Intimate setting or a wild party: take your pick at the Funky Monkey Wine Bar on New Year’s Eve.

ORLANDO – It’s a quiet environment, with dim lighting that creates the ideal spot for a romantic dinner between two that ends with a champagne toast at midnight ….

No, it’s a wild night, with flashy production numbers, music and dacning — almost like something out of Vegas …

Since the Funky Monkey Wine Company has two separate locations, and both of them are celebrating New Year’s Eve, you get your choice on the big night.  Do you want serene and romantic … or some lively entertainment with your meal?  Decisions, decisions.

“Pointe Orlando is more of a party,” said Ashley Nickell.  “Ours is more relaxing.”

The Funky Monkey Wine Company's Mills Avenue restaurant has an intimate, relaxing atmosphere.

Nickell is preparing the New Year’s Eve meal at Funky Monkey’s downtown Orlando location, at 912 N. Mills Ave. It promises to be a lavish offering in a restaurant that seats 45 people in an intimate setting.

Guests start with a duo of Carpaccio, tuna with wasabi cream and Gold masago, and beef with horseradish cream and olive oil drizzle.

The appetizer includes a choice of carmelized seared scallop, a bed of Lemon Risotto, Mint Oil drizzle, and Cripsy Pancetta … or a vegetable roll with cucumber, asparagus, roasted red peppers and carrots.

The soup course includes roasted garlic and leek soup, followed by a spinach salad that comes with strawberries, prosciutto, bacon vinaigrette, croutons, and poppy seeds.

The entrée gives guests a choice of filet of beef with lobster mashed potatoes, Mushroom Demi grace, and white pepper asparagus … or sea bass with Saffron mashed potatoes, truffle brown butter sauce, and bourbon glazed baby carrots … or Sous Vide braised lamb shank, cherry red wine reduction, roasted duck fat potatoes, and white bean ragout.

For dessert, guests can choose between “Hot Chocolate” bread pudding with peppermint infused whipped cream and vanilla bean ice cream, or Egg Nog Crème Brulee Cinnamon with whipped cream.

“It takes works,” Nickell said of the task she faces preparing this enormous meal.  “I have to plan it weekly in advance.”

Nickell added that during the meal, guests “can order whatever wine they want.”

The Funky Monkey's six course meal on New Year's Eve seems likely to keep guests smiling.

But if it sounds delicious, a lot of other people thought the same thing days ago.

“The Mills meal is completely sold out,” said Matthew Slattery, the executive chef.  “But at Pointe Orlando, they’re still accepting reservations.”

Funky Monkey’s larger restaurant is at Pointe Orlando at 9101 International Drive. This one has 150 seats, more than three times larger than the Mills Avenue site.

They also have a lavish meal planned – Panzanella Salad, Crab and Spinich Dip, an Assorted Buratta Platter with stuffed olives, roasted tomatoes, grilled artichokes and assorted meats, Lobster and Truffle macaroni and cheese, Apple and Blue Cheese Bites, Assorted Skewers (Miso glazed rock shrimp, salmon and ginger, chicken and broccoli Karage) and grape-infused meatballs stuffed with mozzerela cheese.

And as you wine and dine, there will be plenty of opportunities to celebrate with shows, shows and more shows.

“We’ve got about seven different production numbers,” said Jimmi Rossi, who manages the Funky Monkey’s new Mills Street diner, Bananas, and has been helping out with the Pointe Orlando entertainment.

“We have huge costumes,” he said.  “We have numbers from ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Grease.’  It’s very much a Las Vegas-type show.”

The elaborate show is put on by Danielle Hunter and Company, with performances by Hunter, Alicia Markstone, The Minx, the Funky Monkey Dancers and others.  The fun also includes plenty of ice. 

"It's very much a Las Vegas-type show," Jimmi Rossi says of the Pointe Orlando New Year's Eve bash.

“We’re doing a huge display and bringing in ice carvers,” Slattery said.  “They come in and carve the ice and build a three tier stations,” which will include a raw bar and dessert station.

The cost for this event is $99 and reservations can still be made by calling 407-418-9463.

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Simple steps to avoid a holiday meal becoming a health care disaster

TAVARES – It’s that timeless holiday tradition: the enormous meal cooked for the entire family, for relatives you haven’t seen all years, for whoever they bring along, old and new faces alike. When it comes to a family gathering for the holidays, the festively decorated dinner table awaits everyone.

Good news for the family. Good news for the ones who love to cook.

Not so good news — sometimes, anyway — for area hospitals, which can get awfully busy … assuming the chefs in the family don’t take some simple precautions before they start the meal.

Preparing a meal can be fun and creative. But it can also be risky if people don’t take steps to ensure their food is safely stored before they begin their cooking.  With that in mind, the Lake County Health Department is issuing some helpful advice to county residents about the importance of safe food preparation and storage, and how it can prevent the possibility of foodborne illnesses ruining that otherwise cheerful family meal.

Cooking is fun -- but are you making sure your kitchen stays clean while you're preparing food?

Some of their advice sounds so simple it almost doesn’t seem necessary to point out. Just the same, the Lake County Health Department’s environmental health director, Paul Butler, said it all begins with that sage advice from your mother: clean those hands.

 “Lake County residents should wash their hands and counter tops thoroughly before and after preparing foods to help eliminate bacteria,” Butler said.  “Foods should be cooked at the appropriate temperature and leftovers should be stored properly.”

