Monday, October 27, 2014

Vincent Price no longer makes me Cry

When I was a kid I was terrified of the Thriller song.  Not the dancing zombie part, or the transforming into a creature part, I was terrified of the Vincent Price monologue part. I don’t know why. Maybe it was just his creepy voice that made me imagine that it was what a demon or the devil would actually sound like, but what I do know is that whenever that part of the song would play I would run and hide and hold my hands over my ears. My cousin, who loved tormenting me, discovered my weakness. She would hold me hostage in her closet and play Thriller, specifically the Vincent Price part, at such a loud volume that I couldn't block it out. I would cry and cry and she would laugh and laugh….oh childhood memories.

Friday evening started out with a book launch party. It was the launch of HypotheticalPress’ new book Reading Glasses.

Reading Glasses is a short story speculative fiction anthology.  Many of my talented writing friends have stories in the book so I wanted to show my support for the book by helping out at the event.

 I have to absolutely commend Amy Holiday and Jessica Walsh-Jadach. 

Jessica Walsh-Jadach
They were the event coordinators and the editors of Reading Glasses.  It is rare to find two people who are so organized.  They made helping out a pleasure. 

The party was held at Victorian Savories located at the Voorhees Town Center.

Victorian Savories did an amazing job accommodating the event.  Their cookies are voted best of South Jersey.  The owner is also a published author so she really understood what the book launch needed.

 The party was jumping.

 Writers are really cool people.

Several of the authors read from their stories.

Frankenstein, who was quite the comedian, made a brief appearance during one of the readings.

My job at the book launch was to help out with the giveaways.

 There were some great books and other treats that were up for the winning.

 I had fun announcing the winners. I forgot how much I love being behind a microphone. 

While the book launch party was going on, there was an event going on outside.  Voorhees Town Center was having a Thriller Night. 

There was zombie face painting,

balloon animals by zombie pirate Jeremy,
and this guy.

Many people braved the soggy- mud laden grassy area to view The Nightmare Before Christmas on an outdoor screen.

After the movie they showed the Thriller video on the big screen while students from the Fusion Performing Arts Center did the Thriller dance.

After the first viewing they showed the video again and anyone who wanted to could come up in front of the screen to do the Thriller dance.  Of course author Steampunk Granny Marie Gilbert was up there getting her Thriller on.

 If they do it again next year I might invest the time to actually learn the Thriller dance so that I could join in, but I wouldn’t mind if they decided to do the Time Warp instead.  That’s a little more within my dancing capabilities.

The book launch party was a success. 

The Thriller event was pretty fun, and although I know that part of the point was to drum up business at the mall and center, I think it could have been improved by some food trucks and maybe other vendors selling spooky funky jewelry and other cool wares. I don’t think it would pull business away; I actually think it would attract more people to the event and encourage them to stay longer, or maybe it’s just me wanting food trucks to be at my disposal at all times.

At the end of the night I was pretty proud of myself. I had to listen to the Vincent Price monologue twice. I didn’t have to cover my ears and I wasn’t afraid. Vincent Price no longer makes me cry. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Universal Studios Orlando-we saved the world...a lot

Back to vacation posts.

We arrived to Universal Studios bright and early in the morning. The crowd entering Studios was considerably larger than the crowd we encountered entering into Islands of Adventure. I jumped on the app to check the early morning wait times. Since the wait time was short, Shannon went to ride the Rip Ride Rockit coaster, a ride I was happy to sit out. I contented myself with people watching near the entrance. Time and time again I watched as people made what I would consider a rookie theme park mistake.  Close to the entrance there are two attractions, Minion Mayhem to the left and Shrek to the right.  It seemed like everyone was either peeling off right or left to do one of these two attractions. Minute by minute I watched the wait times climb.  Minion Mayhem climbed to 75 minutes and still people were lining up in the queue.  I wanted to grab their shoulders and shake them saying,

"Wait, go somewhere else first. Don't do the first attraction you see if the wait time is long."

We did Minion Mayhem the day before in the afternoon and only waited 15 minutes. We walked right onto Shrek.  I feared however that if I touched strangers security would be called.

When we did go on Minion Mayhem it was cute and fun; Shrek felt outdated and kind of sad. I wish they would replace it with a How to Train your Dragon attraction.

My favorite ride at Universal Studios (non-Harry Potter related) was Transformers.  It's a 4D immersive motion simulator ride. The story involves you being part of a transport team that must move the allspark to safety before the Decepticons capture it.  It is a pretty cool ride that goes by fast so we rode it more than once just so that we could follow the whole story from start to finish.  The ride is so immersive that even though my brain knew I was on a ride, there was a point when Megatron showed up and  I actually felt a little afraid that he was going to get us and then take over the world. Good thing Optimus Prime showed up to help us save the day. We all clapped and cheered because we were pretty awesome.

