Monday, July 27, 2015

History Tastes like Chocolate at Charlton's Coffee House in Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg, America's oldest and largest living history experience, remains near and dear to my heart. At times, I have felt like I lived and walked along Duke of Gloucester Street when Williamsburg was Virginia's 18th-century capital. That street runs from the late 17th-century "Wren building" of the College of William and Mary to the reconstructed Capitol. "The Revolutionary City" now rests within a 301-acres Historic Area, most of which is closed to traffic. Folks stroll along or take carriage rides, stopping to see craftsmen at work and merchants in their shops. I was excited to return to one of my most favorite places in the world.
The Colonial Capitol Building in Williamsburg, Virginia
Photo @ Debi Lander

The day began by parking at the Visitor's Center and hopping a shuttle bus. I got off to tour the colonial Capitol building with friends Judy and Carol. Afterward, we came upon R. Charlton's Coffee House. During its heyday, this was the perfect location for attracting thirsty merchants and politicians leaving the Capitol. Today, it appealed to us; why sure, I could use a mid-morning coffee. Besides, the coffee house wasn't open the last time I visited the town.
At the Sign of R. Charlton
Photo @ D Lander

Reconstruction of the site began in 2008 and a team of researchers, curators, tradespeople and builders completed the restoration in November 2009. The coffee house like all other buildings in Williamsburg is an authentic recreation and is experienced with the aide of historic interpreters: folks that take on the persona of an early 18th-century character and engage with visitors. In keeping with its legacy, R. Charlton's Coffeehouse serves samples of coffee and chocolate to guests. But, only about a dozen visitors may enter at a time, so we had a short wait on the front porch.

The Front Porch of R. Charlton's Coffee House
Photo by Debi Lander

Hostess Greets Visitors
by Debi Lander
We were greeted by a hostess and entered a rather elegant room with fine furnishing and wallpaper.  We sat while she explained the history of coffeehouses and the room. This was a private space typically rented for special gatherings. You see Charlton's wasn't just an 18th century Starbucks where you ordered a coffee-to-go.  Oh no, it was a popular stop for Williamsburg elite, a place for digesting words as much as coffee. Gentlemen and politicians would sit around tables with steaming cups and hash out problems or make deals. It became a gathering place and sounding board for rebellion in the American colonies.

Serving hot chocolate
Our tour ended up in the southwest room, the public room - much like a tavern. This room included a bar in one corner, a fireplace and some small tables with chairs. Here we met Mr. Charlton and his brother. They chatted about their business, and we were served our choice of coffee, tea, or velvety chocolate in dainty china cups. I recommend the hot chocolate, it’s a thick and authentic blend of cocoa, vanilla, cayenne, and just a pinch of sugar. The three of us enjoyed its luscious feel and taste in our mouths along with the repartee of the proprietors.
Enjoying a cup of hot chocolate

Charlton’s coffeehouse was the first major reconstruction on Duke of Gloucester Street in fifty years. While it's part relic and part fantasy,  I enjoyed the establishment and the way visitors are spoon fed tidbits of history.
A Cup of Colonial Hot Chocolate

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Rhubarb at Rhubard: Asheville, NC

Downtown Asheville, NC buzzes with activity like a university campus on graduation day. From fancy dress to cutoffs and tees, folks dine in small eateries serving up gourmet and down-home dishes. Musicians serenade on street corners adding a rhythmic beat to the air. And, outdoor enthusiasts hustle up mountainous roads: bicycling, jogging, hiking while others practice yoga in the plaza. Cheers to this happening crossroads where visitors and locals thrive on the eclectic hum.   
Yoga in downtown Asheville

When I arrived for dinner at Rhubarb on Pack Square, one of Asheville's renowned downtown restaurants, I found the place in a rhubarb. Now, most people think the word rhubarb means reddish stringy stalks of fruit used in pies, but the Oxford English Dictionary defines a slang usage as "the noise made by a group of actors to give the impression of indistinct background conversation or to represent the noise of a crowd." How apt. The Tourism Council was filming a spot in the restaurant, so lights, cameras, and actors were skuttling around. I was still able to slip into a corner, keenly observe, and still enjoy a meal.
Oudoor Dining at Rhubarb  Courtesy of

I started my dining experience with the signature cocktail, a Rhubarb Collins. The slightly pinkish drink comes in a tall, slim glass; a mix of vodka and house made strawberry rhubarb soda. The bubbly liquid bursts with an effervescence that is refreshing, perhaps just a little too light for my tastes.

