my darling, my wonton

Last year, when I first read The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, the wonderful middle grade novel by Wendy Wan-Long Shang that recently won the 2012 APALA Asian/Pacific American Children’s Literature Award, I noticed something interesting in the Acknowledgements:

No acknowledgement would be complete without recognizing my sources of support: my mom, who told me I could do anything; my dad, who made me believe writing was in my blood; my husband, who wrote ‘writer’ on our tax forms and has never (never!) once wavered in his support; our three beautiful, funny children; my amazing extended family; Fairfax County Public Library; A&J Restaurant, which makes absolutely inspirational bowls of soup. Get the Shanghai-style wonton soup.

Is there anything more exciting than a writer who cites soup as a source of inspiration? If you’ve read the book, you know it opens with a restaurant scene and contains many food references, including a reverential beef noodle soup as well as homemade dumplings. Yum!

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sandwich stop in clifton, virginia

Whenever I visit Clifton, Virginia, I always hope to hear the sound of a train whistle. That “woooo-woooooooo” in the distance is lonely, nostalgic and promising. The train is coming! The train is coming! Who’ll be on it?

I love the romance of trains. So many memorable scenes in books and movies take place in trains or at train stations. Remember Anne Shirley setting off for college, leaving Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert behind? Or the train-robbing sequences in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? What about Hogwarts Express and Platform 9-3/4, the Polar Express (love the pjs and cocoa), or those funny scenes with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag in Some Like it Hot? Probably the saddest train scene of all is when Sophie Zawistowski must choose which of her children will board the train for a concentration camp.


Since Clifton is just a hop, skip and a jump away, I can get a train fix whenever I want. This small, charming town grew up around historic Devereux Station, the southernmost post of the Union Army during the Civil War. As soon as I cross those tracks,  I step back in time and enter a place of white picket fences, no traffic lights, a general store, a handful of restaurants and antique shops, 19th century houses, and only about 200 residents.

The only railroad crossing in Fairfax County, Virginia

Tucked away at the end of a long winding road, this country retreat was favored by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Chester A. Arthur, and other wealthy Washington types who enjoyed the saloons, hot springs and slower pace. Modern day visitors include Helen Hayes, who summered here with relatives, Nancy Reagan, George Will, and many Congressmen, Senators, and Supreme Court Justices. And then there’s Jeff Arch, who wrote the screenplay for “Sleepless in Seattle” in a house on Main Street.

My most recent visit to “Virginia’s Brigadoon” was motivated by, you guessed it — food. I’d read an article in the Washington Post awhile ago about the sandwiches at the Main Street Pub, which is located in the Clifton General Store. Actually the big green building, quite an interesting rural landmark, houses three businesses — the store itself, the pub, and a florist.


The general store sells convenience items like cold drinks, a few grocery odds and ends, candy, snacks, baked goods, and pre-wrapped sandwiches. There’s seating for the pub in back and outside with full service.




We were greeted by a candid waitress who cautioned against ordering the gazpacho (“tastes like runny V-8 today”). Just as well: we were after their signature sandwiches.

Hmmmmm. What to order? Tom’s Turkey Melt, BLT, Reuben, Southwest Chicken Wrap, Buffalo Chicken, French Dip, a Burger, Crab Cake, Chicken Salad, Beer Battered Cod, or the aptly named Turbacado (turkey/bacon,avocado)? With a name like that, it had to be good.


So, we split a Turbacado as well as a Chicken Salad on Croissant. I ordered a side of cole slaw, got potato salad by mistake, and ended up getting to have both. I confess I preferred the Turbacado (whole wheat bread toasted just right, very generous fillings) because there were chopped pickles (I think) in the Chicken Salad. I found them a little too overpowering, but that’s just me.


The place filled up quickly with local families, a few tourists and wine tasters, and the laid back atmosphere made for a pleasant meal. Smiling, friendly people who take the time to say hello can be a rare commodity in our highly competitive, fast-paced, busy-busy county.


I like to support family-owned businesses — Tom and Judy McNamara have owned the Clifton General Store for over 20 years, and all of their children take part in business operations, from menu planning to administration to cooking. Couldn’t resist picking up a lemon square on my way out, which Tom himself cheerfully rang up.

Buckley Store Building (est. 1900), former site of the Heart in Hand Restaurant

Our tummies full, we were happy to add another happy memory to our Clifton collection, which includes Clifton Day arts and crafts, leisurely Christmas shopping, many meals at the Heart in Hand Restaurant, and visits to the architect who designed our cozy house in the woods. We didn’t hear a train whistle blow this time, though. Guess we’ll just have to go back. There’s another newish restaurant I want to try: Trummer’s on Main.

Oh, did I mention that when I met Len, he was designing a railroad in Algeria? Trains are magic. All aboard!


♥ Read my post about the Heart in Hand Restaurant, which includes a recipe for Geba’s Iron Skillet Chocolate Pie. (Sad to report that the HIH has since moved to Warrenton, VA.)


Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


lunch in franconia

Wendle’s Delicatessen, Café and Then Some!

Recently, while visiting family up in New Hampshire, Len and I decided to visit The Frost Place in Franconia. We arrived as scheduled after a pleasant two-hour drive from Bedford, and agreed that Mr. Frost probably wouldn’t mind if we had lunch first.

‘Twas not the season for apple picking, so we were quite pleased when Wendle’s Deli magically appeared right on Main Street. The rustic exterior looked promising, and I was hungry for some interesting local grub.

I don’t know about you, but I consider it a good sign when twelve volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary are used as an end table.

Even if the food had turned out to be just so-so, the place would have been worth seeing, if only to read all the writing on the walls and door frames. I just happen to enjoy a good chalkboard (we have three in the kitchen, one in the dining room).

I admit a chalkboard in a deli seems logical for posting menus, nothing too out of the ordinary. But Wendle’s fairly revels in the written word à la craie. The Sandwich Board dizzies with its offerings of breads, cheeses, meats, and specials, and everywhere you turn, there is an inspiring, funny, or thought provoking chalky quote vying for your attention. For a minute I considered merely “reading” my lunch instead of eating it. I’m a captive audience for this sort of thing; they must have known I was coming. ☺ Continue reading

afternoon tea at the moana surfrider

Moana Surfrider on O’ahu (Dogbite/flickr).

In one of my past lives, I was a Victorian woman of independent means who loved taking afternoon tea in the Moana Hotel veranda.

There, neath the spreading banyan tree, cooled by gentle ocean breezes, I’d relax in my comfy lounge chair, sip cup after cup of darjeeling, and rejuvenate my body and spirit with dainty sandwiches and sweets.

Side view of the grand porte cochere entrance that welcomes all visitors to the Moana Surfrider.

That’s why I felt so "at home" when my sister-in-law Alison invited my mom and me to join her for tea at the beautiful and historic "First Lady of Waikiki." The Moana Surfrider, which opened its doors in 1901 with just 75 rooms, is Waikiki’s first large hotel. At the turn of the century, long before any of the high rises were built, the Moana welcomed Hawai’i’s first tourists with its "modern" amenities (telephones and bathrooms in every room, billiard room, saloon, first electric elevator in the Islands).

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lunch at the wai’oli tea room

Front entrance, Wai’oli Tea Room (built 1922).

The Wai’oli Tea Room, "O’ahu’s Hidden Treasure," was one of the places I most looked forward to visiting on my recent trip to Hawai’i.

The restaurant is surrounded by a tropical garden.


I had been there decades ago, but couldn’t remember much about it, other than one could dine on the lanai, surrounded by beautiful Island greenery. 

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