2007 Favorites

We’re nearing the end of 2007, so it’s time once again for my favorite stuff of the past year.
I tried 28 new beers this year and came up with one new summer favorite, Dogfish Head Festina PĂȘche and two new winter favorites which both tied my all-time best beer rating, Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout and Dogfish Head World Wide Stout.
It was a prolific year of reading for me, as I raced through 45 books! Ten of those books managed to garner 5 stars, but my overall favorite was The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. The other 5 star ratings went to Maxed Out, I Love You, Beth Cooper, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Little Children, Soon I Will Be Invincible, Boomsday, The Zero, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, and Lisey’s Story.
We had a great vacation to Disney World, including our awesome dinner at Victoria and Albert’s.
Favorite event (outside of kids walking and other various accomplishments): buying our minivan
Favorite album: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga by Spoon. I really dig this band.
Favorite new TV show: Pushing Daisies. The most visually interesting new show of the year, and it even manages to breath new life (har) into the old “will they or won’t they?” saga.
Another year has passed, but I look forward, as always, to the excitement of the new year ahead.

Disneyworld Day 5: Epcot

Our last day at Disneyworld brought us to Epcot. We had only briefly visited Epcot earlier in the week, so we were looking forward to seeing some new stuff. We got there really early and Lisa and I headed immediately over to Test Track for some adult ride time. There was no line, but since we had the kids we had to take turns riding single. Pretty fun ride, and we were glad to have gotten to try it. Ellie didn’t like the noise though, so we went to get some breakfast while Lisa rode. Coincidentally, right next to the restaurant was Soarin, and Lisa and I got Fast Passes to ride that later on.
Eventually we met up with Colin and the grandparents and headed over to the Seas featuring Nemo.

I think this picture was actually taken later in the day, but it fits in with the Nemo theme. Ellie actually wore her bathing suit, as you will see shortly, and had lots of fun getting wet.
After our ride on Soarin, which actually had a somewhat long wait even with a FastPass, we headed over to Les Chefs de France for lunch. Lisa snitched on me to the waiter, who was actually nice and didn’t speak rapid-fire French that I couldn’t understand. I think he was secretly pleased when I ordered the escargots though.
After lunch, we took in some of the sights of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. They had some interesting topiaries, and some activities for the kids as well. Ellie made a clothespin caterpillar, and they also had a ladybug release.

The ladybugs were in a box where they had been sleeping until we let them out to crawl on my hands. Ellie liked looking, but not feeling them.

Told you she wore her bathing suit. She also didn’t want to change afterward, in case you couldn’t tell.

They also had a cool little railroad, complete with a village and teeny tiny little crops. That killed a good 30-45 minutes for the kids.

Ellie wasn’t too interested in meeting this guy, she hasn’t seen the Lion King yet. But then we told her he was a meerkat, and she went nuts. She likes watching the occasional episode of Meerkat Manor and has been known to take in a YouTube meerkat video or two.

Quite possibly the best topiary ever.

As it turns out, Epcot has a lot of nice slow boat ride-type rides that the kids enjoyed. There was one we took in “Mexico” featuring Donald Duck as one of the Three Caballeros. There’s Living with the Land, with the look at the Disney experimental greenhouses. And Ellie’s favorite was Journey Into Imagination With Figment. She loved that little dragon guy.

We finally got the cousins to sit for a decent picture together. Unfortunately, the older kids didn’t quite support Evan as well as we had hoped.

We stopped off at a fun playground on the way over to our last dinner. Evan did his best Spiderman impression. Not bad for 5 months old.
Our dinner was a buffet-style gathering with a whole lot of other people. Most were there for family reunions or special occasions. The cool part was that we got to hang and dance with Minnie and Goofy, and we got front row seats to the fireworks show afterward.

I guess we should have warned Minnie that Evan puts everything in his mouth. Luckily her nose was not a choking hazard.

I left the table for a minute to go get some more food, and left Ellie and Lisa dancing around with Goofy and Minnie. By the time I got back to the table, Goofy had grabbed Ellie and was leading her along in a Conga line! Luckily I was quick with the camera. It was one of the few times that she wasn’t shy around the characters.

A fine memento of our last night at Disneyworld. We can’t wait to do it again!

Disneyworld Day 4: Animal Kingdom

Day 4 and we’re finally getting organized and coordinated with everyone. Virtually everyone arrived at the park around the same time, and we were able to head back to the safari ride and get our Fastpasses quickly.

