Friday, December 30, 2011

Montana Plains Bakery: Black Forest Cookies to Die For!

Want a local bakery that uses only the finest ingredients and makes artisan crafted breads and pastries?  Look no further than Montana Plains Bakery found in two convenient family owned and operated locations in Lynchburg, VA. 

It is the type of place that is overwhelming at first.  The choices in loaves of bread, pies, cookies, rolls, brioche, quiche, salads, soups and coffees will leave you wondering what to start with first.  Never fear though because the bakers also take turns serving the customers so they are on hand to answer any questions. 

What have I found of particular interest during my excursions to Montana Plains Bakery?  I love the quiche!  In particular, the breakfast quiche and the  Southwestern quiche (which contains egg, cheese, chicken, onions, green and red peppers, and corn).  I also enjoy the spinach and cheese brioche.  For the brioche and the quiche, ask the staff to heat it for you to make it extra yummy!  Or you can choose a salad with almonds, raspberries, and goat cheese topped with strawberry ranch dressing if you like.   And don’t forget the chocolate cheesecake!
However, saving the best for last, I confess the pièce de resistancé for me is the Black Forest Cookie!  After my first bite I knew I was in love.  Imagine, if you will, a chocolate cookie with chunks of chocolate, walnuts, dried cherries, raisins and cranberries combined into the most deliciously crunchy and chewy cookie and you will begin to understand the reason for my devotion.  But don’t take my word for it.  Stop by Montana Plains Bakery for a Black Forest Cookie and tell them Cindy at explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you! 
Two locations:  4925 Boonsboro Rd., Lynchburg, VA 24503 and 102 Tradewynd Cir., Lynchburg, VA  24502.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Emerson Creek Pottery Outlet: Great Shopping in the Boondocks

In November, I was perusing the wares for sale at an art/craft festival in Myrtle Beach, SC.  One of the artisans was a potter who was selling, among other things, a small pottery colander meant for rinsing cherry tomatoes, berries, grapes, and the like.  It had a drain to catch the water and could be left on the counter for anyone to eat the freshly cleaned produce.  I thought it was adorable and practical but, being on a budget, I couldn’t bring myself to pay $38.00 for it. 

Over a month later I was thinking that I would still love to have a pottery colander and looked them up online.  I found a huge selection but also for higher than what I wanted to pay.  That’s when I remembered that Emerson Creek Pottery, a pottery in Bedford, VA, has an outlet store.  I had never been to it before but knew someone who had years ago and they spoke highly of it.  So, one day, while riding out in the boondocks, I decided to try to find it. 
NOTE:  For those of you unfamiliar with the expression “the boondocks”, it’s just a good old Southern term for in the boonies, sticks, or out in the country.  In other words, it’s a rural area usually far off from the nearest town, also called, “timbuktu” (not pertaining to the actual place, Timbuktu). 

Well, let me tell you, the outlet is definitely in the boondocks!  In fact, on the first attempt, I didn’t find it before their 4 pm closing so I gave up.  I tried again a few days later with the aid of Map Quest and, after still a few missed turns, I made it.  The outlet is back off a country road in an old farm house originating from the early 1800’s.  Each room is full of pottery in various shapes, sizes and patterns and all at much better than retail prices.  I was able to find the much desired colander ($16.99) and a shortbread pan ($6.99) for me, as well as, a few gifts for friends.  It was worth the effort to find the outlet store, plus I never mind a drive in the country.


The next time you’re in the mood for a drive in the country, check out the Emerson Creek Pottery Outlet Store and tell them Cindy at explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you!  For those of you who can’t make it to Virginia, you can visit the Emerson Creek Pottery website for purchases, at regular retail prices, at www.emersoncreekpottery.com.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Catalano's: Not Your Average Delicatessen



