A Nashville Anniversary (Our Trip, not the TV Show)

Have you seen that new Nashville show? Do you remember when Hayden Panettiere was just a little darling in Remember the Titans? Alex and I watched the pilot episode on TiVo the other night and it is fierce! Like save-the-drama-fo-yo-mama fierce. Woo. I don’t do drama. But I couldn’t help but being interested in the show. We mostly wanted to see what landmark Nashville places we recognized in the background.

But as the title of this post suggests, this is not about the show. This is about a little trip that we took last weekend! It has recently become a personal goal of mine to visit all 50 states. And by visit, I mean like get out, walk around, and see stuff in the state. Landing in an airport to catch a connector flight doesn’t count. Obviously.

In case you’re interested, my list to-date includes VA (duh), NC, SC, FL, GA, MD, KY, WA, OR, CO, MA, NY, HI, MI, LA, and AZ. Not too shabby for a quarter-lifer like myself. After this past weekend, I was able to add TN to that list!

Alex and I chose to celebrate our first anniversary by taking a long weekend to visit Nashville, Tennessee. Neither of us has any connection to Nashville; we just wanted to go some place we hadn’t been before. (Although I will say that since hanging around me, Alex has started to learn an impressive amount of lyrics to country songs). We also thought the drive through the Smoky Mountains at this time of year would be stunning. It was. So, Mother-in-law graciously came down to stay with the doggies, and Alex and I hit the road. Since I’m still blog-celebrating our anniversary this week, I wanted to share with you some of the highlights of our trip.

Most Romantic/Traditional
Our anniversary gifts to each other. The theme gift for the first anniversary is “paper.” I like that this one is quite broad in its scope. Paper could include an art print, airplane tickets, homemade coupons, currency from a foreign country that suggests a trip, a book, a gift certificate, origami, or even a simple card.

Alex gifted me a beautiful, leather-bound journal. (With paper inside, in case that needed clarifying). I feel so intelligent and literary when I hold it. I was touched that he remembers how avidly I once wrote in a journal, and encourages me to continue.

Yes, it does bother me that I ran out of room to paint the whole contraction “we have.”

My gift to Alex was a bit more homemade. Basically, I assembled all of the cards that we received for our wedding from friends and family into a “book” of cards for us to read together and be sentimental over. It may or may not have resulted in the consumption of too much sparkling wine, but hey, I’m not ashamed to celebrate our love. Basically I assembled the cards in such a way that the largest card was on the back. The cover is made from a piece of a cereal box that I covered in brown kraft paper and painted with our wedding colors using a lyric from the popular country song. I made it the same size as the largest card so that everything would sit somewhat nicely together as a booklet. I punched two holes the same distance apart in all the cards using a three-hole punch, and “bound” it together using those hinged metal rings (I only previously knew those rings for holding study flash cards together, but you might find them in the embroidery section of your local craft store).

Most Touristy

Taking the red-eye to Greece. I mean…what?? Yes, people. We learned that Nashville was once known as the “Athens of the South.” (Fittingly, we passed exits for both Carthage and Sparta on the interstate). This is a full-scale replica of the Parthenon sitting right smack in the middle of Centennial Park in Nashville. We couldn’t see the statue of Athena inside because it was closed that day.

But seriously. Most touristy is a two-way tie: Visiting Belle Meade Plantation. Shopping for cowboy boots on Broadway.

(Before you ask, no, we did not go to a show at the Opry. Nor the Ryman Auditorium. Nor even the Country Music Hall of Fame! Our reservations at the Catbird Seat – see below- prevented us from checking out the Station Inn or Bluebird Cafe. Our visit was not without music, though. Nearly every bar, restaurant, or street corner had musicians of all shapes and sizes doing their thing, sharing their talents, and filling the air with a happiness and clarity that only live music can do.)

