Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Uzbek Pilaf (Plov)

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We continue our recipes around the world.

This blog post is presented by Elaine Paperman, our guest food blogger.
Visit Elaine's web site to get various restaurants' reviews and very delicious food recipes.

Plov is a traditional dish of Uzbekistan made with rice. There are endless varieties of plov recipes, but I wanted to recreate a traditional Uzbek plov made with lamb, onion, carrots, cumin (it’s called “zera” in Uzbekistan), and other components without which you can’t call you pilaf an Uzbek plov. And that was what I wanted, craved, salivated imaging nice, aromatic, steaming bowl of soft, melting in your mouth pieces of lamb peeking out from the uniform, grain to grain, fully cooked, but holding its shape and yellowish from saffron, rice; with orange specks of sweet carrots; dark dots of sour barberries; and crowned with whole, unpeeled, soft inside, mild aromatic garlic head!
Please cook this dish and will understand why traditions are so strong and tenacious in the Middle East – once start neglecting traditions, then neglect plov, and then what are we going to do? 

4 lb lamb shoulder, cut into about 2 by 2 inches pieces
2 large onions, chopped
4 large or 8 small carrots, peeled and julienned (can be grated)
¼ cup vegetable or corn oil
2 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon ground coriander
4 cups rice (Basmati or Uncle Ben’s parboiled rice)
a pinch of saffron (optional)
2 tablespoon whole barberries (optional)
1 large garlic head, cleaned from the most outer skin, but unpeeled
2 teaspoon salt,
1 teaspoon black pepper
8 cups beef stock or water

I like to toast cumin seeds before adding them to the dish. It will intensify their flavor. However, this step is totally optional.
Heat stainless steel skillet on medium-high heat, add oil and sauté onions until golden color. Transfer onions to the cast iron Dutch oven. Arrange carrots on top of onions. On the same skillet brown lamb pieces until golden on all sides. Do not overcrowd the skillet, so meat would brown, not steam. Transfer meat to the Dutch oven. Add some stock or water to the skillet and dislodge the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add that liquid and all remaining water or stock to the Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, add cumin seeds and coriander, barberries, about 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper and cook for about 1 hour, or until meat is tender.
When lamb is cooked, add another teaspoon of salt, add your rice to the Dutch oven and even it out on top on meat. DO NOT MIX RICE WITH MEAT! Liquid has to be 1 inch above the rice surface. If there is not enough liquid, make a hole in the middle of the rice layer with the wooden spoon handle and very carefully add liquid trying not to disturb all the ingredients. Cut off about ½ inches of the top of the garlic head exposing the cloves. Add saffron to the Dutch oven and carefully push the garlic head cut side down in the middle of the pilaf so it would be covered by rice.
Now, the next step IS IMPORTANT! Find a metal plate or a pot cover that would fit in your Dutch oven to sit directly on top of rice! Then, cover your Dutch oven with its own cover. Cook on very low heat until all liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked, but NOT MUSHY! for about another 30-40 minutes. To check rice’s doneness, carefully remove all covers and taste the top rice, DO NOT MIX THE PILAF UNTIL IT’S COMPLETELY DONE! If all water is evaporated, but your rice is still al dente, you can make holes in the rice with a wooden spoon handle and add some more liquid. Try to avoid doing it, since you rice on the bottom can get mushy. If you are using a metal plate or smaller pot cover on top of the rice, almost certainly your rice will be cooked perfectly. When you pilaf is ready, remove garlic head from pilaf, set it aside, and carefully mix all ingredients of the pilaf. Arrange pilaf on a large platter and put garlic head which you took out earlier, on top. The rice grains should not be sticky; they should rather be separated from each other.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sample Disney World Itinerary

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Here is the sample Disney World itinerary that I built for one of our clients. Hope it will help you when planning your next trip to Disney.


Sample  Disney Itinerary July 2013


Mobile App

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If you have iPhone upload

Fast Pass

Get you Fast Pass for attraction that you like to go the most. Remember: you can get only 1 Fast Pass at a time. You cannot get another one until you use the previous one.

You do not have to pay for it, but you should use it. You take your park ticket to the kiosk of a ride you want to Fast Pass and put each one in. It will give you a stamped time to return to the ride so that you do not have to wait on line. You cannot Fast Pass more than 1 ride at a time, meaning if you fast pass Buzz Lightyear, then you cannot fast pass Space Mountain at the same time. Also they run out of fast passes for the most popular rides, meaning that by 10 am you may no longer be able to even get a fast pass for a ride at 4 pm.

