Dolly Parton’s Retired Tour Bus Now Premium Lodging at Dollywood

For those who want a glimpse into the life of a legend, Dollywood is introducing the “Suite 1986” Tour Bus Experience. Today, guests can begin booking stays on the Prevost tour bus that was Dolly Parton’s favorite home away from home for 15 years. The bus was recently acquired by Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa and has been transformed into the property’s ultimate suite, now situated on a permanent parking pad just behind the hotel.

Guests of Suite 1986 will not only have the most interesting accommodations in Dollywood’s history, but they’ll also get the opportunity to enjoy some special amenities. The suite features dedicated concierge service for the entire length of stay, the chance to sample one-of-a-kind food offerings created by the resort’s award-winning culinary team, and customized keepsakes to take home as souvenirs. The tour bus sleeps two guests, but each reservation also includes a room at DreamMore Resort, which can accommodate up to four additional guests.

There’s a two-night minimum stay for Suite 1986 and a starting rate of $10,000. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to The Dollywood Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Dolly’s enterprises. In part, it funds Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which gifts free books to children from birth to age 5 as part of an ongoing effort to instill in everyone a passion for reading. So far, more than 2 million children have benefitted from the program.

Dolly herself loves to read, and she’s a writer at heart. In fact, she wrote her “Backwoods Barbie” album as well as “9 to 5 the Musical” in the comfort of the bus, plus some books and scripts for television shows and movies.

Though Dolly is a free-spirted traveler, she doesn’t enjoy flying and much prefers to have her own space, food and belongings rather than staying in a hotel. Her tour bus served as a rolling sanctuary that was customized to ensure that she and her companions traveled in comfort and ease no matter how far the journey. And it was specially adapted and upgraded so Dolly could do two of her favorite things – writing and cooking – from any locale.

She enjoyed making meals in the kitchenette and sharing them with her best friend and personal assistant, Judy Ogle, who traveled with her most of the time, and driver Tim Dunlap, who was responsible for the vehicle and its passengers during its length of service. To install a full-size refrigerator in place of the smaller size that comes standard in most vehicles of this type, the bus’s windshield had to be removed and then replaced.

Those who are curious about Dolly’s incredible wardrobe may be interested to learn that three of the bus’s six standard bunk beds were removed and replaced with a special closet that could accommodate all the glitter and rhinestones. When Dolly has welcomed visitors onto the bus, she’s taken great delight in showing off her wig cabinet, which probably isn’t something you’d find on any other tour bus. It’s a truly “Dolly” touch.

Guests may not need the wig closet, but they might appreciate the custom bathtub and electric doors that were added to the vehicle to transform it into a luxury suite on wheels. “I have homes all over the United States,” Dolly once said. “But my favorite place is the bus because that way I can just feel those wheels rolling.”

In addition to providing a unique glimpse into the icon’s life, the bus affords its guests beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains, where Dolly grew up. It also provides easy access to Dollywood, the theme park she established here in 1986 (hence, the bus’s new name) to provide both a source of employment for residents and a spark of joy and inspiration for the millions of visitors who are drawn to the region.

For more information about this once-in-a-lifetime experience in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, please visit www.Dollywood.com/Suite1986.

Looking to the future of lodging in the area, Dolly was in Pigeon Forge this morning to visit the construction site of Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort, her second hotel in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. The 302-room property is slated to open in late 2023.

Tucked away in a beautiful cove in the rolling foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort will welcome the outdoors in with high ceilings, exposed beams and natural layered textures. The resort will offer lodging options for multi-generational families and couples, including spacious family suites and bunk rooms that will feature touches inspired by the beauty of the Smokies. Many of the rooms will include balconies that provide sweeping views of the vast resort property.

For more information about anything connected to “Destination Dollywood,” please visit Dollywood.com.

Making the Case for Macon

Macon, Georgia, which is just 90 minutes from Atlanta and 3.5 hours from both Birmingham and Chattanooga and four hours from Charleston and Jacksonville, is often an overlooked destination.  Located in the center to Georgia–or should we say the very heart and soul of the state–Macon is a fun-filled destination with both a fascinating history, an exciting present, and a bright future. Still need convincing? Here are four reasons among many to put Macon on your bucket list.

  • Makin’ Fun: Macon is the home of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, so sports-aholics can get their fix of every sport at every level of play. But for some what’s best about Macon’s athletic scene is that it’s home to the best-named baseball team in the whole game: the Macon Baco. Yes, really. That alone should prove that Macon is a fun place. As for the Macon Bacons, it’s part of a wood-bat collegiate summer league whose roster teams (pardon the pun) with top players from schools around the country. Not only does the team have a delicious name, but it also has a mascot that really sizzles: Kevin, a seven-foot-tall slice of bacon. Get it … Kevin Bacon? Our pal Kevin Bacon loves to dance particularly it’s one of the songs from the movie “Footloose.” A dancing strip of bacon imakes sense. After all Macon is a city that’s all about music. As an aside, the Bacons’ archrivals are the Savannah Bananas. We love that name but really, if it’s a contest between bacon and bananas, we’d choose bacon every time.
  • Makin’ Movies: The baseball team plays at historic Luther Williams Field, built in 1929 and recently refurbished. Even if you haven’t been to a game (yet), the field might look familiar to you because it’s starred on the screen in “The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars and Motor Kings,” a 1976 movie starring Billy Dee Williams; “The Trouble with the Curve,” a 2012 film featuring Clint Eastwood; “42,” the 2013 biopic about baseball legend Jackie Robinson; and the Hank Azaria TV comedy “Brockmire.” Macon is the site of plenty of movie-making, most recently welcoming an all-star cast that was in town filming the remake of “The Color Purple,” which is set for release in 2023. The film is being produced by Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Quincy Jones. (As an aside, if our mention of Kevin Bacon above has you playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” you might be interested in knowing that each of those producers has a Bacon Number of 2. The actor, we mean. Not the baseball mascot. The version wearing a frying pan as a cap is probably separated by a few additional degrees.)
  • Makin’ Music: This new version of “The Color Purple” is an adaptation of the Broadway musical, so Macon was the perfect location. This is a city with deep musical roots (fun fact: this is where the kazoo was invented, by a formerly enslaved man named Alabama Vest all the way back in 1840), and it lives up to its tagline, “Where Soul Lives.” It’s the hometown of Otis Redding, Little Richard and The Allman Brothers, all of whom left indelible marks on the place and its people. Today, visitors can learn more about Macon’s musical history by checking out live performances at an array of venues, visiting the Otis Redding Foundation Museum or the Allman Brothers Museum at the Big House, or taking a public or private Rock Candy Tour, which could focus on music alone or the delightful combo of music and food.
  • Makin’ Dinner: Macon has an incredible food scene, and some its top restaurants have ties to music. The Downtown Grill a fancy English steakhouse, is where Greg Allman proposed to Cher, but it’s H&H Soul Food where the band spent even more time … and then took its former owner, Mama Louise, on the road with them so they could have their favorite meals on the tour bus. Today you’ll find everything from upscale to down-home offerings, plus plenty of liquid refreshment to accompany all the amazing tastes.

Pro tip: For a great lunch option, hit The Rookery and order pretty much any sandwich or burger … and a milkshake chaser. We don’t think it’s a coincidence that many menu items feature bacon in a starring role. Because, as we know, it always comes back to bacon.

And there you have it … in just three degrees of separation from baseball to burger, Makin’ it in Macon is all about fun, food, sports, history, and so much more.

For more information or to begin planning a trip, start here

9 things you didn’t know about Pioneer Playhouse

By Special Guest Blogger Kathy Witt.

