Thankful to be Thankful

November 16, 2011

Thanksgiving is the time of year when we are reminded to give thanks for the wonderful things in our lives and for all of our blessings. With so many varying cultures, at every age and stage in life, what we value to give thanks for will naturally differ from person to person. Turning 70 this year has given me a new perspective on thankfulness: it’s one thing to be thankful for something or for someone, but I would have not the chance if I were not here to be thankful in the first place!

One gift of living longer is appreciating the ability to be alive in new ways. With age comes the loss of so many near and dear. Thus, it’s only in recent years that I understand and appreciate what I heard from elders when I was young, “As long as you have your health…” Therefore, I’m most thankful to be thankful to still be alive and healthy.

As a child, I was thankful for other happenings and things: parents who tried their best to give me opportunities. In my twenties and thirties, I was thankful for education, marriage, and ultimately freedom to adventure beyond my wildest dreams and to travel the world; trains, planes and automobiles, and yes, boats too were all fabulous experiences. So was the opportunity to meet with spiritual leaders, seek my own way, and become a licensed pilot. Bumps, bruises, excitement, challenges—I was thankful to be alive to experience it and thankful to have survived the adventure!

After many losses and some challenging times, ultimately I was thankful to have a family of my own and to succeed at a profession that I loved. The next decades brought new creativity as I began to write, speak and appear on national media programs. I learned that I was an educator at heart and that in between would be illnesses and losses that would knock me down time and time again. Through it all, I was thankful to have just gotten through, to have laughed, loved and lived.

Now, at 70, I’ve decided I’m just thankful to be thankful. I’m not dead, I’m not sick, I’m not bound to a wheelchair and I still have my wits. Just to be alive, to live another day of opportunity, to share more hours with my daughters and grandsons…I’m thankful to be thankful. Oh! And to have the energy to continue learning and adventuring—if it’s true that comfort and stagnation tends to kill, I’m bound to be around for another hundred years!

In “these tough economic times” it can be hard to find things to be thankful for. Millions of Americans are suffering with bank accounts that cannot support the weight of the upcoming holiday season. Many Americans cannot support the weight of tomorrow. These are the times to be most generous and grateful.

If we have enough to eat and are still in our homes and can manage a wry attitude change, some may even manage to ultimately be thankful for the recession because it has taught us what not to take for granted and allowed us the ability to appreciate what we have when we have it.

Whether you are a Republican or Democrat or Tea Party or Muslim or black or white or African or Chinese, atheist or Roman Catholic, be thankful for the opportunity to interact, to share, to grow together, to learn from one another and to affect positive change in our world. And be thankful for the challenges we endure that educate us about ourselves and the world we live in, because these are our lessons to learn in order to teach those who follow us.

The White Elephant

November 3, 2011

Every trip to the town of Middleburg, VA, warrants a visit to a special place: The White Elephant. Since my church always had an annual white elephant sale, I immediately understood the significance of the name.

It was 22 years ago that two sisters and their mother began what has become a must-visit, must-purchase-something store. Sisters Leslie and Cynthia Broockman, with their late mother Gloria, began in 1988 with what they considered a brief indoor garage sale. It was winter and too cold to sell on the sidewalk some of the furniture and other excess items they no longer needed after moving up from Florida. So, as fate would have it, they were offered an empty room, which happened to be an unused storefront in Middleburg, to conduct a sale. It was only meant to last two days. Instead, the idea of “consignments” flew into the picture and the “sale” continues to this day.

“Follow your dreams,” their mother advised her daughters. The dream became a reality as chance encounters led to the creation of what are now two consignment shops, one in Middleburg and one in nearby Warrenton. Cynthia says, “If you have the courage to dream and wait patiently with complete faith, they’ll come true.” Despite all the odds, and there were many, the story behind this family not only creating a consignment business (quite by accident) but allowing the venture to help others serves as an inspiration to anyone wishing to follow their dream.

On a recent visit to Middleburg, I walked into The White Elephant and, not needing anything in particular, but always curious, headed down the aisle of antiquities. There are two sides to the store plus a basement divided into two sides. On the left, you will find a collection of apparel and accessories. Many of these are new. None are over two years old. Everything from jeans to evening gowns, jewelry to shoes.

On the right are “decorative accents and furniture.” All incoming consignments are carefully screened for quality. You will not have to search through “junk” to find valuable items. This particular day, I observed a man looking closely at certain items, making notes, and walking on to carefully study another object. I had to ask, “Are you an antique collector?” Yes, he was. Not only a collector but, I believe, although he would not tell me as much, he had a business selling antiques. I was not surprised.

In our home are signs of The White Elephant everywhere. I won’t tell. Okay, maybe I will, just to entice you. But you must keep our secret!

One day, we brought home an art nouveau side table for the living room. On another occasion,
we came home with a three piece entertainment console for downstairs. And a few years ago, we could not resist a beautiful Oriental rug. Many items at The White Elephant are one of a kind, including paintings, jewelry, and china. The choices change constantly, so you must make a habit of snooping.

Reasonably priced, many items are one of a kind and many are collectable. Their collections, which change almost daily (since the inventory and sales are continuous, seven days a week), are incredible. For wedding gifts, graduation gifts, birthdays, and for your personal collections, it is hard to resist a purchase at the White Elephant. There are always lovely, helpful ladies working at the shop should you have any questions. Plus I always meet fascinating people many of whom, like me, make it a priority to poke around the hidden treasures and rarely leave empty-handed.

Visit The White Elephant at 103 West Federal Street in Middleburg or
[gallery ids="102670,102609,102661,102652,102643,102619,102635,102628" nav="thumbs"]

From Stables to Strawberries

A Spectacular Stable Tour

Just after midnight on March 30, 1970, a large chestnut colt was foaled on a horse farm in Caroline County, VA. Three years later, this colt would become nothing short of a celebrity, electrifying the horse racing world and becoming the ninth horse to win the coveted Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing. His name was, of course, the legendary Secretariat. While many often think of Kentucky as the epicenter of thoroughbred racing, it’s important to remember that many racing champions began their careers and were trained right here in the Commonwealth. There’s no doubt that future champions will also trace their beginnings back to some of Virginia’s most impressive farms and training facilities.