Truth be told, I don’t normally eat at a lot of delicatessens, not even the chain sub shops.  Subs and sandwiches aren’t normally on the short list of foods that I want to eat.  But my friend, Jessie, knew that I had created this blog and said I must try Catalano’s Delicatessen in downtown Lynchburg since they have the best meatball sub she’s ever had.  She said that not only were the meatballs delicious but the bread was wonderful too.   So, off we went to try it last Wednesday.
My review?  Excellent!  The meatballs and bread were wonderful but the marinara sauce was too.  And that’s saying something because, being from the South, I’m not usually too big on just anybody’s marinara sauce.  I usually find most peoples’ marinara to be too acidic.  I’m used to my Mom putting a little sugar in everything, especially in tomato based sauces, to cut down on the acidity.  However, Catalano’s sauce was perfect! 
What about the prices?  An 8” meatball sub costs $7.95.  It may sound a little high to some but consider that you are getting two inches more than most places that only serve 6” subs.  And the ingredients don’t even begin to compare with some of the chain shops!  Catalano’s Delicatessen uses only quality ingredients, including Boar’s Head meats, and seeks to offer as many local, Virginia made, and organic products as possible. 
  • Bread is made by Carter’s Bread and Albemarle Baking Company in Charlottesville.
  • The coffee is roasted by Trager Brothers in Lovingston.
  • The meat is from Bedford Avenue Meat Shop in Lynchburg.
  • Additionally, Catalano’s carries many Virginia products including Route 11 chips, Blue Crab Bay Co. snacks, Edward’s hams and pork products, Caromont Farm cheeses, and Virginia Artesian bottled water.
The restaurant has a cozy, relaxed atmosphere and a loft for additional seating.  The design is clean and crisp but preserves the integrity of the buildings original appearance.  So, who is behind Catalano’s? 
Catalano’s was established in 2011 by the husband and wife team of Clinton Jones and Marisa Catalano.  Both have spent many years in the food and restaurant industry and bring a wealth of knowledge to their new venture.  Their full and impressive profiles, along with their menu, can be found on Catalano’s website at www.catalanosdelicatessen.com.   In addition to offering great food, Catalano’s offers catering services and hosts special events, like wine tastings and cooking classes. 

Catalano’s is located at 908 Main Street in downtown Lynchburg across from the Galleria and they are open Monday – Friday from 8:30 am – 3 pm and on Saturdays from 9 am – 6 pm.  Stop in for a bite and tell them Cindy at explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Explore Virginia Through Pictures!

Well, friends, there comes a time in every bloggers' life when other responsibilities supercede the ability to post a new blog. Sadly that time has come for me of late. I will be back to my regularly scheduled posts soon, however, just to keep your appetite whet to explore Virginia while I am on hiatus, I am posting additional pictures that I took at the Virginia Safari Park. These pictures were not included in my original post dated 10/24/11. I hope you enjoy them!

Cindy at explorevirginia.blogspot.com

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Old City Cemetery: Where History Lives On

When I drive by a cemetery, I usually look away.  I am not superstitious.  I do not worry about the dead haunting the place because I know, from the Bible, that those who have passed are asleep in death (Ecc. 9:5,10).  They await a resurrection and can no more harm me than could a bad dream.  Still I look away.  Cemeteries conjure up the memories of those I’ve lost and miss so dearly and leave me melancholic.  So, of course, I normally would not think of spending the afternoon in a cemetery.  And yet that is just what I did recently.  Only, it was not just any cemetery.  It was the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, VA.
I used to live next door to a nice lady named Geneva who retired from a local hospital and subsequently spent a lot of time volunteering at the Old City Cemetery.  She talked about it often, especially when all of the roses were in bloom, and continually encouraged me to go.  I didn’t.  Despite her enthusiasm, I never understood the fascination.  Still, I decided to visit for the first time this week and I began to understand. 

Cobblestone Street

As I passed through the brick and iron entrance gates, I was transported back in time.  Asphalt was replaced by cobblestones and cement by old brick paved sidewalks.  The afternoon was well along and except for the occasional buzz and hum of a lawn mower, there were no other sounds to be heard.  No other person in sight.  Just graves all around.  Thousands of them.  Nearly 20,000, to be more precise, and  containing the remains of “political, religious, social and cultural leaders, the city’s indigent and ‘strangers’, veterans of every major American war and conflict from the Revolution to Vietnam, and over 2,200 Confederate soldiers from fourteen states.  Three quarters of those buried here are African American, both free and enslaved.  More than one-third are infants and children under the age of four.”

Barrel Vaulted Brick Tomb

The grave markers are as varied as those who have passed.  There are obelisks, tabletop monuments, old colonial bedboard headstones, marble cubes, a wooden marker that still exists, barrel vaulted brick tombs, even a life-size cut tree trunk carved in limestone.  Since the cemetery was established in 1806 and most of the dead were buried before 1925, many of the names and inscriptions are worn beyond recognition; however, the cemetery has a guide pointing out some of the most notable occupants and points of historical interest.   
It should be recognized that the Old City Cemetery is one of the oldest public cemeteries in the United States that has been in continuous use since its founding.  In addition to the burial sites, there are also Scatter Gardens for the cremated remains of loved ones—human and animal.
The land, which the cemetery occupies, was donated by John Lynch, founder of Lynchburg.  On the grounds, there are a number of other buildings of historical significance. 

The Pest House Museum

·         In The Pest House there is now a medical museum.  The Pest House was originally used as a quarantine hospital for residents who contracted such diseases as smallpox or measles and later for quarantined Confederate soldiers. 

