27 October 2015

Taste Your Way - Part III

Sometimes you want something sweet and sometimes you want something savory. Today’s stop on the home cook’s tour of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival delivers on both counts with a dish whose bark is truly worth the bite! We also ventured off of the beaten path for the featured recipe. This dessert didn’t come from a Marketplace kiosk of old or new, but instead from the festival’s gala event known as the Party for the Senses.

As we have been trying to do all season long, we’ve pulled this recipe because of its simplicity. A few ingredients, a couple of steps, and viola; a dish your family or guests would swear took you hours or that you purchased from a culinary expert. Today we’re kicking our chocolate up a notch as we dive headfirst into the Ghirardelli Chocolate Bacon Bark. I had some of you at chocolate and some of you at bacon, didn’t I?



7 Bacon Slices
2 Cups Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Pieces
3/4 Cup Almonds (Sliced or Chopped)
2 Tablespoons Butter (Melted)
2 Teaspoons Sugar
2 Teaspoons Vanilla or Maple Syrup
1/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon


Cover a 13 x 9 baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat and set aside.
Line a second baking sheet with foil, arrange bacon on foil.
Stir together melted butter and vanilla, brush on bacon.
Stir together cinnamon and sugar, sprinkle on back.
Place baking sheet with bacon on center rack of a cold oven. Turn oven to 400°F and roast bacon for 17 to 25 minutes, or until preferred crispness.
Remove from oven, chop into small pieces, and set aside.
Melt chocolate in double boiler or in a glass bowl over a simmering saucepan of water over low heat.
Remove chocolate from heat and pour onto parchment or silpat prepared baking sheet, leveling with a spatula or butter knife into a thin layer.
Sprinkle almonds and bacon onto chocolate, patting gently to adhere to chocolate.
Refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes or freeze for 20 to 25 minutes.
Break into pieces.

In or preparation, we opted for the vanilla instead of the maple syrup to give the bacon a different flavor. We also chose the option to refrigerated instead of freeze as we felt it would give the chocolate more time to set naturally. I would also recommend allowing the bacon to cool for a few minutes between roasting and chopping, but that was a personal preference. Last note on the cooking, watch your timer on the bacon. With the sugar added to it, the bacon can go from perfect to burnt in almost no time.

As good as you think chocolate and bacon are together? That’s precisely how good this is going to taste once you get it in your mouth! The chocolate will melt in your mouth immediately, the almonds give you some crunch, and then you have the bacon hitting all the right notes. You’ll definitely have to hide this entire tray from yourself. Oh, and that chocolate, it will melt in your hand just as fast as it melts in your mouth so, as Henry the host of the Country Bear Jamboree is known for saying, “You gotta be quick!”

Not that that will be a problem with this sweet and salty dessert…

26 October 2015

Live Oaks and Wild Sea Oats

Later this week we’ll be heading down to Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, a favorite home away from home of our family. Something about the low county fishing lodge, nestled among the oaks and Spanish Moss on its own private island, really speaks to us. Of course, the stories of the resort are many. There is the story of Shadow’s arrival to the resort. B’lou is a fount of tales from the island and low country. And then there are the names and signage found all throughout the resort: Big Murggie, Edmunds, Michael & Michael’s, etc.

The stories of the resort started long before the resort even opened. In 1995, prior to the resort’s March 1996 grand opening, Disney sent out brochures to prospective members of the Disney Vacation Club. Being this far along in the construction process allowed Disney to present a piece of concept art for the Live Oak Lodge that was spot on, even if it ventured a little off course with the breed of dog that would become Shadow. This was also Disney’s first opportunity to introduce potential guests to some of the resorts characters. A letter presented on the first page is from Royce Edmunds, and he begins to set the stage for all that was to take place at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, and entice vacationers to come and play. It read as follows: 
Over a century ago, my Great Grandpa Thaddeus embarked on his quest for the perfect vacation home site. He finally located an “island paradise” whose banks were lined with natural sand dunes, live oaks and wild sea oats.
Generations later, my family still vacations on Hilton Head Island. I’m partial to golf, and luckily for me the island is home to some of the best golf courses in the world. The kids never tire of biking along the paths or going crabbing for their supper. And my wife and I cherish our romantic strolls under the moonlight.
Whether it’s the dolphins frolicking just off shore or the snow white egrets gliding across the clear blue sky, you have to experience the unique sights and sounds of the Low Country first-hand to truly appreciate it. Now that Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is here, we have plenty of room for all of our friends and family. The natural beauty of Great Grandpa’s paradise hasn’t changed much over the years. I invite you to come see for yourself.
Royce Edmunds
Paints quite the picture, huh? It doesn’t matter which story you find at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, or how you stumble upon it. What matters is that there are plenty of stories for everyone to discover there!

