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Bluegrass, General Travel, Kentucky, Lexington, Restaurants

The Kentucky Series: Volume 1

From the inception of this blog, I knew I wanted to write a series of articles about Kentucky. I’m a Kentucky girl to the core. I love how the terrain changes as you drive across the state, from the mountains, to the rolling hills, to the bluegrass. I love the heritage and culture in the mountains. I love the fact that, while we are at the northern border of the Mason Dixon line, we hold fast to southern manners and traditions. I love the mix of southern and Appalachian cuisine, and there is nothing like a central Kentucky sunset over the rolling meadows of a horse farm. I’m not sure how many articles I will write in this series, but I’m thinking it will be open-ended, because there is just so much of Kentucky I want to share!

Photography by Jason Justice

In the heart of Kentucky’s Bluegrass region is Lexington, my second home. Lexington is unique in that it’s a small town that lives like a big city. I love the diversity of the city itself, because whether you are in the mood for a rural Sunday drive, a suburban neighborhood, or an urban cityscape with lofts and unique shopping and dining, you’ll find it in Lexington.

I love the variety of locally owned and operated restaurants in Lexington. Some of my favorites have been around for decades, while others are relatively new. One of the old standards is Winchell’s on Southland Drive. Decorated with movies and sports memorabilia and televisions showing a large variety of sporting events, it’s a great place to eat with friends while watching a game!

Now, as a born and bred Kentucky girl, I’m a bit of a Hot Brown snob. For those of you who are not familiar with the dish, it is a culinary delight that originated at The Brown Hotel in Louisville and features roasted turkey (sometimes paired with ham) on toast points, covered in a Mornay cheese sauce and topped with tomatoes and bacon. As a self-proclaimed Hot Brown connoisseur, I feel that if a restaurant has a Hot Brown on the menu, I am duty-bound to order it, or at least convince someone else at my table to order it so I can try it. Many restaurants have their own versions of the Hot Brown, but not all are created equal. Winchell’s Hot Brown, however, passed with flying colors! The Mornay sauce was perfect and everything was layered in the right proportions. Delicious!

If you have a palate that can tolerate spicy foods, try Winchell’s Hot Chicken! When the server placed it in front of me, the golden chicken was placed on two pieces of white bread. My immediate thought was, “What’s up with the bread?” After the first taste, I fully understood the purpose of the bread – it was there to buffer the heat of the chicken! The chicken was tender, tasty, and HOT! I would describe it as Kentucky meets the Bayou. I ordered the chicken with a side of mac and cheese and a cup of tomato basil soup. It was all delicious! We also had a potato soup connoisseur among us who said they will be making another trip to Winchell’s to get another bowl. The next time you’re in Lexington, stop by Winchell’s. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

 

General Travel, Road Trips, Theme Parks

Plan for Spontaneity

Nothing kills a vacation quite like over-planning. Yes, you just heard that from a vacation planner. If you plan every moment, you will likely feel pressured to move quickly from one event to another. While some people love a fast-paced, well thought out day-of-fun, that perfect plan can make you forget that this IS a vacation and leave you feeling like the little girl below. Yes, that’s my little girl.

Some of my family’s favorite vacation memories came from impromptu adventures during some down time. This is especially true at Disney, where Imagineers have designed every square inch of the property to excite, entertain, and impress park and resort guests. A few years ago, my daughter and I decided to see if we could get in to Be Our Guest at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom without a reservation. We must have had a fairy godmother that night, because we achieved the impossible by scoring a last minute table. After we enjoyed the delicious dessert and took in the glamour of the restaurant, we went for a night stroll through the Beauty and the Beast inspired area. To our surprise, we were greeted by none other than the tall, handsome, and somewhat rude, Gaston. He spoke with us for a few moments, mostly about himself, and then my daughter Alyson posed for a picture with him. If we had planned our vacation down to every second, without allowing ourselves time to “taste the gray stuff” (which we have ALL heard is very delicious) we would have missed out on this magical evening!

 

On another trip to Orlando, Alyson and I took a day to explore Universal Studios. While making our way to the Harry Potter section of the park, we ran into the notorious Green Goblin. We took the time to have a stare down before we slipped off to the Three Broomsticks for a Butterbeer.

 

No matter how fun planning is, nothing can replace the special surprises or happy mishaps that can appear during your vacation. The next time you take a trip with the people you love, plan for some spontaneity!

General Travel, Shopping, Theme Parks

Don’t Believe Me? Ask the Dishes!

There are two things I need to share with you: 1) I’m a southern girl from a family of women who have what we like to refer to as a “dish problem”. Take us into any store and we sniff out the dishes like a bloodhound and then have to tell ourselves to back away because any one person only needs a certain number of dishes. 2) My favorite Disney movie is Beauty and the Beast – Belle is my kind of girl!

