Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Week in Food: Beef Wellington

Some say it's named after the famous Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, known for defeating Napoleon at Waterloo. It's rumored he loved a dish of beef, mushrooms, truffles, Madeira Wine, and pate' cooked in pastry. And some say the Duke of Wellington was indifferent to food, and the dish is actually named after a highly polished Wellington boot. And still others say it was a actually a French dish called "Filet de Boeuf en Croute"renamed by a patriotic English chef--which holds more credibility especially since the recipe doesn't actually show up in a cookbook until 1966. (I'm sure there are more rumors...I think three is enough, don't you?)

But whatever the history may be, the result is a very rich and hearty dish. The meat, a cut of beef tenderloin (aka filet mignon), cost a whopping $14.99/lb. Needless to say, I read the recipe about 3 times through before attempting anything with that beef. It was then seared, covered in dijon mustard, coated with a layer of duxelles (mushrooms, shallots, and garlic), then wrapped with slices of prosciutto; all of which was wrapped in puff pastry and baked in the oven. I know what you're thinking. A dinner right from Cooking Light. Of course there's a side of a creamy (heavy whipping cream to be exact) Green Peppercorn sauce to accompany it. The result was overwhelming for our taste buds and a little thick for our stomachs.

It wasn't really as bloody as the photo looks. The meat was cooked 'just right'. It's just that my camera doesn't think so.

The flavor of this was very unique and interesting, although I can't say it's on our list of food keepsakes. The cut of meat was excellent ( would have been fabulous on its own), but the flavors were a little heavy for us. But it was fun to try!

Friday, January 28, 2011


Ben likes to send me these kinds of photos when I'm at work. It's cruel, really.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


That little word is responsible for so many irritating things.

Like keeping you up at night. Making your heart race when you're alone in the dark. Playing tricks with your eyes. But that's not the form of fear I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is another kind of fear. The fear of failure.

The fear of failure is your greatest restraint. It wraps around you with an iron grip--clenching down until you can't breath--crushing you beneath the force. It laughs, it taunts, it torments. It ensures you do not succeed. And you, the beaten down victim you are, give in to the future that fear has gifted you with. But fear still doesn't leave. No, no, no. It lingers, standing guard with a machine gun, watching over you, so that you do not attempt it again. And if you do, it'll blow you to smithereens.

I would not say that fear and I are frequently in each others presence. I don't particularly give it the time of day, so being thus ignored, it tends to stay away. But my most recent endeavors have sort of changed that. That little tyrannical word has been showing up in my mind and I'm unaccustomed to dealing with it. It's been poking its ugly head through my windows, lurking in the shadows, leaving post-its on my computer, whispering in my ear. "You're not good enough," it hisses. "You don't have what it takes. Who do you think you are to even try?"

Why is it that the taunting grows stronger the harder you try succeeding?

My journey as a writer has taking me along interesting paths and through beautiful territories I never would have imagined. The proverbial 'they' draw parallels between an author's journey and the hero/heroine's journey in a story, and the farther I walk along that unbeaten path, the more I'm a believer of it. And what do almost all stories have in common? Overcoming an opponent: a form of fear. Whereas my heroine battles evil creatures, I battle fear--with salivating, blood-dripping, fangs and 10-inch claws. It is what blocks my path, trying to slaughter my hope. It slashes at my pride. It acts as though I'm not skilled enough to fight it. It tries to pin me to the ground. And it always knows my weaknesses.

George MacDonald said it best: "Fear is never on your side." And he's right. It never wants you to succeed. So how do you fight fear? I've no real solution other than changing my approach. If I'm so afraid of failure, what do I count as failure?

Failure is never trying.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Homemade Chicken Pot Pie

The first time I ever tried making it! See, vacations prove fruitful for my culinary exploits. And very unfruitful for my diet. It was...dee-lish! So rich, I couldn't even eat the Klondike bar for dessert. And I NEVER turn my head away from dessert. Still recovering...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Crime and Punishment

By Fyodor Dostoevsky
Now this is a novel that's been on my reading list for a few years--ever since reading War & Peace (which is one of my favorite novels of all time). I say that because War & Peace was the first piece of Russian literature I can recall reading and piqued my interest in Russian culture. So it was with high expectations I delved into Dostoevsky's masterpiece, and those expectations were duly met--just not in the ways I was expecting.

Imagine yourself meeting a brilliant young man with the entire world at his fingertips and then witness him murder an old woman--with an ax. But rather than feel for the murdered woman, you empathize with the ax-murderer. That is what Dostoevsky has done with Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov (Ah! Those Russian names!).

