ding dang delicious: local chop and grill house.

group of people at restaurantYou know that feeling, when you’ve been out in the sun all day — at the pool or at the beach — and you’re a little scummy, a little sticky, your skin’s a little dry and sting-y… and you return home and take a refreshing shower? And then you realize how hungry you are because it was so hot all day you didn’t feel like eating much? And you can’t wait to sit down to a big, yummy meal?

I love that feeling. It’s one of my favorite parts of summer time. It’s akin to anticipation, which is another sensation I love. So a couple weeks ago when Brandy and I went canoeing, knowing that night we’d go out for a birthday dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and eat some delicious food, including a surprise birthday dessert made just for us by Rachel Herr, I found myself in a delirious state of anticipation all day. I’d been looking forward to this day for weeks, and it didn’t disappoint. One of the best days ever. :)

After getting cleaned up, Michael and I met Brandy, Ben, Danielle, and Tammy at the Local Chop and Grill House for our birthday dinner. Our server, Rob, brought out bread with olive oil and truffled popcorn for us to nibble on, then brought a round of beverages.

truffled popcorn waiter in red apronThe first order of business was to talk about our canoeing adventure that day. I didn’t have my notebook with me in the canoe, so I didn’t take any notes. And even though Brandy was the one with the PBR concussion, I couldn’t seem to recall much from just a few hours earlier. So we sorta recreated the day’s events right there at the dinner table.

It took some time for us to order because the menu at the Chop House is excellent. So, so many choices and options to ensure you get just what you’re craving. You choose the cut of meat, you choose the rub, you choose the sauce, you choose two side dishes… it’s a lot to juggle, but you will not be disappointed when your plate arrives. We each ordered something different: salmon, Polyface chicken breast, pork chop, NY strip, Twin Oaks Tofu, and the local chuck burger, and an assortment of side dishes like collard greens, duck fat fries, asparagus, smashed potatoes, broccoli, and mac & cheese.

plate with chicken and mac n cheese plate with pork chop and collard greens plate with tofu and asparagus plate with salmon and asparagusBrandy suggested we play a word game. Someone offers a random word, and everyone tries to tell a story or memory related to that word. Michael piped up with “esophagus.” And I instantly had a story, which is this: George W. Bush and I have something in common. We both nearly choked to death on a pretzel. I don’t know all the details of his story, but I was alone in my dorm room at Clemson, sitting in my papasan chair eating pretzels and drinking a Snapple. A curved portion of a pretzel became lodged in my throat and I found myself legitimately choking. Alone, in my room. It was the middle of the day and hardly anyone was in the dorm at all. First I tried flinging myself on various items in the room, like a self-imposed Heimlich, to try to dislodge the pretzel. That didn’t work. I was panicking and starting to think, “This is it. This is how I die. Choking on a pretzel in my dorm room.” My vision was getting dark on the edges. I decided to just run out of my room until I found someone to help me, and when I did, I was flailing through the hallway so wildly that I DID loosen the pretzel and managed not to die. Shew.

The highlight of my evening was when Brandy asked if I’m the same age as George W. Bush. ???

group at dinner tableBrandy had her own choking story. In elementary school she started choking on a hot dog. Of course she didn’t want to call attention to herself and make a scene, so she just sat there trying to deal with it herself. At some point the teacher noticed her esophageal struggle and hit her, hard, on the back. The hot dog flew out, and Brandy was okay. But the other kids thought the teacher just hauled off and hit her for no reason, so they all started giving her their food to make her feel better. :)

Then we started talking about weird things we say. By that I mean, weird things Brandy says. Like “no dip,” meaning “no duh.” And “I font know,” which is the byproduct of an autocorrect malfunction that stuck. Whenever she would text “I dont know,” her phone would correct “dont” to “font,” so now when she doesn’t know something, she says, “I font know.” Of course, I have a weird word, too. It’s “ghee.” It’s not “gee” — no, it’s pronounced with a hard “g” like in gorilla, and it’s usually preceded by the word “oh.” It’s one of those handy profanity replacement words that keeps you from bursting forth with a “Oh, d*mmit” or “Oh, G*d” or even worse right in the middle of, say, my classroom.

