Celebrate the Holidays in Chicago: Great Happenings

Running now through January 7, 2024, Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Garden (located in Glencoe, Chicago’s North Shore) returns for its fifth season with an illuminated outdoor trail dazzling with brand new installations from around the world and beloved returning favorites such as the Winter Cathedral and a reimagined version of the Fire Garden.New works from international artists include Lilies, from UK artist Jigantics (illuminated 5-foot lilies float elegantly on water, providing a mesmerizing view from the bridge above and igniting a sense of warmth and excitement), Night Lights, from French artist TILT (delicate lamp-shaped lights that extend nearly 19 feet high amplify a cozy atmosphere with a display of soft ambient colors) and Sea of Light, from UK artist Ithaca (thousands of individually controlled balls of LED light make Evening Island sparkle and dance their way to a bespoke soundtrack in multiple patterns and colors). Tickets sell out quickly so it is recommended to book your time and date in advance; advance tickets for adults (non-members) begin at $34 and children (ages 3-12) at $19. 

The Christkindlmarket celebrates its 27th season at Daley Plaza, its fifth year at Gallagher Way in Wrigleyville, and its second time at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.  This year, Christkindlmarket is introducing its first ceramic beer stein with a holiday-themed design ($20), as well as location-specific $8 souvenir mugs with unique designs at each market (for example: the Chicago mug shows off downtown landmarks like the City Hall building and Daley Plaza’s Picasso sculpture while the Wrigleyville mug shows off Hotel Zachary, the intersection sign of Clark & Addison, and much more.) These mugs are hotly anticipated collector’s items for locals who have turned Christkindlmarket into a holiday tradition since 1996. Modeled after the 16th-century holiday markets in Germany, the free-admission outdoor bazaar is a hub for traditional German fare, delightful warm beverages and handcrafted gifts for purchase, and charming holiday vibes the entire family can enjoy. And now in its third year, another popular favorite is back – the annual Christkindlmarkt ornament, hand-painted and glass blown in Europe, portraying a market scene with holiday elements on its ice blue background ($41 at all info booths).

  • Admission to the market is free but food, beverages, and handcrafted gifts all must be purchased. All markets open on November 17; Aurora and Chicago locations close on December 24 and Wrigleyville on December 31. 

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light at the Museum of Science and Industry (running through January 7, 2024) is a beloved annual tradition that began in 1942 with a single tree. Today the Museum features a four-story floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by more than 50 trees and displays decorated by volunteers to represent holiday traditions from cultures around the world.

This year the museum will also be celebrating the wonders of snow, with an exhibition in the Lower Court featuring intricate photographs of snowflakes taken by Caltech physicist Ken Libbrecht.

Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum (Though January 6, 2024) invites visitors to celebrate the holidays and marvel at how light transforms a magnificent landscape. Journey along a 1-mile paved walking path (that is fully ADA compliant for guests with limited mobility), amid festive music and lighting effects, explore exciting new features and immersive installations. Afterwards, warm up by a cracking fire and roast marshmallows for s’mores, or stop in one of the concession tents for a snack and beverage. Ginkgo Restaurant in the Visitor Center will serve dinner guests view the display’s finale on Meadow Lake. The Arboretum Store will also be open for holiday shopping; gifts include a special temperature-activated, color-changing ceramic mug that will be available for purchase during all Illumination dates. Tickets start at $28 per person for nonmembers. 

People ice skating at the McCormick Tribune Plaza Ice Rink in Chicago’s Millennium Park; December 2021.

The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park offers ice skating all winter, through March, weather permitting.  Admission is free, but online reservations are required and skate rentals are available. You’ll be surrounded by the downtown skyline, with magical Christmas lights from the City of Chicago Christmas tree reflected in ‘The Bean’ / Cloud Gate sculpture. OR, head over to Maggie Daley Park, right next to Millennium Park, to the picturesque Skating Ribbon that meanders around snow-dusted pine trees and whimsical play spaces. The path is twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink. 

The Immersive Nutcracker: A Winter Miracle (November 24 – December 31, 2023) at Lighthouse Artspace Chicago brings cutting-edge technology to meet the artistry of ballet dancers. This mesmerizing 30-minute immersive experience, set to Tchailkovsky’s music, weaves the classic tale of Marie and her toy nutcracker. Join them, on their magical adventure through the Land of Sweets, brought to life by renowned ballet dancers and innovative projection mapping technology. Pricing begins at $29.99 per person. 

  • While you’re here… Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago is bringing a new pop-up bar experience, Bar Humbug, to reign in the holiday season. The ArtSpace will be transformed into a winter wonderland with wall-to-wall holiday scenes. A lot like traditional German beer halls, there will be long tables and plush banquettes for groups to gather. Bar Humbug will present live musicians and DJs playing the holiday classics. Guests must be 21 to enter.