Belle Meade Plantation was home to many of the most famous racehorses (or ancestors thereof) in history. Today, you can still tour the mansion and several of the outbuildings. The house served briefly as a Union headquarters during the Civil War. There are still bullet holes in the columns on the front porch! We learned that the plantation had its heyday in the late 1880-90s, but quickly fell into bankruptcy thanks to Prohibition. The most famous sires who had been purchased for upwards of $20,000 sold depressingly for $20 at auction in the early 1900s. There’s no photograph-taking in the house, but I wish I could have shown you the amazing furnishings – many of which are delightfully original to the Harding/Jackson family! Back in the day, furniture was intense – I mean, a bed was a hefty piece of furniture in a room! I love touring places like this, walking around on the grounds and imagining what my life would have been like if I had been walking the same grounds 100+ years ago.

It doesn’t get much more touristy than trying on cowboy boots in the numerous shops that sell them in the Broadway district downtown. There’s no photo evidence of this, but let me assure you that I saw Alex practicing his cowboy swagger. He sidled up to me in the aisle lined with boot-sized shoeboxes, picked up a nearby Stetson hat and, tipping it, said “howdy, ma’am.” Maybe he was trying to embarrass me. But, darlin’ I swooned. My husband looks good in boots!! I found a pair of beautiful Lucchese boots that fit my foot deliciously and that made my buy-1-get-2-free outlet fashion ankle boots with peeling rubber soles seem woefully inadequate. I had hoped to leave Nashville with a pair to call my own; but despite the breathtaking quality, we just couldn’t justify the price tag. Instead, I’ll just treasure the fantasy memory of Alex in cowboy boots, since I’ll likely never see him in such footwear again.

Most Delicious
The Catbird Seat. When researching restaurants in Nashville, I stumbled across the Catbird Seat, for their selection as one of the top hottest restaurants in the U.S. by several sources, including Bon Appetit. The 30-seat intimate dining experience sounded appealing to me, and menus at the chef’s whims would surely mean fresh and creative dishes. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to get reservations. But, to our complete surprise, we got a call somewhere on I-40 saying someone had cancelled and would we be interested. Um, yes!

We were there for 3 hours and enjoyed 10 courses plus an amuse bouche and uh…what’s the opposite of an amuse bouche? Anyway, we were presented with a little treat at the end of our meal as well. We went all out and even ordered the drink pairings – I, the adult version, and Alex, the non-alcoholic version so we could taste them all. I was perhaps most impressed with the pairings. I mean, I know that certain wines go well with certain foods. But I didn’t know I could add a mint tincture to my carefully selected 2009 South African Gewurztraminer. What incredible knowledge do I now perceive myself as lacking? An additional bajillion permutations of food experiences just opened themselves up to me! Seriously, I was in awe of the skill with which the mixologist paired our libations to each course. Plus, wouldn’t that be an awesome job to have? Taste good food and drink booze until you find the winning combination? Brilliant!

Let me illuminate some of the ingredient profiles for you: smoked mussels, fennel “gin & tonic” salad, beef tartare, maple bacon custard, cod wrapped in dehydrated kimchi, freeze-dried blueberries, pear sorbet, bourbon beads with pineapple jelly and cherry powder, kale ash, pigeon leg with hay yogurt…

In case you can’t already tell, I loved it. Our favorite course was wagyu beef encrusted in kale ash with a beer-mushroom sauce and potato-horseradish puree, served with a grilled baby leek and nasturtium leaves. And even though some folks may sneer or call this “snooty food” (indeed – that baby leek was placed atop the beef with tweezers. Tweezers! In the kitchen! Who’d have thunk it? Well, okay maybe a bushy-eyebrowed chef may have thought of it…), I must dispell that stereotype immediately. No, it wasn’t a rustic family-style meal. But it was classy: tastefully and beautifully executed, innovative, fun, and most importantly, mouth-wateringly delicious. Every course was like a little surprise party, and we couldn’t wait to see what we’d get to try next.

