full blast: rocktown bites.

As creatures of habit, sometimes we tend to patronize the same restaurants and order the same items. I know I do: when I go to FoodBarFood, for example, I almost ALWAYS get that Thai curry noodle bowl. At Cuban Burger, it’s the Buenos Dias. I’ve ordered the Japanese Breakfast so many times at Beyond that they usually assume that’s what I’m there for.

Why is this? I guess for one, all those items are perfect and satisfy my craving so well there’s no need to explore other menu options. Another reason is value. On the rare occasion I feel like I can spend money eating out without regret, I don’t want to try something I’m not sure about. At the same time, I really do like variety. And I’m a grazer. I like to eat a little of this, a little of that.

So the Rocktown Bites food tour, recently commandeered and resurrected by Hotel Madison, ticks all of those boxes. For a moderate fee ($49), I can sample (and the samples are larger than you’re imagining right now, I guarantee it) several dishes and drinks from multiple restaurants, get a full belly, try something new, get in a nice walk and learn some local history, be surrounded by good company, and feel good about how I’ve spent my money. As one Rocktown Bites guest said, it’s a way you can get that Taste of Downtown experience in smaller portions. Love that idea!

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On the day of our tour, we were probably all wondering whether we’d see rain, sun, snow, sleet, hail, hurricane-force winds, fireballs falling from the sky, lava, or even a rip in the space/time continuum because VIRGINIA’S WEATHER WILL NOT CALM DOWN… but at the stroke of 1:30 when the tour started, the sun was out and we were somehow all appropriately dressed and all was fine.

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Rocktown Bites food tours start at the Hardesty Higgins House, which houses the Harrisonburg Visitors Center. Brandy, I, and eight or nine other “food tourists” met tour guide Eddie Bumbaugh there, where he explained that the HH House was built in the 1850s, started by Higgins and finished by Hardesty, who was Harrisonburg’s first mayor. In addition to the educational Valley Turnpike Museum, Virginia Craftsmen Showroom, and Civil War Orientation Center, the HH House also offers a great gift shop and the Heritage Bakery and Cafe. Our fellow food tour guests hailed from as far away as Texas (!) and ranged in age from infant to grandparent. I’d like to pause here and tell whoever is the mom with kids on our tour that they were SO well behaved the whole three hours. The tour itself is not a long walking distance, and there is ample time at each stop, so patrons of all ages can feel comfortable and accommodated. Truly family friendly.

Earlier I referred to Eddie Bumbaugh as the tour guide, which he was. But he is a next-level tour guide. Eddie served as the Executive Director of the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance for ten years, ushering in very important changes to downtown that we all enjoy today, and now he serves as the Public Relations Director for Hotel Madison. As such, Eddie knows every inch of downtown Harrisonburg and seems to know the inside scoop frequently, too. You’ll learn a great deal about our Friendly City along the way, and Eddie can answer most any question you might have. Eddie spoke a little about each place we’d stop on our International Foods tour, and then we headed out.

First stop: Taj of India. This restaurant is located near Jess’ Downtown and I can attest from previous experience that their lunch buffet can’t be beat. If you want to expand your Indian food horizons, please choose a day this week and get in there for lunch. They purposely go light on the spice on the buffet so you can customize it to your taste. At Taj, we were presented with naan straight from their clay oven, succulent chicken skewers, momo (steamed chicken dumplings), and vegetable fritters. We sat at a large table and passed gorgeous platters of food to one another while the chef spoke to us about each dish.

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[It’s important to note that all the restaurants we visited on this day can and do accommodate vegetarians and people who don’t eat gluten. When you sign up for the food tour, just mention any dietary restrictions you have and you’ll be taken of, no worries at all.]

Next, Brandy and I were thrilled to be back in Beyond again, one of our favorite places and the site of so many fun experiences we’ve had together, from birthdays to consolation sessions to blogiversaries and costume parties, First Friday openings, end-of-school celebrations, and absolute feasts after spending a day on the river. This place has fed our souls and bellies well, and today was no exception. Praserth served us pineapple cheese wontons with pineapple salsa, their famous craving-inducing meatballs, a fresh and light vegetable roll, and an exclusive roll (just for the tour!) made with grilled salmon, cucumber, onion, and Sriracha mayo. Beyond turns 10 this September (woot!) and in case you didn’t know, the same folks own and operate Taste of Thai (it’s on 42 S), which has been open almost twenty years. Harrisonburg just wouldn’t be Harrisonburg without these two restaurants and the precious people who run them.

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Destination #3: Cuban Burger. Cuban Burger has one of those menus where there’s not a single item you don’t want. Every single plate, burger, and sandwich is exquisitely prepared, fresh, juicy, flavorful, and just decadent. Cuban Burger had humble beginnings, though. At first they were just a tiny food operation housed in a small wine shop/tasting room. Ultimately the wine shop vacated and Steve Pizarro (owner) snatched it up. Steve met his wife Shami, who co-owns the restaurant, years ago when she was leading Rocktown Bites food tours. The two of them greeted our sprightly group with several delicious samples: the Cuban Chop Chop salad, the original burger served on a gluten-free bun, the classic and town favorite El Cubano, Yucca Frita con Salsa Verde, and flan (which was someone’s grandmother’s recipe and the silkiest thing ever). We also got to try their Papa Doble cocktail — the “Hemingway Daiquiri” made of  white rum, maraschino liquor, simple syrup, lime, and grapefruit. AND, CubanBurger will soon offer margaritas on draft! First in the city!

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While we nibbled away (yes, that is a euphemism. We were totally pigging out.), Shami commented on the genuine cooperation that occurs among the downtown restaurants, and we have noticed this before, too. Our restaurants love to collaborate — tap takeovers with local breweries, breweries collaborating with food trucks, all restaurants pitching in for huge events like the Downtown Dinner Party (coming up on May 18), the annual Taste of Downtown, participating as First Friday art venues… there is way more cooperation than competition. Harrisonburg is special like that, and we are all better for it. As the conversation shifted to some of the photos and artwork on the walls, Steve talked about his family’s life in Cuba and how his parents got out of there via “Operation Peter Pan.” It’s really cool to get to know the people behind the food you’re eating, and Rocktown Bites food tours are a great vehicle for such interaction.

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Our fourth stop was such a treat: Boboko Indonesian Cafe. Mark Mitchell, who co-owns the restaurant with Chef Ridwan, guided us through one glorious delicacy after another. It’s amazing what they can produce in that tiny kitchen — everything that comes out of there looks like it could be on the cover of Bon Apetit. The entire place is small. The dining room seats maybe twenty people, and tables are positioned close to one another to reflect the importance of community and food in Indonesian culture. If you happen to go there and can’t get a seat, don’t let that stop you. Get the food to go and walk yourself up the ramp to Pale Fire Brewing. Or order from Pale Fire and Boboko will deliver it to you! Easy peasy.

A large colorful map of Indonesia hung on the wall right in front of us, and before long, Chef Ridwan was telling us about Indonesia. I was surprised to learn that Indonesia is the 4th most populous nation, comprised of more than 17,000 islands, and representing 580 different languages. Chef Ridwan immigrated from a small village in Indonesia and became a US citizen two years ago. He and Mark worked on this restaurant for ten years before opening it. That is a long time, but their careful planning has paid off.

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We got to try the fried spring roll and the rice paper summer roll, both filled with fresh vegetables and served with a sweet soy peanut sauce. Then we ate a salad of mango, cabbage, and cucumber, followed by a tempeh skewer and a chicken satay skewer and homemade soy sauce.

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We swung into the Green Hummingbird for our 5th stop. This fair trade boutique is another great place to consider next time you’re buying a gift for someone. I was hypnotized by the selection of gorgeous scarves. And I think I touched every single one of the little handmade change purses. They also carry products made from upcycled leather, like belts and wallets. Of course, they have a huge variety of women’s clothing, handbags, and jewelry, all made by artisans across the globe who’ve been paid a fair wage for their work. Before leaving, we got to try coconut-wrapped rice cookies from Thailand. During the entire tour, the hosts at each stop talked about where their food comes from, where their clothing or jewelry comes from, and how they are honoring time-old traditions while engaging in a level of sustainability that is important right now.

From the Green Hummingbird, we continued south on Main Street, heading toward our 6th and final stop: Hotel Madison. On the way we passed several houses where college students live, and it happened to be St. Patrick’s day weekend, so you can imagine the scene. Kids everywhere, lots of green, balconies being pushed to their limits, music of all kinds, laughter and good cheer. We locals walked on through like it was just another day in the Burg, but I had to wonder what the guests from Texas were thinking.

We arrived at Montpelier and were greeted by Matt Caruthers, who told us about the scrumptious food that would finish our tour. We got a big ol’ plate of Montpelier Nachos with their signature bourbon bbq smoked brisket and that amazing queso blanco, a couple of pots of Loaded Mac (loaded with tomatoes and bacon), and a gorgeous charcuterie composed of assorted cheese, meat, house-made chutney, pickles, honeycomb, flatbread, and more. Montpelier has a few events coming up: they regularly host art workshops (there’s one coming up on the 13th and 28th); they’re having an Easter Brunch on the 21st featuring a Southern buffet feast and appearances by the Easter Bunny, Mickey, and Minnie Mouse! They have Social Hour Monday – Thursday at 5; Date Night on Wednesdays; and they’re in the process of putting together an open mic night.

burgIMG_6687burgIMG_6710burgIMG_6705burgIMG_6704burgIMG_6700burgIMG_6698Other things we learned about from Eddie along the way, either while walking or dining (don’t worry, no spoilers!):
~ the currently controversial story of the Harrison House,
~ the story of the Spring House and what purpose that spring served in Harrisonburg’s early days,
~ the municipal building,
~ the Joshua Wilton House,
~ Rosetta Stone and Jenzabar,
~ the history of the Ice House,
~ the Farmer’s Market,
~ the Smith House and what’s cool about its location,
~ the Elks Lodge, a.k.a., the vineyard that never was,
~ how a 15 year old became Clerk of Court and then governor,
~ and Richard Dreyfuss’ wedding.

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None of us wanted the tour to end, but we managed to stand up and waddle out of there anyway. If you’re interested in taking a Rocktown Bites food tour, they’re offered every single Saturday from now through November, with special Culinary Arts Tours offered on First Fridays. You can register and pay online; then all you have to do is loosen your belt a couple notches and show up hungry!

Copyright © 2012-19 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

 

get IN the comfort zone: hotel madison and montpelier restaurant & bar.

Some people travel frequently, for work or for pleasure. Others rarely venture out and travel only for very special occasions. Whichever category you fall into, and whether you’re staying in a hotel for one night or one month, comfort somehow takes on a new level of importance. A quality mattress, technology like Wifi that prevents irritating interruptions to your life, plenty of hot water for your morning shower, a satisfying meal, and access to coffee are simple things we take for granted at home but are glaringly obvious when missing. It’s like we all turn into the Princess and the Pea and notice every little discomfort.

Harrisonburg’s newest hotel, Hotel Madison, takes every measure to ensure their guests are, at the very least, comfortable. Brandy and I know this first hand, because we got to spend a night there checking out all it has to offer!! And we’re gonna break it all down for you, right now.

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Then, Now, and Beyond

Hotel Madison has been in the works for years, starting with a local developer and JMU graduate from Bergton. Although the hotel has a 50-year land lease from JMU, it is privately owned and financed by investors. Designers from P3 Design Collective operated around four words when envisioning the hotel’s style: subtle sophistication and rustic elegance. This vision touches every inch of the place, from the southern style seating in Montpelier Restaurant and Bar and the sharply dressed lobby, to simple and clean adornments in the 230 guest rooms and suites.

Unlike many chain hotels, Hotel Madison is deeply invested in the local community and mindful of its impact on Harrisonburg and the Shenandoah Valley. Hotel Madison collaborates with JMU’s Hart School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management by providing classrooms, offices, and on-site academic instruction to students pursuing a degree in hospitality management. To put this in perspective, 45 schools in the United States offer this kind of partnership, and JMU’s Hart School is the only one with on-site classrooms at a hotel.

Another way Hotel Madison thought of the Harrisonburg community during its planning was to make sure to honor the recently approved Northend Greenway’s path by allowing extra space on the MLK Way side of the hotel. And, the hotel is certified Virginia Green. Hospitality businesses who earn this distinction have shown that they’re reducing their carbon footprint by adopting a host of environmentally friendly policies (such as not offering plastic straws, using recyclable carryout containers, and even installing electric car charging stations in the parking deck). Director of Public Relations Eddie Bumbaugh hopes to install solar panels in the future. For now, the hotel will be hosting the Virginia Green Annual Conference in April. One last note about partnering with the local community: DECA students at Broadway High School are currently designing a “Keys to the City” perks program specifically for Hotel Madison. Hotel guests will be able to show their room keys at various local businesses and receive a discount or reward of some kind.

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Eating and Drinking

I realize it’s entirely possible that you skimmed/scrolled right on past the first section of this article just to get to the food photos, and I don’t blame you one bit. Shew doggie, we ate til we couldn’t see straight.

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We opted for an early-ish dinner (okay, Golden Girls early – 4pm) at Montpelier Restaurant and Bar because Brandy needed that gorgeous sunlight to fall in perfect slants on that gorgeous food. When we arrived, we were presented with two appetizers prepared by Chef Ryan Youngman: the Montpelier Nachos and the Fried Green Tomatoes (more of that southern charm!). The nachos’ secret ingredient that makes them better than all other nachos combined is Bowman Bros Bourbon BBQ smoked brisket. Along with the smoked queso blanco, serrano chiles, black beans, slaw, avocado, and pico, we found it extremely hard to stop eating them. The portion is ample (and that’s a euphemism for “How do I eat this whole thing without the other customers noticing?”) and served on a really pretty live edge wooden pedestal. The Fried Green Tomatoes with tobasco aioli, roasted corn, cilantro, piquillo peppers, and cotija had a kick I wasn’t expecting but was just right nonetheless. Our cocktails arrived in festive mason jars, and the long, sexy bar with its 3-inch granite anchors the space.