On one of our more recent trips to Disney World, I stumbled upon what might become the arch nemesis to me fighting my “dish problem” – Disney has produced a line of Beauty and the Beast dishes! I stood there, jaw on the floor, for what seemed like an hour looking at these beauties. It was love at first sight! My daughter was with me, and you might think she would pull me away, saying “Mom, you don’t need those dishes, let’s go ride Tower of Terror”, but she also is afflicted with the “dish problem”. If you are like me, and love dishes as well as Beauty and the Beast, check these gems out on your next trip! You can find them at several locations on Disney World property, but my favorite is probably the Disney Marketplace Co-Op at Disney Springs. It’s one of my favorite additions to this area since Disney reimagined what was formerly known as Downtown Disney into Disney Springs.

General Travel, Restaurants, Road Trips, Shopping

Waynesville – A hidden gem in the outskirts of Asheville, North Carolina!

Not so long ago, a good friend mentioned that we should visit this quaint little town she ran across in North Carolina. She spoke of Waynesville and its quaint shops and wonderful restaurants with great fondness, and knowing that she has impeccable taste, I stored it away in my mental file of places to visit.

A month or two later, we were making the trek along Interstate 40 between Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina and the memory of what our friend had shared with me came rushing back, so after a short discussion of whether we should stop in Waynesville for lunch, we called our friend to see if she would suggest a restaurant. That’s where the adventure began…

We found Waynesville to be a quaint little village straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. As we drove down the street looking for our chosen restaurant, The Sweet Onion, we were mesmerized by the beautiful street, full of enticing boutiques, bakeries, antique shops and more. We took a few minutes to pop into the Mast General Store, an old favorite from previous adventures, and found it to be as enchanting as always – a step back in time to the mom and pop stores like my great grandparents used to own – with clothes, toys, gardening supplies, household items, and barrels of candy loved by kids of all ages.mastgeneralstoresign2

Lunch at The Sweet Onion was scrumptious! The restaurant was charming and the food was tastefully presented. The fare is a contemporary take on southern cuisine and it does not disappoint! Among us, we ordered the crab cake, macaroni and cheese, mashed sweet potatoes, blackberry barbecue chicken, mashed potatoes, pecan chicken salad melt, broccoli and cheese grits, and the marinated cucumber tomato salad. The sign of good food with our family is a quiet table, and other than the occasional “This is wonderful!”, our table was silent!

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As we were in the midst of a road trip and had a long drive ahead of us before we stopped for the night, we had to leave without being able to visit more of this intriguing town. But, Lord willing, we will be back! Waynesville, you have piqued our interest!

General Travel, Theme Parks

Don’t Miss These 10 Things at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter

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Being serious Harry Potter fans, or Potterheads if you will, when we visit Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure, we are drawn to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Having been there a number of times, we have taken some time to explore the areas and have found that there are a lot of hidden gems that people sometimes miss. Without doubt, the big thrill rides at both Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure Park (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Dueling Dragons, and Flight of the Hippogriff) and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios (Escape from Gringotts) are not to be missed, but there are a few other jewels that any self-respecting Potterhead would not want to overlook:

  1. Be sure to locate and visit Knockturn Alley in Diagon Alley – Inside Borgin and Burkes, not only will you find some interesting merchandise, but you will also find the vanishing cabinet (go stand beside it and listen closely). While you are there, ask the clerk to see Lucius Malfoy’s wand. It is for sale, but I just enjoy looking at it.

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  1. In Diagon Alley, go to the money exchange office and have a conversation with the goblin in charge.

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  1. Watch for glimpses of the shadows of people you may recognize at The Three Broomsticks restaurant in Hogsmeade. Hint: Look up!
  1. Try the Butterbeer – you have some options! You can get it hot, cold, or frozen at several venues in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, or you can get Butterbeer flavored soft-serve ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s in Diagon Alley (our favorite, by far!). You should know that Butterbeer is quite rich and sugary, so you might want to get one as a snack rather than as dessert or alongside a meal.

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  1. Ride the Hogwarts Express in both directions as the experience is different in each direction. Also, be sure to pay attention to both what is outside the windows and what is happening in the hallway outside your compartment. I don’t want to give spoilers here, so just take my word for it!
  1. The queue at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is as good as, if not better than, the ride itself. Brushing up on familiarity with the rooms and outdoor areas at Hogwarts Castle will make this experience even more magical! I suggest you watch the movies again before your trip. One of my favorites is found as you are getting ready to go through the turnstiles to get on the ride – you’ll see!
  1. Go inside the red telephone booth outside Kings Cross Station and pick up the phone and dial the number on the disc on the phone.

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  1. Have a chat with the conductor and talking head at the Night Bus outside of Diagon Alley.
  1. While you are in the neighborhood of the night bus, look for Kreacher at Number 12 Grimmauld Place.

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  1. Go to Olivander’s in Hogsmeade to watch a wand choose a wizard. Who knows – you might be the wizard it chooses!
  1. When in line at Kings Cross station, be sure to watch as the people ahead of you enter Platform 9 ¾.
  1. Be sure to visit Filch’s Emporium to the left of Hogwarts Castle. The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride actually exits into this shop, but you can go in whether you ride or not. Look at the items for sale in the locked cabinets! You’ll find things here that you won’t find anywhere else! You’ll want to look at them, even if you don’t purchase them.

 

BONUS: By all means, buy a Park to Park ticket! It is the only way you will get to ride the Hogwarts Express.