Friday, July 31, 2009

Tomato Mozarella Toasted Ciabatta - Yum!

This is one of the easiest, yummiest and cheapest recipes yet! I promise this one will be a huge hit at your dinner table, just as it was at mine tonight!!!

Ingredients:
-Par Baked Ciabatta loaf (fully baked one is fine also, but I love using the Trader Joe’s par baked ones for the fresh taste and they are only about 1.99/loaf!)
-1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
-1 tablespoon grape seed oil (olive oil is fine)
-1 large sliced tomato (homegrown if possible)
-Lawry’s Garlic Salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the Ciabatta loaf in half to create two equal sides. Lay with insides up on a cookie sheet. Drizzle the oil over the bread sides. Layer the tomato slices across the two sides. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the tomatoes and top the mozzarella with the garlic salt. Cook in oven until the cheese begins to turn a golden color (about 20 minutes).

Enjoy!
*Please note the picture was my first try (last week), my family dove in to tonight’s creation before I had the chance to take a picture. I used sliced mozzarella instead of shredded and didn’t cook long enough… but you get the point!

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Sleepover at the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland?

Saw this post (http://ocresort.freedomblogging.com/2009/07/30/haunted-mansion/12647/) about a contest being run for a sleepover at the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland and couldn’t help but be envious! The winners of a contest being put on by local radio show on KLOS will be able to sleep over night in the elevator area on August 9th (vote here: http://www.markandbrian.com/Article.asp?id=1435232&spid=16121). My kids have always talked about how cool it would be to sleep overnight at Disneyland (inside the park) and I never thought it would be possible! Take out the coolness factor of being the only non-cast members in the park after it shuts down and you’re left with a just plain cool adventure. I think it’s also a pretty safe bet that there will be some created mysteries or bumps in the middle of the night. For some reason the Blair Witch Hunt just popped in to my mind…

I’d love to see Disneyland doing more PR stunts like this. Why? Well, for one they are just plain fun. Second, I think most kids have dreamt about sleeping overnight in the park and this gives them a chance to see that dream come true! They could easily set up something like the Roar ‘N Snore adventures that the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park do, it would just be another revenue source. Seems like a perfect match to me… I’d reserve a spot in a heartbeat!

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Five Healthy Family Dinners under $20

Making a meal plan for the week can be tough, especially if you are a working mother. I find that if I don’t plan ahead, it is far too easy to fall back on take-out, which as we all know is not the healthiest or cheapest option. So, I’ve pulled together some of our family recipes that happen to cost less than $20 to prepare, are nutritious and easy to make. My recommendation is to plan out 5 meals ahead of time (feel free to use our favorites below) and purchase the ingredients at Costsco as this lowers the cost dramatically, in many cases bringing the cost of the meal for the entire family down to less than $10!

Always keep lettuce and salad dressing around to accompany the meal. Grab a baguette or two to accompany soups and salads. Buy the large bag of fresh broccoli at Costco and steam in small batches throughout the week, my kids love the fresh steamed broccoli drizzled with Ranch dressing.

-Bruchetta (http://ocmomactivities.blogspot.com/2008/10/kid-favorite-bruschetta-recipe.html) and Chinese Chicken Salad (http://ocmomactivities.blogspot.com/2008/10/easy-chinese-chicken-salad.html). Make extra of the bruchetta topping because you can add it to cooked pasta to create a completely new dish the next day.

-Homemade Pizza (http://ocmomactivities.blogspot.com/2009/07/easy-pizza-dough.html)

-Panini’s (http://ocmomactivities.blogspot.com/2009/07/yummy-paninis.html)

-Chicken Pasta Primavera (http://ocmomactivities.blogspot.com/2008/10/chicken-pasta-primavera-another-kid.html)

-Corn Chowder (http://ocmomactivities.blogspot.com/2008/10/moms-yummy-corn-chowder.html)

Stay tuned as I’m putting together tips on how to keep your grocery shopping cost under $100 a week and still easily feed a family of four (this includes their lunches for school!).

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Nightastic or Fantasmic?

I’d been watching the advertising blitz known as Nightastic at Disneyland in Ahaheim for a couple months – everything from buses to billboards to web banners, Disney had gone crazy with its marketing. Last week, my curiosity got the best of me so we braved the crowds and got a spot to watch. I love Fantasmic, so my natural assumption would be that Nightastic was an equal, yet different experience and well worth the wait for a decent spot…

To ensure we had good visibility of the show, we grabbed some popcorn at one of the stands and staked out a spot almost an hour ahead of the showtime. I tend to strike up conversations with the people around me (sometimes for lack of anything better to do), but this time I was on a mission. I needed as many sets of eyes on the show as possible looking for feedback and boy was I thankful because it really came in handy this time!

I can honestly say, by a unanimous vote of everyone around us watching that night… there really weren’t big enough differences to warrant such an advertising blitz. Sorry Disney. I’m an avid fan (as anyone who reads my blog can attest to) and there are more than ample reasons to go to Disneyland on a very frequent basis, but Nightastic just isn’t one of those new hot things. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s a great show… but it’s just really not that different from Fantasmic. Don’t make your trip to Disneyland just to see Nightastic, take the opportunity to ride the rides that everyone ditches so they can watch the fireworks and Fantasmic (like Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain and Indiana Jones) .

