimers. There’s a whole post about this, but let me summarize: I receive no compensation, no remuneration, no kickbacks, no swag, no nothing for blogging about commercial establishments. If I recommend it, that means I would take my in-laws there. If the product or place is less than good, I usually give it another try at a later date, then if it’s still bad, I just won’t talk much about it. Like mom said…if you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.

Back to the Cross Keys. Located near Harrisonburg, VA, this is a relatively new winery. They have tours and tastings, all led by knowledgeable staff. It’s still a small operation, so the tour didn’t take too long, which was fine with us since that put us closer to the tasting. Also, as the many weddings scheduled will attest, the Mediterranean style architecture is something to behold!

I had the “Reds” tasting and my lovely wife tried many of the white wines. You could also do a full tasting and sample everything. Your choice. It was at this point that I realized that the owners had hired two excellent vintners, one from Cognac, France and one from South Africa. This is not what I expected to find in the middle of the Virginia highlands. The whole experience was like stumbling upon a great microbrewery; this being great wine that only a handful of people have tasted. This wine is now at the top of my wishlist. We ended up taking a six-pack with us. I’ll probably join their wine club eventually in order to receive four deliveries a year.

Deliveries? Why yes. Remember when I said this was a small operation? Cross Keys only produces 3,000 cases a year. They supply wine to a few local restaurants and sell the rest to people who take the tour or join the club.

As for the wines, like I said, I tried the reds. The favorite of everyone on the tour was the “Tavern.” Almost a port, this red wine has brandy added. If only this could have been the grog served at all of those Marine Corps Mess Nights…

For an every day red, I prefer the “Joy” red. Named after one of the neighbors (and isn’t that a great concept?!) Joy red is slightly fruity but not too dry. You can’t go wrong with this wine; even non-wine drinkers will like it.

For those with more sophisticated palates, you might try the Petit Verdot. On the white wine side of life, my wife chose the Chardonnay. And she doesn’t really drink wine so that should tell you something.

Now I know there are well over 100 wineries in Virginia, and there are people out there trying to visit all of them. That’s not me. But I will say this…

If you find yourself up in Harrisonburg, Virginia, perhaps at the Massanutten Resort or at James Madison University, take an hour out of your day and go visit the Cross Keys Vineyard

And don’t forget to try the “Tavern!”


Looking south from Reddish Knob on Shenandoah ...

The Shenandoah Mtns. - Perfect Climate for Grapes!

Snowed In


Snow smacks the Eastern Shore of Virginia

The snow started falling last night, which was technically still December 25th, so I guess we can say we did, indeed have a white Christmas on the Eastern Shore.
The good news – we have plenty of food. Leftover salmon from our Asian-Pacific themed holiday dinner (did I tell you we almost never have “normal” meals?) along with deli turkey, Havarti cheese and some nice Boule. Given that Santa gave me three bottles of wine, all is not lost.
The bad news – the main road is clear, as is the bridge leading back to Virginia Beach, but farm roads like ours are still covered with snow. I would try to traverse them tomorrow to get to work, but the farmers dig deep ditches alongside the country roads to keep people from driving into their fields. Now those trenches are filled with snow, so you won’t know that you are driving into one until…well, you get the picture.
Once I do get back to the mainland, I have a culinary plan.

Turkey Chili.

Stand by. It’ll be good. Perfect for the cold days of Winter.

Rayfield’s Pharmacy & Soda Fountain!


Rayfield's Pharmacy in Cape Charles, VA. Notice the fish with Christmas spirit!

While many people enjoy visiting a ski resort, theme park or just spending a week on a cruise ship sailing to warm water islands to spend all of their cash in trinket shops and on dolphin tours, some of us still thrill at finding that off-the-beaten-path place, full of local character and perhaps a bit of history. Today we happened to be in Cape Charles, Virginia, an old railroad town that is experiencing a slow, but steady resurgence in population and vitality. Located about ten miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, in lower Northampton County, train enthusiasts will know of Cape Charles as a key location for the old Eastern Shore Railroad, but that is the subject of a different blog. Quite interesting, look it up on the Internet sometime.