Tips about Parade in Magic Kingdom

I have found that you can often get a railing view of the parade from the elevated courtyard area by the doorways into Cinderella's Castle pretty close to show time. It is not seated, and you don't get down close and personal with the characters, but you do get a good view. And this parade of all of them is really better viewed from a bit of a distance, as opposed to up close.
Everyone thinks they need to watch it from Main Street, U.S.A., or the main hub of the park. So that is where it gets most crowded. But if you go to spots on the parade route in Frontierland, the availability of space is a bit better. There are no curbs there typically, but you and your kids can sit on the ground beforehand once they have roped off the parade route.


Day 1: Magic Kingdom

Day 2: Epcot

Day 3: Animal Kingdom (if you want to see various animals, it involves the most walking) or Hollywood Studios (if you are in the rides)

Day 4: Either any park you liked the most or park you didn’t go to (Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios)

July 17

At night
go to Downtown Disney - shopping area/restaurants
pool at the resort
get the maps of all the parks and circle what you want to see and which rides you want to go on.

July 18

Magic Kingdom

Hours: 9 am – 11 pm
Extra Magic Hours: 8am-9am
Fireworks - Wishes nighttime spectacular (12 mins): 10 pm

Park Opens at 8 am. At the gate get the times to meet the characters.

Go and get the Fast Pass for the ride that you want to do the most.
Suggestion: your husband takes your three tickets and go to the ride you want to go first that accepts fast pass  (see Fast Pass link above)

Go to the Fantasyland. Try to meet Mickey first at Town Square Theater. If your daughter likes princesses, go to the Belle experience. It is new and good for that age. Don’t wait more than 1/2 hour for it. Then go to Ariels new ride. After Fantasyland, go to Tomorrowland, then Frontierland, and Adventureland.

Some of people’s favorites rides include: Small world, Peter pan's flight (get fast pass), Buzz lightyear, Space Mountain if you like roller coasters (fast pass), Splash Mountain (fast pass), Pirates of the Caribbean: it is cool inside, but might be a little scary.

For sure see Disney's Philharmagic. You can get fast pass, but the theater fits many seats, so don’t waste a fast pass on this. If you are there early you will get a seat. Don’t go to Haunted Castle, it is scary for a 7 year old.

Fireworks at 10 pm - Wishes nighttime spectacular

Fantasyland Attractions:
  • Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater (you will also meet Mickey during dinner at Epcot, so it’s up to you whether or not you want to wait in line to do this)
  • Under the sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
  • Prince Charming Carousel
  • Peter Pan’s flight
  • It’s a small world
  • Mickey’s Philharmagic

Tomorrowland Attractions:
  • Space Mountain
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Frontierland Attractions:
  • Splash Mountain

Adventureland Attractions:
  • Pirates of the Caribbean

July 19


Hours: 9 am – 11 pm

Extra Magic Hours: 8am-9am

Fireworks (IllumiNations – Reflections of Earth) at World Showcase Lagoon:

9 pm (lasts 12 mins)


  • Spaceship Earth (the giant ball that is Epcot's icon)
  • Journey into Imagination with Figment
  • Living with the Land
  • The Seas with Nemo & Friends
  • Turtle Talk with Crush
  • Soarin’

5:55 pm
Garden Grill @Epcot
Reservation number: XXXXXXXXX
Characters (subject to change): Chip&Dale, Micki Mouse,Pluto
You can cancel 24 hours before

July 20

If you don’t get to do everything that you want in Magic Kingdom, use this day to go back. Otherwise go to the Animal Kingdom.

Disney Animal Kingdom - involves a lot of walking
Hours: 9 am – 7 pm

  • Kilimanjaro Safari
  • Kali River Rapids

July 21

Hollywood Studios

Hours: 9 am – 10 pm
Fireworks: 9 and 10:30

  • Toy Story Midway Mania - try to arrive early
  • Muppet*Vision 3D
  • Lights! Camera! Action! (The Great Movie Ride)

Shows (check for show times)

  • Disney Junior – Live on stage (features Mickey and friends) (times: 9:40, 10:30, 11:20, 12:10, 1:30, 2:20, 3:20, 4:10, 5:00, 5:30)
  • Beauty and the Beast (times: 11:45, 1:00, 3:00. 4:15, 5:30)
  • Fantasmic (9pm and 10:30pm): The power of dreams blazes before you in this breathtaking 30-minute fireworks and water extravaganza. Seating begins 90 minutes before the show. Get early to get good seats. Designating seating available if eating at select restaurants (need to buy the package)

