chocolate wine pic

Unhashing Pairing Wine + Chocolate

Two months ago, I was presented with the opportunity to leave my 8 – 6 office job to manage a local artisanal chocolate shop. How perfect. I said yes.

Since then, I’m immersed in the art, science and respect for good chocolate. Not surprising, the art of pairing chocolates with booze – wine, port and beer (yes, BEER!) is something I immediately gravitate to.

The past weekend, I teamed up with Richmond’s Yelp group and James River Cellars to host a private party where we navigated taste buds and schooled guests on the chemistry and tips of how to respectfully pair vino with chocolate confections.

With the help of our knowledgeable chocolatier and my own research, I was able to execute a little lesson of how to marry the two together and I’m here to tell you how to do it.

You can do this on your own. I promise. Just stick to these guidelines, test it for yourself and host a party (might I recommend ditching that ridiculous tacky sweater party?). This is way better.

1. Taste light to dark.  Don’t overwhelm those taste buds by starting with bitter and robust – you won’t be able to notice the subtle flavors and aromas of the delicate lighter pairings. Work your way through the white wines to the red, same goes for the chocolates.

2. Pair like with like. Sweeter chocolates (white, milk and fruit varieties) go well with light whites and sweeter reds. On the flip side, bittersweet and bold chocolates work in perfect harmony with tannic, robust reds.

3. Aim to keep the wine slightly sweeter than the chocolate. Contradictory to what you might think, you’ll want the wine to alter the flavor of the chocolate, not vice versa.

4. Reason point 4 exists is because of this, chocolate is naturally sweet, right? Yes! So when you pair a similar sweet-minded vino with your chosen chocolate, a “cancelling out” phenomena occurs and actually draws sweeter, juicer undiscovered flavors from the wine.

5. If you’re doing a pairing with a group, try and be patient so you can experience the sensation together. You don’t want to be around (or be) that “I-need-to-be-first” ass in the group that blurts out their sensations or opinion. Logistic-wise, bite into the chocolate, notice the flavors. Swirl the wine, sniff and notice the aroma, take a sip of wine while the chocolate is still in your mouth. Notice how the chocolate changes. Discuss the change or any other thoughts on the pair together. Some questions you might want to ask your guests:

How does the wine change the chocolate?

What did it taste like before? What did it taste like after?

Did you notice any flavors in the chocolate or wine when the two combined?

I’m really big on resources … as in cheat sheets. This post wouldn’t be complete without them, so here you go:

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Fall Festivities (yea, that time of year again)

Fall … my favorite season in Richmond. Why? It means spicier beers (and the re-introduction of Gingerbread Stout), lots of layering and crisp weather.

With this seasonal shift comes many events – from food festivals to the big UCI Bike Race.

Here’s a list of everything not to miss (another great list here). As more events pop up, I’ll add it to this list (feel free to email me at with suggestions, too) …

9/11 – 9/13 Armenian Food Festival at St. James Armenian Church

9/13 Shockoe-On-The-Half Shell at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market, 12pm – 5pm

9/19 Know Good Beer & Music Festival on Brown’s Island, 1pm – 8pm

9/27 Main Street Station Outdoor Market 2015 at the Amtrak Main Street Station

10/3 RVA MakerFest at the Science Museum of Virginia

10/4 Hogtober at Libby Hill Park 12pm – 7pm

10/6 Richmond Folk Feast Historic Upper Tredegar, 6pm – 8:30pm

10/9 – 10/11 Folk Festival

10/16 – 10/17 Oktoberfest at the Richmond Raceway Complex, 6pm – 12am

10/18 Kickin’ Chicken WingFest at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market, 12pm – 5pm

10/28 – 11/1 Fire, Flour & Fork various events/locations

11/1 Dia de los Muertes (Day of the Dead) at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market, 12pm – 5pm

11/7 Brunswick Stew Festival at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market, 12pm – 5pm

11/8 Autumn Bottom Brews at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market, 12pm – 5pm

11/14 Richmond Cider Celebration at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market, 12pm – 5pm

In addition to these RVA events, try voyaging out and catching these other food-centered happenings around this beautiful state …

9/19 Lexington Rockbridge Pie Festival at Brewbaker Field, noon t0 dark

10/10 – 10/11 – Amherst Wine & Garlic Festival at Rebec Vineyards

10/26 Norfolk – Ribtoberfest, Town Point Park, noon – 10pm (thanks for this addition, Erik!)


Gay Marriage ruling, this one’s personal

For a moment, I’m going to pause on another food-loving post because today, Gay Marriage is legal.

Instead of letting my mind drift to thoughts of what my real legal wedding could look like one day (the flowers, the dresses, the food … ohh the food), today’s outcome has transcended my mind into my own chronological path to who I am today, receiving this great news in our country.