Crispy and spicy cauliflower became the appetizer of choice. This dish reminded me of India, somewhat hot, but not too pungent with a cooling dipping sauce. Yummy.

My entree, well...what else: Rhubarb Glazed Duck Confit. The preparation was spot on; crispy on the outside and tender and moist within. The sautéed greens were not overcooked and complimented by a thinly-sliced sweet potato layer hidden underneath. The portion was perfectly sized, but for many Americans, likely a tad small.

Keeping up the theme, I simply had to finish the meal with Rhubarb Crisp. A generously sized dessert arrived with dollops of Lemon-Thyme Anglaise and a beautiful fresh pansy in the center. Divine, but then again, I love cobbler! The recipe tasted tangy and not too sweet. Additional pieces of rhubarb and rye crumble garnished the edges making the entire effect delicious. 

I was also treated to another house special, The Snix: milk chocolate semifreddo, hot boiled peanuts, salted peanut brittle and drizzled with caramel. Order this to die for dessert if you want sweetness.
Chef John Fleer

Chef John Fleer, a three-time finalist for the James Beard “Best Chef in the Southeast” award, came out to meet me, a most personable and a happy man. He smiled and laughed during the photo shoot and I commented on his happiness. He says it comes from loving his choices. He moved his family from the award-winning Blackberry Farm in Tennessee to Asheville. He adores the vibrant community and maintains a close relationship with local farmers and suppliers. We seemed to agree that a happy chef makes a happy restaurant and Rhubarb indeed is. I'd be delighted to return again.

Rhubarb: 7 SW. Pack Square;
Beautiful Skyline of Asheville, NC
Courtesy of

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Martini for All Seasons: Pomegranate

Whether it's Christmas or the Fourth of July, pomegranate martinis flaunt the essence of perfection. The gorgeous deep ruby-magenta liquid tastes divine and makes them my choice for any occasion. But beware; the luscious smooth drink also packs a powerful punch.

Christmas Day Martini

Seems pomegranates burst on the scene about 5-10 years ago, but according to the Pomegranate Council, they've been around for 4,000 years.  The fruit bangs out walloping high levels of vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, fiber, and is low in calories. The popular brand Pom supplies grocery stores with pomegranate juice in a variety of flavor combinations.

Party planners find the red hue ideal for themed drinks during Christmas holidays, Valentine's Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and even Veteran's Day. At Thanksgiving simply can add one jigger of cranberry juice. Sadly, these drinks don't fulfill the needs for St. Patrick's Day or Halloween, but so many other libations do. Anytime you need a reddish-purple drink accent, make pomegranate martinis the special of the day.
Memorial Day, Veteran's Day or the 4th of July Martini 

My personal martini recipe contains vodka although you can substitute gin if that is your preference. Since I live in St. Augustine, I use St. Augustine Vodka from the hometown distillery. It's made with Florida-grown sugarcane. The recipe is versatile depending on your tastes. One friend prefers orange juice in place of Grand Mariner, and I've also filled in with fresh lemon juice although that tastes a bit tarter.

To prepare: Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and then add two jiggers of vodka, one of Grand Mariner, one of Pomegranate liqueur and two jiggers of plain pomegranate juice.  Shake, strain and pour into a martini glass. 

My choice ingredients: Pama Pomegranate Liqueur, St. Augustine Vodka, Grand Mariner and Pom Juice

I prefer to float pomegranate seeds in the glass; however, an orange slice works well. Use a lemon or lime as garnish if that is all you have. For other cocktails made with pomegranate juice check out the recipes from Pom: Pom Cocktails.