ZooLights Presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ will include new and exciting LED light displays,  photo ops, and interactive programming including a never-before-seen garden-themed light show on the zoo’s South Lawn. Festive photo ops will dot the zoo, as well as costumed characters and Victorian carolers on select nights. Food and beverages including festive cocktails and hot cocoa will be available at Edie Levy’s Landmark Café. Snowy’s Sprits & S’more and various snack stations around the zoo. Check the calendar for special events such as sensory-friendly nights, a family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration, and adults-only evenings. General admission ZooLights tickets are $7 per person. Tickets on Fridays, Saturdays, Thanksgiving Eve (Nov. 22), and New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31) are $10 per person. As part of the zoo’s ongoing commitment to accessibility, general admission is FREE on Mondays. Ticket sales from ZooLights directly support the zoo’s world-class animal care, global conservation efforts, and innovative learning programs and help keep the zoo free to the public 365 days a year. ZooLights will run through January 7, 2024. 

For more information on Chicago holiday happenings, visit Choose Chicago.

Celebrate the Christmas Holidays at the Majestic Hotel & Spa in Barcelona

Barcelona is a blaze of lights up during the holidays making it the perfect time to explore the city’s stunning architecture including the famed works of Antoni Gaudi-the Sagrada Familia, Park Güell (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and Casa Batlló. Barcelona, with its Mediterranean climate, makes it the ideal destination during the holidays.

For those who love iconic historic architecture and the ambience of luxury and opulence, the award-winning Majestic Hotel & Spa is the perfect place to stay while enjoying all that the Barcelona, a stunning seaside city known for its gastronomy, culture, vibrant neighborhoods, museums, and so much more including myriad holiday celebrations.

Europe’s Most Vibrant Holiday Spot: Majestic Hotel & Spa Barcelona

The five-star Majestic Hotel, located in the heart of Passeig de Gràcia, considered to be the city’s most expensive and stunning boulevard, is a vivid part of Barcelona’s holiday celebration, a vivid tapestry of colors, flavors, and festivities, features an array of exclusive offerings. With its spa, outdoor plunge-pool on the rooftop and amazing views of the city, guests are at the heart of the holiday activities including the start of the festivities—the illumination of Passeig de Gràcia, which this year celebrates in 200th anniversary.

“At Majestic Hotel & Spa, we believe in creating magical moments that linger in the hearts of our guests. This holiday season, we invite you to immerse yourself in the splendor of our offerings, where luxury meets tradition, and every detail is designed to enchant,” says Pascal Billard, General Manager at Majestic Hotel & Spa. “It is our pleasure to be part of your celebrations, ensuring a season of joy, warmth, and unparalleled experiences.”

In line with the city’s captivating ambiance, the hotel will serve its traditional holiday program of dinners and brunches and exhibit the next edition of the Wine Dinners, an intimate bi-monthly wine dinner based on a selection of wines from a prominent winery. Majestic Wine Dinners defies the conventional dinner setting. Following the delightful evening with Castell d’Encus, the hotel has already scheduled the next Wine Dinner in collaboration with the Pere Ventura Winery, set to take place on November 16th.

In addition to this, Majestic Hotel & Spa invites guests to savor the magic of the holiday season with specially curated festive menus to elevate the dining experience. Under the culinary expertise of renowned chefs, the following delectable https://majestichotelgroup.sirv.com/majestic/navidad/menus-individuales-en.pdfholiday menus on a set schedule:

Christmas Eve Dinner:

When/Where: Christmas Eve dinner will be served at SOLC Restaurant from 8:00 PM until 10:30 PM.

Cost: The dinner is priced at €120 per person.

Christmas Brunch:

When/Where: After a morning of gifts, it’s time to dine at Majestic’s SOLC Restaurant and enjoy its traditional Christmas Gourmet Brunch served from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Cost: €145 for adults and €60 for children.

St Stephen’s Day Brunch:

When/Where: On December 26, the celebrations continue with the traditional St. Stephen’s Day lunch, a unique lunch at SOLC Restaurant served from 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM

Cost: €105 per person.

New Year’s Eve Dinner: Celebrate the beginning of 2024 with a choice of outstanding culinary options.

Option 1:

When/Where: Salon Mediterraneo from 8:30 PM until 3:00 AM

Cost: €385 per person.

Option 2:

When/Where: SOLC Restaurant from 8:30 PM until 3:00 AM

Cost: €585 per person.

New Year’s Brunch:

When/Where: To start the new year on the right foot, indulge in culinary delights at SOLC Restaurant from 11:30 AM until 2:30 PM.

Cost: €75 for adults and €45 for children.

Pop-up Oyster Bar:

When/Where: Enjoy an evening of oysters, caviar, and drinks at Terraza La Dolce Vitae from 6:00 PM until 1:00 AM.

