Royal Tea Garden Tour

One of the bonuses to visiting Walt Disney World so often is I can take the time to enjoy the many “extras” that exist on property that if you need to be running from one park to the next, or from one Fastpass to the next which is probably most accurate, you might not want to take advantage of. The tours WDW offers (and there are a lot!) are some of my favorite extras. I don’t do them as often as I would like but when I have the time, they are some of my favorite memories.

The Royal Tea Garden Tour is a relatively new offering, only available during Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival. I missed catching it last year so made sure it was on the agenda for this past trip. As a tea nerd and someone who will never say no to a scone, I braved the WDW tour phone line to book a spot.

 

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An empty bridge into France

The first bonus to the WDW tours is you often get to see areas of the park devoid of people. One of my favorite memories is walking through Epcot to get to the front of the park for my Backstage Magic tour before the park was open (I even got a rose from one of the horticultural staff that time!). This time, while the park was open, I was in World Showcase before anything else was open so most people weren’t headed in that direction. I got to enjoy empty France and United Kingdom pavilions and also just enjoy all the blooms of the Flower & Garden Festival without all the crowds aiming for the food booths.

 

The Royal Tea Garden Tour has a check in starting at 9:30am at the Rose & Crown. A friendly cast member will check your name on their iPad and hand you a badge. You’re told you can wander more if you’d like and just reconvene at 9:45 on the Rose & Crown patio. A lovely couple from Pittsburgh adopted me for the morning and we chatted until our tour guides arrived. Rick from London and Owen from Northamption (of Kinky Boots fame) then introduced themselves and took over us to the tea gardens. Now, the tea “gardens” are a bit of a misnomer. If you’ve ever visited during Flower & Garden, you’ve seen the teapots gracing the gardens behind The Tea Caddy in the UK pavilion. These are individual tea gardens growing the different plants Twinings uses to create their different blends of tea.

 

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Entrance to the English Tea Garden at Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival

 

Rick began by sharing the history of the Twinings company and telling the group about the current company and its main flagship store in London, his hometown. Rick then started in explaining how tea is grown on plantations, what the process for creating the tea leaves is once plucked and the difference between black, green and herbals teas. He then started explaining all the different blends currently being grown in the UK gardens. With each teacup garden, he explained the blend, the different plants grown to create the flavor and how it was best brewed and asked if anyone had tried the blend and if they’d liked it. In this way, we worked our way through the garden. You could ask questions at any time. I appreciated one person asked about how to officially pronounce “Twinings” – Rick reminded the group of the history of Thomas Twinings, the founder. He family traditionally had produced twine and the name was originally spelled “Twynings” so that is the correct pronunciation. Rick and Owen were both engaging speakers and clearly enjoyed the tour though they both thought it was fairly funny they’d come to the States to learn so much about tea.

The tour is fairly short, and you aren’t given the usual Disney tour earpieces, so in the small garden, if you weren’t close to the cast member speaking, it could be a challenge to hear them. Rick and Owen were aware of this and projected well and often did “sound checks” to make sure everyone could hear them. Luckily, the gardens themselves mean the group needs to stay cozy (close together) so I did not have a problem hearing at any time. It was also chilly and windy, though sunny, the morning I took the tour so the wind often carried the speaker’s voice helpfully.

 

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Tea and Scones at the Rose & Crown

Following the tour, you return to the Rose & Crown patio for tea and scones. They have all the different blends of tea currently being grown to try as well as two scones per person. One is a savory scone, cheddar and herb, served with a bacon butter and the other sweet, a traditional golden raisin scone with clotted cream. Rick and Owen also circulated the entire time, trading our tour badges for a little bag of Twinings tea to take with us and answering any other questions about the tour or themselves and where they were from in the UK. You’re welcome to have as much tea as you’d like, though the official ending time for the tour is 10:30am. If you wanted more hot water after that time, Rick and Owen could get it for you if you asked.

 

 

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Your “parting gift”, samples of blends on display in the Garden.

The tour is held only once a day, every day and does go rain or shine. For $18, no AP discount, I enjoyed the chance to learn more about the tea gardens, try new and different teas (as well as find a new favorite – I’m currently obsessed with the Twinings green tea with pomegranate, raspberry, and strawberry blend) as well as spend some time with two of the UK cast members. They were well versed in the teas being grown, had tried them all, had favorites to recommend and could answer questions about the growing and drying process. Obviously, Twinings is the tea WDW uses so it’s the only one mentioned but I liked the aspect of the tour where we learned the history of the company and how it grew over time. A new life goal? Become a master tea blender someday by taking a master class at the Twinings flagship store in London!

