Further Adventures in Orlando

Happy New Year! Time is moving on, so let me tell you about our latest adventures in Orlando over Christmas. We took a stroll at The Mall at Millenia that was nicely decorated for the holidays.
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Dinner included an evening at Bosphorus Turkish Cuisine. We began with their hollow lava bread and hummus appetizer. I really liked the zucchini patties served with yogurt. I could eat this savory dish for an entire meal. The appetizer includes three huge pancakes, so be prepared to share. I didn’t care so much for the falafel ones. My husband had the lamb shish-kabob for his entrée, and I had moussaka. I always like this eggplant dish.
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I’d wanted to explore the Island Grove Wine Company at Formosa Gardens in Kissimmee. It’s mostly a retail store with a café and tasting bar. Although they advertise tours and a botanical garden, these don’t really exist. We each enjoyed a turkey sandwich along with our wine tasting. I liked the dry blueberry, the slightly sweet peach, and the cranberry wine. The company has a full-fledged winery at Hawthorne, FL: https://www.islandgrovewinecompany.com/
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From here, we went down the street to an indoor flea market but the twisting stalls held a collection of shlock. Good place for tourists but not for us. It doesn’t compare to the Festival Marketplace at home.
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Coming Next: Christmas Day in Disney Springs
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Research Insights – Olive Oil Scams

While doing research for my books, I love to learn about esoteric topics. For Trimmed to Death, #15 in my Bad Hair Day Mystery series, I focused the story on food. Hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a bake-off contest that’s a recipe for disaster when a contestant ends up dead.


In considering the possible crime involved, I came across the topic of olive oil fraud. This led me to delve into the Florida olive growing industry and how olives are processed. Yes, I’m an olive fan. And now I’m more aware of fraud in the olive oil import business. Read on, and you can become more knowledgeable, too. Disclaimer: This information is based on my interpretation of the data so you are urged to verify the facts yourself.
The Problem
Olive oil scams rake in millions of dollars and involve fake labels and inferior products. The Italian extra virgin olive oil you paid a hefty price to buy? It may originate from somewhere else entirely. For example, a criminal ring from Italy passed off a blend of imported oils from the Middle East as authentic Italian extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Italy’s authorities unraveled the scheme, which involved twelve companies and a certification laboratory. Thousands of tons of olive oil were fraudulently bottled and labeled as made in Italy. Just so you know, Italy may be the world’s largest importer and exporter of olive oil, but Spain is the largest producer. Much of what comes from Italy is merely bottled there.
In another case, seven well-known Italian olive oil producers were investigated for falsely passing off inferior olive oil products as extra virgin. Italian authorities conducted operation “Mama Mia” and seized 2,000 tons of falsely labeled EVOO worth $14.5 million. Two months later, they seized another 22 tons of counterfeit oil. Italian newspaper La Stampa tested twenty of the most popular brands in Italy and discovered forty-five percent was falsely labeled.
As much as eighty percent of olive oil labeled as extra virgin may be diluted with lower grades of oil. These can include refined oils that have been processed with heat or chemicals. Or the EVOO may be adulterated with processed seed oils, such as soybean, peanut or sunflower. These seed oils can cause potential allergic reactions. Sometimes the extra virgin olive oil is cut with stale oil left over from earlier crops, or it may even be sold rancid. The market is rife with fraud, with estimates that nearly seventy percent of all store-bought EVOOs sold in the United States are falsely labeled.
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What is being done about it?
The U.S. Congress ordered the FDA to begin testing imported oils for adulteration and misbranding. Italian producers have created their own seal of quality that says 100% Qualita Italiana. California producers have a California Olive Oil Commission (COOC) 100% Certified Extra Virgin seal. The North American Olive Oil Association has its own certified logo.
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What can you do?
Check the label and see if the country of origin is listed. Look at the date for when the oil was pressed or harvested and try to buy it less than a year old. Ignore the “bottled on” date as well as “use by” a certain date. See if it has one of the certification seals above. Look for specialty olive oils produced by local olive growers in Florida and California. Shop at specialty stores that provide information about chemical analysis, olive variety, where and when it originated. These shops do tastings and sell in small quantities. Once opened, olive oil deteriorates quickly. So it’s better to buy two small bottles than one bigger one.
Olive Branch
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TRIMMED TO DEATH
Savvy hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a charity bake-off contest at a fall festival sponsored by a local farm. While she waits to see if her coconut fudge pie is a winner, she discovers a dead body in the strawberry field. Can she unmask the killer before someone else gets trimmed from life? Recipes Included!
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Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/trimmed-to-death
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More Fun in the Sun

On Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, we began the day with a walk in Tree Tops Park. This is always lovely with the tall trees and marshland walkway. I didn’t climb the viewing tower this time, but others in our party made it to the top.
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We saw The Crimes of Grindelwald movie in the afternoon. Lots of plot twists and revelations captured my interest in this film that takes place before the Harry Potter films, although the scenes with creatures could be too slow-moving. The plotting and characters still don’t have the appeal of the original movies, although the world-building elements will appeal to diehard fans.
In the evening, we went for the dinner show at the venerable Mai Kai Restaurant that’s been here ever since I can remember. This was a celebratory birthday dinner. I started with coconut lobster bisque. My entrée was a teriyaki combo with rice. For dessert, my choice was coconut flan. The food was good and the show as spectacular as I remembered. You can see the videos on my Facebook page.
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Sunday morning, we concluded the weekend with brunch at Vienna Café. It was an elegant and memorable way to end the festivities. And now it’s time to focus on the upcoming holidays and get back to work. You’ll be happy to hear that I have finally started writing the next Bad Hair Day mystery novella. It may be slow-going, but at least it’s moving forward.
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Schnebly Winery

My birthday often falls the same weekend as Thanksgiving. My birth date was actually on the holiday. My mother used to say she got me on a platter instead of a turkey. This year, our kids came home so we could celebrate together. We had a lovely meal with all the proper fixings while enjoying each other’s company.
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On Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, we drove to Florida City/Homestead. We meant to stop at Knaus Berry Farm, but the line to get in was way too long for us to wait out in the hot sun. We took backroads instead toward the Schnebly Redland’s Winery and Miami Brewing Co. It was an educational drive through South Florida’s agricultural country. The winery makes wine and beer out of tropical fruits. There’s a gift shop adjacent to the Redlander Restaurant where we had lunch. I had a tasty burger with fried avocado on top.
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The tour took us on a path under a thatched roof and past a waterfall. We fed the Koi fish in the pond while the guide explained the winery’s origins. Next we viewed the vats where the fruit is pressed for juice and later fermented.
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The resulting liquid is filtered to remove any remaining solids and then bottled in dark bottles to prevent sunlight from penetrating. Beer is sold in cans.
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We entered the taproom where beer samples were available. I am not a beer drinker, but our kids enjoyed the taste. We saw the rest of the brewery before moving on to the wine tasting.
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At the bar in the gift shop, we each chose five wines to taste. I liked the Grand Reserve, a white that was dry enough to be a table wine, and Denisse’s Boo-Boo Wine that was similar to an ice wine to be sipped after dinner.
We drove next to Robert is Here to look at the farmer’s market selling fresh fruits and vegetables and their famous milkshakes. Outside is a mini-zoo where you can feed lettuce to the animals. The only thing lacking is a decent restroom. With the crowds they get, they should invest in a real facility. If you’re desperate, they have portable units on site. Then we drove home. Exhausted from the long day, we ate turkey leftovers for dinner.
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WINTER WONDER GIVEAWAY
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Days at Disney

We went to Epcot while we were in Orlando to enjoy the Food & Wine Festival. At Africa, we had a wine flight consisting of Cederberg Chenin Blanc, Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz, and Groot Constantia Pinotage. We were not impressed by any of them.
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Here are some of the other things we tried. They were all good. Probably my favorite was the last one on this list.
Chicken Dumplings at China, $4.45
Marinated Chicken with Peanut Sauce at Thailand, $5.00
Shrimp Skewer at Africa, $6.75
Wine Flight at Africa, $6.50
Carrot Cake at Hops & Barley American Adventure
Apple Strudel at Germany
Banana Almond Soft-Serve Sundae at The Almond Orchard $4.50
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Our visit on another day was to the Animal Kingdom. We enjoyed a stroll through Pandora and then went around Africa to Asia, past the youngsters area, and back to the front section where we exited. We’ve seen the shows and have gone on most of the rides, so we can just savor the ambiance, the plants, and the animals for a couple of hours.
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And so ended our wedding journey and escape into a fantasy realm. Now it’s back to reality.