Just my opinion…

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dinosaur Park aka Laguna Hills Community Park

Did you know that the Saddleback Valley is built on some of the richest fossil grounds in the country? I sure didn’t! We found this park a few years ago nestled next to the Laguna Hills Community Center, and until we parked and walked back in we had no idea how cool it was! We call it the Dinosaur Park, but it is officially the Laguna Hills Community Park.

This is a very large park and really lends itself to bringing a picnic lunch or take out dinner. There are plenty of covered benches and restrooms on site. It will be tough getting the kids ready to go home, because of how much there is to explore!

We love the large amount of dinosaur themed activities at the park including a full sized skeleton of a
Dinosaur for kids to play on and in. There’s a full sized wooden jeep for the kids to play in, three large turtle fountains, diggers, tunnels, baby play areas as well as big kids play structures. This really is a park for kids of all shapes and sizes.

The park is located directly across from the Ralphs and Starbucks at the corner of Paseo de Valencia and Alicia in Laguna Hills. (25555 Alicia Pkwy, Laguna Hills, CA 92653-5341)

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Jello Filled Orange Slices

This is a super easy and an ultra kid friendly dessert that is perfect to bring to a barbeque!

Ingredients:
1 dozen small oranges
2 large packages Jello (I like using cherry and lime flavors)
Whip Cream

Directions:
Slice Oranges in half and remove the insides completely, leaving only the orange skin. Arrange the orange halves in a deep dish or walled cookie sheet (to keep level while the Jello sets).

Prepare one package of Jello (using less than called for liquid, I frequently substitute the liquid with ½ a complimentary juice) and gently fill as many orange halves as you can. If you still have remaining unfilled oranges, prepare the other package of Jello. Fill remaining orange halves. Let set in refrigerator for several hours.

Once set, slice each half in half again (to make orange quarters) and arrange on platter. Add whip cream decoratively on each slice.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Katie's Tiramisu!

This is a recipe I have played with and adapted over time all in an effort to emulate a Tiramisu from one of my favorite restaurants!

Part 1
First make a “Hot Milk Sponge Cake” (I use this one from an old edition of my Betty Crocker cookbook). This can be done the night before to save prep time.

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1 cup all-purpose baking powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons butter

Directions:
1. Allow eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grease a 9x9x2 inch square baking pan; set pan aside. Stir together flour and baking powder; set aside.


2. In a medium mixing bowl beat eggs with an electric mixer on high speed about 4 minutes or until thick. Gradually add sugar, beating on medium speed for about 4 to 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture; beat on low to medium speed just until combined.

3. In a small saucepan heat and stir milk and butter until butter melts; add to batter, beating until combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

4. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cook cake in pan on a wire rack.

5. Gently slice into three thin layers, don’t worry if there is a slight difference in the thickness, it will be compensated for when assembling the layers.

Part 2
Assembling the Tiramisu (adapted from a Betty Crocker Recipe)

Ingredients:
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 packet instant mocha flavoring or one heaping teaspoon instant coffee
2 tablespoons rum flavoring or other liqueur
16 ounces of mascarpone cheese or cream cheese (use low fat)
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (use fresh vanilla bean if possible)
Several ounces semisweet chocolate (grated), I play around with flavored chocolates
1 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup fresh coffee or espresso (this can be omitted if necessary)

Directions:
1. In a small saucepan combine granulated sugar, espresso powder, and 1/3 cup water. Cook over medium heat until boiling. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Remove from heat; stir in rum or liqueur of choice. Let cool.

2. In medium bowl (I use my Kitchen Aid mixer), stir together the mascarpone (or cream cheese), powdered sugar, and vanilla. Mix well to make light and fluffy. Stir in a couple ounces of grated chocolate (doesn’t need to be precise, it mostly depends on your preference for chocolate).

3. Lay first layer of the cake on the platter you plan on serving the Tiramisu. Brush it generously with the syrup. Spread a thick layer of the mascarpone/cream cheese filing (approximately ½). Add the next layer of cake gently on top. Brush this layer generously with more of the syrup. I always aim to soak each layer of cake and use more coffee if I run out. Spread remaining filling gently over. Add final layer of the cake. Soak layer in remaining syrup.

4. Spread whipping cream over top and gently dust with remaining grated chocolate. Sometimes I will mix the chocolate in with the whip cream or add liqueur or more vanilla bean.

5. Enjoy!

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dino Mountain at the San Diego Wild Animal Park

Part 1
Dino Mountain at the San Diego Wild Animal Park


Because of the sheer size of the San Diego Wild Animal Park, I’m going to break up my posts about our Adventure today in to three posts. I wanted to start with the special event occurring now through September 7th. If you have a Dinosaur fan in your household, this is absolute must see! Hopefully, the weather will cool down a bit before the exhibit ends, because the heat at the park today was definitely a challenge with young kids… (As we got in to the car at 1:30pm to leave the park, we clocked the temperature outside at an anything but cool 102 degrees!!!)

