Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Doctor's Favorite Cookies

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My mom is a brown noser. Yep, I said it. In her late 60's, (not the 1960's) she went back to college to get her BA in Creative Writing. And you know how parents always tell their kids to engage their professors, make sure they know your name, go visit them during office hours? Well she took it a step further. She would bake cookies for her teachers. So these poor unassuming college professors are there to critique her plays and essays and they are derailed by the wafts of Pernigotti Cocoa and Madagascar Vanilla, toasted almonds and walnuts. Are you surprised she was an A student? Teachers everywhere wish they were lucky enough to have a student like her! Of course, I may be exaggerating a little as she is a published author and a playwright lucky enough to have seen her work on stage. She walked across the stage at the Tropicana Dome to receive that diploma right at her 70th birthday!

She has an on going eye problem that frankly hasn't slowed her down a bit, but is the elephant in the room, so to speak. Her specialist for her eye problem is an amazing physician. I have accompanied her on more than one occasion and love, love, love this man! He has the bedside manner a patient could only dream of their physician having, he is engaging and spends a great amount of time covering her concerns. Although she is regular in his office, he never treats her appointments as routine. And he looks like he jumped off the pages of GQ. The man can flat out dress, all the way down to the ink pen. (I covet things like ink pens).
So one day, she decides to bring the nice doctor some chocolate biscotti. It seems that the perfect doctor maybe isn't so keen on sharing. This happens when grown men are given possession of chocolate cookies, homemade, in the presence of a multitude of women. He just didn't want to start a cat fight with my mom's biscotti. I think it was pretty smart of him personally. But oh, now that he's had a taste of them, don't ya know he wants more! So she went back this week, biscotti in tow. And the relief of the doctor, when she told him she baked another batch for his staff! Whew! No more sneaking the cookies around. And here is the recipe. Seriously worth hiding from others. But the caveat. Don't even bother making these with grocery cocoa or grocery vanilla. They would never pass the test. Yep, I work there, nope they do not pay me to endorse. I just like really good stuff and I promise you, there is no substitute for the vanilla and cocoa found at Williams Sonoma. So, get the ovens preheated. We're baking!

Chocolate Biscotti

Combine and set aside, sifting is always a good idea...
2 1/4 C flour
1 tea. baking powder
1/2 tea. salt
1/4 c Pernigotti Cocoa (Williams Sonoma)

1 1/2 C sugar
1 stick unsalted butter (room temp),
2 large eggs, (room temp)
1 tea. Madagascar vanilla (Williams Sonoma)

Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, add 1/2 cup chopped nuts that have been lightly toasted and or add mini chocolate chips. You can add espresso powder for a mocha taste, almond extract if you like that flavor. It is a great cookie to try new ideas with!

On parchment paper on baking sheet, shape into 2 logs, 2 1/2 inches wide x 9 1/2 long x 1 inch high and bake at 350 degrees about 35 minutes. Cool about 30 minutes. Slice into 1/2 inch slices and put on large wire rack (so they toast on both sides) for 10 minutes. Cool before storing.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 2

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Hogsmeade is the village and is charming with its snow capped roofs, crooked chimneys and charming storefronts. But don't be fooled. Most of the storefronts are false, and according to one worker the buildings are used for storage. We were there just a week after opening and it was shoulder to shoulder Muggles. Terribly crowded, as truly the lines are far worse to get in the stores, Olivander's and to get a Butterbeer than most of the rides! But the architecture, the costumes and the sound track that plays non stop really immerse you in Harry's world.

On the right side of the street the first operational building is Hogs Head Pub and the Three Broomsticks Tavern. We entered the pub from the back alley to enjoy a Butterbeer. Let's just say it is really sweet, foamy and interesting. Pricey, 2 in the souvenir cups will set you back $21. The Three Broomsticks is a dining establishment with an English flair. The line at lunch was hours long. We went to another part of the park for an air conditioned lunch. Then comes Honeydukes Candy and Zonkos Joke Shop. The selection of candy was limited with many of the book's inventions sold out. We bought chocolate frogs for $10 each and they were that cheap chocolate coating type chocolate, but they do have a trading card. The shops are connected and we were looking specifically for a Pygmy Puff. The attendant was a little snide when he scoffed at me and said, "Ha, they sold out on the first day". They didn't have much there.

We cross the street now to the Hogwart's Express. It is a stationary engine with the platform and a great photo op. The entrance to the Dragon Challenge comes next. This is from the Tri Wizard Tournament in The Goblet of Fire. The path for this line is lined with banners for Harry, Krum and Fleur. Great views of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade are found, as is the Weasley's car where it crashed and also the backside of Hagrid's hut. The ride itself is 2 roller coasters. The first is the Chinese Fireball Dragon and the other is an Hungarian Horntail. They are intertwined, but are 2 different experiences.

