I just spent an amazing weekend with some of my favorite people. It’s been two years since I last blogged about getting together with friends at Shirley Braden’s for a retreat. It was another year of menus with multiple dietary restrictions, but no one ever felt deprived.
Most of us arrived Thursday. Shirley had vegetarian chili cooking in the slow cooker and Jennifer whipped up her famous salmon cakes. Right before dinner, Shirley baked some sweet potato biscuits and Linda made sure her Chopped Veggie Salad was good to go. There was also wine and Johnna’s Scout Cookies. And how can I forget her sriracha cashews?
While we sat in the living room chatting and checking social media, I autographed a couple of books my friends brought. It was an honor since packing space is a premium when we come to the retreat and my book is pretty thick. I enjoyed a Viennese Tea Cookie and a Penguino from Mariposa, a gluten-free bakery based in San Francisco that Diane ordered some treats from.
The next morning, I made a meatless variation of my Winter Hash, using Japanese sweet potatoes and spinach. We topped it with leftover chili, egg, and avocado. We took our time getting ourselves together for the day and before we left for our trip into Fredericksburg, the goodies I ordered from Annie May’s Sweet Café arrived. Let’s just say some of my friends discovered a new kind of crack in the Mini Oatmeal Cream Pies. We also pulled out the Kite Hill brie style cheese to enjoy on some of the Mariposa batard. I thought the cheese needed to be baked with some preserves. We also had Treeline cheese. Both cheeses are nut based and so much like real cheese that I wished they had been around when I had to be dairy-free. I can still enjoy them now though. They are both great brands to look out for if you miss cheese. (And better than the popular faux cheese with tons of ingredients, imo)
We wandered around downtown Fredericksburg, checking out stores that looked interesting or that we visit yearly. I usually find a Christmas gift or two, but this year, nothing screamed out: BUY ME! We stopped briefly at Kickshaws, a small market run by a friend of Shirley’s whom we met last year. She wasn’t in the store when we arrived, but they are working on expanding and adding a kitchen and they are now serving some pre-made foods and goodies. I spotted a delicious looking egg salad sandwich in the case (I’m a sucker for a good egg salad sandwich), Johnna bought some gluten-free, vegan brownies, and Valerie bought the gluten-free, vegan Peaches & Cream cupcakes. As for me, I bought some local ground coffee (you can never have too much coffee) and a snack package of green olives. I ate the olives on my flight home and they were DELICIOUS.
When we were done, we headed to Bistro Bethem for dinner where I ordered a delightful Bordeaux Blanc, the chef created two special vegan dishes for our table, and Katie Oliver joined us. While Katie isn’t a gluten-free blogger (or even need to be gluten-free), she is a friend of Shirley’s who introduced the two of us on Twitter a few years ago and it’s been BFF fun time ever since.
Not only did we have the menu items to choose from, but the specials on the board too. They were able to easily modify dishes to our needs. I ordered a Caesar Salad (no croutons) and the Stuffed Quail. I was not disappointed at all. Upon checking out the dessert menu, Johnna and I decided we needed to try the Butterscotch Pots de Crème and the Lemon Parfait. Johnna ordered one of each for the table to share. And Valerie ordered a blackberry sorbet. The Butterscotch Pots de Crème was my favorite. Let me tell you, it is a joy to be able to go out to dinner and pass something around, not worrying about getting sick.
Back at home, after chatting, laughing, and getting into comfy clothes, Johnna made some milkshakes. We had to check the Basil Hayden’s for quality control first though. It’s required. Bourbon drinkers have to make sure the non-bourbon drinkers are getting the good stuff. Johnna used the leftover raw chocolate ganache in the Vitamix that Valerie made for raw tarts, bananas, ice, bourbon, homemade bourbon chocolate sauce, an avocado, and probably a few other things I missed while my back was turned coating the inside of the mason jars with the chocolate bourbon sauce. She garnished the milkshakes with coconut bacon and the brownies she bought from Kickshaw’s. I wanted to lick the mason jar clean, that’s how good they were. We also had some of Linda’s Chocolate Coconut Candy that she brought with her.
The next morning, I started off with a Ginger Cookie from Annie May’s Sweet Café with my coffee. While I love ginger and don’t mind a heavy hand with ginger in baked goods and dishes, I know it’s not everyone’s jam. These cookies were perfect with coffee (as I imagined they would be when I ordered them) and had just enough ginger to keep non-ginger lovers from being overwhelmed. Later, Diane toasted some the Mariposa batard and smashed some avocados to top it with, and Valerie made Key Lime smoothies using what was leftover in the Vitamix from the filling she made for more raw tarts. The breakfast was so simple and delicious in that simplicity.
We ate dinner earlier than usual because Linda had to leave early. It was a whirlwind in the kitchen with Johnna making grain-free, vegan japchae and grain-free, vegan “crab” cakes. I think we all helped in some way or form. Just don’t tell anyone that I added lime juice to the “crab” cakes that wasn’t supposed to be in it. It’ll be our little secret, okay? For us meat eaters, we had real crab to pick apart and pick through.
Later, Shirley drove me, Katie, and Johnna down to Rick’s at Fairview Beach for drinks and sunset. Johnna and I hopped out to the beach for pictures (and I took off my slippers). I saw my first sun dog and we listened to No Green JellyBeenz. Decent band.
We returned home and had “fourth meal.” The raw vegan tarts that Valerie made (from the Choosing Raw cookbook by Gena Hamshaw), baked Kite Hill “brie” with mango jam on Mariposa batard, and S’mores dip made with Enjoy Life chocolate chips and Dandies marshmallows (Mariposa gluten-free graham crackers and Johnna’s homemade vegan graham crackers). I went a little overboard and warmed up the chocolate bourbon sauce and added that to the S’more on my plate.
The next morning, we made bibimbap pizza using the leftover japchae and topping it with a fried egg. I know it’s technically not bibimbap, but c’mon…a fried egg on pizza! We said goodbye to Katie [insert sad Debi face here], did some art journaling, and said goodbye to Diane, Johnna, and Valerie. We totally forgot to try the Peaches & Cream cupcakes that Valerie bought from Kickshaws, so I got one out. I’m not necessarily a peaches and cream lover, but the cupcake was delicious and really felt like I was eating peaches and cream.
With everyone gone, I finished the book I was reading, The Ruins by T.H. Hernandez, who happens to be a friend I made when we were both focusing on our gluten-free blogging. We fell out of touch when she stopped blogging and reconnected as fellow authors. Funny how life works, yeah?
Shirley and Mr. GFE (yes, I finally got to meet Mr. GFE!) took me to Dockside at Colonial Beach for dinner. I chose the Norfolk style scallops and pretty much demolished my food. Hello, baked potato! Goodbye, you yummy thing.
I made some Earl Grey tea and indulged in the Lemon Cookies from Annie May’s Sweet Café Sunday evening. It was a great pairing with the flavors complimenting each other.
Before I knew it, it was Monday afternoon and I was saying goodbye to Shirley, Mr. GFE, and Sonny.
The weekend was indulgent, none of us was deprived of anything despite our varying needs, and once again, Shirley makes us feel as if we are home away from home.