Wednesday, October 16, 2013

DISNEY with Little Princesses - 5 Best Tips!

Before our first trip to Disney World, I became crazy-overboard-planner - and I am NOT a detail-oriented woman. But with two little girls (almost-3 & 5), I knew I had to bring it big or go home! There are so many Disney tip pages (and entire websites) out there, so I'm only sharing information on a few things that are either not emphasized or were tips I found on only one site, that turned out to be winners:

1. Early Breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table - this ties in with another princessy item, Enchanted Tales with Belle. ETB gets insanely crowded later in the day, primarily because it is an event that takes a while to get through, so the crowd really builds up. Enchanted Tales is a relatively new attraction, so there wasn't too much information on it out there. I did read a tip about doing an early character breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table - primarily so that you could watch as each princess "arrived" at the Kingdom for the day, and also because you can then get done and out as soon as the park is opening up. We booked the 8:10 breakfast, and I loved watching my daughter's eyes light up as each princess was announced! Then, at 9 we headed out, and made a beeline for Enchanted Tales. Our group wasn't even the maximum capacity, and every child easily got a part to play in the production. The cast members also gave us extra privileges by allowing parents to freely move around the room to videotape their kids. Magical!

2. Finding Little Known Meet N Greets - my daughters are autograph fiends, which is easily the biggest Disney racket. Standing in line for 30 minutes to have a person in a costume give my kids an autograph? The girls were thrilled, so I'm not one to rain on their parade! For our second trip this year, we went after the harder to find characters. Two great ways to find them are (1) ask a cast member (any Disney employee) in the area - one lady gave us fantastic tips that helped us snag Peter Pan quickly, and (2) check out Kenny The Pirate's website, which I found to be most accurate in terms of locations and updated info.

3. Pick a Pearl at Epcot - Loved, loved, loved this! What a wonderful experience, and everyone I tell about it has no idea it exists. At the Japan pavilion at Epcot, inside the store there is a counter full of oysters. For approximately $15, a person can pick an oyster. The Disney employees make a big production out of opening the pearl - a crowd gathered to watch while the employee had my 5-year-old count down in Japanese. She then cracked open the oyster, pulled out the pearl to everyone's oohs and aahs, and then cleaned, measured, and bagged it. My daughter's face was shining by the end! I can't remember where I found this tip, but the person had also suggested buying a pearl holder pendent off of ebay - if you go to ebay and google "pearl carriage", a silver Cinderella's carriage to hold the pearl on a necklace goes for about $10. They have pearl holders there as well, but for much more. Amazing experience!

4. Tinkerbell Gifts - For months before going, I bought Disney Princess and Mickey related tees, trinkets, etc. from Party City, Target, Old Navy, and Walmart. I also found Tinkerbell images on-line which I downloaded and pasted onto Microsoft Word to make Tinkerbell stationery, on which I wrote poems for each day. When we arrived and then again at the end of each day, my daughters would find "Tinkerbell gifts" left for them in the room (I had them prepped the night before, then would throw them on the couch immediately after the girls exited the room for the day). Not only was it a fun way to end the day, but they really didn't ask to buy any of the overpriced souvenirs in the parks. Party City has the best options, with so many little body tattoos, plastic rings and bracelets, glow necklaces, etc. The glow necklaces and wands are great for nighttime events, like the fireworks show and electrical parade.

5. Pre-pay for Photopass - It's not always easy to find on the actual PhotoPass website, but if you pre-pay you can pay $120 for unlimited shots through the Disney PhotoPass photographers, as opposed to the $170 you would pay after your trip.

Not really a tip but a recommendation - we stayed at the Polynesian the first time around and at Art of Animation the second time. The Polynesian is a "premium" resort on-site, whereas Art of Animation is "value." Other than the (admittedly extremely convenient) proximity to the monorail at the Polynesian, we preferred the Art of Animation on every other level - accommodations, activities, dining, etc. The themed buildings are adorable. We stayed in a very reasonably priced Finding Nemo suite, with a bed that pulls down from the wall, replacing a table. So much more comfortable than a pull out couch, although they had one of those as well, in addition to another double bed - so the rooms can technically sleep 6. It was extremely clean, relatively new (opened last year), and has great pools and and a fun Little Mermaid splash pad area.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fancy Nancy Preschool Learning! Day One - the Mermaid Ballet and Tea for Two

I utterly, completely adore Fancy Nancy - the books have everything I need to keep my 5-year-old girly girl captivated, and then the new vocabulary is the HUGE cherry on top of the scrumptiously fancy pie. There are so many fun options for a Fancy Nancy Day, and ultimately we broke it up into two days. Day One went along with Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet and Fancy Nancy Tea for Two:

1. Dress Fancy - of course, dahling!
2. Word wall - we created a word wall in a corner of the playroom using Fancy Nancy wall clings that I ordered from Amazon. The plan is to decorate colored index cards with rhinestones and glitter and then write in sight words using an oh-so-fancy feathered pen. Can also easily be adapted for the younger crowd, using just alphabet letters.
3. A Handprint Tutu - I first saw this adorable ballerina handprint tutu on Meet the Dubiens. I had the tutu pinned for months before I finally made it - and honestly, I should have skipped the canvas and just used regular cardstock as the base, since I have zero room on my walls for more artwork. Still adorable to have, though!
4. A fancy schmancy snack of Polka Dot Milkshakes and Ballet Shoe Cookies, while we read the books buying Fancy glasses I bought from Party City. For the milkshakes, all you do is cut large marshmallows in half and stick the sticky side against the side of the mug. The thicker the shake, the better they stick! Then fill them up with your favorite strawberry milkshake recipe. As you can see, many of my marshmallows bobbed to the top of the drink, but the girls loved them regardless!

Many of the ideas from Pinkalicious Learning Day could work here too, particularly the M&M math, crown-making, and snack ideas!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Bang Bang Chicken Kabobs

I'm becoming the queen of finding easy and delicious recipes. Yeah, I said it. Please address me as Your Highness henceforth . . .

These are absolutely fabulous - I found this through Pinterest, which linked to the blog of the brilliant mind over at ANY recipe incorporating Sriracha is fine by us!

Bang Bang Chicken Kabobs
adapted from

1.5 lbs chicken, cut into bite-size pieces (I always use tenderloins, so much easier to cut)
1 green bell pepper, cut into chunks
1 white or yellow onion, cut into chunks
Bamboo wood skewers, soaked for 15 mins
salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 c mayonnaise, divided
1/2 c Thai sweet chili sauce, divided
Sriracha, to taste (I used about 12 drops)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil

1. Marinate chicken in a mixture of 1/4 c mayo, 1/4 c Thai sweet chili sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. I marinate overnight, but try for a minimum of 2 hours. The original recipe doesn't call for marination, so if you don't have the time, still make this - it's well worth it!
2. Skewer your chicken, and separately, your onions and bell peppers.
3. Whisk together the remaining mayo and sweet chili sauce.
3. Preheat a grill pan to medium-high heat and add oil. Add your skewers, rotating constantly to help the pieces cook on all sides. Baste the veggies 2-3x with the mayo/chili mixture. When veggies are tender, remove them.
4. When chicken is almost cooked, baste on all sides with the mayo/chili mixture. I had to take the chicken off the skewers near the end to ensure the center cooked through - I would still start out on the skewers, since it did keep the middle of the chicken chunks from getting dried out.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Valentine's Day Pizza Pops!

Cutest. Things. Ever. And easiest! The genius baker over at The Decorated Cookie made these using a round cookie cutter, and I've had this pinned forever, planning to wow my daughters with them. With Valentine's Day approaching, I'm in full heart-food mood . . .as in shaped, not heart-healthy. And now I feel bad and unhealthy.

Moving on. The possibilities for these pops are endless, or as endless as the types of cookie cutters you have! And it really could not be easier to make these. I used refrigerated pizza dough this time around, but will probably make my own next time since my youngest wasn't wild about the Pillsbury dough. This recipe made 7 decent-sized pizza pops.

Valentine's Pizza Pops (adapted from The Decorated Cookie)
Refrigerated pizza dough (I used Pillsbury Classic, since that's all my grocery store carries)
Lollipop sticks
Cookie cutter
Toppings of choice (I used marinara sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, and small sliced grape tomatoes)

1. Preheat oven to 425, and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
2. Unroll pizza dough on a floured surface, and use cookie cutter to punch out shapes from the dough.
3. Insert lollipop stick about halfway into the dough and place on tray.
4. Add toppings.
5. Bake for 9-11 minutes until top begins to brown.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Easy Cocoa Panna Cotta

Nothing this good should be this easy to make, unless it has zero calories. Which it never, ever does. I found this at The Italian Dish, and pretty much made it as is. So great for company - I make it the day before, and it looks much more complicated than it is! I'm excited to experiment with different flavors! I had made another version using mango puree, that I found at Naina's Recipes, which has a slightly different process, using buttermilk in place of the milk and some of the heavy cream. My husband really liked that version too. I'm able to fill about 7 parfait glasses with this:

Cocoa Panna Cotta

1 1/2 c whole milk
4 tsp unflavored powder gelatin
4 1/2 c heavy cream
2 Tbsp cocoa powder (can double it if you prefer it very chocolatey! I used Hershey's cocoa powder)
3/4 c sugar
 pinch of salt
Chocolate bars for garnish (optional but pretty!)