Ellie and Colin’s favorite mode of transportation.
Ellie really loves going to the zoo, so we figured she would enjoy this park, and we were not mistaken. Even though we adults thought that it was kind of hokey that the safari was a ride, complete with a poacher storyline and all, Ellie loved the bouncy jeep and seeing all the animals.

Reminds me of Evan at the pool.

The giraffe crossed the road right in front of our jeep!

The storyline was that we were trying to save the baby elephant from the poachers. It may come as a shock to you, but we successfully completed our “mission!”

After the safari, we headed over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, the educational portion of the park. The kids got to pet goats and see a bunch of characters and participate in an educational sing-along with “Guitar Dan.”

Rafiki, Pocahontas and Jiminy Cricket. Not too sure how Jiminy fits in with the nature theme though.

Petting goats. Ellie preferred to brush their hair, like she does at home with Max.
Back at the main part of the park, we set out to DinoLand USA. The kids enjoyed the dinosaur-themed playground, and also liked some of the rides. I managed to sneak away to ride a couple of rides. The Primeval Whirl got stuck while I was riding it and sucked, but Expedition Everest was probably the best of the few adult rides I had the chance to ride. Colin had fun digging in the Boneyard, while Ellie enjoyed the Triceratops Spin.

No children were harmed in taking this photo.

Our last order of the day was to catch “Finding Nemo – The Musical.” Finding Nemo is one of the few Disney movies that Ellie has seen and really knows, so we figured she would enjoy the show. She did, for the five minutes of it she was awake for. She fell asleep shortly after the lights went down, and missed all the fun. The show wasn’t quite on par with the Lion King musical that Lisa and I saw on stage a few years back, but it was still pretty cool.
The Animal Kingdom park closes earlier than the other ones, so that the animals can get their rest. That was fine with us, because after four days on the go, we were ready for some rest too!

Disneyworld Day 3: Calm and Characters

After the excitement of meeting Cinderella on Day 2, Day 3 was a much more laid back kind of day. We arrived at the park early again, with our only plans lunch at the Plaza restaurant at 11:30. We lucked out and got in line to see Ariel right after it opened up, and hardly had to wait.

Ellie rode the Peter Pan ride for about the umpteenth time, and we went on the teacups, but she didn’t want to spin (thank goodness for small favors!). We saw the Country Bear Jamboree and did a few other things before hearing from Lisa’s parents and agreeing to meet at the Jungle Cruise. We lucked out again though, and saw Peter Pan and Wendy along the way.

Evan meets Peter Pan, and promptly decides to barf. Seriously, he spit up right after this picture. Peter was a good sport though, and still allowed Evan to sit on his lap for a picture.

We arrived at the Jungle Cruise to learn that the in-laws had already gotten in line, contrary to instructions. They thought the line was moving pretty fast, but it wasn’t, and we ended up being a little late for lunch. After lunch, we took the chance to take a few last pictures in front of Cinderella’s castle.

Colin with his mouse ears.

Evan with his.
After almost three days at the Magic Kingdom, we had our fill, and headed back to the hotel to relax for a little while. Lisa and I had our dinner reservations later that night, so her parents were going to watch the kids at our place. That meant plenty of time for fun at the pool.

Plenty of sunscreen allowed pictures like this to be taken pain-free.

Look at that chubby belly! Isn’t he the cutest?

OK, I take it back, sleeping babies are the cutest. It’s very tiring being a baby at Disneyworld.

DIsneyworld Day 2: Cinderella’s Castle

Our second full day at Disneyworld was bound to be an exciting one. After all, we had lunch plans with Cinderella!
We arrived at the park early to beat some of the crowds to the rides. First though, I discovered the barber shop hidden off to the left side of the main entrance to the park on Main Street.

The tradition there is that first haircuts get a sprinkling of confetti and colored hair spray, but they gave the confetti to Ellie and we skipped the hairspray. It was actually a really good haircut, which I desperately needed after the first two days being so windy.

Ellie really liked the Peter Pan ride most of all. We went on that at least 4 times. I’m not sure if it was because she had just seen the movie, or because it was a nice slow, not scary ride, but so it was. Since we were there early, there also wasn’t much of a line to see the popular characters like Winnie the Pooh and Tigger.

Finally, it was off to lunch with Cinderella and the Princesses. Ellie was really excited to meet Cinderella, she almost forgot what to do.

She also had lots of fun identifying the other Princesses and seeing them as they stopped by our table.

Belle from Beauty and The Beast.

Snow White. She looked probably the least like her namesake out of all the Princesses.

