Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Our Four Weeks of Relative Quiet and Beyond

Since I am writing this post in January of 2015, and since I have fallen very far behind in trying to keep up to date with our wonderful and busy lives, I will attempt here to just give a brief summary of all that has happened in the last four months so that I can finally bring this up to the present. Then, perhaps, I will be better at writing more often this year so as to include more details of our everyday lives.

For our anniversary, which was on September 2, Saul and I purchased a Groupon for Café de France in Winter Park, an upscale restaurant that had good Yelp reviews, and we had a cozy and romantic dinner there. Most of our time that month was spent enjoying the exceptional weather lounging around our pool and going for long walks in the Disney Parks. A few days that we hung around the house, we were waiting for deliveries on behalf of Ken and Randi, notably, a big Murphy bed and wall unit that needed to be installed in their new condo. They were due to move in towards the beginning of October when their tenants’ moved out. By the time everything was in readiness, our extra garage was quite packed. We saw the two foodie movies, Chef, and The 100-Foot Journey, both of which we loved. In the middle of the month, we were visited by friends Barbara and Jack, who first stayed a few days with Adele and Larry in The Villages, then at the Disney property resort for military personnel, Shades of Green, and then with us for a day. We took them to enjoy our favorite places in the Disney Parks. The Food and Wine Festival began at the Epcot Park World Showcase during September, and we had a grand time sampling the offerings and attending the almost-nightly concerts. Among the ones we saw were: Joe Dee Messina, The Commodores, Christopher Cross, Hanson, Air Supply, Sister Hazel, Billy Ocean, Night Ranger, Smash Mouth (our favorite), Los Lonely Boys, Wilson Phillips, Dennis DeYoung, Boyz II Men, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The concerts ran from September 19, to November 10, and during that time, we were joined for some of them by Jess and the girls, Ken and Randi, Ari, and Randi’s sister Lori and her husband, Jules. Towards the end of September, I began preparing for the holidays by making round challot, round tri-color challot, date and strawberry breads, chicken soup, carob cake, etc. We enjoyed Selichot services in our Orlando synagogue, SOJC, also known as Ohalei Rifka, and Ari flew in to join us for services right before Rosh Hashanah on September 24, staying with us through Yom Kippur until the beginning of Sukkot. 

Ken and Randi made settlement on their home in Warrington on the morning of September 30, and by shortly after dinner time, we were driving back with them from the Orlando airport to our home while they waited for work to be completed on their condo here. An amazing coincidence took place that day. We bumped directly into Ken and Randi’s neighbor, Art, from across the street in Warrington, as we were coming out of one of the dozens of restrooms in the Magic Kingdom. On the spur of the moment, we had decided to spend a few hours at the Magic Kingdom with Ari while waiting for the plane to arrive. Art was waiting for his daughter, Marcia, to come out of the same restroom. Arranging to meet someone in a specific spot at a specific time when you are trying to do so is difficult enough, in fact, practically impossible. Having it happen by accident is nothing short of miraculous. What is more coincidental is the fact that we all had FastPass tickets to the same ride at the same time nearby. Ken and Randi had just told me by phone, when we checked on the progress of the settlement, that the last neighbor to bid them goodbye was Art’s wife, Eileen. They never mentioned that Art and Marcia happened to be at Disney World. As it happened, Pirates of the Caribbean had been shut down at that moment, and we all opted to go on the Jungle Cruise together, instead. As we exited the ride, the skies opened up in a violent Florida thunderstorm, and we all crammed together with dozens of others under the small shelter of the ride’s entrance roof to converse for a short time before the storm began to abate.