Cost: different options including oysters, caviar and drinks starting from 120€ up to 420€

About Majestic Hotel & Spa Barcelona

“In the world of great luxury hotels, the old is now the new,” is the perfect description of hotels with such stunning traditions and histories as the neo-classical French style Majestic Hotel & Spa Barcelona which recently underwent a five-year renovation led by interior designer Antonio Obrador. Since its opening in 1918, the five-star hotel owned by the Soldevila-Casals family has played an exemplary role in Barcelona’s architecture, society, and lifestyle. Its guests included such notable guests such as American writer Ernest Hemingway and Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

With a privileged location in the heart of Barcelona on the ultra-stylish Passeig de Gràcia, the 271-room property is home to an outstanding 1,000-piece art collection with works by artists such as Antoni Tàpies and Josep Guinovart. Under the direction of Michelin star Chef Nandu Jubany, a robust gastronomic offering is highlighted by the Majestic Breakfast Experience, named Europe’s Best Breakfast in 2018 by Prix Villégiature. Additionally, The Leading Hotels of the World, a prestigious organization representing independent luxury hotels from around the world, recognized the property with the Remarkably Uncommon award in 2018; the hotel has been a member of the organization since December 2014. Majestic Hotel & Spa Barcelona is also home to the city’s largest suite, a 5,000-square-foot penthouse with capacity for six, a dining room, two panoramic terraces and access to a personal butler and chauffeur. www.hotelmajestic.es.

[The Washington Post]

https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2023/10/11/national-book-month-recipes/

Fishing for the Best: Gulf Coast“Royal” Seafood Chefs Reign Supreme

October is National Seafood Month and in celebration of what’s best about Lousiana and Coastal Alabama seafood cookery get to know the chefs who continually are making outstanding contributions to the local seafood industry, put their skills and knowledge to test in culinary competitions, and walked away with a real crown. These chefs, respected leaders within their communities, are passionate about the bounties of the local waters and its impact on their region’s culture. Who are these royals? Mindy Bianca and her staff at Mindy Bianca Public Relations did the hard work of rounding up their “e-fish-cient” list. And I’m reporting on what they discovered here.

Chef Amanda Cusey

The Terrace in Lake Charles, Louisiana

Favorite Seafood Dish to Make: Fish and Grits

Though she grew up in the southwest United States, Chef Amanda trained and worked extensively in Europe during her culinary journey. She received her Cordon Bleu training in Surrey, England, and worked in restaurants across England and Ireland – perhaps most notably serving as head chef for a Michelin Star chef’s pop-up restaurant in Dublin – before setting down roots in Lake Charles. Her international experience shines through at The Terrace, where Italian influence meets Louisiana flavors. In June 2022, she helped break glass ceilings as she was named the Queen of Louisiana Seafood – only the second ever in the 15-year history of the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off. Her winning dish? Pan-seared red drum over tomato polenta with a crawfish cream sauce.

Chef Jim Smith

The Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar in Mobile, Alabama

Favorite Seafood Dish to Make: Oysters – in any style!

Though he’s famous for his delicious Lane Cake, the state dessert of Alabama, Chef Jim is also known for being a voice for sustainable and local food education. When he served as Executive Chef for the State of Alabama, he focused on sourcing local Alabama ingredients and supporting farmers and fishermen.

In 2011, Chef Jim was dubbed King of American Seafood and traveled the country introducing people to the world of sustainable seafood. He has continued his advocacy efforts as he’s moved forward in his career … and that included representing the U.S. Seafood Industry in this year’s National Geographic Traveller Food Festival in London and appearances in multiple seasons of “Top Chef.” Now he’s the executive chef at Hummingbird Way, sharing his love for local seafood with every diner who walks through his doors. Prior to 2023, he was the only Alabama chef who had ever taken home the crown of King of American Seafood, which leads us to our next chef.

Chef Brody Olive 

Voyagers in Orange Beach, Alabama 

Favorite Seafood Dish to Make: Tiradito (Peruvian take on sashimi with citrus sauce) 

Home to the National Shrimp Festival, Experience the Oyster seafood festival, and other notable seafood events, the twin beach cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, are certainly the place to be if you want to find some of the best seafood along the Gulf Coast. With more than 20 years working in the seafood industry, Alabama native Chef Brody has definitely made his culinary mark.

He continues to impress diners across the five restaurants and banquet facilities he oversees at the Perdido Beach Resort. He embraces the culinary ways of the Gulf Coast, putting the freshest and best locally sourced ingredients on every plate. Besides the numerous Chef and Restauranteur of the Year awards he has earned throughout his career, Chef Brody is now the newest “royal” in the roundup.

