Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And after all this, won't you give me a smile?

I found this video and thought it was amazing.

It doesn't have anything to do with anything except I love The Clash and it's Bruce's birthday today. And hopefully my dad and uncle Danny will enjoy it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back to regularly scheduled programming.

Hey, y'all!

I thought a good "y'all" might be appropriate since I'm going to write about Epcot's American Adventure.

Now, I realize we're in America and all. I don't have anything against my country of origin. In fact, I'm quite patriotic under normal circumstances.

However, I don't really understand why, every time I go to Epcot, the American Adventure seems to be the most popular country with visitors. And I'm not just talking about obnoxious Brazilian tour groups wearing matching t-shirts and following bright orange flags. And I'm not talking about the people waiting in line to see Donny Osmond or whatever has-been they've booked that week at the amphitheatre on the water, also known as the American Garden Theater.

I mean regular people, Americans, from such exciting places as like, Arkansas and upstate New York, just wandering around and eating giant chicken legs in their own country's pavilion.

As far as food attractions, The American Adventure serves such delicacies as burgers and fries at the Liberty Inn restaurant (proud to say I've never eaten there), a couple of roadside stands that serve gigantic turkey legs roasted on a spit and funnel cakes, and a beer stand that only sells what? Sam Adams. The worst beer. Ever.

Okay fine. I've had worse. But it is not good.

So wait. What was the point of coming to Epcot in the first place? What was the point of wandering all the way across the park from Future World if you don't want some kind of cultural experience, fake as it may be?

Well, I guess you could make the claim that the parents all bring their kids there to learn about American history. They do have an actual animatronic show (call me crazy, but I always find those things a little bit creepy - except for the Carousel of Progress, because that's just awesome) featuring such American personalities as Ben Franklin and Mark Twain, narrating through the major periods of American history.

Can I make a confession? I've never seen it. I don't believe I've ever even been inside that large colonial-looking building, unless I was way too young to remember it. I can't tell you if it's good or bad.

But again with the redundancy. Doesn't it seem pretty close to the whole concept of the Hall of Presidents, in the Magic Kingdom?

In fact, the whole pavilion seems like a knockoff of the Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom, but without the Haunted Mansion or the fun stocks to pose in.

Think about it. I think Liberty Square (Magic Kingdom) sells turkey legs. It has an animatronic show teaching children American history. All the restaurants in the area definitely serve burgers and fries. With the exception of the crappy beer, which they don't serve in the Magic Kingdom, it's just about the same thing. Only bigger. And with Donny Osmond.

Okay, sometimes they have better people there. One year they had the Beach Boys, I think. Only without some of the more famous members. And I think John Stamos was their drummer.
During the Food and Wine Festival - the most wonderful time of the year - they have a concert series called Eat to the Beat. Sometimes they've got somewhat good bands. At any rate, it's better than Canada's resident band, Unkiltered. Oh wait, I mean Off-Kilter.

Also during the food and wine fest, the American Adventure has this kind of free beer seminar hosted by Sam Adams, of course. The good thing is, you get free beer and - at least the year I participated - a free bottle opener. The bad thing is, you have to drink like 5 different kinds of Sam Adams and try to appreciate the differences. I don't know. They're all way way too hoppy for me. I prefer something like Harp or Grolsch.

During the Christmas season, when one can drink some Glow Wine from Germany to pass the time, they also have the Candlelight Processional, which is always led by some celebrity that reads the biblical story of Christmas to the audience, and then a choir sings. Sometimes they get some interesting celebrities, including (according to Wikipedia, and my memory) John Stamos, Marlee Matlin, Jim Caviziel (yes, Jesus himself read the Christmas story), and Neil! Patrick! Harris!

He was there last year like the week after I left after Thanksgiving. You see, in Disney, the holiday season generally starts mid-November and ends in mid-January. Of course.

I remember one summer way back when, they booked the whole Lord of the Dance thing for an entire summer. At least the shows have gotten better than that.

Special thanks to Wikipedia on this entry. Without it, I wouldn't have known what to write, except for the concerts and the beer and the turkey legs.

I also want to take this opportunity to give y'all a link to my mom's blog. She writes about the many mishaps of camping. It's an enjoyable read.

Also, I will be going to Florida at the end of the month, when I will make a point to visit Epcot for the first weekend of the Food and Wine Fest. I'll let you know how it goes.

And thankfully, now that the American Adventure is over with we can move on to better things, like...Japan!

But maybe the American Adventure has gotten to me after all. I feel like having some cheese grits for breakfast.

Y'all come back now, y'hear?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

For a limited time only

I don't want to leave this post up for very long, so I'm thinking about deleting it after a decent interval, but I wanted to post some of the pictures I took when Jean's dad and stepmom came to visit in Chicago.

I suppose I should write something about food. Okay. If you're ever in Chicago, you should go to the Sofitel hotel for breakfast. They had the best pastries the world has ever known. I ate so much I got sick later. But that's beside the point. Croissants and pain au chocolat, etc. etc.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Katie's Guide to Epcot: Italy

Welcome back to this edition of Katie's Guide to Epcot!

Today, we're going to take a trip to one of my favorite countries on the Epcot circuit. Okay, it's my very favorite.

Maybe it's just because I want to go to the real Italy so bad, I'll take anything that resembles it, even in an unauthentic Disneyish way.

When you walk into the Italy pavilion, the first thing you see is a large brick tower modeled after the Campanile di San Marco from the Piazza San Marco in Venice. Venezia!

Actually, most of the main plaza area of the Italy pavilion in Epcot is supposed to represent Venice. There is a building on the right that is supposed to represent rural northern Italy, and a fountain toward the back that is supposed to represent Rome, but the main square is modeled after Venice.

The pink building to your left upon entering the plaza is a representation of the Doge's Palace in Venice. The Doge's Palace was the home of the Doge (Duke) of Venice for several hundred years. Now I believe they use it as a center of the municipal government, like a regular town hall, in Venice. The Disney version is an uncanny representation, right down to the stone cutout flowers bordering the top floor, but I am sure it's about 1/4 the size of the original.

Inside the fake Doge's Palace, you will find a shop that sells perfumes, leather handbags and belts, some clothing (mostly soccer related) and a lot of jewelry. There are a lot of things made out of Murano glass as well, which is the special kind of glass they make on one of Venice's peripheral islands. One of the most famous designs is the Milefiori, which means thousand flowers.

I actually don't like that design much. But they also sell other designs, like ones with pretty swirls going through it or just interesting solid colors.

After passing through the main room, you cross into a smaller room at the back of the building. This room usually contains various Christmas wares, even in the middle of summer. I guess they must make some great Christmas ornaments in Italy or something.

Across the main plaza from the Doge's Palace is the rural Italian home, which contains a wine bar, a kitchen store, a candy store, and an actual mask maker from Venice and his various wares.

The kitchen store usually has some pretty irresistible coffee sets and espresso accessories, as well as coasters and wine stoppers and cookbooks. The candy section sells some very good hazelnut flavored nuggets of chocolate, all excellent for eating with a glass of sparkling wine. There are also some prepackaged cookies, which apparently are the real deal, i.e. actually eaten and sold in Italy. My friend of Sicilian ancestry certified them as such, and I believe her.

The wine bar usually has a pretty good selection of red and white wines. You can also get a flight of red or white, as well as some sparkling and dessert wines. One of my favorite wines there is the Banfi Rosa Regale, which is a very sweet, red-tinted sparkling wine. It tastes wonderful with the chocolates.

They do sell quite overpriced glasses of Reunite D'Oro, considering you can buy an entire bottle at Marsh for about 7 bucks.

