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!