Evan got in on the act too. Unsurprisingly, he was a big fan of the Fairy Godmother. She liked him too.

Princess Aurora, aka Sleeping Beauty.

Thrilling, as you can see. We took a break shortly after lunch and went back to the hotel for a much-needed rest. This seems like a good time to show the hotel.

Nice and quaint.
Then it was back to the Magic Kingdom to check out the nighttime sights (good thing we took a nap!).

Cinderella’s castle at night.

The Spectromagic parade. Those Kiss wannabes really freaked me out.

Cinderella was a busy lady today.

Minnie closed out the parade, and our long day.

Disneyworld Day 1: Magic Kingdom/MGM

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy tattooed rednecks and scooter-riding fat people. We must be cautious.
Our first day at the Disneyworld parks, and we would soon see how the week would go. The only set plan was to meet for dinner at 6:30pm at the 50s Prime Time Cafe at MGM. We decided to go to the Magic Kingdom, since there would be more stuff for the kids to do. Lisa’s aunt went straight to MGM and was upset when she found out we weren’t there. Lisa’s parents and Colin were coming to the Magic Kingdom, only they were running a little later than us, thanks in part to the fact that they were staying at Pop Century, a “value” resort which had consistently longer shuttle lines than ours. And truthfully, we were there pretty early.

Ellie perked up when she saw Cinderella’s castle for the first time. While we were waiting for Colin to arrive, Ellie and I went on Goofy’s Barnstormer roller coaster.

Luckily, the line wasn’t long, because Ellie started getting scared at all the noise of the coaster running over our heads. She was a trooper though, and had fun, but definitely did not want to go on it again. She was a much bigger fan of the rides like Peter Pan, which were much slower and quieter.
After meeting up with Colin, we headed into Mickey’s house to meet Mickey. We bought the kids “autograph” books, so they could give the characters their books to sign when going up for pictures. I think they really got a kick out of that. It must be hard for those characters to sign in the big costumed hands, but they all must have gotten some serious training at it, because each character’s signature looks identical regardless of who’s behind the mask.

We didn’t linger too long at the Magic Kingdom. We decided to take the long route over to MGM, by taking the monorail over to Epcot, then walking through Epcot to the ferry boat which connects to MGM. Along the way, we ran into Pinocchio, Geppetto, Mary Poppins, Alice (from Wonderland), and Chip and Dale.

We caught the tail end of the MGM parade, and stopped by the Dinosaur ice cream stand for a snack, finally meeting up with Lisa’s aunt and family. I decided to head over to the (relatively, to me) new Aerosmith Rock N Roll Coaster with Jenny and Uncle Gary. The kids saw the Cars characters, as well as the Green Army Men and Buzz Lightyear (or as Ellie calls him Buzz Lightbeer).

The coaster was actually pretty good, with its 0-60 takeoff start and high speeds. Not bad for a Disney coaster. The rest of the gang checked out the “Honey I Shrunk The Kids” playground and the Muppets 3D show. Finally, it was time for dinner.
Dinner at the 50s Prime Time Cafe is an experience. You’re eating in “Mom’s kitchen” with 50s black and white TV clips playing in the background. What’s Mom’s #1 rule? Elbows off the table! I’m proud to say that I didn’t get busted once (I got busted lots the last time we were there). Auntie, on the other hand, was forced to stand with her head against the wall as punishment. Cell phones were similarly verboten. Lots of scolding at our table. Sadly, I neglected to take any pictures. I am a moron. It was a lot of fun though, and I cleaned my plate good. Mom would be proud.
By the time we were done with dinner, there was just enough time to catch the Little Mermaid live show, essentially the movie distilled into a short half hour stage show. Ellie especially enjoyed when bubbles came floating down onto the audience. And so a long Day 1 came to an end.

Disneyworld Day 0: Hoop-Dee-Doin’ It

I’m labelling this “Day 0” because we didn’t actually spend any time at a Disney Resort, but there was still plenty that we did do.
We had a very early flight, leaving just after 7am. We actually try to get to the airport an hour before scheduled departure, because with two kids, we really do need the time. We left the house before 6am, and Ellie didn’t go back to sleep until halfway through the flight to Orlando. It was also Evan’s first plane ride.

Not quite as early as Ellie’s first flight (she wasn’t even two months old when we flew to Miami for the World Series), but still pretty early anyway. We’ll see how long it takes for his first international flight.
Once we arrived in Orlando, we were disappointed to find it raining cats and dogs. Luckily, it turned out to just be a typical Florida thunderstorm which blew right through and cleared up some beautiful weather, perfect for checking out the pool.