In August, he was crowned King of American Seafood in the Great American Seafood Cook-Off, bringing the title back home to Alabama for the first time since 2011, when Chef Jim Smith (above) earned the honor. With saltwater catfish, mole crabs and Gulf shrimp in his winning dish, how could he not wow the judges? 

Chef Nathan Richard

Adjunct Professor at Chef John Folse Culinary Institute in Thibodaux, Louisiana

Favorite Seafood Dish to Make: Seafood Stuffed Flounder

Besides the crown he received for becoming the Great American Seafood King in 2019, Chef Nathan wears many hats, including professor, private catering business owner and volunteer firefighter … which means he knows how to (safely) turn up the heat in the kitchen! Though he moved to Europe to cook in France and Italy after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Louisiana remained in his heart. Chef Nathan returned to work at restaurants throughout the American South and settled back in Thibodaux, Louisiana, a few years ago, ready to embrace the Cajun lifestyle once more. When you’re surrounded by the pantry of fresh ingredients that the bayous of Louisiana provide, it only makes sense to cook what you know.

Chef Nathan’s winning cook-off dish was a crawfish and goat cheese king cake, complete with Cajun caviar.

Chefs Keith and Nealy Frentz

LOLA in Covington, Louisiana

Favorite Seafood Dish to Make: Louisiana Seafood Gumbo and Pan-Fried Speckled Trout with Capers and Lemon

Chefs Keith and Nealy, a husband-and-wife team, were forced out of New Orleans in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit, and came to settle in the nearby Northshore. Though they’d both held prestigious restaurant chef positions, they had always dreamed of owning their own restaurant. Thus, LOLA was born. Housed in a historic train depot with the restaurant kitchen tucked away in a caboose, this unique dining establishment keeps it local with fresh ingredients sourced from local farmers and seafood suppliers.

In 2012, the pair was proclaimed King and Queen of Louisiana Seafood. A year later, Chef Nealy placed second in the popular cooking show “Chopped.” The couple has continued to represent St. Tammany Parish and Louisiana seafood in both their culinary travel and work at LOLA.

Chef Nathan Richard’s Crawfish and Oyster Boudin

Makes 6 links

  • 1 pound crawfish tail meat
  • 1 pound oysters
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup green onion, green and white finely chopped
  • 1 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup poblano peppers, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3 cups cooked long-grain white rice
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons green onion, tops only sliced
  • 8 ounces prepared hog casings

In a large bowl, combine crawfish, oysters, salt and peppers. Set aside. In large skillet over medium heat, add canola oil, and cook onions, peppers, celery, garlic and tomato paste until softened, about 5 minutes. Add crawfish/oyster mixture, and cook 15 minutes more. Remove from heat, and fold in rice, parsley and green onion tops.

Stuff casings while filling is still hot, twisting into 4-inch links. In large pan, add crawfish boudin links, and cover with water. Cook over medium-high heat, keeping just below a simmer; cook until heated through, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain. In a large skillet, cook boudin links over medium-high heat until golden brown on all sides

For extra kick, season the bread crumbs, with salt, pepper or cayenne, if you like.

Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar Shrimp & Grits

Visited the Vanderbilt Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina, and stopped at Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar for a late night suppose and really enjoyed their shrimp and grits. Here’s a description of the dish they serve and the recipe.

Shrimp & grits were made famous in the South Carolina Low Country, where it’s been a favorite on-the-boat breakfast for shrimpers for years. This dish was famously brought to the nation’s attention when New York Times legendary food writer Craig Claiborne, a Mississippi native, had dinner with Chef Bill Neal at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC. At Tupelo Honey they take our shrimp and grits very, very seriously but aren’t afraid to mix it up by adding goat cheese to the grits as their own signature twist.

Shrimp & Goat Cheese Grits with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce Recipe

  • 2 Tbsp. plus 1.5 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. large uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced roasted red bell pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. Creole Spice (recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted cold butter
  • Goat Cheese Grits (recipe below)

Creole Spice Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 5 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. white pepper

Directions:

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on high heat. Add the shrimp and garlic and cook for about 4 minutes, or until the shrimp begins to turn a little pink.

2. Add the bell peppers and creole spice and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the peppers are heated through. Add the wine and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, just until the shrimp turns pink.

3. Remove from the heat and add the butter, swirling the pan to combine all the liquids. Serve the shrimp over the grits and top with the warm sauce left in the skillet.

*Makes 4 servings.

Creole Spice Recipe

Directions:

Combine the following ingredients:

*Makes 1/4 cup.

  • 1 cup yellow stone ground grits
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1.5 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup goat cheese
  • Finely ground cornmeal

Goat Cheese Grits Recipe

Taking their love of goat cheese to the next level, you can make this recipe in two ways. One of for a traditional dish of grits and the fry is to fry the goat cheese grits after coating them in cornmeal. The outcome? Grit croutons and grit cakes!