In 1950, Kentucky’s legendary Pioneer Playhouse in charming Danville, KY, debuted its first season, opening at the Darnell State Hospital, now Northpoint Prison. On June 10, 2022, Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theater – also one of the oldest in the country – opened its 73rd season with “Dracula Bites,” a kooky spin on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Theater History

More than seven decades of history have been written on the page and the stage of this Kentucky Historic Landmark, a time capsule of 1950s summer stock theater that was the dream of its visionary founder, Col. Eben Henson, who wanted to bring Broadway to the Bluegrass. And boy, did he ever!

At Pioneer Playhouse, an evening of theater under the stars begins with the ringing of the Old Danville Firehouse Bell to announce dinner – a Kentucky farm-fresh menu that is served on a covered patio and accompanied by live music. It is followed by outstanding professional theater and a chance to explore moments and memorabilia on the Playhouse’s timeline as well as browse the gift shop.

Here are nine things you may not know about the Pioneer Playhouse:

  • The actor best known for his roles in “Pulp Fiction,” “Saturday Night Live” and “Grease” got his start at Pioneer Playhouse. John Travolta was a 15-year-old kid from New Jersey when he made his theatre debut here in 1969. The show was “The Ephraim McDowell Story,” an original play about a nineteenth-century Kentucky surgeon. (Visitors to Danville can tour the former home and office of this pioneering surgeon, considered “The Father of Abdominal Surgery,” at the McDowell House Museum and Apothecary.
  • After serving in WWII, founder Eben Henson studied acting in New York City on the GI Bill with such promising up-and-comers as Harry Belafonte, Tony Curtis and Bea Arthur.
  • You know him as the “Six Million Dollar Man,” but back in the day, he was Harvey Yeary – a name he changed immediately to Lee Majors upon his arrival in Hollywood direct from the Playhouse. His first show? The TV western, “The Big Valley,” starring Barbara Stanwyck.
  • Eben’s wife, Charlotte Henson, has been singing for Playhouse dinner guests for over 50 years. The great Kentucky composer and collector of ballads, John Jacob Niles, called Charlotte’s voice one of the purest he had ever heard. Want to hear for yourself? Buy a CD of Charlotte’s record from the early 1970s at the Playhouse gift shop.
  • The Pioneer Playhouse box office is the original train station from the 1957 MGM classic, “Raintree County,” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Eben Henson moved the train station to its current location and used it as an anchor for the Playhouse complex, which includes the theater, Antiques Alley, gift shop, patio dining, indoor exhibits and campground. 
  • Charlotte and Eben Henson raised four children on Playhouse grounds, with the kids helping out behind the scenes and sometimes acting. The late Holly Henson was a nationally known stand-up comedian. Robby Henson has made acclaimed movies with such stars as Kris Kristofferson, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Billy Bob Thornton. Eben Henson has a successful sign and design company and is also a drummer for many local bands. Heather Henson is a nationally recognized, award-winning author of children’s books.
July 18, 2017, Pioneer Playhouse, Danville, KY “Guarded” – July 11-22, 2017
  • Speaking of books, Heather’s most recent book is a novel for teens called Wrecked, a contemporary reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, set in Kentucky against the gritty backdrop of the opioid crisis. Her most well-known book is That Book Woman, which celebrates the work of the Pack Horse Librarians of Eastern Kentucky and has become a classic of children’s literature. It is published in many countries around the world and is part of the fifth grade curriculum in South Korea. Heather’s books are available in the Playhouse gift shop.
  • Holly Henson was artistic director for many years following the death of Eben Henson in 2004. She lost her battle with breast cancer in 2012. Robby and Heather returned from Los Aneles and NYC respectively to help keep Pioneer Playhouse going after Holly’s untimely death, and Charlotte, at 91, remains the backbone of the theatre – and still sings for dinner guests.

Pioneer Playhouse has been managing a NEA (National Endowment for the Arts)-funded, life-changing outreach program for 12 years called “Voices Inside at Northpoint Prison,” so in a sense they’ve come full circle. Playhouse Artistic Director Robby Henson teaches playwriting to inmates and works with a New York City theatre to bring inmate-authored plays to NYC each year. Several participants of the program have won the PEN Award for Best Inmate Play in America.

Celebrating Almost Three-Quarters of a Century

The Pioneer Playhouse’s 73rd season runs now through August 6 with these shows: “Dracula Bites,” “Southern Fried Nuptials” and “Cockeyed.” On Aug. 12 and 13, the Playhouse presents “Elvis and Patsy Cline Together Under the Stars!” and on Aug. 19, Music Weekend complete with food trucks and bar. See show details here. Performances are nightly, Tuesday through Saturday. Dinner and Show: 7 p.m.; show only: 8:30 p.m.

Plan a Danville theater getaway: Book an overnight with the Hampton Inn Danville or Holiday Inn Express & Suites and receive a discount when you mention “Pioneer Playhouse.”

Tickets may be purchased online at www.pioneerplayhouse.csstix.com. For more information, visit www.pioneerplayhouse.com or call 859-236-2747.

PHOTOS: Courtesy of Pioneer Playhouse

Kathy Witt is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer who writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Travel Goods magazines and RealFoodTraveler.com as well as other outlets like County. She is the author of several books, including Cincinnati Scavenger (Fall 2022) Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles, and is working on another travel-themed book for Fall 2023 release. Kathy is a member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), Authors Guild and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Kathy has a new interactive Cincinnati-themed book arriving summer 2022!

Follow Kathy on Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin.

Baingan Bharta / Roasted Eggplant Curry — Sowmya’s Spicy Corner

A great recipe from Sowmya’s Spicy Corner, a blog that I follow, for Baingan Bharta / Roasted Eggplant Curry – a delicious and smoky Indian variation of the Mediterranean Baba Ganoush.The dish, which is simple to make, has a unique smoky flavour that comes from grilling the eggplant on direct fire or charcoal. Once grilled, its chopped/mashed, spiced up and cooked to a delicate finish. This smoky and flavour packed baingan bharta / roasted eggplant pairs well with Indian flat breads like roti/ paratha/steamed white rice.

For her recipe: Baingan Bharta / Roasted Eggplant Curry — Sowmya’s Spicy Corner

Women Traveling Solo

Dining aboard the Costa Verde Express, a luxury train through Northern Spain.

More and more women are hitting the road—and they’re traveling alone and loving setting their own itinerary and the freedom of being on their own. Indeed, consider the following statistics.

Travel companies dedicated to woman-only customers increased by 230% over the past few years.

32 million single American women traveled by themselves at least once over the past year and 1 in 3 travelled 5 times or more.

The search volume for the term ‘female solo travel’ across all search engines has increased by 62% over the past three years.

Bruchsal Palace, Bruchsal, Germany. Photo @janesimonammeson

But inflation and costs are also a concern. According to Seven Corners, a global travel insurer, released data in spring 2022 showing that one of the greatest concerns of Americans traveling this summer was the rising cost of travel. For women traveling alone, the cost of travel is different than when traveling as a family. Rather than worrying about the expense of 4+ tickets to a theme park, the concern could be based on up charges for accommodations for a single occupant. It can also be more difficult to find cost-effective transportation.

T/F talked to Becky Hart, communications specialist with Seven Corners for insights and tips on women traveling solo.

BH: Women travelers have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. Up until 1925, women in the U.S. could only receive a passport in their married name. As a result, it’s safe to say that if you weren’t married, you weren’t going to be taking many international trips prior to 1925.

Maulbronn Monastery, Maulbronn, Germany

Today, it’s estimated that women account for 56 percent of leisure travelers. They also make about 85 percent of all travel decisions, such as where to go and what to do. Women are making these decisions, not only for their families, but also for themselves. Pinterest saw a 350 percent increase in women “pinning” solo trips from 2014 to 2021.