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We also ordered the Seafood Pappardelle with scallops (SO TENDER), shrimp, Virginia crab, house chorizo, roasted peppers, charred heirloom tomatoes, and foraged (!) mushrooms; the New York strip (could not have been cooked better) with two sides of our choice — we chose loaded mac and crispy Brussels sprouts; and one more appetizer, because why not? The Goat Cheese Brulee with a big beautiful hunk of local honeycomb right in the middle of it.

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The restaurant has a private dining room named for Dolley Madison that you can reserve for large groups or events where you need privacy. On the Main Street side of the restaurant is the coffee bar serving Chestnut Ridge Coffee. This is a full-service coffee shop with coffee drinks, smoothies, pastries, and the like. All of this — Montpelier Restaurant, the bar, and the coffee shop — is available to the general public AND to hotel guests alike! So yes, this can be your new happy hour or morning coffee spot!

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Other little things that make this restaurant and bar special:
• There’s a charging port at every seat.
• There’s a communal table in the center if you’re alone or just want to meet someone new. You could also spread out your laptop there.
• They reserved space for some loungey, comfortable seating in between the bar area and the dining room. I mean, really, they want you to be comfy.
• The coffee shop accepts the JAC card and is right there next to campus, students!

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Making the Most of Your Stay

Sure, you could leave the hotel and walk to a zillion awesome downtown locations, and Hotel Madison would totally endorse that decision. But let us show you what you can do inside the hotel. (And by the way, we did these things right after eating a giant meal at Montpelier.)

You can go burn it off in the Fitness Center, lol.

All kidding aside, this is a really nice fitness center for a hotel. Multiple cardio machines, plenty of weight lifting machines, plus dumbbells, medicine balls, and mats. And with several TVs and fancy A/V equipment on the cardio machines, you don’t have to forego entertainment to keep your mind off of how much your thighs burn.

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Then you could go to the salt water pool. A large garage-style door lets in tons of natural light and opens onto a sunny patio.

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You can take a relaxing bath in your clean and modern hotel room bathroom. I’m almost six feet tall and fit in there just fine!

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Or you can hang out by the fireplace in the lobby and indulge in a little snack or drink at Quills Casual Dining.

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Hotel Madison’s mezzanine offers more lounging space and a long wall for art work. Hotel Madison is one of the First Friday gallery locations — not only will they showcase local art, but local musicians will fill the lobby with live music.

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Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop. There you’ll find lots of JMU apparel and merchandise (hats, keychains, ornaments, for example), Shenandoah Valley shirts and hats, wine glasses, leather coasters made by Lineage Goods, Shirley’s Popcorn, Route 11 Chips, Warfels Chocolates, and other snacks and beverages, some of which in biodegradable packaging. Soon to come: products from Blue Ridge Dog.

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What Else?

Other notable features include a Business Center should you need some office time, complimentary valet parking in the Mason Street deck (and this is for hotel guests AND Montpelier Restaurant and Bar customers!), and tons of space on the north side of the hotel for conferences and other large groups. There are three ballrooms, the Madison Boardroom, and the Blue Ridge Room. The carpet in the Grand Ballroom is actually an aerial view of the Shenandoah Valley.

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Down the hall from our room on the 7th floor is the Presidential Suite. This 2-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom apartment (1546 square feet, y’all) sleeps 6 and is perfect for folks who are here for an extended period and want to be able to cook their own meals and feel right at home.

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Ya didn’t think we left there without having breakfast, did ya?! We stuffed ourselves with Griddled French Toast Sliders with vanilla custard, peach jam, whipped cream, and pure maple syrup…

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… the Shenandoah Breakfast, which is two farm eggs any style, house potatoes, toast, and your choice of house thick-cut cherry smoked bacon, country style pork sausage, chicken apple sausage, or Edwards ham steak…

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… AND the Blue Ridge Sandwich, a perfectly gooey concoction of griddled ham, house cherry smoked bacon, fried farm eggs, and Hoffman smoked cheddar on buttered ciabatta!

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You might be saying to yourself, “This place is amazing, clearly, but I already live in Harrisonburg. Why would I want to stay at Hotel Madison??” Well, you don’t have to. But think: next time you have relatives coming in whom you really don’t want in your house, you can direct them to a very nice hotel and not feel bad about it! Or maybe your college buddies are coming in for Homecoming festivities. Or maybe your employer or organization wants to hold a conference of some kind. Or maybe you’re getting married and need a venue that can do EVERYTHING — the wedding, the reception, and the lodging! Or maybe you just want to have dinner and a nice glass of wine. They’ve even initiated a reward points system to encourage folks to leave their usual hotel chain and stay in a local, green, community-minded, modern, and gorgeous new facility.

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Mark Your Calendars

February 14 – 16: Valentine’s Dinner. Montpelier Restaurant and Bar will be serving a Valentine’s Tasting Menu including 5 courses and optional wine pairing. Reservations are encouraged. The menu will be available Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night.
February 22 – 24: Winter Wine Weekend. A learning, tasting, experiencing weekend dedicated to wine and the transformative grape. This is a one of a kind event, for beginners and connoisseurs alike featuring seminars, speakers, wine and culinary events, wine films, a blending workshop and more.
March 4 – 10: Taste of Downtown. Montpelier Restaurant and Bar is excited to participate in Taste of Downtown this year! Watch their Facebook page for details.
– Monday through Friday, 3 – 6pm is Happy Hour at Montpelier Restaurant and Bar!

Thanks, Eddie!

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Copyright © 2012-19 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

foolin’ around: secretly y’all at pale fire.

burgimg_5276I’m a sucker for a good story. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” is a favorite short story. The unique narrative structure of David Lynch’s allegory The Straight Story. The cry-your-eyes-out despair of Crazy Heart. Even The Carrot Seed — one of my favorite stories from childhood that has a total of 101 words. But these stories have been painstakingly drafted and crafted for weeks and months; they’ve had multiple editors, revisions, and iterations. There is ample room for error with anything polished and published, because there’s ample time to make it perfect.

Oral storytelling is a whole other beast. Impromptu, barely-rehearsed, no-notes-allowed storytelling in front of an audience is downright HARD. And scary! And watching such unrehearsed, potentially disastrous performances stirs up a weird anxiety for me. I get the same feeling when I watch The Office and I can sense that Michael Scott or David Brent is about to say something really bone-headed. I get nervous with the storyteller while simultaneously excited to hear their tale.

So Brandy and I were nervously giddy to attend Secretly Y’all’s oral storytelling event at Pale Fire a couple weeks ago. Secretly Y’all is an outfit out of Richmond that has been hosting storytelling events since 2009. They give 50% of their cover charge ($5) to a local organization. On this evening, that organization was the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Child Day Care Center, which serves 80 children in our community and has been doing just that for almost 48 years. FORTY-EIGHT YEARS!!

burgimg_5289Here’s how a Secretly Y’all event works. They announce an event with a particular theme and put out a call for storytellers on that theme. Not professional storytellers; just local folks who’ve had some really weird/interesting/inspiring crap happen to them and are the perfect mixture of charming + awkward + genuine (+ brave!). Those people tell the best stories. Local folks answer the call and sign up. Secretly Y’all publishes a “setlist” (the list of people who have signed up), and they tell their stories in front of a live audience at some local venue. The fine print: the stories must be true, less than 7 minutes long, and told without the aid of notes.

At this particular event, the theme was “Bamboozled.” Stories about being fooled or tricked or deceived. The setlist included six brave souls, and after their performances, the Secretly Y’all organizers passed around a hat so that audience members who had worked up some courage (or had a couple beers) could share their stories, too! Okay, on to the storytellers!

burgimg_5294After the introductions and explanations of the rules, the show began. Up walked Sylvia, sporting sweet tattoos and a Standing Rock tee shirt, to deliver a story entitled “God or Not.” Having grown up in a mixed faith family, she felt bamboozled by all the conflicting messages she received about religion, God, prayer, and the afterlife. She recalled praying about becoming a boy, which didn’t happen. Later, a salamander she thought surely was dead pulled a Lazarus and she thought, “Methodist prayers work! I’ve just been doing it wrong all this time!”  The climax of her story felt like an action/adventure movie with representatives of all her family’s religions converging on her uncle’s funeral to fight over how it’s done.

Thankfully time has a way of softening the edges of those experiences that cut us open in the past. Though her story was delivered with humor and a light heart, I’m sure the experience was very confusing for Sylvia as a child, reminding me that a child’s world sometimes consists of reality as they understand it + some imagination to fill in the gaps. Functional magical realism, I suppose. Which brings me to another story of the evening: “Boredom and Appendicitis,” by Roddy.

burgimg_5319His story started with his wonder and awe about…. basically anything. Living in a small town, he frequently found himself bored and would get excited about something as simple as hail. One time a tornado was heading straight for his town, and he understood that to be something dangerous, but he didn’t really know exactly what a tornado was. In the storm cellar, the wind created a sort of pecking noise, and his magical realist brain deduced that a tornado must be a bird. A giant, hungry, mean bird that would just swoop down and carry off the whole dang town! But more exciting than the tornado was the time his sister landed in the hospital to have her tonsils removed. What a wonder the hospital was! He just had to get back there somehow. But how? He decided to fake appendicitis so he could stay in the hospital. I kid you not, he actually faked his symptoms well enough that the doctors operated on him, and when they got in there to remove the appendix, it looked fine… so they did exploratory surgery looking for what could possibly be causing all this excruciating pain! And he has the scar to prove it, which he showed us. Unbelievable. He bamboozled everyone.

We also heard a story from Jon, who was bamboozled along with his friend into couch surfing in Albuquerque in what he thought was friendly territory. Almost immediately after they arrived at this house, things turned hostile. There was an explosion outside, someone smashed up the trash cans at the curb, and then two complete strangers burst through the door and demanded that Jon “smoke what’s in this pipe.” In true Indiana Jones fashion, the two escaped by rolling under the garage door, throwing their luggage in the car, and hauling ass to a Walmart parking lot, where they managed to sleep with one eye open. Sheesh!

burgimg_5313Lauren’s story was a bit less violent, but she did get bamboozled by a cat, which might be just as bad. And hers was just as much a love story as it was a story about cat pee. In 2009, she was living in her first ever house with a number of cats. Her boyfriend came for a visit and remarked that the guest bathroom had a really strong ammonia odor. The litter box was in that bathroom, so Lauren assumed that was the explanation. Upon closer inspection, however, Lauren discovered that the pipe under the sink was FULL of cat pee, which had corroded the metal and blown a hole in it, causing said cat pee to drip all over the place inside the cabinet! So Lauren and her doting boyfriend cleaned out the cabinet, and he replaced the damaged pipe. But, why the heck was a cat peeing in the sink, and which cat was it?? To discourage the little deviant from peeing in the sink, Lauren filled the sink with water, which seemed to work. But she asked herself, “Am I really going to live my life like this?” And one day, out of the blue, as she walked past that bathroom, Lauren saw one of the cats sitting on the toilet. To this day, that cat still pees like a human, and Lauren married her boyfriend.

burgimg_5330Sometimes we’re bamboozled by urban legends. Storyteller Eric believed his whole life until not long ago that you might die if you didn’t wait 30 minutes after eating to get in the pool. He also recalled, as a teenager, shaving 4 or 5 times a day because he believed it would grow back thicker every time he shaved. And 23 years ago he learned from a Simpsons episode that toilets flush in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere. He wowed lots of people with this interesting nugget of knowledge! Unfortunately, it’s just not true. We feel you, Eric. I guarantee you someone reading this right now is having an uncomfortable epiphany.

burgimg_5300The last storyteller on the “set list” was Andy, whose bamboozlement takes the form of messing with other people. For example, at the bank one day, the teller remarked on the strange weather, and Andy baited her: “Yes! I hear it’s caused by…El Zorro.”  There was a long silence, during which the teller must have decided she couldn’t restrain herself. “Sir, I think you mean El Nino.” Andy did it just to see what her reaction would be. But his best example of bamboozling others was the time he decided to drive through the toll booth with a whoopie cushion and let out a “bleating fart” right at the moment he handed the attendant his payment. Approaching the booth, his mind juggled all the moving pieces of this fandangled plan, and instead of stepping on the brake to slow his roll and unleash the cushion, he stepped on the accelerator, lurched forward, and HIT THE TOLL BOOTH! And then the cushion farted, but I don’t think the attendant heard it because she was quite upset and yelling, “Get out of here, crazy!” He didn’t even pay the toll.

During the intermission, the Secretly Y’all folks passed a hat around and allowed spectators to drop their names in if they decided during the show that they’d like to share a story. The same rules apply for these storytellers: a true story in no more than 7 minutes with no notes. Three lucky folks were selected for the second half of the show.

burgimg_5360Grant told a story called “The Knights of the Golden Horseshoe” in which he and some friends were hanging out at Finnegan’s Cove, when this kid in the rowdy group next to them started messing with them. Things were escalating, and after the group left, Grant and his friends decided to go track this guy down. They found him at a particular frat house and intimidated him by calling themselves The Knights of the Golden Horseshoe. It seems they put that guy in his place! Only… that wasn’t the guy. They were at the wrong house. The guy they were after was actually arrested the next week. They saw him in Crime Times, lol.