On the weekend of May 29, a handful of Virginia’s top farm owners invite you down their cozy drives and into their stables and training facilities as the Hunt Country Stable Tour celebrates its 51st year. Presented by the Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville, this self-guided tour is a once-a-year opportunity to visit some of the most remarkable hunter and show jumper barns, breeding farms and polo facilities.

Tickets may be purchased at any of the venues, with the exception of the Stone Bridge over Goose Creek. Be sure to visit the Trinity Episcopal Church and browse the wares of the many vendors at the country fair on the church lawn. Next, follow the map provided with your ticket and make your way through the Middleburg and Upperville area to the various venues on the tour.

One stop on the tour you won’t want to miss is the Middleburg training track, but you’ll have to get there early on Saturday to catch all the action. Bring your camera and grab a rail-side spot as you watch young thoroughbreds rounding the 7/8-mile track during their training sessions. Several champions, including Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Spectacular Bid, began their training here. Come early, as the horses run before 9 a.m. — and only on Saturday.

Not far from the training track is the Northern Virginia Animal Swim Center and Stables. We all know how beneficial water and swim therapy can be when recovering from surgery or an injury. The same holds true for our equine and canine friends, and what a unique facility they have for just that purpose. The swim center will be open Saturday only, with equine demonstrations throughout the day.

In addition to these training facilities, be sure to make your way to the many beautiful private stables on the tour, including Willow Bend Farm, Windsor Farm, Rock Hill Farm, and Rokeby, just to name a few.

For more information and a complete listing of all venues on the tour, check out

A Delicious Festival

Strawberries: sweet and delicious, they’re one of the first treats of summer and a definite reason for celebration. This delectable snack derived its name from the berries that are “strewn” about on the foliage of the plants. “Strewn berry” eventually became “strawberry,” and the rest is history. In fact, strawberries actually date to medieval times where they symbolized prosperity, peace, and perfection. Today, it’s tradition for spectators to enjoy strawberries and cream between tennis matches at Wimbledon.

This year, beautiful Sky Meadow State Park is once again host to the Delaplane Strawberry Festival on May 29 and 30. Celebrating its 17th year and presented by the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Delaplane, this festival has something fun for everyone. Catch a hayride through the park, then grab a bite to eat from one of the many food vendors and have a seat on a hay bale as you enjoy some great musical entertainment. Car enthusiasts will enjoy looking at the beautifully presented antique cars from the Bull Run Antique Car Club of America. And of course, there will be strawberries. Buy some to enjoy at the festival, and be sure to pick up some extra to take home. There’s no shortage of fun for the young ones either. Pony rides, a 4-H petting zoo, puppet shows, jugglers, clowns and children’s games are just some of the activities on tap to make this a special day for the kids.

For additional information about the festival, visit

The Upperville Colt & Horse Show

I look forward to the first full week of June every year. My colleagues automatically know I will be out of the office that week — on vacation, but not out of town. I’ll be where many horse lovers and enthusiasts will be: in beautiful Upperville, VA, just an hour outside of Washington, at the one and only Upperville Colt and Horse Show. For me, this event is nothing short of a full blown therapy session — but without all the psychobabble. The sights and sounds of the hustle and bustle around the show grounds renew my spirits and senses like nothing else can — the smell of the fresh horse stall bedding, the sound of the farrier’s hammer carefully shaping a horse shoe, and the gentle non-verbal conversation between horse and rider as they make their way through the course. It is truly magical and makes me anxiously anticipate my arrival at the barn every evening to tend to my own horses.

Celebrating its 157th year, the oldest horse show in the United States is set to run June 7 through 13. Attracting competitors from all over the United States and abroad, Upperville boasts seven full days of exciting hunter, jumper and breeder competitions.

Hunters and Jumpers
The term “hunters” refers to horses that participate in the sport of fox hunting, including their manners, ability to jump and how well they maintain a steady pace as they encounter each jump or “fence.” The criteria they are judged upon in the various hunter competitions or “classes” relates to the traits they must demonstrate to be successful in the hunt field. With hunters, it’s all about their style and stride. Some hunter classes also judge the horse’s body structure, which is referred to as its “conformation.”

Speed, stamina, and the ability to clear the course obstacles are what count in the various jumper classes. This is no easy feat, considering many of the jumps are three feet six inches to five or more feet tall, with spreads of up to six feet. Unlike the hunter classes, style, pace, and manners are not important, and are not judged. What matters is that horse and rider complete the course in as little time as possible without knocking down any of the obstacles.

A Week Under the Oaks
This year, the competition begins Monday, June 7 on what many refer to as “locals’ day” at the show, with the majority of hunter classes offered that day restricted to horses owned by residents of counties within a 60-mile radius of Upperville. Compared to the rest of show week, it’s a somewhat quieter day, perfect for kicking back in the newly renovated grandstand and taking it all in as the horses and riders leap through the hunter course under the beautiful and majestic hundred-year-old oaks of Grafton Farm. It’s also a great time for shopping. While some vendors are in the process of setting up their displays for the week, there are many that are already up and running and ready for business. It’s the perfect opportunity to pick up that one-of-a-kind item before it’s scooped up by other shoppers later in the week.

A full schedule of hunter classes are on tap for Tuesday, and the action kicks into high gear as the jumper classes begin across the street amid the rolling green terrain of Salem Farm. In the afternoon, the Founder’s Cup, restricted to horses bred and foaled in Virginia, honors the memory of Colonel Richard Henry Dulany — an avid horseman and the driving force behind the establishment of the Upperville Colt and Horse Show. One of the many highlights on Wednesday’s schedule of events is the “Paul and Eve Go as You Please Handy Hunter” class, held in memory of Paul and Eve Fout, two of Virginia’s most prominent and accomplished equestrians. On Thursday, the ponies come out to strut their stuff. Unbelievably adorable and the dream of many little girls, you won’t want to miss these pint-sized equines with over-the-top personalities. Don’t worry if you miss the ponies on Thursday — you’ll have the opportunity to catch them on Friday and Saturday too.