I knew something was different 24 years ago. Outsiders who just see me as a pretty-faced feminine woman seem to have trouble wrapping their head around how at the raw age of 6 years old, I knew I liked girls. I remember the moment like it was yesterday when the universe said, “yep, you like girls”.

Through grade school and up until my late teens, I struggled, I let religion hold me in a guilty and self-disgusted view of myself, I fell in love (well, not really love – more like infatuation) with my friends, I got hurt and I furiously attempted (and failed miserably) to hide myself under the guise of relationships with guys. It didn’t work. Whatever I tried, I still had to face my authentic self. Every damn time.

My early 20’s came around and I continued to self-medicate with meaningless relationships, partying and kept incredibly busy.  When I was 25, I met someone who became my first real girlfriend. At the same time, my grandmother passed away, my brother went to rehab, months later he got cancer (he’s in remission now) and I faced my partying ways head on (this was a blessing in disguise).  Through all the mess, I found peace and renewal through my relationship and the confidence it slowly built. Day by day, I grew bolder and I learned to love myself, my real self.

One spring night, I gathered my close friends together in a dark bar in Houston and unleashed the words I once feared/hated/damned … “I’m gay”.  The long and quiet look of confusion, peace and smiles followed with a resounding “oh my god, it all makes sense”. This was the same reaction my brother had when I told him.

Coming out to my parents was the hardest, I wrote (edited, re-wrote, edited and re-wrote again) and slipped a lengthy letter into the guest bedroom nightstand drawer when I visited them one weekend in September.  I remember leaving that day, thinking it would be the last time they’d see me under a false mask that I quietly hid behind for 25 years.  Trying to find peace on my way back to my apartment was impossible.  With trembling fingers, I sent a text to my dad, “there’s something for you and mom in the nightstand drawer”. Later that evening he called and said when he received my text, he knew exactly what it was and exactly what I was going to say. The real connection to our parents is typically unveiled when unveiling.

My father knew I was gay (early on) and patiently let me decide when I would tell him and my mother.  My mother was a different story and still kind of is (it’s been 5 years), but I love her dearly and have learned patience and understanding through her own layers of acceptance with me.  She is lovely and will (hopefully) understand it and let it all fall into place when she sees me with my partner, who loves me just like my parents prayed and hoped for me to be loved.

Since my own coming out, my life has unraveled in the most beautiful ways because I found love for myself.  I’ve fallen in love, fallen out of love, discovered a passion and talent for writing (hence this blog is now 4 years old!), started a product line and fallen in love with someone who I hope someday will become my wife with the nod of today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Today, I wonder what my other LGBTQ brothers and sisters are feeling. I’m hoping this day brings peace and joy for those who hid in denial, faced hate crimes, have passed on without hearing this news and those families who had once been denied respect and legal rights.

I am lucky to witness history today, we all are.