Pour milk into a medium saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over it. Let it sit for about 5 minutes. Turn on medium heat and stir milk just until gelatin dissolves. Do NOT let the milk boil, at any point.
Add the cream, sugar, and salt. Whisk in the cocoa powder, and continue whisking until the sugar completely dissolves, which takes only a few minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool completely - it's helpful to pour it into another heat-resistant dish to speed up the cooling down process. Stir mixture frequently during cooling off period to prevent a skin from forming. Pour mixture into parfait glasses, ramekins, martini glasses, or whatever you'd like to present them in!
Cover and refrigerate until chilled- I use glad press n' seal to cover the glasses.
For garnish, use a vegetable peeler to shave chocolate curls onto the tops. I've also used sprinkles, for my daughters.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

35+ Tips for Getting Young Kids to Eat Veggies

There's a post on Babycenter on tricks and tips to get your toddlers to eat veggies - with 258 helpful comments! I keep starting them and re-starting them, so I'm going to paraphrase the best tips here. My oldest will NOT eat a vegetable unless under the duress of threats and bribery - this post is not meant to be a commentary on the seemingly recent but vigorous hide-the-veggies vs. don't-hide-veggies debate. But if anyone's struggling like I am, and just want to get their child through belligerent food phases with their health still intact, here are some good ideas! I've added some links where a parent recommended a type of recipe.