Raskolnikov is in a terrible predicament. He's poor, all the hopes of his mother and sister rest upon his successes (that are not forthcoming), and he's miserable in isolation within the filthy, dark, cramped walls of a hole for a room within the heart of hot, crowded St. Petersburg. That is the very breeding ground for the idea that forms in his head: isn't he justified in killing an old pawnbroker woman--a louse--that no one will mourn, in order to use her money to achieve great things for mankind? Sacrifices must be made for greatness, or so he's convinced himself. Just look at the 'great' men like Napoleon (he uses this comparison often), and all the men whose blood was spilt in order for Napoleon to achieve what he did. Raskolnikov thought he was a great man, therefor, like Napoleon, above the common moral law.

And thus begins our story. As a reader you understand Raskolnikov's logic and motivations, no matter how twisted they may be. You watch how his pride (probably his greatest vice) fails to let him recognize the error in his judgement. You watch that pride torment and suck the life from him, as he withers to a sickly specter of a human. And towards the end, when he finally confesses his crime, you ache when he still doesn't understand his error. To him, the only reason he failed was because he was found out. And because he was found out, this meant he wasn't a 'great man'. He wasn't a Napoleon. It was this thought alone that crushed him.
It isn't until the very end when the constant love of a harlot woman brings him back to humanity. And it is only then that he can realize the weight of his crime, thus the very beginnings of the soul wrenching, painful process of the heart's reconstruction. Dostoevsky leaves us with that, as, he claims, the process of healing and redemption would be another story altogether.

Despite the very heavy subject matter, the author does implement humor. There are many other characters that enrich the world Raskolnikov lives in and as a reader you appreciate the reprieve from our main character's torment. The dialogue is so very real and candid--it's just like the flow in conversations you'd expect to have with people every day which made the characters themselves that much more believable.

Which leaves me with this. I take away a good many things from the books I read--particularly those written in a time other than the present. And from this story, there is one fact that really stood out: how a man could commit something so evil, yet be so thoroughly convinced that what he was doing was truly for the benefit of mankind. And that, I believe, is the most frightening kind of evil.

***If you like YA Fantasy, check out my book, GAIA'S SECRET. The sequel is coming soon!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Very English Feast

I know what you're thinking: "Isn't that an oxymoron?" And I won't disagree with you. However, our recent discovery of Strongbow Cider has led to a bout of exploring British cuisine (yes, such a thing exists). So, we found a place nearby that sells the Cider, and then had the idea to make a dinner out of it. And what was on the menu? Shepherd's Pie.

Shepherd's Pie is Ben's new favorite. It's meat (ground lamb, to be exact), simmered in broth, rosemary, thyme, and Worcestershire with sauteed onions, garlic, carrots, corn, and peas, all topped with mashed potatoes and then baked in the oven for about a half hour. Traditional English--all food groups in one pot. You got it. Comfort food. And it has earned a rightful position on our list of favorite recipes.

We fell asleep soon after.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tolls, Tampa, and Tiny Terrifying Terrier's

My somewhat delayed blog entry for good reason.

The last 'leg' of our Floridian Adventure was spent visiting the fabulous Aunt Fave (who also goes by Aunt Tanya to the curious reader) and Uncle Rocky. While there, I didn't really feel like blogging in the event that it impeded our time to visit since we don't see them nearly as much as I should like. Living on a coast opposite that of most of your family ensures that.

Which leads me to decree #2 of our trip: always, always, ALWAYS have cash, particularly in the form of quarters and dollars. As soon as we left the airport in our rental car, we drove ourselves onto a toll road. Change only. Honestly, in this day and age who in their right mind doesn't accept a debit card?! Toll booth's, that's who. Well. After holding up the line for 5 minutes as the nice lady explained how to handle our IOU in very heavy Spanish-accented English, we proceeded forward, exited the next exit, found a gas station, and withdrew a 20 dollar bill. Thus relieved from future trauma, back in the car we went, onto the ramp to get back on the freeway. And lo! Another toll booth. This one had a charge of 50 cents and the words: EXACT CHANGE ONLY. No other options. We sped through the fast pass lane. I fully expect to receive the inflated charge in the mail.

Now Uncle Rocky and Aunt Fave live in a beautiful section just south of Tampa. Ben had never been to the Gulf (Ben had never been to Florida period till this past week). The water was calm, beautiful, and blue as we crossed bridges connecting the islands along the coastline. Without further issue (or tolls), we arrived at their beautiful home! The beach was just across the street. We visited, ate too much, were spoiled, rode bikes, drove around the area, visited some more, played with their adorable yorkies, Bo and Rett (if a dog's bark ever really sounded like 'ARF!' it's Rett)--had a wonderful relaxing time visiting with two incredible people I'm fortunate enough to call family! It was a perfect way to end the vacation, and we can't wait to go back! (Next week??? :D )

Another notable: our flight home.
We always dread flights. Ben, because he literally doesn't fit in the seat. Me, because Ben's so uncomfortable. And, if you've flown recently, they charge extra for the exit row now. About $60/ticket. That being said, we ran across a delightfully happy Scottish woman behind the counter who "told the man in charge we were newly weds" and snatched exit row seats for us. Then on our connecting flight, our plane was changed and our row had miraculously become an exit row! Such fortune! I shall remember it always...blogs are good for that sort of thing.

