Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Everything counts in large amounts

Every night after dinner, I do the dishes and the kids do art projects, a little something I call After Dinner Art. In the past they've made paper donuts, recycling projects, bacon headbands (I'm not kidding), deconstructed Batman poses and make your own stickers. Whatever it is, as long as they are drawing I'm all for it.

The other night the Kid wouldn't let me see what he was making because it was for me. When I was done with the dishes he presented me with an involved piece of artwork. As in, I had to be involved:
A color by numbers! I'm kind of impressed - he had nothing to go by, he just made it up by himself. Interesting how his little 7 year old brain works - it must be full of puzzles.

He handed me some crayons and I went for it. I have to say, it wasn't easy! There were lots of tiny little pieces he put in there, but all were carefully thought out. In the end I had my masterpiece:
What can I say, these Momma's boys know what I like.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

I see your true colors shining through

I must have an Easter curse. Per years past things didn't go as planned since I woke up and couldn't walk. What the heck? I'm not sure exactly what brought that on, but after a few hours, luckily I was able to stand, though through a lot of pain. I wasn't about to miss Easter though. Nope - you aren't going to beat me Easter! You hear me??

The day before (when I could walk) we went to O.G.'s house where she layed out an elaborate egg decorating plan. I ate a LOT of pie, then I made a few eggs:

...and the kids made the rest. Lots of crayons, coloring and anticipation for the egg hunt.

The Kid was slightly confused as to why the Leprechaun exists and why the Easter Bunny doesn't - since he knows that I'm the one who hides the eggs every year. I didn't have an answer so I mumbled something about "believing in things" and how people who don't have chimneys don't believe in Santa so he doesn't come. I'm a great parent. The Baby was quick to add that if you don't have a chimney Santa will just kick down your door to leave presents. Sounds like a home invasion to me.

This year my brother has a kid so I got to make three Easter baskets for: the Kid, the Baby and my nephew. Since I don't put candy in the baskets it was a lot of books and toys. Guess who misses out when you don't put candy in Easter baskets? Me at midnight when I'm searching the house for sugar.

I also made a basket for my cousin. Granted she's *my age* but she deserves one since she is always helping to take the kids on trips with me and she would be doing most of the Easter egg hiding due to my not-being-able-to-walkedness. I filled hers with beef jerky and advil.

The egg hunt went well and we went inside for our annual family meal of my brother's famous Chicken and Waffles, as well as my Brown Sugar Bacon (recipe, here) Deeeelish.

We ended the morning with a rousing game of Bingo where O.G. took home a bottle of Korean BBQ sauce. That's how we roll around here - nothing says Easter like fried chicken and Bingo!

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

hip hop hooray! ho!

Easter is notoriously weird around here. Last Easter there was an earthquake and O.G. ended up under the dining room table. (crazy) Then there was year O.G. put packets of jam in all the plastic eggs. (totally crazy)

I'm wary about this Sunday. Easter always means bad things around here but I am going to fight fate and try and plan for the BEST EASTER EVAHH!! Yeah, I know I'm headed for disappointment.

If you want to try for the BEST EASTER EVAHH!! (that's trademarked) here are a few fun ways to celebrate!
Envelope Easter Bunnies (how-to, here)
A fun and quick craft, all you need is an envelope!
Chickie Eggs (recipe, here)
The Baby loves these. Not to eat, oh no. To keep as a pet.
Shaped Eggs (how-to here)
This is either the coolest or the weirdest depending on how you feel about eggs.
Spam + Egg Musubi (recipe, here)
Not at all Easter-y but still super delish.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stankonia

I hate the earth. Ok, hang on - don't get nuts, I'm just saying, sometimes doing the right thing is hard. Like using reusable bags. They're great...until you buy some raw chicken at the grocery store and the bagger doesn't exactly put it in your organic eco-friendly fabric bag properly then you put it in your trunk then it leaks everywhere and then you pull into your garage see the damage, curse like a sailor and shake your fists at the sky...