But the best new word of the night belongs to Brandy. It’s “ding dang.” As in, “Man, I left the ding dang flat iron on!” or “I can’t get this ding dang jar open!” or “Mom, where are my ding dang socks??” And since that night, my kids and I can’t stop saying ding dang. And I challenge you to incorporate it into your own vernacular. I guarantee it will bring a volume of joy to your life you’ve not experienced.

two women and birthday cakeAnd that brings me to our ding dang birthday surprise! We knew Rachel Herr, who is the pastry chef at the Chop House (and an artist, mom, and all-around awesome individual), was going to make us a special birthday dessert, but we weren’t expecting a WHOLE DING DANG CAKE! Our server brought out this gorgeous cake — chocolate cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting and chocolate crumbles, and raspberries !! with a cherry brandy sauce. Did I mention the chocolate?

rachel herr birthday cakeAnd we sang the birthday song and blew out the candles, and then the server took the cake away. For a moment I had a feeling similar to the one I had after giving birth, when they whisk the baby away to weigh it and do that APGAR thing, and I might have even said, about the cake, “Where’d they take the baby?” But then they brought it back, served on two specially decorated plates:

birthday cake platesWow. What a treat, and how special we felt! The cake was delicious, the dinner was amazing, the service was excellent, and the whole thing lived up to my weeks-long anticipation. Brandy announced she was “full as a ding dang tick.” Yes, ding dang it, we all were. It was time to go home and take a ding dang nap. Thank you, Chop House, for our birthday party! You were just what we wished for.

blowing out birthday candlesCopyright © 2012-13 · 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.

boxcar burgthday: the steel wheels with red molly.

steel wheels red molly 2We knew what to expect from The Steel Wheels when we saw them last month at Clementine: a packed house, invigorating and contagious energy, weighty yet lucid lyrics wrapped in poetic harmonies, unbridled talent, and beatboxing. (wait… ?) But we weren’t so prepared for the opening band — Red Molly.

red molly 2When we got there at 8ish, we found a tiny open space at the bar, right in front of the beer taps, which was both lucky and convenient, since I was still ON FIRE from our dinner at Indian American Cafe. The ladies hit the stage shortly — Abbie, Laurie, and Molly, dressed in frocks and boots and surrounded by assorted stringed instruments like the banjo, Dobro, and guitar.

Red Molly’s first number, “Dear Someone,” silenced the unsettled crowd, their clear, expansive voices ringing like church bells on Christmas Day. They performed a cappella, which speaks to their level of talent. No warm up needed — they were perfect from the first note to the last. I guess making sixteen albums (sixteen!) — some as Red Molly, some as individual artists — makes you great at what you do. They played several songs from their most recent LP Light In the Sky (which they’re promoting right now on their Australian tour. I think it’s crazy that I saw the same band that someone else is seeing right now half a world away — here in Harrisonburg.). “Hold It All” — described as a lullaby — is a lovely number about love’s paradox: “It seems there’s no escape/We are part beauty and part heartbreak/But I want to hold it all.” We have to. Either that, or hold nothing.

red molly 1They followed it with a ditty by Dolly Parton called “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” that got everyone’s feet tapping again, and by the sixth song, hair stuck to Molly’s sweaty face like cat whiskers. One of their final songs was Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” appropriately punctuated by the kitchen employee who walked through the crowd for some high-fives. :)

By the time Trent Wagler and The Steel Wheels began, the stage was slick with sweat and tears and hot as asphalt trousers in July. In Arizona. They didn’t care one little speck!

Fun facts about The Steel Wheels:
1. Their new album No More Rain comes out next month!
2. They’re headlining their Red Wing Roots Music Festival at Natural Chimneys in July! (featuring Yarn, Larry Keel, Scott Miller, Justin Jones, the Judy Chops, and more)
3. Trent and Brian started their musical relationship as a duo at Dave’s Taverna.
4. Jay and Eric have known each other since preschool.
5. Some of them bear an eerie resemblance to other people. Like Trent and Will Farrell, for instance. :-)

steel wheels 4They started their set with an expert rendition of Tom Waits’ “Walk Away,” which is just about as ballsy as Red Molly’s opening song. They ripped through several songs from their previous release Lay Down Lay Low, including the title track, which, depending on how you feel at the moment, is about surrender… or defeat. Sometimes you want to “finally fall down” because “it’s quiet there.” Other times you give up just to find some peace, even if it’s alone. And then later in the show, the song with beatboxing. Yes, beatboxing. Called “Spider Wings,” which reminded me a lot (thematically) of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” The line that made my pen meet the paper is “You got too much, you don’t got anything.” I love lyrics that obliterate meaning. Joni does that a lot, too. Ah, futility. How insignificantly full life would be without you.