The weekend, of course, tends to draw the largest crowds, so plan to come early and spend the day. There’s plenty to see and do, and once you get there, you won’t want to leave soon anyway. Saturday morning features the Cleveland Bay breeder classes, and the ever-so-elegant ladies’ side saddle classes. Come see Upperville’s youngest riders (ages one to six years) make their appearance in the leadline competition on Saturday afternoon. With an adult handler keeping the pony in check, you won’t be able to stop smiling as you watch these young riders — dressed in proper attire, of course — make their way around the ring. On Sunday morning, additional breeder classes are scheduled, including those featuring the Irish Draught breed. The classic sport of carriage driving also takes center stage on Sunday with the Carriage Driving Grand Prix and the Concours d’Elegance.

The week-long event culminates Sunday afternoon with the Budweiser Upperville Jumper Classic. Not to be missed, this challenge features many of the top riders in the world. Bring a picnic of your own, or pick up something to eat from the food vendors at the show. Then grab a spot on the lawn overlooking the course and get ready for an exciting, hold-your-breath type of contest amid a colorful and extremely challenging course. It’s the perfect way to end an extraordinary week of competition. The only downside? Well, the show is held only once a year. But, like me, I’m willing to bet you’ll be looking forward to next year’s show before you leave your parking space.

For a complete schedule of events and information, check out their Web site at

Upcoming Events
The summer season in hunt country is kicking into full gear. Here’s just a few of the many upcoming events you may want to consider adding to your calendar.

Vintage Virginia Wine Festival
June 5 and 6, 2010
11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Bull Run Regional Park Special Events Center
Centreville, VA

Magnolias at the Mill Beer Festival
June 17, 2010
Magnolias at the Mill
Purcellville, VA

Twilight Polo at Great Meadow
Every Saturday through September 18, 2010
6:30 p.m.
The Plains, VA

Fourth of July at Great Meadow
July 4, 2010
The Plains, VA
[gallery ids="99135,102723,102709,102716" nav="thumbs"]

What’s New In Wine Country?

We in the greater D.C. area have been fortunate enough to be involved in the growth and expansion of our own wine country. Virginia now boasts about 160 wineries, with more on the way. Maryland is at about 30 now and growing as well. This industry is agriculture based and therefore has a lot of advantages and challenges. Vintners spend a lot of capital getting started through learning the process, acquiring land, planting and training vines, constructing buildings, purchasing barrels, tanks and equipment and setting up tasting rooms to present our wines. The great thing about all of this investment is that these businesses — and the industry as a whole — should be here for a very long time.

Planning for the future is a very important thing. As I get a new customer in our tasting room, I always feel that if we do things right, we will see them again. Good quality, hand crafted wines at a fair price, polite and personal service focusing on education and comfort, and appealing grounds and décor make a difference to people. They may return or look for our wines in their local wine shop or restaurant. This objective is shared by many wineries across Virginia, and the customer base continues to grow. People that buy my wine will purchase many other wines as well, both locally and from around the world. Because we all invest so much up front, we have to stick around a while in order for this thing to make sense. The best way to continue is to always work to improve quality. Exciting wines are being made everywhere that people focus on quality. As you visit a winery, be sure to let them know how you like their wines and the visit in general. This new sport of winery hopping is really catching on.

Here are a few thoughts about what is actually going on in the vineyard and cellar of our winery and probably most of the wineries in the area. The fruit in the vineyards has just set. The berries are about the size of small peas, but are growing every day. The leaves around them are getting rather thick, so our task today is to pull some leaves and some small lateral shoots to open up the area around the fruit, increasing sunlight and air flow. This will prevent mildew and other fungi from developing on the fruit and help it develop deep, rich and ripe flavors at harvest time. We may come through the vineyard two or three times to open up the fruit zone, depending on how much rain we receive during the growing season. The other main job is hedging. As we tuck the long, green shoots into the trellising wires, they will continue to grow towards the sun. We will trim these so they will not flop over and shade the fruit they are supposed to ripen. Warm days, sunshine and rainfall all add to this dance we call canopy management. The work is very labor intensive but also very therapeutic. Knowing that the time you spend will greatly increase the quality of the wine made is a great feeling.

At Fabbioli Cellars, we are preparing to bottle wine next week. The 2009 Cabernet Franc blend was first made on the bench level. Samples are taken from each of the barrels and then tasted for attributes and characters that will add to the blend. Then the wines are measured using graduated cylinders and pipettes to make an accurate sample blend of the wine. This process can be done numerous times, adding or removing barrels or parts of barrels for the blend. To season a wine to perfection, many winemakers will use a little wine made from other varieties, bringing some more character to the aroma or smoothing out the finish. Legally a winery can use 25 percent of other varieties in a blend and still use a single varietal name on the label. But it is always important that the name on the label reflect the character of the wine in the bottle. Once we finalize the blend, we pull out the pump, clean the tanks and pump the barrels to make the blend. Most wineries in the area use one of four mobile bottling lines in the area. These are basically an assembly line inside of a truck. We schedule these well ahead of time and can bottle about 1200 cases of wine per day. It’s one big piece of equipment that we do not have to invest in ahead of time.

Many wineries offer different opportunities to experience the winemaking process. Check Web sites, calendars of events and ask about how you can learn more. We are all in this business for the long haul and we appreciate all of the loyal customers we have gained over the years. Be sure to buy local and visit your local winery or farm for a taste of nature’s bounty. Cheers.
[gallery ids="99145,102794" nav="thumbs"]

Great Escapes

Summer is here, and for many, that means a much-needed break. Think fun in the sun, foreign flings, films, food and a chance for the exotic to become the exciting every day.