  1.           Mama Melrose

  1.           Hollywood brown derby

           At the restaurant they will give you a voucher for VIP seating
           They recommend to come 30 minutes before  the show

  • There is a variety of stunt shows, if interested (Lights, Motor, Action times: 1:20pm, 4:30pm)

July 22

Relax at the pool

Reservation details

Your confirmation number is:

Booked for Guest(s):

Arriving :     Wednesday 07/17/2013
Departing :     Monday 07/22/2013 for 5 nights
2 Adults,1 Child

Resort Name:     Disney's Art of Animation Resort
Resort Category:     Value Resorts
Room Type:     The Little Mermaid - Standard Room

Park Tickets     4-Day Magic Your Way Base Ticket
Package Type:     Magic Your Way Package

Other notes

Relax and enjoy, it can be very tiring . Realize that if you love it you can go back another time it will always be there.. whatever you see will be great and if you miss something it will be there next year.. The important thing might be to see the princesses because as the daughter ages it will not mean as much and the " older stuff" will be there, 7 is a magical time to enjoy your daughter seeing her heroes.. I recommend you go to our Disney store and Walmart /target and but all your souvenirs and bring them down much more cost effective!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

7 Things to Do with your kids in Tenerife, Canary Islands (cont'd)

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Here is the remainder of our 7 Things to Do with your kids in Tenerife, Canary Islands.
Read our previous blog post for the beginning of the list HERE

Jungle Park
Jungle Park is close to Los Cristianos, in the south of Tenerife. Visitors can walk through among cactuses, palms, various flowering trees and shrubs. Kids can visit caves, walk on hanging bridges, and just stay on playgrounds.
You can meet monkeys, penguins, hippos, crocodiles and many other animals including amazing birds of prey. You can also take a bobsled ride or  walk through rope obstacle course (Jungle Raid).

Monkey Park
Monkey Park on Tenerife is small but very interesting. There you can feed and pet furry green monkeys and lemurs, and watch other animals such turtles and parrots. Children love this park! It is better to come in the morning or in the evening because monkeys and lemurs are asleep during the day.

Siam Park

Siam Water Park is a great place for thrill-seekers.  The park has the steepest slide, the most extreme slide, the longest slide, large swimming pool and white sand beach, in winter the water is heated to 24 degrees. Also the park attracts many surfers. It has the biggest artificial wave reaching three meters.
Kids can have fun in the children’s corner of The Lost City, which has small slides and waterfalls. The park is huge, and it would take you the whole day to go around. You can watch various performances including sea lions shows. Just do not forget the sun protection (sunscreen, panama, etc.) because there is a lot of sun even during winter months.

Not far from the large water park “Siam” you can find Aqualand. It has some water slides even for little kids. It runs a dolphin show that is recognized to be the best in the world, which starts daily at 3:30 pm.
There are free shuttles from hotels in Playa de las Américas and Los Cristianos

Friday, September 20, 2013

7 Things to Do with your kids in Tenerife, Canary Islands

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Are you tired from from going to Mexico and Caribbean for your tropical vacations with your kids? May be you want to go somewhere warm and different? Try Tenerife on Canary Islands.

It requires 11-13 hour flight with one stop over from the US East Coast and beach might not be better than at some Caribbean resorts.  However there are so many things to do for kids on this tropical island!

Here is the list of 7 Things to Do with your kids in Tenerife, Canary Islands
For the list of KIDS related attractions around the world visit our new web site

Mount Teide in Tenerife

Teide is the Canary Islands most visited tourist attraction.  You can take a tour or rent a car and go up to the mountain.  The roads are steep and winding  so it is good to leave the driving to an expert who goes there all the time if you are a nervous driver but remember that coaches do this trip all the time so there is plenty of room for cars and a reasonably competent driver will have no trouble.
In the middle of the Island of Tenerife sits Mount Teide, which is 3718 meters high and is the highest mountain in Spain.  It is also the world’s third largest volcano and is still active!  Although the last eruption occurred in 1909.  Access to the summit is either by foot (for which a permit is required) or by cable car (25 euros each) that will carry you almost to the summit. On a clear day, the views are breathtaking in one direction Gran Canaria in the other La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro.
Mount Teide has Canary pines, which are very tall and straight, grown only in the Canaries. The clouds run between 500 and 1200 meters and run against the pine trees, leaving their moisture against the pine trees and their pine needles. The moisture runs into the ground and falls into the many natural reservoirs at ground level. So the island has plenty of water, unlike the other islands in the archipelago, which do not have the pine trees and are desert like.