...otherwise they're great.

So this leaky chicken juice? It's a killer. It leaked into the carpet of my trunk and the kids kept saying, "WHY DOES THE CAR SMELL LIKE BARF, MOMMY?" No joke, it was horrific. I scrubbed it, Febreezed it, nothing.

I took it to a car wash and even the manager shook his head and said, "I bet raw meat leaked in here, I don't think I can help you." I paid them to shampoo the trunk anyway and he was right. The stank stayed.

Look, I spend A LOT of time in my car. My $70 fill up at the gas station can attest to that, so this stink - I just couldn't live with it. I did a lot of research to find out how other people who've had the same issues got rid of smell, and the stories were horrifying. Someone had a jar of pickles explode in their car. (What the?) Another person had frozen dead rabbits defrosting for two days in their trunk that they forgot about (double WHAT??) so I knew these people would probably have the answer.
I tried laundry detergent, baking soda, Febreeze, and just as I was about to sell the car I came across a post that suggested vanilla extract. Oddly enough I had just won a year's supply of vanilla in a recipe contest. It couldn't hurt to try.

I mixed together 2 teaspoons of vanilla with 10 ounces of water, sprayed the trunk and hoped for the best. It was like the clouds opened up and a miracle appeared. The smell was gone. COMPLETELY. There wasn't even a vanilla smell it was just....nothing. Have you ever smelled absolutely nothing? It's amazing. Like someone has gotten rid of one of your senses totally.

I sprayed the trunk a few more times over the course of two days and I am happy to say as of today, I am STANK FREE. I need to bottle this miracle elixer and make a fortune. Little bottles of this to squirt on the sweaty masses at Comic Con would do wonders, just sayin'.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Standing Room

Los Angeles has some of the best food in the country and right now the hot spot is...the South Bay. Gardena, Torrance and the beach cities are becoming the place to find amazing food by some fantastic chefs. And not everything is expensive or over the top. Sometimes there aren't even seats...
At the Standing Room in Redondo Beach it's just that - standing room only. This tiny little take out place is nondescriptly slid into the back corner of Catalina Liquor. Blink and you'll miss it. Seriously, when the kids came with me they said, "Why are we eating lunch at a 7-11??"

The food here has been written about already on many online foodie websites, and let me tell you - the hype is real. There are burgers, sandwiches, plates all with a very L.A. feel - that is: fusion. Such an overused word, but chef Thomas Kim has such strong Korean and even Hawaiian influences on this menu, all the flavors are playful and unique.
Shishito peppers with lup chong sausage, a quesadilla with carnitas stewed pork and spicy kim chee, crispy skin pork belly - just really good high quality DELICIOUS food for just a take out place!

Without a doubt the sandwiches are fantastic (um, I've been back a few times) but on this particular day I decided to go for one of the 'big plates' which was one of the higher priced items on the otherwise reasonably priced menu and it was a ton of food.
I ordered the fried chicken, a flavorful, tender chicken with a hint of Korean spices that came with a variety of sides that reminded me of the coolest Korean banchan (side dishes) you'd never expect to find in a to-go box. Steamed white rice, mixed greens with a kim chee style dressing, fingerling potatoes in a pesto sauce and caramelized brussel sprouts seasoned with bacon. The sides were so good I almost didn't need the chicken! I said, almost.

The complaint? There's no where to sit and enjoy this great food, of course. It is called the Standing Room after all. Luckily the beach is right across the street and you can just take your meal, lay out in the sun and go for a swim. The perfect meal for the perfect day at the beach.

The Standing Room
144 N. Catalina
Redondo Beach

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Disneyland Part 4. - The Fun

One of the biggest benefits of staying at a Disneyland Hotel is early entry 'Magic Mornings' - where you get to go into the parks a whole one hour early before it's open to the general public!
Now the idea of waking up around 6am and leaving your nice hotel room might sound awful - but you get shorter lines, less crowds and you can always go back to your hotel in the middle of the peak crowd to rest or go swimming or what have you. That is an excellent plan, take it from me.