– Bethany



It wasn’t until my girlfriend’s 3rd attempt (she flashed me an Instagrammed picture of a colossal sandwich) that finally convinced me to dine at Perly’s. Since that day in December, I’m there at least once a week. I literally mean once a week.
Perly’s is one of the few places in Richmond that is consistently great. Every damn time. Sometimes, in the back of my mind, I secretly think “maybe, just this time something will be off” and it has yet to happen.
Perly’s fan base started way before my own adoration as this Jewish deli opened their doors in 1961 as a downtown lunch hotspot. A recent revamp of the menu (thanks to Constantine Giavos) and interior space last year has brought in an influx of new patrons (in addition to the original ones) that flood the reclaimed wooden booths each day, morning and night.
Late to rise? Don’t worry, they serve breakfast until 3pm so you’re able to get that fix for a hearty bagel sandwich, corned beef hash with eggs or french toast (made with cinnamon babka … and its damn delicious). During the week, from 8am – 11am, they offer a steal of a deal (called the Schnorrer), 2 eggs any style, choice of meat and bread, 1 potato latke and cup of coffee for $9.
I had heard of Matzoh Ball soup before, but never had the desire to try it until one cold day when one of the servers at Perly’s suggested it.  Now, their Matzoh Ball soup is my go-to and at $4 a cup (don’t be jaded by the word cup, it’s big) it’s one of the best cheap dishes in the city.  The warm dumpling-like matzo ball marinated with savory chicken broth is perfection against dense carrots and hunks of chicken and topped with fresh dill. I describe it like an upgraded chicken noodle soup.
Recently, I discovered and fallen for their their potato latke ($7), served with a hunk of cool apricot applesauce and dill sour cream. They’re light and make a perfect start to a favorite, the coffee and bourbon braised brisket with bagel bread pudding ($17). This entree is massive, my girlfriend and I split it and we still walk away with a hearty amount to take home. The savory brisket is tender yet proud as its massive size fills the plate, all topped with a sweet and savory sauce that ignites the bourbon flavors. Doughy bits of the bagel makes an appealing consistency in the bread pudding, but paired with a tart cherry sauce is a masterpiece. Think about it as a yiddish version of a Thanksgiving dinner (and slightly better).
Another winner is the chicken salad and the lunch crowd seems to agree. For $8, Perly’s serves three scoops of creamy chicken salad with your choice of bread, side and an assortment of lettuces, sprouts, tomatoes and onions.  The portion is huge and the leftovers make a perfect weekday lunch. If you’re not a fan of chicken salad, they also make this plate with egg salad or smoked whitefish.
The cocktail, wine and beer selection is great (like just about everything else here). There’s always Ardent on draft along with wine and Prosecco in addition to a few Jewish beers including the He’brew Messiah Nut Brown Ale. I kick myself as I confess I’ve never had one of their cocktails, but they sounds amazing and fancy (think ingredients like celery soda, apricot jam and rose water).
Got room for your sweet tooth? Perly’s fresh baked Jewish pastries like black and white cookies or sweet noodle kugel won’t put a dent in the wallet at $3.  Want something worth remembering? Their warm chocolate babka with coconut macaroon ice cream ($6) is one of my favorite desserts in the city. It’s massive and perfect for sharing. The flavors of the cold ice cream with fresh coconut and miniature chunks of macaroon is even better paired with the warm, doughy babka with chocolate swirls. Another bonus? The ice cream is specially made by Bev’s so A. You know it’s amazing and B. Kudos for small local business supporting one another.
Besides the food, pricing and atmosphere, I’ve come to adore the service. Yes, it can be aloof at times, especially during lunch when the bustling servers “being in the weeds” seems to linger for hours. Be smart about ordering, that means if you’re in a rush order quick, ask for your check early and be kind about it. Since I’m starting to become a regular patron here, the relationships I’m starting to establish with this hard working staff makes each meal even better. They know what beer my girlfriend and I drink, that I’ll get a side of skhug (hot green pepper sauce) with just about anything and that they’ll see my smiling face only a few days later.

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Completely Questionable: Fine Food Market

There are those markets in Richmond that stock beautifully packaged goods, boast fresh produce and offer warm service. I’m talking about places like Little House Green Grocery, Harvest Grocery and Union Market, each make neighborhoods feel cozy and enchanted (read more about my thoughts on them here). Then, there are the others that somehow remain in business that are far past questionable – a mafia front? Hidden brothel in the back?

Because I’m a big fan of experience, I voyaged to some of the city’s most questionable neighborhood markets and have documented each visit.
I’ll start with Fine Foods.  This is where it started. When friends were raving about their shockingly abundant beer selection and sketchy feel they urged me to test it out for myself (and write about it).  After dinner at Perly’s, my girlfriend and made the quick drive to Oregon Hill. There is was, a large brick building on Idlewood with old wrought ironwork outside its entrance.  Inside, my mind was blown.  The musty smell, the bare shelves, disheveled items and the random out-of-date artifacts (hello, 1992 Gillette ‘Sensor’ razor cartridge) gave the ambiance of a post-apolocyptic movie set.

We set our sight on finding this acclaimed beer selection and there it was, nestled in a corner surrounded by coolers we discovered one of the best selection of craft brews comparable to Strawberry Street Market. We grabbed a 6 pack and headed to venture. Aisle by aisle, the randomness of items was mesmerizing and would put any OCDer into an acute panic.  From any array of sugar-fied faux juice to the most chaotic assortment of 1990 Holiday greeting cards.

As we headed toward the checkout, the line of folks was growing – most clung to their good craft beer or waited patiently to get their wine-flavored Black & Mild at the counter.  Although it looks like a tornado ripped through the place and everything edible looked absolutely questionable, there’s something perfectly peculiar at Fine Food.  No matter how crappy, it’s a neighborhood store … that sells great beer. And that’s about it.

Weekend Trip covers 4, 5 & 6: Center of the Universe, Lickinghole Creek & Midnight Brewery

COTUJust a short ride up 95 North, you’ll find yourself facing a building that might resemble the DMV, but inside instead of stern faces and long lines, you’ll find Center of the Universe (they call it COTU) Brewery.  The space is huge and complete with a large patio.  With around 10 beers on tap, we were excited to give another local place a try.  What we weren’t excited about? No heat. Apparently it went out that morning so we bundled up, drank our flight, and scurried on out.

