Disneyworld (Take 56)

It was officially the 16 year old’s 56th visit to the happiest place on earth. (He’s catching up with his sister who has been there 57 times.) We also dragged along our former exchange student, Yinan, who is staying with us for a couple of months while she does an internship this summer. (Little did she know what price she had to pay.)
There were a couple of highlights on this trip (and one major lowlight, which is that the 19 year old daughter wasn’t with us). It’s times like these when we’re accustomed to going places together as a family that I miss her the most.

Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom

one of our favorite rides!

March of the First Order at Hollywood Studios

Nonetheless, it was a fun trip. The newest ride—Flight of Passage—based on the “Avatar” movie in Animal Kingdom remains a highlight. I thought the ride couldn’t possibly live up to my memory of it from October, but it does and then some. It’s a difficult ride to describe—it’s as if Soarin’ and Star Tours had a baby who emerged as a prodigy. Even if you haven’t seen the “Avatar” movie or aren’t a fan, the ride is still mind blowing in its visual impact and ride experience.
Another highlight of the trip was the “giraffic jam” we experienced. We were on the Safari ride at Animal Kingdom when two adolescent giraffes proceeded to bicker (the human term for their behavior) in the middle of the road by swinging their heads at each other, using them as battering rams. It held up the ride for about 20 minutes and was hilarious for each and every minute, especially if you’ve ever had teenage children in the house.
I’ve included a 4 minute video of it, courtesy of the 16 year old son. Bribes of lettuce and orders to move were tried to no avail. One of the park rangers finally convinced the giraffes to move off the road by nudging his truck slowly and carefully closer to them. (The safari ride trucks have to keep their distance.) Knowing the giraffes, I have no doubts that once we were safely by, they would be back at it. Teenagers!

the giraffic jam

We were also guinea pigs for test runs of the “Minnie van.” Get it? The vehicle is painted in Minnie Mouse polka dots and bows and supplied with Minnie Mouse water bottles. Playlists of all four parks and each Disney hotel are available for your listening pleasure. It was traveling in (Disney) style!

the Minnie van!

complete with Minnie water

It was a wonderful opportunity to relax and enjoy the wonders of Disney before the end of school pressure cooker begins. The Disney magic definitely worked itself on us!

China Trip Preparation (and irony)

Our 16 year old son is going to rural China (Yunnan Province) for 6 weeks as part of a school program called China Fieldwork Summer. He is very excited about the trip (which makes him a better person than me).
There was a meeting the other night regarding the trip with parents and many of the students who are going. My favorite moments from the meeting:

– when the faculty member announced there would be no smartphones allowed on the trip (audible gasps of horror)
– a follow up question about whether the ban would apply to smartphones with the SIM card removed (removed—yeah, right)
– when the faculty member said, “Don’t bring hair products. There are plenty of hair products in China.” A collective shudder rippled through the row of high school girls. (Needless to say, the faculty member is male.)
– after being told that the area was socially conservative so no tank tops or short shorts are allowed, a girl raised her hand and asked, “How short are short shorts?”
– a follow up question about workout clothes and whether they were exempted from the tank top/short shorts ban
– a question from one of the students: “Is this trip like camping?”

and last but not least:
– parents who had expressed resentment that our son speaks Chinese (ruining the curve in Chinese class) are now ecstatic that our son speaks Chinese (additional translator on the trip)

NoMad Hotel and NoMad Restaurant

We were fortunate enough to win a charity auction item for a bespoke dinner at the New York City restaurant, NoMad, and decided to stay at the NoMad hotel. This is not our usual haunt when we visit New York City—the Upper East Side is more the style to which we’d like to become accustomed, but we thought it would be fun to branch out a bit.
We loved the NoMad hotel! It’s a bit hipster for old fuddy-duddies like us (you can tell that it is a hipster hotel by the plethora of man-buns and because the hotel lighting is so dim that I felt like pulling out my phone and using the flashlight function to get around the lobby). That being said, we got upgraded to a lovely room that was bigger than most New York flats, complete with a small kitchenette, 1 1/2 baths, 2 super comfortable couches (the boy promptly designated one of them as his bed) AND a rooftop terrace. Since it was 70 degrees and sunny that day, it was a lovely afternoon to sit up there (and read books about the history of Hong Kong to help the aforementioned boy with his history paper, but I digress).
The dinner at NoMad was superb! Jim commented that the decor in the dining room was a cross between the Inn at Little Washington and the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyworld, which is a perfect description. Whatever one might think about the decor (and we liked it), the restaurant—opened by chefs who were previously at Eleven Madison Park—outdid themselves in preparing dinner for us.
The aperitif was what the restaurant called a “Walter Gibson,” made with London dry gin, chenin blanc, chamber blanc & dry vermouth, green apple eau de vie, bee’s wax, and pickled vegetables. The staff member poured out the drink from a big pitcher into the glasses, at which point the boy said, “I can’t drink this–I am only 16!” The staff then whisked away the drink and brought non-alcoholic drink pairings for each course for him.
The first actual course was the fruits de mer (aka “le grand plateau”). This was served with a Nomad selection of extra Brut champagne.