1. Use cheese grater to grate frozen veggies as "sprinkles" onto food.
2. Make kids eat at least one bite of the veggie offered at every meal.
3. Hiding vegetables in smoothies. Naked Juice makes some great veggie/fruit smoothie combos if you want to take the easy route!
4. Cheesy omelettes with tiny veggies hidden inside. Try cutting them up into cute shapes with cookie cutters, to mix it up a bit.
5. Pumpkin bread, zucchini or sweet potato pancakes and bread and carrot/raisin muffins.
6. Steam fresh vegetables and then puree them with a bit of water and store them in little baggies in the fridge or freezer. Then put them in anything that can "hide" the color, i.e. put a whole serving of pureed spinach in meatloaf; put pureed cauliflower in mashed potatoes. The key is to steam it first, so it is cooked but retains all its nutrients and not put too much in each thing.
7. Kale chips
8. Make stir fries with a little olive oil, broccoli cut small, shredded carrots, frozen peas, zucchini, etc. Throw in a lot of low-heat chili powder and try to avoid salt and butter. They really cover up the taste. Or you can try a different texture -- broccoli and cauliflower bake up nicely on a Pampered Chef baking stone in the oven. Same thing with kale. Bake it until crispy... so good. And boiled carrots (use real carrots... the baby carrots have a strange texture when cooked) are a constant favorite at one mom's house.
9. Make veggie/fruit/yogurt popsicles. Blend a variety of sweeter-type veggies and fruits together with the yogurt, and freeze for a healthy after-dinner dessert.
10. Try sweet potato pancakes, pumpkin bread (use less sugar and whole wheat flour), and morning glory muffins with carrots.
11. Try an unusual combination - one mom mixed finely chopped broccoli with brown rice and crushed pineapple, and her toddler loved it! She does different combination like cut up chicken with mandarin oranges with rice, carrot, broccoli, and cauliflower (all veggies finely chopped up.) She also puts plain carrot baby food on her daughter's pizzas.
12. Mix veggies (like mashed cauliflower, broccoli, squash, and carrots - can all be pre-frozen, then thawed) with applesauce and see if your child will enjoy that more!
13. One popular method is pureed veggies in spaghetti sauce - try carrots, green peppers, parsnips, etc.
14. One mom can get her son to eat spinach quiche, a great high protein dish. She bakes a whole pie, cuts it into wedges, and freezes them as single servings. To reheat, she defrosts them then pops them into the toaster.
15. Try processing cooked veggies in a blender (or chopping them very finely by hand), mixing them with cream cheese, and spreading them on crackers.
16. Try adding brown sugar to carrots, or honey.
17. Buy frozen spinach, chop it up, and add it to pastas or scrambled eggs. Sneak shredded carrots into sandwiches.
18. Have a playdate where you ask moms to bring their child's favorite vegetable dish - easy way to try new tried-and-true dishes without investing your own effort into it, and kids may be more open to eating them if they see their friends doing so!
19. Quick and easy - give them frozen vegetables. Try a couple of spoons of frozen peas or frozen blueberries (make sure they're old enough for this not to be a choking hazard!)
20. Try the ready-to-eat puree packages found in baby food aisles. Ella's Kitchen and Plum Organics have fruit/veggie combo purees, which are easy on the go snacks. My 2 1/2 year old still enjoys these!
21. Give your child the same vegetable for 10-15 days in a row - start them out with 1 mandatory bite of the vegetable, and then increase it as they get used to it.
22. Grate up carrots or other veggies and melt them into cheese for cheese sandwiches.
23. Try vegetable burgers with cheese melted on top.
24. One mom found sweet potato patties in the freezer section, which can be microwaved and then topped with butter and a pinch of brown sugar to sweeten it up even more!
25. Another mom shared an Eat-your-veggies Casserole recipe: 24 oz of mixed frozen vegetables, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar, 1/2 cup butter (melted), 1 sleeve of butter crackers (crushed). Combine vegetables, mayo, and cheese. Mix well, put in a casserole dish. Pour butter on top, then top with crackers. Bake at 350 for 30 mins - reheats best in the oven.
26. You can find tiny mexican squash in most produce aisles - one creative mom cuts the top off of those, takes out some of the insides, and adds the following mixture: pearl rice mixed with finely chopped onion, garlic, green pepper and parsley plus mint (can be dried mint). She then adds in her own preference of spices and a tsp of light olive oil. She stuffs the squash and cooks them in tomato sauce. Her daughter eats them because they're so small, and she can hold them on her own. She also serves her daughter stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage, and spinach triangles.
27. One mom puts together "Dragon Juice" for her children: she puts a couple of handfuls of baby spinach or kale in the blender with apple juice and whatever other fruit (berries, bananas, etc.) is lying around. She mixed it up and puts it in a special cup. If she doesn't use spinach and it comes out purple (from grapes/blueberries) she calls it Dinosaur Juice, if it's red (from strawberries, raspberries), it's Fairy Juice. Her sons are really into dinosaurs, so she tells them that they have dinos in their bellies that need to be fed - some are meat eaters, others are plant eaters, so they need to put some of both types of food in there! Be creative with what your child is interested in.
28. If you have a powerful blender, and you're serving a food with a sauce or soup, blend some veggies in there until they're invisible.
29. Yo Baby makes some great 3-in-1 yogurt blends that have fruits and vegetables mixed in with the yogurt, such as a green bean and pear yogurt mixture.
30. Veggie Booty works for one mom - it's made with dehydrated kale, spinach, broccoli, soy flour, corn, and rice. I haven't tried these, but I would definitely check the sodium content on these.
31. Shelled edamame is a popular tip - boil them for a couple of minutes, or serve them frozen.
32. Try a vegetable soup, like minestrone.
33. Try a muffin tin meal - I put a couple of things I know my daughter loves in a 6-compartment muffin tin, and fill the other sections with different fruits/vegetables. Sometimes she surprises me and polishes off one of the "experimental" sections!
34. You can grab one of the "hide-the-veggies" cookbooks, like Jessica Seinfeld's or Missy Chase Lapine's - they have a lot of recipes for basics that kids love (like chicken nuggets, brownies, spaghetti, etc.) with vegetables cooked right in.
35. Some great recipes with veggies:
Healthy Chocolate Mini Muffins
Spinach Brownies
36. Put it on a stick! Tiny veggie kabobs on a toothpick are a fun way to introduce new vegetables to kids.
37. How adorable are these pizza pops? I would make these and have different veggie combos on each one!
Would love to hear anyone else's ideas!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pumpkin Crunch Cake

I needed a relatively quick dessert I could whip up for company, and had been dying to try this recipe I had found on Pinterest. Good. Stuff. And best of all, super easy:

Pumpkin Crunch Cake (adapted from

1 box french vanilla cake mix (others have apparently used spice cake mix and loooved it)
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup butter, melted (that would be two sticks of butter - yeah!)
Ice cream (optional, for serving)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom of 9x13 pan. Mix pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Pour mixture into pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix over mixture and top with pecans. Drizzle melted butter over pecans - be sure the dry cake mix is covered by butter (any uncovered parts will stay as dry mix!) Bake 50-55 minutes. Serve hot, and a la mode!

Stores in refrigerator if the pan is not immediately licked clean.