Epcot Food & Wine 2014 – a few thoughts and reviews

foodandwine2014We hit Food & Wine the night it opened.  We made a few fastpasses and went primarily to ride the now closed Maelstrom (Norway) ‘one last time.’  I think I got Z to do that about 4 times.  I’m going to miss that ride when the recasting to Frozen is completed.  I can see why they would want to update and add interest to the World Showcase but to me, Maelstrom at Norway wasn’t as broken as some things.  It was, like most of Epcot, dated.  Epcot could use a big facelift, some additional country rides I think and in general a filling in of some of their huge empty spaces.   Our friend Karin was heading out of town on business so we hit the festival and Maelstrom with her before she flew off.  It was pretty uneventful (compared to a previous ride and ‘rescue’ by a Viking-style Norwegian when someone fell into the water on the ride.)  I’m serious about this.  If you want action and interest head to the parks with us.  Something peculiar is bound to happen.  It was the drooly rainiest night.  We didn’t eat much and just tried to stay dry.  I did have a Singapore Sling (*grampa’s cough syrup) which I love.  Give me Hendrick’s Gin and Cherry Heering any day.  I also tried a cheese plate in Ireland.  Love that Kerrygold with brown bread and chutney.

Our second trip was just the two of us on the hottest darn day of the summer!  Here is how that went…muffapinwheel

One of the huge empty spaces is being pressed into service for the festival this year.  It is the big round building that sits off to the side over the water as you make your way from the front entrance back to the International Market Places and is known as the Odyssey Center.  According to an online source – Lostepcot.com it was a restaurant and had a Rockin’ Mickey show once upon a time.  That site has some old info about other countries and rides that I wish would happen but clearly, are not on the agenda anymore.   We stopped in at the Odyssey center to scope out the booth they are housing which centers around craft beers.  It seemed like a fun bar atmosphere to me although I feel they could add some chairs or bar stools to the stand up tables.  I would like to see more of that in general if I could sit down and stay a while, taste the options, etc.  We tried one of the bar snacks, a Muffaletta pinwheel.  Honestly, it was premade and didn’t taste much likeany Muffaletta I’ve had recently.  No depth and a bit limp and the best part was a bread and butter pickle on top.   Kind of a miss.baohashtaco

Then we strolled on into the International Market Place (aka the countries) to begin trying treats that are mellowed out for the average guest but still tend toward tasty and are a great way to try something new without the pressure of it being your whole meal.  We started out on the Mexico side and worked our way around until we were stuffed.  We didn’t try everything and that leaves an opportunity for another day.

First stop:  Mexico.  I sampled the shrimp taco.  I tried for two main reasons.  It was National Taco Day! Hurrah for all things street taco.  And it said it had pickled habanero.  I wondered how hot it could be.   One of my absolute worst food experiences of my life revolved around habanero ice cream I had in Fort Collins, CO at Walrus Ice Cream.  They always have an experimental flavor to try (experimental means gross) and one time I was in they had habanero.  That ice cream made me cry.    But the taco?  It didn’t have that heat.  In fact it was a little nondescript but I liked it.  The shrimp had a bit of crunch and the onions and peppers had bite but not really any heat.  It would be safe for the majority of people to eat.

Next stop:  Farm Fresh.  I suppose farms are a ‘place’ that is foreign to most of us city dwellers but I don’t totally get it.  I think they could call it America and be as accurate.  But this stop had one of my must tries for this year.  A peppered bacon hash with corn, pickled jalapenos and hollandaise.  This would be a brunch rock star if you made it at home and …you should.  I probably will.  I mean fried potatoes with hollandaise.  Divine.  Side note:  This is a gluten free option which is totally a thing this year.

Round the world to:  China.  We stopped in China and I need to go back.  I had a couple of things I wanted to try from China but try to focus on one at a time.  This go I tried out the roasted duck bao.  I have a problem in that I love bao.  LOVE.  Something about that weird steamed bun texture and some fatty rich meat and bright onion or slaw condiments.  This one wasn’t too complicated and was fairly sweet and no heat.   It had some red onion to cut the sweetness and I went to town on it.

At this point we swang into Maelstrom for our last ride. (*sniff)  I tried to soak up the Vikings, the trolls and the feeling one last time.  I look forward to seeing the transformation and I hope that Frozen becomes a new happy place.papapricotflan

We headed back out in the heat to:  Africa.  Z wanted to try the stewed beef and mealie pap.  Pap is kinda grits/polenta like and the meat was stewed with tomatoes and okra.  I’d make this dish.  It is totally a Sunday afternoon long cooked dinner.  The meat was tender and I detected that distinct okra flavor that isn’t really native to the US unless you are living in the real South.  Sort of side note.  I hate that it is ‘Africa.’  I don’t really think that tells the right story.  Africa isn’t so generic or general as that would imply.  I think Epcot has the resources to do better and they should.