But eventually you will get hungry, and when you do, stop by Rayfield’s Pharmacy located at 2 Fig Street. It is off to your left as you come into town, just past the Cape Charles Museum.

Rayfield’s Pharmacy, owned and operated by pharmacist Berkley Rayfield with the help of family and friends, is a place to pick up your allergy medicine or what-not, as well as a little convenience store with everything from soap to tourist items such as postcards and t-shirts. We, however, like Rayfield’s for something else – the diner and soda fountain!

You won’t find Kobe beef here, and none of the entrees come with decorative truffle sauce carefully framing the food by way of the dreaded “spoon push” taught in the finest culinary schools. What you will find is good food, prepared fresh when possible, in a nice family atmosphere.

The ambiance is almost 1950’s Americana. There is a counter, complete with stools on chrome pedestals, facing the grill so you can almost reach out and touch the person cooking your meal. Across the tile floor is a row of booths; in between are a few tables that can be moved for the occasional sock hop. I would think that this does not happen anymore, but the mirrored disco ball hanging from the ceiling and the newer Wurlitzer jukebox in the corner say otherwise?

Breakfast is served until 10:30 AM, lunch and dinner afterward. We were there for lunch so I had the cheeseburger platter with fries. My teenager ordered the grilled cheese sandwich and my wife had the egg salad sandwich. The food was excellent, the service prompt and friendly, three attributes that you do not find in most chain restaurants or fast-food joints.

I am sure you have your own criteria for what makes for a good diner or cafe. Here are some of the benchmarks at Rayfield’s that I appreciated:
– hot coffee…plenty of offers for a “warm-up” too.
– no pre-formed, frozen burger patties. Mine was hand made, probably a third of a pound.
– “crinkle” style french fries.
– Heinz Ketchup AND mustard on each table. No cheap imitations.
– a real soda fountain for ice cream treats and malt and shakes!
and lastly…
– a mounted, 76 pound Channel Bass overlooking the entire place.

Like I said, ambiance as can only be found on the Eastern Shore of Virginia!

If you are in the area, you gotta stop by Rayfield’s Pharmacy in Cape Charles, Virginia for a bite to eat. It’s probably a rule. If it isn’t, it should be!

Chesapeake Bay Flounder…that Bites Back!


Horseradish-encrusted Flounder with stir-fried Vegetables

It’s the middle of Summer here on the East Coast of Virginia and that means one thing: the flounder are getting bigger! Almost iconic in status in these parts, flounder (sometimes referred to as “door mats”) are right up there with striped bass and bluefin tuna as a prized catch. If you have a boat, great. If not, do not despair – go to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, pay the $12 toll and stop at the South Island, where you will find the Seagull Pier, a great fishing pier that extends out into the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. $12 a bit much for a toll? Try paying for a seat on a charter boat. Head boats go for $40 to start and often go higher. Heck, I spend more than $12 when I go to Starbucks!

So luck was with you and you have landed a flounder big enough to keep. What to do? Why, let’s fire up the oven and have us some…

Horseradish-encrusted Flounder

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Flounder fillets (let’s assume you have 4 medium-sized fillets)
2 cups of plain bread crumbs
8 oz horseradish sauce (I use Boar’s Head)

First check the fillets for errant pin bones. You don’t want those pesky little bones, pull them out with a tweezer or a pair of pliers.

Next, slather the fillets in horseradish sauce. Then dredge them in bread crumbs. Repeat the process one more time.

Place the coated fillets in a greased. glass baking dish.

Bake for 12 minutes. Check for doneness by using a fork. If the fillet flakes easily, it is done. If it looks really, really moist on the inside, let it cook a few minutes more – it won’t hurt since the breading will keep the fish nice and tender.

When done – eat!

The horseradish taste comes through well, but is not overpowering. This is a nice alternative to the usual fried flounder or flounder stuffed with crab filing. Be adventurous. Live a little!

Now – for those of you who always go one step further, try this with Wasabi mixed in the horseradish. Add a little shredded Parmesan cheese to the bread crumbs. Cook the same way. Heck, do one fillet this way and put it in the same baking dish as the original flounder. Call it Flounder Roulette!

Try it – goes well with a nice glass of Fish Eye Merlot.