October was an absolutely delightful month with one notable exception. The weather, except for the occasional rainstorm, was temperate and beautiful. On October 2, Ken and Randi, Ari, Saul and I attended an after-hours celebration, Late Nights LIVE, (until 1:00 a.m.) at the Food and Wine Festival, which included more food and cocktails than we could consume and special Disney entertainment in the form of dance troupes, parades, and live bands playing an assortment of different types of music. The fast on Yom Kippur was the easiest any of us remembered because of the great weather. We took the opportunity, with Ken and Randi, while Ari was here, to sample goodies from the tasting menu at one of our favorite restaurants, The Edgewater Hotel. It was even better than the more expensive Chef’s Table there. We also used our time together to have a dim sum breakfast at our new favorite place, Lam’s Garden. Ari flew from Orlando to Chicago on October 11, for a business conference, which saved his company some money, as he did not have to fly from London, and it made the wear-and-tear on him much lighter, besides allowing him a longer visit here. During the first two weeks of October, Ken and Randi’s condo had almost reached completion and they could not wait to move in. On Monday, October 13, first thing in the morning, they packed their bags, ready to move, when Randi received a phone call from her brother in Pennsylvania that their father was extremely ill, in the hospital, and might not make it through the day. They spent the rest of the morning here, making flight arrangements, and we took them to the airport that evening. As it turned out, Morrie hung on for almost a week in hospice, until all his children could assemble to bid him goodbye. After the funeral, the family sat shiva at the home that Randi’s sister, Sherrie, shared with her father. We looked after some of the final touches to their condo here, and picked them up at the airport in Orlando when the whole ordeal ended, delivering them directly to their new home for their first night in their own bed.

Again, this year, Saul and I drove to Clearwater Beach for the Chalk Walk on October 25. The art was as superb and imaginative as last year, and we believe there were even more participants. This event was well worth the drive!

An unexpected and delightful surprise was a week-long visit from Jess and the girls around Halloween. Jess had realized that, because of teachers’ meetings in New Jersey at the end of October, she would be able, with very little loss of school, to free up a week to visit us. At the same time, she discovered a shockingly cheap flight that would allow them all to fly here at very little expense, and she immediately booked it. All four of them flew from Dulles Airport to St. Augustine Airport, round trip, for $126.00, total! At the same time, for just a little more, she booked another flight on the same route at Christmas time so that they could be here for the winter break. While this required at 2-1/2 hour drive on both our parts, the price and convenience was still unbeatable. Not until we were leaving to pick them up, did we realize that St. Augustine airport was a tiny little facility, not connected to the international airport in Jacksonville at all. Our jaws dropped when we actually arrived at the airport and saw their plane land and taxi into position about 50 feet from where we stood at the chain link fence to meet them. They arrived on October 30, and left on November 10. Our idyllic week-plus flew by in a flash with visits to all the parks, afternoons lounging in the pool, evening treks to favorite restaurants (including a unique Ethiopian dinner in Orlando at Nile Restaurant), and cooking and baking activities. On Halloween itself, we had a very early dinner at the restaurant Columbia, in the town of Celebration, before visiting the unfathomably amazing, haunted pirate ship that we had photographed there last year. It had been assembled, in its entirety, at another location in the town. Visiting on Halloween night itself was a real trip as many of the townspeople were there in appropriate costume to further heighten the experience. As we left, before dark, to return home to our own neighborhood trick-or-treaters, we observed an unbelievable traffic jam forming of thousands of people arriving, in costume, to partake of the town’s unique hospitality at this time of the year.

November means Thanksgiving Dinner. This year, Haley and Erik, consummate foodies, booked a trip here asking for the opportunity to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for the family at our house as well as to stay with Ken and Randi in their new digs. Somewhere along the line, the idea arose to roast a goose as well as a turkey. We were to be joined by Randi’s sister Lori’s family, as well as by Adele and Larry—12 of us in all. Having purchased a Kamodo-style grill several months ago, Saul and I were keen to apply its charms to the fowl. Ken located two fresh geese, after much searching, through Whole Foods. Saul and I spent a few days, which being the foodies that we are were very enjoyable, doing some advance preparation. We roasted our geese and turkey ahead of time, and prepared gravy from the giblets and drippings. We sliced the birds, placing them in the gravy, and then froze the trays in preparation for the big day. Online, I found a recipe from Emeril Legasse, for goose with a dried blueberry and Armagnac glaze. We feared that the Armagnac would have an adverse effect on Erik, who is sensitive to white sugar. Also, our local liquor store sells it for no less that $70 a bottle. No one carries half-cup size quantities. We substituted premium organic apple juice with delectable results. In the end, we were thrilled with the results of our labor, and perhaps the recipe will appear at some future time on my recipe blog. I had never tasted goose until that time. During the week before Thanksgiving, Saul and I also made cranberry-apple chutney, carrot cake, carob sheet cake, gruyere-apple spread, and marinated baby carrots for melted Olaf cocktails. We used the carcasses of the birds to make a big pot of split pea soup, which we froze in small containers. Randi made fresh cranberry orange relish. On Thanksgiving day, our house prepared and table set, Saul and I spent a few glorious hours walking at Epcot in absolutely perfect weather. We returned home about 2:00 p.m. as Haley and Erik, and Ken and Randi arrived. In a flurry of activity, they prepared mashed potatoes with a variety of toppings, deviled eggs with truffle creme, gluten-free apple corn bread stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts, and maple-baked acorn squash. In addition to this bounty, our next-door neighbor, Kim, brought over a delicious tray of mac and cheese with a crumb topping. Lori made a yummy rice pilaf. We also downed five of the nine bottles of wine that Lori brought along, as well as some beer and the Olaf cocktails. By the end of the evening, some of us were in a food and wine coma, but Haley and Erik and her cousins managed to get over to the Magic Kingdom for rides and fireworks.