Pre-Wedding Adventures

Our daughter’s wedding was magnificent. It’s hard to believe it is over. All that planning for ten months and then in three days, it was done. There’s relief that things went well mixed with regret that it’s past history, but we’ll relive the event through the photos. (This collage is representative of a wedding but is not ours.)
Wedding Collage
We checked into the bed and breakfast inn at St. Augustine that was designated for the bridal party. Here began the first of our Wedding Misadventures. This historic inn had no private parking area. You have to park in an assigned space at a lot several blocks away. To unload your luggage, you must hunt down a driveway on a street at the rear. We pulled into the wrong place and had to drive around the block again to find the proper loading zone. Our room was in a separate structure from the main building, where our daughter had booked a lovely suite. We had a room that needed renovation as the wall a/c unit blasted onto the beds. There was a long flight of steps up to our second floor room with no elevator.
The front desk sent a guy to help us with our bags. Then we backed our car out of the tight driveway and ended up scratching the passenger side. We suspect it came from a latch sticking out from a gate. Mishap #1.
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Friday evening, we had drinks in the cozy cocktail lounge at the inn and then got ready to meet everyone at Michael’s Tasting Room for an informal dinner. My husband flushed the toilet in our hotel room before we left. It overflowed and flooded on the floor. Mishap #2. We reported it to the front desk, who assured us they would get the maintenance man right over there.
We went to dinner and had a delightful meal with the members of the bridal party who’d arrived early. From left to right are the bride and groom. They are toasting with the groom’s brother (aka the best man) and his wife. And here are Richard and I seated with Es and Rick, soon to be our Mechutonim (i.e. relatives through marriage).
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Anxious about our room situation, we hurried back around 9:30. The front desk person said a plumber had been called, and he was still working on the toilet. We spoke to the man, who said the problem was in a pipe and he had to drill into the wall.
We were outta there. After speaking to the front desk, we spent the night at another hotel, planning to return in the morning. The inn refunded our night’s stay. We returned the next day and had a pleasant breakfast on the front porch. I had French Toast Peach Cobbler. That’s the best part about B&Bs – the morning meal.
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It’s a good thing we ate first, because here’s what we found in our room:
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Despite the clerk’s reassurance that the problem had been fixed and the maid would clean up, we checked out and booked two nights at the Hilton. Central a/c! Starbucks in the lobby! We were in heaven! We moved over all our stuff and were ready to face the new day.
Coming Next: The Wedding Rehearsal
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Research Insights – Green or Black Olives