Because of our recent membership purchase, we got a discount for entry in to the Dino Mountain area. I was a bit skeptical at first, (I must admit) as to whether it was really going to be worth the extra $3/person ($4 for non-members) to enter the special exhibit, but I was pleasantly surprised! What is not captured in the pictures is the realistic movement of the Dinosaurs and the sounds each of them made. Very cool!

The exhibit was nicely tucked away under tree cover and provided a nice escape from the trees. Just beware for the spitting Dinosaur! Each of the kids was given a small passport to collect the stamps of the different Dinosaurs they saw along the path. This is a great educational bonus, because it really encourages the kids to not just look at the Dinosaurs, but associate the names with them. It caused them to really stop and pay attention to each Dinosaur.

I am very glad we made this our first stop for the day, because as the day went on, the heat became a major factor/challenge. Be sure to dress in very light clothing, bring plenty of water (unless you want to pay $4 a bottle. Yes, it is a large bottle of water though.) and as always, be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen!

Stay tuned over the next couple of days for Part II.
Helpful Links:


http://www.sandiegozoo.org/dinomountain/index.html
http://www.sandiegozoo.org/wap/index.html

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Birthday Parties at Scooter's Jungle!


Once my boys started to reach Preschool age, I found I didn’t really want to have their birthday parties at home. It can be a bit overwhelming at first with the amount of options we have here in Orange County for hosting kids birthday parties, so I thought it would be helpful for parents to start profiling some of the places we have been to for parties and talk about the pros/cons of each place. I’d also like to share some of the tips I have learned for maintaining sanity while planning them!

If you live in South Orange County and have school aged kids, I would be shocked if you haven’t at least heard of Scooter’s Jungle if not been at a party there. Over the years, we have been to several parties there and hosted several of our own. Scooter’s Jungle really has the kid’s birthday party down to a science and makes for a low-stress party for the parents. For me, the biggest stress surrounding parties at Scooter’s Jungle, is how many kids will show up and making sure I have enough party favors for ones that don’t RSVP, but that is because I always choose to put together my own goodie bags. But, they even have a solution for that! If you buy the pre-made party favors from Scooter’s Jungle and you have more kids show up at the last minute, you can almost instantly have the extra party favors bags brought in to the party room, piece of cake! They have several different options for the party bags, including separate ones for boys and girls.

The parties at Scooter’s Jungle are about 1 ½ hours long depending on which arena you choose. I really love how you have the entire play area for just your party so you don’t have other children running through. This allows for hide-and-go seek games as well as other great games. I have found the designated party hosts to all be great with the kids and as the parent of the birthday child, you really have nothing to do but socialize. The hosts take care of everything from entertaining the kids to setting up the food you brought, to helping you organize the presents that come in.

Scooter’s Jungle is located in Aliso Viejo, Placentia and one in Valencia and their website is:
http://www.scootersjungle.com/ . Pricing and contact information are listed on their site.


Things to note:
-Pizza must be ordered through Scooter’s Jungle, but the hosts will serve and provide plates, napkins, etc.
-You bring your own cake & candles, but they have a lighter and cake cutter.
-Do bring a veggie platter, fruit platter and other hand snacks, mostly for the parents to munch on.
-Book your party as far in advance as you can to secure your time and prevent scheduling issues.
-Drop-off parties are allowed - just be sure you have a few parents who plan on sticking around.
-Be prepared to have exhausted kids, this is one party that really tires them out.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Easy Pizza Dough!

Even I Can Make THIS Pizza Dough…

Okay, so it’s no secret around our house – my home made pizza dough’s leave something to be desired. I admit it. I’ve tried, but there always seems to be something wrong and most of the time it’s the dough. Grrrr. I don’t have to make pizza all that often, but I REALLY want to be able to make a good pizza.

Last week, I found a great App on my iPhone for the Epicurious website. While playing around the other day found an easy enough looking recipe for Pizza Dough, it sounded too delicious. I had to try it. The biggest difference from most of the recipes I have tried is the length of time the dough rises and the amount of yeast. I made it for dinner last night and for the first time EVER, I received a two thumbs up from the entire family!!! The Epicurious iPhone App is awesome!

OC Mom Chef Note: I let the dough rise an extra 30 minutes once placed on the cookie sheets, this made them super light and airy, and it was awesome! I also did not hand knead the dough, I used the hook on my Kitchen Aid mixer. Only problem with this recipe was there was a lot of rising time, so I had to be home most of the afternoon while it rose, but it was worth it!

Pizza Dough Courtesy of Epicurious
Yield: Makes 2 pounds
Active Time: 15 min
Total Time: 1 3/4 hr
Adapted from a recipe by chef Chris Bianco, of Pizzeria Bianco, in Phoenix, this dough bakes up crisp and chewy.