Although women still experience travel guilt more than men, the number of women who report feeling shame for bucking traditional gender roles and responsibilities in favor of traveling is declining. If we can continue on with that trend, and as women gain greater financial independence, it’s likely that we will see even more women traveling by themselves in the future.

T/F: For women wanting to travel for fun, what are some of the best/safest destinations and why?

Korakia Pensione, Palm Springs, California

For those traveling solo in the U.S., I recommend Portland, Oregon. As the largest city in Oregon, there’s just about anything you could want or need, yet it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly large. You shouldn’t have trouble finding the right accommodations for your budget in a neighborhood where you feel safe. You’ll also find excellent food and reliable public transportation, two things that can quickly eat up your budget. You can save even more money by bicycling. It’s an extremely bike-friendly city. There are plenty of bike lanes, and drivers know how to share the road.

Boredom can be a concern for many solo travelers, especially if you’re away for a long time. Portland has plenty to do, from quirky art exhibits and nature parks to late-night doughnut runs at the famous Voodoo Doughnuts and wine tasting in the nearby Willamette Valley.

If you’re looking for a destination outside the U.S., I recommend Chile. Having traveled in South America more than once, Chile is one of the countries I felt the safest. Its geography provides endless activities, whether you love beaches, mountains, or desert, and it doesn’t take much to get off the beaten path. Isla Chiloe in the far south is a fishing village full of fascinating — and sometimes humorous — folklore you won’t want to miss. This part of Patagonia is a relatively inexpensive region as well, so you may be able to make your travel budget stretch farther here.

Princess Majestic

T/F: I understand you’ve traveled by yourself. What are some insights you’ve gained?

Especially the first few times you travel solo, it’s hard. Harder than when you travel with someone else. That makes it the perfect opportunity to lean into challenges, whether it’s the logistics of rebooking canceled flights, navigating a new city, or feeling comfortable in your own skin. All the small victories that come during a solo trip build confidence, not only for your next solo adventure but also in your everyday life.

Trakošćan Castle, Croatia. Photo courtesy of Croatian Tourism Board.

Because solo travel can be more difficult, build in a little more time to recover during your trip than you might normally. For example, after a big day of touring an unfamiliar city where you’re using a lot of mental energy to learn your way around, staying aware of your surroundings, making sure you get the right train, maybe even communicating in a different language, spend the next day doing something more low-key. Schedule a single museum visit or a walk around a botanical garden so you don’t burn out.

I also recommend joining groups when it makes sense. While I enjoy the freedom of traveling solo, only doing what I want to on my schedule, teaming up with other travelers can work to your advantage. When I visited the Scottish Highlands, it didn’t make sense to rely on public transportation, which I’d been doing all over the UK for financial reasons. Buses didn’t always go to the rural Scottish castles I wanted to visit, and even if they did, it would have taken much longer than if I had my own transportation, limiting what I’d be able to see. I joined a tour group for the afternoon, complete with a van, driver and kilted tour guide. My bucket list was complete, and I didn’t break the budget by hiring a private car. There are plenty of ways to meet other travelers — on social media, through tour companies, in a hostel common room — if you need to find a group.

Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire. Courtesy of Visit Scotland.

Finally, people aren’t paying you as much attention as you think. I only mention this because worrying about sticking out in a crowd is enough to make some people cancel their plans before they even get started. So many solo travelers have a fear of dining alone. If you’re really concerned about eating at a restaurant by yourself, carry a book or journal with you. It gives you something else to focus on besides your anxieties.

T/F: Why do you think the stigma of women traveling alone has changed so much?

I think the stigma around women traveling alone has diminished in many of the same ways women doing anything independently has diminished. As we continue to make inroads professionally and become more self-sufficient financially, we have the freedom to travel more. One of the reasons women enjoy traveling solo is because it puts them in charge of their own adventure. We don’t need to compromise on where we go, what we eat, or what sites we visit when we can call our own shots.

Cheese shop in Amsterdam. @janesimonammeson

I also think continuing to break the stigma of women traveling solo can transfer to empowering women in their everyday lives. We build such important intangible skills when we travel — creative problem solving, empathy and cultural awareness, confidence to advocate for ourselves, greater understanding of our own self — it only makes sense that we would bring our knowledge back home.

T/F: What cost-saving advice do you have for women travelers?

One cost-saving tip is to look for tour companies and accommodations that don’t upcharge you for being on your own. Some hotels, for example, charge you for double-occupancy accommodations, even if you’re the only one staying there. Ways I’ve gotten around this is by staying in hostels that charge by the person rather than by the room (and sometimes sucking it up and bunking with strangers), or by booking a single room at a B&B. A bed and breakfast can be pricier than other options, but I’ve found that you typically also get more for your money. And as a solo female traveler, I also find a sense of security in the personal service. A B&B operator may be more likely to notice if you don’t come back in the evening or if you’re too sick to come down for breakfast. You’re less likely to find that amongst a rotating shift of employees at a large hotel.

Izmal, Mexico @janesimonammeson

Airbnbs are another good option for saving money on accommodations. Look for properties that are renting out a room or apartment that better fits your needs and budget rather than an entire house.

One of the things I love most about travel is eating. I want to sample all the new foods I can’t find at home. With travel companions, you can order multiple entrees and share. However, as a solo traveler, that can be unrealistic. Instead, look for food markets where you can sample smaller portions. Haven’t seen that fruit before? Buy one piece instead of a whole bunch at a store. That one pastry that looks too good to pass up? Get it. Vendors might be more willing than a grocery store employee to give you a taste of something, too. Make a meal out of sample-sized treats. This is one of the things I like about tapas in Spain. I’m not committed to too much of any one dish.

Torre Loizaga, Spain @janesimonammeson

Finally, try to be flexible about when you travel. If you can book during the offseason or shoulder season, you’ll often find better deals on flights, hotels, excursions, maybe even restaurants than at other times of year.


T/F: What safety procedures do you recommend for women traveling alone?

Paris Cafe at night @janesimonammeson

Some safety tips apply to everyone, regardless of who they’re traveling with and where. Number one is to do your research. It’s easy to make sweeping statements about this city or that country being safe. But anywhere you go will have exceptions. Once you’ve decided on a destination, take it a step farther and research which neighborhoods are safest.

If you’re arriving at your destination by plane, try to schedule your arrival for daylight hours. You’ll find it easier to orient yourself in a new city, and it’s safer than at night. Only arrange rideshares or taxis through verified and trusted companies. If you aren’t sure, ask your lodging or host to arrange a ride for you so you can be sure your transportation is legitimate.

Stay alert to your surroundings. The obvious reason is so you can spot if you’re walking into a potentially dangerous situation before it’s too late. But being aware can also help you avoid a cultural faux pas that inadvertently escalates and puts you in harm’s way. Observe what the locals are doing and imitate them if it’s appropriate. This includes everything from how to queue in line at the café to more complex religious practices.

I also think it’s always a good idea to think about your travel style and what you’re comfortable with, then make adjustments to your plans based on that. Some women love to head out for the day without much of a plan and just see where the winds take them. Personally, I get nervous without a plan and knowing where I’m going. I tend to get lost easily, and that makes me feel less safe. So, I rarely set out without having researched bus lines or having a general set of directions if I’m walking, all jotted down in a tiny notebook, which also has important phone numbers and addresses, that I carry with me at all times.

T/F: Why do you recommend travel insurance for women travelers?

