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5 Golden Getaways

Before the first day of Christmas arrives, pack your bags for a weekend of cheer, shopping and plenty of joy.
By Deborah Reinhardt

The holidays are approaching and the gift list for family and friends is demanding your attention. Maybe you’re one of those organized few who completes holiday shopping by Labor Day and can actually enjoy December’s full slate of holiday activities.

Lee DeWyze

Above: Lee DeWyze provided some of the music at last year’s holiday lighting event at Graceland in Memphis. The event this year is set for Nov. 18. Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. photo

Below: Shannon Scot, 16, with her ewe, which she received in a Future Farmers of America youth group collaboration with Heifer near Window Rock in the Navajo Nation. Heifer International /Darcy Kiefel photo


No matter which profile you fit, there’s a regional holiday getaway for you, a weekend that offers unparalleled shopping, as well as fabulous holiday events and special dining. Here are five of our favorite Southern cities ready to unwrap for a weekend of cheer.

Bag a Birmingham weekend

It’s tough to beat Birmingham for the variety of shops in one city. Several regional shopping malls–including the Riverchase Galleria–plus plentiful boutiques in downtown Birmingham and clusters of suburban shops make it easy to fill shopping bags with holiday gifts. Retail biggies–like Belk, J.C. Penney, Macy’s and Sears–anchor the two-level Galleria, and outlets–like the Shops of Grand River in Leeds–offer deals at upscale retailers such as Coach, DKNY and Ralph Lauren.

Explore downtown to find little gems like Reed Books on Third Avenue North for rare books. In neighboring Homewood, discriminating shoppers pick unique women’s apparel at the Pink Tulip, while Homewood Toy and Hobby Shop has the goods for stocking stuffers.

For lodging, consider staying at the AAA Four Diamond Wynfrey Hotel that’s connected to the Galleria. Shopping packages are available that include accommodations, a tote bag, $10 gift card and a 1 p.m. Sunday check out. And while a dinner at Shula’s American Steak House at the hotel at first blush is a first-class dining experience, the serious shopper knows she’s loading up on protein and carbs for the big game–finishing off that Christmas list–tomorrow.

Juxtaposed traditions in Jackson

This time of year, peace on earth is on minds and hearts of people around the world. In the spirit of acceptance and peace, two museums in the Jackson, Miss., area are worthy of exploration.

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (Morrison Road in Utica) has exhibits of religious artifacts, a photographic journey by Bill Aron that reflects the spirit of the rural South through Jewish eyes, and an orientation video that explains the remarkable journey of Jews from 19th century Europe to the South. The current exhibit, “Alsace to America,” tells the story of these Jewish pioneers.

In Jackson, the International Museum of Muslim Cultures (E. Pascagoula Street, Mississippi Arts Center) seeks to educate people about Mississippi’s diverse religious heritage and facilitate multi-cultural tolerance. It opened in 2001 as the first Islamic history museum in the country. See the exhibit, “The Legacy of Timbuktu: Wonders of the Written Word.”

A popular event, Chimneyville Crafts Festival, allows holiday shoppers to browse the works by hundreds of juried craftsmen from throughout the Southeast. Sponsored by the Mississippi Craftsmen Guild, the festival is Dec. 3 and 4 at the Mississippi Trade Mart on the state fairgrounds.

The Fairview Inn (AAA Four Diamond) is nestled in the lovely Belhaven neighborhood not far from downtown Jackson and the shops in the Fondren District. Marketing Coordinator Megan Whitten said holiday decorations go up the weekend after Thanksgiving. Seasonal items–such as cranberries and winter vegetables–are incorporated into the dinner menu at Sophia’s Restaurant, and holiday packages combine comforting mugs of hot chocolate with other amenities. After a day of shopping and sightseeing, relieve tired feet with a foot bath and reflexology treatment. Built in 1908, the inn has 18 rooms, a game room and a private guest lounge.

Lend a hand in Little Rock

If you’re searching for a gift with meaning, look no further than Heifer International based in Little Rock, Ark. This global non-profit provides gifts of livestock, seeds and trees to families to help them move out of poverty into self-reliance. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Visit Heifer Village during your holiday getaway in Little Rock and learn more through exhibits about education, health care, water and livestock in developing nations. Find ethically sourced, artisan-friendly goods at Shop@Heifer, including pottery, baskets, books, chocolate and coffee.

A family Saturday, “Celebration of Living Gifts,” is planned for Dec. 3 starting at 10 a.m. and includes animal ambassadors from Heifer Ranch, a children’s choir, crafts and activities. Visitors will be able to gift an animal throughout the holiday season at the village.

