Adorable Rustic Cabin in the Virginia mountains

The mountains of Virginia, my home state, are one of my favorite places on earth. Madison County, especially, has such a wide variety of fun activities for kids and family, delicious food and natural beauty that it’s a region I love to come back to often. My parents and I took my three children to stay at a beautiful, modern and stylish rental house up the road from Graves Mountain Lodge for two fun-filled, off-grid nights to celebrate the end of summer.

The Old Church Cottage is an Airbnb.com rental in what was formerly a Mennonite church. It has rustic charm with a fully modern kitchen, and is outside the range of both cell service and wifi (although the Syria Mercantile up the road has wifi). 100 yards behind the property is the Rose River, a picturesque stream shallow enough for wading.

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Graves Mountain offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as horseback riding and other activities. If you’re in the area during the fall, you can pick apples and visit the apple harvest festival. In downtown Madison, you can visit the Feed Store, an antique store packed to the rafters with old and interesting things to look at and buy. A quick lunch of delicious barbecue can be had at Pig N’ Steak, and the best dessert is at Tastee Freeze on Route 29. For grocery staples, visit Yoder’s Country Market, also on Route 29.

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Madison County has several wineries. DuCard Vineyards is near Graves Mountain, nestled in a small valley. Standouts at the solar-powered tasting room are C’est Trop, a dessert-style port wine and 2nd Corps, a slightly sweet white. Early Mountain Vineyards offers beautiful views and an award-winning tasting room and patio for outdoor events and live music. Heading up Route 29 towards Culpeper, Prince Michel Vineyard and Winery has a wide range of wines to taste your way through, including a line of fruit wines. The newest additions to Madison County’s gourmet offerings are Bald Top Brewing Co., Virginia’s first historic farm brewery, and Mad Local, a veteran-owned restaurant in downtown Madison featuring local meats and veggies, beers and wines.

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If you’re looking for a little slice of heaven for a weekend getaway this fall, make the trip to Madison! And don’t miss the 25th annual Taste of the Mountains Street Festival, with local vendors, arts and crafts, a beer and wine tasting tent and more.

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Louisville Weekend Road Trip – Part Two

After a fun-filled Friday, my husband and I woke up bright and early Saturday to visit another distillery. Located in Lawrenceburg, about an hour outside downtown Louisville, Four Roses Distillery makes three standard bourbon offerings, as well as a handful of special, limited-edition offerings each year. The distillery is currently expanding its operations and while construction takes place, the distillery tour has been modified and does not include the stillhouse. My husband and I didn’t want to wait until the hourly distillery tour, so we opted for the tasting only.

Outside on a covered patio, we received an education in the history of the Four Roses Distillery, from its romantic origin to its place of prominence in one of the most famous American photographs ever taken. Complimentary Four Roses tasting glasses were passed out and our tasting host walked us through Four Roses Yellow Label, Small Batch and Single Barrel offerings.

A short drive away through beautiful horse country and back roads, Woodford Reserve Distillery offers tours throughout the day. Unfortunately, we hadn’t made a reservation, and when we arrived the distillery was overrun with visitors and tour buses.  I’d highly recommend reserving your tour online, which you can do the day before (or even earlier). We did check out the gift shop, and from what we saw the facility looked gorgeous. I’d definitely like to come back for the full tour.

Heading back into Louisville, we visited the Louisville Slugger Museum, which was about a 15-minute walk from our hotel. The museum offers a factory tour, which provides information on the history of the brand and how they manufacture baseball bats today, as well as how bats have been made through the years. An exhibit showcases special bats made for the greats of baseball, and when the tour is over, visitors have the chance to pose with bats used by various heavy hitters.

The home team was in town, so after our museum visit we headed back down Main Street to Louisville Slugger Field to see the local team, the Bats, who are the AAA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The stadium was gorgeous, and offered a special package with a premium game ticket, hot dog, soda, program and Bats hat for $25 a person. My husband and I had a great time at the game – there’s nothing better in the summertime than a baseball game, hot dogs and cold beer! Local brewery Against the Grain, which has a brewery and smokehouse attached to the stadium, offers beers inside the stadium as well. Unfortunately, the “Bats Win” golden ale I bought wasn’t enough of a good luck charm – the Bats were shut out by their opponents.

We headed back to our hotel after the game and woke up bright and early on Sunday, ready for our 7 1/2 hour drive back to Richmond. If you’re making Louisville a weekend road trip and planning to grab some bourbon souvenirs, be aware that many liquor stores outside the city don’t open until 1 pm, and some counties don’t sell liquor at all on Sundays.

Our quick weekend getaway was a great time. We both decided we’d love to go back to check out more distilleries. Next time, we’ll be sure to pre-reserve our tours, especially in the busy summer season.

 

Louisville Weekend Road Trip

With the kids at their grandparents’ house last weekend, my husband and I decided to take a road trip to Louisville, Kentucky to taste some bourbon and take in a baseball game (and a visit to the Louisville Slugger Museum).

A 7 1/2-hour drive from Richmond, Louisville lies on the Kentucky river, which separates Kentucky from Indiana. Though you can follow I-64 all the way there, it isn’t quite a straight shot as the interstate winds through the mountains of Virginia, West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. For bourbon lovers, you could make an easy stop at the Smooth Ambler distillery in Maxwelton, WV on the way there or back.

