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April 6, 2013

Raglan Road's Rollicking Raglan Sunday Brunch Review

All Ears Team Member Linda Eckwerth enjoyed some time at Raglan Road!

I recently had the pleasure to experience Raglan Road's new Rollicking Raglan Sunday Brunch and what a lovely experience it was! The Brunch is new and is served every Sunday from 11:00 to 4:00.

If you are thinking, oh, an all you can eat Irish brunch, this is NOT your typical brunch! Chef Kevin Dundon has taken a different approach. The basic brunch menu is a la carte. However, you may order any of the items on the menu. For a special, more family style dining experience you can pre-order the Host the Roast Brunch. Then, in addition to a delicious meal, at noon the house band Creel and the Irish Dancers take to the stage to liven things up.

The group I was with started the meal with two of the Brunch's signature drinks, an Elder Flower Champagne Cocktail and an Irish Red Eye. The champagne was light, refreshing and served with a strawberry. However, I really enjoyed the Irish Red Eye. It was a bloody Mary topped with Guinness. I am a bloody Mary and Guinness fan, so combining two of my favorite flavors was a no brainer for me. It was very tasty!


Raglan Road Brunch

Raglan Road Brunch

The Brunch menu prices range from $8.00 to $26.00 per entrée. I ordered Kevin's Ham Schnitzel, a slice of ham, lightly breaded, fried to perfection with a fried egg on top. On the side there is a serving of chips (French fries). This was more than filling, but knowing we were also going to experience Host the Roast, I wanted to save room.

Raglan Road Brunch

Our group was served the Roast Pork Loin. The presentation for the Roast is very impressive. The meal is served on a cutting board and presented at the head of the table by the Chef. One member of your party is chosen to assist the Chef with the carving and serving. The pork was served with pork crackling, cider port jus, apple sauce and apple chutney. Our sides were almond green beans, cheesy spuds, potato roasties and sweet & sour carrots.

When ordering Host the Roast, you must call by 6:00 PM on Saturday (407-938-0300) and there is a minimum charge for 6 guests. The Host the Roast ranges in price from $35.00 to $55.00 per person depending on your choice of Roast which is chicken, leg of lamb, pork loin or rib of beef.

Raglan Road Brunch

Raglan Road Brunch

For dessert there is a choice of Gran Marnier Fruit & Custard Trifle or Baked Strawberry & Apple Crumble. We were served the Dunbrody Kiss and Ger's Bread and Butter Pudding.

Raglan Road Brunch

Raglan Road Brunch

Raglan Road Brunch

These too are served family style.

A few observations, if you are wanting to have a quite conversation with your dining party, not going to happen. This is an Irish pub; it is noisy with talking, laughter, dancing and music. That is what makes it fun! Also, I have dined at Raglan Road three times in March. I usually find that Chefs have a tendency to over salt foods for my taste. Not so at Raglan Road. I picked up on that almost immediately. My fellow diners also commented that their food was not overly salted as well. Way to go Chef Kevin!

I can't wait to go back and enjoy the Sunday Brunch with friends.

RELATED LINKS:

** Raglan Road Sunday Brunch Menu

** Raglan Road Dinner Menu

** Readers Rate and Review Raglan Road

** AllEars Review of Raglan Road

** Raglan Road Press Releases

DISCLAIMER: I was invited by Raglan Road to experience the Sunday Brunch. My food and beverages were provided to me at no charge. This did not influence my opinion or this review.


March 23, 2013

2nd Annual Easter Egg Display at Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

Easter eggs Grand Floridian

The 2nd Annual Easter Egg Display is open now through March 31, 2013 at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

Cast members spent three weeks creating edible works of art. The eggs are hand decorated with modeling chocolate, fondant, sugar floral, royal icing, colored cocoa butter and sculpted sugar art pieces.

The hollow chocolate eggs weigh 9-12 pounds and stand 16-20 inches tall.

Easter Eggs Grand Floridian


Easter Eggs Grand Floridian


Easter Eggs Grand Floridian


Easter Eggs Grand Floridian


Easter Eggs Grand Floridian


Easter Eggs Grand Floridian


Easter Eggs Grand Floridian


Easter Eggs Grand Floridian


March 19, 2013

Vinylmation Egg-sperience Character Egg Hunt - Limited Time Magic -Epcot - March 18-24

This week's Limited Time Magic is called the "Vinylmation Egg-sperience" Character Egg Hunt which takes you around Epcot's World Showcase.

Vinylmation Egg-sperience Character Egg Hunt Limited Time Magic Epcot

Purchase a special Limited Time Magic Egg-sperience map ($4.95). Egg-sperience maps can be purchased at in Epcot at the Port of Entry, Pin Central, International Gateway or Heritage Manor (American Adventure).

Vinylmation Egg-sperience Character Egg Hunt Limited Time Magic Epcot


Search for "hidden eggs" themed as Disney characters in World Showcase.

Vinylmation Egg-sperience Character Egg Hunt Limited Time Magic Epcot

Vinylmation Egg-sperience Character Egg Hunt Limited Time Magic Epcot

Vinylmation Egg-sperience Character Egg Hunt Limited Time Magic Epcot

Each time you find an egg, put the appropriate sticker on your map.