Read on for the recipes. And for more Tupelo Honey recipes click here.

Directions

1. Combine water and salt in a stock, put on high heat, and bring to a boil.

2. Add butter and grits at the same time and stir for a couple minutes to prevent clumping or sticking. DO NOT ADD THE BUTTER AT THE BEGINNING WITH THE WATER. Adding the butter and grits at the same time, and NOT melting the butter while the water heats up, is imperative to a creamy final product).

3. Bring grits, salt, water and butter back to a boil. Add heavy cream.

4. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30-35 minutes until thick and creamy, stirring occasionally. Add goat cheese and black pepper and taste for seasoning.

*Makes 4-6 portions of delicious goat cheese grits.

5. When complete, pour cooked grits into an 8×8 baking pan, ensuring even distribution, and allow to cool for at least 12 hours.

6. When completely cool, turn baking pan over and allow grit “cake” to fall out onto a cutting board.

Lake Charles, Louisiana Hosts First-Ever Louisiana Food and Wine Festival This September

 Food and wine enthusiasts will gather in host destination Lake Charles, Louisiana, for the highly anticipated Louisiana Food and Wine Festival next month. Taking place September 14 to 17, this inaugural four-day event will showcase the best of Louisiana’s culinary offerings and local flavors. Set against one of the most picturesque areas in the region that’s nicknamed “Louisiana’s Playground,” the festival will take place at the downtown lakefront area.  

The festival will feature an impressive lineup of renowned Southern chefs, including James Beard-nominated celebrity chef and restaurant owner Tiffany Derry, a Texas native who’s made appearances on shows such as “MasterChef,” “Top Chef” and “The Great American Recipe.” There will also be winemakers, food experts, artisans and more, and attendees can partake in master classes, indulge in a wide array of delectable dishes, and sample beverages from the region. Additionally, there will be live music and a marketplace where visitors can purchase local products and crafts, further immersing themselves in Louisiana’s cultural heritage. 

Ticketed events are as follows: 

  • Louisiana’s Celebrity Chefs Wine Dinner
  • September 14 
    • This six-course dinner will feature some of the state’s most celebrated chefs, including local legend Chef Amanda Cusey, named Louisiana Seafood Queen last year. 
  • Louisiana-Inspired Master Classes 
  • September 15 
    • These intimate and interactive experiences will offer tasting bites paired with a signature beverage. Classes vary from Creole cooking to mixology to touring Bayou Rum Distillery and more. 
  • Fire on the Lake
  • September 15 
    • Pitmasters, grill masters, BBQ masters … you name it, they’ll be at Fire on the Lake and serving Louisiana’s best roasted, smoked and grilled dishes. Attendees will receive a souvenir glass and unlimited food and drink tastings for this event. 
  • Louisiana Food & Wine Festival Grand Tasting
  • September 16 
    • Demonstrations, live music, Best Taste Awards, artisan booths, and hundreds of food and beverage tastings will come together for the largest event of the festival. Tickets are all-inclusive for tastings, and guests will receive a souvenir glass. 
  • Sunday Jazz Brunch
  • September 17 
    • The all-inclusive tickets for brunch allow for unlimited beverage tastings and lavish food stations. Sushi, Louisiana seafood, salad, made-to-order omelet and carving stations, even a Bloody Mary bar will provide attendees with a drool-worthy end to the festival. 

In addition to the lakefront happenings, festival-goers are sure to enjoy exploring the lively atmosphere of Lake Charles, an area known for its expansive outdoor offerings, thriving music and arts scene, and gaming resorts. From enjoying live music performances to shelling or birding along the Creole Nature Trail (and definitely spotting a gator or two!), there are plenty of activities to complement the culinary delights. Lake Charles has put together a suggested itinerary for the weekend, which can be viewed HERE

The Louisiana Food and Wine Festival is a must-attend event for anyone who’s passionate about food and libations. Whether you’re a seasoned foodie, a wine connoisseur, or simply eager to explore the vibrant food culture of Louisiana, this festival promises an unforgettable experience in an unforgettable destination. For more information and to stay updated on the festival’s schedule and culinary lineup, or to purchase tickets, visit https://louisianafoodandwinefestival.com/. To further explore everything there is to do in Lake Charles, head to https://www.visitlakecharles.org/.  

Can’t make it to the festival this year? Not to worry! Lake Charles will be hosting the Food and Wine Festival annually, and the destination looks forward to growing the event and welcoming guests for years to come. Plan ahead for 2024 and beyond!  

Let the Count Begin: Six Months to Mardi Gras!

We may be in the midst of prime summertime, and there’s still fall and the whole holiday season ahead, but we’re getting ready and counting the days to one of the most exciting cultural events in the country. Yes, you guessed it.  Mardi Gras, the iconic Carnival celebration, is just six months away and thus it’s not too early to mark your calendars and make your plans for this incredible, weeks-long event filled with music, parades, costumes and the true spirit of the South.

