Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pioneer Woman. Tusk & Trotter. Crystal Bridges.

I met my first celebrity.
My first star.
Her name is Pioneer Woman.
Her real name is Ree Drummond.

She has a cooking show on The Food Network that I watch every week, written several cookbooks, and writes picture books that my students just love!

She started with a personal blog to keep her family and friends updated with their life, but a lot more people than just family loved to read her posts. I can easily stay on her blog for hours reading about recipes, hotels she stayed at, the lodge makeover, and her dog, Charlie.

One day I was reading her blog and she had posted the cities that she would be visiting to have book signings. I looked just for fun because, quite frankly, I just didn’t believe she would come to Arkansas. I scrolled down for awhile and there is was. Rogers, Arkansas. My state. My lovely lovely state.

I immediately screamed with excitement and ran to tell Rustin. “GUESS WHO IS COMING TO ARKANSAS!!!”
“Pioneer Woman," said Rustin. (Promise. First Guess!)
“YYEEEESSSS!!!” I screamed back.

I later asked how in the world he guessed that it was Pioneer Woman. He knows me.

So, the weekend finally came for us to travel up to Rogers to meet Pioneer Woman. My aunt and uncle live up there, so we were going to visit them along with Crystal Bridges. A little weekend trip.

We arrived at Walmart an hour before signing started, so we could get a good spot in line. We walked in. Everything looked calm. We found the signing table. Spotted the line, and started to find the end. This was going to be a breeze. We were going to be in and out in no time. We later found the end in-between the men's shirts and PJ bottoms miles behind the signing table.
Okay, not miles, but a line weaving in and out of departments that was longer than a football field.
I was so close to Pioneer Woman yet so far. Luckily we were right behind some women from Arkansas Women Bloggers, so our four and a half hour wait was enjoyable. The Park Wife, creator of AWB, gave me some blogging advice, and I received several restaurant recommendations from her and the other women.

I was so star struck when I finally got to meet Pioneer Woman. 

If you know me personally, you can tell how big my smile is compared to normal.

If you even kind of know me, take my advice. Buy her cookbooks. You, along with your dinner guests, will love every recipe. Rustin will try anything if he knows it is one of her books.

I also got to meet her husband, Lad. He is on just about every show and, of course, on her blog.

 I thought it was so sweet that her husband came along too.

My husband is just as sweet. He waited in line with me without complaints. That’s true love right there.

After the book signing, we visited with my aunt and uncle who I do not get to see too much. We were several hours late, because I thought the signing was going to be an hour or two. I was wrong. Very wrong. I underestimated Pioneer Woman’s following.
They fed us a late lunch and we talked for a few hours. They are the kindest people, and I just love them!

When it was time to head to the hotel, we entered in the hotel address in our GPS and headed off. I love staying in hotels. Especially Holiday Inn Expresses. They have THE best biscuit and gravy! So, you can imagine my disappointment when I booked a Holiday Inn and Suites by accident. Don’t get me wrong. The rooms were nice, but there was no free breakfast. No biscuit and gravy. I will never make that booking mistake again!

Sunday was dedicated to going to Crystal Bridges in Bentonville. My Aunt Betty had been talking about this place, and we finally had the time to go!

But first, we had to have lunch. One of the women that we met in line for Pioneer Woman had suggested Tusk & Trotter in the Bentonville Square. It was right by Crystal Bridges, and they were open for Sunday lunch.

Right when you walked into the restaurant it had a warm welcoming vibe.  The dark concrete floors, wood planked ceilings, and dim lighting made the atmosphere relaxing and laid back. We were seated in the bar area at a high top table and immediately was greeted by our server, Al, who was also the bartender. He provided great service and an even better Bloody Mary.

They had a variety of different infused Bloody Mary drinks, but I stuck to the traditional tomato.  It wasn’t too spicy and had a wonderful olive flavor. I have a big love for olives. As you know, I love salty foods, and you can’t get saltier than an olive. Especially the green ones.

Now that I was officially craving olives, I chose the Mediterranean Pizza for lunch.

I hardly ever get pizzas at restaurants, but this one sounded great. When Al put it in front of me, man was I glad about my choice.

The thin pizza crust was hand tossed and crispy. Every bite you took you could hear a crunch. This crust lets the toppings’ flavors do all the work. It was not heavy at all, so you did not leaving feeling guilty if you ate the whole thing.
I would’ve eaten the whole thing if Rustin hadn’t stolen a quarter of it while I was taking notes. He does that a lot.

The marinated olives and pepperoni were scattered around, so every bite had one or the other. My salty fix was definitely achieved. The wilted arugula on top gave it an earthiness to it and the cheese and olive oil added moisture to it since there was no red sauce on this pizza. To top it off there was feta cheese. I can eat that stuff raw. Olives and feta cheese....I should’ve been born in Greece. I should’ve been born in a lot of places. Mexico, Italy, Japan....luckily America has all the cuisines.

Well, now that I’m officially craving that pizza again, you have to go try this place out. Rustin got the TNT Burger and loved it as well. The chef there has won numerous awards and worked with some of the most distinguished chefs. Check out his bio on their website.

Tusk & Trotter is in the Bentonville Square, which is a nice place to visit in itself. They still have the traditional square, just like Mountain View. We went through the Walmart 5 and Dime Museum there and learned quite a bit about the Waltons before we went to Crystal Bridges.