The Louisville area is home to many distilleries, from small, craft distillers like Willett, Town Branch and new distiller, Jeptha Creed to huge worldwide brands like Wild Turkey and Jim Beam. One tip to note: the distilleries in this region of Kentucky can be pretty spread out. If you’re pre-reserving tours, be sure to budget enough time into your schedule for the drives between sites.

On this trip, we visited Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort on our way to Louisville. About an hour outside Louisville, the distillery is situated on the banks of the Kentucky river on the site of an ancient “buffalo trace,” a trampled-down region that resulted from the mass migration of millions of buffalo centuries ago. Buffalo Trace produces some of the most sought-after bourbons in the world, including Pappy Van Winkle, Elmer T. Lee, E.H. Taylor and Blanton’s.

The tour features a visit into one of the aging warehouses, and an educational video on the history and distilling process of Buffalo Trace, then culminates with a trip to the small building housing the bottling line. On the day of our visit, Blanton’s was making its way through the bottling line.

The post-tour tasting offered samples of Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare bourbons, Wheatley Vodka, White Dog Corn Whiskey and Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream, plus Dr. Mcgillicuddy’s root beer for those who were under 21. Off the tasting room, a locked vault housed some of the rarest past releases, including Pappy Van Winkle 25 Year bourbon and decades-old Weller and Old Taylor bottles.

Later that evening, after checking into our super-convenient, downtown Louisville hotel (the Hampton Inn – Louisville Downtown, which is within walking distance to most major downtown sites and also has a free local shuttle), we ventured back out into the countryside to visit Jeptha Creed Distillery, a relatively new local distillery that makes flavored moonshines and vodkas, as well as a very limited-release bourbon.  On Friday nights, the distillery puts on “Jammin’ at Jeptha,” a concert series featuring local bands.  One or more food trucks sell meals and snacks, and the distillery serves up craft cocktails. Local brews are also available, such as Country Boy Brewing beers.

Day one of our Louisville trip was full of fun and bourbon. We were excited for more on Saturday!

Midtown State Fair

On July 16, the kids and I headed to Libbie Mill for Fire, Flour & Fork‘s “Midtown State Fair.” Held behind the Libbie Mill Library, this fun, family-friendly food festival had plenty for us to do, from great eats to crafts to cooking demonstrations and more.

When we arrived, the Virginia heat and humidity made King of Pops gourmet popsicles a necessity.

Next, we checked out the tent area, full of local specialty foods and activities for the kids. They got to spin a prize wheel and make crafts, and we all sampled some of southern-favorite Birdie’s Pimento Cheese, Nate’s Bagels and more.

 

There was a petting zoo where my kids enjoyed petting the goats, and a booth from Wandering Cow Farm with goat-milk soaps and other natural body care products.

The highlights of the day were the Filipino folk dance demonstration and the old-fashioned cakewalk.

The event was put on by the team behind the Fire, Flour & Fork food festival. Tickets for this year’s FFF, to be held in the beginning of November, go on sale August 1. Some of the events will sell out quickly, so get your tickets early!

The Apple House

If you happen to find yourself in Front Royal, like I did for work on Monday, do yourself a favor and stop at The Apple House. You’ll find plenty of Virginia-made barbecue sauces, jellies, jams, dips and snacks, as well as a full-service kitchen cooking up breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s a wide selection of Virginia wines, ciders and beers. They even have pork rinds in a dizzying array of flavors, from hot and spicy, to garlic parmesan. But the piece de resistance are the fresh apple cider donuts. The moment you step into the dining area, the delicious aroma of apples and donuts cooking smacks you in the face. There’s no way you can leave without enjoying at least one.

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Where’s your favorite spot to get some apple cider donuts?

Making fake-ass Dole Whips with Monkey Rum

So my husband and I are, to put it mildly, OBSESSED with California. To the point that we’re thinking about taking a family trip to Disneyland next year and watching tons of YouTube videos about Disneyland and Southern California. One of the items that seems pretty consistently well-loved about Disneyland is the Dole Whip, a unique concoction sold at the park that draws on Disney’s partnership with the Dole fruit company to offer park guests a delicious, creamy, frozen treat full of real pineapple and pineapple juice.

The praises of the Dole Whip are sung far and wide on ye olde YouTube, from copycat recipes and hacks to keep from waiting in line for your treat to spicing up the fruit flavor with Tajin spice powder and even grown-up versions including alcohol. It is to one of these recipes I turned when I wanted to make my own fake-ass Dole Whips at home and add some Monkey Rum we picked up in Wildwood, New Jersey at The Race of Gentlemen a few weeks ago.

I threw all the ingredients in the blender, added some Monkey Toasted Coconut Rum and poured everything in a gallon freezer bag. After a few hours chilling in the freezer, I poured our fake-ass Dole Whips into some glasses and popped in some straws. Our drinks were yummy, with plenty of sweet and tangy real pineapple, plenty of creaminess and a kick of rum. And there you have it: frozen deliciousness while daydreaming about our Disneyland trip!

Red Cap Patisserie visit

Recently I stopped by Red Cap Patisserie’s shop on Meadow Street to try out the croissants and pastries. The shop is small, with only a little space for seating, but has plenty of display space for their sweet and savory pastries, including pain au chocolat, kouign amman, scones and more.

The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and the pastries are delicious.  I can’t wait to return and try more of their treats, including some of the savory ones.

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