The last story of the evening warmed our hearts and made us laugh. Jolynne described a time she was bamboozled in a very good way. Jolynne is the director of some children’s services at JMU, and she entered the Gus Bus in a contest to win $75,000 from Chick-fil-A. Weeks and weeks went by as the contest dragged on, and there came a day that she had a scheduled meeting with a colleague about something or other… only the colleague was actually planning on delivering the prize that day! But, Jolynne’s office happens to be in a new JMU building that is quite confusing — multiple entrances, none of which look like a main entrance, labyrinthian hallways leading to seemingly nowhere… so the colleague, accompanied by balloons, a giant check, and someone dressed in a cow costume, wandered around in the parking lot trying to figure out where to go. And Jolynne watched all this unfold from her office window, simultaneously wondering why the heck there was a cow in the parking lot and where in the world her colleague was! Finally everyone found each other, Gus Bus got $75,000, and all was well.

burgimg_5316If you want to witness or be a part of the next Secretly Y’all show, there’s another one coming up in March. Keep your eye on the Pale Fire and Secretly Y’all Facebook pages for the deets. Also — Pale Fire is now selling annual live music passes: $32 gets you admission to all live music events in 2019 (excluding fundraisers and benefit shows, for obvious reasons). You can buy one in the tap room or online. AND, Harrisonburg-Rockingham Child Day Care Center would love your continued support. You can make a donation to them at any time or set up a recurring donation online, and watch for their next big fundraiser, Dancing with the Stars, later in 2019. With support from the community, HRCDCC will hopefully raise enough funds for the daycare to finally move into its “forever home” in downtown Harrisonburg.

See you out and about!

burgimg_5272Copyright © 2012-19 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

eat like a burg: downtown dinner party.

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For fifteen years, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance has been working to restore vitality to our history-rich downtown and turn it into the economic and social center it used to be. Millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours later, Harrisonburg residents and visitors can enjoy living, working, playing, eating, shopping, and beer-ing in buildings and streets that were largely empty when I first moved here 25 years ago.

A Great American Main Street Award recipient, Harrisonburg can show other localities a thing or two about challenging suburbia and its glut of corporate-owned chain businesses and getting money back in the local coffers.

One way HDR has paid for all these improvements is through fundraisers. To be honest, that word — fundraiser — makes me cringe a bit. No one likes to ask others for money. No one likes being asked. HDR has a knack for raising money from generous folks who also get something great in return at events like Valley Fourth, the Friendly City Fortune, Skeleton Fest, Rocktown Beer and Music Festival, Renaissance Night, and more. Brandy and I got to attend the newest event — the Downtown Dinner Party — and it did not disappoint. Even the Turner Pavilion put on its fancy duds — long elegant drapes, plants and floral arrangements (from Fine Earth Landscaping and The Wishing Well), and string after whimsical string of twinkle lights. I heard many people refer to the evening as “enchanted” and “fairytale” and “magical.” Yes, the end result might have been magical. But the months of organizing this event involved no wands or potions — just innovation, grit, and sheer will.

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It started as a crazy idea, pitched to HDR by Jen Sodikoff and Kirsten Moore of Sub Rosa Supper Club. If you’re not familiar with Sub Rosa, it’s a secret supper club that (roughly once a month) hosts fantastic gourmet dinner parties for 24 people. Guests pay a flat fee, find out only the day before where the dinner party will be, and have no idea who else will be there until they arrive. Then they gobble up a five- to seven-course upscale meal, washed down with cocktails and wine and coffee. Bellies are filled, friendships are formed, and a professional photographer captures it all. Got it? Now multiply what I just described by twelve. (And a half.)

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Yep. Kirsten and Jen, over the course of several months, recruited and met with fifteen local restaurants to coordinate dinner for 300 people. Kirsten, you may or may not know, is behind The Hub Coworking space which won the Virginia Main Street Best Business award a couple years ago. Before that she owned and operated the food tour business Rocktown Bites and catering outfit Taste. Jen’s immense management, marketing, and event planning experience (she’s currently the Revenue and Marketing Manager at the brand new Hotel Madison) and hardcore can’t-NOT-do work ethic made this new endeavor a deliciously accomplishable challenge for them both.

Okay, let’s get to the food because GOOD GAWD I want to relive it!

Some of the restaurants represented that evening are new to Harrisonburg. Urgie’s Cheesesteaks, who have basically taken over Harrisonburg’s cheesesteak game, served up their authentic Philly Cheesesteaks with onions, peppers, mushrooms, cherry peppers, pepperoni, Griffin’s hot sauce, American cheese, provolone cheese, and — spoiler alert — Cheez Whiz. Hotel Madison chefs Michael Collins and Brian Bogan offered smoked + sous vide pork belly, pickled foraged ramps, with a damson plum gastrique, charred ramp bbq, and popped sorghum berries. Is your mouth watering yet?

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Chef Dilli Dangi of Taj of India brought warmth and comfort with his Chicken Malabar — chicken with coconut cream, Indian spices, onion, and garlic, served with rice and a clay oven-baked garlic naan. If you haven’t had their lunch buffet yet, gimme a call and I’ll join you. And new to Harrisonburg’s bakery scene is Bittersweet Bakery. Pastry Chefs Erica Ray and Alicia Barger presented a beautiful and delicious Ginger Blue-Barb, a ginger cremeux with blue-barb compote, white chocolate and a blueberry crunch. And Shirley’s Gourmet Popcorn was not going to miss this party! They brought their Cheddar Pretzel Ale, Polar Pop, and Afterburner varieties, made with non-GMO kernels from Green Acres Farm in Dayton. Whoever said you shouldn’t snack before, or through, dinner obviously hasn’t tried Shirley’s.

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It was fun to see whether Harrisonburg’s “old dogs” had any new tricks. Turns out they did! Matthew Clancy and William Bleeker of Clementine/Ruby’s Arcade showed up with an impressive five-spice beef brisket with shiitake mushroom slaw, wasabi aioli (I mean, daaaaang), sticky rice, chili gastrique, and shaved nori, served with a frisee, citrus, and endive salad with toasted almonds and goat cheese. Somehow, all these things worked together in an exceptionally delicious way. I ran into Kevin Gibson at that table and I literally saw him drool. Straight out of his mouth. Bella Luna’s chef Jacoby Dinges pulled out a much simpler but equally delicious spiced lamb hand pie that was the crispiest, butteriest thing ever, filled with succulent spiced lamb, currants, spinach, and feta.

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It was great to see the Friendly City Food Co-op in the house — Melissa Lapp prepared a light and refreshing radish and quinoa salad with mint, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese. In addition to usual grocery store items (which, by the way, come from more than 150 local vendors), FCFC offers bulk items like dry beans and spices AND a fantastic deli and hot bar where you can get a surprisingly fresh and delicious lunch.

When I saw Thom Metroka of The Artful Dodger serving up artisanal French toast, I was first a little surprised since this was a “dinner” party… but good grief, how many of us have been at the Dodger late enough that it was practically time for breakfast?? So it made sense. And it was absolutely dinner-worthy: fresh hearth bread with a fruit compote, whiskey maple syrup, whipped cream, and nuts. On a side note, the hearth bread came from Bella Luna. I love to see these supportive collaborations among local restaurants.

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Chef Cameron Grant of Union Station Restaurant & Bar brought his Louisiana roots to the dinner party with his alligator sauce piquant containing alligator tale and smoked andouille sausage, highlighted by tomatoes, green pepper, onion, and celery, and served over rice, a perfect warm-up when the sun was getting lower and the wind was growing cooler. Old dog Jacktown (Billy Jack’s/Jack Brown’s) REALLY stepped out of its usual game with Chef Mike Sabin’s Jacktown Poke, a beautiful and flavorful dish featuring Hawaiian big eye tuna, macadamia nuts, hijiki, avocado, shoyu, and sesame oil. Not sure they’ll add this dish on their regular menu, but I predict it would be a big hit. Maybe they can make it an occasional special and Aaron can wear his Captain Stubing outfit again.

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Even Harrisonburg classic Tim Richardson of Pulp Organic Acai Bowls and Smoothies whipped out a new sensation: the Vegan Acai Cheesecake, with a date and walnut crust (and perfect cheesecake-to-crust ratio, I might add), cashew and coconut milk, mixed berry sauce, and cacao nibs. Amanda Cannon, owner of one of my fave’s Food.Bar.Food, also brought dessert: an Irish chocolate milkshake make with Kline’s ice cream. Kline’s uses an old-school continuous freeze method that results in an exceptionally smooth and creamy product, perfect for blending into a milkshake. And Kline’s makes their ice cream every single morning so it’s as fresh as it can get. The “Irish” part of the milkshake was housemade Irish cream. All the cocktails being passed around that evening also came from Food.Bar.Food: a sparkling rose with roasted rhubarb-strawberry sorbet, a hibiscus ginger greyhound, and an Indochine soda mocktail with lemon, ginger, and Thai basil syrup.

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And rounding out the restaurant offerings was Chef Isaac Coles of Jimmy Madison’s Southern Kitchen and Whiskey Bar, serving his Hand-Pulled Mozz Caprese with whole wheat focaccia, perfectly sweet-tart rhubarb jam, Turner country ham, and basil grown right on the roof!

It’s worth noting that all of these restaurants and chefs make every effort to use ingredients that are local, fresh, and high quality. That night, we ate products from 18 local or very nearby producers, including Seven Hills Food, Golden Angels Apiary, Edgewood Farm, Wayside Produce, Season’s Bounty Farm, Green Haven Farm, Main Street Farmstead, Turner Ham House, Woods Edge Farm, Wade’s Mill, Autumn Olive Farms, Virginia Vinegar Works, Hickory Hill Farm, Radical Roots Farm, North Mountain Produce, Mt. Crawford Creamery, Virginia Distillery, and Green Acres Farm.

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Also in the house were Bluestone Vineyard serving a chardonnay, a vidal blanc, and their 2015 Market and Main, Old Hill Cider pouring Yesteryear, four Harrisonburg breweries (Pale Fire, Restless Moons, Brothers Craft Brewing, and Three Notch’d), and coffee drinks from Black Sheep, Broad Porch Coffee, and Shenandoah Joe. As I milled about, eating and drinking, it struck me that this is like, you know, having a friendly potluck dinner at your house. Everyone brings something to share.  Except in this case, all your friends are professional chefs with access to amazing ingredients, a wealth of knowledge and experience, and exceptional talent. Miles and miles and miles beyond a crockpot of meatballs, y’all.

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I was so distracted by all the tastes and smells surrounding me that I didn’t notice the cute little photo booth at first. The Rosy Co. mobile photo booth is a bright red 1968 Shasta Lo-Flyte travel trailer outfitted with a camera, a bunch of props, and a printer. All night long, guests of the dinner party enjoyed getting in that thing and being silly, sexy, or serious and were thrilled when they got to take their photos with them for free! You can rent this adorable vintage photo booth for your event, too. It’s great for outdoor events and the rental fee includes free prints for everyone. If your event is indoors, you can opt for the open air photo booth, which can accommodate larger groups than the trailer.

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The musical stylings of Ryan Clark provided the soundtrack for the evening. While everyone was eating, his original piano compositions filled the pavilion, punctuated by laughter and conversation and excitement.

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You know, this evening IS starting to sound magical, but we can’t forget the reasons for this event: to celebrate HDR’s 15th anniversary AND to raise funds for their continued efforts. It was time for the auction, hosted by auctioneer John Puffenbarger. Each announcement of an auction item brought hoots and cheers from the crowd — seriously some of the most unique auction items I’ve ever seen, and ALL LOCAL. Local items made by local people being used to raise money for local initiatives. It’s a new level of local. It’s, like, meta-local. Auction items included a beer-brewing session from the Friendly Fermenter where you get to leave with your own unique beer accented by a custom label created by Matt Leech. Pottery sensei Kassy Newman offered a 25-piece pottery set plus six private lessons for four people!! If you haven’t seen her work, you must.

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Mossy Creek Fly Fishing and Jacktown owner Aaron Ludwig donated a full-day fishing trip for two, dinner at Jacktown, and a free night in the all-new Jacktown loft. AND there’s beer in the fridge waiting for you. !!! How about a private Off the Eaten Path Ride and Dinner for ten? This bike-to-farm-to-table event was generously provided by Dusty Burchnall. Next up, an item from event co-planner Kirsten Moore, Amy Nesbit, and Taste catering — a day enjoying the Shenandoah River followed by a low country shrimp boil and gourmet s’mores around the firepit. Other outdoor items included a farm-to-table dinner for twelve at Second Mountain Farm accompanied by live music from The Walking Roots Band, or a 3-hour plein air painting lesson from local artist Erin Murray at Showalter’s Orchard, plus a French picnic provided by Heritage Bakery and Cafe.

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Not feeling so rugged? Hotel Madison and the Arts Council teamed up to donate a private 8-person dinner prepared by chefs Collins and Bogan at the Smith House Gallery with music by Mark Whetzel. The Romantic Downtown Getaway, provided by Hugo Kohl, Local Chop & Grill House, and the Joshua Wilton House, starts with AN ACTUAL PIECE OF JEWELRY! Put on your new sterling silver and blue sapphire bracelet and take your hungry self + 1 to the Chop House for a fantastic dinner, followed by a night at our beloved Joshua Wilton House. What a treat!! Rounding out the auction items was something that got all the Dukes in the crowd pumped up — twelve football tickets to the season opener in September, parking passes for tailgating, and Urgie’s Cheesesteaks catering just for you!

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After the auction, Ryan Clark stood up from the piano and put on his DJ-ing hat, spinning vinyl while we all spun on the dance floor. Sometimes, there are no words.

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Things were winding down. Everyone was feeling exhilarated and exhausted and joyful and a bit sweaty. Maybe Ryan felt we were all too hepped up to get any sleep that night, or maybe he thought we’d never leave if the music kept playing, or maybe he was just inspired by the energy in that moment, but his piano serenade at the end of the night was pretty magical. Everyone fell silent and just listened, buzzing with connection.