 

This ranks high on the list of tours I’ve taken at WDW. It’s affordable, fun and has a delicious treat at the end of it (that was really quite filling!). If you enjoy tea, gardening or just the ambiance of the UK pavilion of Epcot, I would recommend this tour highly during the Flower & Garden Festival.

 

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One-Pot Asian Feast

I love one pot dinners. Fewer dishes. I adore cooking but I am a messy cook with so many dishes. The clean-up from me cooking is longer than cooking half the time. I have been slacking on the cooking front so it’s time to get back at it. Despite some scheduling setbacks this week, I finally got myself back into the kitchen to try a Sesame Chicken recipe. Some of my Asian recipes are hit or miss. Some are too watery; the sauce doesn’t thicken and ends up just kind of blah. This recipe is one of the better ones I’ve tried and I would recommend if you have a hankering for Chinese take-out with a healthier twist.

 

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The sauce thickened perfectly! I love a heartier sauce.

 

One-Pot Sesame Chicken [original recipe]
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 pound boneless and skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch strips
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into thin 1 inch ribbons
3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 cup green onion, sliced

Directions

  1. Heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Once hot add the chicken and carrot. Cook until the chicken is firm and cooked through. Drain off any excess liquid.
  2. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients except sesame seeds and green onion. Whisk until smooth and pour over the cooked chicken. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute, or until thick and chicken is coated.
  3. Stir in the sesame seeds. Remove from heat and top with green onion.
  4. Serve with brown rice.

 

Mac and Cheese with a Zing

We skipped spring around Tallahassee and seemed to go right into summer. The weather forecast assures me we’ll be reverting back to more seasonal weather come tomorrow but due to this heat wave, cooking has not been high on my list. In trying to ease myself back into my usual schedule, I choose a quick and easy recipe that’s a healthy take on an old favorite. This Mexican Mac and Cheese recipe is quick and easy to make. However, it’s really more of a side dish than a main entree. I’ve been pairing it with side salads and small portions of chicken to feel like I ate a good meal for dinner. It is also a Weight Watchers recipe I found online so it’s on the healthier side of things – bonus!

Mexican Mac and Cheese

Low-fat Mexican Mac and Cheese
Makes 6-7 servings

Ingredients:
8 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni
5 oz. light processed cheese (NOTE: the recipe called for low fat or light Velveeta cheese which doesn’t seem to exist in Tallahassee. I ended up using 2% Milek Velveeta as it had the best nutritional stats)
1 tsp taco seasoning (NOTE: add more for more of a kick!)
1/2 cup salsa

Directions:

  1. Cook the macaroni per usual until done
  2. While the noodles are cooking, cube the cheese
  3. Once the noodles are done, drain and return to the pot
  4. Add the cubed cheese and taco seasoning to the pot. Stir well until the cheese has melted
  5. When melted, stir in the salsa and serve!

 

A Hearty Winter Sheet Pan Dinner

I always like the idea of the sheet pan dinner than I actually like making them. Mostly because I usually look at the amount of food I’ve prepared and then look at my sheet pan and think “where are they getting their apparently GIANT cooking sheets from?!” I usually end up needed to use both of my cookie sheets and inevitably one cooks better than the other. So, I was excited about this recipe for it to call for a 13×9 pan. Brilliant! It called for me to stir every 10 minutes while cooking to avoid burning but I could do that if it meant only one pan for me to clean at the end of everything!

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This is a hearty meal and actually made me 5 decent sized portions for the week so I am a fan. I did use dried rosemary as I loathe buying the fresh at Publix since the only way to buy the expensive fresh rosemary is buy a lot more than I need (it comes in a pre-packaged item) and end up tossing the rest since I don’t have anything to use it in before it goes bad. So, I used dried and actually think I did the conversion right for once! I also liked the addition of red peppers and onions to the dish – adds some great crunch in the dish to balance out the chicken and potatoes. I think this is a great winter dish so will fit nicely on people’s menus right now!

