Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day in the Valley

I went to my parents' house in McGaheysville, VA, the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, for Labor Day weekend, knowing I'd feel a million miles away from Baltimore. And I did.

I met the fam for lunch Saturday at Earth and Tea Cafe in downtown Harrisonburg. I'm proud of conservative H'burg for supporting even this mildly exotic restaurant. (My home county is not the most "progressive", shall we say). The menu ranges from middle eastern dishes to South American  and African bites. I started with the East African soup of the day and the chicken curried salad. The best part, though, is the tea menu. I had the Chinese Fine Ti Kuan Yin, which, according to the menu description translates as the "Iron Goddess of Mercy" with a mild, orchid-like flavor. A small pot gets you three cups of tea. The decor feels like an Indian lounge. Lots of warm colors and tapestries. There's even a corner bed with curtains to curl up and read on in one corner. The dining tables are framed by pawn shop chairs and vintage couches. Disheveled but totally inviting. Perfect place to go on a chilly day with a good book.

I guess we were feeling a bit nostalgic because after lunch we walked down the street to the Rockingham County Library to check out our favorite childhood stories and see if they're still as good as they were way back when. We had this specific collection of ghost stories in mind, but I wanted to find all my Beverly Cleary books. Anyone else a fan of Ramona Quimby? Ramona the Pest? Beezus and Ramona? I can vividly remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Burner, reading Ramona the Pest to us as we sat on the carpet at her feet. The book's threadbare cover was mauve, and I can see Mrs. Burner's gnarly knuckles supporting its broken spine. She would turn the book around to show us pictures of the characters running through our imaginations. My Ramona! I found her!

From the library, we crossed the street to the weekly farmer's market, which was all but packed up.  A Mennonite family had the most beautiful display of produce. Rockingham County is blessed to have a heavy traditional Mennonite population who take such pride in all their belongings. The produce was stalked perfectly by item so that no two types of produce were touching. I couldn't stop asking the farmer question after question about his gorgeous selection. We bought a patty pan squash and a carnival squash, neither of which I'd ever seen before but I had to have. And there's no rush to prepare them. These squash can hang around for months and still be good! (I like low maintenance vegetables like this!)

We had a hodge podge dinner on our back porch - ravioli with vodka sauce and portabello sausage for Timothy, fried okra for me, and canned corn for Erika. Maybe a nasty combination, but all comfort foods prepared with love. We took turns reading our long lost children's books out loud at the table. And yes, I still jumped at the scary stories as my brother read them. 

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