2012 Disney World Food and Wine Festival

I cannot wait to be in Disney World again. Not only because I need my fix, but also because I will be able to participate in the Food and Wine Festival for the first time.

This year’s theme is Taste Your Way Around the World, where each country in Epcot’s world showcase will feature food and wine from their particular region. Although there aren’t details on the dishes to be served as of yet, I do know that there will be at least 12 new plates offered throughout. Considering I’ve never been, that’s 12 more I get to try out!

As always, Disney takes care of their guests with allergies. In 2011 alone, the Food and Wine festival had at least 13 gluten free options in various booths. This is only set to grow in 2012! Highlights last year included Argentina’s Grilled Beef Skewers with Chimichurri Sauce and Ireland’s Flourless Warm Lava Cake.

In 2012 there will be a Dessert and Champagne booth where I know I’ll be having a glass of bubbly, and an entire booth simply devoted to one of the great loves of my life – Cheese.

Here are some details:

17th Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

September 28 – November 12, 2012

Registration for Food & Wine Festival Events Begins on August 14 at 7 a.m. EST

New for 2012 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

New Marketplace Kiosks & Offerings:

  • TERRA Marketplace – For the first time, a vegan kiosk will be introduced for 2012, featuring vegan dishes such as Trick’n Chick’n Curry with Basmati Rice, Chili Colorado with House-Made Chips and Cashew Cheese, and a new Dairy-free, Lactose-free Berry smoothie.
  • FLORIDA Marketplace – will introduce guests to fresh twists on regional flavors such as White Corn Arepa with Mangalitsa Pork and Sweet Corn, Florida Shrimp Ceviche with Fire Roasted Veggies and Crispy Plantains, and Key Lime Wine. L
  • Look for new kid-friendly dirnks at kiosks throughout the World Showcase, such as non-alcoholic smoothies and “Honest Kids” organic juices.

New Marketplace Chef Tours:

This walking-and-tasting tour around the World Showcase will offer VIP access to several international marketplaces and will take place each Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Hosted by festival chefs, guests will learn culinary secrets while sampling five dishes and five beverage items such as beer, wine, and cocktails. Cost is $90 plus tax.

New Regional Lunches:

  • Due to renovations taking place at France’s Bistro de Paris restaurant, the French Regional Lunches will not be available in 2012, but will return in 2013.
  • Italy will continue its popular series of festival events at Via Napoli, as well as the exquisite White Truffle Lunch on November 4 at Tutto Italia Ristorante. The Italy Pavilion will be adding a new Italian Regional Food & Wine Luncheon in the recently opened Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar, pairing wines with casual, authentic dishes. Tutto Gusto luncheons will be held from noon to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
  • Cost is $75 plus tax.

2012 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Highlights

Marketplaces & Promenade
Over 25 international marketplace kiosks will serve up tapas-sized portions of regional specialties. Guests will get the chance to explore the World Showcase countries through their most mouthwatering foods and beverages!

Eat to the Beat! Concert Series
Nightly musical entertainment during the nightly Eat to the Beat! Concert Series. Enjoy a varied lineup of classic rock, soul, R&B, jazz and funk, including Boyz II Men, Smash Mouth, Gin Blossoms, Sister Hazel, 38 Special, Blues Traveler, and more.

Seminars and Demonstrations
Learn from the masters with the festival’s schedule of seminars and demonstrations featuring the fresh ingredients and secret techniques that go into some of the world’s most extraordinary dishes and drinks. Chef appearances by Robert Irvine, Rock Harper, Jamie Deen, Cake Boss Buddy Valastro, Andrew Zimmern, Erika Davis (from Top Chef Just Desserts) and others will share their talents during culinary demos.

Special Festival Experiences

  • Party for the Senses: October 6, 13, 20, 27 and November 3, from 7:30 – 10 p.m.
    guests may book any of 3 tiers for this event. Gratuity in included in the pricing. Both of the reserved seating options also include a specialty cocktail and early admission at 7:15 p.m.
    • A reserved table on the main floor is $170 plus tax
    • A reserved table in the premium Wine View Lounge is $270 plus tax
    • General admission is $145 plus tax
  • 3D Dessert Discovery: Features “3D” viewing of Illuminations while enjoying a variety of desserts. A selection of vegan and gluten-free desserts by Babycakes NYC Bakery will also be provided! Parties take place on select Fridays throughout the festival.

