Friday, October 17, 2008

Turkey Leg Down the Pants

Now that Halloween Horror Nights is here, the mister and I have been spending a good deal of our free time at Universal Studios FL. HHN is one of our favorite yearly events. Being born so close to Halloween has imbued me with a love of the holiday and just about everything connected with it. I grew up in a more innocent time, when trick or treating was an all-evening affair and we weren't scared to take homemade popcorn balls or taffy apples for fear they were concealing a razor blade inside. We knew the houses that passed out freshly made treats and always made a bee-line for them. There were also some homes that were done up as haunted houses, with creepy music blasting and strobe lights blinding us as we crept up to the door, ready to scream in terror when a costumed monster answered. We'd stay out until 10 p.m., then head home on exhausted little feet, dragging shopping bags of candy behind us.

When I got older, I started going to haunted houses. There were always lots at the local churches and park districts, since they made a handy fund rasier. There were some professional ones too, and I quickly developed a taste for those when I was old enough to drive.

My husband was a haunted house virgin when I married him, but I soon fixed that and he came to love them as much as I do. In Chicago, we would spend every weekend evening leading up to Halloween running from one locale to another. It was slow going, since the lines were sometimes an hour or more long, so we'd only manage to fit in two or three per night.

Now that we're in Florida, the haunted houses are all consolidated into that handy package known as HHN. Universal features eight professional-grade houses, plus "scare zones" where you walk through and are chased by zombies or chainsaw wielding maniacs or have flying monkeys zoom overhead between the buildings. There are no more multi-hour waits because we arrived early and get lots of houses done before the crowds arrive; then we use the Express Pass, a sort of front of the line pass that you can purchased (it's not literal still have to wait in a line, but a much shorter one that rarely exceeds 15 minutes).

We have Frequent Fear passes, which get us in on every non-peak night. We go as often as we can because we have to gorge ourselves on enough fright factor to last us for another year. This year's icon is Bloody Mary, the terrifying spectre of teen mirror games. I remember middle grade sleepovers where we'd all cram into the bathroom and earnestly recite her name three times, waiting for her to burst through the mirror and scratch our eyes out. Alas, Bloody Mary never appeared then, but now she's all over at Universal...on billboards, TV ads, and in her own haunted house.

While the houses are the main attraction, there is an interesting sideshow. HHN is infamous for the alcohol consumption that goes on. People guzzle as much liquor as they can manage while while waiting in line or suck on "blood bag" jello shots. I can understand, as I'll admit that the signature drink, served in a light-up mug, is quite delicious. But I value my life and know that I have to brave I-4 to get home, so I limit myself to one drink early on. Apparently most of my fellow patrons know no such restraint.

I've never seen anyone get too overly obnoxious or violent (well, maybe just a bit...I've seen plenty hauled off by security for doing goodness knows what to the scareactors in the houses). But I've seen some entertaining antics, and early on in the season I saw one that I doubt I'll ever be able to top: Turkey Leg in the Crotch Lady.

I should probably start from the beginning. Hubby and I were waiting in line for a house. It was a relatively short line, and there was a couple in front of us who were quite jovial but also quite drunk. We were chatting with them a bit when the guy decided to run out of the line to buy a turkey leg. We warned him that the line was so short that they probably wouldn't have time to finish it before we got to the entrance. He pooh poohed our theory and ran off to buy it, returning a few minutes later.

They put forth a valiant effort to consume the massive limb of fowl before we got to the door. But if you've ever seen an amusement park turkey leg, you know they come from massive mutant birds roughly the size of baby elephants. They look like something Fred Flintstone would nosh on while verbally abusing Wilma. Now we were almost at the entrance, and there was no way that they were going to be even close to done.

Not being ones to waste food, even in their inebriated state, they struggled for a solution. Finally the woman took the big, hot, greasy chunk of meat and shoved it down the front of her pants!! I nearly fainted in shock. Immediately she started yelping, "Owwww! Hot!" while dancing in pain until finally she realized that she should probably remove the offending leg from its hiding place. She gave it to her boyfriend, who managed to stash it in his cargo shorts.

Going through the house with them was quite entertaining. The woman kept running backwards and screaming in terror while trampling me, but the risk of bodily injury was worth the show she was putting on. Hubby had his own entertainment, provided by the people behind him who were intent on running him over in their fright. We managed to make it out unscathed, although I think Turkey Leg Lady probably had some grease burns in interesting places. I wonder if she would be looking at them in puzzlement the following morning.

Halloween Horror Nights still has a couple of weeks to go, so hopefully we'll make it four or five more times. But no matter what wild antics we see, I don't think we'll ever be able to top the turkey leg in the crotch.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Quest for Guiness Ice Cream

I love ice cream. As long as I can remember, it's always been my favorite dessert. When I was very young, my dad would take me to a place called Miner-Dunn where I'd get a "kiddie" cheeseburger and top it off with the best hot fudge sundae this side of Heaven. That love stuck with me and expanded far beyond the plain vanilla that served as a delivery medium for the thick, gooey hot fudge.

I developed a love for Baskin-Robbins Pralines and Cream ice cream, and I also waited eagerly for my two favorite seasonals, Oregon Blackberry and Pumpkin Pie. Alas, my all-time favorite doesn't exist anymore. It was called Cold Duck Ice, named after the cheap libation of the same name and sold in the 1970s. It should probably have been served in a brown paper bag rather than a cup, but it was oh so good. Alas, as the wine of the same name fell out of favor, so too did the ice cream.

I contented myself with mainstream concoctions like Rocky Road and Jamoca Almond Fudge, but I retained a taste for the unusual too. As I grew older, my cold culinary indulgences ranged to flavors like Green Tea, Red Bean, Lavender, and Sour Cream, but perhaps the most unusual was the taste treat I discovered at an Irish restaurant back when we lived in Chicago: Guinness Ice Cream.