And now we have returned, back to reality. That means unpacking, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. First order of business: a nap!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day 4: Animal Kingdom

Well fellow bloggers, I dropped the ball last night. Too tired to fight my phone and 'write' you all. It is significantly more challenging blogging on ones phone. And I, as many of you know, have little patience.
Ben and I spent our last day in Disney's Animal Kingdom and it was a last day well spent. Probably the busiest of our days--it was a Saturday after all. The park is beautiful: lush greens and vegetation growing throughout, 'treks' through habitats of Asia and Africa. Lots and lots of animals! Our favorite was the Safari through Africa. You board these big safari landcruisers and are driven alon dirt roads, through streams, past waterfalls all through the 'natural' habitation of creatures like giraffes, hippos, cheetas, even termite mounds!
Eventually I dragged Ben on the other landmark attraction: Expedition Everest. It's a fast, fun, forward, backwards, rollercoaster through Mt. Everest.
The Tree of Life is another landmark--animals and insects carved along the trunk and branches. The photo above fails to do its mere size justice.
For dinner we wound our way to the Animal Kingdom Lodge : Boma's. African buffet. It was a beautiful atmosphere with excellent food... Only problem is, since it was a buffet, I don't really remember what we ate!
And now we await our transportation to our rental car. I was thinking last night how I wish we could've purchased more Harry Potter paraphernalia...regretting the crowds in those cramped stores and the dim lighting making it difficult to see what all they had. I'm not much of a 'disney junkie' but Harry Potter has made me experience the illogical fandom. But then Ben discovered :) where you and I can, as Ben so eloquently put it, have all that junk delivered straight to our home.
Thank you Disney and Universal for a busy and fun week...and when we return some day, I'll remember to wear a scopolamine patch :)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Day 3: Magic Kingdom

This morning Ben and I took it easy. By 'easy' I mean sleeping in till 8, and making it to the park just after opening. We needed the sleep, and it worked all the better for us.
We were curious to see the Magic Kingdom (last time I was here I was 13), especially after being so recently familiar with California's Disneyland. The castle at Magic Kingdom is much larger than ours ( unfortunately no photos with my phone). Although, no walk through the story of Sleeping Beauty inside the castle. Instead, is a 'turn your child into a princess' parlor.
We took our time through the park and rode all our favorites: Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean (no Blue Bayou restaurant here! So sad), Peter Pan, Small World. But I was surprised there was no Mr. Toads Wild Ride, or Pinnochio. No wonder I didn't remember riding them as a kid. We rode everything else. No need for a Fastpass with these nonexistent crowds!
Lots of characters walking through the park today! I think we saw everyone but Mickey and Minnie!
Side note: saw lots of Gryffindor scarves(including myself) and even a few Ravenclaws and Slytherins!
We had lunch in Liberty Square--the restaurant reminded us of a Cracker Barrell but without all the candy and trinkets in the waiting area. For those of you from Cali, the Magic Kingdom has Liberty Square instead of the New Orleans district. It took me awhile as I stared at our park map to figure that one out!
We came to the conclusion that Disneyland is larger than the MK. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we only have 2 parks in Cali as opposed to Disney's 4. ( not including water parks)
After riding everything we could, we took the monorail back to EPCOT for dinner at Marakkesh in Morroco (photo above). It must be said that before we ate, we stopped by England again for more Strongbow Cider (photo above) and also tried the Woodpecker Cider. Both were great but Strongbow remains the favorite. Excellent food at Marakkesh with live entertainment. We had the Moroccan feast: tea with mint leaves, salad with a cucumber/yogurt/mint dressing, filo dough filled with a mixture of basmati, shrimp, grouper, and spices, then lamb shank and lemon chicken over couscous, with baklava for dessert. Oh the miles I'll have to run after this vacation! Music played and dancers danced dressed in such fashion Ben refrained from staring (what a wonderful man he is!) Jasmine and Aladdin even made an appearance.
One day left in this park. Animal Kingdom here we come!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Day 2: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