steel wheels 3 steel wheels 1Although Brandy and I had consumed a heaping helping of bluegrass, for dessert we thoroughly enjoyed a boot-stomping, knee-slapping, yee-hawing finale comprised of both bands and a fat dollop of twang. I think Brandy’s shoes can testify to the fun we had with these two bands and their enthusiastic followers! Looking forward to more boot – shredding shows!

dancing feetCopyright © 2012-13 · 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.

happy burgthday to us! : indian american cafe.

indian american cafe signBirthdays are special. They remind us of a day when something really great entered our lives. Birthdays are different from other holidays because they’re personal. The whole nation isn’t celebrating… just your circle of friends and family… just those who inhabit your world. And so birthdays are for telling our loved ones, “I’m grateful you’re alive. I’m happy you were born. My life would not be the same without you.” And we throw parties with cake and laughter and music and silly activities. Like bobbing for apples. Or pinning a tail on something. Or running with a water balloon between your legs. I love birthday parties!! More than any other holiday.

shanks cupcakeOh, the memories of my childhood birthday parties. The one where the wind ripped the paper tablecloths right off the tables, spilling drinks and cake and all of it… blowing across the yard, my mom frantically chasing cups and napkins. The one, in middle school (people, don’t throw a large party for a tweenager. It’s just a bad idea.), where finally some kid, on a Hawaiian Punch bender, walked right through the sliding screen door and everyone ran for cover while my dad yelled, “That’s it! THAT’S IT!” The one that coincided with father’s day (my fourteenth?) and we had a party on the lake, and I got to drive the pontoon boat (that was my favorite). In fact, June is always a spectacular month–so many birthdays. So many special people to be grateful for, including my daughter, her dad, Brandy, Blake, Rebecca, Kim, Caleb, Sarah… we just celebrate all month.

On this night, we weren’t really celebrating a person’s birthday; we were commemorating the first birthday of ilovemyburg.com. Yep — one year ago, on February 14, 2012, we launched this blog with our first post about Granny Longlegs. But, we were certainly celebrating people. I mean, the blog’s primary purpose is to document Brandy’s and my experiences in the city… so it serves as a permanent scrapbook of sorts that will become more meaningful each passing year. So it was a celebration of our friendship. But it was also, and this blog is, a celebration of all the people who inhabit our little world… all of you who read each week, all the folks we see out and about, everyone. I can say that my love for this city has grown in the last year, probably because of my increased focus on it.

We decided to eat our birthday dinner at Indian American Cafe. Brandy had hoped it would snow because she was envisioning snowy cafe photos, and I, admittedly, had not been in that restaurant in about a decade <cringe>. I used to go all the time! I don’t know why I stopped… but I will not let that place disappear from my life EVER AGAIN. We invited several friends to our birthday party, and we were joined by Danielle, Kai, Sean, and Denise. At first we discussed what to call our birthday — our “burgthday” as the title of this post indicates, or our “blogthday” or “blogirthday,”… but then Kai whipped out “Geblogstag” (German) and its equally impressive variant “Geburgstag” and trumped us all. How can anyone argue with a German guy in an Indian restaurant? I was clearly out of my league, culturally.

Indian american cafe 2 indian american cafe s&dOn to the food. When you order your food, you can choose your level of spiciness, from one-half to four. One-half is mildly spicy but certainly not bland, and four makes your eyes bleed. Just kidding. But really, don’t underestimate the hotness. I don’t remember everyone’s spice level, but I ordered my dish–this yummy steak with rice and spinach dish– at a two. Brandy got the same thing but with chicken and at level three. If memory serves, Kai got a one. Still, he was grunting away eating his meal. I was snorting and sweating my way through my plate, Brandy got splotchy and snotty, and Danielle could flat out see through time. Still, we shoveled it in as some kind of feat of endurance. The food is so good you cannot stop eating it. And they give you A LOT of food. I took half of mine home. And what did I do at two in the morning because my heartburn wouldn’t let me sleep? I ate the rest of it. Yep. You CANNOT stop eating it.

indian american cafe menu indian american cafe food 1Between mouthfuls we watched You Tube videos on Kai’s phone. Yes, we were those people. Kai had not seen the Sweet Brown remix thing, and I’d somehow continued to exist despite having missed several other compelling Internet videos. Egads. And then of course, any time anyone said anything the rest of the night, one of us had to say “Ain’t nobody got time for dat” or “I can’t call it.”

indian american cafe videoIt was getting on time to head to Clementine to see The Steel Wheels (post forthcoming!), so we ended our dinner with a birthday cupcake from Shank’s, compliments of Danielle. We lit the candle and sang the birthday song while Danielle tried to take photos of two really giddy idiots. Someone finally told me I had spinach between my teeth. And when we emerged from the restaurant, much to Brandy’s delight, it was snowing. Unfortunately, it was also dark.

indian american cafe bday 2

photo by Danielle Campbell

Indian American Cafe is located at 91 North Main Street in downtown Harrisonburg, about a block south of the Blue Nile. This will go down as one of my favorite birthdays ever. Thank you to the 60+ local businesses that have tolerated our antics. Can’t wait to see what this year brings!