Despite all the food of Thanksgiving, we continued to celebrate with a sumptuous meal at Blue Zoo, Todd English’s gorgeous coastal cuisine restaurant in the Dolphin Hotel at the far end of Disney’s Boardwalk. The meal was excellent and our waitstaff was even able to please the most eccentric of our large group with their flexibility by using the resources of the restaurant in unique and imaginative ways. Afterwards, we joined Jules and Lori and their girls waiting for the ferry to Hollywood Studios where we viewed the Osbourne Family Dancing Lights, rode the Toy Story ride, and because of the long lines for the ferry back, walked the mile-plus along the canal back to our car parked at the Dolphin. From this particular pathway, we were able to view the Epcot IllumiNations fireworks, along with the extra-special holiday fireworks at the end, as we walked.

At the beginning of December, Ken and Randi, Saul and I attended a Yelp party billed as a “Night at the Museum” at the Science Museum in Orlando. For just a donation to the Museum, we were able to partake of dozens of unique food and beverage offerings from some of Orlando’s most interesting establishments while touring the museum. The terrace of the museum, complete with a live band, which overlooks a spectacular view of the city, was an amazing place to just hang out and people-watch. We had a great time wandering among the dinosaurs!

In London, Ari hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, but not on Thanksgiving. Many of his U.K. friends and colleagues had spent time in the U.S. and had experienced our Thanksgiving holiday. At some point in November, a number of them began dropping pointed hints that they would love for him to recreate those traditional foods for them, since he is American. In his very procrastinating, but methodical and organized way, and with a lot of prodding from his parents, he went about locating and ordering the necessary ingredients and elements needed to entertain 20 guests in his flat. Since Thanksgiving is not a day off in the U.K., he chose a weekend date when everyone would be free. This was no easy undertaking for Ari, as we were not even sure if the large turkey he ordered from the Waitrose at his apartment complex would fit in his refrigerator or oven. With all his materials gathered the week before the party, he set about preparing all the food himself each night after work. Every night, we Skyped so as to provide moral support and expertise in how to deal with everything. The side dishes and the turkey were beyond everyone’s expectations, and according to some of his friends, with whom we traded selfies, the party was a huge success. He is already being pressured to make it an annual tradition.

Much time at the beginning of December was spent gathering together provisions that we would need to entertain all our holiday guests and prepare for a New Year’s Eve hors d’oeuvres, desserts and cocktail party that we had decided to host for all of our new friends and neighbors in Florida. We had so many potatoes left over from Thanksgiving that Randi came over with Ken and spent a few hours with us making potato latkes for Chanukah. Saul and I filled the freezer with mini quiche, spanakopitakia, zucchini squares, felafel, mushroom cheese puffs, and carrot cake. The first guests to arrive in December were Jamie, Andy, Presley and Evan who stayed with Ken and Randi in their new home. We hosted all of them for dinner when they arrived. Then we spent the next several days touring the parks with them. Presley was chosen at the Lion King show in Animal Kingdom to participate in the parade and was so excited to do so. While they were here, Randi’s cousin, Scott, came down from Jacksonville, Florida, to spend a day with all of us in the Magic Kingdom.

