Food Musings Part Two – Virginia, The Press Room

As mentioned in the last blog post, we traveled a bit over the holidays. Our travels took us to Virginia for the first time to speak at a conference at the Airlie Center, which was an honor and so much fun! We also took the opportunity to visit with good friends of ours, Shawna DeWitt and Attila Agoston and their baby Ruby. They farm at Mountain View Farm at the Blue Ridge Center in Purcellville (just outside Harper’s Ferry), which was gorgeous the first morning we woke up there – an ice storm had coated the world in ice for the first few hours of the day, and it was beautiful. They have a CSA, and farm with some pigs (super cute small wooly black guys), chickens and goats as well as growing vegetables. We spent the time at Shawna & Attila’s relaxing, exploring their surroundings, and eating. One super-fun bonus to the visit with them was that they have 3 dogs, one who looks just like Bullet! Her name is Critter, and the two hit it off like long-lost cousins! So much fun! Spencer and Shawna went to middle school together back in the day – who knew that these two kids from the Park Hill neighborhood in Denver would become organic farmers? It boggles the mind, but it was so fun to reconnect and learn about each other’s different paths to farming. One really great thing we did was go out to dinner at The Press Room in Shepherdstown, WV. It was a phenomenal eating experience – it was a little upscale, but so accommodating to us four hungry adults and 7 month old infant. Our waitress was amazing and was able to recite all of the specials (there were several) and take our orders (with no mistakes) from memory. Nice level of professionalism, and very rare from recent experiences. Now, on to the meal itself.
I must pause here to admit to you that I have been watching many episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations recently. On top of that, I just finished Bourdain’s book, A Cook’s Tour. It was this book that was dancing in my head as I perused the menu at The Press Room. The platter of a variety of oysters on the half shell was calling my name. It was the experience of eating an oyster in a fishing village in France as a child that made Bourdain interested in food. He still waxes poetic about that experience to this day. I wondered what all the hullaballoo was about. I have come a long way from the girl that once “warded off all bivalves” back in college (vegetarian days). We ordered them and loved every slurpalicious one of them! The Virginian ones (chincoteague) were particularly fantastic! I have never eaten oysters on the half shell, but I gotta tell you, it was a seminal experience for me. They are not remotely fishy, but instead they essentially are the distilled elixir of the ocean. I can’t describe them any differently. The image that popped into my mind unbidden as my first oyster slid down my throat was that of a beautiful mermaid beckoning me to try more. Weird, but true. After such a great appetizer, my hopes were piqued as I uncharacteristically ordered something as pedestrian as spaghetti and meatballs – it was one of the several specials of the night, and like that mermaid beckoning me to try more oysters, all I could hear in my head was Gordon Ramsay berating some second rate chef on his show in a recent episode we had watched saying, “Every good chef knows how to make a good batch of meatballs, and you can’t even do that, you idiot!” I wanted to see if this chef could make a good batch of meatballs, I guess. First off, the platter came with 3 gigantic meatballs (we’re talking small clementine orange sized!) and the best smelling red sauce ever poured atop a pyramid of spaghetti. I thought for sure there was no way that my stomach would allow that much food inside of it. Well, I was wrong. I thought for sure that I had never tasted something so satisfying as these meatballs in my life. The sauce was nice and garlicky, but not too chunky, either. In a word, perfect. I was really enamored with the texture of the meatballs – fluffy almost, but savory and meaty as well. MAN! They were soooo good! I have been thinking about those meatballs for the past three weeks, and so you can imagine my joy when we returned home finally from our travels to find my January issue of Gourmet Magazine with a delicious picture of spaghetti and meatballs on the cover! I took the obvious cue last night and made them. I made the whole recipe, too – the recipe made 70 meatballs! I figured, why mess around? Let’s do this thing for real. Let’s make a gigantic batch of meatballs! I checked our well-stocked freezer for the meats, and I had ground beef, veal and pork from Boucher Family Farm, so we were in business! We still have garlic and onions from our farm as well, not to mention the 5 quarts of stewed tomatoes that were required for the recipe. The result? Incredible meaty yumminess! One change I would make is that I broiled the meatballs in the oven on a baking sheet – frying them seemed a litte too oily to me, but I would actally fry them next time. I think the overall browning would have been better and made the flavor a little deeper. I would also cut the pork in half – they were just a tad too porky for my taste, and the salt should be cut in half throughout the entire recipe. These really are minor changes and the recipe is incredible. The texture is what I had hoped for, even with broiling them. We didn’t eat all of them, though we shared the meal with our friends Doug & Jennifer and their kids and still had enough left over to split the batch between our families for freezing. You mean we can have meatballs more than once in a while? What a treat! I have the link here to the recipe page at Gourmet, if you wish to try your hand at this quintessential comfort food. I hear the recipe is easily halved, so you don’t have to commit to having 70 meatballs in your house, though it’s a great excuse to have a house full of friends! I certainly am glad to have this recipe in my reperetoire now. Thanks, Press Room for the inspiration, and the reintroduction of bivalves to my diet!

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