Ingredients
2 (1/4-ounces) packages active dry yeast
4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided, plus additional for dusting
2 cups warm water (105–115&Deg;F), divided
2 teaspoons salt

Preparation
Make dough
:
Whisk together yeast, 2 tablespoons flour, and 1/2 cup warm water in a measuring cup and let stand until mixture develops a creamy foam, about 10 minutes. (If mixture doesn't foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)

Stir together salt and 3 cups flour in a large bowl. Add yeast mixture and remaining 1 1/2 cups warm water and stir until smooth, then stir in 1 cup more flour. If dough sticks to your fingers, stir in just enough flour (up to 3/4 cup), a little at a time, to make dough just come away from side of bowl. (This dough may be wetter than other pizza doughs you have made.)

Knead dough on a lightly floured surface with floured hands, lightly reflouring work surface and your hands when dough becomes too sticky, until dough is smooth, soft, and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Divide dough in half and form into 2 balls, then generously dust balls all over with flour and put each in a medium bowl. Cover bowls with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's Wave Watching Time for Orange County!

**First off, let me put a warning out… ocean waves can be very dangerous and what I am recommending is NOT swimming in them right now, but merely checking them out for the fun of it from a safe viewing place!**

With monstrous waves heading at the OC beaches right now, I thought it would be fun to try and catch a neat sunset at Aliso Creek Beach tonight. Well, I managed to get one out of two of those goals accomplished tonight (the cloud cover had come in so the sunset was obscured). I must say the waves were pretty cool and are predicted to remain this way through Saturday. Apparently there was a large storm in Tahiti and the waves are now reaching our shores as a result of it.


Well, whatever the cause it made for a total spur of the moment fun adventure for our family tonight! At about 7pm we decided to head down to Aliso Creek State Beach and check them out for ourselves. When we first arrived, the waves were okay… not too large, but not small either. Then shortly after I took this picture (sorry for the blurriness – I took it with my phone and was getting ready to run from the wave as it came at me!), I started to see the waves increase dramatically within no time. It was pretty cool, yet humbling at the same time. I would have gotten more photos, but there wasn’t enough light to capture anything by that time.


The waves kept getting larger and we moved off the sand just as a wave completely engulfed the entire beach area below the sidewalk! It was amazing, but eerie at the same time. We retreated to the play structure where the boys informed us that we were now playing “Deadliest Catch” and welcome aboard their sailing ship! And yes, I was busting up laughing at that. Love those moments!


Below is another photo I got of the campfires at the beach (brings back so many memories from my childhood!), I’ve wanted to have one with the boys, but just haven’t gotten to putting a check mark next to that one. For those keeping tabs… the waves came right up to these campfires about 15 minutes after I took the picture and everyone took cover on the sidewalk!
So, my recommendation? Go find a safe vantage point and check out the waves over the next day or two!
Have a great weekend!

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Dinner at the Red Bucket aka Terramor Water Park in Ladera Ranch

Last night I took my boys to do one of my favorite things… dinnertime at the Terramor Water Park in Ladera Ranch (aka the Red Bucket). We’ve found that going at 5:00 pm makes for a very enjoyable time as the crowds from a busy (and hot!) day at the water park are beginning to dissipate. The park closes at 7:00 pm (but for a reason I have yet to figure out they don’t actually blow the whistle and kick everyone out until 7:12 pm…). Going at this time is much less crowded; the sun isn’t as hot and with the park closing at 7, makes it much easier to convince the kids it is time to leave!

Also be aware if you are planning your arrival, departure and eating times, that there is a mandatory safety break every hour on the hour for exactly 10 minutes (also gives the Lifeguards a needed break). As a Mom, this is great because it gives you the opportunity to get more sunscreen on the kids during the day, give them some snacks, bathroom break or just an easy opportunity to exit without as much complaining from the kids!

Do be aware the if you go during the days (even weekdays) that the park can fill-up and you may not be able to find free chairs, so put a couple folding chairs in your car to use just in case. I’ve also see people bring their own easy up shade tent to set up on the grassy areas surrounding the park.

I like to bring a collection of snacks because the kids always get hungry, even if we aren’t going at a mealtime. PB & J sandwiches are always great. Washed grapes, cheese & crackers, cut fruit and carrot sticks are always great snacks to bring. Be sure to bring water or something to drink.

Other misc. info:
-There are four lifeguards on duty.


-You can reserve the covered picnic tables on weekends for birthday parties (must be a Ladera Resident)

-You need to be a Ladera resident (or accompanied by one) to enter the water park. Admission is always free.

-The water park is just after the third roundabout coming down O’Neill from Crown Valley Parkway. It will be hard to miss and on the right hand side.

-There are bathrooms, showers, first aid and vending machines on site (snack & drink).

-The deepest part of the pool is only about 2 feet!

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dessert Fruit Salad

I’m not sure where my Mom picked this recipe up, but it has been one of my personal favorites since I was a kid and is now becoming a favorite of my two boys (I made it as a side dish tonight actually!). The recipe is very flexible and easy to adapt for personal taste preferences. I’ll note some of the substitutions I have made over the years. Enjoy!