If you were thinking "But I thought you were in Disneyworld", you're right. HP world is at Universal's Island of Adventure. We hired a driver to take us to the park, unbeknownst to our faithful Disney Devotees. Of course, I give myself away returning to Disney with a striped red and yellow scarf around my neck.
And once we reached Universal, we spent almost the entire day in the Harry Potter section of the park. We, as well as everyone else, ran straight to the back where this wonderful world was, thinking to beat the crowds. But the 'crowds' had the same idea. I really think most of the park's guests were meandering through Hogsmeade all day. But still, according to the nice Irish Hogs Head bartender, this was the most quiet week he'd seen since the parks opening in June!
When we entered Hogsmeade and wer e greeted by the Hogwarts Express, I was in awe, looking everywhere but where I was walking, and consequently running into people. The attention to detail was incredible-snow on the roofs (which only made the 46 degrees in Florida that much colder!) leaning chimneys, doorways, and walls, all the stores--we stood for a bit just taking photos. There were owls in the owlery, up in the rafters, accented with poop stains. Ollivanders, Zonko's, Honeydukes, Dervish and Bangles... Photos below. I bought a scarf at Filche's Emporium of Confiscated Goods. Gryffindor, of course. Lots of Slytherins walking around though. I was on my guard.
There were a few shops that were 'closed', and when I asked an employee when one in particular would open, she said : "They aren't open to muggles". She was wearing green. I should've known better.
We ate at the Three Broomsticks. Three times. I must say the butterbeer was incredible! It tasted like shortbread cookies with butterscotch foam... And that foam was thick! They actually make the foam separately, top off your drink with it. Hogs head brew was great too-- and we got the commemorative mugs (see photo below). Oh and Hogs Head does in fact have a hog's head...that moves.
Then, of course, there's the Forbidden Journey at Hogwarts. It's a ride/interactive movie/ flip you through the air in a cage through the castle as you journey through the adventure that is Harry Potter. From Quidditch, to dragons, to dementers trying to suck your life: it was all there! It was amazing in that the ride was so're only aware of the people in your 'cage'. However, Ben and I still walked off nauseous from the 'twirling in the air before a moving screen' flying effects. When/if we have kids: Dramamine. The line itself was amazing. You wait in the many twisting turning corridors of Hogwarts, passing through a hall of moving/ talking portraits (just like the movie). You pass through the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom where Harry, Ron, and Hermione stand on a balcony above, warning you of your current danger--and, of course, accidentally making it snow in the room. There's Herbology, Dumbledore's office (he's in it too), the sorting hat, the daily prophet with moving photographs. Needless to say, if forced to wait, you're highly entertained.
The Flight of the Hippogriff was cute and fun, traveling past Hagrids hut. And the Dueling Dragons was a high-speed rollercoaster--guests enter through the Triwizard Champions tent.
And playing constantly all throughout the park were those familiar musical themes we love and recognize.
Overall, my thought on this incredible new attraction? WICKED!!!!
FYI many more photos of the details in this world were taken- hope to post somewhere soon.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Day in EPCOT

It is now 10:36 pm, and I'm not exactly sure how much longer my brain will cooperate with me in order to properly relay the details of the day! As you can imagine, it has been a busy one, and if anything can adjust you to time change, it's waking up much too early and spending all days in your feet!

Ben and I left our lovely resort, Port Orleans, caught the bus, and were on our way to a very empty park. I live off season. You don't even need fast passes.
But that was when we made mistake #1 of our trip: Mission to Mars first. Of course I ignored the first warning : "If you're prone to motion sickness, feel free to exit." When the warning kept repeating I still ignored it, but began to worry. And then when the ride started, I immediately wanted off. I've since adopted strict adherence to a new, personal rule: no more rides that spin you in circles, fast or slow. It took the rest of the morning for the affects to wear off for both of us.
We did a few other rides, but spent the bulk of our day meandering through the World Showcase. It's incredible really...all the attention to detail, workers native to the country they represent (Disney hires them for one year as an 'ambassador'). Needless to say, I loved hearing the French and Italian accents.
Ben and I had lunch in Paris at a Patisserie, ham and cheese croissants with chocolate mousse for dessert and met a young Frenchman named Alexandre. I just wanted him to keep talking.
We happened to stumble across something called "Strongbow Cider", while in England. Cider with a kick. And I will be on the hunt for more, once we return home. So good!
For dinner we luckily made reservations back in September to Le Cellier in Canada. The restaurant is in an old wine cellar--beautiful! We had fabulous cheddar soup (got the recipe!), then an entree of filet mignon with a white truffle sauce and mushroom risotto, and then for dessert I had a maple creme brûlée and Ben had the chocolate whiskey cake.
We finished the evening with Illuminations, returned 'home', and are thoroughly wiped. It's only day one. More coffee.
And tomorrow....Hogwarts!
Photos: EPCOT, Ben in Paris (see the Eiffel?), me in Paris, Morocco, and Italy.
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