Old Montreal @janesimonammeson

I recommend travel insurance because it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. Especially if you’re a woman traveling solo on a budget, you want to know that the investment you’ve made in your trip is protected if something goes wrong. If your luggage is lost or damaged, travel insurance can help. If you get sick, travel insurance can also help cover the costs of medical treatment. Travel assistance services, which come with all Seven Corners’ plans, are also a great benefit for solo travelers. Navigating a foreign health care system is tricky enough. When you’re the one who’s sick or hurt and you don’t have a travel companion on site to manage things or advocate for you, having a team like Seven Corners Assist to help you find medical treatment, arrange translation services, and even arrange to have you evacuated or brought back home in extreme cases can be extremely beneficial. Those aren’t things you want to have to figure out for the first time when you don’t feel well.

T/F: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

West Baden Springs Resort, West Baden, Indiana. Photo courtesy of Visit French Lick.

There will always be an excuse to not take a trip. Chances are that those obstacles aren’t as unbeatable as you think. Your family can manage at least a couple of days without you. So can your employer. Your budget might be able to stretch farther than you realize if you plan well and play it smart. All those doubts about whether you have what it takes to do it on your own are in your head. Start small if you have to — a long-weekend microcation or a vacation to a place you’re already somewhat familiar with — but just start. Take the trip.

Cover photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes

I remember the first time I heard the word victuals. It was uttered by Jed Clampett—only he pronounced it as “vittles”–on that great TV series from The Beverly Hillbillies+ which ran from 1962-1971 and told the story of a family who had moved from Appalachia to, well, Beverly Hills, California.  The Beverly Hillbillies, now in syndication, is televised daily around the world and the word victual, which means “food or provisions, typically as prepared for consumption” has become a go-to-term in the food world with the rise of interest in the foods of the Mountain South region of our country. The joke at the time was that the Clampett were so out-of-step with all the wonders of Beverly Hills and that included their use of the word victuals. But the joke, it seems, may have been on us as we deal with the overabundance of processed foods and yearn for authenticity in our diets. You know, like victuals,

In her book, Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes (Clarkson Potter 2016; $16.59 Amazon price) winner of James Beard Foundation Book of The Year and Best Book, American Cooking, author Ronni Lundy showcases both the heritage and present ways of southern cookery in this part of the United States and also shares the stories of the mountain. Lundy, a former restaurant reviewer and editor of Louisville Magazine, highlights such roadways as Warrior’s Path, the name given by English settlers to the route used by the Shawnee and Cherokee traveling for trade, hunting and, at times, to prepare for battle. Describing the towns, villages and hamlets along these routes, Lundy shows how an amalgam of immigrants some willing (Scots, Germans) and some not (African) brought with them foodways and how they merged with other ethnic groups and the foods available in the region.

The author of ten books on Southern food and culture, Lundy’s book, Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken, described as the first first regional American cookbook to offer a true taste of the Mountain South, was recognized by Gourmet magazine as one of six essential books on Southern cooking. Lundy also received the Southern Foodways Alliance Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award.

To gather the stories, recipes, traditions, and foodways, Lundy traveled over 4000 miles through seven states. Along the way, she did a lot of stopping and eating. Each chapter in her book delves into an identifying food of a region or its heritage–think salt, corn, corn liquor, and beans. And, in many ways, reconnecting to her own roots. Born in Corbin, Kentucky, she remembers shucking beans on her aunt’s front porch.

“They taught me how to break the end and pull the string down and break the other end and pull the string back on the bean,” Lundy says. “I would watch them thread it up on a needle and thread, and they would hang that in a dry place in the house…We developed these things, like drying beans for shuck beans, or drying our apples so that we could through the winter make apple stack cakes and fried apple pies. We’d have dried beans on hand, cure every part of the hog.”

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Bacon & Orange Sorghum Vinegar

“Delicious root vegetables love the cool of both spring and fall in the mountains. Gardeners love the twin harvest,” Lundy writes in the introduction to this recipe. “The root cellar is where such vegeta­bles were stored in plenty of mountain homesteads, although some folks kept them in baskets and bins in a cool, dark place in the house. In fact, folks with larger houses might close off “the front room,” as the living room was more commonly called, to conserve on heat when the weather got cold. That room might then become an ad hoc fruit and vegetable cooler.

“My mother kept the Christmas fruit in the front room until company came, but not vegetables. We ate them too fast then—boiled, buttered, and salted or eaten raw with salt. Today I make this lovely salad first in the spring, then again as autumn splashes the hills with the colors of the carrots and beets.”

Serves 4

  • 3 medium yellow beets, trimmed and scrubbed
  • 3 medium red beets, trimmed and scrubbed
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1½-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Salt
  • 4 red radishes, thinly sliced
  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked
  • Orange Sorghum Vinegar (see below), to taste
  • Drizzle of bacon grease, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Wrap up the yellow beets in a large piece of aluminum foil. Do the same with the red beets, and place both packets on a baking sheet. Roast until the beets are tender at the center when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, on a separate baking sheet, toss the carrot pieces with the oil. Season with a sprinkle of salt. Roast the carrots for about 25 minutes, until tender and caramelized.

When the beets come out of the oven, carefully open the packets to release the steam, and let the beets cool. Once the beets have cooled, gently rub the skins off and cut the beets into wedges.

To assemble the salad, lay the red beet wedges on the bottom of a large shallow serving bowl. Lay the roasted carrots on top, and then the yellow beet wedges. Throw in the sliced radishes and red onion. Break up the bacon slices and scatter the pieces on top. Season with salt and drizzle with the orange sorghum vinegar. Toss ever so gently. Give it a taste and determine if a drizzle of bacon grease is needed. Serve.

Orange Sorghum Vinegar

Makes ¾ cup

  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sorghum syrup
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

Pour the vinegar into a small glass jar with a lid. Add the sorghum and shake or stir until dissolved. Add the orange juice and shake or stir to combine. Use as directed in recipes, and store any that’s left over, covered, in the refrigerator.

Sumac Oil Flatbread with Country Ham & Pickled Ramps

makes two large flatbreads (serves 4 to 6)

“In early mountain communities, one farmer might own a valuable tool or piece of equipment that was made available to family and neighbors as needed,” writes Lundy in the introduction of this recipe. “There was often a trade involved, although more fre­quently implicit rather than directly bartered. If you were the man with the sorghum squeezer and mule, you could expect to get a couple of quarts from your neighbors’ run. If you loaned a plow, you could count on borrowing the chains for hanging a freshly slaugh­tered hog. Or when your huge cast-iron pot was returned, it might come with several quarts of apple butter.

“With a little of that same sense of sharing, Lora Smith and Joe Schroeder invested in a traveling wood-fired oven for their farm at Big Switch. In their first spring back in Kentucky, it rolled over to a cou­ple of weddings, as well as providing the main course for the Appalachian Spring feast. Joe says plans are to take it to a couple of music festivals down the line to both share and perhaps sell enough pizzas to pay the gate.

“Music makes a good metaphor for what happens in this recipe. Lora adapted a fine flatbread recipe from acclaimed chef and baker Nick Malgieri for the crust, then added some local color. In the way that European mandolins and violins were transformed by new rhythms and melodies into something purely mountain, the use of sumac-scented olive oil, tangy country ham, and pungent pickled ramps makes this a dish that tastes distinctly of its Kentucky place.

“If you have access to a wood-fired oven, bake away there according to how yours works. The direc­tions here are for a home oven.

“The flatbread slices are even better when topped with a handful of arugula, mâche, or another bright, bitter green that has been drizzled with Orange Sorghum Vinegar (see recipe above).”

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅔ cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal, plus extra for rolling the dough
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • 2½ teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (110°F)
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
  • 6 ounces country ham, sliced about ¼ inch thick and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • ¾ cup Will Dissen’s Pickled Ramps (page 000), at room temperature
  • ¼ cup Sumac Oil (recipe follows)

Combine the flour, cornmeal, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse a few times to mix.