In 2023, Mardi Gras lands on February 13.
We wanted to get the word out before your inboxes are completely full of haunts, harvests and holidays … because we feel compelled to remind you that all the fun of Mardi Gras extends well beyond New Orleans. We represent six destinations along the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Louisiana, all of which have a story-worthy (and family-friendly!) Mardi Gras celebration just waiting to be shared with you. (Please note that these websites will be updated with details in the coming months, so keep referring back to them as you work on stories.) 

Alabama
  • Mobile, Alabama (the true home of America’s first Mardi Gras!) 
  • National Burger Day is this August 25th

    It’s time to get ready for National Burger Day coming up on August 25th. So, to get ready here are some burger and other food stats:

    America loves its burgers, but there is a debate over how we like them and where we should put our cheese.  RTA Outdoor Living (RTAOutdoorLiving.com), the leader in custom prefabricated outdoor kitchens and cooking appliances, has released the results of a study that reveal what Americans really feel about burgers, hot dogs, BBQing, pizza and more. 

    The survey of over 1,000 people from coast to coast revealed the best level of “doneness” for a burger is medium, with 40% of respondents agreeing. More men (43.1%) than women (36.8%) were into medium doneness while more women (23.2%) than men (11.6%) wanted well-done burgers.  In a cheeseburger, 15% of respondents feel the cheese should go UNDER the burger! Really?! Almost 19% of men want the cheese under the burger

    The full survey can be seen at: rtaoutdoorliving.com/food-debates-controversial-foods/

    Key results include:

    –       In a cheeseburger, 15% of respondents feel the cheese should go UNDER the burger! Really?!
    o       Almost 19% of men want the cheese under the burger

    –       The best level of “doneness” for a burger is medium, with 40% of respondents agreeing
    o       More men (43.1%) than women (36.8%) were into medium doneness while more women (23.2%) than men (11.6%) wanted well-done burgers

    –       “Drumsticks” are the clear favorite amongst wing eaters, far ahead of “flats”
    o       Drumsticks are the winner with 2 in 3 respondents preferring them

    –       Boneless wings are more popular than bone-in wings
    o       Despite a clear love for drumsticks, 63.4% of respondents chose boneless over bone-in wings

    –       57% of respondents say hot dogs are sandwiches
    o       A higher number of boomers (63.5%) say so than Gen Z (50%)
    o       60% of men think a hot dog is a sandwich, while 52% of women agree

    –       56.7% of respondents say grilling is the best method to prepare a hot dog
    o       Surprisingly, 12.6% think it is microwaving is the best way
    o       Grilling is 10% more popular with females (62.5%) than males (52.2%)
    o       27% of those ages 18-23 feel that boiling is the best method

    –       10% of Americans think that squares are the best way to cut a pizza
    o       While 90% agree that the traditional triangle is the best way to get a slice, 10% do like the squares

    –       47.5% of respondents put pineapple on their pizza, meaning just 52.5% of pizzas are safe from certain doom
    o       60% of those 18-23 will not put pineapple on their pizza

    –       18% of Americans eat pizza with a fork and knife

    –       3 in 4 prefer the crispiness of edge brownies while 24% want 100% gooiness of the center brownies. Good thing there are 4 edges and 1 center per tray

    Explore the Hatfield and McCoy Feud, Historic Sites and Driving Tour

    Guest blogger Kathy Witt shares her latest road trip adventure with us.

    The famous Hatfield-McCoy feud that has terrorized the law-abiding citizens in Eastern Kentucky has broken out afresh and another wholesale slaughter is looked for at any moment.”  

    The 1889 story in New York City’s The Sun, under the headline, “East Kentucky in Terror,” chronicled one of the world’s most famous grudges, one that began with a hog and ended with a body count of more than a dozen dead Hatfields and McCoys.

    The feud, which had its roots in the American Civil War, lasted for generations, keeping the country in its thrall for decades.  

    This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the feud between these two warring clans that lived, died, murdered and maimed in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, specifically the Tug River Valley, which divides Kentucky and West Virginia.  

    Descendants of the Hatfields, whose patriarch was William “Devil Anse” Hatfield, and the McCoys, led by Randolph “Old Ranel” McCoy, signed a truce, proclaiming in part that the families “do hereby and formally declare an official end to all hostilities, implied, inferred and real, between the families, now and forevermore.”  

    Play:

    The self-guided Hatfields and McCoys Historic Feud Driving Tour takes visitors to key sites connected to the 30-year feud. First stop: the Pikeville-Pike County, Kentucky Visitors Center, www.tourpikecounty.com, to pick up the brochure with step-by-step directions through Pike County’s winding mountain roads. An audio CD or USB is available for purchase ($20/each) and sets the stage for full-on feud immersion with narration, music and jaunty ballads.  