The next place to visit is Dervish and Banges. We waited in line about 20 minutes to get in, and it was crowded. This part of the store carries quidditch stuff like shirts, quaffles, snitches and broomsticks. There are also robes and stuff from the 4 Hogwarts houses (low on Gryffindor stuff). The store is connected to the Owl Post which is where the problem lies. The description talks about benches and owls rustling, but one wall is nothing but wands, and from the other side comes about 25 people at a time from the show at Olivander's. It was so crowded in these stores it was impossible to shop. They are about the size of my kitchen. I missed the post office here to get the Hogwarts postmark, which bummed me out.

Olivander's is the next shop and the line was a mile long. From what I hear, they take about 25 guests at a time and the clerk chooses a guest and a wand "chooses them". He does his little schtick and then all those people go into the Owl Post and buy wands and stuff. The worst crowds of the whole experience. I guess everyone wants a wand!

We end in a little common outdoor area. People seem to naturally gather here, and at various times there are shows. One featuring Hogwarts students and singing frogs and the other featuring the students from the visiting schools of Fleur and Krum. They sing and put on a short show and offer photo ops when it's over. I made my companions stick around until dusk, because I knew it would be beautiful. It dd not disappoint. I can hardly wait to return when the temperature is in the 70s and the crowds are minimal!

Am awesome experience, a must for any Potter fan. There isn't much for the non roller coaster crowd as far as rides, and the shopping is limited. If Universal were smart they would demolish the Jurassic Park section and the carnival game midway and expand on Harry's fantastic world. It is no Disney, but it could sure give them a run for their money!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 1

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What? Another non cooking post? It isn't a trend, I just returned from an amazing and exhausting trip with my daughter and 2 of her friends. The highlight was Universal's Island of Adventure's newest attraction: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Wow!
We arrived in Orlando on Thursday night and I spoke to a few hotel guests about the park. One man told me they went on Monday and waited 3 hours to get into that section of the park and the lines for the Hogwarts ride was 5 hours. Ugh! My theory all along was that Friday would be the slowest day because it is transition day for vacations. Your are either preparing to get to your destination or winding down the last day or two and getting in beach time, souvenir shopping etc. We decided to get an early start at the park in the morning.
Once in we were directed to follow a roped off pathway and we snaked all over the park. In and out of picnic areas, a children's playground, along walls, it was sort of crazy. And all this time people are walking right by us heading to Harry. We finally reached a point where they gave us tickets that we would need to get INTO the Harry Potter area. We spent maybe 20 minutes snaking along this line, it wasn't that bad. When we entered Harry Potter, they took our tickets and we crossed a bridge. We were faced with 2 choices. Forward into Hogsmeade or to the left to Hogwarts. We decided to do the Hogwarts experience first.
The architecture is the most impressive part of the experience. The details, the snow, the cobblestones, it is like jumping into the beloved books. We entered the gates and went into the castle. Universal has these great lockers at almost every ride. You go to a kiosk for a bank of lockers and are prompted on screen. It captures your fingerprint and opens a locker for you. No keys. When you return you let it capture your fingerprint and the locker opens. No cost. However, not all fingerprints are easily captured, and if it rejects you once, you are better off sharing with a friend. We ran into a problem not getting a fingerprint read to get back into a locker. An attendant let us in and we provided a photo ID to prove the stuff belonged to us. After the lockers you enter the queue. In typical theme park queue, we snaked back and forth along the backside of Hogwarts. It moves consistently, and you can see the next level is an outdoor classroom, Herbology. There are plants hanging overhead, plenty of fans and a display of the Mandrakes, a plant from the books that looks like a baby and screams when pulled up! Then you enter Hogwarts through large doors. The long corridor is lined with statues of the Hogwarts founders and the large vials of jewels that represent the houses of Hogwarts and their standings in the school. At the end of the hallway is the Phoenix that guards the entrance to Dumbledore's Office. As you snake through Dumbledore's Office, the outside of the queue is lined with glass cases filled with crystal balls and wizarding things, the pensieve is there and Dumbledore is high above his desk on a balcony talking to us we pass. You pass in the front row of the queue so you can take pictures and see all the details. We then walk into the classroom of the Defense Against the Dark Arts. Again the queue zig zags and you see Hermoine, Harry and Ron on a balcony talking about quidditch and hiding under the Invisibility Cloak. The classroom looks like the movies, and there is plenty to look at as you move along. The Hogwarts Hallways are filled with pictures that talk, and one tall room full of portraits that argue back and forth. Pretty funny. We enter the Room of Requirement and the Gryffindor Common Room. More interesting things to look at, but these rooms go quickly as we are approaching the ride. That may be the only problem. The line moves slow in the heat outside, and almost too fast for a Potter fan to see all the cool stuff inside! And then the ride.

