Fall Break in Kentucky

Would you believe until last year I had never spent a night in Kentucky?  I’ve driven through it on the way to points North, unsurprisingly, but somehow went almost 50 years without vacationing in a state I can drive to in an hour.
We remedied that last October during Fall Break, a modern invention that did exist when I was a youngster.  It’s a great time to travel and we had an entire week off from school.
First we went to Mammoth Cave.  That’s the longest known cave system in the WORLD, y’all.  And it’s a National Park, which means it’s inexpensive to visit.  And you could easily spend days there.
We stayed in nearby Cave City, which is mostly known as the city near Mammoth Cave, or at least that’s the way it looked from the exit where our hotel was located–a strip of hotels and fast food and touristy things.  But we are adventurers and we found the REAL town and explored it.
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Look at that sweet little main street! We walked up and down looking in windows (everything was closed for the evening, sadly) and seeing what there was to see.
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I didn’t get any pictures but one of the charming things–and to William and Lorelei’s delight–several of the shops had cats in residence, hanging out in the window displays.
At one end of town we found a park with a little Civil War history, and also a tiny IGA at which to buy snacks for our room.
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Of course we didn’t come for Cave City; we came for the CAVE, and we spent two days exploring, which included walking around the grounds, taking in the museum exhibits, and going on cave tours.
Here’s some of what we saw above ground.
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The railroad cars are part of the very interesting history of the cave, its discovery, and early tourism.  Would you believe that part of the cave was used as a tuberculosis hospital for a time in the belief that the air would be good for the lungs?
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Look, y’all! A graveyard! I find them everywhere I go!
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When you visit Mammoth Cave, you should plan ahead, unlike us, and book guided tours in advance.  Some of them were unavailable to us because we did not do that.  Also be aware that some of the tours are quite strenuous, with lots of climbing.  But don’t worry, even with those caveats we found plenty to see.
We went on two cave tours, the first one being to see the first cave to be rediscovered in more-or-less modern times.  Native Americans were using it over 5,000 years ago, and we were able to see some extremely well-preserved artifacts.
Here’s the mouth of the cave, seen from above before we went in and then from below as we climbed the stairs back up.
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It was VERY big and VERY dark in there.  Our guide turned off all the lights so we could see what real dark looks like.  Answer:  like nothing.  Wave your hand in front of your face and you will see NOTHING.  Then he lit one match and it was cool to see how our eyes adjusted to see the entire room with just that tiny amount of light.
He also showed us where saltpeter was mined in the cave during the war of 1812.  Due to conditions in the cave, the site doesn’t look as though it was abandoned 200 years ago but remains well-preserved.  Here is a picture from this area of the cave.
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This was an easy hike just to get a feel for the cave.  The next day we did a more picturesque and much harder hike.  It was kind of bizarre to enter a cave through a door into a hill.
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This cave had more of the formations you’d expect to see if you’ve been in “touristy” caves like Ruby Falls.


Whenever we left a cave we had to go through a process of washing the bottoms of our shoes to prevent the spread of white nose syndrome, which has killed a large portion of the bat population.
There is much more of Mammoth Cave to see, and I would love to go back there someday.
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Our vacation was a two-part affair, with some days planned and some left open.  At our motel we found a brochure for a nearby attraction, and we decided to visit Kentucky Down Under on our way to Louisville.
This was a good choice.  The kids are STILL talking about this place.

Kentucky Down Under is a zoo, but an unusual one.  It’s family-owned, for one thing, and if it’s not obvious from the title, there is a focus on animals from Australia.  But there are other animals here as well, including Great Pyrenees dogs who serve as protectors and roam freely throughout the zoo.
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This was the first animal we saw, just after we left the gift shop.  William was thrilled, because crocodilians are one of his favorite groups of animals.  After we spent some time with him, we hopped into the golf car we’d rented and began to explore.
We got yelled at by talking birds and surreptitiously petted a coati.  Here they are, along with some other animals we saw.

Next we arrived at the more interactive part of the zoo.  We listened to a talk by one of the keepers, and then those of us who wanted to (William) got to pet a snake.

Much more to my liking, we were able to pet some draft horses in their beautiful pasture.  Kentucky is almost as pretty as Tennessee, y’all.

Then we got to watch some sheep-herding in action!
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And finally, the piece de resistance, the part that William is still talking about months later–we got to pet kangaroos! (Also a terrifying emu and some capybaras!)