Come home to elegant comfort after a day of shopping and holiday fun at The Capital Hotel downtown on W. Markham Street. The lobby of this AAA Four Diamond hotel is beautifully decorated for the holidays. Walk to Clinton Library and Arkansas Art Center (museum shops have wonderful ideas for holiday gifts). Rivermarket, also near the hotel, has more than a dozen year-round merchants, creating an international bazaar of food, specialty items, coffees and more.

Make reservations early at Ashley’s restaurant inside The Capital Hotel for a seven-course set dinner for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. “The dinners are all custom-designed by our Executive Chef Lee Richardson,” according to Lee Ingold, assistant food and beverage director. Dinners traditionally sell out.

Music to make merry by in memphis

Have a music fan to please this season? Memphis and music go together like cookies and egg nog. Shop for the just-right music gift–or present a music lover with a visit to Memphis. Either way, you have to start at Graceland.

Nov. 18 is the date for the lighting ceremony at Elvis Presley’s final home. Blue lights line the driveway, a life-size nativity scene, Santa and company plus much more adorn the mansion and grounds.

You’ll be sure to find something at the gift shop for the Elvis fan on your list. How about a stainless Blue Christmas Elvis watch or an Elvis Christmas ornament?

Elvis’ early recordings were made in Memphis at Sun Studios on Union Avenue. This studio/museum is open for tours and has a marvelous shop. Music fans can find recordings (albums, 45s and CDs), Sun Studios apparel, posters and mugs.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, Stax records launched many artists’ careers, including Otis Redding, the Staple Singers and Isaac Hayes. The Stax museum on McLemore is a hip little repository of musical history, and has a cool shop for music lovers that features recordings, books and apparel.

Consider a stay downtown at The Peabody on Union Avenue, which will present it’s annual tree lighting ceremony Nov. 25. This AAA Four Diamond hotel has a stunning 30-foot tree in the Grand Lobby, the famous Peabody ducks and memorable holiday meals at Capriccio Grill. Thanksgiving and Christ-mas brunches and dinners are available, as is a New Year’s Eve dinner.

A Joyeaux noel in New Orleans

Iron balconies sport greens and tiny white lights, store windows are decorated for the season and world-renowned restaurants present fabulous Reveillon feasts. It’s the way New Orleans does Christmas, and anyone seeking one-of-a-kind gifts that make a statement amid genteel surroundings can find that and more along Royal Street in the French Quarter. Here, you’ll find some of the finest antiques and art galleries, plus memorable restaurants.

Experience a Creole Christmas at Gallier House on the street, and an exhibit celebrating 200 years of statehood is now at the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Other city-wide events include bonfires and caroling in Washington and Jackson squares, plus Hanukkah events.

Walk to the shops along Rue Royale when you stay at Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street. School choirs perform weekedays starting Nov. 30 and continuing through Dec. 16 in the lobby. Other events include a holiday tea for children with mascot Monte the Lion on Dec. 10 and 17. Holiday rates at the 600-room hotel also are available. Note that renovations are underway in the hotel restaurants, so the annual Reveillon dinners will not be available.

Among restaurants offering Reveillon are the three owned by celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse. After shopping or before the traditional carols in Jackson Square, sample holiday items at NOLA in the French Quarter. Start with a butternut squash bisque and finish with, naturally, eggnog cream brulee with a pecan cookie.

A meal like that–like a weekend of holiday fun in one of these festive Southern cities–is hard to resist.

Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Southern Traveler.

Events add to holiday getaways

Attend one or more of these events while enjoying a holiday weekend in our favorite Southern cities.

Opera Birmingham’s Home for the Holidays is a concert for the entire family that includes traditional carols and popular seasonal songs. It will be Dec. 16 at Brock Recital Hall, Samford University on Lakeshore Drive in Birmingham.

The City of Jackson Holiday Parade will kick off at noon on Dec. 3. The route begins at the fairgrounds on Amite Street and continues through downtown. The city’s tree lighting ceremony will be at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 2 at city hall’s Josh Halbert Gardens.

A wonderful holiday performance, the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker,” comes to Little Rock on Nov. 20 at Robinson Music Hall. An impressive touring company brings a corps of 30 dancers, lavish costumes and sets, plus the beloved score by Pyotr (Peter) Tchaikovsky.

The weather outside isn’t frightful, but it’s snowing in Memphis as Snowy Nights in My Big Backyard opens Nov. 25 at the Memphis Botanic Garden and continues through Dec. 23. Play in the “snow box,” create winter crafts, enjoy the musical light display and more. Purchase hot cocoa or cider and roast marshmallows.