An open pomegrante  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Pomegranates keep very well while in season, therefore, they add color in a fruit bowl and make lovely holiday decorations. Getting to the seeds is a bit tricky, but here's the easiest way. Cut the fruit into a few sections. Submerge each section in a bowl of water and use your fingers to ease the seeds free. Strain when done.  Forget juicing - I think it is much easier to buy the precious liquid. 

Did you know: The name "pomegranate" derives from the Middle French "pomme garnete" - literally "seeded apple." It is sometimes referred to as a Chinese apple. Many scholars believe that the forbidden - yet irresistible - fruit in which Eve indulged within the Garden of Eden was a pomegranate (and not an apple). Pomegranates have been used as symbols of prosperity, hope, and abundance in every part of the world."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Baking a Flourless Chocolate Cake with Kyra

Kyra, my ten year old granddaughter, is becoming quite the chef. She is a devoted Food Network watcher and loves to help her Mom in the kitchen.  I recently made a visit to her home in New Jersey  and while her parents we out, we got to baking. I adored spending time with her this way and we were proud of our finished product.

Our finished Flourless Chocolate Cake

Since I attempt to stay gluten free, I brought a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake which I found online from Viking River Cruises. We assembled the ingredients and got out both the mixer and the food processor.

The Batter
Other than using many bowls, the preparation was fairly simple: pulverize some of the nuts, melt the chocolate in the microwave and beat in the eggs one at a time.  The batter was firm, loaded with both ground and chopped walnuts. We baked our cake in a springform pan as directed, and had no problems with sticking.

After it cooled, we sprinkled on confectioner's sugar and topped it with fresh raspberries.  We decided the cake would taste best from the refrigerator. We also think it should be served with vanilla ice cream as it is very dense and rich in chocolate.

Licking the beater!

Flourless Chocolate Cake

from Viking River Cruises


6 T unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 C walnut pieces
3/4 C & 1 T walnuts, chopped
8 oz dark chocolate, chopped
3 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 C granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate shavings
Raspberries with sauce

Baked Cake Cooling


Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease an 8-inch springform pan with a small amount of butter and set aside. Place 2/3 C of walnuts in work bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Set aside. Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat on high in a microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring between intervals, until chocolate has melted and is smooth. Set aside. In a medium bowl stir together cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until mixture has turned pale and creamy, about 5 minutes. Spoon in chocolate and vanilla and beat until just blended. Fold in ground walnuts, chopped walnuts, and cocoa powder mixture. Pour into prepared springform pan and bake until cooked through, about 35 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Run a small knife around edge before releasing sides of springform pan. Serve at room temperature and garnish with chocolate shavings and raspberries in raspberry sauce. (We just used fresh raspberries.)

The recipes claims it makes 8-10 servings, but you could get at least 12 servings. This is a rich cake!
Store it in the refrigerator- it keeps well.

I suspect the perfect location to eat it is on a Viking River Cruise, but that wasn't an option!
Kyra puts on the finishing touches

Monday, April 6, 2015

Fruitland Augusta Peach Vodka: A Masterful History Lesson

It's Master's Week in Augusta!
Fruitland Augusta Peach Vodka and Peach Tea

Celebrate with Fruitland Augusta Peach Vodka:

Please click on the above link to read my story about this fantastic spirit.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Louisiana Food Fantasy

A traveler in Louisiana will find a fantasy of food choices among Cajun and Creole cuisine , including casual or elegant.  The southern state receives a bounty of seafood from the Gulf and numerous dishes feature fish or shellfish, but watch out - many are fried. Don't leave Louisiana without tasting beignets, boudin, Bananas Foster, cafe au lait, cracklins, crawfish, etouffee, gumbo, Hoppin John, Hurricanes, King Cake, Oysters Rockefeller, Po Boys, pralines and of course, Tabasco sauce.