21 October 2015

Big Thunder Boarding House

If you pay enough attention to the postings around the Big Thunder Mountain Mining Company, you know that the miners obviously get into town to blow off some steam every now and then just by the number of posters promoting local, shall we say, entertainment venues. However, I’m not quite sure how they even have the money to buy a brew or two. These two postings at the entrance make it very clear that miners can only use equipment that they purchase at the company store, and they are required to stay on premise for room and board. In fact they even take the cost right out of their checks ahead of time, and gratuity! It the Big Thunder Boarding House that I’d like to pay a little more attention to today.

Let’s look at who is running the Big Thunder Boarding House. The Proprietress is listed as Mrs. Liddy Stockley. While the first name of Liddy is a new addition, you may recognize the name of Mrs. Stockley. As it turns out this isn’t her first attempt to rustle up some gold mining boarders. She was one of the citizens in the 1975 film, The Apple Dumpling Gang, to try and take in the gold nugget of the Bradley kids, I mean the gold nugget that was the Bradley kids! Yep, she and many of other citizens of Quake City were all too willing to take in Bobby, Clovis, and Celia once they had discovered the 300 pound gold nugget.

While never identified by name, Mrs. Stockley can be seen in several scenes. Perhaps her most notable moment, however, came on an exchange between Bobby and Donovan. Bobby is afraid that if they go to Mrs. Stockley in an upcoming custody hearing that she’ll hit them with a stick. When Donovan asks why she would hit them with a stick, Bobby quips, “She hits Mr. Stockley with the stick!”

Mrs. Stockley was played by Fran Ryan, a longtime character actress featured on shows like Gunsmoke, Green Acres, and The Doris Day Show. She was even featured as the voice of Camembert Kate in a 1990 episode of Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers.

In the end, the Bradley children stay with Donovan and his new bride, Dusty, and all’s well that ends well for The Apple Dumpling Gang. As for Mrs. Stockley, clearly one gold rush town wasn’t enough for her! She’s made her way to Tumbleweed and runs a respectful business in the town, even if the manner in which she gathers in her boarders is a bit compulsory. I wonder if Theodore and Amos have made their way into town too?

16 October 2015

Dining in the Kasbah

Plans for a Morocco pavilion predate the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982. While the pavilion wouldn’t be open to guests until September of 1984, it would still have a presence within the park. The restrooms of the Morocco pavilion were there to welcome guests on opening day, a welcome outpost between the bathrooms of The American Adventure and the United Kingdom. As nice as they are, we’re not here today to admire the pavilion’s waterworks, but they are the stepping stone to what would become one of the most authentic pavilions in World Showcase.

Dining was always going to be a central draw of the pavilion dedicated to Morocco. In its earliest incarnation, the main dining would have been a unique offering, with guests being whisked away to a kasbah in the middle of the desert.

The detailed archways, gorgeous lamps, and tile patterns didn’t vary much from this representation, but there are a quite a number of differences. The geometric patterns of the dining circles change how the room flows from what would come to be known as Restaurant Marrakesh. This arrangement, however, does allow for all guests to have a better vantage point for the dinner show. The backless cushion chairs also help with that I imagine. However, I’m sure someone with an eye towards safety insisted that the chairs be given backs, regardless of how much authenticity these chairs would lend to the ambiance.

Moving back to the dinner show, take note of the background. Is that a mural being utilized as a backdrop or video? Either way, it is certainly being utilized to supplement the dancing, storytelling, conveyance of history and culture taking place in the foreground of the performance.

Morocco has always been a rarity in World Showcase. From the national funding to the maalems who ensured the pavilion’s genuineness, the care taken in how the pavilion is presented during IllumiNations, and right on down to the plants and dishes served, Morocco has always found a way to reward those willing to give it a second, third, and fourth look. Even in its conceptual days, it is still inspiring.