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What the HDR team and the Sub Rosa Supper Club were able to create using only locally- available resources was not “magical.” It was not lucky or superhuman or miraculous or even unbelievable. It was innovative. It was intelligent, creative, intentional, and inspired. It was meticulously planned and organized by a group of smart, dedicated individuals willing to commit to a large project and donate their time and goods and services to their community.

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Innovation is not new to Harrisonburg. I remember when Calhoun’s first opened. I thought, “Holy cow, we have a BEER FACTORY right downtown!” It made Harrisonburg unique. And since then, lots of folks have introduced all kinds of innovative ideas, products, services, and experiences. Like Harrisonburg’s new Pedicab. New shopping experiences at Agora Downtown Market and Bring Your Own. New art experiences like Art Lotto and the Super Gr8 Film Festival. New community initiatives like the Northend Greenway and improved bike lanes. I can buy beer at a movie theater, and there’s a living, breathing permaculture community on the north end of town, Vine & Fig. All because people had an idea and worked hard to make it happen.

If you missed the Downtown Dinner and would like to contribute to the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, you can do so in multiple ways. You can purchase Downtown Dollars — gift certificates that can be redeemed at many downtown locations. Keep your dollars local! You can also by a Friendly City Fortune raffle ticket — $100 buys you a chance at winning cash, a vehicle, a vacation, a shopping spree, and more! Or you can just click the big ol’ Donate button and give what you can!

The next HDR event is Valley Fourth. See y’all there!

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Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

 

a little rough and ready: the shack.

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When you arrive at The Shack on Coalter Street in Staunton, please do not expect it to be something else.

It is a shack.

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It was a very windy day.

It sits somehow level on a hilly street, its numerous layers of paint no doubt cutting in on its already scant square footage. Mismatched light fixtures illuminate mismatched chairs, and no one is fooled by that bright red rug — it does not hide the haggard concrete floor.

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What you see is what you get at The Shack, with no coy pretenses or disguises.

Take the artwork: real, actual photos of the chef’s (Ian) wife’s (Leslie) grandmother’s (Tissy) family. These faded, haphazardly hung, mostly out-of-focus runes of memory will carry you to a previous reality: one of corded phones and Corning cornflower coffee percolators and hideous plaid pants I think everyone my age was forced to wear at some point. Grandmother Tissy’s home in Swope, Virginia, was nicknamed “the shack,” and this modern iteration reflects all that is real and true about her life and her Southern and Appalachian cooking.

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What you see on the menu, and on your plate, is what you get, too — no hidden chemical warfare or unpronounceable ingredients that’ll blow holes in your coronary artery or cause a processed-food hangover the next day. Despite the size of the building (room for roughly 26, not including the patio space), the menu is by no means skimpy or lacking variety. And it changes frequently, sometimes day to day, depending on the availability of local ingredients and what’s naturally in season, which Chef Boden makes a point of integrating into the eclectic menu. Brandy and I ordered four items (two starters and two main dishes) and shared everything. First up: Creamed Ramps on Toast with lardo and a fried egg. Ramps are a variety of wild onion/wild leek that have an oniony and garlicky flavor and are used widely in Appalachian cooking. Such a simple recipe… but all the ingredients were so fresh that the flavors shouted on full blast.

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For our second appetizer, we didn’t know what to choose, so we asked them to bring us the prettiest one, lol. Out came the Salmon Gravlox with barbecue beets, benne seeds, goat’s milk yogurt, mandarinquat, trout roe, and dill. It was definitely pretty, as you can see, but the taste! Those flavors! The dill contrasting with the mandarinquat, the creaminess of the yogurt with the tender salmon! And the barbecue beets —  what the heck? The beets are smoked and then dehydrated and chopped into little bits. Sort of a beet jerky. Sooooo good.

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For main dishes, we had to try the burger, topped with cheddar, schmaltz roasted onions, bacon, and black garlic mayo. The Shack gets its beef from a co-op, and this particular grass-fed, black angus beef came from Monrovia Farm in Westmoreland County. The Shack cuts and grinds all its meat on the premises. Our burger arrived in a rectangular metal tray next to a giant heap of fries and it was gone in a flash.

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The other entree we chose was the Monkfish Schnitzel with soft boiled egg, arugula, mandarinquat, and lime pickle aioli. Honestly, this was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Firm texture but not tough. Perfect ratio of breading to fish. Crispy without being greasy or dry. And that freaking lime pickle aioil — I want it on everything now.

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At this point we were thanking our lucky stars we were wearing things that were high waisted or just shapeless. No room for dessert, unfortunately, but that Apple Sorghum Bourbon Fry Pie with thyme custard was damn tempting.

To give you an idea of the variety available at The Shack, the rest of the menu included Fried Mortadella Sandwiches, Country Pork Cracklin’, Chestnut Spaghetti, Squid Ink Rigatoni, Southern Fried Quail, Wild Blue Channel Catfish, and several other items. They offer 30 (!) varieties of wine and cider, including the Ferreira Late Bottled Vintage Porto that was DELISH, and five beers from Full Steam, Alewerks, Champion, and Port City. All in that teeny tiny shack and that tight space of a kitchen.

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On your way out, you can snag some candy, stored in old Cafe Du Monde coffee cans, a Shack tee shirt, or a sticker. Chef Boden also sells two varieties of homemade southern-cuisine inspired Sorghum sauces. The Sorghum BBQ sauce is a mustard-based sauce with a kick, and the Sorghum Hot Sauce will heat up whatever you’re eating with serrano and ghost peppers! You can order these online, too, and soon, Black Sheep Coffee in downtown Harrisonburg now sells both of these sauces!

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So, here’s your to-do list.
1. Get out your planner and choose a date to go to The Shack.
2. Visit their web site to make a reservation. You can also call them.
3. Put on some loose-fitting clothes and go stuff your face.
4. Bring some sauce home with you!

The Shack is open Wednesday through Saturday 5 – 9pm and Sunday 10:30 – 2.

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Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

 

trash talk: bring your own.

Sometimes I get really discouraged about the state of our planet. We have made a huge mess, plain and simple. Our selfish, profit-driven actions have killed entire species, polluted entire oceans, destroyed entire ecosystems, and threatened all manner of life, large and small.

And we’ve all seen how hard it is to enact environmental protections and regulations on industries that harm the environment. It’s excruciating how slowly change happens, because 1) you can’t legislate morality, and 2) as long as we put profits over people (and nature), pipelines will exist. Carbon-based fuels will exist. Gas-guzzling SUVs will exist. None of that will change until we, collectively and globally, put the health of the planet at the top of the priorities list.

Until that magical day, it’s all about personal choices. And one relatively new business in town has placed control back in the American consumer’s hands by providing easy access to better, more eco-friendly choices. It’s called Bring Your Own, and it’s a literally shining example of zero-waste living.

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Yup, that gleaming 1975 Airstream trailer parked between Taj of India and Jack Brown’s holds dozens of ways you can reduce the amount of trash you generate. On average, Americans produce 4.4 pounds of their own personal trash every day. To me, that sounds like a staggering amount, and it is, but really it’s no surprise considering how many disposable items can be found in the average household. I’ve always tried to be conscious of how much junk I’m throwing in the trash, but sometimes I get numb to what’s in front of me. After visiting Bring Your Own, I went home and really looked around at what my 4.4 pounds is made of, and I think I can make some changes. For example, packaging. Thirty-two percent of municipal waste is packaging. It’s not even the thing inside the package, which might also be disposable! And how many times have you ordered something online, and it arrives in a box inside another box with a giant plastic air bladder? Ugh. We can do better.

Here’s just a sampling of what owner Allie Emerick sells in her shop:

• Bamboo toothbrushes. Apparently we throw away 850 million plastic toothbrushes every year. !!! Allie sells toothbrushes with biodegradable handles and recyclable bristles.

• Diapers. More than 27 billion find their way to the landfill each year. Thirsties brand diapers can be washed and line-dried and used over and over.

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• Feminine hygiene products. A woman uses upwards of 14,000 disposable fem-hy products in her lifetime. Or, she can stock up on GladRags brand pads and a Lunette menstrual cup and drastically reduce her trash!

• Cups and bottles. Geez, do we ever have a disposable beverage container problem. Twenty-five BILLION styrofoam cups end up in the landfill every year… and that does not include paper/cardboard cups. Plus 2.5 million plastic bottles get trashed every HOUR! For heaven’s sake, buy yourself a bamboo coffee cup and a stainless steel pint  and take ‘em everywhere you go!

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• Razors. Can you believe we throw away 2 billion disposable razors every year?? Allie’s got a great selection of razors and shaving accessories.

• And by the way, bring your own dang bag/jar/container when you go to Bring Your Own! A TRILLION plastic bags are thrown out every year, and they’re only used for an average of 12 minutes each. This makes me want to puke a little bit. Allie sells bags, too: shopping totes; wet bags that are handy for wet swimsuits, dirty diapers, toiletries; produce bags; soap bags; and “ditty” bags for organizing items in larger (reusable) containers. This is a way you can NEVER use a plastic bag again.

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Sunday is Earth Day, and I’m issuing a challenge. Commit to one new eco-friendly action every month for a year. Ditch plastic bags altogether. Use a metal razor. Switch to a biodegradable toothbrush. Install LED bulbs. Trade your disposable water bottles for some kind of filter system. Purchase more environmentally responsible shampoos, soaps, and detergents. You could make it a First Friday thing. Head downtown to see the new artwork, and swing into Allie’s place for your latest eco-upgrade.

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She’s got some books for sale in her shop about eliminating plastic from your life and reducing the amount of waste you produce, and here are some additional resources to help you identify changes you can make to your lifestyle that you can sustain:

From The Guardian

From Real Simple

From CNN

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Bring Your Own is open Thursday – Saturday 11am – 6pm. It’s also a First Friday art venue, and Allie hosts interesting events from time to time. In fact, Saturday (4/21) she’s having an Earth Day celebration with sales and giveaways. Here’s the itinerary:

~ 12:00-5:00 Light snacks/refreshments will be provided by Friendly City Food Co-op. Please plan to BYO cup/bottle for beverages.

~ 1:00-3:00 The City of Harrisonburg will have staff on-site to answer questions about ongoing environmental initiatives and share specific information about: the residential stormwater utility fee credit application process, rain barrels, red osier dogwood whips, and the new recycling center.

~ 1:00-6:00 Native plants will be available for purchase from the Natural Garden.

~ 3:00-4:00 Don’t miss “Ecological Gardening: Niche Work If You Can Get It” with Wick from the Natural Garden.

~ 4:00-5:00 Composting Workshop with Eric from Black Bear Composting. Learn how to compost in your backyard and/or with Black Bear!

Talks/workshops will be held outside the store as “standing workshops.” Please bring your own chair if you would like to have one! See you there!

burgIMG_4780Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

what moves you: valley art mobile.

Recently a very fine and beautiful thing happened. Harrisonburg got a new mural. A seven-member youth design team comprised of Harrisonburg teens collaborated with local artist Sarah Hade to create a mural. The youngsters told Sarah what they wanted the mural to be and to mean, and Sarah helped them turn their ideas into an image. Then, those youngsters plus other members of the community showed up and painted it! AND THIS IS HOW IT TURNED OUT!!!

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“Art is a language we all speak.” Indeed!

Yes, there are still a few minor touch-ups to be completed, but WHAT A THING OF BEAUTY!

So where’d this brilliant idea come from? The Shenandoah Valley Art Mobile, that’s where! You didn’t know it existed? Well, that’s because it’s a brand new initiative headed up by five incredible people: Emily Reese, Leons Kabongo, Leah Gingerich, Maressa Cortes, and Amelia Guido. Their plan is to fundraise through this summer and buy a sweet school bus. Tear everything out of that sucker and furnish it with tables and stools, a projector and screen, two sets of sinks, supply storage, and a drying rack. This renovation phase could take a year to complete. Once mobile, the bus will travel to neighborhoods in Harrisonburg and provide weekly one-hour art lessons to kids after school! Later they’ll expand programming to include retirement community members. Art for all ages! Until the bus is ready, the team will simply travel to different locations and lead art activities.

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Now then, they’re still fundraising. Here are some options for you: attend the May 12 Music Festival at Brothers Craft Brewing — watch the team in action as they lead a community art activity and make a donation! You could also attend their fundraiser May 26 at Pale Fire. There will be a dessert competition featuring local pastry chefs (OMG), plus a food truck, live music, a photo booth, face painting — it’ll be a grand party! Keep your eyes open for other fundraisers and fun events. Can’t make it to one of these events? Donate online! Strapped for cash? Maybe you could volunteer with the bus renovation! They’ll need help in all of these departments: electrical, lighting, plumbing, welding, flooring, cabinetry, heating/cooling/ventilation, insulation, and solar energy. And the 100% free option: help promote this initiative. Tell your friends, your coworkers, people you know who could help out or make a donation. That’s what social media is for, people!

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Let’s all get behind this project and help “bring art to where it’s not!”

Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

gaining ground(s): black sheep coffee.

burgIMG_4552Remember when Black Sheep Coffee was tiny? It was so cute, this little fledgling coffee shop testing the water in downtown Harrisonburg. The barista was also the cashier; money changed hands on the same sliver of countertop as coffee was served; and you were freaking lucky if you were able to get a seat in the itty bitty internet cafe area. Another reason for the cuteness is that Black Sheep’s wife, The Yellow Button, was right next door! That’s right, Black Sheep and The Yellow Button are owned by Harrisonburg’s power couple, Chance and Miranda Ebersold. But after a while, relationships change. The Yellow Button wanted some new scenery, and Black Sheep Coffee needed space. So the two businesses separated. Don’t worry: Chance and Miranda are still very much married (with two children who make their story even MORE adorable)… they just work a couple blocks from each other now.