fruits de mer

Next up were two vegetable courses—a fennel variation with rhubarb and burrata and a snow pea chiffonade with pancetta, pecorino, and mint. The accompanying wine was a 2015 Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Clos de la Barre, Meursault from Burgundy.

fennel with rhubarb and burrata

snow pea chiffonade


The amazing entree (and what the restaurant is famous for) is the roast chicken with foie gras, black truffles, and brioche with a white and green asparagus.

pre-chicken chicken (aka eggs) with hollandaise sauce

pre-carved chicken

chicken breast with asparagus

dark meat chicken and chicken wings

Accompanying the chicken dishes were morels roasted with sunny side up egg, faro and spring greens. To die for. Even not including the wine pairing of a 2011 Domaine Harmand Geoffroy, Gevrey-Chambertin Vielles Vignes from Burgundy.

morels

Dessert was another restaurant favorite, milk and honey shortbread, brittle, and ice cream. The dessert wine was a 2013 Royal Tokaji Company Gold Label Tokaji 6 Puttonyos Aszu from Hungary.

milk & honey

We decided when discussing the dinner afterwards that it definitely makes it into our Top 10 meals, and we will most certainly be back!

Book review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rarely give a book 5 stars, but the rating is well-deserved for this one. Recommended by Lin-Manuel Miranda via my daughter (who’s not much of a fantasy reader but who also loved it), this is the first volume of a trilogy describing the life of Kvothe who is part magician, part musician, and part assassin. Building a convincing and consistent fantasy world is difficult, and though it took 722 pages to do so (and that’s only volume #1), those 722 pages were well utilized. The world is gritty and realistic, the magic is complex and consistent, and the narrative is multi-layered and compelling. The book is told mostly in first person by Kvothe, with bits and pieces of a third person narrator thrown in to deepen the narrative. Despite the length, the author leaves you with questions unanswered and mysteries still to be solved. (This is the one weakness of a planned trilogy, which is that the ending leaves you incomplete.) It’s worth it.
All in all, this is the best fantasy novel I’ve read in quite some time. I look forward to reading the second in the series and wait impatiently for the final volume to be released.

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Spring Break 2018: Honolulu, where else?

If it seems like we go to Honolulu quite a bit, it may be because we have. However, this was our first trip there as a family in 2018. (Note how I carefully defined the parameters just now.) We were fortunate that the kids shared a spring break this year, and they decided to opt for Hawaii as the spring break destination.
This trip was probably the most mellow family trip to Hawaii that we’ve ever had. The kids had surfing lessons every day, and we did visit Shangri-la, the residence of Doris Duke that she decorated throughout with Islamic art. (Jim and I must keep up our reputation as killjoy parents and do something educational on every trip.). But other than that, it was a pretty zen vacation. We shopped a little, we pampered ourselves at the spa some, and we ate a lot (temporarily adopting the Samoan saying “Eat til you’re dizzy.”). And, of course, we enjoyed the warmth and the sunshine and the ocean.
The best part, of course, are the memories of yet another fun family vacation, knowing that each year brings fewer opportunities for us to all be together. To paraphrase Rick from the movie Casablanca, “We’ll always have Hawaii.” (And Disneyworld.).

returning from a visit to Leonard’s Malasadas

orchids from the farmer’s market

Shangri-la (Doris Duke’s residence)

the view from Shangri-la

at the Halekulani

Waikiki

Waikiki at sunset

A Long-Time Favorite: Chef Mavro (Honolulu)

It has been a while since I last posted photos of a dinner at Chef Mavro, one of our favorite restaurants. The restaurant has redone its menu a bit, allowing guests to choose from a selection of small plates or to embark on a 9 course Bataan death march of a tasting menu. We’ve done the tasting menu before—it’s fabulous and not to be missed!—but wanted to focus on our most recent meal, where we selected from the small plates.
We started with a foie gras parfait that included hibiscus, asian pear, yuzu, and malasadas. (Actually, we started with two of them because our party of four included a 16 year old velociraptor.) Our family loves foie gras, and this version was one of the best we’ve ever had. The inclusion of the citrus/sweet flavors set off the richness of the foie gras perfectly.