Copyright © 2012-13 · 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.

your presents requested: beyond restaurant and lounge.

This is one of those posts where the photos tell more of the story than the words. Because in a crowd of people, one can only observe so much. The camera, though–well, nothing escapes it. Here’s a little foreshadowing, heh heh:

The plan was conceived weeks earlier. Danielle and I were completely idea-less for birthday gifts for Brandy. She’s not really a materialistic person–she lives simply, she doesn’t have a lot of stuff… Last year I got her a gift certificate to The Studio Salon and Day Spa, which she liked, but I didn’t want to repeat that. And really, she appreciates people and experiences more than objects or possessions. I figured a group of us would go out to eat somewhere, probably get some sushi… And that’s when I thought of it–a gift that contains people + food + experience.

So I emailed Praserth at Beyond Restaurant and Lounge, and–what the heck, it was worth a shot–asked if he or one of their sushi chefs would come to my house and teach Brandy to make her favorite sushi. And to my delight and squealing excitement, he agreed! WOW!!

Danielle and I went about inviting some folks (I really only had room for about ten people for this kind of thing), all of whom very enthusiastically accepted AND showed up, and we picked up a few appetizers and such around town. All Brandy knew was that her birthday present was “happening” at my house at 5ish. A few days earlier she had somehow tricked me into playing twenty questions, and before I figured out what she was doing, I had answered like ten questions… but thankfully she still didn’t figure it out and I managed not to flake and spill the beans.

That day, Anneke and Danielle came over early to help set up. :)

Then Praserth rolled in and took over my kitchen like he makes sushi in strangers’ houses every day.

All the guests arrived including the birthday girl, and the party started. First Praserth told us what rolls we’d be making: the Dukes, New Orleans, Japanese Breakfast, California, and White Knight. Then he gave us some pointers.
1. It’s easier to roll sushi with gloves on.
2. Lube up your glove with oil so it doesn’t stick to the sticky rice.
3. Pressure is important. Apply too little pressure and the roll will fall apart; squeeze too tight and stuff will come out the end (oh lawdy).
4. When you cut the roll, dip your knife in water first. Cut til it gets stuck ( ! ), and then dip your knife again.

Wait, now I know what everyone was giggling about! Geez! Poor Praserth–in front of an audience of women+Todd Yoder.

Anyhoo, after the demo, we all got a turn, and then we got to eat what we’d made! It was sooooo much fun! :)

Around seven, Praserth was done with the lesson; we thanked him and bade him farewell. We sang “happy birthday” and ate yummy cake.

We sat around and giggled. Brandy opened her presents. Then someone broke out my copy of Cake Wrecks (if you haven’t seen this book and/or website, stop reading this and do it now) and we laughed our butts off at that for a while. Rachel Herr especially liked it because, well, she’s a baker, you know.

…if that IS your “real name”

I also have Awkward Family Photos, which is so awkward at times it’s almost hard to laugh at it. Well, not really. We laughed pretty hard. And then we started googling “awkward” everything and anything and found all sorts of things. I highly recommend “awkward graduation photos” and “awkward pet photos.”

Ultimately, those who remained ventured downstairs to the basement where we had a pillow fight. Ha! Just kidding. But I did end up wearing my pet rabbit in a sling.

what??

I guess the moral of the story is that you don’t have to go anywhere fancy or exotic to provide a memorable experience for someone’s birthday. You can stay right here in Harrisonburg and see what services our local businesses are willing to provide, even if it’s something they don’t usually do. Thanks again to Beyond for going above and… beyond. What a treat!!

Photo credits: Brandy Somers, Danielle Campbell, Rachel Herr, Todd Yoder. Stay tuned for more photos!!

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

birthday in the burg!: blue nile.

I was so worried about my birthday curse that for my recent 40th birthday, I considered doing nothing at all. Because turning 40 is bad enough without everything going wrong.

I have a history of bad birthdays. Not every birthday has been a disaster, mind you—there are two or three I don’t remember at all (like my first, second, and third birthdays), so I guess those don’t count. But some stick out as awkward or just plain bad.