Our favorite ride the last time we went to Universal Studios was Men in Black.  We rode it multiple, multiple times. One, because it was fun, and two, because there really was not much else to do at Studios at the time.

We were a little worried that this ride would feel outdated, especially with all of the other super high tech rides in the park.  I will report that we were pleasantly surprised.  We had just as much fun on the ride as we did years ago.  There is n't much to it. Your job is to save the world from aliens.  You ride around and shoot guns at animatronic aliens who pop up in what looks like a city movie set. In the end you receive a score, a score that you usually want to improve immediately.

We didn't ride it as many times as our last trip, but we did take advantage of the single rider line enough that at one point one of the staff greeted us with a,

"Welcome back."

After saving the world from aliens we decided to take a load off and duck into the Horror Make-up Show.

This is our second favorite show in the Orlando parks.  It's not scary at all. It's actually a comedy show that teaches you about special effects make-up in movies.  Part of the show does include a montage of clips from various horror movies so that may be scary for little kids, but overall it's tame.  This was first time we've seen the main characters Alex and Marty being played by ladies.  They were hilarious.  I assume the show is part scripted and part improved.  One bit that completely cracked me up was when they asked a teenage boy where he was from and he said he was from Wales. The ladies kept riffing on how great he looked and how they thought he'd be different coming from whales.  There was also a clip from a movie showing someone digging a grave and they said that it was Justin Bieber burying his career.

The part of Universal Studios, non- Harry Potter, that we were most looking forward to was Springfield U.S.A.  It was not there during our last trip.  It's been quite a while since I've watched a new Simpson's episode, but I am a regular player of Tapped out, so I was excited to see all of the things that I see everyday in the game.

It was a fun.  If we had more time we probably would have explored or hung out there a little more, but we saw all of the major things.

For lunch we decided to eat at the food court, because it seemed wrong not to eat at Krusty Burger.

I went to Krusty Burger while Shannon went with Cletus' Chicken Shack.  The food court also had Luigi's and the Frying Dutchman. The food court is attached to Moe's. We thought about getting a Flaming Moe drink, but we weren't feeling an intensely sweet drink, even if it wafts smoke.

I wasn't feeling the regular Krusty Burger either, so I sort of cheated and got the black bean burger with curly fries.

Shannon got the chicken and waffle sandwich with tots.

It wasn't bad for theme park food, but it was not as good as The Three Broomsticks.

We hit a few other attractions like E.T. and Revenge of the Mummy.  Revenge of the Mummy is an indoor roller coaster. Think of it as a more intense version of Space Mountain. I couldn't decide in the end if Mummy was thrillingly fun or a tad terrifying.

Towards the end of the day we were approached by a man who asked if we wanted to take a survey about some upcoming television shows that NBC wanted to add to their line up. He said we would each receive $20 in cash for participating.  We shrugged and said,


If these shows never air I think you owe us some thanks.  They were abysmal.

The first show was some sort of military government conspiracy that looked like a rip off of Homeland.  One of the promotional images showed the main character with her arms bound behind her back by the American flag. That pretty much sums up the show.  It also made me unhappy because it starred Anna Friel who starred in Pushing Daisies, a show that I loved that got cancelled.

I was even more disappointed with the second show because the promotional images made it look like it was a comedy about a family of spies.  I was already writing the clever, whimsical script in my head that was like the book series The Spellman Files where everyone is a quirky detective. They are always spying on each other and getting up to shenanigans.  When I watched the trailer I was sad because the NBC show ended up being some horrible drama that was trying way too hard to be intense and full of scandal.

 I enthusiastically signed up to be on their current survey e-mail list, but I have a feeling my opinions aren't the type they are looking for.

Overall we did have a fun time at Universal Studios, and we got to save the world...a lot.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Collingswood Book Festival 2014

On Saturday October 11th, one of my favorite events of the year took place, The Collingswood Book Festival. 

Although I had a nice book buying budget (I save my loose quarters and cash them in for book buying money), I planned on going conservative this year, after all, I have books from last year's festival that are still on my to -be- read pile, but as the poet Robert Burns says, "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men..." 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Truckin' through Chinatown

Last Thursday we went to the last Philly Night Market of the Night Market season.

For those not in the know, Philly night marked takes place in the warmer weather months, usually May-October. Once every other month on a Thursday evening, food trucks roll in to a specific section of the city (the section varies with each Night Market), streets are closed off, and the noshing extravaganza begins.

We used attend the Night Market regularly, but our schedules have become more complex, so this year we were only able to make the last Night Market of the Night Market season. 