But before your body joins your imagination for a stroll along some foreign street or an adventure abroad, remember that a great escape isn’t all that far away.

This feature celebrates the sophistication and spirit that is to be found in a summer spent in New England. Travelers will discover a genuine hospitality and warmth that is all-American and all-welcoming. The Northeast also does not see nearly as much tourist traffic as other top summer destinations, meaning you’ll have more traveler elbow room. I found that the area has a way of accommodating anyone’s tastes and interests. New England boasts a rich history and an active gourmet and wine scene, promising summer performances, scenic beauty, friendly people and an unhurried, unharried atmosphere.

More than ever, the inn has enjoyed a revival that goes beyond the typical hotel room. Many innkeepers are celebrating the character and charm of their historic “inn-stitutions” while giving their guests the pleasure of an excellent culinary experience. The three inns featured below each have a gastronomic master leading the kitchen, and each has earned its share of awards and recognition from top reviewers. Bon appetit.

The Bramble Inn
Brewster, MA
Rooms from $158, Average Entrée $28

Centered in the historic section of Brewster, the Bramble Inn is best known for its owners Cliff and Ruth Manchester, who have kept the charm and character of the inn at its peak for 26 years. The inn-keeping magic runs in the family. Cliff grew up in the hospitality industry working with his parents before he and his wife began managing inns. Each of their daughters worked at the Bramble growing up, with one daughter and her husband now managing an inn that Ruth and Cliff used to own. There is an undeniably familial air about the place.

A major component to the inn’s character is its age. Built around 1861, the inn is a noted historical landmark, and Ruth and Chris cherish its history. Interior renovations and decoration are continuous in an effort to keep up with the times, without adversely affecting the inn’s antique charm. Guests are also enjoying a new bar addition, which attracts a younger and more local crowd that loves the bar menu and a cozy familiar place to have a drink. Modern additions, though, haven’t stamped out its heritage: the closet of room three apparently plays host to a benevolent female ghost the owners believe was a baker. The closet always smells of fresh bread and stories of a calm presence have been shared among the staff.

Of course, the inn would be nothing without its restaurant, which “reflects that of a sea captain’s home and what would be served at a sea captain’s table,” says Chris. Here there is a love for the local bounty of fresh seafood — Ruth admits to having a “fish fetish,” New England lobster being her favorite ingredient.

The menu changes monthly and is Ruth’s brainchild, but there is continuous inspiration and collaboration from a newly hired kitchen staff. As seasonal as the menu is, there are two dishes that have remained on the menu as consistent favorites: chicken in paper with lazy lobster and the seafood curry. Ruth’s tastes have been influenced by her travels and her love for interesting spice is alive in the seafood curry. The sauce is vibrant and flavorful and adds a new dimension to the perfectly cooked seafood while tying in jasmine rice and the textural intricacies of the crunchy toasted coconut, almonds and grilled banana.

Bouchard Inn & Restaurant
Newport, RI
Rooms from $179, Average Entrée $35

Welcome to the Bouchard, nestled in the heart of Newport’s busy shopping and dining area. Also successfully run by a husband and wife team, Sarah and Albert Bouchard love what they do and have earned the praise and esteem of the Newport community — guests, diners and critics alike.

The Georgian-style inn was originally built in 1785 and the original beams are still visible. It was at one point a brothel and, naturally, a frequent haunt of sailors docked nearby. Later, it was attached to a greenhouse and thought to be used by the Vanderbilt family. Under multiple owners, the lower level became a restaurant in the ’60s and ’70s and underwent a renovation in 1990.

The Bouchards ensure the inn’s status as the “happening place,” catering to a crowd of guests that can range from the elderly Newport old guard to young visitors to foodies or guests from abroad. At the inn, guests will find a wooden folding tray against the wall by their door, solely for the purpose of breakfast served at their leisure. The fabulous landscape mural along one wall shows France’s Saint Tropez. It’s easy to be entranced from the get-go.

But as Albert and Sarah say, “once they’ve tried the restaurant, they are ours forever.” I believe them. Crafting what he calls “creative classic” cuisine, Albert — a Cordon Bleu-trained chef — takes inspiration from the great Joel Robuchon, the classic technique and small plate presentation that he learned while in France. His passion for food shows. Everything is made on site, including the bread. Sarah is the baker and I was lucky enough to enjoy a roll hot from the oven. Bliss.

The menu is Albert’s work, inspired by seasonal ingredients. The widest menu variety can be seen in the specials, but certain dishes, such as the Dover sole with sorrel sauce or the coffee-encrusted duck breast, have become popular classics. Albert is also known for his soufflés and mousses. Overall, the menu is well balanced, with some dishes sporting oriental influences and an impressive haul of Newport’s freshest seafood. Small wonder the inn is booming and the restaurant continues to draw rave reviews.

The Maidstone (and The Living Room)
East Hampton, NY
Rooms from $495, Average Entrée $30

Our final destination is all famous and all posh: the Hamptons, or East Hampton, to be exact. The crowd that frequents this area mingles with a social elite where haute cuisine, haute couture and haute heels are on constant display throughout the season. The cream of this high-society crop is East Hampton’s largest hotel, The Maidstone, a historical building that dates back to the 18th century and is remarkably well preserved, at least on the outside. However, the interior and concept has been reworked under its new owner, Jenny Ljungberg of Sweden, and is introducing a new an exciting experience to the guests.

Ljungberg imports a Swedish influence to the hotel, a concept she calls “Scandinavian cozy.” Renovations began in 2008.

The hotel is entirely dog-friendly, even offering a menu for any canine companions. Bicycles are provided for guests, along with room amenities that stay true to the luxurious and natural theme that can be seen throughout the hotel. Each room’s interior design is inspired by historical personalities of Scandinavian heritage. Artists, authors, botanists, and even the famous Alfred Nobel each have their own rooms, giving guests another way to learn from their experience.