    The driving tour covers three main geographic areas of Hatfield-McCoy feud activity: Pikeville city, the Blackberry area of Pike County and across the Tug River in West Virginia in a town called Sarah Ann. Depending on pace and interest, the full tour can take four to six hours, but it can also be broken up into shorter visits. Tour sites are open during daylight hours.  

    Pay your respects at the gravesites of Hatfield and McCoy kinfolk caught in the clash’s crossfire, including Devil Anse and Randolph McCoy. Stop by the site of Randolph McCoy’s Homeplace and Well in the Blackberry Creek area and the mournful grounds of the Pawpaw trees, where in 1882 more than 50 bullets were pumped into the bodies of Randolph’s sons—Tolbert, Pharmer and Randolph, Jr.—in retaliation for the stabbing death of Ellison Hatfield.  

    In Pikeville, enter the halls of justice at the Historic Pike County Courthouse, site of the Hatfield trials for the murders of the McCoy brothers and the subsequent murder of Alifair McCoy, their sister, among other crimes. See the Hanging Site of Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts. The 1890 hanging brought crowds out to the gallows in their Sunday best to watch the Hatfield who confessed to and was convicted of Alifair’s murder swing by the neck.  

    Nearby, the Big Sandy Heritage Center Museum houses the world’s largest collection of historical Hatfield and McCoy artifacts, including the rope bed that belonged to Asa Harmon McCoy, whose accused murderer was Devil Anse, and an original photo of Roseanna McCoy, who had a secret love affair with Johnse Hatfield. Also see life-size figures of Devil Anse and Old Ranel, plus newspaper clippings, portraits of the families and other memorabilia.  

    Spend some time in Pikeville’s historic downtown district to stroll lamppost-lined streets and browse independently owned shops like Two Chicks & Company for apparel, gift items and home décor and the mom-and-pop collective, the Shoppes at 225.  

    Along the way meet the Hatfield and McCoy Bears, Moonshine Bear, Banjo Bear and a whole sleuth of bears—all part of Pikeville’s Bear Affair, a community arts program starring University of Pikeville’s sports mascot. The whimsical four- and five-foot tall bears each have a story to tell and are fun and colorful photo ops.  

    Stay:

    Stay in walking distance of downtown shops, restaurants and many of the Bear Affair bears at the Hampton Inn Pikeville. It has all the amenities the brand is known for—free parking, Wi-Fi and hot breakfast, indoor pool and fitness center—plus a cozy fireplace in the lobby.  

    Eat:

    Sup where Old Ranel once slept. Chirico’s Ristorante occupies the former McCoy House—where Randolph, his wife Sarah (also known as Sally) and their family settled when their Pike County Homeplace was burned by the Hatfields during the New Year’s Day Raid of 1888.  

    Dine on authentic Italian dishes—everything from an Italian sampler starter featuring hand-rolled meatballs and scratch-made Italian sausage to the traditional Frankwich house specialty. Part sandwich, part pizza, this layered and lidded Chirico’s original is stacked with ham, pepperoni, mozzarella and zesty cheeses, baked in a brick oven and finished with lettuce, tomato and mayo. Specialty frankwiches include Philly steak, Italian sub and Buffalo chicken flavors.  

    Place your order then head up to the second floor, ascending the same staircase Randolph and Sarah walked up each night while living here from 1888 until their respective deaths.

    According to Tony Tackett, executive director of the Pikeville-Pike County Tourism Commission, Old Ranel selected the site for its proximity to Dils Cemetery where he had buried Sarah and their daughter, Roseanna. He could step out onto his second-floor balcony and, at that time, see across town to the cemetery.

    RECIPE

    McCoy’s Italian Meat LoafThis recipe, a McCoy family favorite, is from the cookbook, Cooking with the Real McCoys, with recipes by the family and friends of Margie Annett and the McCoys. The book is available for $15 at the gift shop at the Pikeville-Pike County Visitor Center.   Ingredients  

    • 2 lbs. ground beef
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 1 egg, slightly, beaten
    • 1 diced onion
    • 1 diced green pepper
    • 1 cup Quaker oats
    • 1 24-oz jar Prego spaghetti sauce
    • 2 tsp Italian seasonings
    • 3/4 lb. sliced mozzarella cheese

      Instructions  

    Combine ground beef, milk, egg, onion, green pepper, oats, Italian seasoning and half of the spaghetti sauce.

    Mix well. Put half of the mixture in baking dish. Add cheese on top of this layer. Add remaining ground beef mixture on top of cheese.

    Pour remaining spaghetti sauce over top.

    Bake in 350-degree oven for 1 hour.