So Black Sheep was able to stretch its legs into the old Yellow Button space, and WHAT A DIFFERENCE! Now, directly in front of you when you walk in is the cashier — she’ll take your order. The baristas at the old counter on the right will make your crafted espresso drink, drip coffee, or pour-over and serve it to you there. And you’ll have MULTIPLE seats to choose from. There are a couple of cozy areas with armchairs and coffee tables and chess sets and such, plus a looooong counter along the wall of windows on the left side of the place. They even installed a counter and stools around a concrete pillar in the middle of the space, maximizing the number of folks they can seat. And, the old Yellow Button dressing rooms are now cute little cubicles for when you need to buckle down and get something accomplished. There’s even space for a Multicade arcade-style video game.

burgIMG_4555burgIMG_4545burgIMG_4500Their food selection expanded with the space. On the Sunday we were there, the pastry case held biscotti, banana bread, cinnamon buns, oatmeal creme pies, sundried tomato pesto goat cheese wheels, Nilla wafer cupcakes (!!), grapefruit pound cake, vegan powerballs, scones, cookies, muffins, donuts, coffee cake, quiche, and veggie pies, ALL of which are made in house, and some of which are gluten free and/or vegan. PLUS, they have a made-to-order menu, too! Breakfast and lunch, including items like salads and paninis. And if you don’t want coffee, you can get Rishi brand tea or a soda — they carry Fentiman’s, Maine Root, Harmony Springs, and Blenheim.

burgIMG_4566burgIMG_4560burgIMG_4541burgIMG_4532burgIMG_4521burgIMG_4514burgIMG_4505All this new space allows them to sell some retail items, as well. They have Chemex supplies and coffee mugs, plus bags of coffee like Mudhouse, Bob & Tom’s, Lone Oak, and Red Rooster. The newest addition to the shelf are sauces from The Shack in Staunton — Sorghum BBQ Sauce and Sorghum Hot Sauce, made by Chef Ian Boden. Miranda and Chance were so impressed with the sauces when they tried them at The Shack that they just had to bring a whole bunch back to share with Harrisonburg.

Get into Black Sheep soon! Order something fresh and stay a while. There’s plenty of room for ya.

Black Sheep Coffee is located in the Ice House building, 217 S Liberty St, and are open every day from 7am – 7pm.

burgIMG_4509Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

underground society: the friendly fermenter.

burgIMG_3222I remember my dad’s basement fondly. On one side, his workshop. I remember spinning the pin on the vise clamp — open, shut… open, shut. Sometimes with a Barbie perilously squished inside. Other times holding a piece of wood Daddy asked me to sand for probably no purpose at all. All his screwdrivers and hammers and wrenches hung on hooks, arranged neatly in rows by size, with every square inch of space on the pegboard used to its maximum potential. I remember little olive or pimento jars of nails and screws and pins and such. I remember a lot of sawdust.

On the other side of the basement sat a ping pong table and a sofa, flanked by boxes of Christmas decorations, outgrown clothing, National Geographic magazines, and mementos. Mom and Dad would hold neighborhood cocktail parties and inevitably, the party would migrate to the basement, as parties are wont to do. Unfortunately I was still little when we moved from that house and I never had the distinct pleasure of “drinking in Dad’s basement,” but I’m sure he threw back a few.

The Friendly Fermenter, Harrisonburg’s first brew-on-site brew shop and nanobrewery, feels like your dad’s basement and also a little like Cheers — you can see people’s feet through the window as they traipse down the stairs and into the taproom. A large L-shaped bar with TVs and big barrel tables, made by owner Shawn and his dad, fill the space, with shelves on the side holding the brewing supplies: beakers and tubes and thermometers, scales and long-ass spoons and all the ingredients you could need. Staring at all that science lab stuff was intimidating, but then I found out that The Friendly Fermenter offers a variety of classes and on-site brewing sessions to help demystify brewing for the average Joe or Jane. In the on-site brewing workshops, participants leave with five gallons of beer they’ve brewed themselves!

burgIMG_3253burgIMG_3225burgIMG_3224The Friendly Fermenter uses a one-barrel brewing system which produces 2 – 4 kegs at a time. For this reason, their selection changes frequently. On the day Brandy and I were there, they offered seven beers. We ordered a flight and tried them all. First was The McGary, an Irish Stout. It’s your classic smooth stout with an ample head and full flavor. I admit I was not looking forward to the next beer, the Fudge N Beer Choco PB Porter, simply because I’m not a fan of what I call “dessert beers.” They’re just so sweet. But this one possessed a decadent richness without excessive sweetness. It still tasted like beer. GOOD beer.

burgIMG_3237burgIMG_3239The Woof! Russet IPA was more malty than other IPAs if that’s the end of the IPA spectrum you enjoy, unlike the Waning Light APA which to me seemed hoppier. Both were fantastic.

Next was Lily of the Valley — an Irish blonde named after Shawn’s daughter, with a grassy, earthy flavor, followed by Brehfuss Blonde Coffee Stout. Yes, a blonde coffee stout. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked at the glass — how is this sunny light thing a STOUT?! I also couldn’t believe my nose — when I smelled it, it smelled like a hot steaming cup of coffee. Or as Brandy put it, “like a holiday kitchen.” That holiday feel might come from the homemade vanilla extract incorporated into this brew. Brehfuss inspired a short respite from the flight during which we theorized about how extracts are even made, and we imagined desperate 1950s housewives boozing it up on high-price vanilla extract when the cooking sherry was all gone. The flight rounded out with The Bee’s Knees Honey DIPA, a flavorful yet mild beer with a light sweetness, supple like a bee’s knees might be.

burgIMG_3259burgIMG_3241In addition to the classes and supplies and delicious beers, The Friendly Fermenter hosts live music pretty much every Friday and Saturday, including The Lamp Man on April 5, Damn Four on April 6, and Crop Circle Conspiracy on April 7. If you were planning on cleaning out your own basement that weekend, don’t bother. You’ll find all you need at this one.

The Friendly Fermenter is located at 20 S Mason St, Suite B10 (they share the building with Lafah Cafe) and are open Monday 5 – 7pm, Tuesday and Wednesday noon – 9pm, Thursday – Saturday noon – 11pm, and Sunday 12:30 – 8pm.

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Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

love nest: gray jay provisions.

burgIMG_2721A chef walks into a sandwich shop… and creates something Harrisonburg hasn’t had before.

You might notice the light first, streaming in through the wall of plate glass windows. To the right you’ll see the glory of a 1950s living room, an old console stereo flanked by handsome books and two mid-century chairs. Local artwork compliments the simple, uncluttered space. It’s the perfect place to grab a sandwich and hunker down with your laptop or a good book, or meet a friend for food and conversation. It’s Harrisonburg’s newest: Gray Jay Provisions.

burgIMG_2605burgIMG_2611burgIMG_2675Both a market and a sandwich shop, Gray Jay has what you need if you’re hungry now or will be later. On the market side, there are dry provisions and chilled provisions and provisions for every occasion. Like charcuterie provisions. And I’m-Not-Sure-What-To-Bring-To-This-Party provisions. My-In-Laws-Are-Coming provisions. Or I-Just-Need-A-Damn-Bloody-Mary provisions.


burgIMG_2720burgIMG_2685They’ve got crackers and salami, assorted vinegars and oils, multiple flavors of Backpocket Provisions Bloody Mary Mix. They’ve got mustard and honey and cheeses and sausages. Prosciutto spread and jars of kimchi and curtido.


burgIMG_2703burgIMG_2680burgIMG_2628They’ve got Gearharts chocolates and Tate’s Bake Shop cookies, Field Trip brand jerky, veggie burgers, and ice cream. And a wide selection of Grown Up Sodas, Maine Root sodas, and Fentimans botanically brewed sodas.


burgIMG_2695At the counter, you’ll see their small but sophisticated and thoughtfully designed menu. It changes with the availability of fresh, local ingredients; on the day we were there, they offered a roasted tempeh sandwich with sweet potato, pickled red onion, and mushrooms; a sliced pork sandwich with sweet potato and kimchi; a line-caught tuna sandwich with caper aioli, pickled red onion, and arugula; a baked tofu sandwich with shiitake aioli and kimchi; a chicken confit sandwich with herb mayo, arugula, and pickled red onion; and a sunflower butter open face sandwich with honey and
crème fraîche. On the side, they offer tots, chick peas, and soup — that day, lentil and creamy tomato. Gluten-free bread and vegan options are always available.

burgIMG_2656burgIMG_2645burgIMG_2643burgIMG_2640burgIMG_2636All sandwiches are served on their house-made sourdough bread. This sourdough goes back a long time. Its starter is a blend of co-owner Michelle’s starter from Austria, created from wild airborne yeast and spring water, and co-owner Seth’s starter. The bread holds up to the demands of a hefty sandwich, yet gives easily between the teeth. And you can take a loaf of your own home with you: $6 for a small loaf and $9 for a large. And when I say large, I mean it’s the biggest dang loaf you’ve ever seen in real life.

One Saturday per month, Seth gets to flex his culinary muscles in pop-up dinners with wine pairings. After learning to cook in his mom’s kitchen, Seth worked as a sous chef and head chef  in high-end restaurants in Boston for 14 years. Michelle’s passions lie in the intersection of centuries-old food traditions of cultures around the world and today’s need for sustainability achieved with local and seasonal ingredients and organic growing methods. Together they conjure dishes that are delicious, creative, and responsible. Indeed, their menu items boast simple yet integrated flavors not found at your usual sandwich shop.

burgIMG_2699burgIMG_2616In case you’re wondering about the name, the Gray Jay is a mascot of sorts. While reading about this little bird, I came across words like friendly and loyal, clever and playful, tough. An apt mascot for Seth, Michelle, and Soula, who embody all these traits and work them into everything they make. Trust me: you’ll go in for a sandwich and come out with something spectacular.

Gray Jay Provisions is located at 1311 South High Street in Harrisonburg, and they’re open Monday – Friday, 11am – 7pm. Follow them on social media for menu updates and be sure to join their mailing list so you’ll be informed about events like their pop-up dinners!

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Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

a walk of art: cupid crawl 2018.

burgIMG_1733Valentine’s Day sometimes gets a bad rap. Hailed as a “Hallmark holiday” by cynics around the globe, some people refuse to acknowledge it. School children far and wide begrudgingly drop cheap perforated cardstock Disney-sponsored sentiments into the hands of classmates they hardly know. Or like, for that matter. And for many, the day only serves as a reminder of failed romances. <sigh> I hear you. But six years ago, Valentine’s Day took on a new dimension for Brandy and me. It was the day we started this blog, and since then our focus has been to show all of you how smitten we are with our community and everyone in it. Once we started actively looking for things we loved about our town, we saw them everywhere.

Spend even a short while strolling through Harrisonburg and you’ll see countless manifestations of lasting love. The communion of souls that takes place Saturday morning at the Farmers’ Market under the roof of the Turner Pavilion. Sandwich boards lined up along the sidewalks welcoming residents in for some rest and comfort. Welcome Your Neighbor signs proudly displayed in storefront windows. Vibrant murals painted on faded structures to remind them they’re still loved. In Harrisonburg, it’s like every day is Valentine’s Day.

We were thrilled, therefore, that we got to spend this Valentine’s Day celebrating Harrisonburg’s art scene by attending the Cupid Crawl. Hosted by the Arts Council of the Valley and led by local superwoman Laura Thompson, the Cupid Crawl is a delightful stroll to five downtown locations for art, artist talks, and refreshments.

burgIMG_1837.jpgThe Crawl began at the Smith House, home of the Arts Council of the Valley and its two galleries. Executive Director Jenny Burden welcomed guests and spoke about the Advancing the Arts Grants available to organizations, art educators, and artists working in the visual, performing, and literary arts. These grants help expand the arts in our community, to the tune of $350,000 over the last ten years. As guests mingled and nibbled on appetizers, the Harrisonburg Harmonizers treated us to some old fashioned crooning about lasting love, their voices filling the 150-year-old Smith House, a building  loved so much it was moved to its current location on the back of a truck! Before long, it was time to hear from the evening’s featured artists, Frank and Janet Marshman, whose amazing art collection adorned every wall in the place. Having started their collection in 1972, the exhibit showcased 45 years of art representing 21 artists including Paul Strand, Imogene Cunningham, Olivia Parker, Emmet Gowin, Michael A Smith, Sally Mann, and others. Sally Mann, a Lexington, Virginia, native, has an upcoming show in DC of about 100 prints.

burgIMG_1777burgIMG_1784burgIMG_1786burgIMG_1780Frank, who owned the Untitled Gallery of Fine Photographs in the late 70s, talked about his lasting love of print photography and its place in the modern era of digital everything. I loved hearing the Marshmans explain that most of this artwork has been stored in boxes for years; they lovingly dusted off the old prints, had them framed at the Frame Factory, and now here they were, refreshed and alive, hanging on the walls of a restored building. Frank and Janet have spent their lives loving art. As Frank said that evening, “If you don’t support the arts, nobody will.” And just like that, Laura was getting our attention and instructing us to move along to the next location: the Wilson Gallery at Kline May.

burgIMG_1804Appetizers and drinks from Beyond Restaurant Pho and Sushi greeted us, flanked by striking drawings, ceramics, and sculptures by three artists. Despite loving it here in the Shenandoah Valley, Danielle Heckman, an artist from Pennsylvania, still yearns for home. Her artwork represents homesickness and the act of relocating, depicted by what she calls “the containers of moving,” such as the sack of embroidered letters. Somehow the idea of embroidering letters makes the letters more permanent, preserved for ages, objects of lasting love.

burgIMG_1815burgIMG_1829burgIMG_1845burgIMG_1813Mallory Burrell’s “The Migration Series” includes seven drawings depicting animals on a migration caused by habitat destruction: a fox carrying squirrels and butterflies; a bunny whose ears are covered by his passengers — flowers, caterpillars, crickets; a kaleidoscope of butterflies carefully transporting a honeycomb to its new home; everyone doing what they can out of a lasting love for the planet. Shouldn’t we all.