This particular market took place in the Chinatown section of the city.  The biggest negative about going to this particular market is that the layout of the streets and the fact that the location is easily accessible by train lends to a crowd volume that is bonkers.  It is wall to wall people.

I will say that I thought we did a bang up job navigating the masses. I feel confident that Shannon, Paulette, Scott and I would make a great surviving the zombie apocalypse team.

Our on the fly strategy ended up being eating an entire meal consisting of an appetizer, entrée, and dessert from the trucks that were present.

There were a lot of trucks, each with their own tantalizing cuisine, so making choices was a slight challenge.

When we spotted the Tot Cart we knew we had to get in line because…tots.  

Shannon and I split an order of the Drunk Cheese Tots, which consisted of tots covered in a beer cheese sauce. 

They were some good tots.  They were hot, the outside of the tots were nice and crispy without making the inside of the tots soggy.  The beer cheese sauce was tasty.  The service was also great.

 Though there was a long line, they had the ordering and serving down to a science, so the line moved quickly, and tots were in hand almost right away.  I also have to give props to this truck for their mustache donned logo whose name was Chris P. Tater.

There were many entrée choices.

This was the first time we have actually witnessed the grilled cheese truck open. Usually they have some sort of malfunction on Night Market nights

We finally settled on Mom Mom’s Polish Food Cart.

Me and Paulette have Polish blood. This may be why we both have an affection for pierogies. Now I can’t really say that I am a pierogi connoisseur because I haven’t had enough pierogies from different places, but oh how I do love those little stuffed delights.  The girls ordered the pierogies while the boys ordered the kielbasa platter.

 The pierogies were yummy.  I love when they are pan fried. When I make them at home I usually want to shove them in my mouth as soon as possible so I don’t take the extra little step to do the pan fry.  Mom Mom’s also put a lot of love and attention into making the caramelized onions  that topped the pierogies. 

After our Polish food, we were feeling satisfied, but felt like we needed a little something sweet to end our evening.  As we set off to find the donut truck we ran into our friends Linsey and Skeeter.  We chatted for a bit, then parted ways, and using our sense of smell, located the donut truck

Now we are not opposed to waiting in lines, especially if there is a delicious treat at the end of said line. The first two trucks had lines, but the donut line was wrapped around the block. They must be excellent donuts, but alas, we decided to to find a dessert with a shorter wait. Fortunately we stumbled upon The Lil' Pop Shop Truck.

They sold popsicles. Refreshing, delightful popsicles. 

Flavors included, Raspberry Lemonade, Pumpkin Pie, Salted Caramel Brownie, and Apple Cider.  I wanted something refreshing and seasonal so I went with the Apple Cider. My popsicle was refreshing and slightly creamy.  It was great and  better than your average store bought popsicle.  

The guy working the popsicle truck liked my t-shirt and promptly showed me his BMO phone case
Getting Popsicle bombed
If we weren't so full, and if eating lots of popsicles wasn't bad for your waistline, we may have gone back to try a different flavor.

I'm glad we made it to the last night market. It was a nice way to say goodbye to better weather days and usher in the chill to come. Plus we had lots of fun, because eating food made in trucks is cool.

Just a quick plug. Our friend Skeeter, who we ran into, is performing every weekend in October at Dorney Park. He is in a group called Blood Drums. If you have time you should take a trip to Dorney and check Blood Drums out.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Chef Emeril touches my mussels...maybe

I must give much love to the DIS Unplugged podcast because while I was listening to an episode they mentioned that September was Orlando restaurant month. Originally we were not going to eat at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop restaurant during our trip, but for three courses for $33 we squeezed it into our itinerary. We were ecstatic that we did.

Tchoup Chop is located at the Lowe’s Royal Pacific Resort.  You can walk there from Universal’s City Walk, but it was raining on the evening we were going, so we opted to drive.  There aren't a lot of signs or directions once you drive onto the grounds of The Royal Pacific to give you an indication of where you should park, so we parked, and then had a bit of a walk around the resort to get to the actual restaurant.  We didn't mind though because the grounds are beautiful.

We arrived and were seated in a booth right next to the infinity pond water feature.

Out of the three “fancy” restaurants that we ate at during the week of our vacation, Tchoup Chop wins the prize for best atmosphere.  From the open kitchen, to the lighting fixtures, to the interesting booths, it all came together to shout, you are somewhere special. It was instantly relaxing, and after a hectic day at the parks, relaxation was exactly what we needed.

Our waiter was friendly and engaging. He reminded me of Nick from New Girl.  Instead of bread, we were presented with a serving of shrimp chips with a spicy Thai dipping sauce.  