Heading on to:  Germany.  Ok.  I have to say that my favorite bite so far this year came from Germany.  Who would have guessed?  It was a doughnut.  Yeasty and filled with apricot jam that was just the right bit of sweet.  I don’t know if that is so German or not but it was so good.   If you have a limited budget and want to have a nice little dessert this would cover it.  Z also got the brat.  Ok.  I know I’m a bit ranty today but this was one place they could have done better.  Or differently anyway.  It had the splattiest messy heap of mustard squidged on.  It wasn’t tidy or helpful really.  I’d really like to see a bit more care overall on presentation.  I messed with several entrees to get a good shot.  They are pushing food out quickly but with little care.  The brat itself -tasty- but not pretty.messyweiner

The Festival this year is presented by ‘Chase’ and since we bank with Chase we got to go in the ‘lounge.’ The lounge is in America and has seating and video games, Freestyle coke machines, and cell phone charging stations.  Kind of a nod to something but I’m not sure what.  Z tried vanilla Root Beer and I had some lemony water before heading back into the heat.

Finished the uber-hot day with:  Puerto Rico.  This is a new stop this year and is a cute little area set up for a party with lights and ambiance.  We ordered one last dessert and a drink.  Z loves flan so he tried the flancocho.  A flan covered at the top with a bit of chocolate cake.  It was good but a bit more set than our favorite.  The flan didn’t come out of it’s baking tin so they just served it that way.  It tasted good even if it wasn’t photo friendly.  I also was dying of heat (and so did the logical – cocktail order)  so I ordered a Gasolina Sangriiia.  It was fruity and cold and I could have chugged the bottle if presented with it.  Very grapey.

Overall the festival feels a little ‘less’ than it has before even though there is technically more.  A little less technical and a little less stand out.  We still enjoy it and I do want to make at least one more visit to try a few more dishes.   So, I’m looking forward to that.  Hopefully a cool evening with no rain.

the view from here

I can see a long way but it’s pretty fuzzy.  A lot going on and nothing is in the clearest focus…just yet.  I don’t have writers block.  I’ve done a few notably foodie things that were fun/tasty/inventive/etc.  I’ve even baked a cake frowaltym scratch.  The truth is ……..I have no margin.  There it is.  When I finished all the things (ALL THE THINGS) I said I’d do there wasn’t time left for this.  I just didn’t have room for one more thing in life.  I filled it up.  And the thing is, not with bad stuff.  I just filled it up with other stuff.  And when I wasn’t doing the other stuff I sat on the sofa with my feet up to catch my breath.

I have been busy with work-a new book is launching this week that we have been working on for A YEAR.   And not by myself.  Work is also a spin of other big picture things that should start to come into focus this week.

I’ve been busy with Z.  He has had a long stretch of reasonable (for him) health.  A girl could get used to that.  But we left that stretch this month and he’s been sick over TWO weekends.   Two different things that have taken the stuffing out of me.

We trained for (sort of—in the gym) and ran (one jogged/one walked) the runDisney Tower of Terror Happy Haunted Trail Race (5K) and prepped a Merlin costume and attended the Disney Not So Scary Halloween Party (it was a total candy grab and the most epic pics are coming soon).

Foodie-ism and all that goes with it have gone off the rails.  We had sandwiches three times last week for dinner.   They were kinda ‘gourmet’ and not just a slap of peanut butter on bread but they were sandwiches.  No heat applied.  Dinner in 10.  That is reality.

On the horizon though – an exciting and food-centric (for me anyhow) trip in a couple of weeks that could reinvigorate and restart the not-so-well oiled machine.  I did make pickles one night this week with a friend for his 30 before 30 list from a recipe gleaned by emailing a local restaurant.

We’ve also attended the 2014 Epcot Food & Wine Festival a couple of times.  The first night was on the opening day of the festival and it was just drooling down cold rain.  That’s impressive for here because cold rain isn’t really a thing.  But I couldn’t stay away and we went out for it – mainly just to get a lay of the land and have a fun last ride on Maelstrom.   Sadly, the Norway classic is now closed.   I somehow persuaded Z that we should go on it one last time about four times. Photos and Food & Wine thoughts coming this week.  I commit to that.

is Starbucks still a thing?

In this day and age of fair trade, pay what you think it’s worth high concept coffee shops is Starbucks still a thing?  I see a few blogs where the writers say they love coffee more than most other things in life but the question I have is this. Is Starbucks still a thing?   Would people rather go to a small local chain or to the big boy?  Has Starbucks extended their reach as far as DisneyWorld but lost their swerve?  Become the Chili/TGIF’s of the coffee world or are they still as relevant as ever?Starbucks

We swang by–and that was no small feat in this day of a remodel in progress Downtown Disney that has been called the seventh pit of hell for traffic –the new mothership Starbucks a while back.  It was actually our second try to get access to Downtown Disney in a few weeks.  The parking right now is terrible during the updates and with the summer crowds it is better for my sanity to just stay away.  But since the mothership of Lego is also located there we do make the attempt now and then.  It is a really beautiful and huge store.  Full of reclaimed wood, warm coffee colors and technology all while being green and swishy with coffee ground compost grown lemon grass on the roof.   The queue is super long and there are tons of seats and a kind of cupping bar where you can try single origin pour-overs.   There is some neat tech that draws the people in the shop in line drawing and I believe is live action in a California counterpart.  Bi-coastal up in here.

I’ve enjoyed having access to Starbucks at the Magic Kingdom and at Epcot.  For me its a piece of my happy place-a hot cup or tall cold drink in the midst of the sometimes chaotic Disney experience.  I wonder somewhat if that is the city of my birth or maybe because I hit my early adult years in their heyday.  I do love me a bitter cup of Starbucks.  That said,  I wouldn’t make this shop a destination but I can see why people might.  What do you think?  Is Starbucks still a thing?  Why?