Ingredients:
-3 Apples Cut in to bite size pieces
-1 Cup Grapes cut in half (can be red or green or both)
-1 Cup Small Marshmallows
-1 Cup Raisins
-½ - 1 Cup of Whipping Cream, Non-Fat Yogurt (removes a lot of the guilt) or ½ and ½ (depends on your cooking/health preferences)
-2 teaspoons Cinnamon
-½ Cup Shredded Coconut (I use sweetened)

*(Option add-ins I have done: dried cranberries, dried apricots, sliced pear, pomegranate seeds)

Directions:
Add all of the above ingredients in a large bowl and stir well. Refrigerate until ready to eat. This works well as a side dish or on the healthier side dessert. Enjoy!

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Rosemary Corn on the Cob

In honor of Summer and the annual tradition of barbequing, I thought this would be a great time to share one of our absolute family favorite recipes – Rosemary Corn on the Cob! It is super easy, so don’t be intimated because you really can’t mess it up!

Ingredients:
Corn on the Cob in the husk (I recommend getting extras because our kids always want more!)
Butter
Fresh Rosemary Sprigs (washed well)

Directions:
Gently peel down the corn husks, being very careful to leave attached. Remove the silk strings. Sparingly spread a very thin layer of butter on a couple sides of each cob. Gently press two sprigs of rosemary on either sides of the cob and gently re-wrap the cob with the husks and tie a string around the husk to keep closed.

Add all the cobs to a large bowl of cold water and allow to soak for 15 minutes. This allows absorption of the water to facilitate steaming and to prevent them from catching fire while on the barbeque. Then add to barbeque on the edge of the grill or on a top rack (doesn’t need high heat). Allow them to cook for 15 minutes or so. You can peek at them to determine if they are done.

Enjoy! This is truly one of our family favorites that signals Summertime!

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

The San Diego Zoo!


I worried that I wouldn‘t be able to capture the magic of our visit to the San Diego Zoo, but then I realized that wasn’t really important - Each person will take something different home from their visit, whether it is the knowing looks from the Guerillas or the quiet Zen of the Pandas or the sheer size of the Elephants.

I had been to the San Diego Zoo before - I was one of the lucky Mom’s who was able to chaperone my sons’ class on their field trip to the Zoo last year. Picture one mom carrying six children’s lunch and double water bottles for each child the day in our backpack... Yes, that was an interesting day!
I knew that our first stop for the day had to be the double decker bus tour around the park. My husband balked at it, but I assured him this was an absolute must to begin the day because it would give us a great overview of the park and allow the kids to get a lot more sightseeing done in a short amount of time.

Along the thirty-five minute bus tour (included in the price of admission) we were able to see most of the popular exhi
bits with amazing bird’s eye view of many of the animals. The ohh’s, ahh’s and cool’s were nonstop. A couple of our family favorites were the Polar Bear exhibit and the newly opened Elephant Odyssey.

The SkyFari tour was breath taking, but I recommend catching it near the Polar Bear Exhibit as a great way to get back to the main entrance area to avoid long waits.
I must admit though, one of my sentimental favorite surprises of the day was finding the Dr. Suess story statue garden (The Lorax is one of my absolute favorite stories!).


At the end of the day we have been left with more memories than I can write about, but most importantly, I now have a playroom that is being turned in to a small scale San Diego Zoo (using stuffed animals and other various toys as the exhibits) – and that is priceless!


Admission for the day: $122 for a family of four (but we opted to upgrade for full year memberships for the San Diego Zoo and the Wild Animal park for an additional $67, an awesome value if you ask me! So expect a post about the Wild Animal Park in the near future!)


A few tips for a good day:
-Arrive as soon as the park opens. This is because there is a tremendous amount of walking to do and as the sun rises higher in the sky, it can become more difficult for younger children to keep up with walking.

-Coat children in sunscreen at the beginning of the day and again frequently, as it is easy to forget how much you are in the sun and the sunburns are not fun!

-Pack a couple extra water bottles or juices in a back pack. There are ample places to purchase drinks, but this can add up throughout the day. We were shocked at the reasonable rates for snacks and meals but found the prices of sodas and waters at the carts to be a bit high.

-I’m sure I don’t need to say it, but bring comfortable walking shoes and be prepared for a workout!

Helpful Link:
http://www.sandiegozoo.com/

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Ghost Galaxy, Mickey's Trick-or-Treat Party and Fireworks, Oh My!

Disneyland has just announced that they will be doing a Halloween theme overlay on Space Mountain this year beginning September 25th called “Ghost Galaxy”! They’ll be changing the music and adding extra effects to the already wildly popular ride (I know it is already one of our favorite rides!).

This will be in conjunction with the Mickey’s Trick-or-Treat Party that has become a regular in our family Halloween activities. If you haven’t bought a ticket for that, I’d highly recommend it. We’ll certainly be going this year (and I’ll write a post about it!), but buy your tickets now before they sell out! Tickets are currently only available to passholders (until Aug. 1st) , but I’d recommend asking someone you know who is a passholder to buy your tickets so you’ve got them. There is also a $7.00 discount for purchasing them ahead of time.

Disneyland will also be doing Halloween themed fireworks this year. October is going to be a not to miss time to go!

For more information visit:
http://disneyland.disney.go.com/disneyland/en_US/reserve/specialOffers/detail?name=MickeysTrickOrTreatPartySpecialOfferPage
http://travel.latimes.com/daily-deal-blog/index.php/disneyland-halloween-4901/

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The Original Parking Lot is Gone at Disney to Make Way for Cars Land!