I’m a big olive fan. When I was younger, I used to eat cream cheese and black olive sandwiches for lunch. Now I like to eat olives as an accompaniment to any kind of sandwich, or olive tapenade on crackers as an appetizer. I like green olives, but they can be saltier. Then we have Kalamata olives, which I enjoy along with nova on a bagel or in a Greek salad.
Olives
In Trimmed to Death, my hairstylist sleuth Marla Vail goes to interview a person of interest at an olive grove. Along the way, she learns more about this fruit from the olive tree.
What’s the difference between green and black olives?
The olive is a stone fruit, in which a fleshy outer covering surrounds a pit or stone, which in turn encases a seed. The outer flesh of an olive contains up to thirty percent oil. Olives grown for the table are different from olives pressed for oil.
Raw olives have a bitter taste. They need to be processed before we can eat them. They can be sun dried, but more commonly they’re treated to remove the bitter compounds and make them more palatable.
Green olives are picked before they ripen and are soaked in lye. Then they’re washed in water to remove the caustic solution and transferred to fermenting vessels full of brine. The brine is changed on a regular basis to help remove the bitter phenolic compound known as oleuropein. Fermentation occurs by natural microbes present on the olives that survive the lye treatment. These bacteria produce lactic acid that lowers the pH of the brine. This helps stabilize the product against unwanted pathogens. Once fermented, the olives are placed in fresh brine and acid-corrected before going to market.
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Black olives are picked after ripening. Tree-ripened olives turn purple due to an accumulation of anthocyanin, a purplish pigment. These ripe olives need treatment before they’re edible. Salt-cured olives, produced in certain Mediterranean countries, are washed and packed in alternating layers of salt. This draws the moisture from the olives, dehydrating and shriveling them. Once cured, they are sold in their natural state without any additives. Oil-cured olives are cured in salt and then soaked in oil. Otherwise, there’s the fermentation process described above.
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California black olives, although labeled as ripe on supermarket cans, are really green olives that have been soaked in lye and washed in water injected with compressed air. This process is repeated until the skin and flesh are oxidized, turning the olives black. Then the olives are washed and put into a fresh brine solution. Ferrous gluconate may be added to set the shiny black color before these olives are canned.
What is a Kalamata olive?
The Kalamata olive from this region in Greece has a deep purple color and is meatier than other varieties. These olives are placed directly into fermentation vessels full of brine until they appear almost dark brown or black. Most Kalamata olives are split to allow the interior to absorb the flavor. Beware these olives are usually sold with their seeds. Even if you get olives that are supposedly pitted, small bits might remain, so be careful when eating them.
Why are black olives sold in cans and green olives in jars?
Early California black olives sold in jars caused cases of botulism. As a result, the industry switched to a canning process. The artificially-ripened olives are heated to 240 degrees. A canned item can tolerate this temperature, but not a glass jar.
Green olives don’t undergo the addition of oxygen and are packed in brine. The salinity is high enough and the pH levels are low enough to inhibit bacterial growth, so they don’t have to be sealed in metal cans and cooked. These olives remain edible for many years stored in jugs, crocks, or jars. No refrigeration is required until opened.
Excerpt from Trimmed to Death
Hairstylist Marla Vail is talking to a Florida olive grower.
Olive Branch
“Some olive varieties may be edible off the tree if they are sun dried first. Otherwise, the curing process can take a few days with lye treatment, or a few months with brine or salt packing.”
“What do you mean, with lye?” Marla wrinkled her nose at the thought.
“Lye processing is mainly used with green or semi-ripe olives,” Ben explained, as they crossed over to another row and then headed back toward the main complex. “The olives are soaked in lye for eight to ten hours to hydrolyse the oleuropein. Then they’re washed in water to remove the caustic solution and transferred to fermenting vats filled with brine. Or, you can avoid the lye process and put them directly into fermentation vessels. There are other methods as well. One technique involves artificially darkening the olive to make it appear black.”
This was news to her. “Are table olives different from olives used to make olive oil?”
“Yes. Some olives are grown to cure and eat, while others are prized for their use in making extra virgin olive oil. Olive mills press the oil, and the sooner you get the product to consumers, the better the quality of the oil. Demand has increased since the health benefits of olive oil have been recognized. In the U.S., we currently import about ninety-eight percent of the millions of gallons we consume per year. You’re not always getting the product you think you are with these imports. Fraud has become a multi-million dollar enterprise.”
Olive Oil Scams are a topic for another time. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about this fruit and are now eager to check out the varieties in your local grocery store. Disclaimer: This information is based on my interpretation of the data I read. Any errors are unintentional.
Are you an olive fan? If so, which variety do you like best?
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TRIMMED TO DEATH
Savvy hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a charity bake-off contest at a fall festival sponsored by a local farm. While she waits to see if her coconut fudge pie is a winner, Marla discovers a dead body in the strawberry field. Can she unmask the killer before someone else gets trimmed from life? Recipes Included!
TRIMMED TO DEATH eBook
Get your copy here:
Amazon Print: https://amzn.to/2xXmY57
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Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/900157

St. Petersburg Florida

We got into St. Petersburg, Florida on Wednesday Sept. 5. Unfortunately, I hadn’t booked the conference hotel which was already full when I registered for Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. Events took place at the historic Vinoy Renaissance by the bay. This distinctive structure faces a boat marina and a park on one side and Beach Drive at another end. Our hotel, the Hampton Inn, was on a side street from this main strip that hosts a plethora of restaurants and museums. The town is good for a few days stay with all there is to see and do. Here are shots of the Vinoy that was built in the 1920’s.
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It was a distinct disadvantage not staying there as we had to tip the valet at the Hampton Inn each time we needed the car. I got too hot walking the five to six blocks in ninety degree heat to the conference hotel while dressed up for the meeting. Once I left the Vinoy in the afternoon, I didn’t return. Daily thunderstorms and the intense heat prevented another long stroll. A shuttle ran between conference hotels, but only in the early morning and late afternoon. So I learned my lesson. Never stay off site again. However, we enjoyed St. Petersburg along Beach Drive even though we didn’t go farther into downtown.
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Dining adventures included Parkshore Grill where we had lunch on day one.
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We dined outside at Fresco’s on the first night.
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We met my former critique partner, Sharon Hartley, and her husband for dinner at Bella Brava.
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Richard and I enjoyed the early bird special at 400 Beach Seafood.
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I think I had more fun trying the different restaurants than anything else!
I skipped out on the conference on Saturday afternoon for a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts. This two-story building held many exhibits including sculptures, paintings, and valuable artifacts. I liked the clock exhibit. There’s a café and gift shop on the premises. Here are some of the items we viewed. More are in the album on my Facebook page.
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Coming Next: Bouchercon 2018
See all my photos HERE
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Adventures in Dining – Orlando