Combine the yeast with ¾ cup of the warm water in a medium bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Add this mixture to the food processor and pulse to combine; then let the processor run continuously for about 10 seconds, or until the dough forms a ball. You may need to add up to another ¼ cup of the warm water at this point if your dough is not coming together.

Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.

Move the rested dough to a floured work surface and flatten into a thick disk, then fold the dough over on itself. Do this several times. Return the folded dough to the oiled mixing bowl (you might have to oil it again first). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat it to 350°F.

Sprinkle a floured work surface with a little cornmeal. Transfer the risen dough to the surface and divide it in half. Working with one piece of dough at a time, gently press it into a rough rectangle. Roll the dough out as thin as possible, aiming for a roughly 10 × 15-inch rectangle. Transfer the dough to a prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process with second half of the dough.

Pierce the dough all over at 1-inch intervals with the tines of a fork. Divide the country ham evenly between the two portions of dough.

Bake the flatbreads until golden and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes, switching the baking sheets’ positions about halfway through cooking.

Remove to racks and let cool slightly. Divide the ramps and sumac oil evenly between the flatbreads, and serve.

sumac oil makes about ¹⁄³ cup

Native people gathered the crimson berries of the sumac plant (not the noxious, poisonous white-berried variety, of course) to dry and grind them into a powder that gave a delicious lemony flavor to fish cooked over an open fire. They and the settlers who followed also used the sumac to make a drink akin to lemonade. You don’t have to gather berries and make your own; you can buy good-quality ground sumac at almost any Mediterranean or Middle Eastern market and some natural foods stores.

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground sumac
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika

Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Use immediately.

Slow Cooker–Roasted Pork Shoulder

“Thrifty homesteaders knew how to cook all cuts of the hogs that were slaughtered in the winter,” writes Lundy. “The shoulder, slow-roasted with fat and bone, produced a richly textured, deeply flavored meat worth smack­ing your lips for. Modern mountain cooks use the slow cooker to create the same effect that roasting in a woodstove, kept going all day for heat as well as cooking, once provided.

“I buy pork from one of several producers in my neck of the Blue Ridge who pasture their pigs and process them humanely. They also tend to raise her­itage pigs that naturally come with more fat, and the cuts I favor reflect that. The last roast I cooked like this weighed about 3½ pounds at the market with a top fat layer about an inch deep. I trimmed that fat to ½ inch and the roast was then about 3 pounds.”

Serves 4

  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 3-pound pork shoulder or butt, bone-in
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sorghum syrup
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Rub the salt and pepper into all sides of the roast, including the top fat. Place a heavy skillet over high heat and as it is warming up, place the roast in the skillet, fat side down. The heat will render enough fat for browning the rest of the roast without sticking. When there is enough fat to coat the bottom of the pan well and the fat on the roast is turning golden brown, flip the roast over and brown the next side.

Brown all sides of the roast. This may entail using tongs to hold the roast to brown the short edges, but it only takes a minute or so and is worth it since it will intensify the flavor. You may also need to spoon some of the rendered fat out of the skillet as you are browning—the point is to sear the meat, not deep-fry it.

When the roast is browned all over, place it in a slow cooker. Carefully pour off the grease from the skillet. Add ½ cup of water to the skillet and deglaze it. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the vinegar and sorghum, stirring to dissolve the syrup. Pour this mixture into the slow cooker.

Peel the onion, quarter it, and break apart the sections. Scatter the pieces around the edge of the roast in the pot. Cover, and cook on the high setting for 30 minutes. Then turn to low and cook for 4 hours.

The pork roast will be well done but meltingly tender when the inner temperature is 165°F. Remove it from the pot and allow it to rest under a tent of foil while you make the sauce.

Strain the pan juices to remove the onion pieces. Degrease the juices and pour them into a small pot set over medium-high heat. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with ½ cup of water to form a slurry. When the juices in the pot begin to bubble, whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Continue to whisk as the mixture bubbles for about a minute and thickens. Remove from the heat.

To carve the roast, begin on the side away from the bone to yield larger, uniform pieces. Pass the sauce on the side.

Buttermilk–Brown Sugar Pie

“Pies were the Mother of Invention because neces­sity required that they be made from whatever was on hand. In the summer there was no dearth of fruit that could be gathered—often by small children who would eagerly do the work for just reward later.,” writes Lundy. “In the winter dried apples, peaches, and squash could be simmered into a filling for the hand or fried pies beloved in the region. Vinegar pie was as tasty as, and easier to come by, than one made with lemon, and apple cider could be boiled to make a tart and tangy filling. Buttermilk was enough to turn a simple cus­tard filling into a more complex delight. And using cornmeal as the thickener in these simple pies added character as well as flavor.

“My cousin Michael Fuson introduced me to brown sugar pie. It was his favorite, he told my mother when his family moved from Corbin to Louisville and he began spending time in her kitchen. “Well, honey, then I’ll make you one,” she said. That my mother could make brown sugar pie was news to me. Mike was as generous as a homesick teenaged boy could be and allowed me an ample slice before consuming the rest on his own. It was, I thought, one of the loveliest things I’d ever eaten. But then I made a version of my own with buttermilk instead of cream, and the sum of these two pie parts was greater than the whole of all pies put together.”

Makes one 9-inch pie

  • Single unbaked pie crust (use your favorite recipe or 1/4 batch of Emily Hilliard’s Pie Crust below)
  • 1 1/2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup very finely ground cornmeal*
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup whole buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the crust in a 9-inch pie pan and refrigerate it while making the filling.

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, cornmeal, and salt. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Beat in the melted butter. Add the dry mixture and stir vigorously until the brown sugar is dissolved. Add the buttermilk and vanilla. When all is well combined, pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake for 45 minutes, or until the center is set (no longer liquid, but still tender to the touch).

Allow the pie to cool until just barely warm before slicing. I like to drizzle about 1/2 tablespoon of buttermilk over my slice.

Emily Hilliard’s Pie Crust

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into slices
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup ice-cold water
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender or fork and knife, cut in the butter. Make sure pea-sized butter chunks remain to help keep the crust flaky.

Lightly beat the egg in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk in the ice-cold water and the vinegar.

Pour the liquid mixture into the flour-butter mixture and combine using a wooden spoon. Mix until the dough comes together in a shaggy mass. Be careful not to overmix. Use floured hands to divide the dough in half and then form into 2 balls. Wrap each ball tightly in plastic wrap. Let them chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before rolling out.

Note: if you cut this recipe in half, it will work for a two-crust pie.

The above recipes are reprinted from Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes. Copyright © 2016 by Ronni Lundy. Photographs copyright © 2016 by Johnny Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Heed the call of the wild with a cruise to Alaska

By Special Guest Blogger Kathy Witt

The more I see as I sit here among the rocks, the more I wonder about what I am not seeing.”

-Richard Proennek, naturalist, conservationist, writer, and wildlife photographer 

This is the mystery of Alaska. It is a place of wonder, with whole worlds in and beyond the glaciers you see right before you, the mountains that loom in the distance, the wild behind the horizon.

Last month, cruising Alaska also meant a return to Canadian waters  after an absence of two to three years due to the pandemic. The first two cruise lines to arrive in Canada were Holland America and Princess Cruises, both among a number of cruise lines offering different ways to explore Alaska, from small ship active adventure expeditions to larger ship voyages offering a classic cruise experience.

Glacial Bay National Park and Preserve. Photo credit: nps.gov/glba/

CLASSIC CRUISE EXPERIENCE, AMBIENCE

Holland America Line (HAL) celebrates seventy-five years in Alaska in 2022, bringing all that experience plus an elegant fleet of six ships to themed cruises and cruisetours that last from seven to 18 days. It also offers more cruises to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve for viewing the magnificent tidewater glaciers than any other cruise line. Enhancing the epic splendor of these journeys are rangers from the National Parks Service who come aboard to narrate the geology, history and ecology of Glacier Bay, calling out wildlife sightings and answering questions along the way.