There were two different colors of chips. The white ones had quite a kick and the pink ones were not quite as spicy. The consistency was similar to the consistency of  Munchos. They were tasty. 

The selections for the restaurant week were limited, but I often like that because I don’t have to agonize over a huge menu trying to make a decision.

For my appetizer I ordered the fried green tomato “grilled cheese sandwich.”  

It was fantastic!  It was more like eggplant Parmesan with tomatoes or maybe more like a croquette? I don’t remember what kind of cheese was used but it was an amazingly creamy soft cheese that melted perfectly between the slices of green tomatoes. The crispy breading was perfect.  I wanted to physically give my appetizer a hug.  My husband got the poke nachos. 

I tried a couple and his appetizer was equally scrumptious. 

When our waiter came back to see if we liked our appetizers we noticed a commotion in the kitchen.  The kitchen staff had all gathered together and someone was taking their photo and there were lots of smiles, laughs, and joyousness. My husband asked the waiter,

“Hey what’s that all about?”

The waiter replied,

“Oh, Chef Emeril is here tonight visiting the restaurant. The kitchen staff wanted to get a group photo.” 

Our jaws dropped. All we could think was WOW. We took a closer look at the open kitchen and there he was, Emeril himself, at the restaurant while we were eating.  We tried to snap a couple of quick pictures but we didn’t want to be too intrusive or obnoxious.  

Emeril became our entertainment for the evening. We watched him work in the kitchen, giving the staff pointers, or at least that is what we imagined he was doing.
Given my work in quality assurance, I asked the waiter if they had a heads up that Emeril was going to be there that night or if he surprised them. Our waiter said yes, the staff did know he was coming, but Emeril said he would be there at 7pm and he showed up at 5pm. Our waiter told the story about the last time Emeril was at the restaurant six months ago. He (our waiter) was so nervous that he spilled a beer on a customer and he was worried about getting fired, but Emeril was really nice about the whole ordeal.  He said this time he was standing at the hostess desk and turned around and Emeril was right there, right in front of his face. Emeril held out his hand and our waiter was flustered and gave Emeril an awkward, weird handshake.  He lamented that now Emeril will remember him as the guy with the really weird handshake who spilled a beer on a lady. 

For my entrée I ordered the Seafood Cobbler.  I didn’t think until after I placed my order that I never asked if it contained clams, oysters or mussels. They are not my favorite.  When my entree was set down before me I noticed that it did in fact contain mussels.  

I looked down at them and thought, Oh no, what if Emeril touched these mussels? What if he himself personally made these mussels and now I’m not going to eat them and leave them on my plate and that will make him sad? So I ate the mussels and you know what? They were good.  They mostly tasted like white wine.  I was pleased.  The rest of the seafood cobbler was great, especially the crumbly bits on the top.  My husband got a beef/steak dish that came with a little jar of Korean BBQ sauce.

Of course some of the patrons asked if they were actually going to meet Emeril, but the staff told them that Emeril was there vacationing with his family and hadn’t planned on his visit being a big meet and greet. He was there to check on the quality of the restaurant and spend time with his family, which I completely respect.  

When Emeril visits one of his restaurants he tells the head chef,

“Make me something.” 

He must have said this around the time we were eating our entrees because he retreated to a VIP section of the restaurant.  We watched the head chef work with maybe just a little bit of sweat on his brow while the rest of the staff looked on with held breath.  At one point he set something on the counter that looked like tacos and then squeezed a sauce over top. He threw up his hands. Everyone in the kitchen cheered, then the dish disappeared into the VIP area. 

I can’t say enough about how great our waiter was. With all of the goings on our desserts took a little while to arrive to our table. Our waiter profusely apologized at one point for the delay, but we told him no worries, we were having a wonderful evening and time was not an issue, we were on vacation.

When we first arrived to the restaurant our waiter asked if we were celebrating anything special.  We said no, not this particular evening, but later in the week we would be celebrating my husband’s birthday.  Even though it was still a few days away, they brought out one of our desserts with a candle and a happy birthday on the plate. 

I thought that was very nice.  We split our desserts, a banana cobbler, and Hawaii in a Jar, which tasted like a fancy version of ambrosia.  

They were both good, but very sweet , and filling, so we weren't able to finish them.  

While we were eating dessert we watched Emeril come out of the VIP area. He passed right by our table on his way out of the restaurant. It was pretty cool. 

Even if Emeril was not at the restaurant the evening we were there, dining at Tchoup Chop would have been a memorable experience. The food was scrumptious, the service was exceptional, and the atmosphere was stunning.

Note: If you mention that you drove there and parked, they will give you a parking card so that you don't have to pay for parking.