Virginia–Looking Back & Forward

Four years ago I wrote this brief post after John McCain conceded to Barack Obama. It was a momentous night–the first African American president, the nation laying down a mandate against the Bush initiatives, and the first Presidential election that I could vote in. While I was nervous and fearful of what the outcome might be, and while it’s not the same–the energy, the mandate, isn’t there–I’m proud to say I believe America made the right choice. The right choice in a two-party, flawed system, but the right choice nonetheless.

So it’s perfect timing that today’s post coincided with a weekend G & I spent in Charlottesville–a city surrounded by American history.

We drove up on a Friday for the Dinosaur Jr. show (shaky at first, but the show was awesome 1/3 of the way though) and met with friends of G’s for dinner at Eppie’s. The meal was great & I took photos and…none of them turned out. That’s a first for me in a long time. Afterwards we shared some Potter’s Craft Cider and walked back to our room booked through AirBNB (which featured the most amazing cat who jumped in the shower with me–lovelovelove). It was just amazing to be able to hang out and not worry about driving back to Roanoke after a show, to drink a little and wander around. Most shows that we’re interested in hit C’ville on a Tuesday or Thursday while they’re en route to DC or Chapel Hill, so a Friday show as fantastically and wonderfully out of the ordinary.

In the morning, we slept in (another wonderful treat) and headed over to the Charlottesville City Market–a farmers market that’s been running every Saturday since 1973. Holy cow was it huge!

I loved being able to walk around a farmers market anonymously and snap photos and try out new foods. It felt almost voyeuristic (but in a good way) and, while we couldn’t get a whole lot of stuff to lug home, we did pick up our fair share of greens and cheese and honey.

Since we hadn’t had breakfast yet, we grabbed a sausage roll from one vendor (local pork, of course) and, looking at it, I wasn’t so sure if it’d be all that good but I was completely wrong. It was the best sausage breakfast sandwich I’ve ever eaten. In my life. The sausage was spicy and rich, the roll sweet and soft. I would have never thought to pair the sausage with something like a roll (I’m more of a biscuit girl), but I think it was genius–a good study in contrasts. We really should have bought another for the road…

Even after that wonderful sausage biscuit, though, we were pretty hungry and wanted to eat lunch before heading over to Monticello. Since we had already left our parking spot at the pedestrian mall area, we decided to go somewhere other than that and ended up trying One Meatball Place, a restaurant that just opened a few months ago and is dedicated, you guessed it, to meatballs. Pretty great concept, right? And, to boot, it’s vegan friendly (although I didn’t order the vegan meatball or falafel)!

The interior is light and airy with a soft industrial feel, but the day was far too pretty (70s and sunny) to sit inside. Outside on the patio, one of our neighbors was the freakishly adorable dog who just couldn’t keep his tongue in his mouth. He seemed pretty stoked about lying in the sun.

Indecisive, I ended up ordering a small pasta with a pork meatball and marinara sauce with a side salad. The dressing was their house-made fig dressing and, while I really wanted to love it, the salad tasted mostly like salad and very little like the dressing. When I would get a bite with the fig dressing, it was sweet and lightly acidic–overall, very good. But without enough dressing, the salad was just mixed greens. Which are pretty bland on their own. As for the pasta and meatball, the size was perfect for the amount of food that I wanted, but overall, it just wasn’t seasoned well. Add some salt to your dishes, please!! G’s Two Meatball Amarosa Sub with beef meatballs fared the same–add some salt and the food would be fantastic.

I found myself really wanting to like the place–the concept is genius and the fact that they even offer vegan lentil-mushroom balls is fantastic–but it just wasn’t there yet. Salt. Salt is key. And a little more seasoning of everything overall. My pork meatball was sweet from the raisins, but lacked the savory pull from the herbs or the peppers in it. G’s beef meatball was bland over all. And the sauce, while nice and simple, just needed a little something else–acidity, salt, herbs–to make it shine. If I end up at One Meatball Place again, I’m definitely ordering the vegan balls, no doubt about it.

Satiated, we headed over to Monticello which is crazily close to Charlottesville (I had no idea). Apparently I visited Monticello when I was little, but since I have no recollection of it, I’m counting this time as my first (G’s as well). To be frank, I’m not a huge history buff. Historical buildings and grounds normally bore the heck out to me. Point in case: I found Versailles to be utterly uninteresting. So I didn’t have high hopes for Monticello.