Ack! I was never able to say a proper goodbye! All kidding aside, I’m sad to say the original parking lot at Disneyland, yes the only one that existed before they systematically began chopping it up to make room for California Adventure, is now a part of history.


A few weeks ago I heard that the final section was closed to make room for Cars Land. I’ve now seen it for myself. It’s gone. Don’t get me wrong, we love the giant Mickey and Friends parking structure, but there was just something cool about parking in the Timon lot and walking in if you didn’t see a tram around, since the walk never took more than 5-10 minutes.

Oh well, at least Cars Land is sounding like a pretty neat addition and much needed boost to California Adventure. I’ll work on posting more photos of the progress as I have chance to grab them!

For more info about the renovation check out these links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cars_Land
http://www.mickeynews.com/News/DisplayPressRelease.asp_Q_id_E_10177Expand
http://themeparks.about.com/od/disneyparks/a/DCAMakeover.htm

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The Bakery Tour hosted by Boudin Bakery at Disney's California Adventure Park

I normally try to avoid California Adventure/Disneyland on hot days, especially during tourist season, but yesterday I made an exception. It was super hot outside and one of the biggest recommendations I have for going to either of the parks during the summer is to be sure to alternate between rides that are either in the hot sun (or have waits in the sun) and ones that are air conditioned (or shaded).

I took my own advice yesterday and here’s a little about one detour…

We’ve walked past these doors many times and barely taken a second look. Boy, were we missing out! Located inside the Golden State Region of California Adventure is The Bakery Tour, hosted by Boudin Bakery located just across from the Farmers Market and San Andreas foods. We found it in our quest for shade from the sun!


Upon entering my boys were each handed a freshly made Mickey shaped loaf of sour dough bread! Yum! All adults were handed a couple slices of fresh sourdough bread to snack on during the tour. The video accompanying the tour was interesting and I garnered a few interesting tidbits, including that the Boudin family has been using the same “mother” started dough for well over 100 years to make their wonderful sourdough! That is just cool. But, let’s just say I am quite glad sanitary practices have increased dramatically and the starter dough is handled in a much more clean way these days…

Along the short tour (snacking as we went of course) we got to see the bakers mixing up new batches of dough (for bread soup bowls at the parks I assume), portioning out, cooking and cooling.


Again, this was super cool (literally and figuratively) and a quick little educational detour from the crazy day at California Adventure. We LOVED the free take home goodies!!!

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

S'more Minus the Campfire!

Since we aren't big in to camping (haven't had the chance is more like it) and I'm a huge fan of S'mores, I knew it was time to introduce my boys to how yummy they are! Improvisation was necessary since I knew we wouldn't be near a campfire anytime soon.

I've come up with two alternatives...

1) Use bamboo skewers to roast the marshmallows over the flame of a barbeque (pretty funny to watch, but makes for authentic tasting S'mores!). Then squish the marshmellow in between Hershey's chocolate and graham crackers.

2) Place one graham cracker, chocolate and one large marshmallow on a plate and microwave for 10 seconds (be careful not to cook more because of the heat expansion of the marshmallow!) Then squish the last graham cracker on the top and enjoy.

These have made for great movie night accompaniment at our house! Enjoy!

Stay tuned because we have some big adventures in the next couple of days that I am very excited to share! Disneyland (again!) and the San Diego Zoo!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Yummy Panini's

On my everlasting quest to find yummy meals for an active family, I have stumbled upon yet another yummy creation! Panini’s! But I think the best part is that you don’t need to have a fancy Panini maker… yes, the Famous George Foreman Grill does it all. (Okay, that part really makes me laugh, but it IS true). I had one years ago (pre-kids) and cooked miscellaneous items on it when I didn’t have a barbeque. It’s long since disappeared… most likely ending up as a donation to Goodwill.

A few months back, I had really noticed we were getting far too much take out, but the sad thing is that really wasn’t interesting take out or complicated meals really. So in light of the current economy (and smart budgeting!) we’ve really made the effort to cook more meals at home. Not only are they more nutritious, but they cost less and can save time if planned out properly.

Last week I took the Panini’s we had been ordering for take-out and adapted them for at home cooking (I am shocked at how much this saves) and decided to invest in a $70 Panini Maker (aka George Foreman Grill). Here’s what we made and have now become hooked on!

For the adults-

Ingredients:
-Pre-sliced Rye Bread
-Cracked Pepper Sliced Turkey
-Sliced Provolone
-Avocado
-Sweet & Spicy Mustard (French’s)

Directions:
Make sandwich as desired and add a VERY light amount of olive oil to outside of bread sides to encourage crunchy exterior. Cook about 4 minutes in the George Foreman Grill. Voila! This is really good paired with a light salad.