So what needs to be done to keep that generous meal from ruining the entire day for your guests, not to mention their appetites and otherwise good health? The agency’s recommendations for those preparing the meal in the kitchen include:

  • Properly washing your hands — and don’t forget those fingernails — before and after handling any food.
  • Storing food properly, with adequate refrigeration temperatures or hot holding temperatures.  A safe refrigeration temperature is less than 41 degrees Fahrenheit, while a safe hot holding temperature is greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  •  Never letting hot or cold foods sit at room temperature for more than two hours.
  •  Ensuring you’ve taken steps to have a safe cooling of foods, by getting meals to less than 41 degrees Fahrenheit within a four-hour time period.
  •  Avoiding cross contamination — that includes from uncooked meat or salad ingredients, for example.
  •  Proper cleaning and sanitizing of eating and cooking utensils, including work areas in the kitchen and any equipment used to prepare the foods.
  •  Making sure your food or equipment isn’t someplace where flies, roaches and other insects can get to it first, before your guests.
  •  Serving food on clean plates, which means not letting juices from raw meat, poultry and seafood come in contact with cooked food.
  •  Replacing serving plates often, and trying to avoid putting fresh food on serving plates that have been sitting out at room temperature for a while.
  •  Storing foods in shallow containers to refrigerate or freeze them.

  Taking these simple steps, the Lake County DOH says, means you’re not likely to be driving a relative to the emergency room an hour after the meal is over.

For more information about food safety, visit

To report a food or waterborne illness complaint, visit and click on the Foodborne Illness Complaint Form.

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Freelining with Mike Freeman: Of Sweat and Snow

ORLANDO – There’s something particularly weird about watching heavy snow falling, and seeing people outside heavily bundled up in thick jackets and wool hats, and you’re standing in a T-shirt and shorts — sweating profusely.

Maybe that’s partially because this happened to me at 6:30 in the morning, and a part of me was still waking up.  Mostly it was flashback time for me, to all the blizzards I endured growing up in Fall River, Massachusetts —  including that Big Daddy of them all, the Blizzard of ’78, which is still the snow storm to compare all of them to, in my lifetime, anyway. Folks in Alaska, Minnesota and North Dakota may have their own distinctive memories to substitute.

Still, going up and down on a Stair Master at my local gym so early in the morning, watching the small TV screen attached to it broadcast blizzard coverage on all the national and local news shows, was a strange experience indeed. I was warm, even quite sweaty, but it wasn’t warm outside – odd for Florida in December, where air conditioners are still known to be running in the middle of the day.

But it was not only freezing outside, but actually below freezing – and people coming into the gym looked like travelers headed to some arctic destination. This is a big change from the usual Orlando mornings, where more than a few folks show up in shorts and change clothes after they shower.

Why do people love Florida in the winter? Cold spells don't last and the pool is always calling out to you.

Watching the news as I climbed stair after stair, I noticed that camera crews truly relish a hefty blizzard in the same way that our own local meteorologists seem thrilled at any hint of a hurricane coming on. For most of us, hurricanes are scary and unpredictable – and for that matter, so are blizzards. Ever gotten caught driving in one and found yourself stranded on a highway in huge drifts of snow? I know people who have. For a year in 1995, I lived in a small three room cabin on the picturesque shores of Long Pond, a lake in E. Freetown, Massachusetts, where at least one blizzard – and a few lighter storms – knocked out my power, taking with it such niceties as electricity, running water and an operating toilet. I’ve lived through two hurricanes in Central Florida, and know what it feels like to have your power go off and your air conditioning shut down in 90-plus weather, and then to feel the heat seep in ever more oppressively as you sit there waiting for the storm to pass.

But I also know what it feels like to sit in a small cabin during a blizzard and, power gone, feel the cold seep in when it’s below freezing outside and the snow keeps falling. I think I’ll take the heat and humidity any day.

“It’s supposed to rain this afternoon,” my dad told me on the day after Christmas, when I called him to chat. He still lives in the Fall River home I was born and raised in.

“But we’re getting a blizzard tonight,” he sighed.

At age 77, I’d figured my father had long since abandoned the idea that blizzards were pretty to look at or fun to play in, and just a complete and total hassle and complete endurance test. But he’s a creature of habit and loves his home, so he hasn’t followed me down to Orlando.

People I know locally who grew up in a heavy snow state have asked me if I’d watched the news reports of the big blizzard, and more than a few have said, “There’s no way I could ever move back up north.” Some of these folks are the same ones who, about mid-July, say “I hate Florida. The heat is terrible. I can’t stand it.” Ah, the grass is always a tad bit greener …

For me, the bitterly cold (I thought, anyway) walk from my car in the gym parking lot to the building itself  was enough to convince me that short cold spells in Orlando are better than months of this stuff up north, even if my friends in Fall River call me in May, June, and sometimes August to brag about their temperatures in the low-70s with no humidity. Is there a single place in the world with perfect weather year round? I know San Diego likes to brag, but I’ve been there when it’s unpleasantly cold in February.

Florida will warm up, and we’ll toss off our sweaters – probably within days. Fall River will dig out. It all depends on what we’re looking for in life.

As for me, watching the excitement of the northern meteorologists as they report blizzard conditions next to a highway with no traffic on it is always a happy reminder of why I moved in the first place – and of why Florida, high home foreclosure rate and all, will eventually regain its popularity as the place for t-shirts when the north needs plows.

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