Station House Museum

·         The Quartermaster’s Glanders Stable held quarantined Confederate Army horses that contracted the deadly and contagious Glanders respiratory disease so research could be done to determine the cause. 

The Station House Museum was formerly Stapleton Station located near  Galt's Mill in Amherst County and was used by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Station.  In 1999-2001, the Station was dismantled and reconstructed on its' current site to interpret the importance of railroads in Lynchburg's history.

The cemetery also hosts events throughout the year and most center on the local flora and fauna including butterflies, birds, shrubs, trees, and all manner of flowers, including sixty varieties of roses.  Mid-May is the peak time to view the myriad of roses planted along both sides of the Old Brick Wall. 
For hours, events, and information on the best times to view the various flowers, trees, herbs, and birds, please check out www.gravegarden.org.  And remember to tell the hosts and curators, that Cindy at explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you!
  
Note: Much of the information contained in this post was gleaned from brochures obtained at the Old City Cemetery and most appear to have been researched, written, or edited by Jane Baber White.  Additional information was obtained from the official website (referenced above) and the historical marker found just outside the cemetary gate.  Thank you to all who contributed to preserving this bit of history.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Taste Selects Confectionery: Cupcakes for the Gourmand

Ever watch Cupcake Wars on the Food Network and wonder why we don’t have a fabulous cupcake specialty bakery in the Lynchburg, VA area?  I did.  But not anymore!  That’s because downtown Lynchburg is home to Taste Selects Confectionery. 
This mythological place became known to me three months ago when I overheard two friends talking.  In fact, since then at least six friends have stared at me aghast on six different occasions when I confided that I had not been to the “cupcake place” before.  They each then proceeded to describe their favorite confections in the most animated and rapturous of ways.  Entire bodies slumped in their seats.  Shoulders drooped.  Heads lifted toward fluorescent lighting as the most serene expressions flitted across and settled on smiling faces.  The vivid descriptions that inevitably followed were liberally interrupted with “umm”, “yum”, and “you have to try it”.  So, try it I did for the first time today. 

Crème Brûlée Cupcake

My son and I stopped by Taste Selects Confectionery and ordered two of their best selling cupcakes—the Chocolate Ganache and the Crème Brûlée.  The Chocolate Ganache consisted of chocolate cake layered with vanilla buttercream dipped in rich ganache and garnished with a fondant flower.  The Crème Brûlée was made of vanilla butter cake filled with sweet vanilla bean custard, finished with vanilla buttercream and shards of caramelized sugar.  Both were rich and decadent and delicious!  We also tried the macaroon, which had the perfect combination of flavors so that it was not too rich or overpoweringly coconut-ty.  It is now a favorite of mine! 

Chocolate Ganache Cupcake
The cupcakery is owned by Beth Baxter who, about six years ago, transformed her lifelong love of baking into a business by making cupcakes for private orders in her basement.  Soon she expanded to a retail store on 460 where she provided treats for local businesses, gift baskets, and hand decorated specialty items.  Taste Selects Confectionery moved to downtown Lynchburg several years ago and has resided at its’ current location at 912 Main Street since April 2011. 


Taste Selects Confectionery offers a wide variety of cupcakes (see menu at www.tasteselects.com), as well as, cookies, brownies, and coffee.  The overall décor is as chic and trendy as any eatery in Soho, NYC.  Plus, the cupcakery has a plum location right next to public parking making it convenient for patrons.  It is open from 10 am - 6 pm Monday through Friday and from 10 am - 4 pm on Saturdays. So, stop in for a little self-indulgence and when you do, tell them Cindy at explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you!

Macaroon

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Country Kitchen: A Mecca for Southern Home Cookin’