One of the best things about the wine bar is, however, the limoncello. If you haven't been introduced to limoncello, it is a liqueur made with lemon peel and sugar. (If you want a whole description of how they make it, watch Under the Tuscan Sun.) The final product is pretty syrupy, fluorescent yellow, very sweet, but also very strongly alcoholic. The stuff will knock you on your ass.

It is served in a small shot glass looking thing, but don't take it like a shot. You'll probably start choking, and anyway, it is made to be enjoyed in sips, not gulps.

In the back of the Italy pavilion, there is an Italian restaurant. It used to be this very cool restaurant based in Rome called Alfredo's, which is actually where they invented Fettuccini Alfredo. Hence the name.

Unfortunately, something happened a few years ago involving contracts, and Alfredo's moved out of the space. For awhile, there was even talk about putting in a Buca di Beppo, which would have just been disappointing, however, after some time they put in the new restaurant. I think it is still disappointing, but that's just because I don't like a lot of sausage. Most of their dishes have a lot of sausage or pork content, which is fine if you like that sort of thing, and I am told that in Italy they eat tons of sausage. I am sure it is a perfectly good restaurant, but it isn't Alfredo's. Alfredo's with the tiramisu and the fettuccini alfredo and the usually attractive Italian waiters.

And just to memorialize that wonderful lost tradition of Epcot visits, I post for you here today the original fettuccini alfredo recipe, from Alfredo's.

1 lb fresh fettuccine noodles
4 qrt boiling, salted water
1 cup unsalted Plugra butter, softened
⅓ to ½ cup Parmesano Reggiano cheese, freshly grated.


Melt Plugra butter over very low heat. Whisk in grated parmesan cheese; continue whisking over a low heat until the cheese melts and the butter/cheese sauce becomes a creamy consistency. Drop fettuccine in boiling salted water. Cook until noodles float to the top of the pot (2 to 3 minutes). Drain immediately and place in large pasta bowl; toss with sauce. Garnish with freshly cracked black pepper.

So much butter. Yet sooooo good.

Moving on back out to the main plaza, there are plenty of small tables and benches to rest upon while you digest whatever it is you have consumed, and soak up the sun while you're at it. If you notice the pattern of the paving stones on the ground, you will see that they are arranged in strange square shapes that seem to make no sense.

In reality, they too are modeled after the Piazza San Marco in Venice. As the story goes, nobody really knows why these paving stones are arranged in these patterns, although some suspect it was an organizational system for vendors that would set up their booths in the square. In Disney, however, it is just for decoration.

If you happen to be hanging out in Italy at the right times of day, you can catch a silly kind of street performance, during which the Disney actors actually pull people out of the crowd to participate.

For future reference, when you get chosen to participate in the play, they give you a button that says you have participated in the humiliating event. If you keep the button and wear it on any subsequent visits, you don't have to experience the embarrassment ever again.

If you want a less crowded space than the main Italy plaza, you should check out the small waterfront area across from the main plaza, located right on the sores of the World Showcase Lagoon. You have to cross one of two bridges to get to it. You will notice a small canal under the bridge, which of course is also supposed to represent Venice. There is actually a gondola tied up in the canal. This is because originally, Disney was going to offer gondola rides, but sometime during the evolution of the park, decided against it.

This is just my own speculation, but I think it was either because they realized they were going to have to give everyone a life jacket because of liability, and it would have been too inconvenient, or they realized the lines were going to be too long. So, the gondola ride is now a peaceful hangout and photo opportunity spot for weary Epcot travellers.

The fountain is a good place to sit and enjoy some wine, while enjoying the music that floats over from the auditorium at The American Adventure, located right next door.

If you happen to be in Epcot's Italy on a hot day, you can get yourself a frozen gelato from a multi-colored cart pulled by a fake donkey. They have lemon, strawberry and chocolate flavors. The cart is usually located right next to the small refreshment stand outside the main plaza, in front of the fake Doge's palace.

The main refreshment stand is where you get your beer, for all you beer lovers. Now, unfortunately, they no longer carry Peroni, my favorite Italian beer. At this stand, they serve Moretti instead. I think it lacks the subtle vanilla flavor present in Peroni, but it is beer, and it works if you don't like wine.

Also in this stand, they sell bellinis, which is a lovely slushie made with peach liqueur and champagne (or spumante), and something called an Italian margarita, which sounds absolutely disgusting to me, but it contains rum, I believe, possibly tequila and limoncello in a frozen mixture.

They also sell little desserts and pastries at this stand, including cannoli. It also may be a good time for you to catch up on your water intake for the day.

That's all from Italy.

Although I do want to mention: If you are at all interested in the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot every fall, the menu has just been announced.

Tune in next time for the American Adventure! Also known as redundancy with giant turkey legs.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Katie's Guide to Epcot: Germany

Good morning, Disney scholars!

It has been awhile since I have updated the KGE. It's time to actually make my computer do some work, save some pictures to the desktop, and start blogging again.

So, today we're going to talk about Germany.

Before I could drink, I didn't like Germany too much. It always smells like bratwurst and sauerkraut, two of the worst food items in the world. I wanted to hurry past it every time before the smells got to me.

But now...I discovered Riesling. And Gewurztraminer.

But, we should probably talk first about Germany's other attractions.

Germany has no ride. That large building you see back there? Just a warehouse. It was originally supposed to hold a large-scale ride, a water ride representing a cruise down Germany's four largest rivers (can anyone name them?), but they ran out of money. So now they use it for storage.

So what do you do there, if they don't have a ride? Well, you shop, eat, and drink beer.

Entrance to the dining room.

I've never been to the Oktoberfest dining room, since I am revolted by most German food. It's not that I'm prejudiced. I just don't like things in sausage form, and I don't like pickled and fermented cabbage. Or beets. Or baby cow meat. So, basically I like....the noodles.

Now, for those of you that like brats (sausage, not children), that's great. Go eat there. I think it's set up kind of cafeteria-style, where there's a huge line to get up to the food bar, and then you go take your tray and sit down on one of the giant wooden picnic tables inside. There always seems to be a line though, so if German food is your thing, it's probably good.

When facing the inside of the German pavilion (that is, facing the fountain and the Oktoberfest restaurant), to your left are a few shops, and a wine cellar. As previously discussed, the wines are good, and are priced within standard Epcot wine prices, which means about 4-5 bucks for a tiny plastic glass. But, I thought it was worth it. The only problem is, do you really want to switch to wine/beer at this point of your trek Around the World?

If you started with tequila, and don't want to switch to non-hard alcohol just yet, I honestly don't know what there is for you to drink here. If you don't mind mixing, go right ahead! Just make sure to keep eating all day long. The only time I've been able to mix alcohols is during the Food and Wine fest, where you're just walking and sweating and eating and drinking everything in sight all day long. It seems that the normal upchuck rules don't apply. Unless you're my dad and you ride Mission Space.

Anyway. To your left, there are also a couple of shops. There's one with some toys and a lot of crystal figurines. They are pretty and shiny. They also have some tiaras in there.

The crystal shop has a pretty ceiling.

Of course we tried on the tiaras!

So. Other than the tiaras, what is there? Well, on the other side of the courtyard, you have a beer stand. At this beer stand, they might also sell pretzels, although I am unsure on that point.

As far as beer goes, the selection isn't as varied as you would expect from Germany. They used to have Beck's, but they got rid of Beck's, now they sell only Spaten and Spaten Optimata. Apparently Spaten Optimata looks like black syrup and can get you drunk off your ass. Good luck with that.

