Friday, September 8, 2017

2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World

It's not often that we end up at Epcot's Food & Wine festival early in the event's fall run. Disney decided to start the event a few weeks early this year which coincided with our Labor Day Weekend trip.

This is a quick rundown of what we tried along with pictures when we remembered to take them. For prices and better info than we will give you about the festival visit

We used the event's Passport to list the items we tried. Green checks are good, red x's were bad, and mehs were just ok or only one of us liked them. The order of listings is based on the Passport order, not the order we sampled them. We included all the pages, even from booths we did not visit, to give you the full rundown.

You can click on the photos to make them bigger.

40 booths offered festival items this year. Some item were also available at the Festival Center in Future World. We enjoyed third-row seats or better for two sets of The Hooters and one set of The Baha Men. Great performances by both groups. These headline acts are included with Epcot admission.

The Odyssey, that building by the Mexico Pavilion, is home to the Craft Beer booth and this year featured a salute to Epcot's 35th anniversary. Things were not running well on our visit here. Holly got the Handwich served right away and went to find a table. Scotch eggs were not ready yet. Dave finally got them ten minutes later and they were not worth the wait. As for the Handwich - think kicked-up Hamburger Helper in a bread cone. Both beers were great and Passport 35 became our favorite this year (also available in Festival Center).

The Piggy Wings were good, but not outstanding. The sweet pancake was AWESOME! The porter was good, but not a standout - low on the smoky flavor profile.

The Light Lab was inside a Communicore Building (the one near The Land). Inside the room had some black lights, neons, and glow signs to help give an aura of some cool stuff going on. It was actually pretty lame and the process took forever to assemble the drinks. The featured beers were only available at the bar outside. The T-C2 was nothing but sugar water. The Bleu Spectrum was champagne with the little boba balls. They did not skimp on the balls. Radiant Flux beer wasn't that great. We enjoyed our Gogi wine sample but we were surprised it was chilled.

The loaded mac is getting a lot of buzz but we just found it to be ok. Nothing great. We enjoyed the crab cake (without the cream) because it was mostly meat vs. breading. The scampi did was tasty, but the bread wasn't enough for the amount of dip (a theme of this festival).

The liquid nitro desert was good, but very rich. Would have been great with coffee except for the fact it was 100 degrees outside. The Beef Stroganoff was perfect! The tiny egg noodle base really added nice texture. The tart was kind of dry, but it was one of the larger food items offered.

Another dish that won us over was the seared scallops at the Wine and Dine Studio. The scallops were cooked perfectly and the truffle purée went well with the meat and mushrooms.

It's warm cheese and guava in a pastry!

New Zealand's mussels were pretty plain. The order held three breaded mussels and were not very flavorful. Australia's shrimp were very good. Our order contained five shrimp. The sauce was on the sweet side.

Almond Orchard's risotto was very good. Surprising it was made with cauliflower. The sundae would have been better if the berries were fresh dry berries and not some kind of syrupy goop. Patagonia's empanadas was very tasty, but the beef skewer was not so good due to the oil content of the chimichurri sauce.

We had champagne a few time from Almond's because we purchased the Passport Sampler. For $65 you received 8 coupons for items (about $8.60 per item). We used them on items over $10. The champagnes here (other than Dom - not eligible) were $13-$16. Our Gogi sample was $15.

Spam hash from Hawaii was a big winner for us. We got it without the mayo which may have brought out a bit more sweetness than intended (Dave hates mayo). The Bikini Blonde beer was very tasty - had a citrus flavor. Farm Fresh's chicken was good, just a little salty. The cornbread that came with it was a great accompaniment.

Not much more to say here. It was good, but small for an over $6 item.

Avoid this one. Shrimp/scallop cake was mushy and the noodles were cold and had a strange spice. Green onions was the most used garnish at the booths this year.

Dave liked this one, Holly did not. Yes it's just naan bread but the dipping sauces were not her favorite.

The beef in Africa has transformed from its original debut. It's more of a stew now vs. a whole filet medalion... still tasty.

The beers at Brewer's Collection were limited this year with only three offerings. We were excited to try the pomegranate hefe. Unfortunately it tasted like a mix of wine cooler and cough syrup.

A favorite each year. It was particularly tasty this year. Ours was hot and everything melted together perfectly.

Spain's winner for us was the olive oil cake. We had a nice big slice of moist golden cake. The paella was nothing special.

We didn't take pictures of the beer since we all know what beer looks like. We had JDub's Porter last year at the Food and Wine Classic and loved it. We may have bought a few of these (full 12oz size) during the fest.