You sit 4 to a row and take off. Hermoine casts a flying spell, Wingardium Leviosa perhaps, it is hard to hear, and whoosh! You fly through these passages and out in the sky to Hogwarts. There are many different scenarios, and it goes fast so I can't remember all the scenes. You follow Harry onto the quidditch pitch, go into the forest and see the giant spiders, there are dementors and of course Valdemort. The ride itself is jerky, fast and not for the faint of heart. I was a little disappointed because my mom is a Harry fan and I think it is too much for a 70 something. As the highlight of the books, I was hoping it would be more friendly. The ride exits into a gift shop, but the crowd is a mess. There are screens above with photos from the ride and everyone stops right there. An attendant is shooing people to the photo counter to see their pictures from the ride, but the lockers are the other way which is where everyone's money is! The gift shop is full of shirts and stuffed animals, trinkets and stuff from the Hogwarts houses. Of course the cool stuff, scarves and ties from Gryffindor, Harry's house, is sold out. But this gift shop is the least crowded of the shops, and there aren't many to choose from.

As we left Hogwarts, the Flight of the Hippogriff is right there. The ride had been shut down because of a guest not following the rules. We decided to hang out since it wasn't mechanical, the wait could be short. In less than 5 minutes we walked right on. This is a very low key roller coaster, ideal for young kids. It is a "wicker" roller coaster and the Hippogriff bows before it takes off, which is a signal to a Muggle that it is tamed. It takes you on a short ride by Hagrid's hut. There was a cart selling wands in the plaza area, and the line was 20 deep. A sign of what was to come in Hogsmeade. This is all that is in the Hogwarts section, so off we go to Hogsmeade.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Fourth of July

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It is my favorite holiday of the year. Not because of what we are doing today, or what we did last year, but because of the memories of my lifetime. I can look back and remember so many great places I sat and watched fireworks. The picture above is one of my favorite 4th celebrations in Memphis when the country club would have a huge picnic/party and shoot off great fireworks. It was a wonderful way to spend the holiday. The picture is one of my all time favorites.

When I was a kid, there was basically 2 options for the 4th. We were most likely at Lake Delevan with my Grandma and my cousins. I can remember many fireworks displays there in town and on the lake. The station wagons would be packed with kids and blankets. We would light sparklers and snakes and run around barefoot. In the later years we didn't go to the lake any more and we would spend the 4th in Clinton, IA at Riverboat Days, a great celebration in our little river town. The carnival would come to town and set up on the river front. We would ditch our parents and ride the Tilt-a Whirl and the Swings and try our hand at the bottle toss and fishing for rubber ducks. I remember watching the fireworks one year as I rode the Swings with my bestie Barb.

In high school, we had moved to the "big city", Davenport, IA. The most memorable 4th there would be when I was in college. I was home for the summer and was with a friend and her boyfriend and they were going to a party and I tagged along. It was at a house on the Middle Park Lagoon, and the fireworks were shot off right in the park. I never met the guy who lived in that house that night, but here I am having been married to him for 24 years. Crazy. It remains a great place to see the fireworks.

After we were married, we lived in Grand Rapids, MI and spent the 4th downtown. We were young and childless and thought it would be soooo cool to bring our dog to the fireworks. Little did we know that Stoli was terrified of the noise. We were driving a loaner car and were amazed that dog could fit under the seat of a Renault!

We spent a few 4ths at St. Pete Beach in FL where we could sit on my parents porch and watch them shoot the fireworks right on the beach. And then in 1993 I was allowed 1 excursion a day during the last days of my pregnancy and watched the fireworks in the 95 degree Atlanta heat while my ankles swelled. Thankfully that child appeared 2 days later!

Many of the early Memphis holidays were at the country club. But once Nic started playing baseball, we would likely be in a ballpark watching fireworks, and really, what could be more patriotic than baseball and fireworks? We've been at Pickwick Lake, Lake Oconee, and Lake Delavan, the Mighty Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. Parks, golf courses, in cities all over America. This will be Nic's second year watching fireworks over the chapel at the USAF Academy. Regardless of where you are, it is a holiday of fun. You don't have to buy gifts, decorate the house or prepare for weeks. The picnic can be simple or elaborate, soft drinks or cold adult beverages, family or friends or both, and always the fireworks. Fifteen minutes of wonder. What a spectacular way to end the holiday that celebrates our nation's birthday. Have a great one!