But I was completely wrong. We ended up spending several hours there and could have spent more time if we’d allowed for it. Beyond the gorgeous sunny fall day, the walking tours of the gardens of the slave history of the property were incredibly enthralling. I had no idea that several of Jefferson’s slaves were freed or escaped and that they passed into society. Or the fact that he tried to keep families together and didn’t willy nilly sell off children or parents. I mean, we all know about the whole issue of him claiming to hate slavery yet still owning hundreds of slaves, and the controversy surrounding his fathering children with Sally Hemmings, but I really enjoyed walking across the property and learning how the slave families lived and worked on the property, how they were able to sell extra produce at market to buy their own things, and how, sometimes, justice on a slave-holding property can be ethically questionable. None of the slave quarters or buildings they worked in (the nail making building, the blacksmith, etc.) are still standing (they were made of wood), so the tour is simply of the grounds, but the woman who led it was wonderful at tying together the archaeological, historical, and sociological stories and fragments to make the tour well worth it.

The garden, of course, was my main interest, and one day, I swear, I’m going to have something that looks 1/4 as good as the Jefferson kitchen garden. I’m a little saddened to hear that the produce is largely left to rot and go to seed (since the vegetables themselves aren’t as well known to most visitors so they’re considered part of the exhibit), but it did make for a pretty and informative walk. Each plant row is marked with the common and scientific name, as well as an indicator for whether it was a plant Jefferson explicitly mentioned planting in his diaries or whether it was a plant that was likely on the property, and with the mostly good weather leading up through the end of October, plenty of plants were still fruiting with eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, and, of course, winter squash. Jefferson, it turns out, kept meticulous notes about what he planted and when and where and how well it did, and he considered his gardening attempts to be on the greatest services he could lend to his country. He tried (in vain) to being making American wine and to find a better rice for high land areas that would keep slaves out of the malaria-ridden lowlands of the south. While neither worked, he certainly tried, and, if his garden was a 10th of what it is today, he must have been doing something right horticulturally.

And, last but not least, the kitchen. Photographs are allowed under the house in the kitchen/stables area, and I’m totally digging Jefferson’s early 19th century set-up. Favorite bit not shown: the wine pulley from the cellar to the dining room. Genius. I need one in my house. You know, for the wine cellar I don’t have. Regardless. As for the kitchen, in the 2nd photograph, see those square holes in the brick thing? Those are stoves–stoves! Underneath you added the wood to create different temperatures–less wood would be a low temperature, more wood a high temperature. And in the last photograph, the apparatus above the fireplace? An automated rotisserie for meat. This kitchen was pimpin’ for the day. No surprise given Jefferson’s brilliance at designing objects, but still, I could almost cook in that kitchen. Almost.

So that’s what leads me to the tie in with yesterday’s election. I didn’t really support either candidate–I felt like I was voting against one that I couldn’t stand more than the other. And if I had lived in a non-swing state, I would have hands down voted for Gary Johnson. But visiting Monticello gave me hope for the future, hope that, maybe, one day we could elect someone as interested in politics and history and languages and science and horticulture and social change at Thomas Jefferson. Not to mention a President whose defining feature is NOT his or her religious affiliation. I’m ready for the first scientifically-grounded President, the first President who thinks long-term, not just about the next four years and the voting cycle. It may never happen, but we have to look back to look forward sometimes. Principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Founding Father of the United States, Jefferson is oft quoted as a leader by the more conservative types (Tea Party, I’m looking at you), but their general pontification of our Founding Fathers leaves out some key bits–many were scientists (Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Madison), most were not ‘Christian’ as we consider it today (Deists, Unitarians, and Agnostic-leaning, mostly), and, above all, they firmly believed in the separation of religion from the truth of science or the practice of politics. They believed in religious freedom, but not in government mandated religion. They believed that science needed to be at the forefront of the establishment of our nation. We seem to have fallen pretty far from what our founders intended–after all, how is evolution or climate change a debate? Why are we still arguing over prayer in schools or sex education?

I realize my hope might be ridiculous. Maybe our country has left its roots for good. But if Jefferson could do it, can’t we?

One Meatball Place
513 W Main St
Charlottesville, VA 22903
(434) 244-3005

2 Responses to “Virginia–Looking Back & Forward”
  1. Wow – what an epic post! Thanks, that was really informative and as always you write very thoughtfully and soul-fully about serious issues (apart from the serious issues of good food!). Politics are polarised over here in the UK too, since the Labour Party got rid of clause 4, we don’t have a left-wing either and again media-spin is getting so big and candidate-perosnality focussed here too. Thankfully, religion isn’t really on the agenda though.

  2. Eileen says:

    I’ve seen pictures of the Monticello kitchen & gardens before, but now I really want to go examine everything in person!

    Also, yes to science. Clearly. I think selective ignorance/lack of critical thinking skills is one of the biggest problems in our system. (Not that that’s a surprise.)

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