A note on beer. It seems during the fest beer sizes at typical beer stops get downsized to 12oz (with price decrease). No large beers from China counter service, Outpost, or Germany. Japan Frozen Kirin and beers from Rose and Crown in England were still their usual sizes.

The lobster roll was back this year without all the mayo. Holly enjoyed it, but she did not like the brisket. Dave on the other hand liked the brisket but wasn't a fan of the way the lobster looked. The Cold Brew Coffee Porter was good, but when having it alongside a JDub's it was quickly forgotten.

Both of these Japan items were winners. The dumplings had a lot of flavor with a small kick of wasabi. The pork was tender and well-flavored by the sauce.

The Little Hidden One was a lot lacking in flavor. It was like having a TV dinner lasagna. The M.I.A. Barbossa Black was low on flavor and texture.

The escargot is an every year favorite of ours. This year the little slugs were inside buttery pastry. As for the drinks, how can you go wrong with slushies and bubbles?

The cheese and stout dip from Ireland was right up our alley. The beer helped mellow out the sharpness of the cheddar. The two slices of bread were not enough to soak up all the dip. The filet from Canada is usually hit-or-miss for us (sometimes we get bad or overcooked cuts). This year it was perfect! Moosehead's Radler was a refreshing offering.

On the right is our tasting sampler coupon set.

In other Food & Wine news: They forgot to (or decided not to) decorate the little train village for the festival. Every year there are little banners around town and food booths. This year: nothing...


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Charity of the Month: Red Cross Hurricane Harvey Aid

Charity of the Month is a way Team Tizzel is helping to support some very worthy organizations. As part of this program, we will dedicate a post to a charity that we will sponsor through the month by donating Holly's training run money.

In August we supported ALS Association's Central Florida Chapter with a $125 donation to help with research efforts to end the disease.

September's Charity

American Red Cross - Hurricane Harvey Relief

We could not believe the level of flooding Hurricane Harvey caused in the south.   In July, our town (Fox Lake, IL) was on the national news for our flood levels after receiving 7 inches of rain one night.  A lot of northeastern Illinois was impacted as levels in lakes and rivers rose to record levels (Fox Lake rose 3.5 feet above average).  Many homes were filled with water and/or sewer backup. Businesses were shut down for weeks.  Dave volunteered one afternoon to hand out Red Cross cleanup kits and heard some sad stories from several residents.  Ariel photos from our area are available in this Flickr album.

Fox Lake had 7 inches of rain, not 50+ inches.  Friends of ours living in impacted areas were posting incredible photos on Facebook.  The media has shown us images of destruction and amazing rescues.   It will take a long time for things to get to normal (if it can) for many people in Texas. 

Today (September 6th) we've been watching Hurricane Irma hover over one of our favorite vacation spots - The British Virgin Islands.  The storm is over Anegada right now.  We read that 1/2 of the island's 200 inhabitants evacuated.  We're wondering which of our friends are still there riding it out, or who went to "safer" ground in Tortola.  We are sure relief efforts for Irma will be next month's charity.

Please consider giving to the American Red Cross to provide people the help they need. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Alaska: Seward and Kenai Fjords

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It was Thursday, which meant Week 1 of our trip had elapsed and it was time for the long drive from Denali National Park to Seward. We'd have to go back the way we came, pass through Anchorage, and travel onward down the Seward Highway to get to our destination. Without stopping it could have been a 6.5 hour trip. For us it was closer to 8 hours. While Lee did all the driving the rest of us napped or did something on iPads to pass the time.

We returned to the city of Wasilla around lunch time. Laura had found that the Krazy Moose Sub Shop was highly rated on TripAdvisor so we decided this would be our lunch spot. The sandwiches were huge and delicious. Their condiment/hot sauce bar had more choices than your typical grocery store. After lunch we headed over to Walmart to buy additional luggage. Each couple shared one large suitcase and supplemented with duffles or backpacks to ensure all our bags would fit the trunk. We jammed everything into packing cubes and our suitcase was starting to show stress. We figured a small bag would help eliminate the strain on our suitcase once we got on the cruise ship Saturday.

After passing through Anchorage we were on a road we hadn't traveled. The Seward Highway was scenic with almost constant views of mountains or rivers. On several occasions we saw bald eagles on beaches and rocks looking for their next meal.

We arrived at our new hotel, the Harbor 360 Hotel, a few minutes before 4pm. The hotel was on the harbor overlooking many boats and mountains. A few restaurants and shops were nearby while the main downtown was a little over one mile away. With a population of ~2,000 it seemed like there were more boats than people in Seward.