Vinylmation Egg-sperience Character Egg Hunt Limited Time Magic Epcot

Once completed return to Port of Entry in Epcot for a surprise.

Vinylmation Egg-sperience Character Egg Hunt Limited Time Magic Epcot


Vinylmation Egg-sperience Character Egg Hunt Limited Time Magic Epcot

SPOILER ALERT: The following video shows all the Character Egg locations. If you plan to visit Epcot during this Limited Time Magic, you may not want to watch the video. If you won't be visiting during this time, enjoy virtually via the video!

RELATED LIMITED TIME MAGIC LINKS

Information on Current, Future and Past Limited Time Magic experiences!

Videos of Limited Time Magic at Walt Disney World

Disneyland Limited Time Magic experiences


March 12, 2013

HGTV's Chris Lambton at Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

For the third year in a row, the Flower and Garden Festival is being presented by HGTV which, of course, means the stars of your favorite HGTV and DIY Network shows will once again be on hand to meet festival goers and give expert tips and tricks.

New to this year's festival is HGTV star Chris Lambton from Going Yard. In each episode, professional landscaper Chris Lambton transforms a neglected backyard into a beautiful outdoor family space, suitable for entertaining.

In this interview Chris and Eric Darden, Festival Horticultural Manager, share insights about transforming your backyard.

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One of the key points both gentleman made, was to keep in mind the long term maintenance of whatever you do. Some ideas have little long term maintenance and others have much more. How much time do you want to spend in your yard?

Containers of color and/or herbs are a low cost quick and easy way to spruce up your backyard.

The video has some great ideas for kids too!

Flower and Food? Food and Vine? The Epcot 2013 Flower and Garden Festival

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This article appeared in the March 12, 2013 Issue #703 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

FlowersIn the interest of full disclosure I'll admit to you all up front that I do not have a green thumb. It's not that I can't grow plants, exactly -- it's more that I subject them to a slow and lingering death. I love plants, and gardens, I really do. I just don't know how to get them to flourish, so I tend to leave it to the professionals... or at least to my husband, who definitely wears the green thumbs in our family.

Still, I do enjoy looking at green things. I can appreciate the beauty of and skill behind perfectly manicured gardens and the explosion of color that springtime flowers bring after a bleak northern winter. That's why I have enjoyed visiting Epcot during its annual Flower and Garden Festival year after year.

But this year, I was looking forward to the festival, which started March 6 and runs through May 19, with a renewed enthusiasm. Why? Because a few months ago I learned of the addition of a miniature "Food and Wine Festival" taking place within the 20th Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. "Get a Taste of Spring" the festival organizers cleverly teased. You mean I get to eat and drink some new and exciting foods and beverages WHILE taking in the fabulous flowers? Sign me up!

Thus enticed, I anticipated this year's event eagerly. Not only did I have all the tasty new treats ahead of me, I was escaping from what I hope was Mother Nature's last-gasp of winter, last week's storm that threatened to dump multiple feet of snow on my Northern Virginia home.

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FIRST THINGS FIRST
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Rocky Road Brownie MousseEven though I've attended the Flower and Garden Festival many times before, I didn't really get to explore it last year at all, so I approached this visit as I normally do -- by concentrating first on what was new. As I noted at the outset, the biggest change this year, and maybe the thing seasoned visitors are most curious about, is the addition of the "food" element. Would this enhance or detract from the Flower and Garden experience? This added dimension intrigued me, so I spent a great deal of time eating my way around World Showcase's 12 Garden Marketplaces to evaluate it.

The Marketplaces themselves -- the physical structures -- are not unlike those you'd find at the Food and Wine Festival. In fact, I think most of them were actually re-purposed Food and Wine Festival booths given catchy names like Primavera Kitchen (in the Italy pavilion) and Bauernmarkt (in Germany). Stationed in front of each marketplace are at least two giant planters overflowing with fresh-growing produce -- vegetables and herbs, ingredients all used in the dishes being prepared in the marketplaces' tiny kitchens. The tie-in with the Flower and Garden Festival was obvious, and I thought made a lot of sense. Why not showcase the seasonality and freshness of the ingredients in an event that is essentially all about reconnecting with nature?

But what about what was going on INSIDE the Marketplaces? Were the Garden Marketplaces successful? In a word, yes. As Chef Jens Dahlmann, executive chef of Epcot, noted when talking to media the other day, one of his primary aims was to not replicate anything that you might find at the annual fall Food and Wine Festival. He definitely achieved that, and in some cases exceeded all expectations.

After visiting all of the marketplaces over the course of several days, and tasting nearly every item, here's my short list of winners and... well, let's not say losers. Let's call them... also-rans.

Winner #1: Shrimp and stone-ground grits with andouille sausage, Zellwood corn, tomatoes and cilantro, from the Florida Fresh Marketplace. Tender, perfectly cooked and seasoned shrimp coupled with creamy grits and a subtle kick of spicy sausage made for my favorite dish of the festival.

Winner #2: Watermelon Salad with pickled red onions, baby arugula, feta cheese and balsamic reduction, also at the Florida Fresh Marketplace. Who would have thought that the sharpness of feta would pair so well with juicy, sweet watermelon and onions? The combination of tastes and textures -- sweet, salty, crunchy, crumbly -- made for a totally surprising, and totally delicious, dish.