Onboard, dining options range from poolside burgers to fine dining with a gourmet flourish, with tastes and atmospheres moving from authentic Italian to classic French to Asian traditions. The cruise line is known for consistently outstanding cuisine, paired perfectly with the pours available in the wine cellar, all selected by internationally acclaimed wine critique James Suckling. Throughout, HAL retains that touch of old-world cruising aesthetic blended with twenty-first century amenities and refined shipboard atmosphere.

Entertainment blends enrichment, with the Lincoln Center Stage bringing chamber music concerts and afternoon recitals; BBC Earth Concerts immersing guests in the wonders of the world through its natural habitats and wildlife; and deep dives into the destination through the talks, shore excursions, food demos and more are offered through its EXP programming – Explorations Central Discovery Center.

For the 2022 season, HAL resumed cruises to Alaska from the port Vancouver, Canada, and between Vancouver and Whittier. (Zuiderdam was first to Alaska, arriving in Vancouver on April 28, followed two days later by Koningsdam on April 30.) Three different seven-day itineraries are offered, including Alaska Inside Passage.

UNEXPECTED, UNCROWDED, UNFETTERED ADVENTURE

Expeditions to see humpback whales, sealions and other wildlife; hiking to outback country in Glacier Bay National Park; an evening kayaking to a shoreside campfire; biking an island teeming with bears. UnCruise Adventures’ ethos eco-focused and sustainable travel that is culture- and community-centric. Its seven-, 12- and 14-night small ship sailings are all about active fun, discovery and exploration.

UnCruise Adventures’ Wilderness Adventurer glides into Neka Bay in Alaska.
Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Enhancing the experience, both aboard and ashore, is the number of guests – less than 90 on most ships and as few as 22 on one – sharing in the adventures. Life onboard is casual and relaxed. Meals and pastries highlight local ingredients. Gear for snorkeling, paddle boarding and kayaking is available. Features like entry fees to national parks, UnCruise-only activities and shore visits and wine, beer and liquor (including daily signature cocktails) are included. Adding a personal touch to each sailing are the expedition guides and guest experts.

Kayakers explore Glacier Bay with UnCruise Adventures. Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Joining the list of themed Alaska adventures this season is the new seven-night “Wild, Woolly and Wow” itinerary, featuring Chichagof Island. (UnCruise Adventures has the only permit to visit this minimally populated island, one of Alaska’s ABC islands and fifth largest island in the United States.)

CASUAL FUN TIMES

Celebrate Carnival’s Big 5-0 with a cruise to Alaska.
Photo: Carnival Cruise Lines

The emphasis is firmly on round-the-clock, come-as-you-are fun aboard Carnival ships – especially in 2022, Carnival’s fiftieth anniversary. Lip sync battles, deck parties, karaoke, mini golf, top deck waterpark, a piano bar that rocks out with all the old familiars, jars and jars of colorful candy at Cherry on Top, Punchliner Comedy Club and Suess at Sea for the little ones (which includes a Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast featuring special appearances by Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 and Thing 2) and so much more.

Nashville Hot Mac #BigChickenShaq

The watering holes are equally fun, with an island-inspired pub; a mystical, magical cocktail “pharmacy;” beer station; and a martini tasting that is all about the showmanship and kicky flavor combinations, like spicy chipotle pineapple. Dining is also lively, with outdoor venues Big Chicken (the restaurant of Carnival’s CFO – Chief Fun Officer – Shaquille O’Neal) and Guy’s (as in Fieri) Burger Joint and indoor Streets Eats and Steakhouse.

Carnival brings the party to Glacier Bay on its Alaska sailings.
Photo: Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival has several ships sailing Alaska, including Spirit, Splendor and Miracle, with each offering a full menu of shore tour options, everything from dog sledding in Juneau and catching a lumberjack show in Ketchikan to gold panning in Skagway and wildlife spotting in Sitka.

NEW PRINCESS, IMMERSIVE PROGRAMMING AND PUPPIES

Princess has been bringing adventurers to Alaska for over fifty years and knows how to show its guests a thoroughly magnificent time, both on land and at sea. Appealing to active cruisers with a zest for discovery, the line offers 12 unique itineraries and more than 20 cruisetour options, operating five upscale, custom-built wilderness lodges for its cruisetour passengers.

Majestic Princess (the sister ship to the new Discovery Princess) sits grandly in Glacier Bay.
Photo: Princess

As one of the six Princess ships cruising the Great Land in 2022, Discovery Princess marks her inaugural season as the youngest ship in Alaska. The 3,660-passenger Medallion Class ship brings next-level technology via a wearable device, Ocean Medallion, which expedites service and personalizes attention to each individual guest; enormous, made-to-entertain suite balconies – the largest at sea; Broadway-style productions in the state-of-the-art Princess Theater; and puppies, lots and lots of puppies.

Part of the line’s signature and award-winning North to Alaska program, Puppies in the Piazza give guests a chance to meet sled dogs and the handlers who train them for a life of dog mushing. New to the program this season are unique wine and seafood pairings, featuring entrées like fresh salmon with premium wines available only in Alaska; hot beverages headlined by “spiked” hot chocolate recipes; and Alaska beer and spirits experiences, including tasting flights, locally brewery tours and cocktails like Glacial Ice Chilled Martinis.

Princess has a unique program through its Discovery partnership to bring sled dog puppies onboard for Puppies in the Piazza. Photo: Princess

Princess had the distinction of having the first ship arrive in Canada this season since April of 2019, when Caribbean Princess called at Victoria, capital city of British Columbia. The four-day Pacific Coastal voyage arrived on April 6 before heading onward to Vancouver.

COUNTRY CLUB CASUAL

The line known for small ship luxury brings even more of its trademark welcoming elegance to Alaska in 2022. Oceania Cruises 684-guest Regatta underwent a redesign so transformative with new rich, warming color palette, shimming chandelier lighting, marble bathrooms and new and thought-provoking art that it is being called a re-inspiration.

Oceania’s cruises in Alaska bring guests the wide-open skies and cobalt glaciers of The Last Frontier.
Photo: Oceania Cruises

Suites and staterooms are sumptuous. Dining is gourmet with a plant-based focus. Afternoon tea is accompanied by a classical string quartet. The spa is designed with a holistic approach to wellbeing. Shows are inspired by the locale. Live piano music invites guests to gather or cocktails and conversation. An English-inspired library delights with thousands of books, including mysteries, classic literature and guidebooks. The overall onboard ambience is relaxed and casual amidst sleek splendor – jacket and tie not required.

Better than new, Regatta is the flagship of the Oceania Cruises fleet and features a beautifully re-inspired ambiance.
Photo: Oceania Cruises

The Regatta’s medium ship size means it can slip into ports larger ships cannot, like Alaska’s Wrangell Island, a former Tlingit Indian stronghold and Russian outpost, home to the Wrangell Museum and ancient petroglyphs. Onboard enrichment opportunities enhance the cruises – not just to Alaska, but to all Oceania destinations – with historians, naturalists and other experts offering lively programs.

About Kathy Witt

Kathy Witt is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer who writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Travel Goods magazines and RealFoodTraveler.com as well as other outlets like County. She is the author of several books, including Cincinnati Scavenger (Fall 2022) Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles, and is working on another travel-themed book for Fall 2023 release. Kathy is a member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), Authors Guild and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Follow Kathy on Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin.

West Baden Springs Resort: Southern Indiana’s calming oasis

By Special Guest Blogger Kathy Witt.