burgIMG_1824burgIMG_1821burgIMG_1820Our third stop, Shenandoah Joe, provided a pick-me-up of coffee and cookies from Bittersweet Bakery and featured artist Natasha D’Souza. Natasha spent a period of time in Bethlehem and the Jordan Valley documenting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territory and various human rights violations on the West Bank. She was trained to do this — to use her camera to hold people accountable, to make them “play fair” in war. Her exhibit, “Candid Lessons in Conflict,” depicts elements of an occupation spanning 50 years and includes themes of existence and coexistence, access to worship, demolition and violence, education and children’s rights, and resilience.

burgIMG_1870burgIMG_1862burgIMG_1883burgIMG_1880Heading back out into the night, we hung a right at the corner and walked a couple blocks to Hess Financial. This charming historic building showcased the bright, colorful works of Pam Tittle and Janet Lee Wright in their joint exhibition called “Sweet Stories.” Pam’s works of watercolor, pen & ink, and acrylic are teeming with life. Critters of all assortments plus bread and coffee, pastries and dessert — symbols of life and a life well lived! I couldn’t help but notice how her works hanging on the wall interacted with the delicious pastries and treats from Heritage Bakery and Cafe on the table. Pam and her husband moved here from Maryland in 2010, and that’s when her work as an artist really began. She had her first solo show that year at Clementine, and now she organizes group shows in Harrisonburg regularly. Even more exciting, last year she illustrated a book called Jeremy and the Light (available on Amazon)! All in just eight years! It just goes to show what can grow in a fertile community.

burgIMG_1913burgIMG_1915burgIMG_1923burgIMG_1936Art is a relatively new pursuit for Janet Lee Wright, too. This retired librarian started painting at age 60 with no training. Her works on this evening represented the people and animals she loves. Again I was reminded of lasting love: lasting love in the various stages of plants that she paints and in her time-stopping portraits that last a lifetime. Of particular note is a painting of her parents based on a photo she took in 1962 — her parents have been married more than 70 years!

burgIMG_1958burgIMG_1931burgIMG_1962burgIMG_1965burgIMG_1991At our fifth and final stop, Larkin Arts, we were swiftly handed a “Downtown ‘79” — a night cap of bourbon, sours, and Betwixt cider, garnished with an apple peel — to sip while we viewed stunning pieces of art featured in the Regional Juried Show. The 32 pieces in the show were judged on mastery of technique, execution, presentation, and conceptual realization. More than 150 works were submitted for consideration, and it was no easy task for Paul Somers and Valerie Smith to decide which made the cut. While it’s an arduous process, Paul described it as “sacred” and valuable because it requires the deep contemplation and discussion of the merits of each piece. When done properly, the curation results in a situation where “staring at something that’s not moving” turns into something quite moving.

burgIMG_2025In addition to being an art gallery and store, Larkin Arts is home of Meridian Books and Games, run by Morgan and Vince Paixao. Several artist studios fill the spaces in the rear of the shop, and the store hosts countless classes for students of all ages throughout the year. I could’ve stayed at Larkin all night, and that’s no exaggeration: Valerie told us to stay as long as we wanted. And so even though the art tour officially ended, our Valentine’s Day love buzz did not.

burgIMG_2048burgIMG_2027Thanks to Jenny, Cate, Laura, and these awesome businesses for making the Cupid Crawl possible and for continuing to support creative art initiatives. Stay tuned for lots more from our beloved Arts Council!

~ Bittersweet Bakery, The Golden Pony, Heritage Bakery and Cafe, Beyond Restaurant Pho & Sushi, Wilson Downtown Gallery at Kline May Realty, Shenandoah Joe, Hess Financial, and Larkin Arts ~

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Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

fine tuning: many nights ahead and david wax museum.

Copy of burgIMG_1437During the hours prior to the David Wax Museum/Many Nights Ahead concert at Court Square Theater, Brandy and I had been talking about the usual random insignificant crap, like that Brandy likes to read with the show Friends on in the background so she feels like she’s reading in a coffee shop, and the fact that the entire left side of my body is smaller than the right. But somehow the conversation morphed into something much grander. We talked about recommitting to personal goals and progress, about staving off the inertia that smothers our spirits during winter. It’s a force that pins me to the sofa and makes me feel guilty for wasting time. For me, I think it’s about more than just laziness and comfortable sweatpants. Fear lives in there somewhere, coupled with loneliness. So we talked about courage… where it goes… where to find it… how to get it back. Having unknowingly primed our hearts and souls for that night’s performance, we arrived at Court Square Theater, shook off the winter chill we’d accumulated all day long, and settled in for a great show.

Copy of burgIMG_1428Court Square Theater has brought us such delightful events as the Super Gr8 Film Festival, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Valley Playhouse productions, tons of Oscar-winning films, and more. This night’s performance, part of the Arts Council of the Valley’s Music Series, was sponsored by Capital Ale House, James McHone Jewelry, WMRA, and the Stonewall Jackson Inn, whose contributions will provide a string of amazing concerts in 2018.

Many Nights Ahead warmed us with nine songs that ranged from nostalgic to lonesome to just foot stomping wild. Amy’s throaty and panoramic voice sang to us about “dancin’ like fools by the river” — finding happiness in what’s simple. Band mates Bucky, Walker, Dan, and Ross arranged themselves in a circle to hammer out a long and multi-layered instrumental number written by Bucky, the type of song that’ll carry you someplace else if you close your eyes. Talent is not something you can fake in a live performance, and this piece, “Bucky’s Break,” would most definitely shine a light on any and all shortcomings. There were none. Each instrument — the banjo, the dobro, the guitar, the bass — sang its part with perfect clarity. When Amy’s not singing, she conducts the band with arm motions and hair swings.

Copy of burgIMG_1457Copy of burgIMG_1487Some folks were visibly surprised when this young bluegrass band unleashed Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” but honestly, Amy’s voice is made for this song (sorry, Bill). And I have to wonder how long she’s been singing it. Like, did she hear it in her mom’s car in middle school and then sing it into her hairbrush? Because it sounds like she was born singing it. This choice of song also shows that “bluegrass” is not an adequate label for Many Nights Ahead. Sure, they play bluegrass instruments, but there’s blues in their soul and funk in their feet, laced with some old time gospel.

Copy of burgIMG_1467Copy of burgIMG_1506My favorite song of the evening was “Train Bound to Nowhere.” I think we’ve all ridden this train at some point. It’s about being “all alone now,” losing the one you love and not knowing “what it’s like without you.” Only… we do know. We just forget how lonely we were before we found love, and when that happens, gratitude falls victim to complacency… inertia sets in. We get so numbed by what’s in front of us. Where’s the jumpstart? What’s the defibrillator?? Eventually the whole thing flatlines, and then you’re “trying to get on without you,” but getting nowhere.

Copy of burgIMG_1518Copy of burgIMG_1549Copy of burgIMG_1572After a quick intermission warranting a fresh beer, David Wax Museum hit the stage. David Wax and Suz Slezak, now married, started the band ten years and eight records ago and recently performed their 1000th show together. Between songs, they told us parts of their endearing story, like how one time in Mexico, David and Suz were just trying to get to a cantina when they got swept up in a Virgin Mary pilgrimage with thousands of people. Their song “Maria” was born of that experience. Indeed, many of their songs are influenced by their time in Mexico and Mexican folk music. They also described the early years of the band, squatting in a hovel with no heat or water, which ultimately turned into the song “Don’t Lose Heart” (Guesthouse, 2015): “no money in the bank, no gas in the tank… we’re barely afloat, I should care but I don’t,” the title wailed in an attempt to convince themselves it’ll work out. COURAGE. Then they break into cheerful na-na-nas and la-la-las with no warning at all. The early days also involved a good deal of bartering and garnered them, among other weird items, a shank of lamb, some round steak, and a 2-months-old ziploc bag of crumbled cookies. You take what you can get, I suppose.

Copy of burgIMG_1614Copy of burgIMG_1590If you get a chance to see this band live, you must. First of all, I think it’s the only place you’ll see a denim camisole and gingham pants side by side. But more importantly, their sound is so much bigger in person. Each band member plays multiple instruments, picking them up and putting them down as if switching from one language to another mid-sentence. And sometimes they play more than one instrument at a time! Suz started on the squeezebox, which is like an entire brass band in a box, then switched to her fiddle, and then jumped up on a wooden box which she stomped with her boot heels while playing the fiddle AND SINGING. David’s big voice accompanies his ukulele and guitar in perfect proportion. As individuals, they are obviously skilled and talented… but on stage together, they perform with the intimacy they sing about, both facing each other and sharing a microphone, the heat between them challenging the harsh winter just outside with lines like “Turn on the light when we kiss” (“Lavender Street,” Everything Is Saved, 2011).

Copy of burgIMG_1642Copy of burgIMG_1671Copy of burgIMG_1596David and Suz — they are poets of circumstance. The audience got to sing along with them on “Harder Before It Gets Easier” (Knock Knock Get Up, 2012), a song about “sobbing so hard you can barely breathe…stitching your heart on the outside of your sleeve,” about “being wrung out and then doused with grief,” the painful circumstances that befall us sometimes. And like the title says, it’s not going to get easier any time soon, because fate just doesn’t care. But, David and Suz remind us the “moment will be brief” and one’s burden “will lift” … eventually. Have COURAGE!

Copy of burgIMG_1706Copy of burgIMG_1591I admit there were times (during both bands)  I was enjoying the music so much that my pen slipped from my fingers and entire songs went by without my writing down a word. One of the last songs of the night was “Guesthouse,” the title track from their 2015 album, in which the speaker asks about 100 times, “Can I stay in your guesthouse?” The song describes the life of a nomadic musician, constantly searching for places to crash for the night. And maybe that’s exactly what it’s about — literally staying in someone’s guesthouse. But those of us who aren’t traveling performers might ascribe a different meaning to it. Maybe it’s about bridging the gap between two lonely souls, about finding the courage to move one step closer to companionship, about finally leaving behind whatever tragedy drove us to solitude in the first place. Maybe it’s about baby steps back to normalcy. Maybe it’s about looking at intimacy straight on.

Or maybe it’s about couch surfing. What do I know.

Copy of burgIMG_1691In short…
1) When it’s cold (outside, or in your heart, or when life is cold), be together.
2) The inertia you feel… it won’t last. It’s no match for your soul.
3) Have courage!

The Arts Council of the Valley’s Music Series will continue with The Country Gentlemen Tribute Band (date to be announced), Bethany Yarrow and Rufus Cappadocia on March 10, and Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out on March 17. Also check out the Concert to Benefit Bridge of Hope, with The Walking Roots Band and Low Volume coming up on March 2. And don’t forget to check the movie schedule — Court Square Theater gets the best ones!

See you there soon!

Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

friendly (city) TACOver: magnolia’s tacos and tequila.

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‘Twas the day after Christmas and all through my body, I wanted tacos tacos tacos. Turns out Brandy had a hankering, too, so we headed on down to one of Harrisonburg’s many awesome taco joints — Magnolia’s Tacos and Tequila.

Despite my hunger and excitement, I was a wee bit nervous. The week before Thanksgiving, while eating (ugh, I am so dumb sometimes), I knocked a freaking tooth loose. One of the itty-bitty bottom front ones. I’ve never had a dental procedure before, other than cleaning, so I was instantly terrified. The dentist determined that the tooth was not broken, but he wasn’t sure if it would tighten up on its own. We’d have to “give it time.” And if it would not tighten up on its own, he was not sure the little ridge of bone on my lower jaw was wide enough to drill into. WHAT. So if this thing didn’t tighten up, I’d be supergluing a Tic Tac in its place. Okay. Okay.

Thankfully, the tooth did tighten up (it’s still healing, really), and I got the green light to use my lower teeth to eat again. Which meant, these tacos would be the first thing I’d sink my teeth into in more than a month. Well, actually, the chicken nachos.

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Magnolia’s has a fantastic happy hour: $3 Chicken Nachos, $3 Drafts, and $3 Bartender’s Special from 2 – 7pm Monday through Friday, plus rotating daily specials. I cannot tell you how amazing it was to bite into crunchy, cheesy, spicy nachos after a month of eating crap like apple sauce. Brandy had a similar reaction and there was absolutely nothing wrong with her mouth. Big portion, all the ingredients evenly distributed… no weird skin of cheese on the very top and a big pile of plain chips underneath. We got a little of everything in every bite.

This day happened to be a Tuesday, which I think we all know is Taco Tuesday! It was like Christmas all over again. Magnolia’s offers any of their tacos for $2.50 (normally $3.25 each) with no restrictions. We ordered the Masa Crusted Shrimp with lime slaw and poblano avocado ranch; the Kelty, which is roasted sweet potatoes, lime agave nectar, black beans, sweet corn, and cilantro; and Fish Tacos, made with guajillo black pepper tilapia, red cabbage, mango pico, and poblano avocado ranch. I won’t tell you how many we ordered, but we ate every last bite and could barely move afterwards. In addition to the traditional carne asada and pork tacos, they also offer tacos with eggs, short ribs, and blackened chicken.

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Once mobile, we moved downstairs to sit at the bar. Seventy-eight bottles of tequila and one Scottish bartender greeted us, smiling. After perusing the impressive bar menu, we ordered jalapeno cucumber margaritas and Mexican mules. You could also choose mango, raspberry, coconut, organic lime, or strawberry margaritas, or other creative cocktails like the Tequila Mockingbird. All made, of course, with the tequila of your choosing. Last but not least, they offer tequila flights featuring many distilleries: Patron, Don Julio, 1800, Cabo Wabo, Lunazul, El Jimador, Casamigos, Herradura, and Tres Agaves, to name a few.