 Loro Parque


At Loro Parque, you can watch the Dolphins as they perform right before your eyes, and see the Orcas with their top class performance. These are just two of the most popular attractions within the Park, and then there are the Penguins who have made their home on one of the largest icebergs outside of the polar regions!
The Park is famous for it’s many Parrots which you can view and enjoy as you move around the Park, but it’s also sanctuary for a wide selection of endangered species from around the world.
From the moment your visit begins, winding pathways will entice you into an exciting world where you can explore Katandra Treetops, the Thai Village and a magical kingdom in a relaxing environment.
There is always lots to do at this magnificent tropical paradise!
The attraction Park has dolphins which have always been a favorite with visitors as they perform their shows in the largest dolphin pool in Europe.
See the Orca whales performing their spectacular show. They are one of Loro Parques newest additions. Naturally there are plenty of other great shows and sights for the whole family to enjoy – Sea Lions, Parrots, Pelicans, Gorillas, Chimps, Tigers, and even Sharks….
You can see all these wonderful animals when you visit the Park. It’s not to be missed and is a great day out for the whole family – young or old!
Did you know…? You can find the largest population of Penguins in the world at Loro Parque – outside the Arctic regions, of course!

Pueblo Chico

This is the first miniature park of the Canary Islands; the result of an initiative to combine technology and imagination to create a novel theme park.
Located in Orotava, 35km from Santa Cruz, you can stroll throughout 20,000 square meters of park, seeing all of the landmark buildings and places and the most significant infrastructures of the Canary Islands. Among them, a scale model of South Tenerife is located next to outstanding buildings of tourist interest.
In a faithful reproduction of reality, there is even a scale model of South Tenerife Airport in Pueblo Chico occupies a space of 19 x 5 meters. On the runway are three airplanes, in addition to several others at the main terminals.
Pueblo Chico has models of 65 monuments and patrimonial references, that go the past from native to present modernity. A visitor route takes you round the park to show you miniatures of the great urban facilities, right through to the representation of the Cliff of the Giants and the Lunar Landscape of the Teide, two of the most outstanding attractive natural features of the Canaries.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Drive from San Francisco to Seattle

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A couple of weeks ago our clients (whom we helped to plan the itinerary) returned from the trip along West Coast. They rented a car in San Francisco and drove to Seattle.
Hotels they stayed are
San Francisco - Marriott Marquis
Napa - Best Western Premier Ivy Hotel
Ashland, OR - Lithia Springs Resort and Gardens
Portland, OR - Hotel Modera
Seattle - Renaissance Seattle 

Here is their review.


The trip was great! A little too much in one week so not too relaxing but very very interesting. All hotels were fine and car rental was very smooth and easy. 

In San Francisco we went to the Golden Gate Park - its beautiful, and awesome botanical garden in there - can easily spend the whole day  and would have been great for kids. Hotel in San Fran was huge - good location - no complaints. 

Napa - Best Western was fine but next time we will go for something more upscale. It had a really small pool and hot-tub - looks bigger on pictures and breakfast is really bare minimum. Restaurants - Tra Vigne and Bistro Jeanty were amazing, can give you info on wineries if you like. 
(See our Napa Valley Guide HERE)

Ashland - hotel was nice, we had a great dinner and went to a local bar - very cute - lots of local flavor. its a fun town, would have liked to do the Shakespeare play but we got in too late at night for that. Drive there - beautiful nature, we did Avenue of the Giants - truly amazing. Not a bad drive, can stop in many places for nature viewing - I WOULD NOT want to do it with kids unless they are closer to tween age. 

Portland could really be skipped - not much there. A lot of bums and homeless people on the streets especially by the river. 

On the way to Seattle, stopped by in Mt. St. Helens - really cool - recent volcano eruption - would have been a good place to camp/hike if we had time. Seattle we really liked and wished we had a few more days there. Pretty cool city and there are many things to do - its pretty spread out with all the islands and there is a lot of nature type activities. 