The day before Jamie and Andy left, we picked up Brenna in the morning at Orlando International Airport. We took her to Beaches and Cream at the Boardwalk for a sundae as her Chanukah present. Larry was supposed to pick up Beth that evening, but because of flight delays, we went back to the airport, with Brenna struggling to stay awake at midnight, to retrieve her. The following morning, we prepared a large breakfast and Larry and Adele joined us. Afterwards, we all went to Epcot to spend the day there. The next evening, leaving Beth and Brenna to bond, we packed a picnic and drove to St. Augustine Airport to pick up Jess and the girls. Alex was leaving a few days later to take the Confirmation Class to Israel for the week. The next day, we all spent the day together at Hollywood Studios where we had arranged for FastPasses. On December 20, the following day, we picked up Ari at Orlando International Airport. For a few days, we had a very full house—Saul and me, Beth, Jess and Ari, Sami, Brenna, Izzy and Yona. Ari, most of his summer wardrobe residing here, came with a suitcase full of British goodies for us. The girls augmented this by helping prepare jumbo oatmeal peanut butter raisin cookiesmaids of honor, peanut butter mini cupcakes, cashew, pecan and apple mini pies, carob cake, a gingerbread house, and gingerbread teddy bears for the kids to decorate at the New Year’s party. The weekend that we were all together, we made it a point to see all the spectacular life-size gingerbread constructions housed in some of the Disney hotels. Beth brought supplies to teach the girls to make intricate beaded bracelets, and gifted each of us with beautiful ones that she had made back home in Tucson. We spent a day at the Magic Kingdom. After a few glorious days together, we took Beth and Brenna to the airport. I got a special pass to escort Brenna to her gate in case her flight was delayed beyond the time when Beth had to leave, but, for a change, everyone left on time. Saul photographed the unique birds at the airport cell lot while waiting for me. That evening, we went to Epcot, shared desserts in Norway, and watched IllumiNations from the covered patio there. We took advantage of good weather to recuperate from the parks by lazing in the pool. We discovered a fun new Mexican restaurant, Ay Jalisco, near the Epic Movie Theater in Clermont, where we saw first The Book of Life, and then Big Hero Six. We loved them both. Jess and Alex’s friends from Cherry Hill—Jill, Geoff, Jay (Geoff’s father) and their three girls—were staying at a hotel near us for a few days, and, in addition to having a blast with them at the parks, we had the pleasure of their company here at Shabbat dinner. After an exceptional, but very expensive sushi dinner at Akina in nearby Clermont, Ari flew back to London on December 29, so that he could join his friends for New Year’s Eve.

We felt that our New Year’s party went very well. Unfortunately, it was too chilly to swim, but we were able to open all our sliding doors to the outside which allowed the nine children that were present to run around and play freely. Among the guests at the party were another set of Jess and Alex’s Cherry Hill friends who were vacationing here for a few days—Adam and Allison and their two children. Ken and Randi celebrated New Year’s with their friends, Paula and Neil (who stayed with them for a few days), and sister, Lori and Jules (who stayed at the Dolphin) with a dinner at the Grand Floridian Hotel, but before their reservations, they stopped in to see us with Paula and Neil. Adele and Larry attended a party at The Villages. Other guests at our party included neighbors, Eugene and Gloria, Paul and Kimberly, and Terry (whose husband Gary was working at the parks), Yellena and her daughter Olivia (husband John was working at Red Lobster), Carly and Peter (Ken and Randi’s former tenants who had moved across the street) with their four children, Ella, Henderson, Harrison, and Emma.

Needless to say, we spent the next few days relaxing, recuperating, and putting things away after the party. Jess and the girls were here until January 6, and we squeezed in a few more good times at the end, including a wonderful dinner with a view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the Grand Floridian Café, and lunch and sundaes at The Fountain in the Dolphin Hotel. The girls discovered online that their free Magic Kingdom Sorcerer’s cards would allow them to play the game on different levels. Up until now, unbeknownst to them, they had been playing only on the first level. We spent some time with them organizing both their pin collection and their card collection, and on our last day at the Magic Kingdom, they were able to complete level two of the Sorcerer’s challenge. We reluctantly headed back to St. Augustine Airport early on the day that they were leaving so that we could revisit the vegetarian Manatee Café, tour the Castillo de San Marcos, walk around the quaint old city, and check out the legendary pastries at the bakery, The Chocolate Turtle, which richly deserves its status. It was a wonderful day! We sadly watched the girl’s as they boarded the last flight on this particular route, which Frontier Airlines has now discontinued, happy that, at least, the unbelievably low fares had enabled us to forge several weeks of unforgettable memories with our daughter and granddaughters.

No comments: