Southern Chat: My Picks for Great Summer Eats and Dine on Firewürst Hot Dogs in July for a Good Cause

I know. I've been away from here for awhile. I went a whole week and a few days without writing one word on the Hines Sight Blog. The vacation to Topsail Beach was great and once I got back to Raleigh I decided to vacation some more at home. I was not on a writing assignment while at Topsail Beach, therefore, I did very little while there in terms of tourism. Some of you may call it boring. I call it relaxing. For dinner one night, I made my Dad's Feta and Shrimp Pasta Salad.

Feta and Shrimp Pasta Salad

This dish is so good and refreshing. You just need 1 cup of cottage cheese, 8 ounces of angel hair pasta, 1 cucumber, 2 tomatoes, 4 green onions,1  tsp of oregano, 1 tsp of pepper, a pound of shrimp, and 1 cup of feta cheese. Yes. It's that easy.

Easy Feta and Shrimp Pasta Salad

This week, Will and I popped over to the Washington Duke Inn to sample some of the items on Executive Chef Jason Cunningham's summer menu. We had a lot of fun at this event. It was on the golf course, and we had a putting contest. Will actually won us dinner in the Fairview Dining Room, and I can't wait to go back. And for the record, Will is a non-golfer, but he did hit up the putt-putt course while at Topsail. Apparently, that practice paid off.

Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club

The heirloom tomatoes are always a hit, and one of the new summer cocktails is called a "Basil Squeeze". It's refreshingly good for a hot day.

Tuna Tartare at Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club

I liked everything I tried, but two dishes really stuck out as the best of the best for me. The Tuna Tartare is an appetizer with N.C. Yellowfin tuna, cilantro quinoa, golden beet carpaccio, avocado ice, lemon mosto oil, and saffron aioli. This was my first time trying avocado ice, and it was refreshingly good. It was like an ice cream. I love beets. I love quinoa. It was an outstanding dish for me, and I should have chased Jason around the course for a second helping.

I was too busy eating it to take a photo, but the fried blueberry hand pies on the dessert menu are amazing. The pies are served with blood orange ice cream. After the tasting, Will and I had a late dinner in the Bull Durham Bar because we have a pact that we do not go home unless all children are in bed. I ordered the summer salad and margarita cheesecake, which are also great new items for summer.

Also, here's a HinesSight Tip for you. From 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., the Fairview Dining Room has the three-course "Dinner at Dusk" menu for $35 per person. It's one of the best bargains in the Triangle for fine dining.  Also, summer is a great time to stay at the Inn with rates the lowest of the season if you are looking for a golf getaway. Rates begin to rise again in August as Duke University gets ready for the fall semester.

Firewurst Stop Summer Hunger Campaign

Also, this week, I had lunch at Firewürst in Cary with the kids. I went to chat with the owners about a new summer initiative that the restaurant will be doing this July at its three locations throughout Cary to help fight hunger for kids over the summer. The "10,000 for 10,000" Summer Hunger campaign will benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

Firewürst has set a goal of serving 10,000 hot dogs and donating $10,000 of its proceeds to support the nonprofit’s Stop Summer Hunger Campaign. This donation will enable the Food Bank to provide 50,000 meals to children this summer. 

This was my first visit to Firewürst. It is a family-owned business with a nod to the family's Romanian heritage of making sausages and dogs. We're talking good stuff here. No artificial ingredients, no fillers, and 100 percent allergen and gluten free for its "Certified Angus Beef" hot dog.

My son said it was one of the best hot dogs he has had in his eight years of life. I tried a lot of different things while there, and was really impressed with all the items. I will go back, and here's another HinesSight Tip for you: KIDS eat FREE on Wednesdays.

July is an important month so help fight hunger by eating a hot dog or two. The stop hunger campaign will be going on for the entire month at all three Firewürst locations.

-        1377 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary, N.C., next to Trader Joe’s
-        1823 N. Harrison Ave., Cary, N.C., next to Bass Pro Shops
-        8531 Brier Creek Parkway, Raleigh, next to Regal Brier Creek Stadium 14

Photo of the Week: Topsail Beach, N.C.

It's #IGTravelThursday. Follow me on Instagram for the latest photos from Topsail Beach, N.C. And be sure to check out the latest issue of Skimbaco Magazine which features "Carolina Beaches of Yesteryear." Sometimes, when you go here, you do feel as if time stands still.

Join us for #IGTRAVELThursday.

#TravelTuesday Guest Post: What Not to Miss in Texas from a Texan

Texas is a huge state. I have visited San Antonio, the Hill Country, and Austin. I would love to return one day with the kids to see more of this massive state.  When Ken Myers approached me about authoring a guest post, we came up with this great travel piece on his favorite things to see in Texas. I love what he put together for us. And to learn more about Texas, visit the state's tourism website. 

By: Ken Myers

Living in and around Houston there are quite a few places of interest to visit. We are in close proximity to the Hill Country, Galveston, Corpus Christi, lush forests, some great state parks and recreation areas and even NASA. There are loads of places to go for entertainment and relaxation in Texas. After all, Texas is 268,820 sq miles of state, you could spend years exploring Texas and probably not see all it has to offer.

Visit Houston 

  1. Houston – The bustling oil town is home to many family-friendly activities. The Houston Live Stock Show and Rodeo, usually around late February, is the largest in the world and offers many concerts, showcases, and feats of roping and riding that will thrill adults and kids alike. Another great place for kids is the Houston Zoo, a huge collection of animals of all kinds. From the sprawling aviary to the dark and foreboding nocturnal creature caverns, to the huge children’s area with petting zoo and animal interactions, this zoo is one to check out. The huge museum district is also a great place to visit with the largest and most complete T-Rex fossil in the world located at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Take a walk through the eons and see how the fossils change from small sea creatures to towering dinosaurs. Interactive exhibits are also par for the course in the Science Museum. The Children’s Museum is great for younger kids and is located right across the street from the Art Museum. They have discount and free days too, for extra wallet-friendly fun.

  1. NASA - For those of you who are interested in outer space the Space Center of Houston or The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is a great place to visit when you are in Texas. They have shows, exhibits, and interactive presentations that are sure to please anyone who has an interest in outer space. They have tours of the center and many items on display that were used in actual missions.

  1. Galveston - Just a short trip from the Space Center is Galveston, Texas. The Gulf water is warm and the beaches are nice but not the prettiest beaches in Texas. The town has The Strand which offers many shops and cafes that take in several blocks of the city. It is a great way to spend a day just walking about and seeing what the shops have to offer. During the Christmas season, the have Dickens on the Strand and the city is turned into a scene right out of a Charles Dickens story. During Mardi Gras season the strand turns into a full on Mardi Gras celebration taking on the look and feel of New Orleans. There are amusement parks and water parks as well. Moody Gardens is one of the family favorites to visit with an aquarium, a rainforest, and a 3D theater along with a water park that has a mock beach of its own.
Corpus Christi
Visit Corpus Christi, TX

  1. Beaches - Corpus Christi, Texas has really nice beaches as does South Padre Island, Texas. These are the most popular beaches in Texas, not only for sun bathing and scavenging for seashells but the fishing is good as well. Deep sea fishing and sailboat excursions are also very popular. Spotting sea turtles and bird watching are also great past times. Even surfing is not out of the question at Mustang Island!

Visit Austin
Photo credit by: John Cabuena

  1. Austin - Austin, the state capital of Texas, is the place to go if you love music, food, and the night life. Austin also has some wonderful lakes and hills and the views off of those hills onto the lake can be breathtaking. There are all different kinds of people gathering together to just have a great time. When the lakes are up the fishing is great too. The capital building itself is worth seeing too, as it is made of pink granite and resembles the White House.

Visit Dallas 

  1. Dallas- Fort Worth – They are two different cities, but over the years they have grown together to form one huge metroplex. Although traffic can get a bit hairy, there are some things worth seeing in Dallas. For example, they have the Dallas World Aquarium with species from 14 countries. Sharks, manatees, and other species are displayed and make for a great educational environment. There is also a Six Flags amusement park in nearby Arlington. Fort Worth has the stockyards which will give you a great view of the things Texas is famous for: Longhorns and horses. They have stables, rodeos, a museum, and many shows.

  1. Railroads – In Grapevine, just south of Dallas, is a vintage railroad. They specialize in wine, offering many tastings and other wine-themed activities. Also southeast of Dallas is Palestine, home of the Texas State Railroad. This kid-friendly steam engine railroad ride is fun for the whole family. Enjoy a leisurely ride and a picnic at the end that your kids will remember forever.

San Antonio
Visit San Antonio 

8.   San Antonio - San Antonio is the place to go to get some of the Mexican flavors mixed in with a little Texas. Tex-Mex food can be found all over San Antonio along with some traditional Mexican food as well. The San Antonio River Walk is a nice way to spend the evening while you are there. You can walk along the river, have your choice of cafes to dine in for dinner, take a boat ride down the river, or just sit and soak in the ambiance. San Antonio is also the home of Sea World and Shamu the Killer Whale plus many other great attractions. You can also check out the Alamo, the center of Texas independence and the great battle where Davy Crockett was killed. Market Square is another great attraction as an open air market that sells all kinds of things in a fun and festive atmosphere. Six Flags Fiesta Texas, a large amusement park, is located within San Antonio also for those with kids.

Hill Country Blue Bonnets
Visit Greater San Antonio 
  1. Hill Country – North of San Antonio lies the Hill Country. In the spring millions of bluebonnets, the state flower, populate the hills and add a beautiful blue glow to the whole area. Other wildflowers are also prevalent and the mild weather lets you enjoy the outdoors freely. You are also more than likely to spot a longhorn steer or two! Many German immigrants populated this area a long time ago and brought their food and culture with them. Visit historic Fredericksburg and enjoy dining in a Rathskeller and at a German bakery that is to die for as well as shopping at tons of antique stores. Nearby there is rock climbing at Enchanted Rock, a large boulder really, but a fun climb for kids and adults who don’t like sheer rock faces. There are also many hidden small parks with waterfalls and creeks that make for great swimming holes and wading adventures. Speaking of water, river tubing is a huge part of the Hill Country culture. Take an inner tube down the lazy Guadalupe River and enjoy the water or find a more adventurous river and go rafting. There is always something to do in the Hill Country.  

  1. Parks and Forests – Near Corpus Christi is King Ranch, one of the largest ranches in the world, with a size bigger than Rhode Island. With pecan and citrus groves, cotton and sugar fields, hunting, bird watching, nature tours and all kinds of wildlife, there is much to see and do here. Near San Antonio, the Natural Bridge Caverns offer tours to view the ancient rock formations and caves, a rock climbing tower, and a zip line for extra excitement. Nearby they also have a wildlife ranch that allows you to drive through and see exotic animals like zebras and ostriches. With a petting zoo, this safari-like adventure is great for animal lovers. There are much other fun and scenic places to see in Texas, from deserts to swamps and anything in between.
All in all, there is not enough time to cover everything you need to see in Texas. After all, it is huge! If you can, try to visit during the cooler months of late September through May. If you must come during the long summer months of June, July, and August be sure to be careful in the heat, stay hydrated, and wear lots of sun block! Texas is a great place to live and a fun place to visit, so come check it out soon!

Ken Myers is a father, husband, and entrepreneur. He has combined his passion for helping families find in-home care with his experience to build a business. Learn more about him by visiting @KenneyMyers on Twitter.

Southern Chat: Fun N.C. Summer Excursions for Dads

Happy Father's Day!

Yesterday was my daughter's dance recital. It was her first "official" one on the big stage with an audience of 600 proud parents, grandparents, siblings, and such.  It was held at Fletcher Auditorium in downtown Raleigh. Will, of course, was a proud dad. We are both proud of our little diva.

