Besides touring the World of Chocolate (see below) on our recent visit to Orlando, we couldn’t be in town without another trip to Disney on our annual passes. We went to Epcot and met fellow mystery author Ann Meier for lunch at Chefs de France. It was a delightful afternoon spent in company of a friend and surrounded by Disney’s lush landscaping.
Another day, we shopped at The Florida Mall. Our daughter said Nordstrom there is closing so we wanted to get in for their last sale. A lot of construction is happening as the entire mall is undergoing a remodel. The food court is supposed to be revamped and we noticed Saks is gone.
We still get lost in this place and have to rely on signs to tell us where to go.
Of course, our main purpose in coming was to celebrate our son’s birthday, and we did so at Hannibal’s on the Square in Winter Park. This restaurant is adjacent to Chez Vincent and owned by their chef, so we enjoyed a French menu with excellent service. The dish below is duck a l’orange. Before dinner, we strolled around central park and watched the Amtrak trains go by. Winter Park has its own ambience and we always enjoy people watching and browsing in the stores. Patrons spill from restaurants into the street at sidewalk tables, the aromas from within making you salivate as you walk past.
Another night we ate at Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine at restaurant row on West Sand Lake Drive. The lamb sis kebab was delish. So was the special bread and hummus appetizer. Our dining out didn’t end here. The following evening, we met cousins at Bahama Breeze for a leisurely seafood dinner. All in all, we had a great time and gained a few pounds.
April is a good month to visit Disney World. Other than April showers, mornings tend to be cool and daytimes in the eighties. This year at the Flower & Garden show was the first time Epcot had food booths around World Showcase. We merrily ate our way around, starting at Mexico where our kids got tacos. Next we came to my favorite site, Norway. The Maelstrom ride inspired my paranormal Drift Lords series based on Norse mythology. Don’t miss the little museum that displays costumed figures while you are there.
At the Chinese marketplace called Lotus House, I couldn’t resist the Spring Pancake with Grilled Chicken and Green Apples. It was a generous portion and very tasty! And next at Germany, I had to try the potato pancake. I’m already getting full.
I passed by a few of the booths, while my husband got a noodle dish that reminded me of worms like a Klingon might eat, and then he tried the smoked beef brisket at the American pavilion. We detoured at France to see the newly remodeled pastry shop then zipped past the UK and Canada. I had to get the pineapple soft serve ice cream at the Dole booth. We just couldn’t sample everything we might have liked.
Another day we took a brisk stroll around Downtown Disney to see what’s new. Pleasure Island is scheduled for renovation but nothing has been done yet. It’s always pleasant to walk through this area and people watch.
My main purpose in visiting Orlando this time wasn’t to sightsee, however. I attended the Florida Library Association convention where I spoke along with authors Sandra Balzo, Patrick Kendrick, Ron Farrington Sharp, and Elaine Viets. MWA sponsored the breakfast, where we introduced ourselves and answered questions about our publishing careers.
Later in the morning, we spoke on a panel about New Possibilities in Publishing, discussing how the digital revolution has affected each of us on a personal basis. Now we have more choices than ever before in terms of sales and distribution of our work. Members of the audience asked pertinent questions during the Q&A Session.
We had an interesting holiday weekend. On Christmas, we viewed The Hobbit at Downtown Disney’s Fork & Screen Dine-In Theater. But let’s backtrack a minute.
On the previous day, we viewed the resident alligator at our neighborhood lake where we take walks in balmy weather. This sunny afternoon, the gator had stretched himself out along the grassy bank to soak up the rays. We got a clear view and a perfect photo op. Watch out if you have small pets!
We went to Epcot another day to try out the new Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar in the Italy Pavilion. Here you can order small plates to go with your wine or food from the menu at the neighboring restaurant. Passholders take note of a discount off food during weekday lunch hours. This wine bar has a pleasant, cozy atmosphere where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the theme park. Epcot wasn’t so crowded because most visitors were heading toward the Magic Kingdom. We could see the line snaking in that direction from the Epcot exit. Here’s a holiday concert being performed outside near Spaceship Earth.