The other thing in Germany that is a big draw for some of the international visitors, is the Adidas store. They have a lot of football (soccer) jerseys there, from different countries including but not limited to....Spain (Real Madrid, at least), Chivas, Germany, Italy, England (although they have more of these in England), and France. There's probably more.

One thing that is special to the holiday season (early November through January), and yet spectacular, is their annual stand dedicated to selling Glow Wine - at least the translation is glow wine. It's similar to Glogg, if you've ever heard of that.

Basically, it's spiced mulled wine. It is some kind of fruity and sweet red wine brewed with cinnamon and other spices, and it tastes like Christmas. It is traditionally served very hot, so be careful when sipping!

Germany - Done! On to the next country - Italy!!
Coming soon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fresh strawberry pie, as requested

Taking another small detour from Katie's Guide to Epcot, I have had a request (or demand) for the recipe for my strawberry pie. I just thought I'd post it.

The strawberry pie is a very special recipe. It was handed down to me via my grandma's recipe box. It's what I made the night my boyfriend and I got together. And subsequently, what I made on our anniversary this year.

It's very good. It's very simple to make. It's very sugary. It's not my favorite pie in the world to eat. But it's special to me.

1 c. sugar
3 tbs. cornstarch
2 tbs. light Karo
1 c. water
3 tbs. dry strawberry gelatin
1 qt. strawberries
Whipped Cream

Wash and prepare fresh strawberries (cut off stems and leaves). Boil sugar, cornstarch, syrup and water until thick and clear. Add dry gelatin. Cool, add strawberries. Pour into pie crust. Top with whipped cream.

There you have it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Katie's Guide to Epcot: China

Hey everyone, sorry for the extended delay in posting about China. I would offer excuses, but there's no need to waste time.
So, China.

Next on the World Showcase after Norway is China, land of cement dragon sculptures and tiny acrobats that balance large trays of glasses filled with liquid on their heads while riding extremely tall unicycles.
As strange as it may seem, there are no crappy Asian noodles in China. Or Japan, for that matter. China just has various bits of meat strewn over rice in their small cafe, the Nine Dragons. You see, I absolutely love crappy asian noodles. Vegetable lo mein. That kind of stuff. And to get it in Epcot, you have to walk all the way to the food court in The Land.

Sidenote: Excuse me while I rant for a second.

There's nothing wrong with the food court in The Land, but I read a blog post once that ridiculed ALL the food in Epcot as being unvaried and bad quality. The writer had only gone to the food court in The Land as research. What kind of close-minded idiot goes to a FOOD COURT when there are at least 15 extremely good, varied restaurants less than a mile away, and then jumps to the conclusion that ALL the food in the entire park is terrible? Especially someone who professes to be a critic that knows all about gourmet food and where to get it. MORONS.

Rant over.

So, honestly, the Chinese food at the small cafe in China is really no better than Panda Express, but without the noodles, which I'm sure surprises no one. I haven't been to the more expensive restaurant, but I have heard it's not anything to write home about either.

China also features a 360 degree "circlevision" theater inside the tallest blue pagoda. They recently renovated the pagoda, so it's possible that they added seats, but about 5 years ago, it didn't have seats, so you had to stand through the movie. I guess that's fine. I'd just prefer to watch my movies while sitting.

Outside the pagoda is a small landscaped area with a creek and possibly some goldfish ponds. In front of that, but behind the main gateway, is where the small acrobats usually perform.

There are about 12-15 of these talented teeny people, and they seem to be fearless experts in such exploits as riding tall unicycles, making human pyramids (or other structures) and flipping around really fast in handsprings and other such maneuvers. It's fun to watch a few times, but mostly it just blocks up the pathway all around China.

Now, as far as drinks go, there is about one beer worth drinking, and some other pretty strange concoctions. The beer would be Tsingtsao (I think I spelled that right), which I always think tastes a little like soy sauce. Not that it's a bad thing.

The other drinks you can get are all frozen, with names like "Iced plum wine" and "green tea" daquiri or something. They are weird. I have to tell you that they are weird. But, go ahead and try one, just for the sake of trying one.

The main attraction in China, I think, are the stores. There's no ride and no food worth eating, so it's got to be the store, although if you're going to a store in Epcot that carries everything and the kitchen sink, I prefer Japan's since it's an actual department store elsewhere in the world.

But, in China, you can get such things as...porcelain vases, tea sets, chopsticks, collapsible fans, funny pointed hats, Chinese silk dresses and shirts, shoes, jewelry, get the point. Basically, they sell everything.

To be honest, I think China is one of the more boring countries, which is why it has taken me so long to write this. I'm sure for some people, it is heaven, but I seem to have written about all the interesting things already.

One more thing you can do in China is to pretend you're meditating next to a cement sculpture of a Buddha.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

French Onion Soup

I know, I know. Katie's Guide to Epcot: China is coming. Possibly tomorrow, I promise.
However, I HAD to write about this soup while I still have the library book in order to copy down the recipe.
French Onion Soup, I thought, had to be excessively complicated. I have been proven wrong.
I got the recipe from a Julia Child cookbook. I figured it has to be great, if not easy. It was easy.
What you do, is you fry some onions in butter and thyme. Then, you try to resist the temptation to eat them plain. Then, you throw in a ton of broth and some black pepper. Then you eat it.
Try the recipe. You won't regret it. Surprisingly, it doesn't take that many onions. I think I used 1.5 large white onions.

Onion Soup by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin
Yield: 6 cups, enough for 5 or 6 small crocks

2 tbs. butter
2 tbs. oil
1.5 lb. onions, peeled and thinly sliced (5 cups)
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme sprigs, or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. salt, or more to taste
5 c. hot chicken stock, homemade, or low-sodium canned broth (I used 3 beef bouillon cubes, it worked ok)
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1/4 c. red or white wine (optional) - I did not use

Set the saucepan over medium-low heat and add the oil and butter. When the butter has melted, add the onions, thyme, and 1/2 tsp. of salt and mix together thoroughly. Cover the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the onions are quite tender, uncover and raise the heat slightly. Cook for another 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are dark brown and have caramelized in the pan. Lower the heat if the onions are in danger of burning.
Stir in the hot stock, scraping any crystallized juices from the bottom of the pan, and bring the soup to the boil. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding salt and 1.4 tsp. of black pepper or more to taste, and wine if you like. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.
The soup may be served plain or gratinéed, as follows.

At first, the beef broth was overpowering. But I just finished it off about 5 days after I made it, and it was perfect. My boyfriend, my French boyfriend, said it was the best onion soup he's ever had. It was running down his chin. I highly recommend it. But I would use chicken broth, if you can.

To gratinée it, just throw in a few cubes of french bread and some cheese on top. Gruyere is the proper cheese to use, but I didn't feel like shelling out 8 bucks for a block of it. So I grabbed some grated parmesan and it seemed to work ok.

Back to regular scheduled blogging after this. Epcot: China!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Katie's Guide to Epcot: Norway

Norway. Land of Vikings, oil rigs, and tall, blond, bearded people. At least, if you go by the ride. In the Epcot land of Norway, there are many things. Some are useless, and some are wonderful. But I will let the quotes speak for themselves. When you first arrive in Norway, you will see a building with a grass roof, a tall Viking temple that doesn't open, and a Viking ship.
This is the Viking temple. It's always locked when I'm there.

The Viking ship used to be a playground, but they dismantled it, so now I suppose it's just a shipwreck, 30 yards back from the water.

Near the Viking Ship, there is a handy cobblestone area that doubles as a smoker's haven. It's a nice place to sit and down the rest of your margarita, if you're into that kind of thing.

But clearly, the most important part of Norway is the ride.