Back from the Mediterranean

As the camera gets unloaded of the over 1200 pictures it held during the last few weeks, more will follow this quick update!

The Positano Coastline

We had an indescribably amazing time on our cruise, leaving from Barcelona and traveling throughout Italy, Greece, and Turkey. The schedule was certainly jam-packed, but we merrily ate and drank our way through each city, slathered in sunblock while attempting to find shade where we could.

We quickly realized that one simply cannot see Rome in a day (or other cities, for that matter), and took note of where we will be returning to in the near future.

What came out at the top of our list? For me, it would have to be Venice, for it’s ethereal decay and romanticism, and the Italian coastal towns of Positano and Sorrento. Picturesque, delicious gelato, and not as touristy as some of the other locales!

For Jeremy, his hands down favorite was Ephesus. Seeing the spots where Paul preached and was imprisoned was quite a spiritual experience, especially after getting the back-story from our tour guide. Also, visiting the house of the Virgin Mary was truly humbling – one could almost sense the presence of a higher being even among the throngs of tourists!

Along the Fairy Tale Road Part Two

The German Fairy Tale Road, or Deutsche Märchenstrasse, is full of tiny villages all boasting some claim to the tales of the Brothers Grimm. But the brothers also stopped at larger towns to gather their stories – bustling cities established long before fairy tales made them infamous. Bremen and Hamelin are two such places that exceed the tourist enthusiasm for folklore. Certainly they have a claim to the Grimm fame, but they also have a culture all their own. For travelers, this can be a welcome change – at least in the way of food, shopping, and a little artistic immersion.

Please head over to Fairy Tale Magazine to read the rest of my article on Bremen and Hamelin in Germany’s Fairy Tale Road!

HoneyDukes at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I believe it’s been established that I am quite the Disney fan. But I also have other loves – one of which is Harry Potter. On our last trip to the World, we decided it was crucial that any true fan should visit the theme park created in Harry’s honor.

Universal’s visitors must all flock to Hogsmeade and stay within the fictional town’s snow-capped walls. At least this was my experience when we arrived and were welcomed by throngs of Butter Beer thirsty ninjas. They elbowed their way past anyone and everyone in an attempt to be the first in each line – of which there were many. Because of this, we didn’t go through the hassle of purchasing anything in the gift shops. We didn’t wait in queue for an hour to pick out a wand in Ollivander’s, and I decided a Quiddich sweatshirt could be more easily obtained online.

That is, until we arrived at Honeydukes – or Heaven, as I like to think of it. A candy-coated, gloriously sugar-laden Heaven.

Universal may be smaller, less magical, and overly crowded in Harry Potter-ville, but one thing they’ve done right is THEMING.

Honeydukes alone proved this. The outside facade, complete with a roof practically sagging under the weight of snow, was so realistic one would think they were in a small village in England (had it not been for the pushing and shoving of other park visitors).

Once inside, the aroma of melted chocolate and sugar-filled bon bons hit with a force of its own. The walls were painted in inviting candy hues, the floor was a fun black and white tile, and every inch of space seem to be taken up by something that simply screamed JK Rowling and her conjured up world.

Disney would be wise to take note of the effort Universal goes to where theming is involved. I noticed that each gift shop sold something different – which has been lacking in the Disney Parks over the last few years. Having merchandise that is more original to the shop and land in which it’s being sold would do a world of good to their sales, I have no doubt!

But back to the edible delights.

The line here – like everywhere else – was very long. Because this was where the majority of my money would be spent for the day, my husband went to take his place in line while I shopped like the crazed, candy-loving person I am. Having previously taken notes on the Butter Beer ninjas outside, I was able to dodge other shoppers, pull things from over little heads, and dive under taller people in my effort to secure the items I felt were crucial.

But here I was forced to pause. The Bertie Botts tower of Jelly Beans was simply something to stand in awe of. Like everything else, it was truly beautiful.