The Dine-In Theater is the best place to view a movie as lengthy as The Hobbit, nearly 3 hours long plus previews. You can recline in the soft cushioned chairs, put your feet up and munch away on snacks or a full meal at a table aligned in front of you. Wine and beer are on the menu along with soft drinks to quench your thirst. If you need wait service during the film, you merely press a button and the attendant appears. Watching a rousing mainstream action adventure, sci-fi, or epic fantasy film here during a holiday is one of my favorite Disney activities, aside from the theme parks.
So how did I like The Hobbit? [Spoiler Alert!] It’s a lot of monsters and fighting and dark-lit scenes. The plot wanders toward a distant peak without much sense along the way. Bilbo Baggins is recruited by a gang of dwarfs to reclaim their kingdom. Spurred on by Gandalf the Wizard, our hapless hobbit stumbles along in the wake of his Klingon-like warrior friends. They reach their target by the end, the fortress that has been taken over by a dragon guarding a hoard of gold. But there the story waits for the next installment.
From part A to part B is the rest of the movie, a series of adventures involving battles with trolls, orcs, and other assorted creatures. One bad guy, an ugly bald being, stood out, but he wasn’t the best villain I have seen. Baggins has a character arc where he mans up and learns how to use a sword, and the reluctant hero is always a favorite archetype. I did enjoy the pure escapism, the world-building, the grand vistas of New Zealand scenery. The special effects make it worth getting a bonus disk just to see how they were done.
But eventually all the monsters get tiring. The fantasies I enjoy reading, like Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, involve people more than creatures. These bad guys often have fearsome powers. They’re more frightening to me than the ugliest monster because they are more real. I liked the quieter moments in The Hobbit when character interaction took over, and it was a pleasure to see the Elvin kingdom again. But this story lacked a romantic subplot plus it lacked a tried and true friendship like Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings. And it’s those moments of humanity that raise a film beyond the ordinary. While Bilbo has to prove himself to the dwarfs and to himself, I missed the stronger sense of purpose like in the first trilogy. Still, if you’re looking for an exciting escapist adventure, go view this flick.
On our way to Orlando from the Necronomicon convention in St. Petersburg, we stopped at the Parkesdale Farm Market in Plant City. Alerted to this venue at the annual Strawberry Festival, we hoped to obtain some of the goodies for sale at that event. We were pleased to find the same delicious strawberry bread at the farm stand along with fresh fruits and veggies, jams and jellies and honey, and many other treats in their gift shop.
From here, we moved on to Orlando and a revisit to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. We started at the opposite end from last time. The beef filet at Canada was exquisitely tender with sautéed mushrooms to die for. The coq au vin at France was just as good, tender chicken on a bed of mac and cheese in a generously large portion. Nearly full by now, I passed up many other treats or shared in a taste by family members.
Canada, Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter, $6.50
Ireland, Warm Chocolate Lava Cake and Lobster Seafood Fishermen’s Pie
France, Coq Au Vin: $ 5.50; Chardonnay: $5.75
Near the American pavilion, a concert was underway. Here’s a sample of the Maine lobster roll from the Hops & Barley stand.
Moving on, we sampled the Shrimp on the Barbie from Australia.
My final sweet taste was the Rice Pudding with Berries from Scandinavia for $2.75
We ate our way around World Showcase at this year’s Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. This event runs from Sept. 28 – Nov. 12 so you have plenty of time to get there. You need a regular ticket to get into the theme park and then you buy the sample foods and drinks as you circle the lake and browse the marketplaces.
We turned left and hit the Terra stand first, sampling the Chicken Curry with Basmati Rice. While I like curry dishes, this one was a bit spicy. I wanted to try the Jerk Chicken Drumstick with Mango Chutney at the Caribbean booth, but the line was too long, so we moved on to Argentina. Here I had the Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree (tastes like mashed potatoes with pesto sauce). This item cost $5.00. I believe prices went up this year because I don’t remember many dishes costing that much before.