It is fitting that West Baden Springs Hotel, a magnificent domed resort built in 1902 in the manner of the grand spas of Europe, sits along an Indiana Historic Pathways route. The roads tell the story of Indiana and the country, beginning with the hoofs of the bison and moving through time to the wheels of the stagecoach, the tracks laid by the railroads and the cars meandering along today in search of a historic resort that looks more Bavaria than America’s Crossroads.

Located in the southern part of the state, West Baden Springs’ own story begins in the mid-nineteenth century with a stretch of marshland, a hidden natural spring and one man’s dream to create a holiday destination that would ultimately overshadow the prestigious French Lick Springs Resort, built in 1845 and located just a mile down the road.

It is a story of intense rivalry between two visionary hoteliers, devastating fires and full-scale renovations and expansions that brought each resort to national prominence as luxurious health resorts. Both properties took advantage of their location amidst the natural mineral springs of the area, promoting the springs for their medicinal value and successfully marketing the “curative” water as Pluto (French Lick) and Sprudel (West Baden).

Today, the hotels are part of French Lick Resort, a classic, family-friendly destination with three golf courses, two spas and plenty of activities and entertainment to fill a long weekend. While the onsite casino, bowling alley, arcade and children’s activities give French Lick Springs a kickier vibe, West Baden Springs is a calming oasis that retains its Old World charm with European architecture, fairytale towers and a bricked entrance road that rolls out alongside the hotel’s formal gardens.

Favorite pastimes at West Baden Springs are lounging, dining, sipping cocktails and enjoying afternoon tea in the enormous atrium, a light and airy gathering space, once known as a Pompeian Court, with comfy, cushy seating scattered throughout. It is topped by the free-spanning dome, a steel and glass marvel measuring 195 feet in diameter and 130 feet in height and the reason the hotel was branded the “Eighth Wonder of the World” when it opened.

Guests naturally gravitate to this stunning space, where they can see remnants of the mosaic terrazzo tile flooring that, when originally installed in 1916, consisted of two million squares of marble, plus a fireplace that looks like a piece of art and passageways that spoke off to various parts of the hotel, including registration, dining and the pool and spa.

The hotel’s six stories and their 243 guestrooms and suites encircle the atrium, with about 40 of these inviting retreats featuring a balcony that opens up to an incredible view of the dome and everything beneath it. Like the atrium itself, the balcony rooms are a perfect nook for relaxing and listening to the piano player as his fingers travel through a playlist of familiar melodies each evening.

Relaxation

Also relaxing is a visit to the spa, designed using historic photographs to capture the resort’s original two-level natatorium layout. Like the resort itself, the spa combines that Old World sensibility with European elegance to create a tranquil retreat. The spa offers a number of different treatments, including massages, facials and body scrubs.

Hidden History

Hidden off the registration area is the library, a hushed spot that brings to mind Agatha Christie novels, brandy snifters and hound dogs dozing by the fire with its plump chairs, dark paneling and classic rolling library ladder. Another one: The museum gallery tucked off a first floor corridor. It is a history lesson, arranged in glass cases and on the walls, of West Baden Springs as seen through its early hotel décor and dishware, promotional posters and vintage pictures.

Acitivities & Events

West Baden Springs Hotel offers numerous activities – onsite shopping, historic and horse-drawn carriage tours, strolling the formal gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and indoor hot tub, fitness center access, horseback riding, golfing and a variety of scheduled events and concerts.

It also inspires slowing down, relishing being in the moment and appreciating all the stories told through the architecture, activities and traditions of one of the country’s most beautiful and historic resorts.

Plan Your Travels

The AAA Four Diamond West Baden Springs Hotel is a National Landmark Hotel and member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts. Its 243 luxury guest rooms and suites are each individually decorated. The room rate comes with a number of complimentary items: valet and self-parking, resort-wide shuttle service, two bottles of water daily and Wi-Fi/Internet. It is also a pet-friendly hotel. Note that daily housekeeping and nightly turn-down service are currently suspended.

A trolley, running seven days a week, takes guests back and forth between West Baden Springs and French Lick Springs hotels. At West Baden, the depot is located adjacent to the gardens; at French Lick, it is near the casino.

Information and reservations: 888-936-9360, www.FrenchLick.com/hotels/WestBaden.

Packages

The resort offers a number of special packages (www.FrenchLick.com/hotels/packages for details), including these:

  • Mother’s Day (May 7 and 8) – includes overnight accommodations at West Baden Springs on Saturday or Sunday and Mother’s Day Brunch for two in the Atrium on May 8, featuring omelet, waffle and carving stations, chilled seafood bar and more.
  • Romance – includes resort accommodations, red rose on check-in, bottle of house wine and special welcome gift, plus a $105 French Lick Resort dining credit.
  • Happy Birthday – includes resort accommodations, welcome gift, birthday cake, $20 in ice cream credit and a $75 dining credit.

About Kathy Witt

Kathy Witt is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer who writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Travel Goods magazines and RealFoodTraveler.com as well as other outlets like County. She is the author of several books, including Cincinnati Scavenger (Fall 2022) Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles, and is working on another travel-themed book for Fall 2023 release. Kathy is a member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), Authors Guild and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Her writing has led to many cherished experiences and memories, including glacier walking in the foothills of Denali; being a Guardian on an Honor Flight from Louisville, KY to Washington D.C.; interviewing Dolly Parton several times; sailing with Oprah with Holland America Cruises; riding BOLT!, the roller coaster aboard Carnival’s Mardi Gras; and attending the 70th Anniversary Re-Premiere of Gone With the Wind, hosted by the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum, where she got to enjoy the company of actress Ann Rutherford (“Carreen O’Hara”) and the “Three Beaus” – Mickey Kuhn, Patrick Curtis and Greg Giese.

Sitka Salmon Shares: Fresh Fish from Cold and Clear Alaskan Waters to Your Door

Sitka Halibut with Pesto & Pasta

      Taking the concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) from land to sea with their Community Supported Fishery (CFA), Sitka Salmon Shares isn’t about radishes, green beans, and other vegetables. Instead, takes the concept of The concept is instead of,  each month during the fishing season your share of fresh caught and flash-frozen seafood arrives at your door. The seafood is harvested from Alaskan and North Pacific waters by small-boat fishermen (equivalent to small farmers) and you can choose the type of fish you want—salmon, halibut, black cod, and Dungeness crab (to name a few).

          It’s a great way to try new fish as well such as lingcod, Kodiak jig-saw rockfish, and Bairdi crab and there’s the option to sign up for the Sitka Salmon Share. That’s a variety of low-impact caught salmon—keto, sockeye, and coho as well as salmon burgers—from several fisheries and waterways so the difference in taste can be enjoyed. Prices vary depending upon what you order, and you can cancel your membership whenever you want. And for those with shellfish allergies or who just don’t like the taste, you can specify non-shellfish if you like.

Sitka Salmon Shares is now a completely integrated boat-to-doorstep seafood company. They have a lovable group of fishermen-owners who deliver the fish to their small processing plant in Sitka, Alaska, where they custom-process the catch with a laser focus on quality and traceability. Sitka Shares has two Good-Fish Hubs in the Midwest, which allow then to deliver rtheir fishermen’s catch directly to your doorstep (or to your local farmers market or restaurant).

At Sitka Salmon Shares, you’re joining a community of artisan fishers, healthy eaters, foodies, and Alaskan adventurers in our collective efforts to rebuild America’s seafood system from the ground up. All of us together are actively supporting responsibly sourced seafood and independent, family fishermen who fish in much the same way their grandparents did.

Nene’s Halibut with Garden Pesto

  • 1 – 1.5 pounds halibut
  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 teaspoons finely chopped chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3 teaspoons chopped thyme
  • 3 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400.

Pierce squash all over with knife and microwave for 6 minutes.