Winner #3: Lasagna Primavera at the Primavera Kitchen (Italy): Vegetable lasagna NEVER tasted so good. A slightly sweet tomato sauce, tender spinach pasta sheets, layered with peas, zucchini, mushrooms, broccolini and some of the best bechamel sauce I've had in a long time. The only reason I didn't go back for seconds was because the portion size was so generous.

Honorable Mentions: Limoncello Panna Cotta with wild berries and Green Asparagus and lobster with garden cocktail sauce (both at Primavera Kitchen); Frushi (Fruit Sushi at Hanami); and Rocky Road Brownie Mousse (The Smokehouse).

Now, for the not-so-good news:

Jardin de Fiestas FoodsAlso-Ran #1: Pulled Pig Slider with Cole Slaw (The Smokehouse): The oaky, smoky aromas wafting from the Smokehouse were tantalizing and the place looked great, so I had high expectations, but this pork left me cold -- little to no BBQ sauce, and the cole slaw was tart to the point of being inedible.

Also-Ran #2: Ginger and Green Tea Trifle at The Cottage (UK Pavilion): The other trifles in this trio of desserts (chocolate and wild berry) were perfectly scrumptious -- I had no idea the pretty green third cup would be such a let-down. The flavors just didn't work.

Also-Ran #3: Guava Flan at Jardin de Fiestas (Mexico): The orangey-brownish color of the flan alone was not very appetizing, but the musky, slightly tart flavor sealed the deal. Or maybe I just don't like guava.

Other items that disappointed: Dried out Ratatouille Tart with Goat Cheese at L'Orangerie (France); heavy and dry Savory Bread Pudding with Peas and Mushroom Ragout and Potato Pancake with housemade applesauce (both at the Bauernmarkt in Germany). The potato pancake in particular was disappointing -- the pancake was good and flavorful, but it was unnecessarily drenched with an overly sweet applesauce. Why?

That brings me to one of my complaints about several of the dishes in general. Why hide their natural goodness under gorpy, sweet sauces and dressings? The Angel Food Cake with macerated strawberries at Florida Fresh, for example, was nearly ruined by the gloppy, oversweetened strawberry sauce. It was so much better when the chef prepared a separate dish using only plain, fresh berries with the cream on the side. I had a similar issue with the Baked Goat's Brie with Kumquat Chutney, a savory pastry pocket with a scant amount of cheese, drowning in what tasted like peach pie filling. This had the potential to be one of my favorite treats -- love goat cheese, love pastry, love kumquat. Instead it fell somewhere in the middle, after I scraped off most of the chutney.

But don't let these quibbles discourage you. I really did enjoy the majority of the foods and beverages I sampled. (Did I mention the Hot Sun Tomato Wine? I should have -- it was great! As was the gorgeously pink Rosita Margarita with its rose petal garnish.) Yes, overall, I felt the Garden Marketplaces were well worth visiting.

OK, you're probably saying, enough about the food... what about the FLOWERS? What about the GARDENS?

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WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
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Garden PassportThough I thoroughly investigated the foodstuffs among the flowers, don't worry. I didn't forget to check out the other new features of this year's festival.

Starting at the front of the park, I encountered the new front-entrance topiary focal point: Party with Mickey & Friends. There I found Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Pluto and Goofy engaged in the cookout of our dreams. More than 15 varieties of flowers and plants make up this sweet-smelling centerpiece that looked great from every angle, even though it was hard to get a good photo of the badminton-playing Donald and Daisy.

Once I got to the Festival Center, one of the first things I discovered was the new Garden Passport. This pocket-sized booklet is a take-off on the popular Food & Wine Festival Passport that was started a few years ago. Take the passport to a cast member in each area you visit in Epcot to receive a stamp in the book! It's a fun idea for kids, but I noticed many adults getting in on the stamping action, too. The great thing about an activity like this is it encourages you to visit areas you might otherwise have skipped, and it is always an opportunity to have a little chat with a cast member so that you might learn a thing or two.

Along with the passports, it seemed to me that there were a number of new things geared specifically to attract the attention of the younger set. There's even a new symbol urging kids to "TRY IT!" which labels not only new experiences, but foods at the Garden Marketplaces that might be considered "kid-friendly."

One of these "TRY IT!" signs was posted at the new Radiator Springs interactive play zone in Future World East on the Test Track walkway, which already seemed to be a huge draw. Detailed topiaries of race car Lightning McQueen and tow truck Mater of the Disney-Pixar "Cars" films are stationed in this area that's decorated with gleaming hubcaps and gasoline cans. It's the perfect pitstop for young ones who want to climb around on the play equipment, or take a minute to try some of the hands-on or interactive activities, like finding Mater's missing shock absorbers.

Another new play zone claims a spot on the Rose Walk, promoting "Oz the Great and Powerful." This whimsical "Land of Oz" playground is actually entertaining for all ages, with old-time funhouse mirrors and giant plastic poppies, and play structures for both 2- to 5-year-olds and 5- to 12-year-olds.