For my 18th birthday, my parents got me luggage. Hint hint. But they also got me a plane ride over my hometown, co-piloted by my dad. That was pretty cool. Of course, my birthday always coincides with Father’s Day, so I think the gift served two purposes. Whatever.

One birthday in the mid-1990s (they all run together now), my friends at work planned to take me out to lunch at Indian American Cafe. But they forgot to actually tell me about it, and I was in Nags Head. Here’s a summary of the answering machine messages:
“Hi, Katie. It’s Anne. We’re all down at Indian American Cafe. Since you’re not answering the phone, I’ll assume you’re on your way! Can’t wait to see you!!” <beep>
“Hi, Katie. It’s Anne again. I hope you’re okay. I thought you’d be here by now. We’ll wait a little longer.” <beep>
“Hi. Um, we’re kinda hungry, so we’re gonna go ahead and order, okay? Hope you get here soon!” <beep>
“I’m not really sure what happened, but we’re eating your cake.” <beep> When I got home from the beach, I got all the messages at once. Anne was kinda embarrassed about the whole thing. Apparently the cake was really good.

On another birthday, someone tried to plan a surprise camping trip for me. Only, I’m not the best camper—I’m bony and pretty much allergic to everything outside. Also, no one was on time. So when I got there, it was just one girl standing in the woods with a balloon. “Surpriiiise…..”

This one takes the cake (ha!). I actually invited a few people over for dinner on my birthday, which I cooked… and one of the guests arrived completely trashed and literally passed out in his salmon filet. Oh ghee.

So I’m sure you understand why I get a little nervous at birthday time. Despite all those wacky experiences, I still love to be surprised. And this year, Brandy and Danielle ended my birthday curse once and for all. At The Blue Nile. They didn’t tell me much about what they’d planned… they just told me to meet them at The Blue Nile at 11ish for brunch and to wear sunscreen. I did as instructed.

Only, they weren’t ready at 11, and Brandy kept texting me, “Not yet, not yet…” So I drove around Harrisonburg til nearly twelve (man, I was hungry!!) when I got the text: “Okay, now would be good.” And when I got there…. look!!

Forty presents. FORTY! FOOORRRTTTY!!! And a Happy Birthday sign Danielle made. Of course, I instantly started crying because I knew the curse was broken, and then I realized what a task I had ahead of me and I pulled it together. Danielle crowned me with a hand-made tiara and we got down to business. First, ordering food. It was Sunday brunch at the Blue Nile, and their menu features several delicious entrees plus an ample buffet. AND, one-dollar bloody mary’s and mimosas. ONE DOLLAR. And let me tell you, their bloody mary’s are the best I’ve ever had. I ordered the eggie grinder while Brandy and Danielle hit the buffet. My meal was excellent—scrambled eggs with rosemary, guacamole, and collard greens served on a honey wheat bun and a side of sweet potato fries. Brandy and Danielle made a couple trips to the buffet. We were all quite satisfied, or as Brandy put it, “full up to my collarbone.”

Then, the presents. OH my goodness, what a treat. I thought it was really cute that some of Danielle’s gifts were wrapped in brown lunch bags with the top folded over three times and stapled. Unbeknownst to her at the time, I was reminded of an old Phil Hartman SNL skit called The Anal Retentive Chef. “And how do we dispose of odiferous waste?” Ha ha! All of the gifts were wrapped in some fashion and accompanied by a note—really, really a tremendous effort by my two friends.

Here are some of the gifts, in addition to brunch and morning cocktails I received:
a bouquet of flowers
a drawing of the three of us by Danielle

two pairs of earrings from Ten Thousand Villages
pumpkin bread from Shank’s Bakery
a pint of blueberries from the Farmer’s Market
a gift card from Pulp
three fortune cookies! One says, “You are going to have some new clothes.” Another: “You will have many friends.” And, “Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think.” (I personally think that last one is backwards, but I’m getting of track.)

coffee, tea, beer, and wine
a book from Downtown Books called The Disruptive Student and the Teacher
a copy of Virginia Living Magazine and a brochure, both featuring photos from this blog!
beer koozies

who cries over beer koozies? I do, when they’re hand-decorated by friends!

and several coupons: one for babysitting, one for “bitch-free yard work/slavery,” and one for an hour-long photo shoot courtesy of Brandy Somers Photography, “non-blog”

…and several other things… have you been counting??

At any rate, if you are looking to surprise a friend with a lovely birthday, head to the Blue Nile. For me, it was one for the record books and completely disaster-free. The Blue Nile is located at 181 North Main Street, across from Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.

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