Pretty sweet, eh? We were staying at the Port Orleans French Quarter, which is a mid-level resort on the Disney property. We came to enjoy our hotel because it was nice and quiet, as well as having one of the shorter lines for getting on shuttle buses. The pool was pretty cool too, and Ellie was excited to hop right in.

Disney, we soon came to find out, is prepared for most eventualities, like not having a life vest for your kid, so they provided one for us. Kind of important when you’re only 3 feet tall and you want to go down the slide into 4 feet deep water and don’t know how to swim. Unfortunately, it was a little too scary, and Ellie only went down the one time.

My dad was meeting us for dinner, and he said he found us by following the glare of our pasty white skin. Pretty easy to find the tourists, I guess.

Our dinner plans should have been simple. Since we and our extended family were on the Disney Dining Plan, we all needed to check in and get out meal passes. Then we could go to the concierge and “pay” for our meal using our dining plan credits. After that, my dad would be left to pay for the remainder since they were not on a plan. Lisa even called her family when they were on the bus to Disney to remind them what to do. And yet, in what would become a recurring theme, it somehow went awry. They all went straight to the concierge and paid with their credit cards, and called back triumphantly announcing that they had followed the instructions. Clearly not. They ended up spending a good half hour getting things straight later.
Eventually, we all made it to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue dinner show. Our seats were up in the balcony with a great view of the stage. Ellie sat in rapt attention once they sang the opening number, which sounded suspiciously like a Wiggles song. It’s probably an old standard, but it certainly piqued Ellie’s interest.

In another recurring theme, Ellie didn’t eat too much at the show, even though ribs are one of her favorites. I was forced to embarrass myself by volunteering that it was my birthday (a week or so prior actually, but I was getting belated presents that night). The coquetteish blonde performer mussed my hair as I grinned from ear to ear. I was happy to be here.

At least I didn’t have to go up and perform like these poor folks. And that was the end of Day 0, as it was time to go back to the hotel and get some sleep before the first of many busy days ahead.

Disney Trivia Answer And Menu

I really need to remember to be specific when doing these contests. Not only did I neglect to say that going over did not matter, but I also forgot to mention whether sales tax should figure in, though I did tell you to exclude tips. Anyway, on to the answer.
Victoria and Albert’s has a fixed price menu of $115 per person (this actually varies with the time of year, I think). We also ordered the wine pairings to go with each course, which was $60 per person. However, Lisa also sprung for an extra $15 Foie Gras option. This brought the subtotal to $365, so Shelley was closest. After taxes, it was up to $388.73, so Al was the closest to that number. You KC boys really must have life really cheap out there.
On to the important part, the menu.

We each got our own personalized menu.