For the Kids-

Ingredients:
-Pre-sliced French Bread
-Mild Cheddar cheese slices
-One cut hot dog slice in half length-wise

Directions:
Lay the sliced hot dog in between two slices of cheddar cheese on the bread slices. Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil on outsides of the bread to encourage the crispiness. Cook for several minutes (until golden brown). The kids love this one! It would also be a super easy place to sneak a super healthy pureed veggie mixture in between the cheese slices…



Pssst… as I am sure you know… the George Foreman Grill can cook just about anything you’d cook on the barbeque and can be used year round… just sayin’. ;) Don't have one? I recommend this one from Amazon (get the one with removeable/dishwasher safe grills if you can spend the extra $, it's a HUGE timesaver!):

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Griffith Park Observatory - Los Angeles, CA

Yesterday we had the pleasure of going to the Griffith Observatory. We’ve meant to go for years, but finally decided it was time, with a budding astronaut in the family (Brett’s passion for space has grown significantly in the past few months. He could go toe to toe with anyone and I bet he can teach YOU about space!). It was a natural time to make the trek up there.

Never having been up there, I wasn’t sure what to expect… Would the parking be insane? (Nope). Would the crowds be aggravating? (Nope again). Would it cost a fortune for the day? (Nope again!) Would it be worth the drive up to Los Angeles? (ABSOLUTELY!).

On the drive up there, we weren’t really sure what to expect. “I’m hungry mom,” Kyle declared from the back seat. I furiously found the Griffith Observatory site (http://www.griffithobservatory.org/) on my iPhone and quickly found the menu for the “End of the Universe” Café (http://www.griffithobservatory.org/pdf/cafemenu.pdf). I was quickly able to tell the boys their meal options for the day. I found movie times and gift shop information also. And of course I used my GPS maps feature to easily guide us directly to Griffith Park as well as spot traffic to have an accurate idea of our travel time!

Parking on a Sunday afternoon during tourist season was shockingly easy. There were a ton of people in Griffith Park, but it seemed that most were there for hiking and sightseeing and not to go to the Observatory.

Once in, we had very little wait time to purchase tickets for the planetarium and admission to the Observatory is Free! We took about an hour to wander around the exhibits then made our way to the End of the Universe Café (operated by Wolf Gang Puck!) for some much needed lunch. The food was very fairly priced and the views of the Los Angeles area were amazing!
The Sea of Life show at the Planetarium was captivating and thought provoking. We’ll definitely be keeping our eyes out for the next series of shows.


Our day was a true family adventure and one that we won’t ever forget. I’d highly recommend a trip for any family with kids (especially little astronauts!).



Total cost for the adventure? $28 for the planetarium shows (plus gas and food, parking and admission was free)

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Educational Must-Have App for Kids!

As I am sure you have guessed by now, I have a new obsession – my iPhone. But I am proud to say that my iPhone has now crossed the threshold and become an educational asset! As I sat here this morning, raking my brain for ways to help my boys get ahead educationally over the summer without them feeling like I was cramming it in to them, it dawned on me… There must be an App for that! Sure enough there are and several of them at that!

Brett is now entering 2nd grade and one of our biggest hurdles this last year was his math skills. He is great at math and grasps concepts well, but our challenge was improving his speed for the testing. They practice something called “Rocket Math” in their classes. Rocket math is basically a half sheet full of 40 simple math problems (they have different levels of complexity) and the students are given one minute once a week to complete the test. First grade is more of a practice from my understanding, but second grade is s different story. Brett did a fantastic job of getting them correct, but was always falling a few problems short in the given time frame. I really needed a simple and fun way to give him the practice at home. I also knew that Kyle would also need the same practice this upcoming year.

After a brief search I found the Math Flash Cards by One Moxie App. Within minutes I had it installed (for a nominal 1.99 charge on iTunes) and had Brett practicing away on my iPhone. The Math Flash Cards App is basically just flash cards with multiple choice answers that keep accuracy and time. Exactly what we needed! After less than 15 minutes practicing Brett had increased his speed by 25%. It is completely customizable so you can set the number of cards, the difficulty and they type (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division).

I am a super busy working mom and something this is fantastic to be able to help my boys prepare for the next school year and save me time! Love it Love it Love it! It is a must have for all elementary aged kids!

Don't have an iPhone? Don't want to switch to AT&T? Buy an iPod Touch and you can use all the Apps without the hassle! You can buy one here:

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

California Adventure's Wine Country Trattoria


I've walked by the Wine Country Trattoria at California Adventure many times and always meant to eat lunch or dinner there. I'm finally tired of the burgers and pizza at the various different locations and have decided to expand our horizons. :)

Last night we ventured in and were pleasantly surprised to have a less than 10 minute wait for a nice sit down dinner! The kids menu was great, and both of the kids ordered spaghetti. My husband chose the lasagna and I chose the soup of the day along with bruschetta salad. the standard bread was brought to the table with a fantastic whipped butter infused with tomato and a hint of white wine. That was a delicious surprise!

The service was fast, except for a little mistake of my order getting placed wrong, so I had a couple minutes of waiting for my salad to be brought out. This would have really annoyed me except for the waitress being extremely apologetic and obviously working to rectify it asap. But my soup and salad were fantastic and my husband loved the lasagna (which is a big deal because lasagna is one of his favorite dishes). If I hadn't been so full and the park about to close, I would have tried the Tiramasu (definitely my favorite dessert!).