As my dad says:
"Don't forget the tragedy of the dismantled Viking Ship/Playground...which now appears as an apparent "shipwreck" in the garden area of Norway....nor, shall we forget the tragedy, of the redesign of the Maelstrom in the late 90's, to make it more "Family Friendly..i.e. wimpy... Instead of "Back over the falls" they should have changed the Trolls to say..."go in backwards over a gentle, pasture-like stream, in the middle of a Norwegian meadow....."

And as my friend Victoria says (oh so eloquently):
"First I was like, what? Then I was like, aaaah! Then I was like, aaaaah, I'm gonna die! Then it was fun."

The trick with the ride is, first, to get there early enough that there is no line. Then, you have to quickly chug whatever remains of your drinks from Mexico before you get in the line, otherwise the friendly blond people will make you throw them away. Don't worry, you can get more.

Then, you get on a Viking ship and embark on a water-filled adventure that you will remember all your life.

"You are not the first to pass this way..." says the ride, as one eye of a Viking-shaped gargoyle opens and shines a very bright light on you.

"We have always lived with the sea, so look first to the spirit of the seafarer." You continue up the hill until you reach an ancient Viking village. "Many come to Norway seeking adventure, but more often find beauty and charm."

And're in Troll Country. And you run right into a large, gray, hairy, three-headed troll, that calls for you to "Disappear! Disappear!" And then...

"Back, back, OVER THE FALLS!"

And then your boat freaking turns around and really does go backward, and as you're craning your neck to see what you're going to run into, you see that you are heading toward that 2-story waterfall which you glimpsed from the outside just a little bit too it going to stop?

Of course it's going to stop.

You stop, and you get pushed the other way down a small hill.

Waiting at the bottom of the hill is choppy seas and a noisy oil rig. How picturesque.

As the ride bids you farewell with a cryptic, "The spirit of Norway will always be...adventure," you pull into what looks like an immaculate but deserted town square.

The (sometimes attractive) ride attendant ushers you through the doors of the movie theater. You don't have to watch the movie, you can just walk right through the theater into the waiting money trap on the other side. I suggest that you do so.

But, what my dad is talking about is that the ride used to be far scarier. The boat really hung out about 6 feet over the edge of the waterfall that leads to the outside, so that if you were sitting in the back row, you were really outside. I guess it was too scary (or dangerous) for some people.

Once you make it into the shop, you will find yourself faced with a large room of North Face-like outerwear from Helly Hansen. (No, it is not pronounced "Helleh Hansen.") It's expensive, but sometimes there are deals.

Then, you get bored with that room, and you go into the next room, which contains Viking helmets with horns and fake blond braids on them.
It is a time honored tradition to try on the helmets and pose in front of the giant friendly troll. There may be a line to enjoy this privilege.

No hats for me. I won't allow it.
But that doesn't mean I won't make others wear one.

Doesn't he just look so happy?

Once you are done with the ride and the shops (try to resist the Swedish Fish), go outside and go directly to the bakery on your right.

The entrance sign is shaped like a pretzel with a crown on it. They don't sell pretzels here.

The bakery is the second best attraction in Norway.
You see, they have things called Cloudberry Horns, and homemade waffles, and Lefse, and School Bread. And they are all sweet, and they are all delicious. Especially the waffles.

This is the inside of the bakery. You can see the magnificent looking cakes right in front of you in the case.

They make them right in front of your eyes, and then they put strawberry jam on them, followed by a good dusting of powdered sugar. And then, they fold it up like a quesadilla. And you eat it.
I want one right now.

Of course, if food isn't your thing, and you're there strictly for the booze....
"Carlsberg, Budweiser(for some reason), and red and white Norwegian wines are available from their beer cart(No fixed stand, unlike Germany's 3!)....which apparently, must be on wheels, in keeping with the Viking's nomadic lifestyle??? Crazy Imagineers!!!!!"

Good point.

Next up: China.

Friday, April 17, 2009

World Showcase Part I: Mexico

Welcome back to Katie's Guide to Epcot!

Now that you've safely wasted about an hour and a half in Future World, it's time to start the main event: the World Showcase.

If you're coming in from the front entrance, the most logical way to start the World Showcase is to move clockwise around the lake, starting with Mexico.

When you arrive at the Mexico pavilion, the first thing you will see is a gigantic Mayan pyramid on your left. On your right will be a hacienda-style structure with outdoor seating. This is the cafe. Beyond the cafe on your right, you have a small shop that is somewhat connected to the cafe. Then on your left beyond the shop, there is a small "jungle" area with vegetation and beyond that, a convenient margarita stand. We'll start with the pyramid.

Look! You can even take pictures that make it look a little like you're a tourist in a foreign land.

If Mexico is your first stop on your world tour, you can probably ride the Mexico boat ride without much of a wait, or no wait at all. It is entirely up to you whether or not you choose to ride it, but I have to say it is relaxing and quite a bit cheesy. Basically, two unidentifiable tropical birds speak and sing in vaguely Mexican accents and wear sombreros, while chasing Donald Duck (who wears a Mexican poncho) throughout the ride. The three birds, including Donald, are the Three Caballeros, for those who didn't have Sing Along Songs growing up. It's a nice cool boat ride, and if you choose to skip it, you can always come back in the (possible) heat of the afternoon, when you're sick of walking, but you may have to wait in a bit of a line. The ride also provides a scenic backdrop for the indoor restaurant, the San Angel Inn. I've only been there once, but from what I remember, they had large portion sizes and authentic Mexican food.

Inside the pyramid, aside from the ride and the restaurant, is a big fake outdoor market. It's pretty dark inside the pyramid, and the transition from the bright sun outside to "nighttime" inside is a little disorientating. When you first walk inside, there will be a guy from Oaxaca making authentic Mexican wood-carved figurines, painted in very bright primary colors. I don't even know if you can buy those figurines he makes, he might just be an art installation.
Once you go through the gateway beyond figurine-carving guy, you enter the market area. The market sells cookbooks, sombreros, Mexican blankets, hot sauces, margarita mixes, weird Mexican candy, and any number of other souvenirs that no one really needs. But it's fun to try on the gigantic sombreros.


There is also a shop that sells crystal figurines, and a shop that sells silver jewelry and other fancy stuff. It's a good place to know about in case you have a necklace that breaks during the day - you can replace your necklace chain conveniently! Of course, that's not why it's there. Just go look at it.

Once you're bored with the sombreros, go back outside to the cafe.
Mexico is a great (fake) country to visit because it has extra booze. It has the bar attached to the cafe on your right, and it has the margarita stand on your left. Of course, that creates the problem of human traffic jams on big days, since the cafe makes the walkway smaller than usual, and there can be up to 200 people in line for the bar. This creates an effect we shall refer to as the "Epcot Death March."

However, my point is, there is a cafe that sells stellar nachos, I believe some quesadillas, tacos, burritos, and churros. I really recommend the nachos, but you have to ask for extra sour cream and salsa.

Next to the cafe, there is Bar #1. At this bar, they sell Dos Equis Lager. Go with the Lager.


Apparently, if you go order a Dos Equis Amber at the bar, the bartenders will laugh at you and talk about you in Spanish. They don't even serve Dos Equis Amber, apparently. The Amber is for tourists, and is a "Vienna-style amber lager." I'm not saying I've witnessed it myself - I never stand in that line long enough to know. But that's what I hear.

They also sell margaritas at the bar. I think they only sell the frozen lime kind, that comes out of a slushie machine, but what do you expect.

The internal debate you should be having now is, do I want my margarita from the bar, or from the margarita stand?