Here is mine. Click on the thumbnail for the larger view, it should be fairly legible at that size. Lisa had a slightly different menu, without the seafood options. On to what we ate, no pictures though, sorry. I will try to describe Lisa’s food as well, but I only had a bite or two here and there, so maybe she can chime in with a comment.
Obviously we both enjoyed the little bit of bubbly to start, and toasted to our birthdays, which bracketed the dinner date. I had the Dungeness and King Crab to start, which was honestly a little bit plain. The small taste of caviar was nice though. The Vermentino wine was a good starter too, a crisp and delicate partner to the seafood. Lisa had heirloom tomatoes with hearts of palm and 25 year balsamic vinegar. I never bought in that much to the age numbers on balsamic, but that stuff was good.
Next up for me was the Minnesota Elk. Now we’re talking. In contrast to the understated seafood appetizer, this one kicked you over with flavor. Good rare meat, nice bit of spaetzle to absorb some of the sauce, and I really enjoyed the sweetbreads (go ahead, click the link and remind yourself of what sweetbreads are. They were good is all I know). The Perez Cruz Reserva Carmenere was typical Chilean: bold and spicy, with lots of fruit flavors (I apologize for the sloppy wine reviews, I didn’t take notes like I do when sampling beers). Lisa had the foie gras and practically moaned through every bite, so I assume she enjoyed it.
I had the New Zealand John Dory next (being in Disneyworld, I couldn’t help thinking I was eating Dory from Finding Nemo), which was delicious. The Christian Moreau Chablis was another nice white seafood accompaniment, citrusy with some apple. Lisa had an awesome butternut squash soup instead of seafood here.
Ah, the main course. I had a really hard time choosing here between the pork tenderloin and the lamb. I eventually chose the lamb, since Lisa doesn’t like lamb so much and I don’t get much opportunity to have it. The Cesari “Mara” Vino Di Ripasso Valpolicella was one of my two favorites (along with the Perez Cruz). It balanced the mixture of the lamb and salty prosciutto and sweet and sour sherry vinaigrette, not as bold as the Chilean, but strong enough to hold its own with all those flavors running around. Lisa was sold on the poulet rouge after hearing about the truffled egg. The chef lets the eggs sit in an enclosed refrigerated space with the truffles for three days, allowing the flavors to seep through the shell into the egg. And I am not going to do it justice, but he poaches the egg in its shell just so, adding shaved truffles at the end. Seriously, I tried the egg, and the one bite I had was worth $10 easily. The poulet rouge with the Pinot Noir was divine as well.
Both of us had the cheese plate with Cockburn’s Tawny Porto. Criminally, this is only the second time I have ever had port. The Comte cheese was both of our favorites.
We also both had the Hawaiian Kona Chocolate Souffle. The pear sounded interesting to me, and in retrospect I should have tried it, but I was in the mood for some chocolate. We also had a gimmicky coffee service, where the coffee grounds are positioned in a pot placed above a tube running down to the coffee pot. A flame is placed under the water, which gradually steams up the tube until it condenses and mixes with the coffee grounds. After the heat it removed, the liquid is sucked back down through the tube into the pot. Anyway, I know that chocolate souffles are probably overrated as a dessert, but it was still extremely good.
So there you have it, nearly $400 of food and wine. If you click through on each of the wine links above, you can see that we probably got a reasonably decent deal on that part. Our waiters Jack (from Yonkers, NY, by way of Washington, DC!) and Sherry were not shy about filling our glasses with reasonable amounts of wine, and I was not shy about tipping them afterward. And yes, I did wake up at 5am with a raging, pounding headache, but luckily, a couple of Motrin and a couple more hours of sleep, and I was okay, unlike when I was in Vegas.
I hope you enjoyed this culinary adventure as much as I did. Feel free to criticize my choices (why didn’t you spring the extra $80 for the Kobe you moron?!?!) or brag about your trivia guesses in the comments. The kiddie portion of Disney will begin on Thursday, maybe.


Hard to believe, but we’re finally back from vacation. Only 117 new messages in my email, not including the 41 in my work email. We also had 10 messages on our voicemail, half of which were Lisa’s dad: “We’re standing in front of Cinderella’s castle, where are you?” My apologies to those whose blogs I read. I have about 1500 items backed up in Google Reader, so I probably won’t be commenting on anything any time soon.
A quick story from yesterday which chronicles the jolt back to real life from Disney life. At Disney World, we never had to do anything. Our meals were (mostly) taken care of by our dining plan, our room was cleaned up every day by housekeeping, we were taken back and forth from the parks on regular shuttle buses. When we got back to DC, we quickly discovered that life isn’t like that everywhere. Travelling with two small children, including a three-year-old who slept on the flight and did NOT want to wake up, you bring a bit of luggage with you. We had three suitcases, a stroller, and two car seats. These just do not want to fit on one of the “Smarte Cartes.” The car seat will fall over constantly. So after I got all of our crap off the baggage claim, I went in search of a skycap to help us to the parking shuttle. The first guy I went to started over, then asked, “Did you fly Southwest?” I said yes, and he replied that he would get fired if he helped me. Huh? I go up to a different skycap, same response. I walk up to a third skycap, wave a $20 bill in his face, and tell him it’s his if he walks the 500 feet to the shuttle bus with our bags. He looks over at some ornery looking guy, who shakes his head. So I walk up to the guy and ask what’s going on. He says they don’t have a contract with Southwest. Huh times two? I don’t know if it’s because Southwest is new to Dulles or what, but frankly, I could give a flying fuck. It’s an airport, you’re a skycap, my contract with Southwest ended when I took my bags off the carousel. Why do you care? Not to mention the fact that a skycap met us when we departed and took our bags from the shuttle TO THE SOUTHWEST CHECKIN! Now I’m not even asking you to deal with Southwest, and they still won’t take my bags. Finally, one of them gives his cart to either a Southwest employee or an airport employee, and he helps us the 500 feet to the shuttle. He was tipped well. All others got the finger.
Rant over, more pleasant Disney stories ahead in the coming days. I haven’t even had the chance to turn on my home computer, let alone get pictures uploaded, but hopefully I will have time for that soon.