Radiator SpringsKids will also enjoy seeing some of their favorite and more recent Disney characters brought to life. The ubiquitous Phineas and Ferb, from the Disney Channel cartoon that bears their names, finally have their own greenery alter egos -- you'll find them stationed in the Innoventions Plaza right behind Spaceship Earth, with a menacing Agent P peering over their fence. You'll also see the topiary prequel versions of Sulley and Mike Wazowski promoting their upcoming movie, Monsters University, in World Showcase Plaza. The detail on these new pieces, and the other "monsters" surrounding them, is impressive, but as I heard some observers noting, it would have been nice if Sully could have been a bit bluer.

While the stages and shopping areas of the Festival Center are set up pretty much as they have been in recent years, in the back of the building, you'll find a pleasant surprise. There's a retrospective depicting the evolution of horticulture at Disney Parks, including a tribute to Disney Legend Morgan "Bill" Evans, whose long career included transforming Anaheim orange groves into lush Disneyland attractions like the Jungle Cruise. Evans also worked on the master plan for Walt Disney World and EPCOT Center. Even after retiring in 1975, Evans consulted on the landscape design of Tokyo Disneyland as well as on the schematic designs of the Polynesian Resort, Discovery Island, Typhoon Lagoon and Disney-MGM Studios. He was involved in the selection of plants for Disneyland Paris and Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Finally, the Flower and Garden viewing doesn't have to stop when the sun goes down, as it has in years past. The horticulture team has added Illuminated Gardens, which literally shine a spotlight on the featured figures so that you can enjoy them longer. I found the illuminated Captain Hook topiary in the UK pavilion with the Croc menacing in the background especially dramatic -- in fact, I think I liked him even better at night!

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THE TRIED AND TRUE
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Woody TopiaryEven though there was plenty of "new" to see, I couldn't neglect my old festival favorites.

As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed the Butterfly House, which has a Tinker Bell and her Fairy Friends theme. Sadly, the day I visited was too cool for many of its 1000 or so butterflies to flutter by, but I loved peering into the chrysalis boxes, checking to see if any winged creatures were ready to burst free. The fairy topiaries have nearly all been moved into the butterfly house now, with the notable exception of Tinker Bell, who is perched with her sister Periwinkle outside. Don't miss the miniature pixie houses that dot the landscape as you browse around looking for fritillaries, monarchs and swallowtails. I still chuckle when I see the little home made from an old plastic roller skate.

Along with the brand new topiaries, there were many old standbys that I was happy to see again, some of which had been "rested" for the last few years: Buzz Lightyear and Woody were there, though not together (Buzz near Mission: SPACE and Woody in the American Adventure) and I must say I am impressed with the attention to detail on each of these figures. Woody even sports a pull-string on his back. The gawky old troll has returned to Norway after an absence of several years, and of course Winnie the Pooh and friends are scattered around the UK pavilion as usual. The Lion King figures are always beautiful to behold -- how the horticultural team is able to convey such movement and the nuances of these characters just by using ornamental grasses, ivies and moss, is truly a skill I would love to have. I also found the arrangement of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs topiaries to be especially clever this year. Something about the way they were lined up and the angle of the sun hitting them at various times of the day really brought the entire scene to life.

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HOURS OF
HORTICULTURE
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Don't let all my talk about food fool you. The Flower and Garden Festival still offers much more than just its feast for your eyes and, this year, taste buds. There's a wide range of informative demonstrations and hands-on activities for all ages.

This year's HGTV Designers' Stage, located in the Festival Center, kicked off its series with speaker Roger Swain, former host of PBS's "Victory Garden" show. (Yes, I remember it. I'm that old.) Upcoming speakers who will grace this stage Monday-Thursday at noon and 3 p.m. include local and nationally recognized garden experts. On weekends, HGTV personalities take over. The coming weeks will see the likes of Egypt Sherrell ("Property Virgins") and Brandon Johnson ("My Yard Goes Disney") speaking. The Greenhouse Stage, with talks scheduled at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily, will have even more local gardening experts and Disney horticulturists.

Also in the Festival Center, you'll find informal booths where you can "Ask an Expert" from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or get "Planting Pointers" at 1 and 4 p.m.

If you're really interested in seeing how Disney does it, you can take the three-hour Gardens of the World tour, only offered on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday during the festival run. It's $60 and gives you a chance to tour the park with a Disney horticulturist who shows off the special displays and shares some secrets. (Read Kristin Ford's blog about this tour,which she took last week.)

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MORE THAN
JUST FLOWERS
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By far one of the best side shows at the Flower & Garden Festival is the series of "Flower Power" concerts held on the weekends at the America Gardens Theatre in World Showcase. A cynic might say these performances by recording artists who were popular in the 1960s and '70s are just the last gasps of a bunch of has-beens -- but you won't hear that kind of remark from me! Over the years I have delighted to enthusiastic and nostalgic performances by Peter Noone, The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie and the late Davy Jones. This year, they've added several acts I just might be willing to make a special trip to see -- including The Village People! If upcoming Flower Power acts (among them Paul Revere and the Raiders, Tommy Roe and Nelson) are even half as entertaining as the returning, must-see Peter Noone, you must make time in your flower-viewing schedule to catch at least one show.

And finally, while there are smaller shops with outside vendors scattered around World Showcase, the Festival Center is the central location for Festival-themed merchandise. You can find everything from the annual Flower & Garden Festival poster (which now costs a whopping $24.95) to t-shirts, caps, totes and more sporting this year's logo. There is of course, loads of other gardening related merchandise, from small tools to gazing balls, bird feeders to wind chimes. (I'll have a blog on Festival merchandise on AllEars.Net later this week!)