Washington Duke Beer Dinner

I took Will to the Washington Duke Inn for the kick-off to the Summer Beer Series dinners. He loved it. I did, too. This four-course dinner was with Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough. The Inn is hosting two more dinners this summer. The July 16 beer dinner will be with Carolina Brewery, of Chapel Hill,  and the August 13 dinner will be with Fullsteam Brewery, located in Durham. It's a great night of food and beer for a cost of $49 per person. You can register on the Inn's website.  I think these beer dinners would appeal as gift for the men who really don't want a lot of material possessions, but who love good beer, food and top-rate experiences. Chef Jason Cunningham and Chef Murray Healy put a terrific meal together for the event, and a dessert so good that I wanted to lick the plate. I also couldn't get enough of the beer steamed clams and tomato-angelica salad, which was our second course paired with "Nanaline", a muscadine plum belgian single brew.

These beer dinners are culinary masterpieces, and they work extremely hard to bring out the flavor of the beer with each dish.

Will walked away from the dinner becoming a huge fan of Mystery Brewing so we may just pop over to the Mystery Brewing pub in Hillsborough this summer for a little day trip. Will has told several people since Thursday's dinner, "I walked away enjoying all five beers, and that is usually rare."  The interesting thing about Mystery Brewing beers is that all the brews have a literary reference. If you've never tried the beer, you should. You can find its brews in these areas in North Carolina. I really enjoyed "Nanaline", the signature beer developed by Mystery Brewing, especially for the Inn, and the one served with the clams.

There is also another experience where I took Will to an event, and I think it would also be a special treat for dads. This was the TOPO Distillery Tour in Chapel Hill. After going on this tour, and trying TOPO's products, I only buy TOPO liquor to stock my home bar. TOPO's signature drink this summer is Cucumber Lemonade. They offer tours a few days a week.

TOPO Distillery

And finally, Will is not a golfer, but our son is a wannabe. My last recommended excursion is the Ballantyne Hotel Golf School Stay and Play package. The Ballantyne Hotel is a great hotel in Charlotte. It's near Carowinds, uptown city activities, but more importantly, the hotel has a great spa and outdoor pool.  July is also family golf month at the Ballantyne Golf Club. Give Dad some golf lessons for a day or two while you and the kids lounge by the pool. He can then take the kids on the course to play golf during Family Month while you hit the spa. Sounds like a good plan to me.

Ballantyne Hotel

I've never had tea at the hotel so that's on my summer wish list.


Photo of the Week: VIP Dog at Loews Madison Hotel

I saw this photo in my Instagram feed this week, and just had to share. Norman the Scooter Dog is getting the VIP treatment at the Loews Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Norman the Scooter Dog at Loews Madison in Washington D.C.
@Loews Hotels IG account

How cute is this? I must live under a rock because I had never heard of Norman before Loews Hotels put this photo in its Instagram. Norman holds a Guinness World Record for completing a 30 meter scooter ride in under 30 seconds. This video news clip shows him making the record. It's quite impressive.

On Norman's own Instagram feed, he praised the chef at the Loews Madison for making him special doggie treats.

Norman the Scooter Dog is a Guest of Loews Madison in D.C.
@NormantheScooter Dog IG account

Sure. Norman is a VIP, but Loews loves all pets, not just Norman. Pets at Loews Madison have their own room service menu, and a lot of other extras.

I don't have a dog, but I do have kids. Loews Madison welcomes them, too with lots of goodies.  I may have to take them up on that.

Some of us are taking a break with #IGTRAVELThursday for a few weeks. I'll have some guest posts next week.

Join us for the link-up.

Southern Chat: A Summer Italian Salad Recipe Perfect for the Beach

Last week, I made lunch for a friend. My friend is not Southern, and she does not like mayo, deli meat, or eggs. I'm sure there are some other things on her list, but when you do not like mayo then that wipes out a lot of traditional Southern lunch dishes.You know, here in the South, we like our pimento cheese, egg salad, chicken salad, pasta salad, and tuna salad. Check any Southern cookbook and the first ingredient you find for a classic, Southern luncheon is mayo, preferably Duke's.