No matter where you are from, nothing compares with the comfort and satisfaction of a home cooked meal.  This is particularly true in the South.  But not everyone has time to prepare all the fixin’s.  Enter the mom and pop diner.  Specifically, the Country Kitchen.
Before I proceed, let me define what Southern home cookin’ is by telling you what it is not.  It is not frou-frou reincarnations of Southern recipes given new ingredients unknown to the self-sufficient farmers of my grandparents’ generation.  Avocadoes, cumin powder, cilantro, and the like, were not staples down on the farm.  The post-Depression era in which my mother and Aunt were raised dictated that almost all ingredients in the Southern cooks’ repertoire be raised on the farm.  My grandmother churned butter; killed and dressed her own chickens; slaughtered pigs to make her own sausage, chitlins, cured ham, and lard; made biscuits from scratch; canned food and preserves; and had fresh “squeezed” milk every day.
The world, however, has changed.  The economy is tough.  Everything is fast paced.  Competition is stiff.  And, sadly, there is a proliferation of mediocre chain restaurants.  Thus, good ole home cookin’ is rarely found anywhere, inside or outside of the home, anymore.  No one has the wherewithal to do things the old fashioned way.  So, what are hungry Southerners to do?  In bygone days, one could hop in the car and drive to the local mom and pop diner sure that they would receive a meal every bit as good as they or their Grandmas could make.  Today, this last bastion of Southern cuisine is on the decline.  Thankfully Country Kitchen is alive and thriving!
Country Kitchen is one of those no-frills restaurants that served as a beer joint before the current owners, Bill and Doris Hawley, bought the business thirty-eight years ago and turned it into a successful restaurant.  And it’s easy to understand the reason for their success.  Simply put, Country Kitchen is one of the best places around to get Southern home cookin’! 

 Country Kitchen is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the week.  The prices are very reasonable and the menu includes everything from eggs and brains to chicken livers.  If that sounds a little too “down on the farm” for you then rest assured there are plenty of other Southern favorites to be had.  My personal recommendations include the fried flounder, chicken and dumplings, rolls, chocolate pie, and banana pudding.  I don’t know how they bread the fried flounder but it is the lightest and best tasting fish I’ve ever had.  Truly!  And the chocolate pie is every bit as good as my Grandma Irene used to make.  Don’t believe me?  Stop in and try it for yourself!  And when you do, tell them Cindy at explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you!


Friday, October 28, 2011

Poplar Forest: Thomas Jefferson's Retreat

Summer may be over but the weather is still quite pleasant so now is a great time to plan a trip.  But, you may ask, where?  Well, do you like history?  How about architecture?  Or perhaps horticulture and agriculture pique your interest.  Maybe you fancy yourself an amateur archaeologist.  And maybe you appreciate ingenious designs.  Or maybe you like all of the above.  If so, then your vacation destination must be Poplar Forest. 
Nestled between housing subdivisions in Forest, VA and on over 600 acres, you will find the retreat of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States.  Similar in design to his more famous residence, Monticello, located in Charlottesville, VA, Poplar Forest is a wonderful example of the octagonal brick villa architecture that Jefferson favored.  The home also contains many examples of Jefferson’s inventiveness.  The polygraph device he created to simultaneously make copies of the letters he penned is just one example.
Jefferson began construction of Poplar Forest in 1806 and began making regular visits to his retreat in 1809.  He made several trips a year for the next fourteen years.  While at Poplar Forest, Jefferson dedicated much time to his varied interests, including the study of math, natural sciences, farming, history, and Native American culture. 
Upon Jefferson’s death in 1826, the home was passed to his grandson, Francis Eppes, who sold it two years later.  The home then remained privately owned by various families until 1984 when it was sold to the nonprofit Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest.  It became open for visitors in 1986. 
It’s hard to imagine that a home of such historical significance was privately owned and occupied for so long.  Thankfully though, it was this constant occupancy that kept Poplar Forest so well preserved.  Nevertheless one can’t help wondering if the prior owners ever installed green shag carpeting in the parlor during the 1970’s!  Well, perhaps not, but still the home did undergo many changes over the years that historians and preservationists have been painstakingly seeking to undo.  And that’s what makes Poplar Forest such a fascinating place to visit.  With on-going restoration and excavation projects, there is always something new to see and learn!
As you plan your trip, keep in mind that Poplar Forest is open to the public seven days a week from March 15 through December 15 but is closed on November 24.  Check out the Poplar Forest website at www.poplarforest.org for more information on hours, admission fees, tours, volunteer opportunities, and special events. 
I hope you enjoy your trip through history and, as always, tell them Cindy at explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Virginia Safari Park: Llamas and Zebras and Elk, Oh My!


Have you ever wanted to go on safari in Africa but, like me, couldn’t afford to?  Thankfully, you don’t have to cross an ocean to experience a variety of wonderful animals up close!  The Virginia Safari Park is a real treasure in Central Virginia where anyone, for a reasonably priced admission fee, can have the adventure of a lifetime!


The Virginia Safari Park in Natural Bridge occupies 180-acres and is home to over 1,000 exotic animals from six continents.  Winding through the park is 3 miles of road that you can drive in your vehicle or, if you prefer, you can take a hay ride.  Along the way you will see an amazing menagerie of animals ranging from llamas, ostrich, emus, antelope, bison, deer, elk, zebras, camels, water buffalos, wildebeest, yaks and more.  Even Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs! 