So, did I "Get a Taste of Spring," as the festival organizers had promised? Indeed I did. The addition of the mini food and wine fest injected some new life and stirred the interest of this non-gardener -- which I suppose was partially the point. I look forward to seeing how they'll improve upon the concept if they decide to go with it again next year (and I hope they do!). And of course the flowers, gardens and topiaries were a welcome sight for these greenery-deprived eyes. I'd like to visit again in a few weeks once all the plantings fill in a bit and give it a lusher look.

And to give that Vegetable Lasagna and Shrimp and Grits another try...

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RELATED LINK
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20th Annual Flower and Garden Festival Video Tour


March 11, 2013

Re-Discovering America: Family Treasures from the Kinsey Collection

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Friday, March 8, marked the grand opening of the newest exhibit to be housed in Epcot's American Heritage Gallery -- "Re-Discovering America: Family Treasures from the Kinsey Collection."

This exhibit of rare African-American art, documents, books and other artifacts from the personal collection of philanthropists Bernard and Shirley Kinsey will be on display in the gallery for the next three years. The current exhibit, which consists of about 40 items, is only a fraction of the approximately 300 pieces that the Kinseys have gathered over the past 30 years. Every six months, the exhibit will be refreshed with different pieces.


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Here's an overview video of the collection:


According to Bernard Kinsey, the exhibit traces 400 years of African-American achievements from 1600 to the present in an effort to showcase the significant contributions of people many of us have never heard of.

"We were here one year before the Mayflower, not as slaves, but as indentured servants, just like the English," Kinsey noted. "And that's the part of history we are trying to get at. Not just to get people to understand, but to really write black people into the narrative of America. Once we do that we can get over race, which is also what we want."



The Kinseys began their search for these historically important pieces about 30 years ago, when their son Khalil, who now oversees the collection, expressed a curiosity about his heritage.

"He was in third grade and he wanted to know about his history," recalled Shirley Kinsey. "Other kids could trace back to Europe -- his story only went back as far as Florida," she explained, adding that she and her husband are both Florida natives (she's from St. Augustine). "The kids wanted to know more about their own personal history."


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The search for these pieces led Bernard and Shirley all over the world.

"We've been to 91 countries," Bernard Kinsey noted, "and we've selected these pieces with a great deal of care... And we continue to look for pieces that will bring the story to bear, and give a more complete picture. We want to show that we were there [throughout history], and we mattered."

Bernard noted that among his favorite items in the collection is a page from the 1796 almanac of Benjamin Banneker, who is also reported to have assisted in the initial survey of the District of Columbia.


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Shirley Kinsey stressed that this collection is not just about the horrors of slavery, although several pieces, such as the Harriet Jacobs' book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1862), do recall that era: "This is about American history, and about people whose story has never been told."

She noted that her favorite piece of the items currently displayed is an untitled painting by Huey Lee Smith.



"The girl in the picture is jumping rope with her back to you. I like to say that little girl is me, and in it I'm looking to the future."

Appropriately enough, that painting can be found in the display case marked "Hope." The exhibit is actually divided into five sections, reflecting the various themes of the pieces on display: Hope, Belief, Courage, Imagination and Heritage.


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In each section, a timeline mural calls out key events, and there are interactive touch screens that provide more details on displays.


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In each section also, a flickering lantern beckons, ready to "cast some light" on the artifacts nearby. By simply depressing the lantern's handle, a guest can watch a holographic video narrated by a number of popular celebrities, including: Academy Award-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg, Diane Sawyer, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens, Jr. from "Grey's Anatomy," Kerry Washington of ABC-TV's "Scandal," and Disney Channel stars Zendaya Coleman and Roshon Fegan ("Shake It Up"), China Anne McClain ("A.N.T. Farm") and Tyrel Jackson Williams ("Lab Rats").



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Both "Grey's Anatomy" actors were on hand for the gallery's grand opening ceremony, which also featured remarks from the Kinseys, as well as Jim MacPhee, senior vice president of Walt Disney World parks, and Carmen Smith, vice president at Walt Disney Imagineering, whose vision drove the project that led to the collection's installation at Epcot.

"We are truly honored to have been able to lend our voices along with the other performers to the interactive storytelling portion of the installation," Wilson noted, as she talked about the significance of her participation in the project. "As an actress in New York City, voiceover work is what would get me through the lean years, and I actually once did a campaign called, '20 Reasons to Come to Disney World.' It paid my rent for a year! So it's come full circle to be working for Disney on Grey's and then to have our voices present in this exhibit."


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"To appreciate art and what it means in terms of its translation of culture and our history, I think they [the Kinseys] have done more for that than the average American, and we appreciate that," Pickens noted. "I was glad to lend my voice to that."

"This gives us a better sense of self and says how valid our participation is and was," he added. "It can only help our education process."


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"We [the collection] were at the Smithsonian," observed Bernard Kinsey. "And about 2 million people saw us there. Here at Epcot over the next three years, about 40 million people will see us. You know, from a pure museum standpoint, nobody beats the Smithsonian. But from a pure storytelling standpoint, nobody beats Disney. And the Kinsey Collection is more about storytelling."