    Kathy Witt Writer/Author SATW Society of American Travel Writers│Authors Guild Author of Cincinnati Scavenger; Secret Cincinnati: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful & Obscure; The Secret of the Belles; Atlanta, Georgia: A Photographic Portrait Arriving Spring 2024: Perfect Day Kentucky: Daily Itineraries for the Discerning Traveler  

    Kathy is a syndicated travel/cruise columnist for Tribune News Service and freelance writer for a variety of print magazines, blogs and other online outlets. Copywriter and storyteller who’s created written content for Ricardo Beverly Hills, LiteGear Bags and other travel/lifestyle brands; Bardstown “The Bourbon Capital of the World” KY, Harrodsburg KY and other destinations. Author of five books, including Secret Cincinnati. Graduate of Southeast Tourism Society Marketing College with TMP (tourism marketing professional) designation. Recipient of numerous writing awards, including Mark Twain Travel Writing Awards and Lily Scholarships.KathyWitt.com│www.facebook.com/SecretCincinnatiNKY   www.LinkedIn.com/in/KathyWittwww.Instagram.com/Kathy.Witt

    On the road to Lincoln-related sites

    From Hoosier History Live the Award Winning Show by Nelson Price; Produced by Molly Head.

    The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Spencer County includes a recreation of the log cabin the Lincolns built when they moved to the Little Pigeon Creek settlement in the wilderness in 1816. Indiana became a state that same year.

    “I love that there are still inns where Lincoln stayed,” says travel writer Jane Ammeson, who has been a popular Roadtrip correspondent on Hoosier History Live for several years.Book cover: Lincoln Road TripAlthough her radio reports, magazine articles and books cover a range of historic topics, Jane has narrowed her focus in her newest book, Lincoln Road Trip: The Back-Roads Guide to America’s Favorite President (Red Lightning Books).As most Hoosiers know, Abraham Lincoln grew up in southern Indiana. As a 7-year-old, he and his family moved from Kentucky to the wilderness area that became Spencer County; the Lincolns arrived in 1816, the same year Indiana achieved statehood.We will reach beyond the boundaries of Indiana when Jane joins Nelson as a studio guest to explore some of the inns, homes, mills and recreated historic sites with a connection to Lincoln (1809-1865), his extended family and the historical events associated with his life.


    Our itinerary for the show will include traveling to Kentucky to explore the Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, which opened as an inn in 1779. Abe Lincoln was about five when he stayed at the inn; according to Lincoln Road Trip, it is considered “one of the oldest taverns in continuous operation in the United States and the oldest stagecoach stop west of the Allegheny Mountains.”

    Guests at an inn in Corydon, Indiana’s first state capital, included Josiah Lincoln, Abe’s uncle. Josiah (the brother of Thomas Lincoln, father of the future president) visited the Kintner Tavern after he moved to Harrison County to establish a 160-acre farm near Corydon in the early 1800s, according to Lincoln Road Trip. Although the original tavern was destroyed by a fire, its owner, Jacob Kintner, later opened the Kintner House Inn, which still stands.
    And here’s another Lincoln-connected bit of trivia about Harrison County: Because there are no direct descendants remaining of Abraham Lincoln – the last, his great-grandson Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, died in 1985 – descendants of Josiah Lincoln are considered, as Jane puts it, “among the closest living kin of the greatest American president.”

    Many of Josiah Lincoln’s descendants continue to live in Harrison County or nearby.Thousands of visitors from across the country have seen the burial sites of Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, and his older sister, Sarah Lincoln Grigsby, at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Spencer County. The site includes a recreation of the log cabin the Lincolns built when they moved to the Little Pigeon Creek settlement in the wilderness.
    Jane Ammeson“It was a region with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods,” Lincoln recalled later in life. “There I grew up.”Our guest Jane Ammeson notes that the Lincoln family was related through marriage to the extended family of frontier explorer Daniel Boone. So Lincoln Road Trip highlights historic sites associated with the Boones, which we also will explore during our show.

    These sites include Squire Boone Caverns in Harrison County, which Jane describes as a “magical and mystical” cave system with an underground waterfall. Squire Boone, Daniel’s younger brother, lived near the caverns in southeastern Indiana for the final 11 years of his life. When he died in 1815 at age 71, Squire Boone asked his children to bury him in one of the passageways of the cave system.

    Today, Squire Boone Caverns is a popular tourist attraction, and visitors often stop in the area that includes his casket.Also during our show, we will explore the Colonel William Jones State Historic Site near the town of Gentryville in southwestern Indiana. Jones ran a general store during Abe Lincoln’s teenage years, employing him as a clerk and discussing political issues with him. After the Lincoln family moved to Illinois, Abe Lincoln spent the night at Jones’ house during a return visit to Indiana.During the Civil War, Jones was killed at the Battle of Atlanta in 1864, his former clerk serving as commander-in-chief. The house in Gentryville, which Jones designed in the Federal style, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.