I might have liked the Shrimp on the Barbie or the Grilled Lamb Chop at Australia but saved them for another visit. One of our kids got the Shrimp Taco at Mexico and I had a taste. Good!
On to Scandinavia, another favorite. Their Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberries is the best—even better than Ikea’s meatballs. This cost $3.50 each and was well worth the price. My husband had the Taste of Scandinavia for $4.00. This was a plate with cured salmon and herring and shrimp salad.
China came next. I’ve had their Potstickers and Chicken Satay before so passed on it this time. Also walked past South Korea even though the Mung Bean Pancake with Shrimp looked interesting. South Africa is another favorite with Filet of Beef and Smashed Sweet Potatoes. It’s one of the most tender cuts of beef around and done just right for $5.00.
We moved on past vendors with plates of cheeses, a Brewer’s Collection for beer drinkers, and skipped the Apple Strudel at Germany. One dish sounded really interesting at Poland—Toasted Mushrooms, Carmelized Onions and Cheese Bread—but I’ll have to save it for next time. We breezed past Italy to the American pavilion where I zeroed in on my favorite dessert, the Pumpkin Mousse at the “Hops and Barley” counter. For $1.50, this is a bargain. It comes in a mini-dessert cup like you get in some restaurants these days. It’s so good, I had to buy the Festival cookbook for the recipe ($16.95 plus tax).
I wanted to get the Coq au Vin with Mac and Cheese at the France pavilion because it was so good last year, but I was too full already. I passed up the whole other side of World Showcase, unable even to taste the Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon at Canada or the Griddled Greek Cheese with Pistachios and Honey or the Chocolate Lava Cake at Ireland. I did go for the Mai Tai at Hawaii for the hefty price of $7.50. Save your money on this one. While I tasted some rum, it was a pleasant fruit drink in a plastic cup.
Now I’ve made myself hungry again. I need to go back to try all things I missed on this trip. Next time, we’ll start from the opposite direction.
As per our annual family tradition, we attended the Epcot Food & Wine Festival last weekend. The weather was perfect, delightfully cool in the morning and warming into the 70’s in the afternoon. World Showcase opens at 11am so we arrived by lunchtime, turning left toward Mexico. For those of you not familiar with this event, each country has a little pavilion where they offer samples of food and drink for a fee.
Here are some photos from previous years. I didn’t bring a camera this time; too busy eating.
We passed on the entries at Chile, Brazil, and Puerto Rico but stopped at Argentina for the grilled beef skewer with chimichurri sauce and boniato puree ($4.75 per portion) and a glass of Kaiken cabernet ($5.50). Delicious. Next came Mexico. They have a whole new area across from the pyramid with a dine-in restaurant and counter service café with outdoor seating under cover. Our kids got the taco at their festival pavilion. We went past Poland, then came to China and just had to get their barbecue chicken stick. This was a generous portion and very tasty. We skipped South Korea, although the honey ginger tea sounded good.
At South Africa, the seared beef tenderloin with mango barbecue sauce and sweet potato puree is a good choice. I had to taste the shrimp cake with noodle salad at Singapore next ($3.50 each). Another tasty dish. Am I making your mouth water yet?
By now I was full, so I strode by Germany, Italy, the U.S., Japan, Australia and Morocco. I’d had some of these foods at previous forays anyway. Belgium was new and there was a long line. The baked Belgium waffle with berry compote and whipped cream was to die for. Very luscious and reasonably priced at $2.75. The Godiva chocolate liqueur iced coffee was expensive at $7.25, but I had to try it. Lip-smacking good.
Too full to eat more, we passed by Spain, resisted the chocolate crème brulee at France and the warm chocolate lava cake at Ireland, even the maple glazed salmon at Canada. Would have loved to try the items at Greece or the lamb slider at New Zealand, but we’ll save those for next year. My stomach always gets satiated halfway around World Showcase.