The beer here was alright. I really hate saying alright but we weren’t too impressed. It might be our tastebuds which prefer bolder brews.

I felt like the majority of our flight were IPA’s, which we’re both not huge fans of.  The beginning of our flight started with Slingshot (Kolsch), super light Ray Ray’s (Pale Ale) then to a traditional Main Street (Virginia Ale), then found my favorite in their Chin Music (Amber Lager). Next, the beers went to hop heaven with 4 IPA’s. Unfortunately, the hoppiness was so overwhelming that it changed the flavor of the ones that were not IPA’s.

I won’t give this one a thumbs down, I’ll certainly come back and make sure they have a seasonal brew or two and bask in their hug patio.

Ashleigh’s words: So many IPA’s, so little variation.

Flight: $13 for 8


After COTU, we drove our way through some beautiful Goochland countryside to Lickinghole Creek. As we winded down a dirt road towards the supposed brewery, I felt like we were either going to end up in someone’s driveway (queue a little bit of Deliverance) or an off-the-grid campsite.

Even though I read Lickinghole Creek is Virgina’s first farm brewery, the beautiful white barn still took my breath away. The expansive land the barn sits on is beautiful and I can’t imagine how amazing this place is in the warm summer months.

Following our bad luck with COTU’s heatless tasting room, we quickly discovered Lickinghole’s water was out with a single trip to the Port-a-John. As a result, we weren’t able to snag a flight (unable to wash their glasses).
On the bright side, they had just released their Vanilla Virginia Black Bear Stout a day prior so we went along with the excitement and each got one. It was great – small hints of vanilla with a robust stout flavor. So robust and dark that it coated Ashleigh’s mouth resembling a kind of chola lip liner.

I also got a sip of their Rosemary Saison which was incredible with earthy hints of rosemary with the dry tang of a saison. I’d certainly get this if I saw it on a menu.

Ashleigh’s words: I wanted a little more vanilla flavor in the stout…and I think it’s better to visit during warmer months…and when the water is working…

Flight: $9


Our impromptu trip to Midnight Brewery wouldn’t have been possible without locking eyes with their logo on an exit sign going 64 eastbound. This place was literally right off the highway, which delighted the both of us since we were both hungry and ready to get back to the city.Tucked in a small Industrial Park in the middle of a field, we found comfort in our last brewery of the day and the sweetest older woman who worked there.

The beers here were crisp and cold. For our flight, we ordered Not My Job (a Southern English Brown Ale), Rockville Red (Irish Red Ale), Midnight Granite (Oatmeal Stout) and Front Porch (Rye Porter).

My favorite was the Rockville Red which made me realize I had forgotten how great Irish Reds were. Its toasty caramel and mild hop flavor was amazing and beats my old days of drinking Killian’s.

Ashleigh’s words: I love a beer with a crisp, clean edge to it and all of the ones we tried had that, yes yes yes.

Flight: $6 for 4


No. 3 – Isley Brewing Company

Isley Brewing Company, another recently opened brewery (October 2013) in Scott’s Addition makes you feel as if a mini RVA Brewery Tour is absolutely doable, located within a mile radius of Hardywood and Ardent.

Nestled into a narrow space between Lamplighter and trendy lofts, I was surprised at its massive space stretching lengthwise with a decent back deck.  In the front, you’ll find pool tables, big screen tv’s and tons of tables.  Back towards the bar, you’ll find cheerful bartenders that happily pour and chat it up with customers.

So far, their beer offerings are the most whimsical and sweet-tooth-inspired from their Sour Relationships (blueberry sour) to the Choosy Mother (peanut butter oatmeal porter) and Double Dare (bourbon barrel aged pumpkin double ale). Think dessert meets hops, but they’re not too sweet, they’re actually well balanced and adventurous.

We both decided to split a flight of 6 beers choosing wisely from 10 beers scribbled on a large chalkboard and went with the Blue Hefner (blueberry hefeweizen) Apple Brown Betty (apple brown ale), Size Doesn’t Matter (ginger ex strong bitter), The Bribe (oatmeal stout), Stunt Dubbel (pumpkin double ale), and Wild Honey Pie (Honey IPA).  Each beer shocked our taste buds with a pleasant transition.

My favorite? The Size Doesn’t Matter, I love ginger and the subtle spiciness of it balances well with the malt. Ashleigh claimed the Apple Brown Betty as her favorite and I couldn’t blame her, it was delicious as it resembled notes of apple butter.

As we sipped our flavorful flight, we played Jenga for the first time in years and relished in our skills.

Ashleigh’s take: Their flavors … it was like sampling from the dessert table at Thanksgiving; pumpkin pie, blueberry cobbler … delicious!