But the real highlight is The Living Room restaurant, based upon the slow-food movement (that is, dining antithetical to America’s fast food culture) and led by the enthusiastic, talented and friendly Executive Chef Jonathan Carpenter. The slow-food movement focuses on preparing dishes with local and sustainable ingredients that support local farmers and artisans, giving diners an appreciation for local, fresh products that celebrate the ingredients’ natural flavor. The menu is Scandinavian-themed, introducing a cuisine that is, for the most part, not widely known in the United States. Overall, the hotel gives guests a taste of Swedish culture while paying attention to detail and anticipating every guest’s needs.

Also important to the restaurant is the descriptive aspect of the menu. Diners are given information about the history of a certain dish or where a particular ingredient comes from. The Living Room’s bread, for instance, comes in from the Blue Duck bakery, famous throughout the region.

Carpenter has been in the Hamptons for 12 years, after working mainly in the American South. His slow-food philosophy has been formed over the years through his work under great chefs at great restaurants, where he learned about celebrating and respecting the ingredients being used. He has great relationships with local farmers and artisans, and is always excited to be “putting our best in our guests’ dinner.” The Living Room is becoming the benchmark for restaurants hearkening back to high-quality standards with a leisurely pace. Fresh seafood is guaranteed. A few Swedish products are imported specifically for certain items on the menu, such as herring and lingonberries. Try the home-made gravlax or a Capatano Farms goat cheese tart paired with a homemade lingonberry sorbet, or the ever-classic toast skagen. As Chef Carpenter puts it, “The freshness and locality of the ingredients speak for themselves.”

Full-time sommelier Kelly is a recent addition to the team and oversees all wine pairings and management of the hotel’s wine club. Membership in this club allows members to keep wines in the Maidstone’s top facilities and access the extensive resources and wine lists that cater to all tastes from all parts of the world. The culinary team was actually sent out to Sweden to visit Ljungberg’s other hotels, truly experience Swedish culture and cuisine and bring it back to The Maidstone. This great restaurant pairs perfectly with the Maidstone, which looks to become the new hot spot in the already-haute Hamptons.

Driving along the many New England roads and taking in some scenery, any summer vacation spent in New England has the same magic as any trip abroad. Sometimes the best times can be beautifully simple and so very, very close. Enjoy New England, my fellow leisure lovers — I know I did.

From Farm to Table

When searching for an area’s freshest, local produce, farmers’ markets are likely the first places that come to mind. And why not? A congregation of local and regional farmers who harvest their produce at dawn, load it up in a pick-up, drive into town, and set up shop in a vacant parking lot or community space, creating a makeshift open-air market. Sounds just about perfect.

And they are. Farmers’ markets have had a large hand in bringing around the local, organic revolution, and allow farmers to put more of their hard-earned living directly into their pockets by cutting out the costs of third-party distributors — a necessary, but often short-shrifting result of the modern, industrial-scale food industry.

By the same token, there is comfort and exhilaration in a customer being able to shake the very hand that plucked their food from the ground earlier that morning. There is a sense of ownership that comes with fresh produce, a shared intimacy in knowing that your food has been cared for from seedling to the harvest. The experience of eating a fresh beefsteak tomato becomes more than the entitled consumption, but a considerable gift, a sensory delight in the richness of your bounty.

However, living in a city as bustling and frenetic as D.C. often creates elephantine obstacles of mere daily routines. Farmer’s markets often come around at odd times of day, and weekends can find many of us booked full with the chores and leisure unafforded by the work week, leaving little time to focus on fresh produce on top of our regular shopping needs. It is easy to overlook the value of fresh produce when it’s not in plain sight.

CSAs — Community Supported Agriculture — are a form-fitted solution to the busy metropolitan who still craves the flavor, community and health benefits of local, organic produce.

The idea of a CSA is simple and efficient: Instead of the buyer coming every week to a farmer’s market to pick and choose among all the local harvest, they sign up to receive a weekly package from a farm, consisting of a wealth of the freshest and best produce from that week, selected by the farmers themselves.

CSAs were developed in Europe back in the 1960s as a way for people to be more involved with the foods they to eat. As Alan Alliett of Fresh and Local CSA explains, “It allows people to join in a partnership with the farmer and his farm — to produce food of higher quality that can’t be found elsewhere in the marketplace.” The customer is guaranteed to get a box of fresh, tasty fruits and vegetables each week, and all they need to worry about is cooking and eating it.

Beyond a greater convenience, the advantages still abound. CSAs were created so people could work cooperatively outside the American economic model, which doesn’t allow farmers to produce quality produce under the strain of such tremendous quantity requirements. CSAs aim to keep good farmers on the land to pass on their skills to the next generation, while allowing farmers the space to produce food naturally and of a higher quality.

For the farmers, there is the comfort in a guaranteed sale. They already know when they plant the seed that their produce is sold, which gives them more time to focus on tending the harvest. As almost every CSA is certified organic, this means a lot for quality assurance. It also gives them personal contact to their customers and to the community. Louise Keckler, who owns and operates Orchard Country Produce with her husband and children, even sends out weekly emails to keep her customers in touch with farm news and the harvest updates.

There are also many benefits for the buyer. “They are guaranteed to get certain produce,” says Keckler. “Some stuff there wouldn’t be enough of for us to sell it at the farmer’s market. So getting the CSA, you can show up and pick up your cooler and you’re guaranteed to get a delivery.” Farmer’s markets often give farms visibility, functioning as a platform to show customers what they can get through CSA shares.

While most CSA distributors also have stands at the local farmer’s market, the CSA packages open the doors to a greater variety than a customer might know to choose without the help of the farmers, who are naturally more tuned in to the ebb and flow of the growing season. “People like the idea of local fresh produce,” says Keckler, “and [the CSA shares] offer a variety of things that they probably wouldn’t have bought if they just came to the farmer’s market.”