15 October 2015

Taste Your Way - Part II

As we continue our culinary tour of make at home dishes from the International Food & Wine Festival, held each fall at Epcot, it’s time to appease our appetites with something a little more substantial. Often times you find that the cookbooks from the festivals include a ton of recipes that, unless you’re a professional chef with your skills honed, are not truly functional for the home cook to take on. Today’s entry, however, doesn’t require three separate preparations to be timed in conjunction with each other just to make sure the dish isn’t ruined.

We’re pulling an item from the Food & Wine vault that has been a favorite when served up in France. Chausson of Roquefort Cheese may sound fancy, but it’s a very simple and rich dish to put together that will impress your family or dinner party guests. It’s also very adaptable recipe, but we’ll talk about that later.



1 Ounce Diced Brie Cheese (approximately 1/4 cup)
1 Ounce Diced Roquefort Cheese (approximately 1/4 cup)
1/4 Cup Diced Tomatoes
1 Tbsp Chopped Chives
1 Egg
1 Sheet Puff Pastry Dough (thawed per package directions)
1 Tbsp Water
Coarse Salt (to taste)
Freshly Ground Black Pepper (to taste)

Before we move on to the directions, I want to pause to offer up a few words about the ingredients. Good luck trying to dice the Brie and Roquefort. The Brie will be a bit easier, but a good quality Roquefort will get messy and crumbly long before you can get it diced. Break both cheeses up as best you can so that your final product has a bit of both throughout. Also, if you can’t find Roquefort in your area, or find it too expensive, utilize your favorite blue cheese, it will work just as well.


Preheat oven to 400°F.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Mix Brie, Roquefort, tomatoes, and chives in a medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Beat egg and water in a small bowl with a fork to create egg wash.
Place thawed pastry sheet on baking sheet.
Spoon filling onto pastry sheet, approximately 5 inches from bottom edge.
Fold bottom edge of pastry over filling, then fold in sides, then fold down top, envelop style, to form a rectangular packet.
Lightly brush with egg wash.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.
Let rest 15 to 20 minutes before cutting into 8 thin slices.

I’m not sure that there is much better than some bread, good cheese, and fresh vegetables, and this recipe has it all. Beyond that, it is very simple to throw together. The majority of your time is spent waiting on it to bake and when it is resting before being sliced. The tomatoes provide enough acidity to cut through the richness and saltiness of the cheeses, and it’s all wrapped up in a nice, flaky pastry dough. These slices would be great for heavy hors d’oeuvres, but I wouldn’t recommend this as main course for family dinner.

This preparation is so easy that you could easily swap out the tomatoes for a variety of fruits. Think apples in the fall, peaches in the summer, strawberries in the winter and spring, or blackberries in summer. In fact, since we had a second sheet of puff pastry we threw together a second serving for dessert with fresh apples and cheese.

I hope you give this one a try. It’ll give you a lot of success with very little effort, and everyone’s taste buds will applaud you!

06 October 2015

Magic Your Way

The news is out, and unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that Disney has changed the structure and price points for its annual pass offerings at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The truth be told, I’m not sure how I feel about the change, other than I know that it will make it more difficult for my family to visit domestic Disney theme parks. Perhaps the best way to sort through our feelings on the issue is to look at some of the common concerns the price hike raises.

Walt Disney World and Disneyland provide the most entertainment value for your dollar and therefore should be the highest ticket on the block. I don’t disagree with this thought. I do believe that other theme venues have been making substantial progress, but the leader of the pack is still Disney. There are two problems here as I see it however. Everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie and are going to continue to raise their prices to outlandish rates to keep up, and while families will be able to afford fewer and fewer trips there will still be plenty of people paying the prices to keep up with the Joneses, Universals, and Disneys. All of that said this is still an argument that I understand and see from Disney’s side of the fence.

The cost of construction for Star Wars Land, Pandora, Toy Story Land, and Disney Springs needs to be paid somewhere. Absolutely. But don’t for one second try to persuade me that the moment these areas are open Disney won’t be raising prices again because the value has gone up due to the new offerings. Look no further than the price of a one-day Magic Kingdom ticket increase that popped up right after the completion of New Fantasyland. Guests are not getting a discount for living with parks under construction with cranes visible all throughout the area and a gauntlet of refurbishment walls that have to be negotiated. Not to mention the fact that parks like Disney’s Hollywood Studios are losing more and more attractions and entertainment options as a part of the expansion, but the ticket prices required to gain entrance to a park on the mend are increasing along with every other park.