Thanks for all your help!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Turkish appetizers: Eggplants stuffed with vegetables

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This blog post is presented by Elaine Paperman, our guest food blogger.
Visit Elaine's web site to get various restaurants' reviews and very delicious food recipes.

I read about this dish that it’s originated from Turkey and is called “Imam Baylidi” meaning “the priest fainted”. The story tells that a holy man fainted after smelling the aroma of this dish. I can assure you that nobody has yet fainted trying this dish in my house. It is fragrant and very appetizing, so go ahead and make it bravely.

4 small Japanese eggplants (substitute with small regular eggplants)
1 zucchini
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
1 red pepper
2 tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup toasted put nuts
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt, pepper

Place eggplants on a large pot and cover then with boiling water. (To avoid bruising them, you may need to cook the eggplants one at a time.) Cook them, uncovered on high heat for five minutes. Turn them with a wooden spoon to prevent puncturing the skin. Transfer eggplants to cold water to stop cooking and cool them down. Meanwhile, roast a pepper over a gas burner until its skin is charred and black. Place the pepper in a plastic bag and tie the bag. Let the pepper cool in the bag. With a sharp knife, cut the eggplants lengthwise in half. Remove the pulp leaving about ½ inch of shell. Using a serrated grapefruit knife is very helpful. Chop the eggplant’s flesh into about ¼ inch pieces. Do not peel your zucchini; chop it into the same size pieces. Remove roasted pepper from plastic bag and peel it (the skin will come off easily). Remove seeds from the pepper and chop it, as well. Place the eggplants shells, skin side up, on a tray lined with paper towels, and refrigerate them until they are ready to be served.

Chop onion and mince garlic. Heat oil in a skillet and sauté onion until it is translucent. The original recipe calls for garlic being sautéed at this point. However, I like the aroma and taste of the fresh garlic and added it at the point when I put all the vegetables in the fridge to marinating. So, follow you preferences. Add chopped eggplant and zucchini and sauté until veggies are cooked and tender, about 7-8 minutes. Add salt, sugar, oregano, black pepper, stir and sauté for a couple minutes more.
Transfer mixture to a glass bowl. Remove seeds from tomatoes and chop them roughly. Add tomatoes to the veggies in a bowl. I added raw finely minced garlic at this point. Add lemon juice and gently stir all the vegetables. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Just before serving, add chopped cilantro to the vegetable mixture. Pat the inside of the eggplants shells with paper towel and fill them with the vegetables. Sprinkle with pine nuts.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Beware of pickpockets

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Pickpocketing is a serious problem in major tourist destinations such as Barcelona, Paris, Athens, and many others.
Here are 8 tips how to avoid pickpockets. Even though some of these tips sound silly, they might actually help :)
Tip #1: When taking metro try entering the middle car and keep your purse, backpack and the rest of your belonging in front of you. In some instances thieves try to get items from you when you enter into the car and they are getting off (and taking your belongings with them). It is just easier for them to escape from the end or beginning of the train.
Tip #2: If somebody spills coffee on you don't let them to be close to you trying to help. This is the common trick when thieves spill on you and then 'help'. Well, after they help you might not have your wallet
Tip #3: Do not look too much like a tourist if at all possible, and if you do make sure to safely hide your wallet. However If you carry camera and tour books & maps it is hard to hide that you are a tourist.
Here is one of many stories about it: "Yes, wallet was stolen in Venice when my husband was too busy taking photos and didn't even feel his wallet pulled from his pocket. Lots of credit card charges followed..."
Tip #4: Never put your wallet or anything valuable into your pockets that can be easily accessed
Tip #5: Leave passports and most of your credit cards in hotel's safe box or in the apartment where you are staying. I know cases when tourists were missing passports in subway or any other crowded places and it was a pain to restore. One friend suggested the following: "I didn't use a wallet in Rome. Just had a few "shekels" in my pockets, and ATM and credit card. Had back up credit cards in my wallet back at the hotel"
Tip #6: Pickpockets can be older and innocent looking people. A couple of years ago my sister-in-law was standing in front of the display window and saw in the display reflection when elderly innocent looking lady was trying to open her backpack.
Tip #7: Try not to stop for photo taking, rest break, food break, or just admire scenery in very touristy and crowded areas. Find a quiet spot instead.
Tip #8: Don't sign any petitions, no matter how strongly you feel about the anti-drug movement in the foreign county you are visiting. Also don't believe you just lost jewelery and the nice lady is giving it back to you and don't give any one directions