Keep in mind most parts of the park are still closed off, but Fantasyland and Tomorrowland are open. Still a good deal considering you can knock those rides off your list early on. We hit a significant number of rides, then took off to the other lands right at 8am - narrowly beating out all the other guests to the 'e-ticket' rides.

Speaking of e-ticket, the Kid FINALLY reached 46 inches. This is a milestone because it's a height requirement for a lot of the big coasters which he's been dying to try. One of which is Indiana Jones. Although he's never seen any of the movies, he's certainly familiar with the Legos and has been waiting his whole life (7 years) to go on the ride. This trip he got his wish and his first ride on Indy. He loved it of course.

You know my love of Disneyland apps, especially the wait time apps which tell you how long lines are. It keeps us from running from one side of the park to the other. These are the wait times dreams are made of:

While the Kid was getting the most out of his height requirement, the shorty Baby was denied yet again from being a chosen Jedi at Star Wars Jedi training. You should see the number of kids crying from not getting chosen, it's heartbreaking.
The Baby sucked up his tears once again and decided that building his own lightsaber would be just as much fun as being a chosen Jedi..in a stage show...um. Ok. Whatever makes him happy. I didn't even have to buy the thing, just building the lightsaber was good enough for him. Free fun? I'll take it.
Another thing that passed the time in line was looking for Hidden Mickeys. My mom bought the Kid this book that tells all the places that Imagineers have hidden little Mickey Mouse icons throughout the park. It's kind of amazing - you'd never notice they were there otherwise. The Kid always makes it his mission to find as many as he can.

In the end, two fulls days of Disneyland is more than enough for anyone, but spreading it out with a hotel made it waaay more enjoyable (the upgrade certainly didn't hurt either). You don't feel the pressure of being forced to have a good time - you can just relax and make the most of it. The way all vacations are supposed to be. It helps having your brother hold your hand on the scary rides too...
part 1: Disneyland Hotel
part 2: The Food
part 3: World of Color

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Disneyland Part 3. - World of Color

Happiest Place on Earth? Well. Sometimes.

Let's move on to the bad news. On our last Disneyland stay the best meal I had was at Ariel's Grotto (recap here). I decided that since I loved the food so much, I'd book an evening reservation (which is prix fixe) just because it gives you exclusive access to the new World of Color show. Something we've been dying to see and is generally tough to get a seat for without a long wait.
This was going to be perfectly planned, a delicious dinner - a quick and easy way to get into the show. Not so much. During the day Ariel's Grotto is perfect for kids because you get to visit with all the Disney princesses.

Much to my boys happiness the night seating has no princesses at all so you're just eating a regular meal. This SHOULD mean that you get faster service. We ended up sitting there with 30 minutes wait between courses - it was unbearable.

Unfortunately the quality has gone downhill so much in the past few years I was appalled. Our food was...horrible. The Baby's meat dish was completely over cooked and my fish was totally undercooked. On top of that, after waiting so long to get it - it was truly a disappointment.
The desserts were pretty - but they tasted completely awful. Definitely a disappointment.

After an HOUR AND A HALF wait I was seeing red. I ended up having to talk to a manager, I got a larger discount than the one I already had and they took off my fish dish. Still, considering the prix fixe on this meal was SKY HIGH even for Disney - there were NO Disney standards here. I was very saddened by this whole meal.
But the whole point of the meal was to see World of Color right - my problem with this show is that everyone stands up (as opposed to Fantasmic where everyone sits down) so there's no way to see...anything. I'm incredibly short so when a 6 foot tall man with a child on his shoulders stands in front of you - well there's just nothing to see. Same for my poor kids.

I'd definitely suggest heading over to the Magic Kingdom and seeing Fantasmic. That is totally worth the wait. It is so much more engaging to the audience and has much better viewing areas.

