destination: Clifton, VA

With a new car in the driveway, a beautiful Saturday, and nothing to do, a drive out in the country makes perfect sense. I was already familiar with this quaint Virginia town, as I’d been to Trummer’s on Main a couple of times before. This beautiful restaurant out in Clifton, VA is definitely a destination restaurant for any of us in the city who want to get out into some peace and quiet. The dining room itself is a spectacle – bright with high ceilings and full of windows. The kitchen is sending out some really nice food that’s mostly seasonal and slightly risky. And you can’t beat the deal on Sunday where you help them drain their open wine bottles from the weekend for $5 glass and eat off the reasonably priced 3-course prix fixe menu.

But it was the promise of chili dogs and ice cream (two of my most favorite things) at Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot that sealed the deal.

Peterson's Ice Cream Depot

Peterson's Ice Cream Depot

I’ll be honest right up front – neither the chili dogs nor ice cream were that amazing (though they do lay claim to the Best Ice Cream award in Northern VA,) but much like what they say about pizza – there are no bad chili dogs or ice cream. They were totally satisfying, and pretty much dirt cheap. But this place isn’t really about the food. What makes this place so special is everything else.

The Big Dog

The Big Dog

First, it’s set back from Main St Clifton and shielded by trees and shrubs just enough that it feels like you’re in someone’s backyard. And pretty much you are. The set up is basically an old house. When you walk into the patio, you’re met with large chalkboards touting the menus – hot dogs of all sizes and toppings, ice cream, sundaes, shakes, pretty much any delivery mechanism possible for ice cream. And while their ice cream menu isn’t that deep – softserve chocolate, vanilla, and one flavor of the day, the options are still seemingly endless. Order at one window, pick up at another, and then take a seat either at the outdoor bar around back or at any of the various benches, adirondack, or lawn chairs scattered throughout the property.

The hot dog menu

The hot dog menu

On a Saturday, the action is non-stop. City slickers from out east, families and their soccer playing kids loading up on calories after the game, local teenagers. And even though it’s pretty busy, the lines move fast and the atmosphere is that of a neighborhood block party.

So, if you’re looking for a reason to get out of the city for a couple of hours, set the GPS for Clifton, VA. The drive’ll take you through some nice rolling backroads, and at the end of the drive you’ll find the promise of chili dogs and ice cream. What could be better?

Throw in a stop at the Paradise Springs Winery a vineyard with an expansive lodge at the end of a deadend street not far from DT Clifton and you’ve made a day of it.

a $2 bunch of mint yields at least 3 different applications (and then some)

While gathering ingredients for some homemade summer rolls (another story unto itself, I suppose,) I procured the most seemingly innocent bunch of fresh mint at my local market. When I got it home, I unpacked the bunch for washing and discovered this tiny looking bunch ended up being about 10 cups worth.

As I really only needed about 2-3 sprigs for the summer rolls we were making for the next few nights, that means I had the rest of the bunch to use up. My first thought was for a basic mint pesto (throw in some walnuts, a little oil, some citrus and whizz it up) but then my mind immediately went to a more obvious pairing (and one which I already had everything I needed in the pantry) – pea and mint dip. Dip chips, vegetables, a spoon. This stuff is way tasty and will go fast.

Pea & Mint Dip

makes about 2 cups

  • 10 oz. frozen peas
  • 1/2 c. packed mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • splash or two of water
  1. microwave the peas or about 60-90 seconds till they’re just barely warm and thawed
  2. add everything in a blender (or use a hand-blender) and salt to season and blend. Add just enough water to help with blending and to get the right consistency. The resulting dip should be smooth and of hummus consistency.
The next application was probably the most satisfying in its results. Again, my mind started in one direction, then immediately went in another. When I think of fresh mint, I mostly think of it steeped in milk for 10 minutes or so and then used as a basis for ice cream. But, honestly, I didn’t feel prepared to make any ice cream, so instead, I packed up a small food processor with as many mint leaves as it would hold, then covered with sugar, and processed for 60-90 seconds. Wowee! The sugar tastes undeniably of mint and will end up infusing all sorts of true mint flavor in a number of applications, but probably a whole mess of ice cream.

Mint Sugar

  • fresh mint leaves
  • sugar
  1. pack a food processor with fresh mint, top off with sugar and process till mint is well distributed in the sugar.
From here it was another obvious leap to create another flavor infuser, namely some mint extract. Most flavoring extracts are alcohol based, so another real simple “recipe” here. Your average 2 oz. bottle of mint extract costs at least $5. I’ll end up with about 8 oz. and it’ll cost me about 50¢. Take some mint, through it in jar, cover with alcohol, and let it steep for a few weeks. Up to you whether you want to leave the mint in after the few weeks or not. I ended up emptying a bunch of old bottles of rum and vodka I had laying around. Again, this is all about getting some fresh mint flavor injected in all sorts of things. But, probably a whole mess of ice cream.

Mint Extract

  • 1/2 c. packed fresh mint leaves
  • 1 c. vodka (or any other alcohol you’ve got laying around)
  1. pack the mint leaves into a clean glass jar.
  2. cover with the alcohol and let it steep for a few weeks.
And, while mint is sure to be amply available throughout the current months (even in our backyard garden,) my pantry is well stocked with memories of that magical $2 bunch of mint. (And soon, my freezer with mint ice cream.)