Seriously, y’all, did you SEE that emu?  Anyway, it was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend this zoo.
Oh, and I almost forgot to include that this zoo has its own cave, Mammoth Onyx Cave, which as far as they know is not linked to the Mammoth Cave system.  It’s not lighted so you get to wear actual head lamps and it was a really pretty cave–with the price of the tour included in zoo admission.
We’d had quite the busy day already as we headed to Louisville, where we were meeting friends and upgrading our lodgings quite a bit by staying in a bed and breakfast called The Inn at Woodhaven.  The four of us stayed in the attic.  Take a look at this place!  These were taken in our attic.
Louisville 21Louisville 19Louisville 18Louisville 17Here are some of the common areas.
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And here are some taken outside.

On our first day in Louisville, we went to another zoo!  We have decided in the past year that we will make it a point to go to the zoo every time we are in a city that has one, since that’s something we all enjoy.
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Now, it would be hard to compete with the peak experience of petting kangaroos! But we did enjoy the Louisville Zoo.  Here are pictures of some of our adventures.







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Louisville seems like an exciting city with a lot of fun places to check out.  Besides the zoo, we also visited downtown to see the Cathedral of the Assumption and to get a bite to eat.
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Louisville 9We didn’t get to spend as much time looking around the Cathedral as we would normally because they were practicing for a wedding and we didn’t want to disturb them.  Here are some pictures of the nifty area of restaurants where we found a place to eat, just around the corner.

I’m telling you about the Kentucky trip a little bit out of order because I want to save the best for last, as it were.  So now I’m going to share about the Lincoln day trip we took.  Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, so we visited the site of his birthplace and of his boyhood home, as well as a little town with monuments and a museum.
Here are some photos from the home site, which includes a museum and a super-fancy monument that I’ll bet you never knew existed!
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Three miles down the road lies Hodgenville, Kentucky, with its town center dedicated to Lincoln, and housing a very special museum.
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The museum is in a storefront on the square.  The downstairs has several re-creations of scenes from Lincoln’s life.  The place is a delightful jumble of all kinds of artifacts.
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Upstairs there is an entire room of art inspired by Lincoln because the town has been hosting an art contest annually for many years and now there is an amazing array of truly creative pictures.  Here are two of my favorites.
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I like this one for its Christian symbolism.
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This one is amazing.  I don’t know whether you can tell but it’s actually made up of other images of things that were important in Lincoln’s life!
Finally, we made a stop at Lincoln’s boyhood home a short distance away, which would have been the first home he remembered.  There is no museum there, but here are some pictures of the fields where he worked and played.
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We loved the Lincoln portion of our trip and could not believe we had been living so close to this important piece of history for so long without visiting.
Now, finally, I am going to tell you about the other planned event of our trip, the whole reason we came to Louisville at precisely this time of year, the annual Louisville Jack O’Lantern Spectacular.  Y’all, it was indeed spectacular.  I could not stop taking pictures, the best of which I will share below.
There was a jack o’lantern to symbolize each of the 50 states

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as well as ones commemorating people who had died,

showcasing current events and famous people,

and representing films, pop culture, literature, and fictional characters.

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And there were all kinds of more typically carved pumpkins as well.
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We wandered slowly on a trail through the woodsy park marveling at all the wonders we were seeing.  It was a lot to take in and a perfect way to spend an autumn evening.
So that was our trip to Kentucky, and this was a LONG post.  We squeezed a lot of fun into fall break last year, but there is still more to see and do in Louisville, and I wouldn’t mind spending another weekend in that attic!

Low Carb Pumpkin Sausage Soup

It’s fall, so it’s time for pumpkins!

Lorelei at Dollywood last Fall
Lorelei at Dollywood last Fall

However, those of us who are doing low carb must forswear pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin bars, pumpkin cookies.  So sad for us!
Luckily, pumpkin lends itself well to savory dishes as well.  The following recipe, which I picked up at my last visit to the wellness nurse, is adapted from this one.

Low Carb Pumpkin Soup

12 oz. sausage
1/2 c. onion, chopped
1/8 t. garlic
fresh basil, oregano, and rosemary, to taste
1 can pumpkin
4 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. whipping cream
1/2 c. water
salt and pepper to taste
Brown sausage, crumbling as you cook.  Drain (not in the sink, remember!) and return to the pan.  Add spices and saute until done.  Add pumpkin and mix well.  Stir in broth.  Simmer 20-30 minutes.  Stir in remaining liquids and simmer on low 10-15 minutes.   Salt and pepper to taste.
Servings: 6
Net carbs: 8 g
pumpkin soup
 

Pumpkins Pumpkins Everywhere!