Yes, the ice cream is named after the stout, and that's indeed what it tastes like. I know that good Irishmen cringe when it's referred to as beer, but that's the predominant taste of the ice cream. Although I'm not much of a beer drinker myself, I do carry German genes that have to be appeased every now and then. The Guinness ice cream was the perfect way to do that while indulged my dessert needs at the same time.

Sadly, I must have been one of the only people who liked it as the restaurant did away with it after a few months. Or maybe there just wasn't a big demand for Irish food in general; even though I haven't been there since before we moved to Celebration, I recently looked up their menu online and it was Irish in name only. They still had a handful of Irish dishes, but their offerings were dominated by generic bar food like wings, potato skins, nachos, and the like.

Whatever the case, I had resigned Guinness ice cream to the same melancholy memory bank where I'd stored Cold Duck Ice and other long lost taste treats I'd never be able to indulge in again (Beechies pepsin gum and real Fannie May candy are also on the list). Imagine my surprise when we were at Halloween Horror Nights over at Universal Studio the other day and I discovered Guiness ice cream in their gelato shop!

We've been visiting Universal for years, but I never even realized that they sold gelato, let alone one of my favorite obscure favors. Then I read about the gelato online, stopped in, and there it was. On that first day, I was in the mood for something sweet rather than the sharp and bitter stout taste so I ordered a scoop of Pumpkin Pie ice cream and resolved that I'd have my Guinness next time. However, I did get a taste spoon and I was pleased to discover that it was still just as good as I imagined in my memories of the old Irish restaurant.

We have Frequent Fear passes, which means we attend HHN on almost every off peak night. We always arrive at park closing, have dinner at Finnegan's (Irish name and food, but no Guinness ice cream to be had), and get an early start on the Halloween festivities. I figured we'd just arrive a little early on our next visit and I'd indulge in a nice, big serving of ice cream as a kick-off to a night of haunted housing. Unfortunately, my smug complacency was quite misplaced.

The next time we arrived at the park I husted over to Louies, the pizza parlor with the gelato counter inside. There were two workers bustling around with pans of yummy frozen taste treats, but they didn't even acknowledge us. Finally, after a couple of minutes I asked, "Uh, are you open?" One responded, "We're not supposed to be, but we can take of you." Seemed a little odd, but what the heck, as long as I'd be getting my ice cream.

"I'll have a scoop of Guinness," I said, drooling with anticipation. It had been a long, hot walk from the parking lot through the CityWalk area and all the way to the back of the park. I was hot and sweaty and fully ready to savor the bitter icy goodness.

"Oh, I can't sell that flavor until tonight."


The woman repeated, "We only sell that at night," which really didn't compute for me since it's Guiness flavored, not some sort of alcohol-laden libation that will get you drunk with one bite. I don't think you could get drunk with a whole gallon! And second, right outside and a few steps away a cart was hawking glasses of cold beer.

Oh well, whatever. I could see that the Keeper of the Guinness wasn't budging, so I resolved to come back later. After running through the haunted houses, we returned around the same time that I'd had my gelato on the previous visit. Now it was well after dark, and the average blood alcohol level of park patrons most definitely exceeded the legal driving limit so stout-flavored ice cream seemed tame in comparison to blood-bag jello shots and the other wicked potions that were running freely. But this time around, the ice cream pans were all empty and the workers were scrubbing the counter. It was over two hours till park closing, but apparently I was out of luck...the Fates had conspired to deny me.

Still I clung to my bull-headed optimism. We were planning to return in a couple of days, and next time I would be prepared. I would wait until HHN had started...but not too long. I would arrive early on in the event and indulge in my just reward...a big, creamy scoop of tan and frosty Guinness paradise. I still recalled that little teaser taste spoon I'd had a few days before, and I could just imagine having a whole serving all to myself.

The days passed, and once again we were on our way to HHN. We went through several of the haunted houses, then hustled over to Louie's where the gelato counter sang its siren call from the front corner. I was almost afraid to peek through the glass at the flavors...with my luck, they'd be fresh out of Guinness.

But no, there it was in all its frosty glory. The stand was open, the pan was full, and I was full of confidence as I proclaimed, "I'll take a scoop of Guinness, please."

"We only serve it in shot glasses."


She repeated, "We only serve it in shot glasses," indicating a thin little plastic HHN receptacle that would hold a portion of ice cream roughly the size of my little finger. Then she added helpfully, "It's $7.50."

Once hubby had revived me from my faint, I tried to decide what to do. $7.50 was an insane price, even though the shot glass did light up with flashing orange lights in its tiny base. Heck, the large-sized alcoholic drinks in big light-up tumbers were only a buck or two more. But it wasn't a drink I was the freakin' Guinness ice cream that had teased me over the past week until obtaining it had become a vendetta. Grudgingly I counted out the money from my pocket, handed it over, and got my Lilliputian-sized portion, along with a tiny spoon so I could coax out every precious scrap.

And believe me, that's just what I did. I made sure I consumed every precious bit because I knew I wouldn't be having any more $7.50 drabs of Guinness ice cream in the future. I shook my head in wonderment, trying to figure out what made it such a closely-guarded commodity. Was there some obscure trade agreement with Ireland that forbade selling it in normal quantities? Was it laden with gold flecks? Was it subject to some sort of secret rationing?

I guess I'll never know, but I do know that in the future I'll stick with chocolate or pumpkin pie or something less precious in the future. And in the meantime, I figure that every time I buy a conventional flavor I'll ask for a free taste spoon of the Guinness. After all, one of those spoonfuls is very nearly equivalent to the $7.50 portion, plus I don't get stuck carrying a flashing shot glass around for the rest of the night.