As usual when we visit Orlando, we like to try new dining spots as well as frequent some of our favorite restaurants. Besides Bonefish Grill and Longhorn, we celebrated our family’s September birthdays with the Magical Dining Month menu at Fleming’s. I got the beef filet with a salad and carrot cake for dessert.
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I didn’t fare as well at Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. This being Labor Day Weekend and the opening of the festival, the park was crowded and there was a long wait under the broiling sun just to get in through bag inspection. We made it to a couple of places where I tasted the mini blended burger (very good!) and the loaded mac and cheese (too spicy).
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Then I succumbed to the heat and felt lightheaded. After a brief rest on a shady bench, I recovered my stamina and we headed to the festival marketplace to pick up our annual passholder magnets. Then we left, vowing to return when the weather has cooled and the crowds have thinned. I just can’t make this trek anymore in the 90+ degree heat.
Another day, we dined at La Madelaine, a French café located inside the Florida Mall where we took a nice air-conditioned walk. I didn’t have a problem there and enjoyed the exercise. My meal here was tomato basil soup, Caesar salad, and a half turkey and brie sandwich. The best breakfast was at Keke’s Café where I had a waffle accompanied by fresh berries and whipped cream.
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The highlight of the week was a bridal shower in honor of our daughter held at Orchid Thai Cuisine in Winter Park. The food was delicious from the buffet-style appetizers to the plated lunch to the beautiful cake. Our daughter was radiant as she greeted her friends and other guests.
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It’s hard to follow the wedding diet on these meals. I’d say I would wait until after the wedding, since that weekend will involve a lot of eating too, but then Thanksgiving will be upon us. Maybe I should make getting in shape a New Year’s resolution?
 

Publix Cooking Class – Seafood

We started the evening at Publix Aprons Cooking School with a glass of light golden sparkling Chloe Prosecco. This was a pleasant drink that’s good for sipping before dinner.
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The first course began with Grilled Shrimp Skewers accompanied by Corn and Pineapple Relish. This corn would make a good side dish by itself. The dish seemed reasonable to make at home, although I’d substitute parsley for the cilantro. The wine with this starter was a Buried Cane Chardonnay. It was a medium gold color, and I liked it enough to put it on my buy list.
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Cooking Tip: If you want to know if the oil in your pan is hot enough, add a couple of kernels of popcorn. When they pop, the oil is ready. Be careful the popped corn doesn’t hit you in the eye, so avoid leaning over the pan.
Next we watched the chef prepare Louisiana Lump Crab Cakes with Tasso Tartar Sauce. These were really good; crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I could eat a meal just with these crab cakes. They were served with salad greens.
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In keeping with our seafood theme, the main course was Key West Jerk Snapper with Papaya and Red Pepper Jam. We each got a firm piece of fish that was moist and tasted good with the sauce. The wine was a Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc with a medium gold color. This was light and fruity.
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Cooking Tips:
Don’t marinate fish or shrimp with citrus, such as orange or lime juice, for more than an hour and a half or the citrus might cook the seafood, as in ceviche.
Dry the fish by patting it with paper towels before frying it. Our chef used a stainless steel sauté pan.
Pigeon Peas with Rice accompanied the fish as a side dish. This had a tomato base, unlike the version I like to make. The Earth Heart Erath Pinot Noir was good with this entrée.
Dessert was a divine Mississippi Molten Chocolate Cake, otherwise known as a lava cake. It melted in our mouths, the heat dissolved by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. My mouth is watering at the memory. I wasn’t fond of the Stella Rose Prosecco that came with this last course.
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Needless to say, I came home and conked out. Too much to eat and drink, but it was definitely worth the effort. I can’t wait to sign up for another class. Look for one near you at Publix Aprons Cooking School.
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