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So guess what tomorrow is? Taco Tuesday! Magnolia’s will be ready for ya!

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Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

coming soon to a belly near you: the best damn sandwich.

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In part, you can thank John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, for bringing this bread-enclosed delicacy to your life. His gambling addiction necessitated a way for him to eat one-handed so he would not have to pause his game to fool with separate dishes or even silverware. Consequently, some brilliant cook, to appease a hangry Earl, created a solution we call the sandwich. And now, you can thank Logan Strawderman, Lauren Penrod, and Mollie Randa for bringing that creation to your downtown! Lola Mo’s Delicatessen is opening SATURDAY!

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Brandy and I were invited to the private opening/dress rehearsal this past Saturday to get a much-anticipated preview of the space and the menu. Located on Newman Avenue right behind the new Yellow Button, the deli is airy and bright, reminiscent of a generations-old New York deli, what with its shiny subway tile, black and white decor, old fashioned curved display cases, and super-loud cashier yelling your ticket number (that would be Lauren). Upon arrival, I noticed the selection of crackers, pretzels, and assorted snacks and treats lining the shelves to the left. Another set of shelves holds specialty items like maple syrup, honey (lavender, and orange blossom!), pickles, olives, mustard, capers, vinegar, and these cool fruit spreads designed for pairings with cheese. Several shelves of wine reach from floor to ceiling, next to a fridge full of special-occasion sodas, like Boylan’s Ginger Ale and Le Village Sparkling Blood Orange Juice. Boar’s Head meats and cheeses (for sandwiches or bulk purchases) sit neatly in the glass cooler. The deli also features house-made pastrami (with a 7-day brine, people!), smoked tofu, and assorted rubs created by Logan Strawderman. You can get yourself a fantastic sandwich AND get the makings for a rather classy picnic, too!

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When you order, you can choose from several breads like rye, sourdough, white, or wheat. Side dishes include two kinds of potato salad (Texas or NY), coleslaw, red slaw, and Dirty brand chips. We ordered the Rotisserie Chicken Sandwich, the Cool Kids Club, the Smofu smoked tofu sandwich, and the Pam Stoke, a Buffalo chicken sandwich with slices of bleu cheese.

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While waiting for our perfectly crafted sandwiches, we mingled with all the folks who had come out to share in the excitement, including Lauren’s mom, who told me a few things… For example, ahem, when Lauren was a child, she was obsessed with cashiers. Definitely wanted to grow up and do THAT. She also created a detective agency. She demanded that her family members lose something so that she could use her keen problem-solving skills to crack the case. And, she peddled crafts door to door in their neighborhood, little things she had made herself… selling them for less than her mom had spent on the supplies. Thirty years later, Lauren owns Midtowne Market, Midtowne Bottle Shop, and co-owns Lola Mo’s. Go figure. Anyway, it was a joyful day and an even more joyful sandwich experience. The meat was savory, the lettuce fresh, the bread thick and soft with not a trace of sog… it was the best damn sandwich. I’ll admit, my son is not a big sandwich fan. But he ate the whole thing. THE WHOLE THING.

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Did I mention dessert? Co-owner Mollie Randa, a baking PHENOM,  bakes all the scrumptious desserts tempting you from the display case. Pies, scones, cheesecake, tarts, a thing called chocolate salami, and of course, the black & white cookie.

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Now, you still have to wait a few more days. I’m picturing you, skulking around outside the deli, drool bubbling at the corners of your mouths, like a wild pack of generation X’ers camping out for tickets to a Menudo reunion show. Breathe. You will be okay. The doors will open Saturday, and so will your mouth, and so will your world.
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Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

destination celebration: arts council progressive party 2017.

Copy of burgSMALL_Progressive_brandy_somers10It’s always a good sign when there’s crusted food on my notebook.

When deciding what to wear for the 6th Annual Progressive Party hosted by the Arts Council of the Valley, I made sure I wore something roomy and with pockets. Room for eating everything in sight, and pockets because everyone needs pockets, and they should not be excluded from cocktail attire. 

Upon our arrival at The Columns at Six Penny Farm, Brandy, Austin, and I were greeted on the patio and handed a cocktail, a program of events, and a bid number. The cocktail was just what this warm, humid day required: the “Art Splash,” compliments of The Golden Pony, featured vodka, raspberry liqueur, sour mix and soda, with a cherry on top. Got Strings, a three-piece strings ensemble, played softly under the portico. I took this as a good omen and couldn’t wait to see what the evening would hold. The view from Six Penny Farm of Massanutten, stippled in intermittent sunshine, was a masterpiece of a backdrop for the evening. Occasionally the peak disappeared behind a blur, and we wondered, “Is that rain?” Nope, nope, it’s just haze. “Are those raindrops I just felt on my arm?” Nope, nope, it’s just sweat. Sweat and haze. We’re going with that.

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And before we had to find out if it was indeed rain, we progressed inside the building for the second stop on this Destination Celebration!

The Annual Progressive Party, the Arts Council’s biggest fundraiser of the year, celebrates and supports the success and continued growth of the arts in our community. Proceeds allow  ACV to continue to provide First Friday art exhibits at more than 30 local venues, culturally and artistically important films and performances in the Court Square Theater, and grant money for future art endeavors.

Inside, an impressive variety of beer (thank you, Midtowne Bottle Shop!) and wine (thank you, Brix and Columns Vineyard!) lined the bar while people sipped and mingled. When the doors to the ballroom opened, revealing table after table of freshly prepared, steaming, aromatic food from eight (EIGHT!!) local restaurants, it was like Bob Barker opened the doors to the Showcase Showdown. People clapped, people shrieked (okay, maybe that was me), people gasped and gawked and drooled.

Copy of burgSMALL_Progressive_brandy_somers44Copy of burgSMALL_Progressive_brandy_somers41And then we ate. And ate. We ate all of it. We ate from A Bowl of Good, Black Forest German Restaurant, and Cafe 33. We devoured Joshua Wilton House, Oriental Cafe, and Taj of India. We gorged on Paella Perfecta and we topped it off with Nathy’s Cakes & Fine Pastries. My dress held up just fine, thank you.

While we ate, we were treated to performances by the Harrisonburg Dance Cooperative and JMU’s The Madison Project. Golly, so much talent!

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The third stop of the evening was a live auction of several gorgeous pieces of artwork and three art packages, including a case of wine from Brix and Columns Vineyard, an Art Party for 10 with Laura Thompson at Larkin Arts, and a D.C. Art Excursion! Artists who graciously participated in the auction include Denise Kanter Allen, Jennifer Lockard Connerley, Mia LaBerge, Nadia Louderback, Allison Nickens, Morgan Fink Paixao, John Rose, and Bruce Rosenwasser. Several people went home with a memento from the evening that they’ll enjoy for a lifetime!

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Copy of burgSMALL_Progressive_brandy_somers94The last stop on the journey was DANCING! DJ Finks turned it up, everybody got down, and these photos say the rest!


Copy of burgSMALL_Progressive_brandy_somers89Copy of burgSMALL_Progressive_brandy_somers86Copy of burgSMALL_Progressive_brandy_somers84Copy of burgSMALL_Progressive_brandy_somers82Copy of burgSMALL_Progressive_brandy_somers72Copy of burgSMALL_Progressive_brandy_somers66The Arts Council of the Valley would like to thank their Progressive Party sponsors. The list is LONG. Without continued support from caring businesses and individuals,  art tends to disappear from communities. I am so grateful to live in a place where art is alive and well.

Food Sponsors
Louise & Alden Hostetter
Don Albright & Earlynn Miller
Diane & David Ehrenpreis
Patricia Kidd
Laura & Paul Riner
Emily McCarty
Joanne & Alexander Gabbin
Susan & Bill Cale
Union Bank & Trust

Party Sponsors
Kathy Moran Wealth Group
The Community Foundation
Graves • Light Wealth Management Group
E&M Auto Paint and Supply Co.
JMU College of Visual and Performing Arts
Association of Property Management Services, LLC
Blue Ridge Architects
Blue Ridge Bank
Blue Ridge Community College
Brown & Co. Hair Design
Hess Financial
James McHone Jewelry
LD&B Insurance and Financial Services
The Myrias Group
Summit Community Bank
Bia Events & Decorating
The Columns at Six Penny Farm
The Daily News Record
Garrison Press
Joshua Wilton House
Larkin Arts

Event Sponsors
Larry and Kathy Whitten and the Community Foundation
Riner Rentals
Paul Somers and The Golden Pony
Union Bank & Trust
Eugene Stoltzfus Architects

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Copyright © 2012-17 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

sweet and simple: heritage bakery and cafe.

burgimg_8161You know how in old TV shows like I Love Lucy or The Brady Bunch, one character would visit her friend across the street after the kids left for school, and they’d sit together at the Formica kitchen counter and drink coffee? Maybe the hostess would whip out a coffee cake or some Danish and the two friends would leisurely laugh and chat as they sipped and nibbled, with several hours of sunny, blissful banality before them.

<sigh>
I want that.

Instead, my mornings start with the God-awful honk of my alarm clock, my hips and feet cracking as I rise from bed and stumble around in the dark, followed by a good eye rub and some Visine in front of the bathroom mirror. Next I wrench my beautiful children, dreaming of lollipops and unicorns, from their warm nests to start a new day of rushing around, yelling at my son about why he hasn’t put on pants yet and insisting to my daughter that her hair looks FINE. No one offers me Danish, and I usually don’t get a sip of coffee until I’m in the car.

But there was a morning recently where I got to visit a dear lady’s kitchen and sit with a sweet friend and languidly sip and nibble, and I felt for a moment like Betty Draper. It was freaking GRAND.

Heritage Bakery and Cafe, opened two years ago by Isabelle Treciak and her mom, sits on the first floor of the Hardesty Higgins House in downtown Harrisonburg, and the nostalgia in there is overpowered only by the smell of freshly brewed Lucas Coffee and all the goodies she’s baking that day. She admits that the pastries offered each day are dependent on her mood, but based on the selection we saw, I think it’s safe to say that Isabelle is generally happy and optimistic.

burgimg_8226burgimg_8167In her polished glass case that day was chocolate chip shortbread, hummingbird bread (banana, pineapple, and coconut), lemon ginger scones, King Kong cookies, chocolate walnut chubbies, and peanut butter chocolate sandies. She always has gluten-free options available, plus a wide selection of tea, juices, and soda, in case coffee’s not your thing. Brandy, Blake, Ella, and I ordered sticky buns, raspberry coconut bread, spinach quiche, and a spinach, egg, and Havarti cheese croissant, which we salivated over — patiently, for time was on our side that morning — until Brandy was done photographing it.

burgimg_8204burgimg_8195burgimg_8208burgimg_8200The snow lining the windows of the old building somehow made the sticky buns a little sweeter, the spinach quiche a little more decadent. Maybe because we were subconsciously dreaming of simpler times, we started talking about minimalism. A discussion of the book Everything That Remains and its documentary counterpart Minimalism (available on Netflix) led to a rant about fossil fuels and how America can’t seem to give up those extravagant habits for cleaner, more sustainable, simpler options. And this led to a slightly depressing chat about how we really could simplify our lives… find more time for rest and nature and family and love… spend less time working and running ourselves ragged.

burgimg_8169As if you need more reason to go in there, much awaits you at the Hardesty Higgins House (which my kids have called the “Higgy House” ever since they were tiny and couldn’t say it correctly). You can find hundreds of maps, brochures, and publications about the goings-on in the Shenandoah Valley, from Civil War museums and re-enactments, to the Artisan Trail, the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail (yes, please), and the Shenandoah Spirits Trail. You can watch a video about the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley and learn about various battles, battlefields, and monuments. The Rocktown Gift Shoppe offers lots of Virginia-made products like candy, food, soy candles and handmade soaps, beautiful items from Blue Ridge Pottery, assorted Valley-related apparel, and those little hiking guides Brandy swears by.

And of course, the Valley Turnpike Museum has that adorable scale model display of Harrisonburg way back in the day, before internet scams, before cars and their noxious fumes, before cell phones, before even deadlines and exorbitant debt and bad credit ratings and Wall Street screw jobs. Right now, those simpler days feel like ancient relics enshrined in a tomb… days we’ll never return to.

But for now, you can visit Isabelle and enjoy the simple pleasure of a cup of coffee and a homemade pastry served on a pretty plate. Find simplicity where you can.

burgimg_8175Heritage Bakery and Cafe is open Monday – Saturday, 8:30 – 5pm, with a monthly Sunday afternoon tea.

See you out and about!

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Copyright © 2012-17 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

a hop and a skip: swover creek farms and brewery.

burgimg_7371I was excited enough about seeing a real life chainsaw artist and drinking some new beer. I totally didn’t anticipate the beauty of the drive.

If you leave my house in Timberville and head north on 42, you’ll drive over a high ridge — a narrow ribbon with rolling farmland falling away on both sides. The naked trees of winter are no longer a visual barrier to the golden mountains in the distance, and the wind howls around your car. Onward through Forestville, Getz Corner, and Hudson Crossroads, you’ll see centuries-old farmhouses, barns, and buildings that in the suburbs would translate into “dilapidated.” Here, though, in this rocky and imperfect terrain, they are rustic, if not downright beautiful. It’s like driving through the landscape of history itself. There is something comforting about traveling over that ancient bedrock, so heavy, solid, and rooted to the earth.