After a moment to pay homage, I continued on my way, filling a bag full of fun treats that were sold by the pound, grabbing a Chocolate Frog, and debating the need for a Cauldron Cake before handing it all to the cashier.

The experience went far toward redeeming the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in my eyes. Will we be back? I’m not sure. Perhaps if they expand!

Germany’s Karamell-Küche in Epcot

There is simply nothing like the smell of warm caramel.

That was my first thought as I tumbled my way into Disney’s Karamell-Küche, located in the country of Germany at Epcot’s World Showcase. Once the aroma hit me, I found myself repeatedly coming back during my time in Disney World – it seemed to be addicting!

What did this German storefront contain before it was turned into a sweetshop? My memory blurs a bit, but I think it was a trinket shop that sold tiny porcelain figurines and the like. The food fan within me cried out for joy when I realized that something involving sugar would be replacing the expensive knickknacks.

The inside is just as authentically Old-World Germany as its exterior facade. Tiled walls, shelves housing earthen vessels (filled with Pooh’s honey?), and row after row of colorful confections.

With so much to choose from, my husband and I found it hard to make our selection. I’m afraid we held up the line somewhat, which had begun to snake its way around the counter and halfway out the door. Yielding to pressure, we hastily made up our minds. But that’s not to say that it would be my only time at that counter while on this particular vacation!

Isn’t Disney wonderful for allowing guests to see the inner-workings of some of their creations? I had to stop and admire the work that went into the making of all these Werther’s sweets. Each and every sugary bite is coated in Werther’s Caramel, and the German cast members that work at Karamell-Küche seem decidedly happy with their jobs. Who wouldn’t love to earn a paycheck from a candy-coated heaven?

I was surprised at the number of items that were Gluten free! Chocolate and Caramel covered Strawberries and Apples were among the most beautiful of those selections, as well as many caramel chocolates and other bon bons. But it was the sight of that caramel being poured over popcorn that really called my name, and my first purchase came in a white bag filled to the brim with sticky, popped corn.

Jeremy was perhaps just as traditional, selecting a Caramel-coated Chocolate Chip Cookie. He loved it so much, that it was hard to wrestle it away in order to snag a photo! Although we didn’t make any cupcake purchases, I simply had to leave you with one last shot of the beauty that is Karamell-Küche – enjoy!

Germany’s Märchen Straße – An Introduction to the German Fairy Tale Road

Germany is the home to rolling hills, winding rivers, and forests so densely wooded they’ve been termed black – in all, the perfect setting for fairy tales to be woven into folklore.

To read more about this enchanted route, simply head to FairyTaleMagazine.com, where I’ve written an article highlighting my travels to Grimm country!

This will be the first in a three-part series, so be on the lookout for more tales of cottages and castles to come.

Yak and Yeti at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

As anyone who is Gluten free will quickly lament, dining at an Asian restaurant can have its challenges. Soy sauce is laden with gluten, and getting around this key ingredient can be akin to dining at a French restaurant and asking them to hold the butter. But Disney always rises to a challenge.

Yak and Yeti and Disney's Animal Kingdom

For our latest trip to the World, we decided to try out a few new places – new to us, anyway. I had shied away from certain restaurants over the last few years for the above reason, but wanted to put my faith in the Disney chefs this time around. After a morning spent in Animal Kingdom running from one ride to the next – with breaks only for lion-spotting on a Kilimanjaro Safari – we hungrily approached our lunch spot at Asia’s Yak and Yeti. I tested the chefs, as well as my faith, and both were proved worthy.

The restaurant’s decor is very authentic, as several of the hosts pointed out during our short wait. We were welcomed to have a look around either before or after our lunch, in order to check out the artifacts that had been collected in the making of this dining locale. They claimed that wherever possible, owners had used antique furniture and relics. It really is one of the best themed restaurants in Disney World, but doesn’t get appreciated in the rush to get in and out quickly.

One of several colorful artifacts that make Yak and Yeti a unique experience

Yak and Yeti is one of the few park restaurants not technically Disney-owned, although I was unaware of this crucial detail until we had arrived at the restaurant and been seated. There on the table sat an unassuming advertisement that quietly announced the restaurant’s Landry’s ownership. Having had a not-so-favorable experience with special dining where outside ownership was concerned (namely at Marrakesh in Epcot’s Morocco), it was with trepidation that I opened my menu.