For instance, according to farmers, most customers that show up to a farmer’s market buy fruit instead of vegetables. Fruit is more visually appealing, and it’s much easier to eat. If you buy an apricot, you can just eat it right where you stand. It’s easy to overlook the lush mounds of kale and blossoming clouds of cauliflower if you don’t already have a recipe in mind. But the vast majority of farms’ harvests are veggies. When you receive a box of summer squash, mesclun, zucchini, corn and gooseberries from your weekly CSA share, you may find yourself planning a loose meal schedule for the week, or perusing a cookbook to find new recipes that use an uncommon ingredient. It allows your diet to be more experiential, more interactive.

There is also a lesson to be learned in the CSA experience about the pace of agriculture. “It makes people realize that even if you take a vacation, vegetables don’t,” says Keckler. If you’re out of town, “you have a friend pick it up, or donate it to a soup kitchen. You can’t stop the vegetables.”

As a result, many CSA farms work closely with area homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Unused shares are regularly donated. CSA farmers don’t want to see their produce go to waste, and the leftover vegetables aren’t ever of enough abundance to be sold. They take the time to pick it, and it would be a shame to see it discarded or unappreciated. There’s only so much they can eat, so they give back to the community, knowing that it is being put to good use.

But with every successful, honest business model, there are bound to be a few dime store rip-offs. Middleman CSAs, or “fake CSAs,” as Alliett calls them, are merely in the business of selling produce, not growing it. Underneath the fine print, the careful shopper will see that a good number of self-proclaimed CSA farms don’t have farms or farmers at all.

“They’re just pushing produce,” says Alliett. “Buying and reselling, instead of producing.”

Since the idea of a CSA is to be getting quality local goods, it doesn’t seem logical that a customer in Washington would want tomatoes and corn imported in bulk from the Carolinas that could just be gotten from the grocery store for less.

So, when picking a CSA, be sure to do a bit of research. Talk to the farmer, figure out where the farm is, even take a weekend drive to visit. Here’s a list of A-grade CSAs that distribute around the D.C. and Downtown area. Some only have a few shares left for the 2010 season, so it’s best to act fast.

CSAs Around Washington:

Bull Run Mountain Vegetable Farm
The Plains, VA

Clagett Farm
Upper Marlboro, MD

Fresh and Local CSA
Shepherdstown, WV

Orchard Country Produce
Gardners, PA

Potomac Vegetable Farms
Vienna, VA

Radix Farm
Upper Marlboro, MD

In Search of America

When I first thought about the idea of driving all the way to California alone, I quickly recoiled at the thought. No way, I said. I’m past all that and I immediately recognized the vulnerability of my years and my gender. I Googled “driving across the country” and as I read the typical stories of young people finding themselves I thought, “no, this is crazy!”

I mentioned the idea to my son, who was getting married at the Reagan Ranch, known as the Western White House during the 40th president’s tenure. “No way, Mom!” he said. “I would worry about you the entire time. What if something happens to you?” Funny how we switch roles when our children grow up. I shelved the idea for a while but I kept going back to the computer and searching routes and thinking of the unimaginable beauty and what it would be like to capture some of it and that the opportunity may never happen again. Now I had an excuse and I was getting more motivated as I looked into the real possibility of how to make it happen. I had always wanted to go back to the southwest. At 20, I had flown into Albuquerque and drove to Los Angeles from there with a friend and fell in love with the stark landscapes and deeply saturated color that made me feel like a character in a Dali painting. I remembered shadows that stretched into infinity and skies that churned like a kaleidoscope of dark and light then cleared into the bluest blues and reddest reds I could imagine. Now I was a photographer and I wanted to experience it again through the lens of my camera.

I secretly mapped it out and planned the route. I would drive the southern route to Interstate 40 west to Albuquerque, NM, up to the grand Canyon and down Interstate 15 to LA and on to Santa Barbara, CA. My husband was leery of my plan and concerned for my safety but he was supportive, knowing it was something I had always wanted to do. I had wanted to do it with him but his response of “send me the video” let me know that my dream was not his. I think now it was just my fear of being alone and only secondarily desiring to share it with him. “Why not?” I finally thought. I wanted to stop when I felt tired and stop when I saw a picture and I knew that would drive him crazy. I had raised two children, been a wife, worked as a fashion photographer for many years and always put my family, career and friends first. I had to fight the guilt of feeling self-indulgent, irresponsible and foolish, as most mothers do when doing things for themselves. I persisted and finally I knew it would be a gift I would give myself that would yield much more that it would take. I searched for two weeks for just the right GPS with weather updates to avoid tornados in the plains and to keep me on track. I ordered audio books of my favorite authors, cultural and philosophic commentaries that I never had time to read, recordings of all my favorite Leonard Cohen music and a little poetry. I could refresh my imagination with concepts usually out of reach with my busy schedule as my eyes watched the reality and beauty of our country stream from my windows like a magnificent movie.

I left on April 10 this year. I was thoroughly familiar with the beauty of Virginia and though I loved every inch of it I was looking forward to the West because it was a landscape I had not experienced firsthand since that brief experience at 20. I drove about 500 miles the first day and the second. One day I drove 700 miles. I stayed in local motels and avoided chains. When I entered Texas I was incredibly inspired, knowing there were so many miles of unfamiliar territory for me to see and absorb. I had taken the interstates up to that point but now I wanted to see every mile of it up close that would reveal another side of the heart and soul of this myriad nation, its people and the landscapes that captured the imaginations of so many artists that had gone before me. I wanted to be steeped in the authenticity of an identity defined by the values of the people who lived there. I stopped at remote diners and listened to the locals talk about fences that needed repair, sheriffs that arrested the teenagers who drank too much or drove too fast, hippie artists that made jewelry and the battle over the mining rights where they found their turquoise and silver. I talked to waitresses who loved their remote lives and listened to their stories, looked at the snapshots of their children tacked to the walls and studied the faces of men who sat in rusty chairs with lined faces and wistful glances. One woman in the hills of New Mexico told me that she woke up one day to the sound of rattlers and saw a very large and deadly Mojave rattlesnake curled up next to her bed and watched it crawl away.