When you get to Conicville, you’re close. Swover Creek Farms and Brewery, officially located in Edinburg, feels like a combination of everything outdoorsy: a little bit summer camp, a little bit ski lodge, a little bit cabin on the river, a little bit grandpa’s farm. Plus a chainsaw artist. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Lynn and Dave St. Clair started Swover Creek Farms in 1998. In 2011, the farm began producing sausages, and little by little, yet with consistent progress, beer came along — starting with the planting of hops in 2013, the nano-brewery in the old tractor garage in 2014, and then in 2015 moving into the current brewery building with a 3.5 barrel brew system. In fact, up until 2014, the land where the brewery now sits was mostly land and cows.

burgimg_7458When you arrive, you might think you’re at someone’s private residence, because that’s how it looks. You’ll see a wide front porch with colorful Adirondack chairs, a patio with a fire pit, and some dogs and kids running around in the yard. Yep, you’re welcome to bring your dogs and your children. The owners of the place are quite friendly and love company: on Fridays they host Dart Night (7pm) and the third Thursday of the month is Trivia Night (7pm).

Just inside the front door is the taproom. A long bar runs along the back wall, and comfortable seating (and a couple TVs) fill the rest of the warm and cozy (yes, fireplace) space. The large room to the right is called the “Loafing Shed.” It’s an enclosed and heated space where the farm’s cows used to hang out. This room boasts seating for nearly 50 guests, a little play area for the kiddos, two dart boards, and an 11-foot TV screen! You can access the patio from this room, and beyond the patio is a nice grassy area.

burgimg_7404So, the beer and the menu. On tap they usually have six or eight beers, like the Dirty Blonde, the Vanilla Sour Wheat, or the Nitro Oatmeal Porter. You can order a flight, fill your growler, or even join their Farmer in the Ale club and get your very own, one-of-a-kind mug crafted by SENK Pottery. Looking around the place, you might not realize how close to Interstate 81 it is. But the brewery enjoys consistent patronage from locals and from travelers passing through. We’ve all had that point on a long trip where you say, “GAHD I NEED A DANG BEER.” Plus, there are three wineries within just a few miles, which makes for a nice little tour. This is one reason why Swover Creek tries to keep a Belgian on tap — Belgians appeal to wine drinkers. Since business at the brewery is hopping, there are no plans for distribution. For now, they’re happy to be a beer destination. However, they will start bottling soon (12 and 22oz) for purchase at the brewery. Also on tap for 2017 is a non-alcoholic beer, a gluten-free beer, and “Firkin Friday,” when they’ll brew a special firkin (11 gallon cask).

burgimg_7382In the Swover Creek Farm Store and Kitchen (on the other side of their parking lot), you can buy many many many wonderful items. Made-on-site quiche using local duck eggs, jams, pretzels, mustard. About a dozen kinds of smoked sausage, produced on site. Black raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, and blueberries. Smoked chicken salad and sweet zucchini relish. And you can even pick your own hops in their hop yard (but this requires a reservation, so call first!).

You can order food in the brewery: the Farm Store and Kitchen makes it and then delivers it to the brewery. They offer about ten different brick-oven pizzas (and they make the dough on site), about a dozen smoked sausage products served on homemade pretzel rolls (such as andouille, chorizo, bratwurst, kielbasa, and even apple maple), plus pepperoni rolls, baked jalapeño poppers, chipotle cheese dip, beer cheese, and Firefly Hot Sauces, made at nearby Passage Creek Farm.

There is a story in here… I know it.

So on this particular day, Brandy and I drove on out to Swover Creek Brewery for the purpose of (drinking beer and) seeing a chainsaw portrait artist doing live portraits on the patio. His name is Glen Richardson, and it was a sight to behold. His subject sat in a chair with a barber cape around his neck while Glen carved (WITH A CHAIN SAW) the man’s profile into a slab of tree. It took about 20 or 30 minutes to complete the carving, and then Glen charred the portrait with a propane torch, and he let the subject help with that part, too. He advised the subject to lightly sand the portrait once it cooled down. It was amazing.

burgimg_7387burgimg_7386burgimg_7420burgimg_7427burgimg_7426burgimg_7425burgimg_7422burgimg_7438At Glen’s website called Sawaddict, you’ll see photos of the many characters he creates, such as Fraidy Dance and Slug Boy. He’s done series like “Rabbit Folk” and “Wackadoodles,” and he’s created lawn furniture based on the phrases “putting your butt in danger” or “bite my ass.” You can follow Glen on Facebook to keep up with his events or to reach out if you’re interested in a carving.

burgimg_7372Once the sun went down, Glen’s carving demonstration ended and we all piled into the Loafing Shed for another beer, some pizza, and an awesome chorizo/pretzel sandwich. The brewery has a friendly, welcoming, relaxed vibe that’ll leave you warm and fuzzy. It’s open Thursday from 4 –  8pm, Friday and Saturday from noon – 8pm, and Sunday from noon – 7pm. Go try ’em out — it’s just a hop and a skip, and well worth the journey.

burgimg_7460Copyright © 2012-17 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

it’s little wonder: boboko indonesian cafe.

burgimg_7028You might not even know it’s there if not for the glorious smells emanating from it. Or the zillions of people who will recommend you go there. This article is one such recommendation. GO THERE.

I’m referring to one of Harrisonburg’s newest eateries — BoBoKo Indonesian Cafe. This tiny, 20-person capacity restaurant sits right up the ramp from Pure Eats in the Ice House Building. But don’t let the size fool you: this place comes with a grand reputation.

For starters, BoBoKo’s Chef Ridwan opened the restaurant after winning the What’s Cooking Concept Plan Competition through the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center. Born and raised in Indonesia, Ridwan has been cooking since childhood. And he insists on using Shenandoah Valley Organic Chicken, fresh veggies and herbs from the Harrisonburg Famers’ Market, and local no-spray produce from Wayside Produce. Experience + talent + passion for the local community and environment = a recipe for success!

The place, though small, is warm and comfortable. Wicker chairs, wooden tables, Indonesian art, and classical music create the feeling of an intimate dinner party.

burgimg_7031 burgimg_7035Okay, on to the foooooooood.

The four of us ordered a nice variety. We started with green pomegranate tea (they also have black and jasmine) and two appetizers: the Tempeh Teriyaki Summer Rolls and the Spring Rolls Fusion, which contain spinach, goat cheese, apples, and golden raisins! Next was a tummy-warming Roasted Tomato and Butternut Squash Curry soup.

burgimg_7045 burgimg_7046 burgimg_7057For dinner we enjoyed the Chicken Rendang (slow-cooked chicken), which was slightly sweet because of the coconut milk, served with steamed rice, mixed vegetables, and Indonesian crackers. On the tangy side, we loved the Indonesian “Street Food” Chicken fried rice (nasi goreng ayam), topped with fried egg and served with chicken satay, Javanese pickled cucumber, and carrot/acar timun and Indonesian crackers. The Beef Rendang sandwich is melt-in-your-mouth good and comes with a salad or soup.

burgimg_7064 burgimg_7070 burgimg_7076 burgimg_7079For dessert, we tried the Banana-Nutella Spring Roll (OMG) and the Mango Ginger Nutella Spring Roll (get outta here!). BoBoKo also offers French Macarons because of Chef Ridwan’s passion for the French delicacy he developed while in Paris.

burgimg_7083 burgimg_7086Now, don’t let the limited space keep you from going. If BoBoKo happens to be full when you arrive, you can get your order to go and take it to one of Harrisonburg’s FOUR breweries! I can see this becoming part of my routine soon. That street chicken — DANG.

burgimg_7080Open every day except Tuesday, Boboko Indonesian Cafe is located at 217 S Liberty Street in Harrisonburg and can be reached at (540) 434-3542. See you out and about!

Copyright © 2012-16 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

home stretch: bend and brews at three notch’d.

burgIMG_3039Waaaaay back in like… April… Brandy and I went to Bend & Brews together at Three Notch’d. We loved it. I mean, you get an hour of yoga led by a fully trained and competent instructor, a delicious craft beer, a donut provided by Pure Eats, and coffee from Shenandoah Joe. There are some days I would gladly shell out a couple thousand bucks for that cure-all combination, but there’s no need. All you gotta bring is your yoga mat and ten dollars.

So, last April came and went, and unfortunately, I sat on this post too long. Summer arrived, and the popular hour-long + craft beer event went on hiatus. But guess what? Bend & Brews is BACK! Yep! This Saturday, September 3, Bend & Brews kicks off its fall season.

Here are step-by-step instructions for getting back into the swing:

1. Arrive a little early. There’s quite a bit of space, but it’s not infinite.

burgIMG_30302. Sign the waiver form. These are located at the bar.
3. Enjoy some coffee and mingle while you wait for class to start.

burgIMG_30254. Bend.

burgIMG_30455. Breathe.

burgIMG_30416. Relax.

burgIMG_30517. Breathe again.

burgIMG_30538. Grab a beer and a donut, have a seat, and stay a while!

burgIMG_3028 burgIMG_3061 burgIMG_3064 burgIMG_30949. Thank your lovely instructor :)  Thank you, Casye!

burgIMG_3074 burgIMG_307810. REPEAT. We’ll meet ya there!

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Copyright © 2012-16 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

laughing matters: cards against humanity at pale fire brewing.

burgIMG_0871Things That Make Me Laugh Until I’m Snorting and Wiping Mascara Off My Chin
1. The episode of Friends where Ross wears leather pants
2. “Celebrity Jeopardy” with Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond on Saturday Night Live
3. The entire Cake Wrecks web site
4. Any instance of a person (or animal) falling down, even if it’s my own child
5. And now, Cards Against Humanity at Pale Fire Brewing!

We all love to laugh. Whether you’re hanging out with goofy little kids (nature’s clowns, as my mom would say), or watching stand-up on Comedy Central, or bingeing on You Tube blooper videos, it just feels good to come home from a long day at work and unwind with humor. In fact, just this week, my first week back at school, one of my colleagues gave a speech of sorts that had us all howling with laughter one minute and stifling tears the next… his words were inspiring and moving, laced with humor and raw sentiment. And I left that meeting feeling relaxed and renewed and emotionally massaged. Sometimes we forget — we NEED to laugh, every single day. There’s science behind this. You probably know that exercise causes your brain to release endorphins (endogenous morphine) which are actually your body’s naturally occurring pain relievers. But guess what? Laughing does the same thing! Laughter also helps you learn new skills or material, deepens social bonds, and boosts your immune system. So I think it’s time to add laughter to your wellness routine, right up there with exercise, drinking water, and all that jazz. Our Friendly City has lots of ways to help you achieve that goal, and you can start on Monday nights at Pale Fire Brewing.

burgIMG_0884Brandy and I were so excited when the Cards Against Humanity host (and owner of Midtowne Market and Midtowne Bottle Shop) Lauren Penrod asked us to serve as judges last Monday. Having never played the game before, I looked forward to seeing how it worked. I really wasn’t prepared for how funny it would be. If I’d known, I would’ve dug out the waterproof mascara and brought some tissues.

We arrived and got the scoop from Lauren: The game is like Apples to Apples, but for adults. And I mean, ADULTS. If it were a movie, it would be rated R. For that reason, you might want to consider not bringing impressionable youngsters. And for that same reason, I simply can’t include all the answers we judged that night!

So. People who want to play arrive at Pale Fire by 8pm. You can arrive with a team, you can play solo, you can try to join a team after you arrive… there’s no limit to the number of teams or the number of people on a team. Easy peasy. Then you decide a team name. The teams we judged were called The Wookie Squad, Plain Old Scorcerers, Monday Night Book Club, Spiteful Lady in the Hat, and Last Call. And of course every time we said the name of that team, Jared had to yell from behind the bar, “It’s not actually last call!”, which was funny, too.

burgIMG_0867After you’ve established your team and name, you come get ten cards and a sticky note. You write your team name on the sticky note so we (the judges) know who gave which answer. Then Lauren reads a prompt and teams choose one card from the ten in their hand that they think is the best/most clever/dirtiest/funniest/most bizarre/etc. and turn it in to us. We select what we feel is the winning answer, then see who the team is that supplied it and announce the winner. This goes on for several prompts; then there’s a break, followed by a second round. At the very end, Lauren adds up the points and announces the winner. Lots of great prizes are awarded, including rounds of beers, gift cards, and the right to create your own card to be used in the next week’s competition!

burgIMG_0877 burgIMG_0874For example, Lauren read the prompt, “The healing process began when I joined a support group for victims of __________.” Teams filled in that blank with answers like “Shaquille O’Neal’s acting career,” “my ex-wife,” and “yeast” (incidentally, that card had a little fleck of dirt on it, and SOMEONE at the judge’s table asked if it was a hyphen. Bahahaha!). Here’s another one:

“Puberty is a time of change. You might notice hair growing in new places. You might develop an interest in _____________. This is normal.”

I must censor all the answers we received to this one, but let me just say that it involved poop in a bucket, hair removal, and “jobs” for everyone. Then there’s this one:

“Don’t worry, kid. It gets better. I’ve been living with ____________ for 20 years.”

We received “waiting till marriage,” “women’s suffrage,” “an inability to form meaningful relationships,” and “special musical guest, Cher.”

The music was playing, the beer was pouring, the whole room was laughing in what was like a huge communal improv exercise, and the three of us were pretty much LOSING IT every two seconds. Plus we were all trying to use different accents while reading all of it out loud, and at one point Lauren mixed up “sushi burps” and said “surshi boops” instead, and I just didn’t think I’d be able to breathe again.

burgIMG_0843 burgIMG_0836 burgIMG_0831Then things got real because there was a tie. That means a sudden death situation. The two tied teams came to the table, chose two answer cards, and had to quickly apply only one of them to the tie breaking prompt. In the end we had a winner: Monday Night Book Club!

burgIMG_0881 burgIMG_0883I can’t think of a better way to end a crappy Monday than to go laugh my butt off with some buddies at Pale Fire. Go check your calendars, move a couple things around, make other plans for your children, and go get a healthy dose of funny! See you there!

burgIMG_0858 burgIMG_0861Copyright © 2012-16 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.