You see, right across the walkway is a stand dedicated to selling margaritas and ONLY margaritas. If you get the whole 4 flavor version, it is $10.50 for what amounts to probably a 16 oz. glass. The 4 flavors are lime, strawberry, mango and green apple. You can get these in any combination that you choose, and you can get them with either salt or sugar (or nothing) on the rim.
It depends on the day, but in my personal experience, the margaritas at the bar are somewhat stronger than the ones from the margarita stand. They may also be cheaper, but I don't know.

It's entirely up to you as to your choice of beverage, but I recommend the straight-up lime with salt. And if you're not a lime person, then the mango and strawberry mix is pretty darn good.
I HATE the green apple flavor. It tastes like they put some Pine Sol in it.

So what else is in Mexico? After all that booze and nachos, do you really need anything else? Yes? Oh well.

Next to the cafe, there is a small shop selling cliched Mexican souvenirs, including mini-sombreros, which I delight in putting on my cat. Sorry about the culturally-insensitive caption, but this one got on the Vote page of Not to brag or anything.

That's my gigantic cat, Oscar. He recently swallowed a frog whole. Or so they tell me.

Anyway, also in this shop you can buy various soccer (futbol) items, including Chivas jerseys and scarves, and themed Adidas footwear. Inside, they sell sets of margarita serving pitchers and glasses. They also sell straight tequila inside - some of it even has the famed worm at the bottom.

Drunk enough yet? No? You will be, as we continue our journey into Norway - coming soon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Katie's Guide to Epcot: Future World, part 1

Good morning! I'm back with another installment of KGE.
Most visitors to Disney World will come to Epcot by bus or monorail, which ensures that the majority of entrance traffic goes through the front gates. Going through the front gates means that the first thing you will see will be Future World, and in particular, Spaceship Earth.

Hello! I'll be your tour guide. I only charge astronomical fees in the form of free food and drinks.

But before you get into the park, I must discuss various ticket practices for a moment.
I don't want to be sued by Disney, but I will just say that ticket fraud - using someone's ticket as your own - is possible. Not advisable. Using someone else's ticket usually means you will hold up the ticket line, at the very least, while they scan your fingerprint repeatedly with their blue biometric light. You will feel stressed, and people will get pissed off at you. I'm sure that won't deter many people, considering that ticket prices are rather astronomical - what is it now, $70 per park, per day?
For the sake of disclosure, during some times of the day (usually morning), they don't scan your fingerprint. And there is some debate among people I know as to whether or not Disney's blue biometric lights actually work. Is it legal for a private company to store an extensive fingerprint database? I don't know. But I do know I've been stopped many times, with my own ticket.

But, back to the main event: Future World.

1. Take a moment to look around in wonder. Okay, you're done.
When you first walk through the gates, you will naturally want to wander around the first courtyard in awe. Sure, do it for a minute, but move on. The only things there are oddly shaped obelisks with laser-engraved photos of people on them. These people have paid oddly large amounts of money just to have a thumbnail-sized photo of themselves stuck on a stone object no one ever looks at, but hey, to each his own. It's kind of like those engraved bricks along the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, only even more nonsensical, because you can't include a date or a message, and it's a TINY picture. At least at the MK you get an entire paving brick.

2. Fastpass Collection.
What you're going to want to do is run directly to The Land pavilion (turn to your right after you pass Spaceship Earth) and get your Fastpasses for Soarin'. I know, Spaceship Earth has no line and looks enticing, but I'm telling you, don't wait in the Soarin' line without a Fastpass. It is a nice little ride, exciting and yet relaxing, but it is NOT worth an hour long wait. And don't trust the wait time sign - I went in expecting a 15 minute wait and was in there an hour before I ever got on the ride.
If you are there on a busy day, you are going to want to run across Future World from The Land to the Mission Space ride and Test Track to get your Fastpasses for those rides.

3. Bathroom locations
Important to know: there are good bathrooms on your right side next to Spaceship Earth, inside the sliding doors in the building in front of The Land, on the outside of that same building, along the exit path in Mission Space, on the side of the 70s-looking building called Odyssey on the way to Mexico, near the Fastpass line for Soarin', and inside every pavilion (The Land, Imagination, Universe of Energy, Life, The Living Seas - have I missed any?). I'll run down a list of bathrooms in the World Showcase once we start on that.

4. The Main Rides
If you're not there on too busy a day, or you decide just to risk it, either Test Track or Mission Space are good places to start. Usually, I start with Mission Space, since it is newer and also, my favorite.

Mission Space

My dad calls it the Spin and Barf. It's true - for him. The "orange" level - which is the original ride, as it was intended - includes high speed spinning to produce convincing space flight G-forces on your body. However, you are in a tiny little compartment and a video screen takes up your whole field of vision, so I never even knew we WERE spinning until my dad staggered outside and told me so. He then proceeded to turn white, then green, then very pink, then back to white. He stayed on a bench for at least an hour.
To be fair, the ride warns you about spinning (actually, Lieutenant Dan/Gary Sinise warns you about spinning, because he is the one that does the ride's intro video). And yes, people have died. That's why they created the "yellow" version. Or, as I call it, the kiddie version. It doesn't spin, it just tilts you around a bunch. Not nearly as cool or exciting.
Anyway, the purpose of the ride is that you are in flight training for the first manned mission to Mars. Who wants to miss out on that?
If you have a legitimate aversion to spinning that causes you to throw up, by all means go for the yellow version. They do include complimentary sick bags in case you are so inclined. But if you're just being a chicken, do the orange ride. It isn't scary. It's spacey and sciencey. Just try it once.

Test Track
After you're done telling each other how completely friggin' AWESOME that ride just was, wander on over to Test Track. It's right next to Mission Space - to the right, when you're looking at the rides, and to the left when you come out of Mission Space's exit/gift shop.
Test Track was Epcot's first big ride. It was very exciting the first 50 times I rode it. Now, it would almost be relaxing, aside from the rough road tests and sharp curves.
The premise of the ride is that you are volunteer test subjects at a GM crash test site. I could write out the entire dialog of the opening video, but I'll spare you. Hint: you actually don't crash into anything. But the high speed loops are fun.
But, if you are a grownup and the regular lines for that ride are over the 20 minute mark, you might want to consider the miraculous invention that is the single rider line. The single rider line was introduced not long after the ride opened, and it's wonderful.
You see, there are 6 seats per car, and most of the time people don't take up the exact amount of seats. There may be 2 or even 3 seats available in each car. That's where you come in, as a single rider. You get on the ride faster by filling in the empty spaces. More often than not, if you came with someone else, you will get to be in the same car as that person, if not sit right next to them.
Yes, they take your picture. If you're curious, they take your picture right when the doors open and you go down the slight slope to the outdoor loops. No, you should not buy the picture, unless it is truly spectacular.

5. Killing Time in Future World
If you got to Epcot at 9, when it opened, when you're done with Test Track it should be about 10 a.m. That means you've got about half an hour to kill before you can head on over to the World Showcase and start consuming as much food and booze as you possibly can. You could ride Mission Space or Test Track again, as long as the lines are no longer than 20 minutes.
You could go explore the rest of Future World. There are some interesting things there.
Or, you could just go and be the first in line for a margarita, but sometimes the food places don't open right at 10:30.