Split long ways to open the squash and remove the seeds.

Drizzle flesh with 1 tbsp olive oil

Season halibut with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder on both sides.

Brown butter over medium high heat until it foams and smells nutty. Mix with squash strands. Place squash flesh side down on a baking sheet lined with foil. Cover with foil and bake 1 hour or until the skin of the squash is easy to poke with a fork. Scrape out the spaghetti squash meat.

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat in a skillet and sear halibut 2-3 minutes on each side. Reduce heat, cover, and cook an additional 3-4 minutes until the halibut flakes,

While the squash is roasting, combine 1/3 cup olive oil, lemon juice, chives, thyme, Parmesan, garlic, and salt & pepper (to taste) in a mason jar. Shake to combine.

 Place a portion of buttered squash on each plate and top with a piece of halibut. Spoon pesto over the halibut and squash.

Marsh’s Grill-Smoked Sockeye

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus nerka

Where they’re caught: SITKA

 Season: June – August Culinary

Profile: Sockeye’s robust and bold profile holds up to spicy and savory sauces, and is great roasted and sautéed.

  • 1 pound Sockeye Salmon Fillet
  • 1 wood plank
  • 1 cup wood chips
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sea salt
  • 4 ounces Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 cup chopped dill
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • Salt & pepper

Soak the wood plank and the wood chips in water for 30 minutes Place wood chips in either a smoker box or wrap in aluminum foil with some holes poked through.

Mix the sugar and salt together and coat the salmon with the mixture.  Allow the salmon to cure in the fridge for 30 minutes.  Once cured, rinse the salt and sugar off of the salmon, pat dry, and place on the wood plank.

Heat your grill to a low temp, around 200 degrees (use a small amount of charcoal banked to one side of a charcoal grill, or turn on one burner of a gas grill to low.) Place the wood chip packet directly on the coals or burner. Allow it to start smoking, about 5 minutes.

Place the wood-planked salmon on the side of the grill away from direct heat. Close the grill and cook for about 30 minutes until the salmon is just cooked through

Combine sauce ingredients while the salmon is smoking. Season with salt & pepper to taste and set aside.

Serve the salmon with the dill sauce on the side.

Marsh’s Pro-Tip: For an extra level of flavor, try adding herbs or other aromatics to the salt & sugar cure such as lemon zest & thyme, or juniper berries and dill.

Black Bass Tempura with Lemon-Herb Dipping Sauce

  • 1 (12 ounce) black bass fillet, cut into 3 smaller fillets
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dill, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 quart vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup seltzer
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt & pepper

In a small bowl, combine cilantro, parsley, dill, lemon juice, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Set aside.

Mix together cornstarch and flour in a medium bowl. Just before frying, whisk together the egg yolk and seltzer water and add it to the flour. Gently combine the ingredients using chopsticks, being careful to not over-work the batter.  It’s OK to have small lumps.Heat oil In a fryer or a medium saucepan, heat vegetable oil to 375 degrees.

Dip the black bass into the batter and then carefully drop into the hot oil.  Fry until crisp and lightly brown, about 2-4 minutes. Drain the cooked fish on paper towels and season with a sprinkling of salt while still hot.  Serve with the herb sauce on the side.

 Pro-Tip:  Have extra batter?  Try frying some vegetables such as sweet potato, large onion slices, carrots, or zucchini to serve with the fish. 

Share your finished dishes with us #Sitkarecipes More recipes and culinary inspiration at www.sitkasalmonshares.com/recipes @sitkasalmonshares /sitkasalmonshares

         

Mark Your Calendars for Bourbon Heritage Month

When it comes to bourbon, it’s never too early to start making plans. So even though we have to wait until September, mark your calendars for celebrating Bourbon Heritage Month in Paducah, Kentucky. Paducah, a river town with rich past, is a UNESCO Creative City. And when it comes to bourbon, that creativity is on display at several of the city’s restaurants.


Barrel & Bond

Barrel and Bond is a bourbon-centric bar in Historic Downtown Paducah, recently named one of the Best Bars in Bourbon Country according to Bourbon Review. The new bourbon and cocktail bar features one of largest selections in the United States, boasting more than 1,400 Bourbons and American whiskeys. Expertly curated cocktails and charcuterie boards offer a perfectly paired introduction to Kentucky food and drink. Take the bourbon experience to the next level by attending a meeting of the Paducah Bourbon Society.

Freight House

Freight House, a farm-to-table restaurant in Paducah, serves up traditional Southern flavors, paired with locally sourced meats and garden-fresh fare. Freight House Paducah features a full bar and with a staggering selection of bourbons, as well as a seasonal rotation of cocktails and craft beer. Named one of America’s Best Bourbon Bars by The Bourbon Review and Buffalo Trace.

“Buck 50” at The FoxBriar Cocktail Bar

This cocktail, which has been a year in the making, is inspired by the Kentucky Buck cocktail. FoxBriar takes this ginger beer-based cocktail and combines it with the ratios of a French 75 to create something new and special.

While you’re waiting, here are some recipes to make.

The following recipes are courtesy of the Freight House in Paducah.

Freight House Fried Chicken

marinade

  • 1 pt buttermilk
  • 1/4 c hot sauce
  • 1 T granulated garlic
  • 1 T granulated onion
  • 1 T granulated salt

breader

  • 4 c flour
  • 2 T smoked paprika
  • 2 T salt
  • 1 T cayenne pepper

for the marinade

  1. mix ingredients together, then add chicken to marinate. marinate for about 4 hours.

to fry chicken

  1. mix all breader ingredients into a bowl.
  2. remove chicken from marinade and shake of extra liquid. dredge pieces one by one, shaking excess. make sure to coat chicken well.
  3. let rest at room temperature for 10 min while you heat your oil.
  4. heat oil on stove top to 360 degrees.
  5. slowly lower chicken into oil and fry for about 5-8 minutes (depending on thickness. longer if you have a chicken that has the bone in it) to reach a temp of 160-165f. breading will have a golden brown color.
  6. season with salt.

Champagne Chess Pie

ingredients

  • 1 9 in pie crust (rolled, crimped, and chilled in refrigerator)
  • 2 1/4 c sugar
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1 1/3 T yellow corn meal
  • 4 1/2 eggs beaten well
  • 1 1/2 T champagne reduction (see below)
  • 1/2 T white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla extract
  • 6 oz melted butter

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 325 F. combine the sugar, salt, and cornmeal in a medium size bowl and mix. add your eggs, champagne, vinegar, and vanilla and whisk to combine. add the butter and whisk again. make sure everything is well mixed with no lumps. it should be kind of thick.

Pour the mixture into your pie crust.

Bake the pie for 55-60 minutes on the bottom rack of your oven. the pie should have golden brown crust and be pretty firm when done cooking. You only want a little jiggle when you give it a wiggle.

Let it cool for at least 4 hours before serving. it can be cooked the day before and kept in the fridge. bring to room temperature before serving.

For champagne reduction: reduce 1 bottle (25.4 oz) of champagne to 3/4 cup. will hold in the fridge for months.

Freight House Deviled Eggs

1 dozen eggs

hard boil, chill, and split eggs in half (we cut ’em horizontally). remove yolks and set aside.

ingredients

  • 3 e yolks
  • 2 T salt
  • 1 t granulated onion
  • 1/4 c caramelized onion should be dark
  • 4 T red wine vinegar
  • 1 c vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c sour cream

instructions

  1. add all ingredients but the veg oil and sour cream to food processor.
  2. process for about 1 minute.
  3. slowly add oil. taste for seasoning. the base will be highly seasoned.
  4. add the egg yolk and process until smooth.
  5. add the sour cream and pulse to incorporate.
  6. pipe into egg whites. garnish with caramelized onions.