Revisiting the Old Thornley Homestead in Virginia

In March 2015, the great-great-great-great-grandson of Aaron Thornley, the builder of White Plains in 1786, visited us from California with his family. That visit has since been recorded as one of our favorite days while living here. They brought stories, pictures, and an interest in learning about this special place in Virginia.

At that time in 2015, we had barely scratched the surface to stabilize and restore the old Thornley home. We knew very little of the stories it kept secret.

White Plains
An ethereal picture at sunset taken by our guests

This past weekend, they came back to visit, nearly four years and many changes later. It was fun to share the recent restoration and renovation work, much of it drastic, since their last visit. We have stayed in touch with them over the years, and it was fun to build on a friendship of other common interests too.

A Menu of Virginia Favorites

In preparing for their visit, we debated a simple menu that would highlight some of the small farm producers in the Fredericksburg and King George region. We live in an area with many small sustainable farms that care about the produce they deliver.

After a round or two (who’s counting?) of manhattans and a tour through the house, dinner was served. For the main course, I chose coturnix quail from Sassafras Trail in King George. After years of searcing for a source of quail in Virginia, I found Caroline who does an amazing job raising quality birds.

Quail a la Normande
All trussed and ready to go!

I chose to prepare them based on an old French recipe, Cailles à la Normande, braised in apples, shallots, Calvados, and cream. Giving the plate a southern twist, I served them over locally grown and ground polenta.

While those little birds can be a challenge to eat, the meat is so rich and plays well with the sweet braised apples and creamy broth. After you’ve initially been polite with a knife and fork, it pays to pick them up to get every last bit of that dark delicious meat.

Quail a la Normande
Rome apples are my favorite for cooking and baking, a little tart and sweet.
Quail a la Normande

Dessert from Red Truck Bakery

For dessert, I chose not to bake (gasp!), and I let the Red Truck Bakery steal the show with their Lexington bourbon cake with fresh ginger. It has become a household favorite and pairs well with a little bourbon-whipped cream – or a lot, we don’t judge. It was perfect with a sip of the Mary Hite Bowman Caramel Cream made in Fredericksburg by A. Smith Bowman Distillery.

Red Truck Bakery
Lexington bourbon cake with fresh ginger from Red Truck Bakery in Marshall, VA.

The evening was a lot of fun. We enjoyed the chance to share the Thornley family’s ancestral home with our guests while enjoying some of Virginia’s finest. We can’t wait for the next visit.

Hopefully we continue to make this old house proud by offering hospitality to strangers and friends, both old and new.

Our Favorites

A. Smith Bowman Distillery, Fredericksburg, VA
Blenheim Organic Farm, King George, VA
Red Truck Bakery, Marshall, VA
Sassafras Trail – Coturnix Quail, King George, VA

Shakshuka Warms the Heart

On a recent trip to the Denver Central Market, I had my first taste of Shakshuka, a traditional North African dish of roasted peppers, tomatoes, and invigorating spices that creates a beautiful flavor. Two large eggs are perfectly poached in the sauce, something to eat with fresh bread for breakfast or as a hearty cold-weather meal when you need that flavor to give your mood a boost. Shakshuka
Coming home to Virginia, I’ve tried several versions. Of course, I found that Melissa Clark has once again proven steadfast with an easy recipe for any night of the week or brunch. With two fresh eggs from the chicken house, homemade bread, and tomatoes from the summer garden, this meal brought North Africa to the Northern Neck of Virginia. It was a very welcomed visit and perfect when you need a bit of warmth on a chilly fall day!

Shakshuka

Shakshuka Recipe

Here is a modified version of Melissa Clark’s recipe for Shakshuka. It serves 4 – 6 people, but is easy to scale up or down depending on how many you are serving. I highlight recommend a good crusty bread and salted butter served alongside for dipping. If you try it out, let me know how it goes. If you need help, come on over, and we’ll make it together!

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • 3-4 large fresh tomatoes coarsely chopped OR 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes with juices, coarsely chopped
  • ¾ teaspoon salt, more as needed
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
  • 5 ounces (about 1 1/4 c.) crumbled feta cheese or something like a Bulgarian sheep’s cheese (very good!)
  • 6 large eggs

Preparation

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Heat about three tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. I prefer a cast-iron skillet as it retains the heat beautifully when you serve it at the table.
  3. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook gently until very soft, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes; stir in cumin, paprika and cayenne, and cook 1 minute.
  4. Pour in tomatoes and season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; simmer until tomatoes have released their juices and thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in crumbled feta. Note: If using fresh tomatoes, you may want to add more of less depending on their size and how juicy they are.
  5. Gently crack eggs into skillet over tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until eggs are just set, 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with hot sauce.

I serve my eggs just when they’ve set, allowing the yolks to run and integrate with the sauce, making it rich and creamy. I serve one or two eggs per person.

Deviled Goose Eggs – Go Big Or Go Home!

Growing up in the South, I learned about the importance of deviled eggs as a staple at almost every type of social gathering from church picnics to cocktail parties. Like potato salad, every home cook has their own recipe and unique twist on the classic. With controversial ingredients like pickles, mustard, hot sauce, and even the brand of mayonnaise, there’s no shortage of debate when it comes to whose recipe is the best.

While I can’t say that my deviled eggs are the best, for one short time span during the spring, mine are definitely unique. Why, you ask? Goose eggs! Go big or go home sounds like a good theme for these deviled eggs. Although a predator recently took out one of my beautiful American Buff geese, one remains, and she continues to remind everyone of her royal status.

Goose Egg

Guess which one is the goose egg!

 

Because geese only lay eggs for a couple of months during the spring, you must enjoy them while you can. I’ve found them to be the closest in consistency and function to a chicken egg – great for baking, omelettes, and now as an appetizer.

Hard-boiling them the way you might for a chicken egg, at a full thirteen minutes, made them easy to peel. I found the white to be a little more delicate than a chicken egg, requiring steady hands and patience to carefully remove the thick shell.

Hardboiled Goose Eggs

The yolk was a beautiful yellow and so rich. After removal, I added a few key ingredients but didn’t need much because the flavor was already so good.

Hardboiled Goose Eggs

For serving, I cut the filled eggs into quarters, offering them as perfect bites to the bourbon cocktails at hand. Like the daffodils, they come in spring only come once a year – enjoy them while you can!

Deviled Eggs