Rosemary Roasted Chicken & Potatoes [original recipe]

Ingredients:
1 medium pepper, cut into strips
1/2 medium red onion, cut into strips
4 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
3 chicken breasts, cut into even strips
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 tsp. dried)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Heat your oven to 375 degrees F, and line a baking pan (9 inch by 13 inch) with parchment.
  2. Chop all your veggies and the chicken, and place them in the baking pan.
  3. Cover with the garlic, oil, sea salt, pepper, and rosemary. Toss until well coated. [Note: I actually did this in a bowl before putting everything in the pan – I think this worked better]
  4. Roast for 45 minutes, until the chicken and potatoes are cooked through. Stir every 10-12 minutes to make sure nothing burns.

Happy 2018!

I welcomed in 2018 very quietly. I have never been a big fan of the celebration of a new year. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I like to go to bed early? Hate parties? Much prefer to simply tuck in with a good movie and popcorn? Still, I am a fan of deciding on a new list of things to work on in the new year. It is one of my favorite things to make lists and a plan and write up new calendars. I am THAT kind of person. So, what am I planning to work on this year?

 

 

Reading Goals (outside of my GoodReads Reading Challenge goal of 80 books):

  1. Finish all the books I need to read that I already own BEFORE I 1) get more from the library (there are, of course, caveats) or 2) buy more (again…caveats)
    1. Caveat #1: It’s ok to get library books for book club reading
    2. Caveat #2: It’s ok to get library books if the book is working towards one of my other goals (reading or otherwise)
    3. Caveat #3: It’s ok to buy a book if needed for book club reading (and unable to get from library)
    4. Caveat #4: It’s ok to buy a book if it’s a reallllllly good deal (Under $5)
  2. Read a good mix of these two types of books on my to-read shelf: 1) Books that have been on my to-read list the longest and 2) Continue to work on finishing book series that are lingering mid-way finished on my list
  3. Complete a re-read of the Harry Potter series (which has been something I’ve been meaning to do for a few years now so let’s get it on a list officially!)

Kitchen Goals

  1. Learn how to make bread is my major goal in the kitchen this year – we’ll see how this goes!
  2. Make at least one new dish a month and write a blog post about it
  3. Make one “fun” recipe a month and share it with folks. I have been collecting tasty baked good recipes for years and never have a reason to make them so folks at work, get ready – I am making them and then getting them out of my apartment.
  4. Try to cook seafood this year. I am scared of cooking seafood – I don’t know why. Maybe I fear my apartment will permanently smell of the fish market? This may be a short-lived goal if that is indeed the case!

I have more vague goals about taking up running in a more regimented way again, to try and explore more of Florida, start day hiking etc. But this set of goals are pretty concrete so I wanted to share them out to keep me accountable over 2018.

End of Year Book Reviews

I am, of course, still reading but wrapping up reading for the year as I head into a busy holiday season with my family. It will be my first holiday celebrated entirely in Florida (or without snow!) so I’m both excited to be avoiding the airport and bummed to be missing what is a guaranteed white Christmas up north.

I finished my GoodReads Reading Challenge for the year a few weeks back actually. I am now five books over on the year for an even 80. I will probably add another 2 to that before we hit January 1. I kind of did abysmally on my reading goals for the year so I’m re-thinking how I want to structure next year! I know the first goal out of the gate is to read all the books in both my to-read drawer AND on my Kindle. I am not allowed to get a book from the library until those are read. That will probably take me a few months, to be honest, so maybe by March, I can trust myself in the public library again!

I’m also woefully behind in sharing out reviews of the books I have read so I’m just going to hit the highlights of my fall reading:

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: I had forgotten how much I love E. Lockhart and her ability to make me care so much about such flawed, and sometimes really unlikable, characters. This book plays with a great unreliable narrator. Definitely a lot sadder than Frankie’s story, I still enjoyed the gray space this story occupied in who was right and wrong in what happens.

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross: I started out my year with the first book in the series and really enjoyed it. This one was less memorable to me. I did enjoy reading it but I don’t really feel compelled to read the next book in the series and since I have enough other things to read, it’s not getting added to the reading list anytime soon.