I thought of the images of travelers going west during the Great Depression. I wondered what held these people here and imagined what it would be like to be one of them. As the miles passed I couldn’t resist the temptation of stopping every few miles and snapping a few pictures. I only wished I could be there for a longer time, knowing that there were many more beauties to behold if the light were right and I could wait for just the right time. I had to press on so all the pictures were taken from the window of my car or just a few steps away from it. I jealously thought about Ansel Adams and the many years he had trekked up mountaintops and waited for the perfect season, time and light to capture the most profound and enduring images to be had of his experience with light and landscapes.

What struck me was the endless variation of mountains and their shapes and textures. Of course I love the golden hour of light in the evening before the sun sinks out of sight and the first light of morning, but I never expected things to be so excited all day long. I actually had to pull over a few times, almost breathless at what I was seeing, and almost hit a tree when I drove into Grand Canyon National Park and suddenly drank in my first glance at the canyon. I had seen pictures, but the reality was so arresting, I almost couldn’t take my eyes back to the road. I simply had to stop and there on the rock where so many others had the same experience it was written in small letters: “Only God.”

Finally there was the desert. I had packed gallons of water, oil, food and various other survival-type gear, remembering the many miles where there was nothing. I had chosen an even more remote route. I loved the old junkyards where all the cars of the ’50s and ’60s still remained and looked like an old Bogart/Bacall movie set. There were trains and old motels from the ’50s with their original signs brightly colored and prevailing in the desert where the weather is dry and things don’t deteriorate as they do in the East. I couldn’t believe how many structures still stood intact and were simply abandoned. My daughter Noelle had joined me for the last part of the trip out and she was as adventurous as I was, so we took a few risks, like driving through some of the reservations some locals thought were ill advised. We stopped and spoke to the Native Americans and though they seemed genuinely surprised to see two women alone in a sky blue Jaguar, they were incredibly gracious and accommodating. Some of the most memorable landscapes were of a sandstorm swirling around the setting sun behind the volcanoes of northern Arizona. It reminded me of an old black and white movie of a spaceship landing. I was certain we were about to be stolen by aliens.

We stopped for the night in the next town and would arrive in LA the next afternoon. I had done it! Santa Barbara! Of course, the wedding is another story in itself, much too exciting to talk about in a few lines, but soon it was over and I dropped off my husband and daughter for their journey home and set out again on Route 15 to Las Vegas and on to Interstate 70 east through Nevada, Utah and on into Colorado. I got stopped by a ranger in a park in Utah who wondered if I had been drinking because I kept stopping in the middle of the road to take a picture and there was no shoulder to pull off the road. I thought I was the only one there but he let me go after a stern warning about stopping on curves and using the scenic pull-offs designed for observing the vistas. Did he not get it? I had to get that shot of light and shapes and that didn’t necessarily happen where the designers of this road had deemed appropriate. I tried to obey him, but I confess I did steal a few more frames of those forbidden places.

The trip back was no less adventurous or delightful. I saw wild burros that blocked the road and were utterly unconcerned about this person and their car and took their time moving out of the way as I snapped on. I passed through ghost towns where cactus flowers bloomed and valleys surrounded by random sculptural shapes looked like crowds of people laughing and I felt like I was taking an ink blot exam that I could interpret according to the preferences of my imagination. As the roads swirled horizontally and suddenly climbed vertically seasons of winter and summer changed with the elevation. It was winter in Vail, CO, but the landscape emptied into spring and summer by the time I reached the plains. I wished it would never end. When I entered Missouri, I stopped in St. Louis to see old friends and headed home on Interstate 64, where I had driven many times before. Washington, 36 miles! I had done it! I felt empowered, charged and as I downloaded all the photos and saw them I could relive it. What’s next? I want to go back and do it all again — only this time with grant money and a book in mind. What is the prevailing thought? We can, in most cases, do things we think we can’t and becoming one with ourselves makes us more capable of giving, receiving and experiencing life and joy. [gallery ids="99157,102894,102899,102904,102909,102914,102919,102924,102929,102934,102889,102884,102955,102951,102859,102947,102943,102864,102869,102874,102879,102939" nav="thumbs"]

Trip to the ‘Hawaiian’ Beach at Twilight Polo

Don’t have plans for Saturday night? You do now.

Green Meadow’s Twilight Polo events are “the place to be on a Saturday night,” says Margaret McCann, Great Meadow’s promotional manager.

There is nothing better than watching horse and rider race up and down the field battling to get the ball into the goal, even if you don’t have any clue about horses.

“It’s exciting, fast action,” McCann says. “It’s even good for a novice.”

Yet at Twilight Polo, fans get more than just two exciting sports matches, because at Great Meadow there are theme nights, a mascot for kids and the option to tailgate. Twilight Polo offers something for everyone and is family friendly.

This Saturday’s theme is Hawaiian beach party, which is a popular theme since it ties in well with tailgating, McCann says. Great Meadow uses the theme nights as a way to get everyone involved.

Fans dress up, and Twilight Polo even offers games based on the theme.

“The gays love Flamenco night, as it gives them a chance to get all dressed up,” McCann says.
Different polo teams come to compete and “a lot of them are huge polo families around here.”

Last week, Twilight Polo hosted a large crowd of 1,800 people from nearby counties in Virginia and from the city.

“It’s an exciting way to socialize where you’re not stuck in a crowded bar or restaurant,” McCann says.

Especially since the night also offers dancing under the pavilion after the two matches. It’s also the only place in the area with a DJ.

“I left at 12:30 a.m. and people were still dancing,” says McCann.

Kids are even welcome on the dance floor, particularly because Polo Bear, Twilight Polo’s mascot, may be dancing the night away. Polo Bear also hands out candy during the night and plays games, such as tug-of-war and potato sack races, between the matches.

Fans are welcome to bring in their own food, wine and alcohol, and also have the option to purchase barbecue from Boss Hawg BBQ or wine from Boxwood Vineyards.