Yes, it’s that time of year–or really, it’s slightly after that time of year, since I couldn’t find a carving-sized pumpkin for love or money the night before Halloween, which is when I attempted to buy them.  But that meant I ended up with several smaller ones instead.
Now, growing up I had no idea you could do anything with a pumpkin except carve a face in it.  Later my ideas expanded to include using them decorations in one of those ubiquitous fall displays.  But at some point it occurred to me that the pumpkin in a can had to come from somewhere, right?  So I consulted The Joy of Cooking and learned how to roast a pumpkin.
The roasting is easy, the pureeing much less so.  It may not be worth it to those who like to do things the easy way, but once I learn how to do things the hard way (think rolling out pie crusts by hand) I find it hard to go back to my old, convenience-oriented ways!
Another thing I never knew you could do is roast and eat the seeds from your pumpkin.  Now that’s a Halloween night tradition for us.

All of this is a preface to this, my first-ever cooking post!  Since it’s my recipe, of course it won’t be easy.  It takes several preliminary steps to get to the tasty result, but you can skip the hard parts if you want.
Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ingredients:

2.5 c. flour

1 t. baking soda

1 stick butter (PLEASE use real butter!)

1 c. sugar

.5 c. packed brown sugar

2 eggs

.5 c. roasted and pureed pumpkin

2 t. vanilla

.5 c. roasted and salted pumpkin seeds, chopped fine

1 12-oz. bag milk chocolate chips

You will want to do these first two preliminary parts the day before you want to make the cookies!  Or buy a can of pumpkin and a bag of seeds.  Just don’t tell me about it!
First, roast a pumpkin.  A small one is fine.  Here’s how you do it:
Cut the pumpkin in half and scrape out its insides; reserve seeds.  No need to be too anal; I am lazy and leave a string or two behind and never have a problem.
Grease a cookie sheet (just a spray with Pam or its generic equivalent, if you are me, will do).
Place the two halves, cut side down, on your cookie sheet.
Cook at 350 degrees for about an hour.  You will know you are finished when the pumpkin halves start to collapse a little bit.
Remove from oven and let cool.  Peel off the skin and put the flesh away until you are ready to puree it.  You can freeze it for just about forever if you wish.
Now, attend to your seeds.  You should rinse them in a colander and dry them with paper towels.  The dryer you can get them the quicker they will roast.
Grease another cookie sheet and spread the seeds thereon.  The thinner you can spread them the shorter the roasting time will be.  Put them in a 200 degree oven.
Check the seeds every half hour or so.  At some point you will want to put some butter on them and some salt.  Stir them around when you check them.  You can add more butter and salt when you check them–that’s up to your taste.
Now I cannot tell you how long this is going to take, because it varies.  I cooked mine for probably four hours.  Anyway, when they are crunchy but not burned, remove them from the oven and put them aside.
When they are cool, chop them up in your food processor or blender.  Or you could use them whole; it’s up to your family’s taste.  Mine were more like meal than seeds when I was finished.
By now your pumpkin has cooled off–it’s had four hours after all–so you can puree it.  I imagine a food processor would make this easy but I don’t have one so I use a blender, which is hard.  I usually cheat and add a little liquid to make it easier.  This time I used eggnog for this, which gave it a nice flavor.  And you’ll be using beaters on it too, so if you get frustrated doing this remember it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Take out what you need for the recipe and put the rest away for another day.
Here comes the easier part.
Cream the butter and sugar.  The proportions are strange because we are replacing part of the fat with the pumpkin, so don’t worry if you can’t get it perfectly creamy.  I am a lazy cook on details like this and have found that seriously it doesn’t matter much, no matter what your mother told you.
Let your kids crack the eggs and then add them and beat again.  And the vanilla, then the soda, beating after each.  Next the pumpkin.  Then the flour.  Then stir in the nuts and the chips.

Isn’t it a pretty color?  The batter is not going to have the texture of a typical chocolate chip cookie because of the pumpkin.  Don’t worry; it will be okay.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Drop spoonfuls of batter on your cookie sheet.   These stuck to my dark cookie sheet but not the shiny one, so you might want to grease yours if they are dark.  These don’t spread much at all, so you can factor that in to how many you put on each sheet.
Cook each batch for ten minutes, maybe longer, till they are a little brown on top.  They are not going to be as brown as typical chocolate chip cookies.  And they are going to be a bit pouffy, so they are probably more done than you think they are.  More than twelve minutes is probably going to be too long.

I was pleased and proud and my family loved them!  Be sure to tell me if you make them!