It was only after we returned that I learned the chefs have Alinea on their resumes. We are saving up to dine there. Maybe a future anniversary trip? Anyway, Alex was a natural at asking the chefs questions when they brought over our dishes. Through his curiosity, we learned that the chefs were drinking coffee (not wine) out of Mason jars as they cooked, that the restaurant was recently celebrating its one-year anniversary (just like us!) so the dishes we enjoyed that evening represented some of the favorites from the past year, and which dishes were the brainchildren of which chefs. I believe the question count for the evening was something like Alex – 5, Jessalyn – 1. Yep. I got all clammed up and shy and couldn’t think of anything coherent to ask the chefs. I just nodded enthusiastically when they answered Alex’s inquiries. And thanked them profusely as we left. Or was that the mint-laced wine talking…

Most Fun
Franklin Ghost Tour. Franklin is a cute little town just south of Nashville. We loved walking around the downtown area at night, window-shopping, listening to street musicians, people-watching, eating frozen yogurt, and imagining what it would be like to live in a small town. Franklin has a rich Civil War history, and it is on these stories that a local ghost tour is based.

It was the perfect night for a tour – cool, quiet, and just a touch foggy. Even our tour guide was ethereal, thanks to the period hoop skirt she was wearing that gave the illusion that she was not walking in front of us, but rather, floating.

As we stopped on the stoops of various buildings and were invited to look in the windows, Alex teased me to see if I would be scared to look in. Clairvoyance is not one of my gifts. So I didn’t see anything, but that doesn’t mean that things of an other-worldly nature don’t exist. We enjoyed listening to the stories which were, apparently, collected by interviewing local townsfolk. Our guide even showed us some photos on her cell phone that previous tour participants had taken that capture orbs or other spirit-looking things. Spooky! And so seasonally appropriate.

Most Argument-Inducing
Parking in downtown Nashville. End of discussion.

Although, driving around downtown looking for the cheapest parking fares does allow you time to take in the local flavor with interesting pieces of art like this gem.

The Closest We’ll Ever Get to Being Treated Like a Country Music Star
Gold status. Our first night, when we checked into our hotel, we were told there were no more king beds available – only rooms with two double beds. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a big deal to us, but it was our anniversary, after all. Because of his loyalty to this particular hotel chain, Alex politely asked the front desk manager to enter his loyalty account information. Lo and behold, we were upgraded to a private-access floor and a beautiful king-size bed. Cha-ching! I couldn’t wait to board the elevator with other hotel “commoners” to swipe our key card and hit the exclusive 9th floor button. ooOOoo. Don’t worry. We were discreet about it. We still couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear.

Best-Kept Secret
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. Well, maybe it’s not a secret to East Nashvillians. Or folks who live in Ohio. But everything about this shop was adorable. Great job with branding, Jeni! The staff was super-friendly and genuinely eager to tell us about their wares. Sample conversation:

me: “Could I try the poached pear sorbet, please?”
ice cream consultant: “Of course! We poach the pears in a Riseling wine, so you’ll find it has a nice crisp, sweet flavor. And the texture of the sorbet mimics the texture of an actual pear…”

And so it went for every flavor I tasted!

I had about 8 sample spoons in my hand by the time I was ready to actually order my ice cream. I went with the poached pear sorbet (which was super refreshing) and the roasted strawberry buttermilk (after reading about the rebirth of buttermilk in a recent NYT article – yum. Methinks this should henceforth be the only way to do strawberry ice cream). Alex opted for wildberry lavender (one of their signature flavors) and brambleberry crisp (his new favorite flavor).

Jeni’s Ice Cream is, apparently, sold in select stores nationwide. We located some at our local fine foods market. Let’s just say that Alex is encouraging me to learn some of the recipes to create at home so that it becomes more…affordable.

And there you have it! One year of marriage celebrated with style in Music City, USA. Thanks, hubby, for a great trip! I love you more than yesterday but not as much as tomorrow.

(Image courtesy Adam Barnes Fine Art Photography)


2 thoughts on “A Nashville Anniversary (Our Trip, not the TV Show)

  1. Stefani says:

    Sounds like a fantastic trip! I’m so jealous you went to Jeni’s. She actually has a cookbook that teaches you how to make her flavors with just a home ice cream maker – http://www.amazon.com/Jenis-Splendid-Ice-Creams-Home/dp/1579654363. Even my dog loves this book… well, he ate the back cover and a corner off all the pages (luckily all the text is intact) – that counts as puppy love, right?

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