In the end we went back to the room and watched the second showing of World of Color from the comfort of our newly upgraded beds. At least we had snacks to make up for the bad meals. And they were free.
While the night's meal was a disappointment we had to just sleep it off because in the morning we were headed into the park...early. (con'td)

part 1: Disneyland Hotel
part 2: The Food
part 4: The Fun!

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Disneyland Part 2. - The Food

Theme park food can be tough. Since I don't let my kids eat fast food sometimes it's hard to find alternatives and theme park food in general is always EXPENSIVE. But Disneyland food - I promise you it's some of the best park food you'll ever have if you know what to look for. I could write a book on the ins and outs of the best (and worst) places to eat at Disneyland.

Breakfast is one of my favorite meals in the park. It's my fave meal anytime of the day, but there's something special about a Mickey Pancake to brighten your morning.
The River Belle Terrace is a nice restaurant that straddles Frontierland and Adventureland. In the afternoon they have hearty sandwiches but in the early morning you can get breakfasts big enough to share.

It was unusually hot on this trip - up near 80 degrees and here we are in April! To keep cool we ate frozen treats like there was no tomorrow:
Disneyland's legendary Dole Pineapple Whip. Sometimes the line is almost as long as a ride line, but if you stick it out you will be rewarded with the refreshing taste of fresh pineapple.

There's a lot of renovation going on, ride closures, upgrades - and some changes to the menus. I don't think the average tourist would notice but since I'm at Disneyland EVERY WEEK, I know when prices go up by 50 cents trust me.

The Hungry Bear Restaurant (named that since the Bear Jamboree used to be there long ago) is an outdoor fast service food where you can eat right on the edge of the water by the Rivers of America. While it has normal burger and fries fare - I noticed that they recently added a 'healthier' (that's all relative) vegetarian alternative.
This is the new 'Fried Green Tomato' sandwich. I like to go for the no meat option anytime I can AND I love fried food (see, not so healthy) so I couldn't wait to order this. It was surprisingly good. Perfect breading and LOTS of flavor due to the remoulade combined with a nice crunchy jicama-mango slaw right in the sandwich. The onion rings were eh - the other option was sweet potato fries - but all in all I'd say this was my favorite meal of the whole weekend and I'd definitely go back for it.
Another 'healthy' option for kids is the Kids Power Pack. Yogurt, apple crisps, string cheese, crackers and milk or juice - it's a vegetarian alternative for a child or a snack that is affordable and easy to keep in with you all day.

Disneyland is always up on trends and innovative desserts. They really cash in on that by 'Disney-ing' up those cute little sweet snacks that you just can't pass up. At the Hungry Bear I spotted two desserts new that were ADORABLE:
A mini individual blueberry pie - too cute for words, as well as the Lemon 'Bumbleebee' Cupcake. A lemon cream filled cupcake with a honey-lemon frosting. Yum.

I could gush all day about how all these eats made me happy - but it wasn't all fun and games on this trip. There be squalls ahead...(cont'd)

part 1: Disneyland Hotel
part 3: World of Color
part 4:  The Fun!

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Disneyland Part 1. - The Hotel

For Spring Break I wanted to take the kids somewhere, anywhere. But as always, due to money and time we ended up back at the Magic Kingdom - our home away from home. Seriously - when we arrived the check in guy said, "Is this your first visit?" and I said, "Um, first...this week." I go to Disneyland A LOT.
Now that the kids go to school it's harder - school, holidays, work schedules, we've succomed to having to vacay...during peak season. Ugh. Gone are the days of no lines and freedom, now we (along with every other tourist) are jamming into the park.

So to make it easier I thought we'd stay one night at the hotel. Disneyland owned hotels are the best because they FEEL very Disney-fied and there are a lot of perks.
My first choice was Grand Californian - way too expensive. Then our fave hotel the Disneyland Hotel - totally booked. They only room they had available was at the Paradise Pier, still a Disney hotel - it's just off the beaten path a bit. It was more affordable and fit for what I wanted.