And the price was very reasonable, about $40 for a family of four. We'll definitely eat there again and I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking for something nicer than the walk up windows and tray dining that prevails at most of the eateries at the parks.

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Disneyland Parade

Yes, I warned you that we are avid Disney Fans... last night we went again!

I think I am becoming a go to person for asking about Disneyland because I am not being frequently asked questions like, "What is the new theme?" and "How is the parade?". So I'll now making a habit of posting about those things. You may agree with me or not, but these are just my opinions. :)

I'm not a fan of Disney's "Theme" for the year. For those of you who don't know what that means - each year Disney picks a "Theme", last year it was the "Year of a Million Dreams", this year it is "Celebrate Today". Okay, guys. Good concept, but the execution of it is really lacking in some parts. I think it is fantastic to offer guests a free day at Disneyland on their birthday or equal cash (!) compensation for passholders, but I think the new parade is TERRIBLE. The parade this year to me is not worth ANY effort to watch. In the past there has been tremendous creativity and magic designed in to the parade that has always made it in my opinion worth the effort to hunker in and save a spot. This parade just annoys me. Let's face it, Disney for years has always made the better parades for Disneyland and left the less than exciting parades for California Adventure. Now it's the opposite! We hopped back and forth between both parks last night and without a doubt the Electrical Parade at California Adventure is a million times better than the Celebrate Today parade.

Disney missed the mark with the Celebrate Today parade. I mean, really, did they think that basically just putting a bunch of the characters on moving floats with loud music and dancing with the crowd would be enough? Not to this Disney fan! I'd much rather see them bring back the prior parade which was full of elaborate floats.

(And of course, we planned our entire evening using the iPhone Walkee Guide App. To be honest, it was the entire reason we decided to go! We saw that the lines weren't bad and it would be worth the effort to head up there at 4pm!) Stay tuned for a review of the restaurant where we ate dinner).

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Family Movie Night- "Night at the Museum"

If you had asked me during the first 15 minutes of the movie, I would have told you it was another dud that kids loved, but really wasn't entertaining for the parents. I was pleasantly surprised to see the movie take a different turn and truly become entertaining for the whole family! When the characters started coming to life during the movie, there were some great one liners that had our entire family laughing. We'd definitely recommend this one for a family movie night.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Movie Night!


So it's movie night at our house... one of our favorite things to do as a family!

Up on the agenda:

Yummy Chinese Chicken Salad for dinner ----------->

For dessert we bought candy snacks (strawberry twizzlers and swedish fish) and are making homemade popcorn with my hot oil popper. Yum!

Entertainment for the evening is Night at the Museum on Blu-ray. :) Stay tuned for a review!

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iPhone App

Okay, so I know I haven't been very good about posting lately, life has been hectic! But I'm resolving to get back to serious posting again!

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I finally gave in an joined the iPhone crowd. Oh yes, I was fighting this one, but he just kept persisting.

Immediately, I knew I was in trouble... and now just two weeks later I can't imagine what life was like without the iPhone. But there has been one particular app that has made the ENTIRE switch worthwhile... The Disneyland Walkee iGuide app. This one is an absolute must have for any Disneyland visitor! I would have paid far more than the $2.99!

As you know, we are avid Disney (freaks) with annual passes who tend to go *ahem* about once a week on average. And no, I'm not kidding about that. We LOVE going to Disneyland and we make the effort every time we have the chance. The one thing that drives my husband absolutely crazy about Disneyland is the lines- he HATES them. That is exactly why I took the boys alone on the first day that the Finding Nemo ride was open, knowing full well there was zero chance of getting my husband to wait in the 3 1/2 hour long line. I left it up to the boys as to whether we would wait in the line and they were determined to ride it that day! So we waited for 3 1/2 hours in 90 something degree heat. And then we went back again just a couple of days later and waiting in the line AGAIN. You should have seen the laughter from the Castmembers as we got on the ride (for the 4th time) when they found out that my boys had already "found Nemo" 3 times and the ride had only been open for two weeks... For those that aren't aware, the waits for the ride were insane for months after the ride opened!

Last Sunday we got up early and had breakfast at the Carnation cafe on Main Street (LOVE the Mickey shaped waffles!) and plotted out our rides according to the wait times we foun
d for the rides on our new Walkee iGuides. It made for a fantastic time because we knew how long the ride waits were for each ride before heading over there! The coolest part of the day was seeing that there was a nine minute wait for the Matterhorn (was only 5 minutes by the time we got in line), so we bolted over there after riding Big thunder Mountain. As we were waiting in line and scoping out the waits on the other rides, I saw another couple immersed in their iPhones! I smiled and asked if they were using the Walkee guide also. Sure enough they were! How cool is that?

You can bet from here on out I will plan my next trip to Disneyland according to how long the lines look on the Walkee iGuide and diligently enter our own wait times after each and every ride.

Love that there's "an app for that!"

Don't have an iPhone or don't want to switch to AT&T? That's an easy one, buy an iPod Touch and get all the fun of the Apps, without the hassle of switching! You can buy one here:



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