foie gras parfait

Next up was the ahi poke, served with ogo, chives, Aleppo pepper, and taro crisps. Poke has become the “in” thing these days with poke restaurants popping up everywhere from California to DC, but it is originally a Hawaiian dish (hopefully, the New York Times food writers will not “discover” it the way they discovered bubble tea, as a New York invention). The taro crisps were light and fresh, and the poke with the sauce had a lovely rich taste to it.

ahi poke

The third course was the egg “poutargue” with an egg, Yukon potato, San Danielle prosciutto, and sun-dried fish roe. The saltiness of the prosciutto gave the dish a nice flavor to go with the egg and fish roe. Yum!

egg poutargue

To our shock, our velociraptor asked for the keahole lobster (liking lobster is a recent thing for him). The lobster was served with kale, ginger, okra, and soursop. While excellent (because everything here is excellent), it was probably the weakest of the dishes.

keahole lobster

The next dish was the island free range chicken, served with a tarragon mousse, island cream corn, Swiss chard, and foie gras jus. Chef Mavro used to do a chicken multi-course dinner that Jim and I still talk about. This is a microcosm of that dinner and delectable. I am generally not a fan of white meat because it is more often than not dry and flavorless. This, however, was neither, and if more people could serve chicken like this, I would no longer be a white meat hater. Enough said.

island free range chicken

The final entree dish was a Miyazaki wagyu fricassee with chimichurri, breadfruit, warabi, and mustard seeds. You have to be a ham-handed chef to ruin wagyu, and there are no ham-handed chefs here. On the other hand, you have to be a gifted chef to make the most out of the wagyu and that certainly was the case here. The meat was perfectly cooked, tender and flavorful, and the accompanying ingredients provided additional flavor and texture.

miyazaki wagyu fricassee

Dessert was a citrus dessert—light, flavorful, and a perfect end to the dinner—and a chocolate dessert—rich, bold, and also a perfect end to the dinner.

citrus dessert

chocolate dessert

We have fond memories of Chef Mavro over the years, and each meal has been delicious and memorable. We look forward to many more years of dining there!
www.chefmavro.com

Book review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1)A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The premise for this series is very interesting: it posits that Sherlock Holmes is actually a woman, Charlotte Holmes. In this first of a series, Charlotte deliberately loses her virginity in order to carve out a life as an independent woman. She is rescued from her attempt to earn her own living by a former actress, Mrs. John Watson, who befriends her and invests the seed money for Sherlock/Charlotte Holmes to open up a consulting detective business.
The initial mystery is a murder where Charlotte’s sister is the primary suspect. Charlotte is assisted in her investigation by a police officer and a childhood friend.
The author is wide-ranging in her books, writing everything from romances to fantasy. Her research into Victorian times and the role given to women is impeccable. The premise works–Charlotte may not be a self-described high functioning sociopath in the manner of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes in the BBC television series, but she is definitely not within the mainstream of women or men in Victorian society. The mystery is solidly, if not impressively, plotted, and the characters are well drawn.
I really enjoyed this twist on the Sherlock Holmes genre, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series!

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Book review: Bonfire Night by Deanna Raybourn

Bonfire Night (Lady Julia Grey, #5.7)Bonfire Night by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the last in the Lady Julia Grey series, and I have been putting off reading it because I don’t want the series to end. I gave the novella 4 stars but would probably more honestly give it somewhere between 3 and 3.5 stars if it weren’t for the fact that it’s the last story. The author wraps up most of the loose ends of the previous novella, but the story reads as if she wants the series to end as well. There isn’t much of a plot, and the characters aren’t as vibrant or witty or full of personality as they have been in previous books.
I very much wish that the series could continue in novel length (novellas being limited in their story-telling by their shorter length) as I think the main characters still have many stories to be told. That being said, if you have not read this series, I highly recommend you start at the beginning and work your way through (including all the novellas). The characters, the quality of the writing, and the mysteries are all beautifully rendered and should not be missed.