Free Carbonated Beverages
If you want some free drinks (not alcoholic), you should stop by Coca Cola's own taste test bar. It is on the right side of the main plaza as you head toward the lake; in other words, it is at 5:00 in relation to the main fountain when you're facing the lake. It's says "Cool Spot" or something on the sign. This is a good option, because it doesn't take you too far off the path to Future World.
I hear my uncle Danny was a huge fan of this place.
It used to have a refrigerated cave in which you could see a fake frozen cave man and some stuffed polar bears, but now it's just a shop.
When you walk in the doors, just ignore all the random Coke memorabilia scattered around. There is no need to buy anything. Instead, head over to the soda machines, take a small paper cup, and start trying different commercialized beverages from around the world.
Just as a warning, the one from Italy tastes like carbonated and diluted bleach. The one from Israel is like Sprite, only someone forgot to put any sweetener in it. The one from Japan is not carbonated, and may as well be kool-aid. The one from China is waaaaaay too syrupy, but interesting at least. I highly recommend the one from Mexico - that would be Manzana Lift. It's like Sprite, but has a pleasant and not overpowering apple flavor.
Oddly enough, you can try all these exotic flavors for free (in small amounts, but free refills) but you have to actually buy American coke.

The other rides
The smaller, less intense rides in Future World may sound boring to you, but you will be grateful for a chance to sit and enjoy a relaxing boat ride through a weird garden or something. The dilemma is, you may want to save these rides for later in the day, so that once you're done with your first lap around the World Showcase, you can have a chance to rest and sober up a little.
I will tell you, though, you're going to want to save Spaceship Earth for later. You'll find that the line is constantly moving, and is the perfect length to finish your beer from Canada or the Rose and Crown.

Just wander
You might find something that appeals to you and not to anyone else. For instance, Epcot sells gigantic, plastic-wrapped pickles at certain food carts in Future World. My dad loves the pickles. I can't imagine why anyone would want a pre-packaged pickle, but okay.
Dad, off to get a pickle. I swear, he really is.

You could just go and watch the seagulls and fake surf in front of The Living Seas for awhile. Honestly, the seagulls (you know, the ones from Finding Nemo) are the only worthwhile part of The Living Seas anymore. Mine! Miiiiiiii-ne! Miiiii-ne!
You could try on funny hats and Crocs with mickey-shaped holes in them at one of the hat booths on the main path.
Yes, this is in the Magic Kingdom. But it does qualify as a goofy hat, does it not?

Or, as I said, just go wander around the World Showcase until something opens.

Back soon with the first installment on the World Showcase - Mexico!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Katie's Guide to Epcot: Introduction

I've decided to write a series about Epcot. I've done plenty of research on the subject. In fact, I think I've spent more time researching and experiencing Epcot than I have on my second major the entire time I've been in college.
Epcot can be a lot of fun, but you have to know how to make it fun. You can't just wander around without purpose or direction. If you do, you will probably get bored very quickly. There aren't any roller coasters, and there aren't many thrill rides. If you're looking for roller coasters, go to Busch Gardens or something. If you're looking for good food, wine, beer, and alcohol, as well as entertainment, Epcot is the place for you. And who doesn't like all those things, preferably all at once?
One of the most likely reasons for a trip to Epcot is Drinking Around the World.
In introduction, Drinking Around The World is a sport in which myself and my father frequently participate. Recently, my dad's two brothers also joined in the fun - although I was not there. I have not been back since January, myself, but my memory is good enough that I should be able to tell you what to eat/drink and not drink, as well as any extracurricular activities that are recommended.
My dad sent me this website which attempts to chronicle the Drinking around the World experience. It falls short, sometimes because the people writing it were too drunk to remember at that point what they drank or what they were doing. My account will be somewhat more detailed.

Some basic tips before we get started:

1. Do as much as you can.
If you've got a 1 day pass to the park, it's best not to waste your extra hours. Get there around the time the park opens (usually 9, but check) and ride the Future World rides. Some of the highlights include Mission Space (or the Spin 'n' Barf, as my dad so affectionately calls it), Soarin' (which includes Smellovision), Test Track, and of course old relaxing favorites like the boat ride, Living With The Land, and of course Spaceship Earth. But more on that later.
You should be able to make at least 2 laps around the World Showcase, at a leisurely pace, between 10:30 (when the World Showcase opens) and the fireworks show. Don't worry about hurrying during your first lap. If you are there on a holiday, such as New Years' Eve, it is best not to leave the park, because there's no guarantee you'll get back in. You can take a nap on a grassy area, like the pros do.

Yes, that's me in the orange.

2. Restaurants are hard to get into.
Sometimes, these restaurants require reservations 6 months in advance. You can try to walk up and get a table, but it's not likely in peak season. Take advantage of the smaller cafes and stands.
If you decide to go to one of the restaurants, during the fireworks show is the best time. It's usually at 9, and everyone is outside watching the fireworks and not eating in the restaurant. The fireworks show, while I love it, is not all that spectacular, and it can be a little long and boring in the middle. Believe me, I've memorized it. If you want to hear the song that badly, call me and I'll sing it for you.

3. Pick the right hotel.
If you are not fortunate to have a house 2 miles from Disney World, I highly recommend staying either at an Epcot resort or a resort on the Monorail loop near the Magic Kingdom.

The Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian are all directly on the Monorail. The Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness are just a short boat ride from the Magic Kingdom Monorail station.

These resorts may be pricier, but you won't regret it - you won't have to take hour long bus rides to and from the parks. Now, there are several resorts classified as Epcot resorts, but don't be fooled - the only good ones are the Yacht Club, Beach Club and (I suppose) the Boardwalk. The Beach Club is the closest to the back gate of Epcot, but you can walk to the park from any of these hotels. I believe there is also a walkway from the Swan and Dolphin, it's just farther. Beware the Boardwalk though - it is noisy, due to the actual boardwalk below the guest room windows, and the pool is in the creepy shape of a clown.

This is inside our room at the Beach Club for the 2006 Food and Wine Festival. It was basically the closest room to Epcot in all of Disney. That's my dad. Dad spent a good amount of time on that couch after riding Mission Space.

4. Don't be an idiot. (refer back to this list every morning that you go to the parks)
Don't let your kids wear wheelies. I can't even tell you how many times I've nearly been run over.
Don't try to start a drunken brawl. Or the men on Segways will come and get you. No, they will not let you ride their Segway, nor will they answer to the name "Gob."
Don't bring your kid on a leash. Or someone will mercilessly mock you. That someone is me.
Don't try to get the ducks to drink your beer. They're ducks. They don't need to be any dumber than they are already.
Don't feed the seagulls popcorn. And you won't get bird poo on your head and the heads of those around you.
Don't rent an old person scooter (otherwise known as a Rascal) if you can walk perfectly well.
Don't try to buy more than 2 drinks per ID.
Don't stand in the middle of the Rose and Crown just for the hell of it. Get your drinks and get out. And don't encourage the weird Hat Lady, either.
Don't be part of a large group of tourists that wear matching shirts and/or follow a yellow flag.
I'll think of more as we go. Rest assured.

5. Don't drink only Budweiser.
If the point was to ingest yet more American culture, you should have gone to Six Flags. Try something new. Some of these food and drink items, you can't get anywhere else. So don't waste your money on a turkey leg and Sam Adams when you can get chocolate eclairs and Casa beer (preferably not together). Also, if you're going to be xenophobic, Budweiser is owned by InBev, which is a European company.

6. Don't be culturally insensitive.
Yeah, these people are in America, so I'm sure they're used to it. But don't try to speak to them in English with a bad imitation of their accent if you aren't actually from their country. Don't say insensitive stereotypes out loud. I'm not mentioning any names, here.

7. Don't wait in long lines.
First of all, that's what Fastpasses are for. Secondly, there is no reason to wait in a line longer than 20 minutes for any ride or attraction in Epcot. Just wait until it's less busy, or get there earlier in the morning.

But, other than that, have fun! I'll be back soon with a new installment.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Apparently, I don't cook after all.