There was a strange bit of conversation I saw over the weekend as well where one acquaintance of mine argued that locals should be thankful they can still go to Walt Disney World as there are families that will only get there once in their lives, if they’re lucky. Sure, Florida and California residents have the luxury of proximity to visit the parks and resorts and they do have a wider variety of pass options. The question to me isn’t whether you live close or far away, the further you are away from something there is always going to be more expenses associated with visiting, from travel and lodging, to the basic needs of food. The heart of the matter is should it be this expensive at all?

I’m not going to quote entrance and ticket book prices for opening day at Disneyland or Walt Disney World and then compare the costs of today to what they should be by inflationary rules. We all know the comparison looks preposterous when we consider what guest should be paying. What I am going to quote is Walt Disney on his dream and belief for Disneyland, “It came about when my daughters were very young and Saturday was always daddy’s day with the two daughters. I’d take them to the merry-go-round and I took them to different places and as I’d sit there while they rode the merry-go-round and did all these things – sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts – I felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together… But it all started from a daddy with two daughters wondering where he could take them where he could have a little fun with them, too.

I can remember going to Fort Wilderness with my family as a child. We’d set up a tent and use the Comfort Stations because we couldn’t afford the cost of a night at the Polynesian or Contemporary. We had season passes that blocked out the peak times of year because we couldn’t afford full passes. And you know what? My sister and I never knew the difference. Walt Disney World was a magical place that we could, and would, pop over to on a Saturday with our parents just to watch some fireworks. To me, in hindsight, we were living the dream Walt Disney had all those many years ago. Passes costing what they do now, and families being supported by single working parents, or even two working parents, just wanting that place to connect with their children face a very different reality. It isn’t the entertainment enterprise that Walt dreamed up, and it isn’t even what I found as a child several decades ago.

I don’t know what the answer is for Disney and its prices. The driving force behind change for any commodity is what people are willing to pay, and there will always be people willing to pay to visit the dreams of Disney. The past few years have shown that Disney is looking to cater to the high-end experience, but there should still be a Walt Disney World and Disneyland for everyone, shouldn’t there? Trips are going to be a bit more sporadic for my family and I assume many of yours out there too, but that isn’t just from this one increase, and we wouldn’t give up on Disney regardless. It would, however, be nice to know that we all still have a place in the Mickey Mouse Club.

05 October 2015

Drop In and Stay Awhile

The Twilight Zone has always been about something just slightly askew of normal. Certainly there are arguments to be made about the reality of ghosts, aliens, or interdimensional travel, but at the heart of each episode was a human reaction, fear of the unknown, or a lesson in how to be more human and the behaviors that made us less than. In February of this year, Friday, February 13th to put a spooky emphasis on the event, Tower Hotel Gifts unveiled a new merchandise line specifically designed for fans of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This reveal also gave Tower Hotel Gifts an opportunity to upgrade its displays and cases.

While the shop still has its abandoned on Halloween in 1939 feel to it, the artifacts scattered about feel a little more alive. While none are directly references to a specific episode of The Twlight Zone, such as the Mystic Seer machine and cards in the library from “Nick of Time” or the portal drawing near the exit that is a stark reminder of “Little Girl Lost,” each possess that something that practically screams out from The Twilight Zone. They are, like their source material, just a little askew of normal, or rather the traditional nod to the Rod Serling creation.

One could be forgiven for thinking these masks remind them ever so slightly of those worn by the Harper family in “The Masks.” Or that the doll below seems poised to speak to guests in the same terrifying way that Talky Tina does in “Living Doll.”

Here alone I feel as if my attention is being split between a car reminding me of “The Whole Truth,” a mannequin that infers a connection to “The After Hours,” and an airplane figurine that could only be a reminder of the harrowing, never-ending flight depicted in “The Odyssey of Flight 33.” And don’t even get me started on the number of episodes I feel watching me when I see a stack of books or a ventriloquist’s dummy. The question presented to guests making their way through Tower Hotel Gifts isn’t whether or not they’ll feel like they are walking through a collection of memories from The Twilight Zone, but how many memories they feel competing for their attention.

Perhaps that discombobulation is precisely what the Imagineers were looking for, pitting guests against their own internal monologues (most likely narrated in the voice of Rod Serling) of what is and isn’t reality when it comes what lies beyond the fifth dimension. The fact of the matter is, just like everything in The Twilight Zone, you take away from each encounter precisely what you bring with. In the case of Tower Hotel Gifts, however, you may even be able to bring an extra souvenir or two home with you.