This museum is beautiful. It is recognized on a national level, and Alice Walton (Sam Walton’s daughter) has put her heart and soul in this place. The art on display is timeless and takes you back in history.

Kindred Spirits. Alice Walton reportedly paid $35 million for just this painting.

This trip was very short but filled with amazing memories. Northwest Arkansas is such a beautiful place to visit. The people here are welcoming and nice. I look forward to coming back and trying all the places that people have recommended.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Bean Festival. Mountain View, Arkansas.

One of my favorite towns to visit is Mountain View, Arkansas. Now, I am all about the big city of Little Rock (Was that an oxymoron?), but there is nothing better than going to Mountain View with Taylor. She was my “Lil” in our sorority, and we have been best friends ever since. We are alike but yet so different in many ways. One being that she is from the small town of Mountain View, and I am from the big city of North Little Rock.

The first time I rode with Taylor to Mountain View, I got horrible car sickness. It was at night, I couldn’t see the windy roads ahead, and oncoming headlights were zooming past us. That is a great combination for a queasy stomach and throbbing headache.

Now I would like to think of myself as a veteran Mountain View rider. I go in the daylight now, and my stomach has adjusted to the turns. The trip up was just gorgeous. The trees were turning to their fall colors and there was hardly anyone on the road.

Every time I arrive, my worries seem to melt away. There is an aura about Mountain View that makes you slow down. It focuses your attention on the present, and you relax. You are on MV time, and that means chill out! That’s why I love it here and why you will love this town when you come to visit.

Anytime I am able to tag along with Taylor for a visit up the MV, I immediately hop in and go! That is what I did when she told me about the Bean Festival. Our trip was short, but well worth the drive!

Bean Festival is just what it sounds like. A festival celebrating beans.

There is a huge bean cooking contest that happens just around noon, singing all around the square, craft sales, food trucks, and best of all.....The Outhouse Races. Because what goes with eating so many beans....well...that your personal business. :)

We arrived too late to enjoy the beans, but there were plenty of other things to do.

Food was on our first to-do list!

Taylor went with the traditional foot long corndog, but I had to try something unique. The Salsa Wagon food trailer smelled amazing, so I hopped in their line. You could see the crock-pots plugged in, the fryer baskets loaded and ready to drop, and the grill top covered with hot food all right from the window. It was the place to be.

I decided on the Chicken Fajita Nachos, and boy was it a good choice! 

The crunchy chips were the perfect foundation for the goodness on top. The fajita vegetables were nicely cooked. There were red and green bell peppers and sweet onions. The veggies were grilled on the flat top making them mostly soft with a little bit of crunch. The grilled chicken strips were tender, juicy, with nice charred edges. To top the nachos off was an amazing white cheese dip.

Cheese dip is a big weakness of mine. I can never get enough of it....especially white cheese dip.

The cheese dip was a critical component of the nachos because it held everything together. Without the dip, it would’ve been fajitas and chips. The dip brought it together to make a perfectly harmonized nacho plate.

Now, the whole dish was good, but there were just a few bites that blew my socks off.
A few bites that cannot be forcefully made.
The few bites that you find at the bottom.
Not those bites that have one drop of cheese dip on it because the other chips were blocking their way.
No, I am talking about the ones that are at the bottom that have been soaking up the excess cheese dip, chicken, and veggie juices.
Do you know what I am talking about now?

I wasn’t able to snap a picture because my hands, palms, and back of my hands were covered in these so-called juices, so you are just going to have to visualize.

I wish I could create an entire dish full of those bites. But....that would be way too many calories and a whole lotta mess.

To walk off some of these calories I did consume, we walked around the town square to check out everything going on. 

Wait! Third place I have worked out at!!!
1. Dondie's in Des Arc
2. Cafe Bossa Nova in the Heights
3. Bean Festival in Mountain View

But why am I not lean and fit.
Don’t answer that.

All around the town square there were places to shop, eat, or just to relax.

Do you see the band in the center of the picture? 

Mountain View still has an authentic square. The shops are still in business and people still come to gather there. Even when you come up here and there is not a festival, there are people at the square playing folk music. It is truly a special town. I think the world would be a better place if we had more Mountain Views.

We, of course, had to stop and watch the Outhouse Races!

I have now seen it all.

After some sittin’, we did some more shopping at the businesses in the square. There were some very unique stores with merchandise that I might never need, and some modern clothing boutiques with merchandise that I always need/want. The square is filled with items that will fit everyone’s tastes.

As we slowly made our way back towards the car, we passed by the Salsa Wagon again. The Fried Oreos that I saw on their menu was heavy on my mind. Taylor had never had them before, so I just had to get them. For her. Not for me. I just helped her eat them to be nice. :)

Have you ever tried a Fried Oreo???

They are horrible. Horrible. Horrible.

Horribly amazing. 

If you like Oreos, you will LOVE them fried. Just try them ASAP.

Now that I was taking shorter breaths, and craving milk, I knew it was time to head home. I have already planned a visit for December when the hubby is off on weekends to do a series of Mountain View’s best restaurants. Believe me. There are some that I crave down here in the big city.

1st stop will be at this place for breakfast. A biscuit and gravy breakfast.

 See you soon Mountain View.