 The Paradise Pier is 'beach' themed. With a nice buffet restaurant, shops and a cafe. It also has a rooftop pool along with 'rollercoaster' slide.
Typical of Disney there are lots of things for the kids to do. In the main lobby while you are checking in and doing your business there is a tv room to keep your kids busy - complete with little adorable beach chairs where kids can watch old Disney cartoons.
And they have an arcade. The Kid was dying to play games here, it really took me back to the 80s. Since it was his vacation I let him play all the games his little heart desired. The "games" weren't that great if you ask me. Explain to me how riding a FAKE rollercoaster is at all fun when real ones are across the street in a real theme park?? Whatever. It was HIS day.

At check in the front desk guy went to get my keys but came back with...A BALLOON BOUQUET. I looked around awkwardly. Er. He said, "YOU ARE CHOSEN AS THE KAHUNA FAMILY OF THE DAY!" Really? Us? Great! Now what does that mean...

It means that my cheapest of the cheap average room that I could barely afford was magically upgraded to a huge family suite!
The room had the regular two beds, with a tv and a desk, TWO bathrooms, a large a living room with a dining table and another tv and the best view of the park! Exciting!
It really came in handy having two bathrooms, as you know if both kids have to go at the same time, sometimes there's just no holding it. Also since my cousin was along with me to help me with the kids, now she got a bed to herself since the living room couch was yet another pull out bed! Room enough for everyone! Luxury!

In addition to the upgrade we also got early access to the theme park (more on that later), balloons, leis, a family photograph and free treats!
Look at those treats...! They magically (again with the magic) arrived in our room while we were out and totally hit the spot as a late night snack.
We also had a turndown service with little Disney chocolates.

The view WAS spectacular, no joke. No wonder people pay for a room with a view, it was pretty awesome and also had a direct view of the nightly World of Color, should you want to watch that without leaving the comfort of a bed.
The Kid LOVES theme parks. Honestly, he is the only 7 year old I know who actually draws up plans and makes models of theme park rides...for fun. (I have a sinking feeling he will be following in my career footsteps.) He was in awe and spent every second in the room staring out the window at the vast theme park in front of him.

I'd say it was pretty awesome being picked as 'Kahuna Family of the Day'. I wish I had more time to enjoy my upgraded luxury but there was fun to be had... (cont'd)

Disneyland - The Food
Disneyland - World of Color
Disneyland - The Fun

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

My umbrella, ella, ella

I took the kids on a mini 'stay'-cation. Close to home, but far enough. We spent two days at Disneyland (more on that later) and then headed down to Legoland.

The big grand opening of the Star Wars miniland was last week and *I* - I mean the kids - couldn't wait to see it! We headed down to San Diego and wouldn't you know it - RAIN. Lots and lots of rain. I always prided myself at never being one of those people caught in bad weather at a theme park and here I was stuck two hours away from home with no turning back. Me. Not. Happy.

Most of the day was like the above picture and of course we didn't have proper attire since the weather report said 'sunny and cloudy.' Yeah, right.The kids were unphased, it was me who was cranktastic.

Still Legos don't melt, so a little (a lot) of rain didn't hurt 'em. The Star Wars miniland was awesome. The kids knew every scene and enjoyed pushing all the buttons to make the Lego sculptures comes to life.

My fave scene was the wampa cave on Hoth, while the Baby loved the Anakin vs. Obi Wan on Mustafar scene, well - because hot lava. Fighting. Etc.

There was even a spectacular sand sculpture which held up amazingly well despite the weather.

The Baby was super excited to see his 'idol' Darth Vader and showed his appreciation by yelling "YOU WANNA PIECE OF ME??" and running up to attack Vader with an umbrella.

The kids went on all the rides they could handle and crossed my fingers that none of us would get pneumonia. Just as we were leaving - SIX HOURS LATER - the sun came out. San Diego weather - you are on my LIST.

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