Twilight Polo offers two matches each Saturday at Great Meadow Foundation, located at 5089 Old Tavern Road, The Plains, VA. The gates open at 6:30 p.m. and the first match starts at 7 p.m. The cost is $30 per carload or $10 per individual ticket. The 2010 season’s last night is Sept. 18 and there is no event Sept. 11.

Great Meadow was founded in the 1980s by the Arundel family, who purchased the land so it would not be developed, according to McCann. It’s the only arena polo facility in the area and serves multiple uses.

The area is now home to the Virginia Gold Cup event, rocketry and other community events. Their Fourth of July celebration hosted over 40,000 people this year.

Visit Great Meadow’s website for more information.

In Country Calendar Items

July 16
Doc Saffer Summer Series Outdoor Movie Night
Come to the third annual outdoor movie night, showing “G-Force” on the ball field. Begins at 8:30 p.m. at the Middleburg Community Center, 300 Washington St. If inclement weather arises, the movie will be shown in the main building of the community center. For more information, contact 540-687-6373.

July 17-18
Daylily & Wine Festival
Head to Andre Vinette Farm & Nursery in Fisherville, VA, for a two-day festival that offers food, beer and wine from over 80 vendors. The festival also includes live entertainment and children’s tents. For more information and an event schedule go to

July 24
Fourth Annual Summer Crab Boil
Come for an all-you-can-eat crab boil dinner at the Chateau O’Brien in Northpoint on July 24 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Dinner is $75/person. Live entertainment will be provided. Must be 21 years of age and reservations are required. For more information go to

Aug. 7
Taste of Spain
Willowcroft Vineyards in Leesburg, VA, will serve six Spanish wines from well known Spanish regions with tapas and sangria from noon to 5 p.m. on Aug. 7. The event costs $10/person. For more information, go to

Sept. 19
National Sporting Library & Fine Art Museum Benefit Polo Event
Save the date for a polo match, luncheon and silent auction to benefit the National Sporting Library & Fine Art Museum in Upperville, VA. The event will begin at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 19 at the Virginia International Polo Club and will feature prominent players from Argentina, Chile and the U.S. Tickets and tailgate spaces are available starting at $100. Contact Kate Robbins at 540-687-5053 or for more information.
[gallery ids="99164,102984,102988" nav="thumbs"]

Thanksgiving: A Life-giving Holiday

The coming of the holidays, for each of us, is symbolized by different events and moments: the first turning of leaves, a bracing snap of cool air, relaxing with a good book, a hot cocoa or a glass of wine in front of a blazing fireplace. For me, it’s Thanksgiving which marks the beginning of regular family
and friend get-togethers, cozy rituals which give us excuses to relax a little, and spend time with the people we care most about and don’t often have time for during the year.

Thanksgiving dinners started as early as the 1600’s by either the pilgrims in 1621 or the Jamestown settlers, as their version of the ancient British “Harvest Home Festival.” But it wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Based on this heritage, it isn’t surprising that the foundation of a traditional Thanksgiving meal consists of an amazing variety of health-giving foods.

Turkey: The turkey, a “true original native of America,” according to Benjamin Franklin, has been eaten in America since at least the 1500s by early explorers. It’s an exceptionally lean meat – lower in calories, cholesterol and fat than even chicken.

Sweet Potatoes: A major superfood, sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber, low in calories, and full of immune-boosting, cancer- and heart disease-preventing nutrients. Starting with beta-carotene, which provides the deep orange color. Beta-carotene is critical for your immune system, your skin, your vision, bones, reproduction, and more. Studies show that people who eat foods high in beta-carotene and people with high blood levels of beta-carotene have a lower incidence of certain cancers.

Greens: The most powerful food of all, deep green leafies, as we call them – such as spinach, collards, beet greens, kale – have the highest antioxidant score of all vegetables. They are high in many nutrients, including beta-carotene, iron, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, but are uniquely high in a compound called lutein. People who ate greens 2-4 times per week had a 46% decrease in risk of age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of preventable blindness) compared to those who consume these vegetables less than once per month. They also experience a lower incidence of cataracts. This is attributed to lutein, in the carotenoid family. Absorption of carotenoids—yellow/orange-colored phytochemicals found in orange and yellow fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens—is increased by cooking and by the presence of fat (cook in a little healthy olive or canola oil).

Cranberry Sauce: Cranberries, because of their potent flavor and deep color are one of the highest fruits on the antioxidant list, surpassed only by blackberries and blueberries. They contain compounds which act as antioxidants, stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammation,
enhance cancer-fighting enzymes, influence hormone metabolism positively, have antibacterial and antiviral effects and may even reverse some aspects of brain aging. The tannins in cranberries may be responsible for helping to prevent urinary tract infections, stomach ulcers, gum disease and even ear infections in children. Cranberries are also effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria,
and 20 percent of urinary tract infections are resistant to antibiotics. The tannins work by blocking the disease-causing bacteria and preventing it from adhering to human cell walls.

Giving Thanks: Giving thanks for this bounty is an essential part of the Thanksgiving
tradition. Most places of worship have services on Thanksgiving day. And there are many institutions which could use volunteers. Also, to help yourself relax and enjoy the day, start a new tradition and take a walk with your family members and friends – in the morning, after the feast – or both. We live in one of the most beautiful and walkable cities in the world. Walking along the Potomac River, on the National Mall, or in Rock Creek Park is free and open for everyone. Try a yoga class: Down Dog Yoga has a traditional Thanksgiving Day class from 10 am to noon. Both Down Dog Yoga and Spiral Flight Yoga in Georgetown have classes the days before and after Thanksgiving.

Visiting your place of worship to connect spiritually, volunteering for the needy, taking a walk or a yoga class are great ways to relax, center yourself and remind yourself of everything you have to feel grateful for.

Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D. will customize, an easy, enjoyable weight loss, athletic or medical nutrition therapy program for you or your company. She is the author of “Diet Simple: 192 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations,” and National Spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Contact her at or 202-833-0353.