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Kinsey concluded. "We want you to leave with a simple comment: I didn't know that. If we can get everybody to come to say, 'I didn't know that,' we will have accomplished what we set out to do."

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The rotating exhibit "Re-Discovering America -- Family Treasures from the Kinsey Collection," will be on display at Epcot's American Heritage Gallery until 2016. It is open daily, 11 a.m.to 9 p.m., or normal park operating hours. Admission to the gallery is included with your admission to Epcot -- there is no additional entry fee.

January 29, 2013

Oooh La La! An AllEars.Net Meet

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The morning of January 25 was one of the foggiest I've ever seen on Walt Disney World property! When we ventured over to Epcot at around 8:15 a.m. we could barely see a foot in front of us.

Still it made for some interesting scenery along the walk from the Beach Club Resort into the theme park.

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Once we passed through Epcot's International Gateway, we made our way over to the France pavilion for our 9 a.m. meet and to try out the new Boulangerie Patisserie.


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The bakery had an impressive selection of both sweet and savory pastries, especially considering that it was just 9 a.m.!


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After choosing a chocolate croissant and a cappuccino, I took a seat to enjoy what looked to be an authentic French pastry. Sadly, my croissant had about as much chocolate in it as a single chocolate chip. But the pastry was flaky and buttery and the cappuccino strong and frothy, so I just made a mental note to try one of the other menu items on my next visit -- possibly the ham and swiss sandwich, which Linda Eckwerth gave a rave review, or the apple turnover. I overheard a few people waxing poetic over its merits!

Although the new Boulangerie Patisserie may lack some of the warmth of its former location, I found the new spot a definite improvement over the previous cramped conditions. In looking around at the metalwork and architecture of the seating area in particular, I wonder if they were trying to conjure up the feeling of the sort of cafe/bakery you might find in a Parisienne train station -- that's exactly what it felt like to me at least, and I enjoyed it.

What I also enjoyed was the chance to mingle with the 20 or so people who made the effort to come out to meet us on such an early and foggy morning. Sorry we didn't get a group photo, but we do appreciate the opportunity to say hello to so many of you!


Denise, a DC-area friend we've known since her now-27-year-old daughter was just 12 or 13, and her friend share a few minutes with Deb Wills
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Sandy F. and Gail, who we've known quite some time, along with Helen, who was "snowbirding" from my hometown of Pittsburgh, and Theresa, visiting from Staten Island, NY.
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Catherine and her mother, both from my current neck of the woods, Washington, DC!
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Long-time friends and locals Sara and Doug visit with Deb Wills.
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Barrie and Sutree, all the way from the Pacific Northwest.
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Jack Spence and a young fan from North Carolina.
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Thanks everyone for stopping by! And if you took any photos that you'd like to share, please let me know and I'll add them here.

Didn't get to see us this time? Don't despair -- we'll be having many more meets as 2013 rolls along. Be sure to check our Team Meets page for the latest updates HERE.


December 7, 2012

Disney Shares What's Happening "Around Our World" at Press Event

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The final day of the New Fantasyland press event began over at Downtown Disney's AMC 24 Theatre with Disney's presentation to update everyone on what's happening "Around Our World."

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Before the show there was much speculation as to whether any significant revelations would be made -- many were thinking (wishfully) that speaker Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering, would announce that a version of California Adventure's Carsland would be coming to Walt Disney World.

Let me tell you right off, the answer to that is...no. At least, there was no announcement to that effect. Instead the biggest news we heard, at least in my opinion, is that the previously announced Avatar Land, a new area in Animal Kingdom to be themed after the successful James Cameron film and its upcoming sequels, is definitely proceeding. (Rumors have circulated that perhaps the project was dead, since there hasn't been much news about it since it was originally announced.) According to the Vaughn, development of the new fantastical land is "still on track" and something that they're "very excited" about.

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Aside from that tidbit, the rest of the presentation served as a recap of what's been happening at Disney Parks and around the Disney universe most recently.

Meg Crofton, President, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, United States and France (to give her full title), introduced the program by sharing a few bits of trivia about the New Fantasyland and Test Track attractions, now that they're officially open to the public.

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She revealed, for example, that there is a Hidden Mickey in the new Little Mermaid attraction that will only be visible once a year, on November 18 -- Mickey Mouse's birthday. She also pointed out this subtle tribute to the original Epcot attraction World of Motion -- it's the logo for the old ride, which originally occupied Test Track's site.

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In addition to his confirmation of the Avatar project, Vaughn also spoke at length about other recent developments around the Disney Parks.

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Vaughn of course highlighted the New Fantasyland and its many features, calling the Audio Animatronic Lumiere, found in the Enchanted Tales with Belle experience, the most advanced that Disney has at the moment. He also talked about the non-queue queue at the revamped Dumbo attraction, hinting that the "queue lounge" is something we might be seeing more of. Vaughn also talked briefly about the Princess Fairy Tale Hall, which will open in New Fantasyland next year, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, not due to be finished until 2014. Vaughn said the train's thrill level will rank somewhere just below Big Thunder Mountain Railroad's, and added that the representations of the dwarfs themselves in the attraction will be "unique."