At least, not when I only have myself to make dinner for.
My last grocery trip included pizza rolls, chips and salsa, and milk. Always milk. But the pizza rolls and salsa are getting much use. That package of goat chevre I bought a couple of weeks ago? Not so much.
Mainly, I've been falling back on my lazy man's risotto - recipe was my first post. Last night, I finally broke down and made pasta sauce - I was too lazy to even throw stuff in a can of tomato sauce and put it on top of pasta. Ridiculous.
I think it stems mainly from the fact that I'm only cooking for myself. JF is now having to fix all meals for his grandmother while is mom is in France, and so he might as well eat over there too. Therefore, I've regressed to eating like a 12 year old.
The other reason I'm not cooking is that I don't have anyone to do my dishes for me if the boyfriend isn't eating my food. It makes perfect sense.
Hell, I haven't even gone out to eat anywhere extraordinary. Arby's, Taco Bell. Ridiculous.
I suppose I could blog about the weird and sometimes wonderful campus food options, but I will spare you most of the details. Sbarro, anyone? Bleh. And I don't know why OOB (the closest thing to my office) always smells like 3 week old hot dog water.
So...wait another week, maybe, and I'll have something to write about. If not...I may fall back on the campus food after all.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Did I just quote a Yellowcard song in the title? Yes, I did. Sad.
Anyway, last week was my last Spring Break ever as an undergrad. Maybe my last Spring Break ever, but I don't know.
My mom and I and her friend went to wine country. We heard (and told) our share of Sideways jokes, and visited the Mumm's winery, where of course, I tried to buy a whole bunch of Mumms. Considering that I had to take it back on the plane, though, I ended up with only one bottle. It's from Francis Coppola's winery, it is a blanc de blanc called Sofia, and it was created for Sofia Coppola's wedding in 2007. The Francis Coppola winery is currently under construction, and the finish date keeps getting pushed back, because according to the employees, Francis keeps coming down and changing his mind about the plans.
But it was pretty cool, he had a bunch of his awards up there. Not Oscars or anything, but still, awards and some props. I took pictures and I will post them up here. Hopefully.
We went to another winery that had sheep as a natural weed-eating device. They were funny.
As far as food, well, I was disappointed, personally. I didn't find the sushi I was looking for.
However, I ate at four places that should be mentioned.
1. Sam's Chowder House, Half Moon Bay
Excellent chowder. Although, I have to say, not as good as the chowder served at Daddy Jack's, a local Indianapolis restaurant. But, Sam's had great views of the bay and an interesting smoked salmon appetizer, as well as Manhattan Chowder, which had tomato sauce in it, I believe.
2. Villa Romano, Napa Valley CA
(Click to view menu)
This was good, despite that we had just spent a looooooooong day getting lost repeatedly and I spent most of the day listening to people talk nonstop without the aid of my iPod. Despite this, I had a great risotto, which is one of my favorite foods in the world. It had mushrooms, but that's ok. Mmm. I want risotto again now.
3. Rutherford Grill, St. Helena
This was nice, a casual upscale restaurant with a varied menu. Unfortunately, due to my semi-drunken state because of our cave tour at the Del Dotto caves, I don't remember a lot of the experience. I do know that I had a chicken and spinach enchilada, with steamed vegetables and fried rice, and blue cheese chips, and apple pie a la mode for dessert. The enchilada was great. I wished they gave me two.
4. In N Out burger
Glorious fast food. Honestly, their fries leave something to be desired, but their very limited menu plus the (optional) presence of good onions on the burger makes this place unbeatable in my opinion. Why do I need to choose between 15 different types of cheeseburger? It's a freaking cheeseburger. Just let me eat it. With onion.

So, pictures later, I hope.
This month, I will probably post more about restaurants I have been to, and less about cooking, because I plan to cook less and eat more grilled cheese. Long story.

Oh! But I did find a jar of Zahtar spice blend at a farmer's market, so I'll do something with that. Later.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Did I forget about the pizza?

I did! I forgot to blog about the pizza.
You see, I have been craving pizza and nothing but pizza for awhile. Well, pizza and onions.
So I found a recipe for deep dish pizza. One might say, Chicago style pizza. I had immediate flashbacks to the last time I was in Chicago and stopped at Gino's East.
Gino's East is clearly the best pizzeria in Chicago. I dare you to challenge that. I heard it was put up as a wager against the mayor of Indianapolis on the outcome of the Colts/Bears superbowl. I hope he enjoyed it. Yes, I'm still gloating.
Anyway, the point is, Gino's is amazing and I wanted some of that immediately. But of course I can't just drive to Chicago and bring one home. (Can I?)
So I found a recipe online, as I do. It was for whole wheat crust, but what can you do. I just used regular flour, and it was fine.
Also, I was very impatient and didn't let the dough rise for the required amount of time. Screw it. The parts covered in toppings turned out just fine, if the crust sticking out over the top was a bit...crispy. And by crispy, I mean rock solid.  Oh well.  My boyfriend ate three slices in one sitting.



1 envelope quick-rise yeast 
1/2 tsp. sugar 
1 C. water 
Approx. 1 lb. whole wheat flour (added in small increments until mixture reaches dough-like consistency) 

1 6-oz. can tomato sauce 
1 Tbs. oregano 
3 Tbs. parsley flakes 
1 tsp. dried basil 
4 tsp. onion flakes 
1 tbs. minced garlic
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2-3 Tbs. tomato paste or enough to thicken (I didn't have tomato paste, I used flour.)

1 lb. mozzarella cheese, sliced 
1 pkg. shredded mozzarella cheese 
sauteed mushrooms (or toppings of your choice)


To Prepare Crust:

In a small cup or bowl, mix together yeast, sugar and water. Let stand 10 minutes to allow the mixture to react and bubble. Add the yeast mixture to a large mixing bowl. In small increments, add whole wheat flour until the mixture reaches desired dough consistency (should be thick and not too squishy).

Dump dough onto floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes. Once the texture feels right, roll into a ball. Grease an oven-safe bowl with shortening. Drop ball of dough into greased bowl, making sure the dough gets greased with the shortening as well. Cover the bowl with a towel and place in a 170-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Prepare Sauce, mix and set aside.

Assemble Pizza:

Saute mushrooms for pizza and set aside. Cut brick of fresh mozzarella cheese into thick slices and set aside. Remove pizza crust from the oven. Grease a 9-inch round pizza pan with 
cooking spray or butter. Spread crust out over bottom and sides of pizza pan, making sure the crust is thick along the sides.

Place slices of mozzarella cheese at the bottom of the pizza. Layer with sauteed mushrooms (or topping of your choice) and shredded mozzarella cheese. Continue with another layer of sliced mozzarella cheese. Spread pizza sauce to your liking over the top.

Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Slide the pizza out of the pan onto a cookie sheet with a spatula and let cool.


I didn't use any mushrooms, of course, because I HATE them.  So I just used cheese and pepperoni.  Also, I made it in a pie pan, because I don't have a deep dish pizza pan.  I don't even know where you would get one.

Anyway, it was really good.  You should make it!  And put whatever toppings you want in it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Man vs. food: the Mike Dorsey edition

Yesterday was my dad's birthday. To celebrate, he decided to subject himself to some torture.
If you have never met my dad, let me just tell you that since I was at least 5, my dad has forgotten the meaning of the word "full." The man loves to eat.
Apparently, at a place called Charley's Steakhouse in Orlando, they have this deal as advertised on the Travel Channel. You can attempt to eat an entire 50 oz. - yes, 50 OUNCE - steak in one sitting. If you succeed, I think you get the steak for free, and also a very large, very nice knife for your trouble.
My dad loves Charley's very much. I am not much of a steak person, but this is really something.

