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Delicious dough

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Making StrudelI don't make pastries. Even if I did, I don't think I could ever match the skills of the pastry chefs at the Strudel House in Budapest.

On a recent visit, I participated in a short hands-on session working (or trying to work) strudel dough.

First, our small contingent watched a professional work with a piece of dough that initially looked like a fat round plate. He stretched the dough into a thin, unbroken sheet that covered an entire tabletop of at least three feet by six feet, maybe more.

We could see there were no holes because the pastry handler set it on the table, sealed it lightly around the sides with air trapped inside to create a dome of sorts. Also, it was so thin we could read a newspaper through it.

The pastry chef topped half the dough with uncooked apples (adding cinnamon, sugar and bread crumbs) and the other half with cheese. He rolled the whole sheet into one long fruit- and cheese-filled tube, cut it into manageable pieces and baked the lot. The strudels are baked at 220C (about 430F) for 12 minutes, we were told.

The chef then laid out another thick plate-sized piece of dough. Two of us, working with a hostess, attempted to do what the professional had done. We stretched the rubbery dough to the dimensions of the table, but sadly, ours had a few holes and the chef wouldn't use it. Proudly, though, we could read a paper through it.

The hostess said Hungarian strudel differs from the Austrian variety in that dough in the Hungarian version is thinner, like the dough used in Turkish baklava.

The restaurant, which makes 15 to 20 strudels a day, also fills some with chicken paprikash, salmon and vegetables.

Our lunch opened with a chicken paprikash strudel and concluded with pieces of the fruit and cheese strudels that were rolled before our eyes. Delish.

-- Nadine Godwin 

Sandals celebrates Olympics, Jamaica

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Cultural ExpressionsTo coincide with the 2012 Olympics and 50 years of Jamaican independence, Sandals and Beaches resorts will offer a series of themed events and performances at each of their Jamaican resorts from July 27 through Aug. 12.

An Olympic Village and "Jamaica 50" center will be built at each property. The village will feature life-size cutouts of athletes, event broadcasts from London and an Olympics-themed fashion show by local designers. The center will offer historical exhibits, local crafts, traditional dishes and island decor.

With the overlapping Olympic Games and Jamaica 50 celebrations from Aug. 1 (Emancipation Day) through Aug. 6 (Independence Day), guests can view folk performances by the Hatfield Cultural Group, jonkunno dancers and other Jamaican troupes while celebrating the global games and Jamaica's 50 years of independence.

"Sandals is a homegrown company, which was established during the period of independence. As a growing organization with Jamaican roots, we have something to celebrate. Celebrating Jamaica is celebrating Sandals," said David Ellis, operations manager for Sandals' entertainment division. 

— Gay Nagle Myers 


The West Wing of the West

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Oregon Oval OfficeWhat does an airport do with a vacant room in a brand new passenger terminal?

Do what the folks did at the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport in southwestern Oregon: replicate the real Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, invite folks to visit during stopovers or layovers and promote it as an event venue (pictured).

The venue officially opened July 4 and rates to rent it out will run $75 for four hours.

— Gay Nagle Myers 

Branson celebrates Cancun service, lambasts APD

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Virgin Atlantic in CancunWhat a stylish guy Richard Branson is. To celebrate the recent launch of Virgin Atlantic's twice-weekly roundtrip service between London Gatwick and Cancun, airline president Branson stepped off the 747-400 in Cancun in full Mexican attire, including a very large black sombrero.

Branson, holding Alexandra Burke in his arms (the female winner of the UK X Factor British TV music competition), was flanked by two Virgin flight attendants, waving the Mexican and U.K. flags. A mariachi band, of course, serenaded the crowd.

Branson and his entourage vacationed at the Royal Hideaway Playacar resort in the Riviera Maya, visited Tulum, explored Chichen Itza and swam with whale sharks, to the delight of Mexican tourism officials.

"Mexico holds a special place in my heart. Cancun is one of the top long-haul leisure destinations for U.K. travelers and as a market leader in this area, we're pleased to add this route to our network," Branson said.

Virgin Atlantic estimates that the new route will deliver approximately $25 million in tourism revenue to the Cancun market each year, based on traveler numbers and the average price of a two-week stay.

Branson also took time from his lavish celebrations to lambast the British government's Air Passenger Duty (APD), a heavy passenger tax levied on outbound flights from the U.K., which he described as a "disgrace," according to London's Daily Mail.

"This suffocating tax has rocketed way out of control. Years of above-inflation increases have hit passengers hard, are hitting the economy hard and are impeding our recovery from the recession," Branson said.

He estimated that a family of four traveling from the U.K. to Cancun now pays approximately $504 in APD fees on top of the price of the airline tickets.

"It is a disgrace," Branson said.

To highlight how "suffocating" the APD is, Branson is paying the tax on flights to Cancun for Virgin Atlantic tickets purchased on July 14 and 15 for travel from the U.K. to Cancun between Aug. 28 and Dec. 5 and from Jan. 1 to March 13, 2013.

— Gay Nagle Myers 

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