Enjoy the 25th season of Celebration in the Oaks in New Orleans’ City Park from Nov. 25–Jan. 1. Santa, carousel and miniature train rides plus the amazing lights wil be part of the fun. The display will be closed Dec. 24 and 31. Advance tickets available through the city park office are available.

Holiday Recipes from Emeril Lagasse

drink (c) FotoliaCranberry & Apple Punch
* Cranberry ice cubes
* 1 quart cranberry juice cocktail, chilled
* 3 cups apple cider, chilled
* 2 cups club soda, chilled
* 1/2 cup lemon juice
* 1 orange, thinly sliced
* 1 lemon, thinly sliced

Freeze two ice trays filled with cranberry juice cocktail. Place the ice cubes in a 3 1/2 quart punch bowl or pitcher. Add the cranberry juice, apple cider, club soda and lemon juice; stir gently to mix well. Garnish with the orange and lemon slices.
Yield: 18 servings
Recipe pulled from “The Dexter Cider Mill Apple Cookbook” by Katherine Merkel Koziski.

Boudin-stuffed Turkey

* 2 sticks butter cut into 3/4-inch slices
* Salt and cayenne pepper
* 1 cup chopped onions
* 1/2 cup chopped bell peppers
* 3 tablespoons minced garlic
* 8 to 10 Cajun Chef Brand Sport Peppers
* 3 tablespoons pickle juice from the pepper jars
* 1 small turkey, about 10 to 12 pounds
* 2 1/4 pounds of Boudin sausage

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Season the butter with salt and cayenne pepper. Freeze the butter for 30 minutes. In a small bowl, combine the onions, peppers, garlic, sport peppers and pickle juice together. Season the mixture with salt and cayenne pepper.
Place a large towel on a cutting board. Place the turkey directly on top of the cloth. This will prevent the turkey from sliding. Remove the neck, gizzards and livers from the cavity of the turkey. Rinse the turkey under cool water and pat dry with paper towels.
Place the turkey, breast side up, on the work surface with the cavity facing you. Using a sharp knife, make three slits on either side of the breast bone, without breaking through the skin. Insert 2 to 3 slices of the frozen butter into each slit. Season each slit with salt and cayenne pepper. Insert about a teaspoon of the vegetable mixture into each slit, pushing with your fingers. Carefully stuff the boudin sausage in-between the flesh and skin. Gently pull the drumstick forward and outward to expose the inner thigh. Pull the skin away from the meat. Make a slit following the bone line from the top of each leg. Using your index finger, make a path and stuff with the butter and vegetables. Season the skin which has been loosened around the inner thigh with salt and cayenne pepper.
Turn the turkey breast side up, with the neck opening facing you. Lift the skin flap and make a slit down each wing from the shoulder, again following the bone lines. Stuff each wing with butter and vegetables. Season the outside of the turkey with salt and cayenne pepper. Stuff the cavity with any leftover boudin sausage, butter and vegetables. Secure the wings by folding the lower half back over the top of the wing. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine Place the turkey in a large deep roasting pan. Roast the turkey for 15 to 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees F. Cover the turkey with a lid and bake for about 3 to 3 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear. Remove from the pan and let cool for 10 minutes. Lift the turkey our of the pan and carve. Serve with the pan juices.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings

fennel (c) FotoliaAdrienne’s Holiday Fennel Sausage Stuffing

* 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casing discarded
* One-half stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
* 2 medium-sized yellow onion, finely chopped
* One and one-half pounds fennel bulbs finely chopped (about four and one-half cups)
* 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, finely chopped
* One-fourth cup Pernod
* 2 teaspoons dried thyme
* 2 teaspoons dried sage
* 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
* One-half cup pine nuts
* 5 cups crumbled corn bread
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large heavy skillet, cook the sausage over medium-high heat, stirring and breaking up the lumps with a fork, until the pink disappears. Transfer the sausage with a slotted spoon to a large bowl.
Add the butter to the fat in the skillet. Add the onions, chopped fennel and fennel seeds over medium heat and cook, stirring, until the fennel is softened, about 10 minutes. Add the Pernod, thyme, sage, garlic and pine nuts and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid is evaporated. Add the mixture to the sausage, add the corn bread and toss to mix well. Season the stuffing with salt and pepper to taste and cool completely. Stuffing may be made two days ahead and chilled, covered. To prevent bacterial growth, do not stuff the turkey until it is ready to go into the oven.

Nov/Dec 2011 Issue


For more information, contact:

• Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau,
(800) 458-8085,;

• Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau,
(800) 354-7695,;

• Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau,
(800) 844-4781,;

• Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau,
(901) 543-5300,;

• New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau,
(800) 672-6124,

To visit these festive Southern cities, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana through the Free Travel Information Card, found online.

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