We took an outing into town that led us to the Seward Brewing Company. The hostess gave us a choice of two seating locations - upstairs for a pizza menu or downstairs for sandwiches and entrees. Holly and Dave weren't hungry yet so the rest of the group chose downstairs. We enjoyed the creative space and the variety of beers made in-house and guest taps. The other 4 people in our group said the food was very good.

We had dinner close to the hotel at Ray's Waterfront. The place was packed with a good mix of tourist and locals. We lucked into some prime bar seats and enjoyed selections from their great beer and cocktail menu. We ended up splitting a jerk scallop appetizer and each had a halibut entree. We were excited to have some fresh seafood and Seward is a location where a lot of halibut is sourced. We had an excellent meal and ended up returning the next night with the rest of our group.


Friday: Another early wake-up! We enjoyed a Hampton-Inn style breakfast at our hotel before walking a few buildings over to the Kenai Fjords Tour office. Today we were taking a 6-hour boat tour of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Even though we were on line to board the boat early we did not score seating on the upper deck of the large catamaran. Our team ended up at a six-top booth near the windows on the lower deck. We made our way outside to hold our ground at the bow for the best views.

30 seconds after leaving port we were watching two otters play and saw a bald eagle. As we left the no-wake zone and picked up speed it became apparent we were going to freeze. We took turns going inside to suit-up in rain pants to dampen the breeze. They sold cute thermal mugs onboard for $8 that allowed for unlimited coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or soda. $48 later we were a little more comfortable.

Our tour was the yellow path on the map below. A lot of our day would be spent taking in the beauty of the fjords (mountains carved by glaciers) and looking at several glaciers. Along the way we were hoping to luck into wildlife - especially whales. Our weather for the day was mostly overcast with a few bits of sun here-and-there. Before reaching the Holgate Glacier we spent some time watching stellar sea lions perched on rocks. Many were branded for tracking purposes.
Map from Kenai Fjords Tour Company
The closest we got to mountain goats

We spent a lot of time at the Holgate Glacier. A LOT. The captain rotated the boat several times to give everyone a view and the crew brought pieces of icebergs into the boat so we could see the difference between glacial ice and ice from our freezers. It was pretty interesting to see that glaciers actually do give off a blue coloring.

Two smaller glaciers were located next to the Holgate Glacier

We found a few minutes of sunlight as we continued our tour of the fjords. Occasionally we lucked into seeing humpback whales and some puffins that would actually stay still long enough for a photo.

Really bad photo but it's a mother otter with her baby resting on her while they float

The final half hour of the tour was the most exciting. Right in Resurrection Bay (where the harbor is based) a hunchback was feeding and showing its head quite often.

Kenai Fjords Tours took great care of us and we all enjoyed the outing. Arriving in port around 2:30 gave us plenty of time to do some other activities. We walked over to the National Park Visitor Center to watch their short film and buy shirts and stickers. Then we walked back to the hotel and drank the excess beers we had collected along the way. We got to watch an otter snacking on some fish while seagulls tried to get their share.

After enjoying beverages we took a short drive over to the Exit Glacier. This is where we had two brushes with death involving a moose (slightly exaggerating). The six of us were pretty isolated on the trail. As we approached a curve near the river a moose with her two babies came out of the river and ran straight in front of us. She must have heard us and made a break for it while not knowing our specific location. It was a close call. Of course she did the same thing to us 5 minutes later.

Along the Exit Glacier trail were markers of where the glacier ended during various years. The glacier has receded quite a bit in the last 100 years.



The next morning we had to return to Anchorage and drop off the rental car. The land portion of our trip would soon be over and the cruise portion would begin. On our way to Anchorage we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This non-profit organization saves and rehabilitates distressed wildlife and gives them a home since most of them can't be released back into the wild. We saw several bears, caribou, deer, wood bison (a particular species thought to be extinct) and other animals. It was an interesting place to spend 90 minutes in a very pretty setting.

After our lunch at an airport bar we boarded our shuttle bus that would bring us back the way we came in order to go to Whittier - the location of our ship. We (Holly and Dave) have never taken a cruise and we were dreading it. It just seemed like an experience we would not enjoy. Our travel companions (cruise veterans and fans) were probably getting sick of our pre-cruise whining. It didn't help our mental state to know once we boarded the ship we would be trapped like rats for the next 65 hours (first two days were at-sea). Stay tuned....

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