So I served this to her.

Summer Italian Salad Recipe

And she loved it. So simple. Refreshing. And easy.

I think I may be making it all summer even when I'm vacationing at the beach in our rental.

Summer Italian Salad Recipe

Summer Italian Salad

15 small fresh mushrooms, cut
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 large English cucumber, sliced
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 bunch of green onions, sliced
Butter lettuce mixture
Freshly ground pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup of Italian dressing, chilled. (I used Trader Joe's Tuscan Italian)

Combine vegetables in bowl. Mix with dressing. Serve salad on lettuce-lined plates. Sprinkle with pepper and cheese.

This salad will be perfect in any location, but I said coastal lifestyle because the summer issue of the Skimbaco Magazine came out today, and it's all about coastal living and family travel. My son, Jack, was interviewed for this issue. I'm so proud of him.

I also have a feature on Carolina Beaches of Yesteryear that begins on Page 31.

Carolina Beaches of Yesteryear:  Topsail Beach

We've got a busy week ahead of us. It's dance recital week then we'll be relaxing at the beach after that. I will still plan to blog as much as I can, but I do have freelance assignments that do take priority.  With school out, I now have my kids with me all day.

I have, however, decided to mix my Facebook page up a little bit this summer to make it more interesting and engaging. I will share at least one post/photo a day with this schedule.

HinesSight Blog Facebook Post Schedule

Talk to you all later this week. School is almost out. Life is full. 

4 N.C. Hotels that Include Breakfast in the Room Rates

When I visit a hotel property for my "Pack Your Bags" features, I don't like to bombard my Instagram feed with too many photos at one time. I feel that sometimes less is best, and it's really hard for me because you all know how much I love hotels. I sometimes want to IG the "you know what" out of everything I see or experience. We've discussed this topic before in an IG post last year, and many people have many different views on the subject of how many photos one should post in one day

However, after going through my IG feed, I am finding that there is a common theme of what I post when I do share photos. I think you all know that I enjoy food, and when breakfast is included in a hotel's room rate then I think that is a great perk and worth sharing the experience, if it is a good one. There is also something nice about walking to the lobby, ordering breakfast, and only having to leave a tip. If you have a great breakfast then you're off to a really good start to your day.

This was a good start for me at the King's Daughter's Inn in Durham, N.C

@HinessightBlog IG Account from July 2012
The Inn's famous chocolate chip waffles

The Fearrington House Inn in Pittsboro, N.C. is known for its food. Breakfast is included in the room rate and it's even a culinary experience at 9 a.m. Just say yes to the blueberry pancakes!

@HinesSightBlog IG Account May 2014

The Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis, N.C. is home to the Southern mountain breakfast. Each day of the week, the Inn serves something different to its guest. We caught a day when cheese grits, bacon, eggs, and biscuits were on the menu.

HinesSight  Blog IG account May 2012

Breakfast is also included in the room rate at The Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill, N.C.  OK. I have to admit that I ordered room service when staying there because I was too lazy to get dressed to go downstairs that particular morning, but breakfast would have been included in the room rate if I had eaten in the restaurant.  However, I  must admit that this was the most reasonable room service breakfast menu that I had ever experienced in a hotel. The entire bill was less than $30 including tip.

@HinesSightBlog IG account February 2013

As you know, I travel to a lot of luxury hotels and anytime breakfast is included in the room rate, it's a great perk.  It's also a savings to your vacation. Breakfast in a luxury hotel can run as much $45 to $60 for two adults and two children, depending on where you are staying.

HinesSight Tip: When searching for hotel room rates, always check to see if breakfast is included. If it is not, then search to see if there is a Bed and Breakfast package at the hotel. Typically, the bed and breakfast rates are not that much more than a regular room rate. It's worth the upgrade because breakfast in a luxury hotel restaurant will typically cost more than what is reflected in the room price difference. Also, hotels will sometimes offer family packages where kids get breakfast free.