Vaughn also took the opportunity to announce the addition of a new gallery in Epcot, to be housed in the American Adventure. The Bernard and Shirley Kinsey Collection will be made up of 40 pieces of art, artifacts, books and documents from the Kinseys' personal collection of African-American art and history. The gallery will hold previews during African-American heritage month in February 2013, an will officially open in March.

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After recapping the new attractions at Disneyland Resort -- primarily Cars Land and the new Buena Vista Street -- Vaughn turned the program over to Karl Holz, President, New Vacation Operations and Disney Cruise Line.

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Holz also gave an overview of the latest news relating to his areas of responsibility, the Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney. Future itineraries for both have already been announced -- the one item that was news to me was Holz's mention of a special princess event to be held in the Doges Palace in Venice, as part of the DCL's sailing in the Mediterranean next year.

Crofton concluded the presentation by giving a fuller explanation of Limited Time Magic, a program announced several weeks ago.

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The idea behind Limited Time Magic is to "give guests an extra dash of pixie dust" by providing themed weekly surprises that will create special memories. Crofton offered as examples of upcoming Limited Time Magic themes a week dedicated to pirates and a "love" week around Valentine's Day.

The presentation ended with the audience receiving its very own Limited Time Magic treat -- a selection from the "original boy band," the barbershop quartet known as the Dapper Dans. The foursome departed from their usual standards and delighted us with a medley of hits from recent REAL boy bands like Backstreet Boys, N Sync, and One Direction. If all Limited Time Magic offerings are as whimsical as this was, I'm excited for the program to start.

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DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the New Fantasyland Press Event.

New Fantasyland Grand Opening

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I haven't been to "the World" since early October, so I've missed all the little sneak previews Disney's been holding to tease us all with tastes of the new attractions and other features of the expansion to the theme park's beloved Fantasyland. It was so difficult to read everything about the new Enchanted Tales with Belle, the Beast's Castle and the Be Our Guest Restaurant, as well as the new Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid, knowing it would be months until I finally had the chance to experience them all for myself.

Finally, as of today, I can tell you both that the New Fantasyland is open and, even better, I am even happier to report that I've seen it and LOVE it!

The opening festivities actually started Wednesday night with a press event that allowed members of the media and their guests to explore the area on their own. But the formal ribbon-cutting and "Grand Opening Celebration" occurred today, December 6, with the expected Disney fanfare.

First thing this morning, members of the media attended a small ribbon-cutting ceremony in Belle's Village, with chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Tom Staggs and two special guests -- actress Ginnifer Goodwin, who plays Snow White on the popular ABC-TV show "Once Upon a Time," and singer (and former American Idol winner) Jordin Sparks. The festivities were overseen by Mickey Mouse, donned in appropriately regal Fantasyland-themed attire.

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With a burst of dove-shaped confetti, the ribbon leading to the new section of Fantasyland was cut and the attention turned to the Castle Forecourt Stage.

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The more elaborate and more public grand opening celebration on the Castle Forecourt Stage, featured Jordin Sparks singing a Disney tunes medley and performing with a new Magic Kingdom act, the Giggle Gang -- circus clowns!

After this performance, Staggs took the stage once more for the dedication of the New Fantasyland.

“Walt Disney once promised that Disneyland, and by extension all of our parks, would never be complete as long as there is imagination left in the world,” Staggs said. “New Fantasyland is a spectacular addition to the Magic Kingdom that delivers on Walt's promise. We're thrilled to take guests beyond the walls of Cinderella Castle to discover new worlds featuring iconic Disney characters and stories in ways that are more imaginative, more interactive and more immersive than ever before.”

Following the ceremony, the media had the opportunity to attend a short panel discussion on "The Story Behind New Fantasyland," held in the Diamond Horseshoe in Frontierland. Panel members included Imagineer Chris Beatty, who has overseen the development of the New Fantasyland project; Maribeth Bisienere (vice president of Food and Beverage and Merchandise Operations Integration for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts); and Phil Holmes, vice president of the Magic Kingdom.

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The discussion centered on the challenges the team faced in bringing the New Fantasyland to fruition, including the controversial decision to serve alcoholic beverages at the new Be Our Guest restaurant in the Beast's Castle. Below, Beatty talks about the inspiration behind the New Fantasyland project.

And with that, the New Fantasyland is finally open! I'll be sharing more photos and my thoughts about the new features of this brand new section of the park in this week's AllEars newsletter. Until then...

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the New Fantasyland Press Event.

November 9, 2012

Food and Wine Pairing - Flavors of Morocco

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012
3:30 - 5 p.m.
$55 per person, plus tax.
Restaurant Marrakesh
Epcot

Menu

Aperitif: Joseph Drouhin Laforet Bourgogne Chardonnay
(Burgundy, France)
Merguez Sausage (beef and lamb) with grilled onions
and peppers
Paired with: Les Trois Domaines Guerrouane
Rouge DOG (Meknes, Morocco)
Lemon Chicken with Couscous
Paired with: Castle Rock Winery Pinot Noir (Mendocino,
California)
Shish Kebab - grilled tenderloin of beef with vegetables
Paired with Torres Ibericos Crianza
Tempranillo (La Rioja, Spain)
Baba Ghanouj with Pita Chips, Tomato Salad, Falafel

Wines by: Republic National Distributing Company

I've been to a number of Food and Wine Pairings throughout my years of attending Epcot's annual Food and Wine Festival, but I've never been able to make it to the one held at the Morocco pavilion's Restaurant Marrakesh, due to timing. (I'm generally at the festival over a weekend, and Marrakesh usually has their events mid-week.) This year, though, I was staying until Wednesday and was able to finally schedule a Food and Wine Pairing at this location. I'm glad that I could!