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Alinea: Dinner and a Show (but not necessarily in that order)

We did the ultimate foodie thing and flew to Chicago to have dinner at Alinea, the top-ranked restaurant in the country. (I know, I know, but have you noticed that we kind of like good food?) All I can say is that the ranking is well-deserved. Alinea specializes in molecular gastronomy but where some restaurants with that specialization think about dinner as a show (and the food as somewhat secondary), Alinea provides both a fabulous show and a delicious dinner.
We started out at the communal table with a dish of parsnip, Osetra caviar, lemon, and white pepper accompanied by a Kurt, Grand Cuvée, 164eme edition. Simple, elegant, and delicious.
Then, we were asked to go into the kitchen and were served a made-in-front-of-us pomegranate shaker accompanied by a black walnut & mace cake. The combination was delicious and also served the purpose of giving the staff time to turn the communal dining table into various separate tables.
We then returned to the dining room and were seated at our own table. We were given an Asian pear, roe, and shiso snow with a Romaine, avocado, and tosaka spear. The wine was a 2015 Hans Wirching Iphofer Julius-Echter Berg Silvaner GG (I should mention at this point that we had chosen the eclectic wine pairing option). Beautifully presented and the flavors blended beautifully as well.


Next up was a crab, coconut, and curry ranina accompanied by a spiced orange glow. Again, flavors that you wouldn’t think would go together (spiced orange and crab?) were delicious together.

Course #5 was an olive and artichoke black and a squid, black garlic, and chrysanthemum ink. The wine was a 2015 Hatzidakis cuvée no. 15 assyrtiko from Santorini, Greece. The dish was darkly flavored (for the lack of a better description) without being overly rich and delectable.

One of our favorite courses was the langoustine, bouillabaisse, and olive oil paper that was served with a 2013 Paul Perone Les Chalmaux Pullgny-Montrachet from Burgundy. The paper did indeed taste just like a bouillabaisse should. Clever and delicious.


A venison, juniper, and huckleberry smolder was next up. This was probably my least favorite course but that is more due to my not being a fan of venison than anything else. (And even in a fabulous meal, there needs to be a least favorite thing, right?)


Next up was “clam chowder” or, rather, a clam, potato, bacon cape accompanied by an Old Bay oyster cracker. The potato had been baked in butter for 14 hours, then hidden in the salt bowl pictured above, which had been heated during the previous courses, before being unearthed and mashed up for the chowder. The chowder was amazing!

chowder making

Accompanying the 2014 Hansell Pinot Noir from Sonoma Valley was a blueberry, black truffle, maitake glass, a matsutake, lemon, and thyme funghi, and a foie gras, shio kombu, and mushroom umami. Heavenly.


Next up was a squab, black forbidden rice, and binchotan coal served with a beet, mustard, and chili spiral and a tenderloin bean. The wine was a 2012 Chevalier des Andes from Mendoza, Argentina. (As a side note, when we asked how this wine aged, the lovely sommelier explained how it became more tannic and poured us a taste of the 2004. He was right—you would not have guessed that it was the same wine.)


And I was wrong. My least favorite course was the goat cheese and manuka air (I am not a goat cheese fan, which might be the understatement of the day). The accompanying pineapple, aloe, and shiso shot, however, was delicious.


The whimsical first dessert was a dark chocolate, birch, and marshmallow campfire and a green apple helium balloon (with the balloon string also made of edible green apple). I don’t know which was more fun—eating the balloon and string or listening to all of us talk in helium voices. The wine was a 2013 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Auslese Piesporter Goldtropfchen from Mosel, Germany.


And the final dessert show consisted of what Alinea calls the white chocolate, coconut, and silver paint. The videos don’t do the show justice but gives you a sense of the whimsy that is very much a part of the dining experience.

Beginning of dessert course at Alinea

Dessert course at Alinea

And by final dessert, we are not counting the sesame, brown butter, and gold nuggets that were presented to us to send us off into the night.


We staggered out of the restaurant complete with a sensory overload of taste, sight, and hearing. Dinner at Alinea definitely goes on the list as one of our most memorable meals ever!

Book review: The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford

The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, #1)The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the premise of this first in a series of YA mysteries: Ada Byron (the daughter of Lord Byron) and Mary Godwin (the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft) form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency as young girls. Ada is better known as Ada Lovelace, sometimes referred to as the world’s first computer programmer and known as a brilliant mathematician, and Mary is better known as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. The author takes slight liberties with the timeline, having the girls only 3 years apart in age as opposed to 18, but this allows the girls to be contemporaries and friends and allows the author to portray their very different personalities and temperaments.
Other historical personages that make appearances in this book are Charles Babbage, Charles Dickens and Percy Shelley.
In addition to the interesting premise, the mystery is interesting and engaging, and the book is well-written.
If I had to describe the book (and presumably the series), I would say it is similar to the Encyclopedia Brown series but geared towards girls.
The book is a quick read for adults but if you are interested in Ada and Mary and the lives they might have lived, this is the book for you!

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