And the best part?  You can feed the animals by purchasing buckets of food.  Hold on tight though!  Some of the animals are greedy and strong so they can easily pull the feed bucket from your hands.  This has happened to me a couple of times but I buy extra buckets just in case.  Caution:  The animals are messy eaters and you will inevitably get feed on you and in your car so be prepared to have your car vacuumed afterwards.

Once you get done with your drive or hayride, walk through the Safari Village to see monkeys, giraffe, birds, reptiles, tigers and more.  And yes, there is a gift shop too.

Our family has been to the Virginia Safari Park several times and we never tire of it!  The pictures featured are just a few that I took from our car on one of our excursions through the park.  It’s amazing how close we were able to get to all of those beautiful animals! 

The Virginia Safari Park is a “must see” for you and your family and it’s not too late.  The season ends November 27, 2011.  Check out the Virginia Safari Park website at www.virginiasafaripark.com for details on hours, cost, and more about the animals.  When you go, as I know you will, tell them Cindy from explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you! 


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chestnut Hill Bakery: Home of the World’s Best Cream Puff!


If Shakespeare were alive today, I am sure Richard III’s famous line would have gone something like this…A cream puff!  A cream puff!  My kingdom for a cream puff!  A Chestnut Hill Bakery cream puff, that is! 
I can’t recall my first cream puff.  I just know that cream puffs became a favorite treat early in my development.  So much so that when my eleventh or twelfth birthday approached, my sole wish was a cream puff from Chestnut Hill Bakery.  Why this inexpensive and seemingly strange request in the age of Aigner, Gloria Vanderbilt, Jordache, and Calvin Klein?  Well, let me back up to the months leading up to my wish.      
 As a connoisseur of sweets, who also developed early onset couch potato-ism, I was, needless to say, chubby and had been from the second or third grade.  I grew up in the fad diet mania of the 1970’s and 80’s so I tried all kinds of crazy diets.  The diet I had been on at the time of my request was a highly restrictive one.  I could eat one meal of 500 calories or less per day and drink all of the grapefruit juice I could stand.  I did this for quite some time and did lose a lot of weight.  However, as my birthday approached, I longed for only one thing—a cream puff from Chestnut Hill Bakery. 

Yummy cream puff almost larger than my hand!

Don’t know what a cream puff is?  It’s a giant pastry filled with creamy custard and topped with thick chocolate icing.  It’s bigger in diameter than the palm of my adult-sized hand and about three or four inches high.  One bite sends an eruption of custard oozing out and down your fingers as your face takes on a delicious chocolate mustache.  It’s a messy, gooey delight!

Anyway, I was willing to forgo all manner of gifts to obtain the Hope Diamond of childhood confections.  When the big day came, I’m sure I did get other gifts but I really don’t remember them.  I do remember getting the long desired cream puff.  Two, in fact.  Do I really need to say that my diet ended that day?  Well, it did. 

To this day, the thought of a cream puff from Chestnut Hill Bakery still makes me feel giddy with anticipation!  Thankfully, the bakery is still in operation in a non-descript strip of shops in Lynchburg, VA and cream puffs can still be had.  Chestnut Hill Bakery began in 1968 and on April 1, 2011 Richard and Glenda Hinkley bought the bakery.  I am pleased to report that the current owners have mastered the art of the cream puff and offer them in the standard giant size along with a smaller size.  As of the date of this writing, a large cream puff is a bargain at a $1.50 and the small ones are only $.60 each.  Of course, Chestnut Hill Bakery offers a wide variety of baked goods but my personal recommendations, besides the cream puffs, include the Mediterranean cookies, German Chocolate pie, Chocolate Meringue pie, butter rolls, and ham biscuits.
So if you ever make it to Lynchburg, VA, be sure to stop by Chestnut Hill Bakery for a cream puff and tell them Cindy from explorevirginia.blogspot.com sent you! 
Disclaimer:  Do not try the hair brain diet mentioned above, or any fad diet for that matter, as they will only put you on the Yo-Yo Express to weight gain. 

Why Explore Viriginia?

Simply put, Virginia is a truly beautiful state! Flat tidal plains give way to rolling hills which give way to mountains in the Appalachian Mountain Range. (Yes, all you Westerners, we do call them mountains!) And the list of things to see, do, and eat in Virginia is as varied as the topography.

ExploreVirginia.blogspot.com will unearth all the hidden treasures there are to be found in Virginia and share them with you, dear readers. Anywhere and anything in Virginia is open for exploration but I will give special focus to some of the smaller, lesser known places and activities, and ones that are inexpensive or free. You won't believe what's in your own backyard! So join me on this journey around Virginia. You'll be glad you did!

Cindy Chance
ExploreVirginia.blogspot.com