I was put at ease when our waiter arrived, having already been made aware of my restrictive palate. He informed me that Yak and Yeti caters to this request on a daily basis, and that we would both be happy with their most popular appetizer, which could be modified to be gluten-free. This order was taken and a chef was summoned to discuss entree options.

Gluten Free Lettuce Cups

We shared an order of the Gluten Free Lettuce Cups, which were so delicious they could have been made into a meal on their own. Minced chicken, chopped vegetables, and a gluten free soy mixture made these very reminiscent of the PF Chang’s/Pei Wei version. My husband informed me that he would never have known the dish was allergy-friendly.

Traditional Crispy Honey Chicken

After the chef came to give me my many options, we placed our entree order. Obviously feeling nostalgic after those Lettuce Cups, my husband ordered the Crispy Honey Chicken. We typically do not eat at Asian restaurants (much to his dismay), and this was a treat he couldn’t pass up. With the exception of a few grains of rice, he cleaned his plate – stopping just short of making it sparkle.

Malasian Coconut Curry

I chose to go with something a bit different, based on the chef’s recommendation and my own need for something other than the standard. The Malasian Seafood Curry was comprised of Mahi, scallops, clams, mussels, shrimp, zucchini, and tomatoes, all in a coconut red curry broth. While it traditionally came served atop a bed of jasmine rice, I chose to forgo that large amount of carbs and simply opted for the soup. To put it simply, it was amazing. The curry was rich, but not overly “coconuty”. The seafood was fresh, the vegetables cooked just right – had I eaten the rice I would have had to be rolled out, because I ate the huge bowl in its entirety.

After all this, there was no question about dessert. Aside from the fact that both of us were in a happy food coma, we knew that purchases of Mickey bars would be in our not-too-distant future. I could easily have eaten at Yak and Yeti more than once on this particular trip alone – it’s a given that we’ll dine here during our next Asian encounter at Animal Kingdom.

BabyCakes at DownTown Disney

The fact that BabyCakes NYC set up shop at Disney World’s Downtown Disney is not actually new information. I’ve certainly frequented their tucked-away shop at least once per trip over the last two years. But, I haven’t actually taken the time to wax-poetic about my love for this sweet shop in the way that it deserves.

BabyCakes offers treats for those that either have food sensitivities, or choose to follow a more “persnickety” diet (their own terminology). All natural, organic, and deceptively delicious, the sweets are free of most common allergens, including wheat, gluten, dairy, and eggs. They generally use agave to sweeten, and use it sparingly. This creates something that can be eaten without the sugar-induced coma of a Mickey Ice Cream Bar. BabyCakes is even certified Kosher and Vegan!

While Doughnuts and Cupcakes can hardly ever be classified as healthy, BabyCakes has done all they can to make them that way. Gluten free products are all made using Bob’s Red Mill rice flour or garbanzo/fava bean mix, and what little they offer that isn’t gluten free is made with spelt. Although Canola Oil is used for some things, their primary oil is Coconut, which has too many health benefits to list. Agave is low on the glycemic index, and while I might prefer if they instead used honey, I still find agave vastly superior to regular sugar.

The Downtown Disney location has an online menu, meaning you can go ahead and drool over what you’ll be ordering when your vacation nears. I can personally vouch for the Red Velvet Cupcakes, Banana Chocolate Chip and Pumpkin Loaves, and every single flavor of Doughnut.

The Doughnuts. How do I love them? Let me count the ways. They taste like nothing even remotely resembling healthy. Bordering on the cake-like, the consistency is very moist, slightly crumbly, and dense. One is enough to fill you up and stave off hunger, which means you don’t crave a box of them. They certainly aren’t your run-of-the-mill Krispy Kremes, not simply because of the alternative ingredients, but because they aren’t dunked in hot oil and fried. Rather, the happy ladies who spend their day creating these treats bake the doughnuts. And they are baked all day long, meaning that if you pop in for a late night snack, you won’t be purchasing something that’s been sitting behind the counter for twelve hours.