Dark Witch by Nora Roberts: This was recommended as a great fall read to me and it did not disappoint. The atmosphere of this book was key to me pretending it was fall in sweltering Tallahassee. The main character was a tad annoying at times but I liked her enough to enjoy the story and also to want to know what happens to the other characters introduced in the book so this series got added to the reading list.

starsaboveStars Above by Marissa Meyer: I really miss this series. I mean, I am glad she brought it to a satisfying conclusion but I really love these characters. This book is a series of short stories discussing the characters either before or after the action in the main three books. It was fun to get some of the backstories of my favorites and I adored the final story where we get a “where are they now?” type story with everyone. I am a sucker for that type of story with characters I love.

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe: I picked up a signed copy of this at his book reading here in Tallahassee a long time back so I was happy to finally take the time to read the book. Books about books are the best. Particularly this type where it’s just like a long conversation with a good friend over tea about books. This was also surprising tear-jerking in parts. The chapter where Schwalbe discusses his experience as a gay man in NYC during the height of the AIDS epidemic required multiple tissues.

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz: This was sadly disappointing at the end of the day. I got annoyed with Darcy. She swung from one extreme to the next too quickly. I also found it hard to believe the character we’re presented with is as successful as she is supposed to when she goes to pieces immediately the second something makes her uncomfortable. The swings were just too much to buy, to the point where she was just really unlikable and annoying. Bingley, however, is delightful as Darcy’s best friend and I liked his romance with Jim Bennet.

The Bookshop on the Corner and The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan: A friend who knows me very well gave me these books for our early Christmas gift exchange. Colgan’s heroines take me awhile to warm up too but they always develop so wonderfully into women I want to be best friends with, I know I need to just stick through the tough bits. Bookshop was such a cozy read! Delightful characters too and gave me the urge to sell everything and buy a book truck (oh, and move to Scotland). In Chocolate,  Anna Trent very much fits into that category of Colgan heroine but is also so determined, you’re rooting for her to succeed before you know it. This book also makes me want to suddenly become brilliant at making chocolate. And move to France to live in a garret to do so. Clearly, Colgan mostly just makes me want to quit my job, move to Europe and do some job I’m not really qualified to do…

52 Cups of Coffee by Megan Gebhart: I enjoyed this read. The audience is supposed to be recent or so-to-be-recent college graduates but I think there is something for everyone whether you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up yet or if you’ve always known and are hitting some bumps on the road.

newsworldNews of the World by Paulette Jiles: A very subtle read. It’s a classic western in many ways but the language really elevates this book. The writing is beautiful in its simplicity and evokes a world that is long gone and we only think we know from the movies. Captain Kidd and Johanna are incredible characters to watch grow to trust each other over their treacherous drive from North Texas to San Antonio.

Belle’s Library by Belle (aka the Walt Disney Company): This was a divine little read that was basically like have a long conversation with Belle about books. So, pretty much perfect!

A lighter stew

I adore my mother’s beef stew. I will make it at least once a winter if not twice. However, it’s not the healthiest version of stew you’ll find so when you’re trying to be good in light of the upcoming holiday season, it’s not the best fit. But I really wanted a good hearty stew for the Crock Pot last weekend. So, I went to my go-to spot and Hungry Girl didn’t disappoint.

 

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It is so tasty; I’ve been eating it with a few slices of french baguette.

 

This is a broth-based stew so it’s not thick but it’s chockfull of veggies and super tender meat. It also makes a ton of food. The original recipe said it made 6 servings but I’ve been eating it since Sunday and am pretty sure I’ll have enough to go to this coming Sunday so yeah, LOTS of leftovers. I also have been adding just a splash of new broth when I’ve been reheating to avoid having the meat dry out at all. Overall, this is a big winner for me and is going on my winter rotation for sure!

Slow Cooker Pot Roast Stew [original recipe here]

Ingredients:

2 lbs. raw boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed of excess fat, cut into large pieces
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 cups chopped carrots (1 lb. bag)
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms (1/2 8 oz. package)
1 1/2 cups chopped sweet onions (3/4 of 1 large onion)
8 oz. russet potato, peeled and cubed (1 medium-sized potato)
1 cup chopped celery (8 oz. or half of a celery hearts bags)
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 cups beef broth

Directions

  1. Place beef in the slow cooker. Sprinkle with garlic, salt, and pepper.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients except broth.
  3. Top with broth. Cover and cook on high for 3 – 4 hours or on low for 7 – 8 hours, until beef is cooked through.
  4. Remove and discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Transfer beef to a bowl, and shred with two forks.
  5. Return shredded beef to the slow cooker, and mix well.