This was the case at the Hilton Asheville Biltmore Park when I secured a bed and breakfast rate when I passed through Asheville for the night. This was my son's made-to-order chocolate chip pancakes in Roux, the main restaurant in the hotel.

LeighPHines IG account April 2013

Roux has a breakfast buffet, and breakfast can be included in some packages. 

I don't always eat like a queen for breakfast when I travel. Sometimes, I just grab coffee and yogurt. But, yogurt is just not as fun to photograph and put on Instagram.

Join us for IGTravelThursday this week.

Out and About in North Carolina: Beer, Wine, and Moonshine Events at RDU Lux Hotels

It's been awhile since I did a luxury hotel round up for the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. As I've mentioned before, it's important to not just think of our area's local luxury hotels as only frequented by out of town guests. With award-winning restaurants on site, our area's luxury hotels are places for Triangle residents to enjoy, too.  Here are some events that I think are exciting this summer.

The Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club in Durham, N.C. 

I look forward to kicking off the Washington Duke Inn's beer dinner series this summer. The first one will be held on June 12 in conjunction with Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough, N.C.

Next Thursday, Erik Lars Myers of Mystery Brewing Co. and author of North Carolina Craft Beer and Breweries, Executive Chef Jason Cunningham and Chef de Cuisine Murray Healy of the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club will present a multi-course beer-inspired menu on the Terrace on the Green. Erik will come to the Inn hauling kegs straight from the brewery! He’ll serve five small batch collaborative beers including one only served at Mystery Brewing’s Tap Room, as well as the Inn’s exclusive Nanaline, named after Doris Duke’s mother. I've been in Erik's company for another event, and I am really looking forward to this dinner and the opportunity to try more of his brews. This will be the prelude to my daughter's dance recital weekend, and as you'll see from what I wrote in the News and Observer, I need to kick back a little before I have to make the "donut bun." 

Other beer dinners are planned with Carolina Brewery on July 16 and FullSteam Brewery on Aug. 13. The cost is $49 per person and $39 for Executive Club Members. For more information: 919.493.6699.

Fearrington Village in Pittsboro, N.C. 

I spent some time at Fearrington Village last month, and  I am in love with the Inn, Restaurant and Spa. Fearrington has live music on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at the Roost, weather permitting.

The Fearrington Granary is a great place to have dinner in addition to the more formal Fearrington House Restaurant. While dining at the Granary, I chose the Twice Baked Goat Cheese Souflee for my entree with beets, spinach, watercress, and pecans. It was delicious. Be sure to visit the Fearrington Village calendar for upcoming wine dinners and other events.

The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, N.C. 

Hai Tran, the Umstead Hotel and Spa's sommelier coordinates a great wine tasting called Umstead Uncorked on the last Thursday of each month. Each wine tasting centers around a different theme, and Chef John Childers prepares a few small bites to with the tasting.

On June 26, Hai will have a Red, White, and You theme. I always love Hai's themes. In this tasting, you will discover American beauties to help you prepare for Independence Day celebrations. The cost is $40 per person. These events are fun, and I think it would be fun for a few girlfriends to do together. It is at least four glasses of wine so you may want to grab a burger on the terrace after the event.

The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, N.C. 

The Carolina Inn has its Fridays on the Front Porch all summer, and on June 14, the Inn will have a Moonshine tasting reception.

The special guest will be Moonshiner Wayne, cast member of the Discovery Channel's “Moonshiners,” during its Moonshine Tasting.  You will be able to sample a variety of North Carolina made moonshine and enjoy culinary delights while conversing with “Hill Billy” Wayne. One of his very own stills will be on display for you to view. My favorite distillery, TOPO, will have its Organic Carolina Whiskey Moonshine available to taste. The cost is $55 per person. A few seats are still available for this event on June 14.  Call for reservations at 919.918.2735.

I'll be back on Thursday for Instragram Travel Thursday.

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