BabyCakes also offers two cookbooks. Simply bake your own if the above pictures made you unable to wait for your next trip to Disney! I purchased one as a Christmas gift this year, and will probably get a copy of both of them for myself in the near future. The original and much-talked about is BabyCakes: Vegan, (Mostly) Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York’s Most Talked-About Bakery

The second has just been released, and features more Doughnut and specialty recipes. This one is called BabyCakes Covers the Classics: Gluten-Free Vegan Recipes from Donuts to Snickerdoodles.

Some Photos courtesy of Little Vegan Planet and BabyCakes NYC.

A New European Adventure – 5 Month Countdown Starts…Now

After pouring over countless itineraries, maps, and sights, this summer’s plans have finally been nailed down – and booked. At first hesitant to make any extended travel plans because of summer classes, I was soon reassured by a professor who insisted that I seize any opportunity for overseas travel.

It all came down to the HOW of traveling. We wanted to go and see and do, but didn’t want the hassle of checking in and out of hotels every few days – not to mention the added expense of trains and Easy Jet flights for two straight weeks. I loved every minute of our last jaunt across the pond, but lugging a carry-on everywhere did manage to get tiring after a few weeks. Visions of laundromats and crowded terminal platforms filled my head. I certainly wanted to pack a little more than three shirts this time around, and definitely didn’t relish the notion of 10 hour train rides. A cruise was sounding better and better.

At first we were settled on a Northern European itinerary. But after the recent Costa cruise fiasco – not to mention the reviews that MSC and Costa cruise lines received on Cruisecritic.com – the low cost, big name European carriers slowly started slipping through our fingers. I didn’t want to gamble on the quality of the cruise simply because it offered a low price, and that seemed to be the overwhelming lament of those reviews, as well.

The Piazza of the Ruby Princess - What a Cruise Ship SHOULD Look Like!

It was at this point that we decided to broaden our options. The Mediterannean is filled to the gills with cruises during the summer months, but for good reason. With amazing weather and exotic ports-of-call, some cruise lines even offer floating 5 star resorts that can be your home-base as you embark on a different city each day – leaving the driving to someone else.

Beautiful Mykonos, Greece

Again we had to choose what our non-negotiables were. For me, it was food – hand’s down. One of the joys of going to Europe is experiencing a new culture through its food, and I wanted to make sure I could do this when traveling on a large boat to each country. Jeremy wanted to make sure that the price was right, also a balcony in our room and lots of small amenities. While we won’t be spending too much of our time in the cabin itself, I’m pretty sure there isn’t much that will beat the experience of sitting on a private verandah while viewing the Amalfi coast!

The Commercial Agora in Ephesus - Where Paul most likely had his tent-making business with Priscilla and Aquilla

We finally settled on the Grand Mediterranean itinerary that Princess Cruise Line offers. The Ruby Princess is their newest ship, and received very high marks for ambiance, itinerary, and – you guessed it – food. We’ll start in Barcelona and wind our way throughout the Mediterranean for 12 days, traveling to ports like Rome, Mykonos, Istanbul, and Ephesus. The debarkation point just happens to be in Venice, where we’ll spend a day simply strolling the waterways!

5 full months from today – I have quite a bit of planning and dreaming to do until then!

What Could Be Better Than Traveling? Going for Free

It comes as no surprise that Japan’s economy took a huge plunge with the tsunami that hit their little island very hard. Nuclear plant meltdowns didn’t help tourism, either. In fact, Japan is hurting so much in that regard that they are going to offer free flights to come and vacation there!

Beginning in April, anyone can apply for a free flight to Japan. They will be giving away 10,000 tickets, and the only stipulations is that there will need to be an application filled out specifying where you want to visit. Upon acceptance, the lucky ones will have to agree that after returning they will write about the experience online. I don’t know about you, but I think I can come up with more than one blog for a free airline ticket!

For Japan, the hope is that positive reviews and increased travel from other countries will convince people that it is once again safe to return. This project is expected to cost an estimated $14.3 million says the Wall Street Journal, but with the enormous loss the country has suffered across the board, this may help them get back in the saddle.