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I've always felt Restaurant Marrakesh -- the whole Morocco pavilion, in fact -- is an underappreciated oasis of exotic beauty in what can be a somewhat frenetic World Showcase. Sure, it gets a little loud when Mo'Rockin, the band that features Middle Eastern-inspired music and sometimes even a belly dancer, is performing, but if you meander into the pavilion's alleyways, you're treated to a much different experience -- an atmosphere that tries to replicate what you might experience in the souks of a Middle Eastern city or in a Arabic-influenced eatery.

Restaurant Marrakesh itself is worth a visit, and as I was a few minutes early for the 3:30 pairing, I took some time to look around the uninhabited seating area, while I sipped on the welcome aperitif (a glass of well-chillled, crisp Joseph Drouhin Laforet Bourgogne Chardonnay). The intricately carved woodwork and beautifully ornate tiles make this spot a treat for the eyes, as the aromas coming from the kitchen make it one for the nose.

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The 25 or so of us in attendance were seated at 3:30 in a back corner of the restaurant, and were soon introduced to Chef M'barek, who told us he'd been with Walt Disney World for 23 years. He spoke at length about not only the history of Restaurant Marrakesh, but of the evolution of Moroccan food. It seems that in addition to the obvious Arabic influences, Moroccan cooking was heavily influenced by Jewish immigrants who came from Spain, and later by the French, who acted as a protecting power until 1956.

Chef M'barek's commentary was supplemented by remarks from Brian, a representative of Republic National Distributing Company, which supplied the wines for the pairing.

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Our first dish was a spicy lamb and beef Merguez Sausage, served with a side of tomato, grilled peppers and onions. I loved the kick of the sausage, enhanced by just a hint of mint, and it paired beautifully with the only Moroccan wine we sampled that day, Les Trois Domaines Guerrouane Rouge. The Muslim culture of Morocco is not a wine-drinking one, so although the climate in some areas is conducive to grape-growing, the making of wines is still evolving in this region. Still, this red, a blend of several grapes (including Carignan, Grenache, Cinsault and Alicante), goes quite well with food -- fruity and light, without much tannin. TIP: This sausage is featured at the Morocco International Marketplace during the Food and Wine Festival if you'd like to try it for yourself!

Our second plate was a portion of Lemon Chicken, one of Restaurant Marrakesh's specialties, which came with a complement of couscous. This falling-off-the-bone poultry was savory and went surprisingly well with our second wine, the light Castle Rock Winery Pinot Noir. Our wine rep talked at length about the winery, which is based in Mendocino County, but unfortunately we heard little about the preparation of the chicken dish.

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A skewer of Shish Kebab followed the chicken, paired with my favorite wine of the afternoon -- the Spanish Torres Ibericos Crianza Tempranillo. Again, we heard more about the wine and the winery than we did about the food, which was a little disappointing, since this grilled beef with vegetables was tasty. I would love the recipe for whatever marinade the chef used!

When I saw the servers bringing out one more course, I hoped that we would be closing out the tasting with a sample of the restaurant's outrageously good bastilla -- layers of flaky phyllo pastry with vanilla cream, sprinkled with cinnamon, powdered sugar and toasted almonds. It's really a fabulous dessert -- if you ever go to Restaurant Marrakesh, I highly recommend it. Instead we were served a trio of "mezze", or small dishes that are commonly brought out as appetizers. The Baba Ghanoush (mashed, smoked eggplant) with toasted pita chips, Falafel (deep-fried balls of ground chickpeas) and a Tomato Salad were all wonderful, but I wish we could have heard the chef talk more about their place in Moroccan cuisine and how they were prepared.

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Overall, I'd say the restaurant does a good job of showcasing Morocco's signature flavors and foods in this program. Obviously, they are held back a little by the limited availability of Moroccan wines, but I would be willing to bet that there are other beverages they could offer to give participants additional insight into the Moroccan culinary experience -- even if they are non-alcoholic beverages. Also, because the program is billed as "The Flavors of Morocco," I think they should have spent a little more time covering the foods themselves. Other similar pairings I've attended have not only addressed the methods for preparing the dishes we sampled, but have also shared recipes and other helpful cooking tips. I would venture to guess that many aspiring "foodies" would welcome the opportunity to learn more about Moroccan cuisine, and Middle Eastern cooking in general, in a forum such as this.

That then brings me back to the perennial question: "Was this program worth the money?" I guess in this case my answer is a qualified, "Maybe." For $55, you do get to try several generous-sized portions of very nicely prepared food, accompanied by four thoughtfully selected wines, which were thoroughly explained by the wine representative. From that standpoint, you are certainly not short-changed. If, however, you are looking to learn more about Moroccan cooking and hope for the chance to talk with a chef about this exotic cuisine, you will probably come away a little disappointed, as I did.

Did you try the Morocco Food and Wine Pairing this year? Did you feel the same? We'd love to hear your thoughts -- please leave your comments on our Food and Wine Festival Rate and Review page HERE.

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