This is before the carnage:

And this is after:

He says he isn't sick today. I can't believe it. And in case you can't tell, the lumpy parts are the potato side dish, and the meat parts are actually bones. It was probably smart of him not to pick the bones clean.
So, he got his knife and his free HALF A COW. Congratulations, you are a professional eater.
As he says, "See? I can eat just as much as that Travel Channel guy." Truly something to be proud of. Happy birthday, Dad.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pasta Sauce Adventure

What happens when you finally run out of the vodka sauce you made...a long time ago, and don't want to go back to the store-bought variety?
Well, you use the one can of tomato sauce in the back of your cupboard, of course.
Not satisfied with just tomato sauce, I decided to spice it up with chopped onion, chili powder, lots of salt, cayenne pepper, lots of basil, garlic, red wine, and some canned milk.
I don't know why I added canned milk, but with all those dark ingredients, it did make the whole thing taste a little lighter without being excessively creamy. And I added some water, because I was afraid it was getting too thick.
If I had had anything else on hand, I might have used it, but I didn't. What I ended up with was some nice oniony, spicy, very dark tomato sauce.
I will continue with my adventure of sauces, and we will see what I get next time.
In the meantime, we've only been eating pasta this week. I'm getting very bored with that.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chicken and Gravy with noodles

Happy valentine's day!
This isn't exactly a valentine's day cooking post. I don't think I'll be cooking anything special for valentine's day. This is just something I happened to make last week, and while making it was lovely and dare I say, romantic, it's not a spectacular dinner like one would expect on valentine's day. It's just dinner.
So, for those of you that would rather just ignore this day altogether, here's your chance. This is NOT a themed blog post.

See, my boyfriend makes this gravy. (Victoria calls it sauce, but whatever. It looks and tastes like gravy.)
Fabulous Gravy:
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can water
1 package French Onion soup mix
Mix, heat, devour.

Once, I made this gravy and put it on instant box stuffing. It was amazing. But not as amazing as when you throw some one top of noodles that have about 3 tablespoons of butter mixed into them first.
Which is what I did.

But first, we grilled 3 chicken breasts for a little while, and then stuck them in a casserole dish with the gravy and baked them for what seemed like an ETERNITY but was probably about an hour and a half.

Plate, noodles, chicken, gravy on everything. Try not to shovel it all in at once.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cheese puffs and the giant cookie from hell

Not cheese puffs like you're thinking of cheese puffs. When I say "cheese puffs," normally I think of those things that are kind of like cheetos but smoother, and possibly made out of styrofoam.
Not that those kind of cheese puffs are bad. I looooooooooooove those kinds of cheese puffs.
No, these things are technically called "gougères" according to David Lebovitz and something else entirely by my boyfriend. Something like "_____ ____ fromage." I know it ended in fromage. I didn't have him write it down, so I may have to do a further update with an actual name for these.
Anyway, they are so very easy to make, and soooo very good. This recipe makes "about 30 bite sized puffs."


1/2 cup (125ml) water
3 tablespoons (40g) butter, salted or unsalted, cut into cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
big pinch of chile powder, or a few turns of freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 cup (70g) flour
2 large eggs
12 chives, finely-minced (or 1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme)
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces, 90g) grated cheese (See above for ideas)

1. Preheat the oven to 425F (220C.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.

2. Heat the water, butter, salt, and chile or pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted.

3. Dump in the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides into a smooth ball. Remove from heat and let rest two minutes.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring quickly to make sure the eggs don't 'cook.' The batter will first appear lumpy, but after a minute or so, it will smooth out. (You can transfer the mixture to a bowl before adding to eggs to cool the dough, or do this step in a food processor or electric mixer, if you wish.)

5. Add about 3/4s of the grated cheese and the chives, and stir until well-mixed.

6. Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a wide plain tip and pipe the dough into mounds, evenly-spaced apart, making each about the size of a small cherry tomato.

7. Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese, the pop the baking sheet in the oven.

8. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F (190C) and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until they're completely golden brown.


That's really all.
We couldn't resist eating the majority of the puffs right off the cookie sheet. Only about 6 survived longer than 30 minutes.
But, there are 2 things I must mention:
Because I am poor, I decided I would just use bagged, pre-shredded Parmesan cheese in the mix and to top off the puffs. I would have absolutely loved to go out and buy some comte or gruyere, but unfortunately those are just too rich for my blood at the moment. The parmesan looked, worked, and tasted just fine.
The second thing is, don't panic when you put the 2 eggs in and it seems too runny. Just keep mixing it until it looks more like dough than egg soup. Remember, it needs to be squeezed out of a hole in a bag, so it should be a little runnier than you would think.
The best thing about this recipe is that it really only dirties one dish. If you're careful enough with your parchment paper, the cookie sheet shouldn't even be messy at all.

Now, the giant cookie from hell.
It wasn't supposed to be a giant cookie, it was supposed to form a bunch of little swirly pinwheel cookies. But something went wrong with my dough (I suspect not nearly enough flour, although I measured it correctly) and it would not peel off the damn parchment paper so that I could even begin to roll it.
The idea was posted on The Kitchen Sink around about Christmastime, and I only just now got around to making it. Oddly enough, that blog post was even about how much the cookies went wrong, although they were still good. Mine went even wrong-er. Unbelievable, but true. But I was determined to try to make something that day that involved chocolate and peanut butter, and since this recipe involved both those things melted together, I decided it was fate and I had to make them.

Here is the recipe, via the link above.

For filling:

6 ounces semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter I WILL NOT USE CHUNKY PEANUT BUTTER! It is against my religion. I used regular, and it was awesome.

For dough:

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature [UPDATE: see Ellen's comment below. 2 sticks it is.]
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Make filling:
Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, and remove from heat. Stir in peanut butter.

Make dough:
Beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then beat in egg and vanilla. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into egg mixture and beat until combined well.

Assemble rolls:
Halve dough and roll out each half between sheets of wax paper into a roughly 12- by 8-inch rectangle. Remove top sheets of wax paper (if they stick too much, chill dough briefly to firm up slightly) and divide chocolate filling between rectangles, spreading it in an even layer. Tightly roll up each rectangle jelly-roll fashion, beginning with a long side and using wax paper as an aid, to form a 12-inch log. Wrap rolls in wax paper and then foil. Chill rolls until firm, at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Working with 1 roll at a time (keep remaining roll chilled), cut rolls crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices and arrange slices 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake in batches in middle of oven until pale golden and set, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer warm cookies to racks to cool.


Can you believe that in the 2 years since I inherited my double boiler, that I never used it even ONCE until last Saturday? I will never go that long without using it again. In fact, I am thinking of just making the filling this weekend and dipping strawberries in it. Mmmm.
Anyway, I made the dough, I made the filling, and I stuck the dough in the freezer to be less sticky, only it didn't become less sticky enough for my purposes. What we ended up doing is just sticking one half of the dough on top of the filling, which was spread all over the other half of the dough, like a gigantic filled-in pancake, or a misshapen version of those huge party cookies you find at the mall, only without the decorative icing.
We had to bake it to almost twice as long, so that the middle would be cooked. To my surprise, it wasn't hard as a rock either. They were good.
We cut them into little bite-sized cookie pieces with a pizza cutter. I can't imagine how much better they would have been had they actually looked like little swirls.

But, one good thing about this is, I didn't use all the filling, so there was more melted chocolate/peanut butter mix for me to both eat with a spoon and to coat banana slices with. It would have been amazing on top of ice cream.

I highly recommend the filling. The cookie making was a different story.